Daily Archives: May 2, 2010

Teri Buhl: Are Hearst CT Newspapers shilling for Blumenthal?

By Teri Buhl

Our local newspapers think they have a ‘big exclusive” story out today explaining that Connecticut Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal, is  asking for an investigation into a well known international financial services firm for questionable answers on a 35 year contract the DOT awarded. It looks like the only reason it’s an exclusive is because Hearst is the only news organization that thinks the CT AG’s publicly available letter to the DOT asking them to investigate their choice of The Carlyle Group for a winning contract to revamp around 20 CT highway rest stops – is a signal that the man running for U.S. Senate has the fortitude to go up against the financial services industry.  While reporter Brian Lockhart, who reports directly to top Hearst CT News editor David McCumber, is actually one of the only skilled investigative reporters the news organization has, did a fair job of telling us both sides of the story, the whole idea of the piece reeks  like a planed press strategy from Team Blumenthal.

Here’s why, McCumber told me excitedly while I was working for his paper that he’d met with the AG and Blumenthal had told him he’s working on a few investigations having to do with financial services firms. I kindly reminded McCumber who’s still new to the CT political landscape, that our AG isn’t exactly known for going after the Wall Street business in his home town for any serious wrong doing- a fact that is noted by basically every national finance journo I know. Just recently it took a Fortune Magazine investigative story, which highlighted the Manhattan D.A., was investigating Greenwich-based Plainfield Asset Management for shady lending deals, to get him off his cushy seat and announce he’d also look into the hedge fund in case you know they screwed over any Connecticut investors. In fact, I can’t think of one recent case that the CT AG, who’s got one of the largest backyards loaded with financial services firms to investigate, initiated a case that he didn’t read about first in an investigative news report or was first initiated by another government agency.

In today’s story, that ran on the front page of all four Hearst CT newspapers, all we get from the piece is that Blumenthal thinks the DOT needs to go back and seriously challenge statements made by a subsidiary of The Carlyle Group, called Carlyle Infrastructure Partners, on its winning bid for the rebuild of our highway rest stop stations. Carlyle Group, the private equity firm and parent company of CIP, got itself into some trouble with the Cuomo (NY AG) investigation into kickbacks paid to guys running state endowment funds in return for investments in the private equity fund. Carlyle ended up quickly settling for $20 million and some of the government guys involved are going to jail. The Hearst news story says Blumenthal thinks Carlyle, the parent, knew about the investigation while it was filling out those rest-stop bid documents in December 2008 and should have made sure that its sub, CIP, told the DOT that in the last five years a government agency had investigated their parent company. Instead they answered NO, because the CIP guys claim no one ever told them about it – and Carlyle guys told the DOT they’d sign an affidavit swearing that’s the truth. Carlyle didn’t agree to settle with Cuomo until May 2009. But Blumenthal – who can’t actually make the DOT do anything – wrote them an advisory letter – basically suggesting they needed to look harder at Carlyle’s truthfulness on how they represented themselves in the bidding process. DOT says they did investigate way before Blumenthal ever suggested it and Carlyle is all A-OK by their standards.

Which leaves us questioning what in the heck the AG is trying to accomplish with his little late to game inquiry and why he’s leaking this move to the local newspaper? Is he trying to show voters that he’s not a lap dog to the financial services firms that fuel Fairfield County’s economy and tax revenue – that sounds about right? What I find most troubling here is the local paper goes along with it and turns a simple letter of advisory into some kind of ‘big exclusive’ investigative news event. Notice they even tell you under the reporter’s byline that their once political reporters are now ‘investigative reporters’. While we are glad to see the local paper trying to punch above their weight and attempt to investigate the inter-workings of our government agencies and Wall Street this just smells of something of a whole other nature.

Instead I might suggest they take a harder look at what Carlyle scored in the details of the financing and future profit taking on the deal. You see our cash strapped State choose to have the contract winner pay for all the renovations(committing to spend $185 million) without the aid of CT taxpayer money in return for giving up revenues from the gas sales as they had in their previous contract. The old contract gave the State 11 cents off every gallon of gas sold. CT can still garner sales tax off concession sales from the rest stops but the rest of the earnings will go to the group rebuilding the rest stops. The notion that Carlyle Infrastructure Group might have lied on their bid docs about something their very large parent company was being investigated for (before Cuomo had even charged anyone) seems small compared to the fact that they just got a 35 year deal to reap a lot more revenue off the state hwy stops than the previous operator. It’s a move that shows how free markets can work when state budgets are economically challenged and a story that could make for a much better ‘big exclusive’.

Plainfield Article here

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Shocker: NY pols call for more federal funds after Times Square attack

You betcha

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As the world spirals down

Australia to tax ore producers at 57%.

“Under the plan announced today, Australia will have the highest taxed mining industry in the world,” Minerals Council of Australia Chief Executive Officer Mitch Hooke said in an e- mailed statement. “Australia’s hard-earned reputation as a stable investment environment will be dramatically undermined.”

The government runs the risk of “taking away from Australia the strongest industry we have and the one that saved us from the global financial crisis,” saidKeith De Lacy, chairman of Brisbane-based Macarthur Coal Ltd., the world’s largest producer of pulverized coal. “Always 50 percent of our net profits went into development and exploration and so much of that is going now so obviously we’ll grow slower.”

The introduction of the resource tax would cut Australia’s competitiveness, Citigroup Inc. said on April 28 before the release of the review. Mining companies’ tax burden currently stands at 35 percent, Citigroup said in its report last week.

Chinese and Indian demand for resources from Australia, the world’s biggest exporter of coal, iron ore and alumina, helped the A$1.2 trillion economy skirt recession during the global financial crisis. China is the nation’s largest resource customer.

Aging Population

Rudd’s Labor government, which has led the opposition Liberal-National coalition in opinion polls, commissioned the tax review two years ago to create a simpler and fairer system to meet the needs of a growing and aging population. One quarter of a projected population of 36 million will be aged 65 and over by 2050, increasing pressure on roads, rail, ports, schools and hospitals.

The government will use the resource tax revenue to create a A$5.6 billion infrastructure fund, cut company taxes to 28 percent in mid-2014 from the current 30 percent and boost retirement funds.

Connecticut Senate passes TARP “bonus tax” If not this year, next.

HARTFORD, Conn.

Connecticut lawmakers have approved a bill imposing extra taxes on bonuses paid to state employees of investment banks and insurers that received federal bailout aid during the economic crisis.

The House of Representatives approved the bill 89-49 early Sunday, and the Senate had already approved it Friday.

But it’s doubtful it’ll become law. Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell is expected to veto it, and bill did not pass the Senate with enough votes to override a veto.

It sets a two-year, 2.47 percent surcharge on any bonus totaling $500,000 or more.

Democrats say the tax liability would be lower than what’s imposed in neighboring New York, but Republicans say it sends the wrong message and could be ruled unconstitutional.

Bolivia nationalizes power companies

Greece accepts new budget cuts

No one gets it, until it’s too late.

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The only trouble is, the average American doesn’t watch Charlie Rose or listen to NPR

Praise for Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein’s appearance on Public Televisions’ Charlie Rose show last night. Apparently, he came across as smart and as contrite, feigned or not, as he did on the interview I heard on NPR a couple of days ago. Which is great, but he needs to bring his act to 60 Minutes or some other mass media outlet if he wants to win over the great unwashed.

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Hey – things happen

Volcanos, oil wells, terrorist bombs or Boston’s water main. People do their best – even those friggin’ terrorists, I suppose – but technology isn’t perfect.

The source of the rupture has been identified in the pipe break that has caused nearly two million people in the Boston area to lose their supply of clean drinking water.

“The extent of the damage is not as great as we feared,” Gov. Deval Patrick said at a press conference this morning. However, he refused to give a firm estimate when people could drink water again, but said he anticipated it would be “days not weeks.”

As workers frantically toiled to fix the pipe yesterday, questions turned to why it happened. The coupling that failed is a standard component of underground pipes, including throughout the MWRA system.

“Our goal is to get it fixed and then figure out what happened,” said Laskey. The failure could be from a number of things, including the design, construction or installation of the piece.

A representative of Barletta Companies of Canton, who installed the collar – and is in the process of fixing the pipe said he had “no idea” what went wrong. The broken collar washed away into the Charles and a hunt is on for it so authorities can examine in for possible clues why it failed.

It’s not a perfect world.

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Arizona – enforce existing U.S. law

Yup – all Arizona is asking is that its police enforce what is already American law. I’ve said this before but I’ll try it again: when I was wandering around Europe in 1971-72, I always knew to carry my visa and passport to display to the local police, because they could, and would ask for it on a regular basis. Even today, hotels in Europe ask for your passport. I didn’t consider it an affront to my humanity then, and I don’t see anything wrong with it now. If you’re here as a visitor, carry your ID. If you’re here illegally, tough luck.

8 USC 1304 (e)

(e) Personal possession of registration or receipt card; penalties
      Every alien, eighteen years of age and over, shall at all times
    carry with him and have in his personal possession any certificate
    of alien registration or alien registration receipt card issued to
    him pursuant to subsection (d) of this section. Any alien who fails
    to comply with the provisions of this subsection shall be guilty of
    a misdemeanor and shall upon conviction for each offense be fined
    not to exceed $100 or be imprisoned not more than thirty days, or
    both.

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Lazy teenager will do anything to avoid lawn chores

Utah boy says he struck cannister of WWII TNT while mowing his parents’ lawn.

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Aww, the sad, retired life of an impoverished mobster

Life on Social Security after being a Lucchese crime boss.

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Alar again – idiot consumers

High-fructose corn syrup victim of consumer ignorance

ConAgra retreats:

Early this year, she got her wish when ConAgra decided to reformulate one of its biggest brands, replacing the high-fructose corn syrup in Hunt’s ketchup with old-fashioned sugar. This month, new bottles featuring a banner proclaiming “No high fructose corn syrup” arrive in stores.

Hunt’s ketchup is among the latest in a string of major-brand products that have replaced the vilified sweetener. Gatorade, several Kraft salad dressings, Wheat Thins, Ocean Spray cranberry juice, Pepsi Throwback, Mountain Dew Throwback and the baked goods at Starbucks, to name a few, are all now made with regular sugar.

What started as a narrow movement by proponents of natural and organic foods has morphed into a swell of mainstream opposition, thanks in large part to tools of modern activism like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter and movies like “Food, Inc.” and “King Corn.

As a result, sales of the ingredient have fallen in the United States. Charlie Mills, an analyst at Credit Suisse, says that the combined United States sales of high-fructose corn syrup forArcher Daniels Midland, Tate & Lyle and Corn Products International were down 9 percent in 2009, compared with 2007. A further decline is expected this year, he says.

This is happening even though many scientists say that high-fructose corn syrup is no worse for people than sugar, which costs some 40 percent more.

“Manufacturers are tired of hearing about the e-mails, the 800-number calls and the letters,” says Phil Lempert, editor of the Lempert Report, which focuses on supermarket trends. “People don’t want it, so why fight them?”

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Here’s a brave buyer

2010 American Architectural Institute gives awards and Old Greenwich has a winner.

I’m pretty sure this one is on Shorehame Club Drive. The only problem is, architects love these houses, but they don’t make up much of the buyer pool.

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What do they teach at cop school these days?

Years ago, sixteen Greenwich cops arrived at one of the Chimblo’s to make an arrest and missed when he left by the back door. I suggested at the time that our forces would do better were they to split up and cover all sides of the house, rather than crowd in all together at the front door. I assumed that this common sense tactic was practiced in other areas of the country but no – here’s a story from Los Angeles where a counterfeiter armed with semi-automatic rifles and apparently observing the Federal Bank below him, left via a fire escape.

The cops in question say “it was just like the movies”, but if they spent less time stuffing their mouths with popcorn and actually watching, they might learn something.

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New construction coming back?

That’s what this article in Stamford Advocate says, but the examples cited are Fairfield and Bethel, where prices are cheap. Still, there seems to be a lot of interest in new homes here in town, both custom and spec houses. Most of the existing spec houses haven’t sold for a reason, hence the interest in custom, but if builders can start finding financing again. I think the market’s there.

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But on what?

Monica Lewinsky dines in Greenwich

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“We Bombed on Broadway”

Car bomb fails to explode in Times Square.

UPDATE: HotAir provides an interesting perspective:


What makes me nervous is the use of propane. Remember that London bombing plot three years ago, in which jihadis tried — and failed — to set off a bunch of car bombs around the city? Quote:

The car bombs were similar to highly destructive explosives used in Iraq and could have killed hundreds of people, U.S. and British officials told NBC News. British officials warned that the country was facing a “serious and sustained” terrorist threat…

Authorities believe [the first car] was intended to be set off by remote control by a cell phone found inside. The cell phone had received at least two calls, which should have detonated several gallons of gasoline, but when the calls came in, the bomb failed to go off, the official said.

Had it done so, that blast then would have ignited six to eight tanks of propane in a mist to make a fuel-air explosion, creating a fireball the size of a small house and propelling 18 to 20 boxes of roofing nails around a large area at bullet speed, counterterrorism officials said.

Fuel-air bombs are hugely destructive, as this harrowing Danger Room article published after the London plot broke made all too clear. A fuel-air bomb properly detonated in Times Square on a Saturday night likely would have killed hundreds of people. If that’s what this was — and the feds evidently aren’t sure yet, despite reports of “fireworks” going on in the back seat and someone running away from the vehicle — then there’s a seriously dangerous individual running around NYC right now. Stay tuned. While we wait, check out this PowerPoint presentation generated by the NYPD after the London plot was foiled. The last slide is the one you’re interested in.

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