Daily Archives: May 17, 2009

Another doom sayer

Seeking Alpha doesn’t like long-term housing prospects.

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Nick Paumgarten on our Wall Street mess

I first met and spent a couple of days with the New Yorker’s Nick Paumgarten early last summer when he was coming to Greenwich to write what turned out to be a terrific article on Greenwich, the Antares Boys and life in the land of fallen bankers. I liked him very much and have been looking forward to his next work which appears this week in the magazine. It’s brilliant, and a great read.

Nick obviously buried himself in the world of Wall Street and reports on what it was like these past months, as Lehman fell, Merrill collapsed, Bernie Madoff’s predations were exposed and how displaced, obsolete financial workers are doing with their new non-existent future (not so well). It’s bound to be posted on line soon but for now it’s only available in the magazine itself (May 18 issue, $4.99 – worth it).

While he only touches on real estate, what he writes about securities and the attempt to reinflate their value is equally apposite to our houses. That effort, many of the people interviewed in the article insist, a doomed attempt to retain their status and positions. I like this comment of Nick’s: “When Secretary Timothy Geithner announced the details of the Treasury’s plan for financing the private sector’s purchase of toxic assets from the banks, the Dow rose more than four hundred points. The warm reception suggested flawed conception; Wall Street liked the plan because it was generous to Wall Street. That it might also be a transfer of wealth from future taxpayers to incompetent or opportunistic financiers … did not trouble the equity markets, which generally don’t fret over fairness.”

And this: “…I asked …Colin Negrych if there had been any capitulation, among market participants and ordinary citizens, to what he and other dour prophets continued to describe as a catastrophe of epochal proportions. ‘No, he said. ‘People are still inclined to view this as a temporary disruption.’ Even peers who were predicting dire outcomes didn’t seem to believe that they would come to pass.”

Go spend (your last?) $5 and read the whole thing.

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The answer, dear, is “now”.

The far left is furious with Obama’s latest decisons concerning conduct of our wars and because they long since gave up reasoning in favor of ad hominem argument. don’t know what to say, except this:

A leader of the antiwar group Code Pink said she now wonders at what point her organization should begin to refer to Mr. Obama as a “war criminal.”

She should start right now, so that the rest of the country can appreciate the lunacy of these people as those of us on the right have, for years.

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Who knew?

Says here that they’re still playing basketball up in Boston and the boys are only in the semi-finals! I like stories like this because it reminds me that there are all sorts of things going on in the world of which I am not aware and don’t have to care about.  Of course, I do wish that nice Larry Byrd good luck tonight.

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Ah, foreigners!

our brain on drugs

Your brain on drugs

By which I mean, using Greenwich Real Estate Association parlance, buyers from outside of Greenwich. My brother Gideon wrote here recently lauding the willingness of such folks to not quibble over prices and just hold their nose, pay asking price and settle in to enjoy the town. Indeed, I share his enthusiasm for them – while it may take a village to raise a child, it takes a village idiot to pay the typical Greenwich asking price. Greenwich has only one home-grown idiot left and I’m not buying right now, so some serious importing is in order.

As an example, take a gander at this ranch on Bruce Park Drive. I-95 roars past it, and the municipal truck repair station looms behind it. It sold for $857,000 in 2003 and then was relisted for $1.595 in 2006. A “foreign agent” sold it to her client for the astonishing price of $1.831 million, thereby wining a bidding war, and a few months later the happy warrior decided to cash in on  his good fortune by putting it back on the market for $2.080. It’s been over two years now and no buyer has appeared, even though the price has dropped to $1.325.  Will it ever sell, at any price? Sure; it’s a house, it offers shelter, and there is a beautiful park right across the street. I just hope for the owner’s sake that he’s advertising in Westport and New York. If he wants to minimize his loss, that would be smart.

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Mountain Works

Sheesh, some people are never satisfied. I have recommended Ferdinand Steyer and his company, Mountain Works, as the very best remodeler in Greenwich and listed him on my information page but the guy has the temerity to complain that I gave out the wrong number. Now I  know how Walt feels, dealing with those ungrateful clients of FGG who can’t see the value he bestowed on them by making them eligible for a $500,000 SPIC bailout.

Anyway (sigh) , I’ve changed Ferdinand’s number which, for the record, is (203) 216-3329, and will recommend him again for anything you need doing around your house. Face it, if you’re a Greenwich homeowner, you’re not going anywhere for the next few years, so why not love the one you’re with? New bathrooms, kitchen, addition, go for it, use Ferd, and you’ll be blissfully happy and perhaps even content to stay where you are for the next decade. Why fix your house up for someone else to enjoy at your expense?

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A lesson for sin taxers

Both Connecticut and the federal government believe that the way to economic salvation and, of course, a perfect world, is to tax sinners into oblivion. The feds want to follow up last month’s $0.63 tax hike on cigarettes with an additional $2 one, Connecticut is eyeing the same strategy.

Whatever – but governments rely heavily on the taxes they already collect from these benighted souls and there’s always the danger that taxing their vices beyond affordability will reduce, not increase, revenue.

Example from yesterday: Pimlico Race Track, host of the Preakness, barred alcoholics from the festivities this year and attendance plummeted. No more topless girls, no fist fights, vomit, or other forms of fun drunks like to engage in so they stayed away in droves. That’s just bad business for anyone in the business of profiting from others’ misery. Like our government. What will they do next, raise Lottery prices?

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No golfing for Walter

Walt Noel has written and explained that he will not be running for Caddy Chief at Round Hill Club nor any other position there. By way of explanation he sends this link to the sad story of that other Madoff collaborator, Ezra Merkin, whose ascendancy to chief  somethingorother at a New York Synagogue is “tearing the community apart”. I don’t know Walt, you may be selling yourself short (should have done that with your Madoff investments, yuck yuck yuck – get it? Get it?). It’s entirely possible that the Round Hillers are still so deep in martinis that they haven’t bothered opening their FGG statements the past six months. If so, then you’re still the genius who made them rich and so of course they’ll welcome you. Why don’t you trot across the street and pop in for a mojito at that shabby bar? Let us know how it goes.

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NYT: World ends, women, minorites yadayadyad

Mortgage foreclosures hit minorities hardest. Another way to put that might be, federal insistence that banks loan to minorities succeeded, lots bought homes. Now those who couldn’t afford them in the first place are losing them back.

I’m quite confident that the Times editors have a solution to this problem and I’m just as confident that it involves taxpayers’ money.

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Science instead of politics? Not at the New York Times!

Obama’s man, Dr. Steven Chu has killed off continued government involvement in development of hydrogen fuel cells, causing great angst among the eco-nuts and a certain amount of gleeful satisfaction in my own heart. For the past eight years, my liberal friends met all my political arguments with the conclusion that I was simply too stupid to understand the issue and that there was no reason to discuss such matters  so long as that chief dimwit, Bush was in office.

So now their candidate is in office and he is discovering that, by golly, there really were complications in say, simply closing down Gitmo, taxing the economy to death to stop global warming or, in this case, developing brand new technology. Who’s stupid now?

Most of the Greens have responded to Dr. Chu’s decision by regretfully deciding that he’s “misinformed”. He can’t be stupid, despite his resume, because Obama appointed him, and he can’t be a tool of the oil industry like Bush/Cheney because  – well, because Obama appointed him!

The New York Times isn’t bothered with such petty concerns. If their man makes a decision contrary to what all smart, intelligent New York Times readers know is the right thing to do then just ignore the question of how Obama could be so er, stupid, and turn the attention and discussion back where it belongs, George Bush! Check out the first three paragraphs of the Times coverage and see if you can spot who the dummy is – hint, it’s Bush! Obama killed the program because that stupid, stupid man Bush thought it was good idea! Don’t you see? The One is saving us from Bush’s stupidity!

WASHINGTON — Cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells, once hailed by President George W. Bush as a pollution-free solution for reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil, will not be practical over the next 10 to 20 years, the energy secretary said Thursday, and the government will cut off funds for the vehicles’ development.

Developing those cells and coming up with a way to transport the hydrogen is a big challenge, Energy Secretary Steven Chusaid in releasing energy-related details of the administration’s budget for the year beginning Oct. 1. Dr. Chu said the government preferred to focus on projects that would bear fruit more quickly.

The retreat from cars powered by fuel cells counters Mr. Bush’s prediction in 2003 that “the first car driven by a child born today could be powered by hydrogen, and pollution-free.” The Energy Department will continue to pay for research into stationary fuel cells, which Dr. Chu said could be used like batteries on the power grid and do not require compact storage of hydrogen.

The article concludes with the startling discovery that our country is still spending more on nuclear weapons than fuel cell research. Just wait until Obama sees this and he’ll fix it pronto – unless he doesn’t, in which case that will be Bush’s fault, too.

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Save the waterfront!

Greenwich Time reports today that our Selectmen are considering a proposal to sell off the little pier at the end of Steamboat Road and end public access there. I think that’s a bad idea because there is already very, very little public access to the Sound here in town (try using my dock, buster and I’ll sic Henry the attack cat on you!) so eliminating this one is more significant than its mere size might suggest.

The Times writes the story as though the spot is a haven for, horrors, South American livery drivers and the like and I’ve certainly met some of “those people” there, but it’s a fine spot for all of us to have a sandwich while looking over the water, do some fishing or just sit and enjoy the view. When I’ve been there, admittedly not as often these days now that I’m working in Old Greenwich, everyone, regardless of national origin or occupation, seemed to get along just fine – we’re all there to enjoy the place, period.

If, as reported, the seawall is crumbling, I think some preventative maintenance might solve that problem at minimal cost and preserve this tiny oasis. Until that Antarctic ice sheet melts, they’re not making any more waterfront.

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