Daily Archives: June 10, 2009

No enemies on the left – no decency, either

Filthy old man David Letterman got big laughs the other night joking about 14-year-old Willow Palin’s being raped and calling Sarah Palin herself a slut. Hoo hoo hoo. There was a time when joking about the rape of a little girl was considered  bad taste. There was even a time, believe it or not, when referring to a woman as a slut was thought the mark of a low class brute. Some even felt that a man who made such remarks was a woman hater and should be scorned. But that time was before the left learned to hate the Republicans and now, just so long as the target is the daughter of a Republican, jokes away! The Gawker applauds – otherwise, so far as I can tell, the mainstream media has nothing to say about Letterman, nothing at all. But of course, it’s Bush’s fault! Remember that awful boyfriend who slapped Jenny around in Forest Gump and then explained away his anger by saying “it’s this goddamned war”? Same thing here. Poor David was pushed over the edge by Iraq and isn’t to blame for finding little girls a fine source of amusement.

UPDATE: Perhaps the New York Times remembers, dimly, when little girls weren’t the appropriate subject for rape jokes. At least, here’s their sanitized version of Letterman’s opening. No little girls or sluts here!

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Cathy Fuld will need a new companion

"I'm sorry, Judy, but Dickie says, 'if the insurance won't cover it ...' but we'll always have Paris."

"I'm sorry, Judy, but Dickie says, 'if the insurance won't cover it ...' but we'll always have Paris."

 

GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. (AP) — A psychologist has surrendered her license to practice after she was accused of taking a patient shopping and traveling, then billing the activities as therapy. The Minnesota Board of Psychology said 68-year-old Judith Henderson charged more than $300,000 in fees to the patient over 10 years. Henderson neither admitted nor denied the allegations, but agreed to give up her license. The agreement was made public Tuesday.

According to the board, Henderson violated her professional relationship with the patient by going on trips together, shopping and going on social outings she billed as therapy.

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Bourke trial – no fireworks

So far, the prosecution has presented evidence trying to show that there was a bribery scheme going on over in Azerbaijan but has yet to tie Ric Bourke to that conspiracy. From Bloomberg’s reporting, I’d say even the bribery has yet to be proved, let alone participation by Bourke. I assume that the feds will keep trying and when they have established to their satisfaction, if not the jury’s, that the conspiracy is proved, they’ll move on to proving that Bourke was involved. This could take a long time.

Trial is adjoined until next Monday, the 15th.

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California faces meltdown in 50 days, Legislature passes bill mandating spinach at day care

California is 50 days away from running out of cash and is light years from passing a budget. Its r esidents need not worry, however, their elected representatives are on the job and addressing even more crucial problems: not enough vegetables on day care menus. Oh, and too much whole milk. 

The Assembly has passed a bill to set minimum standards for food in licensed child-care centers, requiring a vegetable to be part of lunch and supper and forbidding whole milk for children 2 or older….”California enjoys a worldwide reputation for its sunny, healthy lifestyle,” said the bill’s author, Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica). “Childhood obesity rates threaten to steal this enviable position.”

The bill, which passed the Assembly on Wednesday by a 48-27 vote, now heads to the Senate.

If it becomes law, AB 627 would require low-fat or skim milk to be served to children 2 years old and older. It would limit sugar in cereals and eliminate deep frying and sweetened drinks. It also would establish an 18-month pilot project to evaluate stronger nutrition and physical activities standards.

Before you laugh too hard at those poor Californians, note that here in Connecticut we too don’t have a budget and are facing a billion dollar deficit. Our representatives spent the day enacting a law regulating the placement of charity donation bins.

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Well, Arcadia might be able to offer temporary shelter

Topless coffee shop in Vassalboro, Maine, destroyed by arson. Reached for comment, defense attorney Phil Russell denied any involvement by his clients. “One’s keeping a constant eye on her lovely child over in the lock-up and Dido Dent’s right here in my office, playing on the Internet. No way either made it up to Maine last night.”

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Russell for the defense!

I let him out of the trunk, didn't I?

I let him out of the trunk, didn't I?

Greenwich’s own, Attorney Phil Russell, has signed on for the defense of that 35 – year-old mother who left her infant baking in a Lexus SUV on Greenwich Avenue the other day. “She’s a great mom,” Russell says. “Everyone who knows Gina Baret knows she would never harm that lovely child. She went to use an ATM and had her eye on her baby constantly.” I like Phil, and wouldn’t doubt his version of events for an instant, but others more skeptical than I may wonder how, if the lady’s car was parked below Starbucks and the bank’s 100 yards up the street on the other side, she could watch Buster. And if they get past that one, they’re bound to wonder what she thought during the 15 minutes she spent at the ATM while first a foot patrolman, then an ambulance and then three squad cars all pulled up to her own car.

“That’s no problem,” Russell will no doubt argue. “With that kind of protection around her precious, darling little boy, she knew he was in safe hands.”

I’d go for the plea bargain, Phil.

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Two down by good fortune, the cause, or a “macabre coincidence”?

French Secret Service finds the name of two wanted Musslemen terrorists on passenger manifest, checking to see if the men on board happened to have the same names as the terrorists. Could be coincidence, could be that the representatives of the religion of peace were on their way to Paris to kill and were called to Allah prematurely, or they blew up the plane. Details, as they say, to follow.

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Maybe that’s an improvement

New head of GM (AT&T’s former CEO, who will be reporting to Obama’s kid) admits “I know nothing about cars”. To the extent that the people running GM for the past fifty years did know something about cars, I’d say that experience is overrated.

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The Five Waves of the housing collapse

I missed this post on BusinessInsider when it came out on Friday but the pessimists who predict that the worst is just beginning to appear are men after my own heart. And  Greenwich will be at the epicenter of that collapse.

The Past: Losses Mostly Behind Us:

• Wave #1: Borrowers committing (or the victim of) fraud & speculators, who
defaulted quickly. 
Timing: beginning in late 2006 (as soon as home prices
started to fall) into 2008.  Mostly behind us.

• Wave #2: Borrowers who defaulted when their mortgages reset due to
payment shock.
  Timing: early 2007 (as two-year teaser subprime loans written in early 2005 started to reset) to the present.  Now tapering off as low interest rates mitigate payment shock.

The Future: Losses Mostly Ahead of Us

• Wave #3: Prime loans (most of which are owned or guaranteed by the
GSEs) defaulting due to job loss and home price declines
(i.e., underwater
homeowners).  Timing: started to surge in early 2008 to the present.

• Wave #4: Jumbo prime, second lien and HELOCs (most of which are on
banks’ books) defaulting due to job loss and home price declines/
underwater homeowners.
  Timing: started to surge in early 2008 to the
present.

• Wave #5: Losses among loans outside of the housing sector, the largest of
which will be in the $3.5 trillion area of commercial real estate.
  Timing:
started to surge in early 2008 to the present.

Importantly, Whitney and Glenn believe that recent signs of stabilization in the housing market are a HEAD FAKE.  Prices still have a 10%-15% to fall and won’t recovery quickly.

Rather than representing a true bottom, recent signs of stabilization
are likely due to two short-term factors:

1. Home sales and prices are seasonally strong in April, May and June
due to tax refunds and the spring selling season

2. A temporary reduction in the inventory of foreclosed homes

– Shortly after Obama was elected, his administration promised a new, more
robust plan to stem the wave of foreclosures so the GSEs and many other
lenders imposed a foreclosure moratorium

– Early this year, the Obama administration unveiled its plan, the Homeowner
Affordability and Stabilization Plan, which is a step in the right direction –
but even if it is hugely successful, we estimate that it might only save 20%
of homeowners who would otherwise lose their homes

– The GSEs and other lenders are now quickly moving to save the
homeowners who can be saved – and foreclose on those who can’t

– This is necessary to work our way through the aftermath of the bubble, but
will lead to a surge of housing inventory later this year, which will further
pressure home prices

Here’s what will likely drive future losses:

1. The Economy
• Especially unemployment

2. Interest rates
• Ultra-low rates have helped mitigate some of the damage
• But if the recent spike in rates continues, it could lead to an even greater surge
in defaults and losses

3. Behavior of homeowners who are underwater [Approx 30% of mortgages right now]
• Roughly one-fourth of homeowners with mortgages are currently underwater,
some deeply so
• For many, it is economically rational for them to walk – so called “jingle mail” –
but how many will do so? 
• There is little historical precedent – we are in uncharted waters
• As home prices continue to fall and homeowners become more and more
underwater, they are obviously more likely to default, thereby creating a vicious
cycle, but what exactly will the relationship be?  Have millions of foreclosures led
to a diminution of the stigma of losing one’s home?
• Our best guess is that there will be rough symmetry: for homeowners 5%
underwater, an additional 5% will default due to being underwater; 10%
underwater will lead to 10% more defaults, and so forth…

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Another dull day in Greenwich

Nothing of interest today – lots of price reductions – hooray! but no sales, one piddling contract and a bunch of “new” listings that are mostly retreads still priced at a level that indicates their owners think nothing has gone wrong for Greenwich or Wall Street since 1929. It must be nice to live in such a soft cocoon. What strikes me these days is the number of sellers who bought a house in 2004 0r 2005, spent maybe $75,000 on a new kitchen and maybe a whirlpool tub for the master and think that they should ask $190,000 (or whatever) above what they paid for it. I’m pretty sure that to properly price your house now you should forget the cost of those improvements and drop the price down to around 2002 levels. If you’ve done a nice job on that kitchen, you might get it.

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A $787 billion mistake?

I’m not as sanguineas this Forbes columnist that ur economy is beginning to reboundbut my liberal friends are, and if it is, then this guy’s right: we’ve only spent $37 billion of the Stimulus funds so far, much too little to have had an effect, so we didn’t need it and when it does show up in the pipeline it will do nothing but push up inflation and increase our debt, just as many economists and commentators said.

Given the rapid improvement in the economic outlook, and the slow rate of stimulus spending under the act thus far, most of the spending under ARRA will likely occur well after recovery is under way. A new CBO studyshows that through late May only about $37 billion has been spent, which is just under 10% of authorized spending under the ARRA. In fact, the Departments of Education, Transportation and Energy all have spent 2% or less of their allocations. Recovery is on the way, without massive government spending.

But wasn’t the whole idea for fiscal stimulus that there was no way we would recover without it? And didn’t Vice President Biden indicate that virtually all economists agreed with this view? Given the improving economic outlook, ARRA now represents a significant and very expensive public policy mistake. And in contrast to the vice president’s view about economists’ support for the program, it is well known that many of them who specialize in macroeconomic policy significantly criticized the need for substantial fiscal stimulus before ARRA was passed.

The economic arguments for ARRA were badly dated and erroneous. The stimulus bill was promoted under the old-fashioned Keynesian view that only the federal government is big enough to dig us out of the hole that we had gotten ourselves into, and digging us out of that hole required massive federal spending. But there was significant opposition to this premise by many economists who not only predicted that spending would be significantly delayed–with the bulk of spending not taking place until after recovery was well under way–but who also sharply disagreed with the premise that enormous increases in government spending were required to restore economic prosperity.

In fact, the 1930s Keynesian model that was used to sell the idea of fiscal stimulus to Americans was eliminated from economics decades ago.And this abandonment of Keynesian multipliers does not reflect any ideological or partisan issues that divide conservatives and liberal economists. Rather, it is because the old Keynesian model does not come anywhere close to meeting today’s standards for economic analysis.

Of course, I never believed this spending had anythig to do with a “crisis” except to use that scare word to seize power. We now have Government Motors, run by a 31 year old Obama politico, a Wage Czar, government controlled banks and nationalized medicine coming up. The economy can go its merry way – Obama and his crowd have gotten what they want.

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You tell me

This was the cheapest property sold in Greenwich last year: 286 Hamilton Avenue, $295,000.

70739_101_12 Okay, not so pretty, but the price is right. But now, here is the same thing, expanded a bit perhaps (but notice the rust on the brick below the handrail is still there), asking as of last month, $700,000:

 

 What puzzles me is that today that $700,000 price was increased to $860,000. Whatever.73083_101_12

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“We’re wildly busy, but not as productive as we’d like to be”

So said a noted realtor recently when asked how business was. The lack of results for all that activity (on everyone’s part, not just this one broker) may be explained by the reluctance of sellers to acknowledge the new reality of the market.  From time to time, I like to point out examples of where the market is today and here’s one more:

200 Lake Ave

200 Lake Ave

This beautiful old (1889) house was purchased for $1.975 in 2003, extensively renovated in 2004 and placed for sale in 2006 for $2.850 million. It hasn’t sold, despite its charm and now, three years later, it’s back where it started, pre-renovation: $1.995. This is reality, the rest is just clouds in your coffee, as Carly Simon once sang.

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Sliding down hill?

54 Sound View

54 Sound View

Those very nice spec condos on Sound View Drive haven’t been attracting buyers – I think two have sold – and today six of them had their prices slashed from a measly $100,000 on one unit (a cheaper one) to $500,000 on another, with cuts of $300,000 and $400,000 on medium units. These look to be very well made homes, and they enjoy a view of Long Island Sound, but they’re built on one of the steepest hills in town (15% grade, for you civil engineers ) and that hill serves as a thoroughfare for just about every truck that leaves Exit 3 on I-95 and heads for the Post Road commercial zone. That means downshifting on the way up the hill and brakes squealing (plus more downshifting) on the way back down. Couple that with the crush of non-commercial traffic that uses the same route all day and the precipitous climb for residents of the condos who’d like to walk to the train or lower Greenwich Avenue, and you have a marketing problem  even a $500,000 cut may not solve. I think I’ve heard, once or twice, that in real estate location is king. These condominiums may prove that once again.

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Shades of W.C. Fields

GreenwichRoundup has a marvelous tale of a man standing by his woman in a Port Chester Bar:

PORT CHESTER – A Bronx couple is facing assault charges after a woman accused of flirting with the boyfriend was bashed with a bottle and kicked in the leg on Sunday, police said.

Jaime Javier, 27, and Rosemarie Ramos, 26, were charged in the attack of a 36-year-old Bronx woman at Marty’s Bar at 27 Adee St.

Port Chester police Lt. Jim Ladeairous said Ramos accused the victim of flirting with Javier. Ramos is then accused of taking a bottle and hitting the victim across the forehead, opening a 2-inch wound. The victim fell down, and Javier is accused of kicking her lower right leg several times, bruising it, Ladeairous said

Fields, in, I think, “My Little Chickadee”, is one of two bartenders – while a mousy-looking barkeep polishes glasses in the background, Fields regales a customer with a tale of bravery when he beat up (“Chicago Lil? The beast of Philadelphia? I forget, but let’s go with the Beast).  The customer is very impressed but finally the second bar keeper speaks up to protest: “I’m the one who knocked the beast to the floor.”Fields, outraged, splutters, “yeah, but I  kicked her!”. Jamie Javier must be a fan.

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Early morning activity

The listing for 19 Licata Terrace, asking $950,000  has expired. This was a horrible attempt at a renovation to a house purchased for $980,000 in 2004. Listed at $2.2 million in 2006, in an unfinished condition, it never sold and eventually reverted to the bank (Patriot, I think, but perhaps not) and from there to something called EPI Mortgage. I’m sure it will show up again, because what does EPI want with this pile of junk? Interesting to me is that the “builder” of this place, Jimmy Licata, pled guilty to bank fraud a year or so ago. I’m not saying that his half-hearted efforts to rehabilitate this property were fraudulent – perish the thought! – but if I had believed, until recently, that local banks gained their strength and advantage from knowing local property values and, just as important, the local players. You can’t find a nicer person than Jimmy, but I don’t think I’d lend him a million bucks.

29 MacArthur Drive, in Havemeyer, is reported as pending. This is a 1953 untouched, 900 sq. ft. house so it’s probably safe to assume it’s going for land value. It started at $875 and dropped to $750,000 before finding a buyer. Its ultimate sales price will give a nice reality check on what land in Havemeyer is worth. Building lots on MacArthur went from $360,000 (1998) to $501 (2001), to $639 (2002) and then dropped a bit to $632 in 2003. I don’t know if this particular piece had any special qualities to set it apart from those earlier sales, but if not, I’d expect to see it sell at somewhere between those 2001 and 2002 values.

Then we have 24 Thunder Mountain Road, off of Riversville, raw land dropped down today from $2.5 million to $1.799. While I have my doubts about even its new price as a good value for land on this street, you need lose no sleep over the builder/owner’s fortunes. He owned three lots here, built one and a half houses on two of them and sold them off, for $5.650 and $4.693, respectively. This last lot was envisoned as the site for a $5.8 million house way back in 2002 but I’m sure at this point, the land has been more than paid for.

UPDATE: I received an anonymous, blocked phone call just now (God, I love this gig) informing me that it was WAMU who extended the loan on 19 Licata Terrace, and it is scheduled for auction. The caller also denied that James Licata owned the place and that it was instead a “Russian lady” (Galina Ioselve, accordig to tax records) who did. She, again according to the caller, “stripped the place bare” and left town. Okay with me – was she a girldfriend of Jimmy’s?

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Now can I have my beach card back?

RTM nixes bar on sex offenders at schools, parks and playgrounds. And good for them. This was one of those sounds good, works bad proposals that crop up from time to time and unfortunately, all to often get enacted – who wants to let perverts near our children? But in fact, despite being labelled a “child-protection” measure, the ban was so sweeping that every single person branded a sex offender for life would be barred from visiting the beach,  watching fireworks at Binney Park, attending his own child’s performance at a school play or even showing up for a teacher/parent conference.

You say “so what?” and I don’t blame you. But, while Greenwich does have (or did have, I don’t know if he returned after jail) a child molester included in its ranks of three sex offenders, this is a grossly undefined categorization that includes, depending on which state originally labelled him, a huge number of people who are no threat to children nor, probably, adults. I don’t want a man convicted of violent rape lurking in the bushes at Tods. But what about a guy who, at 18, had what he thought was consensual sex but was convicted of not hearing “no”? Fifteen years on, is he such a threat that he shouldn’t be allowed in town?

This sex offender status is for life, and neither the passage of time nor rehabilitation erases it. If, as we’ve read in the news, am 18 year old has sex with his 16 year old girl friend and is convicted of statutory rape, are we safer if he’s barred from Binney Park forty years later? If Stephen Dent had been prosecuted for using the services of prostitutes, should his punishment include being banned from the Bruce Museum?

If  Sam Romeo and his crowd of supporters want to protect children, they need to come up with a better, narrower plan.

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Eliot Spitzer celebrates quietly at home

The Majesty of the Law

The Majesty of the Law

Eliot turns fifty today. “It’s just going to be me and my pal Stephen Dent”, Spitzer said. “Well, and maybe a few guests.”

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