Daily Archives: August 8, 2009

Can you hold it until January?

Descending to new depths of squalor and misery, the people’s Paradise of Cuba has run out of toilet paper and can’t afford to buy more until next year. How much you want to bet that el Jeffe himself will not be using his left hand to clean himself during the next few months?

My suggestion: all those Cuba lovers in the U.S. who don’t mind a little political repression, torture or imprisonment of gays just so long as its done by a communist enemy of our country might want to start a toilet paper recycling campaign where we can dry out our used paper and send it down south. As symbolism, I think it’s something people of all political persuasions can get behind.

I’ll get on the wire to Barbra Streisands’s publicist right now.

UPDATE: Wow, that was quick! Babs loved the idea, and she’s already started a TP-drying farm out there in Malibu. Next up, Sean Penn!

Streisand dries toilet paper in Malibu

Streisand dries toilet paper in Malibu

UPDATE II: Uh oh, trouble brewing between the econuts that may make the current feud between Taliban leaders look like just a fun day at the beach for the religion of peace. This environmentalist says that toilet paper is ruining our environment and that anyone who uses the stuff intead of a pinecone or her fingertips is “just a fucking spoiled, big-nosed diva.” Will Barbra take that sitting down, so to speak? Stay tuned.
UPDATE III: Vowing that “a Castro in need is a friend of us Democrats indeed” Connecticut Congressman has promised to wipe out the tp shortage down there among the palms by conducting his own paper drive here in the tri-state area. He announced this new initiative at his alma mater, the Lawrenceville School, just this evening, in the New Jersey town where the man prepped. Shown below, the Congressman is greeted by the Lawrenceville School Scholarship Team, dressed,you will note, in toiletpaper – striped uniforms.


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300-year-old Ridgefield home demolished by bank retiree Robert Martinsen

 Other than some sick, desperate need for attention and ego gratification, I can find no explanation why anyone would buy a beautiful old house just to tear it down. There are so many lesser houses of no historical importance, why buy a good one? Perhaps’ Greenwich’s Steven Hatch, who tore down an 1848 Italianate house on Riversville Road to replace it with a plebeian “farm house” copied from a vandal’s design book, can explain the reasoning of these people. I can’t.

The vandal in this case turns out to be a retired Citicorp employee, Robert Martinsen who is also a republican. guess he never read much Edmund Burke.


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It’s those damn special interests stirring up the voters!

 WASHINGTON — When 10 members of Congress wanted to study climate change, they did more than just dip their toes into the subject: They went diving and snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef. They also rode a cable car through the Australian rain forest, visited a penguin rookery and flew to the South Pole.

The 11-day trip — with six spouses traveling along as well — took place over New Year’s 2008. Details are only now coming to light as part of a Wall Street Journal analysis piecing together the specifics of the excursion.

It’s tough to calculate the travel bills racked up by members of Congress, but one thing’s for sure: They use a lot of airplanes. In recent days, House of Representatives members allocated $550 million to upgrade the fleet of luxury Air Force jets used for trips like these — even though the Defense Department says it doesn’t need all the planes.

The South Pole trip, led by Rep. Brian Baird (D., Wash.), ranks among the priciest. The lawmakers reported a cost to taxpayers of $103,000.

That figure, however, doesn’t include the actual flying, because the trip used the Air Force planes, not commercial carriers. Flight costs would lift the total tab to more than $500,000, based on Defense Department figures for aircraft per-hour operating costs.

Lawmakers say the trip offered them a valuable chance to learn about global warming and to monitor how federal funds are spent. “The trip we made was more valuable than 100 hearings,” said Rep. Baird, its leader. “Are there members of Congress who take trips somewhat recreationally? Perhaps. Is this what this trip was about? Absolutely not.”

Other legislators agree it wasn’t all fun and games. “There are a lot more glamorous things to do than hang out on the South Pole,” said Rep. Frank Lucas, an Oklahoma Republican who traveled as well. “I never want to wear that many clothes again.”

Taxpayer-funded travel for Congress is booming. Legislators and aides reported spending about $13 million on overseas trips last year, a Journal analysis has shown, a nearly 10-fold jump since 1995.

Other lawmakers have taken big-ticket trips. In June 2007, Ted Stevens, then a Republican senator from Alaska, and four other senators went to the Paris Air Show, costing the government $121,000 for hotels, meals and other expenses. Information needed to estimate their flight costs wasn’t available.

Mr. Stevens said the purpose was to learn more about developments in aviation. “My state is very dependent on the industry” because many cities can be reached only by air, he said.

The 10 members of Congress gathered at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on the morning of Dec. 29, 2007, along with several of their staff. Those who brought spouses were four Democrats (Rep. Mike Ross of Arkansas, Rep. Russ Carnahan of Missouri, Rep. Charlie Melancon of Louisiana and Rep. John Tanner of Tennessee) and two Republicans (Rep. Randy Neugebauer of Texas and Mr. Lucas of Oklahoma). Spouses must pay for their own meals, but they don’t have to pay for lodging and travel.

Asked about his wife’s participation, Mr. Lucas cited a busy congressional schedule that often keeps families separated, even on weekends. If spouses couldn’t go along on trips abroad, “then you couldn’t travel — simple as that,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Melancon said the representative’s wife of 37 years, Peachy Melancon, added “insight and perspective” that “only amplified the educational benefit he gained as a lawmaker.”

Representatives for the other four who brought spouses declined to comment on doing so. Lawmakers said the trip offered them a valuable chance to learn about global warming and to monitor how federal funds are spent on scientific projects.

The party boarded a C-40, the military’s business-class version of a Boeing 737. It is designed to be an “office in the sky” for government leaders, according to the Air Force Web site.

The lawmakers touched down at their first destination, Christchurch, New Zealand, a few hours before sunset on New Year’s Eve. Mr. Baird watched the town’s fireworks at midnight, his spokesman said.

The next day, Jan. 1, 2008, preparing for their South Pole trip, the lawmakers were provided clothing for extreme cold weather, including thermal underwear, according to the National Science Foundation.

On Jan. 2, the lawmakers and four aides flew to McMurdo Station in Antarctica on a supply flight, about 800 miles from the South Pole. “Take your camera to dinner,” the itinerary reminded the travelers, for a post-meal tour of Discovery Hut, an outpost that was the launching pad for early South Pole expeditions.


After flying back to McMurdo, they visited a penguin rookery to see the “threats to the wildlife,” said a spokeswoman for the National Science Foundation.

They also spoke with National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientists there who hope to use the South Pole’s frigid and hostile environment to test inflatable moon dwellings. “Some of the most important science in the world is being done down there,” Mr. Baird said.

Next stop: Australia. The group took a boat trip to the Great Barrier Reef, where lawmakers spoke with scientists about research showing its vulnerability to climate change, according to the Science Committee’s report.

Mr. Baird, a certified scuba diver, said he went on two shallow reef dives with scientists. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, a California Democrat, said she preferred to snorkel. Mr. Lucas said he didn’t enjoy the boat trip because he hasn’t spent much time on the water. The reef is one of the world’s premier diving destination

The tab for two days in Australia was more than $50,000, according to the travel-disclosure form. According to the document, the lawmakers spent $32,000 on hotels and meals, $7,000 on transportation and $10,000 for “other purposes.” As on all such oversees trips, each lawmaker gets a daily stipend of $350 for incidentals, according to the form.

Mr. Baird said the travel report for Australia was inaccurate. His spokesman didn’t respond to requests for details.

The trip ended with a layover in Hawaii to refuel the Air Force plane. There, lawmakers visited troops based at Hickman Air Force Base.

On the last night of their 11-day trip, the lawmakers stayed at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki. The spokesman for Mr. Baird said he would have been “every bit as happy camping as staying in a hotel.”

Except that they didn’t go camping, of course – we bought them the most expensive hotel rooms on the island. Lyndon Johnson said that the difference between being a Senator and a Congressman was “the difference between chicken salad and chicken shit.” No longer.

You know, I’ve grown tired of being called a member of a “special interest’ for wanting to raise my family, live in peace and keep most of my money. The real special interests, it seems to me, all want to take other peoples’s money and use the power of the government to force them to behave in ways that they think they should. Wall Street firms, teachers unions, manufacturers, the UAW are all special interests. Since the term has been so corrupted, meaning today anyone who wants what you don’t want them to have, I suggest we use Ayn Rand’s term for these people: looters. And the chief looters of them all are the porkers at the trough in Washington.


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Bootmaker scion buys big in Greenwich

Follow me to Valbella's!

Follow me to Valbella's!

So says gossiper Scusie, any way. Says someone named Justine Timberland has bought a big spread here amongst the swells. So what did he buy? Well, 24 Conyers Farm just sold for $18.7 million, and that’s a possibility, but I’d plump for that 15 acre house on Sherwood that went for something like $20 million. Why? Well, an out-of-town dummy with too much money would be just the fella to buy under the Westchester Airport flight zone and overpay for a less-than desirable address, don’t you think? Just my guess, of course, but those are the only two large sales of recent note.


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Retired IB’R explains high frequency trading programs

As anon points out, high freq. trading is dominating currently. Those in the “know” have said that high freq. trading is about 70% of market volume. Very scary stuff.

For a primer on the issue I recently received a recent communication from a friend with his observations on the topic:

High Frequency Trading Programs (HFTP) collect a ¼ of a penny rebate for every transaction they make. They’re not interested in making a gains from a trade, just collecting the rebate.

Let’s say an institutional investor has put in an order to buy 15,000 shares of XYZ company between $10.00 and $10.07. The institution’s buy program is designed to make this order without pushing up the stock price, so it buys the shares in chunks of 100 or so (often it also advertises to the index how many shares are left in the order).

First it buys 100 shares at $10.00. That order clears, so the program buys another 200 shares at $10.01. That clears, so the program buys another 500 shares at $10.03. At this point an HFTP will have recognized that an institutional investor is putting in a large staggered order.

The HFTP then begins front-running the institutional investor. So the HFTP puts in an order for 100 shares at $10.04. The broker who was selling shares to the institutional investor would obviously rather sell at a higher price (even if it’s just a penny). So the broker sells his shares to the HFTP at $10.04. The HFTP then turns around and sells its shares to the institutional investor for $10.04 (which was the institution’s next price anyway).

In this way, the trading program makes ½ a penny (one ¼ for buying from the broker and another ¼ for selling to the institution) AND makes the institutional trader pay a penny more on the shares.

And this kind of nonsense now comprises 70% OF ALL MARKET TRANSACTIONS. Put another way, the market is now no longer moving based on REAL orders, it’s moving based on a bunch of HFTPs gaming each other and REAL orders to earn fractions of a penny.

Currently, roughly five billion shares trade per day. Take away HFTP’s transactions (70%) and you’ve got daily volume of 1.5 billion. That’s roughly the same amount of transactions that occur during Christmas (see the HUGE drop in late December), a time when almost every institution and investor is on vacation.

HFTPs were introduced under the auspices of providing liquidity. But the liquidity they provide isn’t REAL. It’s largely microsecond trades between computer programs, not REAL buy/sell orders from someone who has any interest in owning stocks.

In fact, HFTPs are not REQUIRED to trade. They’re entirely “for profit” enterprises. And the profits are obscene: $21 billion spread out amongst the 100 or so firms who engage in this (Goldman Sachs (GS) is the undisputed king controlling an estimated 21% of all High Frequency Trading).

So IF the market collapses (as it well could when the summer ends and institutional participation returns to the market in full force). HFTPs can simply stop trading, evaporating 70% of the market’s trading volume overnight. Indeed, one could very easily consider HFTPs to be the ULTIMATE market prop as you will soon see.



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Try this again

It’s tomorrow that Greenwich Time will run its expose on the sorry state of the Antares boys, not last week, as I so prematurely reported. And while I’m correcting things, Abe Vigoda was the sad faced cop on Barney Miller, Neil Vigdor is the very able Greenwich Time reporter who’s dug up good stuff on our local clown developers. My confusion of those names is evidence of a misspent youth, obviously.

UPDATE: Nope – no story today. I know that the article’s been written, so where is it? My guess is there are a couple of lawyers involved here, but maybe there just isn’t space to run it what with Suzie the Gossiper’s column and must-read stories about face painting and community gardens.


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Andres Piedrihita bulking up in anticipation of prison?

"Yes, it's a gun, no I have no pocket, yes, I'm also glad to see you."

"Yes, it's a gun, no I have no pocket, yes, I'm also glad to see you."

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Some people just don’t get it

This morning I heard nonagenarian Daniel Schorr, hands-down NPR’s least informed, most annoying commentator, explaining away the protests against ObamaCare as a pre-packaged protest organized by the insurance industry. MyLeftnutmeg.com says the same thing. Former Enron adviser Paul Krugman pays lip service to that conspiracy theory in his latest NYT column but goes one better: it’s really all about angry white Americans who can’t stand the sight of a black man as our president.

[C] ynical political operators are exploiting that anxiety to further the economic interests of their backers.

Does this sound familiar? It should: it’s a strategy that has played a central role in American politics ever since Richard Nixon realized that he could advance Republican fortunes by appealing to the racial fears of working-class whites.

Many people hoped that last year’s election would mark the end of the “angry white voter” era in America.

I’m charged with racism by commentators here, too – apparently one can’t oppose Obama without being a racist because he’s uh, black, dude. Yes he is, and a majority of Americans voted for that black man so he’s now our president – every American’s president. I protest against him for the very reason I voted against him last November: I don’t like his policies. For some reason, Krugman, Schorr et als can’t understand that, even though they have no difficulty disagreeing with Justice Clarence Thomas. In their world, to disagree with a liberal black man is racist; a conservative black? Hey, dissent is the highest form of patriotism.

I think that this type of left think is blind, and I think that, by dismissing opponents of Obama as tools of the insurance companies and white racists, these people are missing what’s going on out in the amber waves of grain. You’d expect politicians to be more tuned in than that, but it’s so easy, and comfortable to ignore those who disagree with them that they sometimes get blindsided. “What’s the matter with Kansas?” They don’t like socialism. Period.


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I think this is bad news but what do I know?

The average holding period for NYSE stocks is now down below six months. As Henry Blodget points out – and who knows better than he? – in that time frame, you’re not investing, you’re trading. And you’re speculating. So is this a bad thing or just an evolution in how Wall Street works? I fear it because it would seem to prevent long-term planning by companies, but you finance guys (and gals) can correct me.

From the article:

[C] an we please stop pretending that what most fund managers are doing every day is “investing”?  Holding stocks for six months isn’t investing.  It’s trading.  And because trading is a negative-sum game–one largely focused on trying to figure out what everyone else is doing–it is really speculating.

When you’re speculating, there’s no reason to pay attention to things like fundamental analysis, valuation, future cash flows, and all the other stuff they teach you in security-analysis school.  For holding periods of less than six months, those things don’t mean jack.  Over holding periods that short, the game is all about figuring out what everyone else thinks and then gambling that you’ll be right and they’ll be wrong.

So remember that next time your favorite fund manager sends you a note patting himself on the back for his investing prowess.  What he’s really talking about is speculating.


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Finally, a government program I approve of

Here comes Pelosi Air now

Here comes Pelosi Air now!

Pentagon takes aim at Congressional jet travel


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He’s just resting

"Oh Generalissimo, woo hoo"

"Oh Generalissimo, woo hoo"

Taliban says Baitulla Mehsud is not dead.

UPDATE: While he’s resting, other Talibiners are killing each other in a succession fight. Keep it up boys, and don’t stop til you drop.

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Want to sell your $5-$7 million mansion? Auction it for $2.5

SIMFT: Sotheby's International Means Fine Tobacco
SIMFT: Sotheby’s Int. Means Fine Tobacco

That’s what discouraged homeowners are doing in Florida and California. Is Greenwich next? Probably. Sotheby’s is getting into the game, this NYT article says, but I’m confused: weren’t they were going to get top dollar from their international clientele?

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Saturday morning stats

Here are some numbers culled from Shore & Country’s data on single family home inventory. Their numbers are slightly different than mine but the conclusion is the same: we have a lot of houses for sale. Years of inventory, in fact. I know, yours is different.

                            2009                 2008

$3-5 mll          152                          84

$5-10  mll      119                           58

> $10                 44                            22

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Go, and sin no more

Applicable to the story below but in fact that was the “punishment” meted out to Connecticut’s most corrupt senator (our only one, come to think of it), Chris Dodd. I’m astonished. At this level, partisanship gives way to protection of the ruling class – the rulers take care of their own. Plus, they get to ride around in cool jets.

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Next time, wait for them to call you

Greenwich man breaks into neighbor’s home, cuts pubic hairs .  I suspect “gets along with clients” wasn’t this would-be barber’s best grade in tonsorial college.


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