Daily Archives: October 14, 2009

LibertarianAdvocate wants no more pictures of fat girls

Scusie will be crushed – she loved the publicity – but anything for a reader. Here you go, fella:

old-breast-implants1

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Walt Noel branches out?

Early Leonardo?
Early Leonardo?

A genUwine Davinchi has been discovered and rescued from obscurity, or so say the experts. That’s nice, and it gives me new incentive to clean out my attic, but this one detail from the New York Post’s story on the forensic detective who confirmed the discovery leaves me wondering whether, in these troubled times, someone’s not looking to generate some undeserved cash.

Biro has been embroiled in controversy in the past. He was called a fraud when he authenticated a Jackson Pollock painting based on a fingerprint. The Global Fine Art Registry, which monitors art sales and disputed works, said that the print was copied off a paint can found in the artist’s East Hampton studio.

Biro has denied any wrongdoing and he was never charged.

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Zazi the taxi driver communicated with top Al Qaeda executive

Adds to the picture and as alarming as the 19 backpacks the feds found in his co-conspirator’s home. I discussed this topic with a close friend Sunday, a guy as liberal as I am right wing kook, and I was astonished at his lack of concern. I think he dismissed my sources as the product of talk radio, so perhaps, now that this story is on NPR, he’ll change his mind.

While officials would not characterize the nature of their contact, the fact that Zazi could actually reach out and get hold of a top al-Qaida operative in Afghanistan is significant. This is the third time in the past few years that al-Qaida’s top leadership appears to have given recruits with U.S. ties some sort of special consideration or attention.

“I think al-Qaida is always in search of interesting operatives who can operate in the West, and in particular, in the United States,” said Juan Zarate, a former deputy national security adviser for terrorism in the Bush administration.

Could Have Been A ‘Coup’ For Al-Qaida

Zazi appears to fit the profile of an “interesting operative.” He’s an Afghan immigrant who had lived in the U.S. for 10 years. His lawyer told NPR that Zazi was about to apply for his green card. Until he was arrested last month, he had never been in trouble with the law. And because of those factors, he was able to move freely around the U.S.

Zarate says that combination would have been a coup for al-Qaida. “A coup for al-Qaida in this instance would be the ability to create the kind of threat in the homeland that al-Qaida has tried to foment ever since 9/11,” said Zarate. “And I think that, for authorities, is the chilling dimension of this.”

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A Potemkin Banking Village?

Moodys reports that commercial mortgages are in the crapper and diving deeper. Makes sense to me – isn’t this why the banks got the “mark to market” rule suspended last year just so they didn’t have to admit this?

As for residential mortgages, I know next to nothing about them and I stand ready, as always, for you more knowledgable readers to correct me, but here’s what I piece together from the few facts I know, some anecdotal observations, and a whole bunch of guessing:

In Greenwich, I am aware of far more troubled loans than the 231 that show up on the record. So I conclude that the banks are sitting on bad loans and not declaring them non-performing.

I am aware of far more troubled loans held by banks than show up in their filings. So I conclude that the banks are keeping the extent of their woes hidden from regulators and investors.

And I am aware of certain banks that are still in business despite being way over the threshold for shut down. So I conclude that the FDIC is deliberately letting them live.

Putting all this together, I think many of our banks can’t afford to declare any more loans non-performing. For each loan they move from the asset side of the ledger to the debit they must come up , I believe, with fresh capital to balance it. They have no fresh capital, so they keep the loans where they are. And the FDIC, by its own admission, is running out of money to cover the cost of shutting down banks so, I’m guessing, they’re holding off, not out of any sense of patriotism but from lack of funds.

Look at the banks who have access to taxpayer money and loan guarantees, like JP Morgan/Chase. It is aggressively moving to foreclose loans it was given by the feds when they took over WaMu because, I speculate, they can do so without harming their asset balance, and any money they can squeeze from the foreclosed properties is pure gravy. Hence record bonuses.

Smaller banks don’t have that luxury and aren’t foreclosing. My guess is that eventually we’ll see another round of taxpayer money going to the big banks to take over the small and then we will see an accelerated round of foreclosures. Until then, we’re all inhabiting a dreamland where all loans are sound, all bankers are heirs of Jimmy Stewart and no one anywhere will lose his home to foreclosure. I give that happy state of affairs a ten month life span, at most.

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Global warming – media begins to understand that the debate is not over

Even the dumbest reporters,  spoon-fed pabulum since birth, can eventually stumble upon the truth and 2009 marks the beginning of their realization that they’ve been fed, and have been regurgitating, utter bullshit.

Which is nice, but not particularly reassuring. This foolishness has never been about polar bears, melting ice caps or battery cars – it’s about power: the central government wants it and will take it. The power mad have chafed at the heedless hordes doing what they want to do and not what the enlightened know they should do. So here come rules to impoverish us, drive us from the hated suburbs, stick us in the dark and leave us totally dependent on Washington. And a minor problem like the truth about global warming getting out won’t slow them at all.

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Well of course you were, Porko!

Polo Jeans

Polo Jeans

Model says she was fired by Ralph Lipschitz for failing to fit into his clothes. No wonder: she’s only 5’10” yet weighs a whopping 120 lbs! Time for a diet, honey. In the meantime, Ralph himself turns 70 today.

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Funny piece on what happened to Wall Street by Calvin Trillin

Too long to paraphrase but worth reading in its entirety. Link sent me by Fly, who comments that the martini-drinking sage reminds him of Retired IB’R. I agree.

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Nice house, but no way

22 Marks Rd, Rvsd

22 Marks Rd, Rvsd

This Riverside house has been completely renovated and is on a good street, but the current owners bought it just a year ago, for $3.241 million. They tried denying what happened to the market since then by pricing it at $3.1 million and today they lowered it again, to $2.995. The trouble is, the market has fallen far more than those puny reductions and buyers know it. So something is going to have to give here, either the seller’s refusal to accept a loss or a return to 2007 market prices. Or it won’t sell. I don’t think we’ll be seeing 2007 prices for a long time.

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Atlas hogtied

Harry Reid proposes ending health insurer’s anti-trust exemption. I have no idea why the insurance industry received such an exemption or whether it is a good or a bad thing – all I know is that they’ve enjoyed that status since 1947 and only today, after the industry questioned the costs of Reid’s health care plan, did it occur to the Senator to do something about it. Do you remember when Microsoft proudly boasted that they didn’t spend a dime on Washington lobbyists and hence gave no money to politicians? One massive anti-trust suit later, they’re handing over millions to the men who can destroy them. This is all about power, not the merits of any particular position, and Washington is intent on grabbing all of it. They’re succeeding, too.

UPDATE: Politico sees the same thing.

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Robert Reich speaking truth to the clueless

Two years ago Robert Reich gave a lecture at Berkeley and posited what a candidate “who was forced to speak nothing but the truth” would have to say, and why he could never be elected.

  • A solution in Iraq is going to be tough.
  • Treating more sick people will mean younger people will pay more.
  • It’s too expensive to treat older people at the end of their life “so we’re going to let you die”.
  • If we use government to control costs there will be “less innovation” in medical technology and you should not expect to live much longer than your parents.
  • Global warming can only be tackled by a carbon tax which is going to cost you a lot of money.
  • We’re going to have to pay teachers more for quality education — costing you more — but we have to be willing to fire the turkeys despite the unions.
  • Anyone who does an unskilled, repetitive job will lose it in the near future to outsourcing or automation. And there’s nothing anyone can do about it.
  • A minimum wage doesn’t help as much as an earned income tax credit.
  • Helping people at the bottom earn more is going to cost higher income people more money.
  • Medicare will bankrupt the nation unless something is done and will impoverish the youth.
  • The best way to ameliorate global poverty is to do away with farm subsidies.

I particularly like this part:

The student audience, which at first clapped enthusiastically as Reich started to tell his unspeakable “truths”  stopped clapping by the end. Reich had uttered the fundamental heresy. You really can’t have something for nothing. Pulling in one direction meant giving way in another. He went on to say that America was hopelessly addicted to fantasy; that anyone who got up on stage and reeled off the points he had made was politically dead.

Do you remember John Bolton, our UN Ambassador? He too spoke the truth – everyone knew it but no one wanted to hear it and he was driven from his post. The trouble with denying the truth is that you can only do so for so long, and then it bites you.

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JP Morgan, 2005: There is no housing bubble! (and we just happen to have some securitized mortgages in the back of Mr. Haney’s truck to sell you).

Aw, this is unfair. JP wasn’t alone is selling this junk, so why pick on them? Maybe because of those record bonuses?

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What’s selling in this market

Just back from showing a house (no, I won’t say where it is because my client loved it and wants to bring his wife back to see it – I’m in this business to sell houses, not to look at them) and I was struck by the fact that a good lot with a well-executed house can still look reasonable even at above $5 million. Builders get so caught up in their own projects that they can’t be objective but if they could, some of them with their $8 million houses would look at this one and figure out what my clients and I did – they’re overpriced by half.

A marginal lot cannot command a huge price, no matter how large a house you put on it or how many dishwashers you stick under those granite counters. A great lot, on the other hand, can. There is far less premium land in Greenwich than bad, yet the prices of houses usually don’t reflect it. And the houses on bad land usually don’t sell, either.

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Sour View Condos

I see that 40 Sound View Condominiums, the half-finished complex going up on the steep hill leading from Field Point Road to Railroad Avenue, has dropped a couple more units $300,000 and they are now asking $2.5 million. GMLS records show just one unit sold to date, a unit closing in May of this year for $3.525. I’d question whether this sole sale wasn’t just an attempt to meet the lender’s sales activity demands but the selling agent was Chris Finlay, and he’s a man capable of selling anything, so I presume it was legitimate. Bad news for that buyer, though, when the units next door are already a million dollars less and not selling.

I wonder what the future holds for these houses? The planned second half of the development is, wisely, still dirt, and depending on the financial strength of the builder, might never be built. In the meantime, would you risk a couple of million here? I wouldn’t, but I’m not the market. I’m also not the builder, and I’m glad of that.

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Rental prices

107 Summit Rd

107 Summit Rd

I don’t spend much time on rentals, dipping into that market mostly to accommodate clients who want a short-term stay while building or looking for a house to buy, but my general impression and experience has been that rents are way down from a few years ago. So this reported rental today surprised me: $10,000 per month for a renovated but small home on the railroad tracks in Riverside. Wow. At that rate, investment properties could start making sense again.

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Are we having fun yet?

The end of the high-end Milbank condo boom can probably be neatly marked by witnessing the decline of 191 Milbank Avenue, part of the Abby’s Wild Irish Rose development. Two units here were priced at $6.350 million. One sold, for $6 million plus in May, 2008 (contract was July, 2007). The other has not, and was slashed today to $3.950. I hope the unlucky buyer kept some of that Wild Rose he received as a home warming gift – he’ll need something to ease the pain.

And from the “what a difference a month makes” department, the new waterfront construction at 613 Steamboat Road, which came on for sale September 9th at $8.750 million has just been cut to $8.286. Gee, at $500,000 a month, this place is going to be a bargain by 2012.

Finally, again illustrating the folly of winning bidding wars, the lucky winner of 2 LeJeune Court in Havemeyer who paid $1.2 million for a house asking $1.1 million in 2005 has cut his price again today, down to $950,000. Assessment is $676,000.

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Walter, remember to terminate your Facebook account before leaving

From the stupid crooks files comes this story of a bank fraudster who fled to Mexico and hid out until he updated his facebook page as to his whereabouts. The recent mortgage debacle  demonstrated that it doesn’t take an IQ of 60 to take advantage of banks but really, someone this dumb made off with $200 K? I’m in the wrong profession.

I'd like a no doc loan, please.

I'd like a no doc loan, please.

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As endorsed by Greenwich Time

Lincoln Milstein discovers blogs

Lincoln Milstein discovers blogs

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The value of an MBA

Along with news of bankers paying themselves record bonuses from our tax money comes this entertaining piece from BusinessInsider.com (it’s actually a link to Joe Nocera’s NYT article) about the easy-money programs run by those same institutions just a few years ago. J.P. Morgan Chase is one of the firms paying very nice bonuses this year, if you were wondering.

1 bank loan

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God bless you; now come buy a house

The Wall Street Journal reports (as predicted here by Fly months ago) that the surviving financial firms are on track to award record bonuses this year. Well, at least this way I can see where my taxes went – some of the other forced contributions were less transparent.

Major U.S. banks and securities firms are on pace to pay their employees about $140 billion this year — a record high that shows compensation is rebounding despite regulatory scrutiny of Wall Street’s pay culture.

Workers at 23 top investment banks, hedge funds, asset managers and stock and commodities exchanges can expect to earn even more than they did the peak year of 2007, according to an analysis of securities filings for the first half of 2009 and revenue estimates through year-end by The Wall Street Journal.

Total compensation and benefits at the publicly traded firms analyzed by the Journal are on track to increase 20% from last year’s $117 billion — and to top 2007’s $130 billion payout. This year, employees at the companies will earn an estimated $143,400 on average, up almost $2,000 from 2007 levels.

Update: And this is heart-warming: AIG pays kitchen worker “retention bonus” of $7,500. You know, you find a great pot scrubber, you don’t want to lose him to the joint down the street.

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What’s up with this?

Four Weston Hill in Riverside has been co-listed by Ann Simpson (Prudential?) and Jean Ruggiero (Raveis) since September of 2008, starting at $2.495. Today its price was dropped to $1.875 but, while Ann is still one agent, Jean’s off the listing and Raveis manager Beckey Hanley has it. That’s unusual and I wonder what’s up (and this will prompt a phone call from Becky or Jean, wondering why I didn’t just call for an explanation – because it’s more fun to speculate in print, ladies).

Regardless, this house is approaching a decent price. It has no back yard, the owners having sacrificed it to a pool, and the finish inside is strictly Home Depot, but I like the location and at an expense of well-less than $100,000 a buyer could make this a very nice place. Assessment is $1.496, if you’re looking for a good place to start bidding.

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