Daily Archives: April 20, 2010

This makes no sense

Room for one more

It’s boom time in North Dakota yet there’s no housing? So says the New York Times but something’s wrong here – any free economy would have quickly produced housing for workers ready to pay for it, and if people have really spent eighteen months in hotels trying to find a place to rent, the state should look to its regulations and zoning codes and figure out what it’s doing wrong.

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Dick Blumenthal was unavailable for comment

USA Swimming outlines rules to prevent misconduct

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Never mind!

Britain finally opens airspace. “Guess we over-reacted”.

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I must have missed this – the Madoff Boys have a newsletter!

You cuda be a contender too, big boy, if your assets aren't liened by Irv

No, really, they do! (UPDATE: no, apparently they don’t – link doesn’t operate) But Deal breaker’s story is amusing enough.

The first thing is please don’t forget to sign up for Mark’s daily newsletter. The second, which you’d think would be abundantly clear but apparently not: these guys are victims! Yeah, they were Bernie’s second and third in command at Ponzi Nation but victims! Victims “of their father’s terrible crimes.” Victims of his scam. Victims of the DNA he passed on their way. VIC-TIMS. Victims. Owing to their victim status, the boys have submitted a filing with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York, requesting that all complaints against them be dropped.

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School auditorium application pulled

That moron who lives on Old Church Road – I forget his name, but the guy who fought lighting of the football stadium for so long – wasn’t properly served with notice of tonight’s P&Z hearing and, in the face of his threat to sue the town (again), the application was yanked and will come back again. When a fellow refuses to pick up certified mail, the wiser approach is to spend a hundred bucks on a sheriff to hand-deliver documents to him, and I presume that’s what will be done in the future.

I kind of, sort of, defended this guy in the past on the vague grounds that every town needs a local lunatic for color, but really – the man is obsessed. Too bad.

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Happy where your taxes are spent?

New York theatre organization is a scam

(NYT):

ALBANY — An obscure upstate theater group that receives far more state aid than any of New York’s world-renowned cultural institutions is rife with corruption, mismanagement, nepotism and possibly illegal conduct, according to a scathing report released on Tuesday by the state inspector general’s office.

The 127-page report accuses the longtime artistic director, Patricia Snyder, of the group, the New York State Theater Institute, with improperly using state money to enrich herself and her family, while the institute’s board and its chairman, David W. Morris, looked the other way or claimed ignorance.

UN’s Haiti budget of $732 million is spent mainly on itself.

The United Nations has quietly upped this year’s peacekeeping budget for earthquake-shattered Haiti to $732.4 million, with two-thirds of that amount going for the salary, perks and upkeep of its own personnel, not residents of the devastated island.

Remember, there’s not a penny that can be cut from federal or state spending without imposing horrible suffering on the needy and deserving.

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Compare and contrast – the Catholics come out (way) ahead of the Church of England on this one

Cardinal Ortega

Cardinal:  Cuba’s a friggin’ hell-hole.

The 73-year-old prelate said that people were openly talking about the deficiencies in Cuba’s socialist system, calling it a Stalinist-style bureaucracy producing apathetic workers and low productivity.

The Arch Bishop of Canterbury, on the other hand, is concerned with more important matter than individual freedom.

In 2002 he delivered the Richard Dimbleby lecture and chose to talk about the problematic nature of the nation-state but also of its successors. He cited the so-called ‘market state’ as offering an inadequate vision of the way a state should operate, partly because it was liable to short-term and narrowed concerns (thus rendering it incapable of dealing with, for instance, issues relating to the degradation of the natural environment) and partly because a public arena which had become value-free was liable to disappear amidst the multitude of competing private interests. (He noted the same moral vacuum in British society after this visit to China in 2006.) He is not uncritical of communitarianism, but his reservations about consumerism have been a constant theme. These views have often been expressed in quite strong terms; for example, he once commented that “Every transaction in the developed economies of the West can be interpreted as an act of aggression against the economic losers in the worldwide game.”[25]

Rowan Williams

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Park City Utah fire sale?

That’s what the auctioneer promises but I’ve learned to be dubious of such claims. Still, if it comes off, 30 mansions sold for half price should have a depressing effect on neighboring home values.

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38 Bush Avenue update

After two years, this house was finally reported under contract a couple of weeks ago and I wondered then whether the sellers had finally gotten their price or just grown tired. The latter, it turns out. From an original price of $3.6, slowly dropped to $2.8, sales price was $2 million. Assessment is $1.8.

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When something can’t go on, it won’t

Hundreds of thousands of teachers jobs to get axed. This despite Congress doling out $100 billion of taxpayer money last year to pay salaries. Educators and the NEA cry disaster, I say, it’s about time.

Check out this history of public employee unions and how they ruined California. Same story, especially in Connecticut with its binding arbitration law.

The unions’ political triumphs have molded a California in which government workers thrive at the expense of a struggling private sector. The state’s public school teachers are the highest-paid in the nation. Its prison guards can easily earn six-figure salaries. State workers routinely retire at 55 with pensions higher than their base pay for most of their working life. Meanwhile, what was once the most prosperous state now suffers from an unemployment rate far steeper than the nation’s and a flood of firms and jobs escaping high taxes and stifling regulations. This toxic combination—high public-sector employee costs and sagging economic fortunes—has produced recurring budget crises in Sacramento and in virtually every municipality in the state.

How public employees became members of the elite class in a declining California offers a cautionary tale to the rest of the country, where the same process is happening in slower motion. The story starts half a century ago, when California public workers won bargaining rights and quickly learned how to elect their own bosses—that is, sympathetic politicians who would grant them outsize pay and benefits in exchange for their support. Over time, the unions have turned the state’s politics completely in their favor. The result: unaffordable benefits for civil servants; fiscal chaos in Sacramento and in cities and towns across the state; and angry taxpayers finally confronting the unionized masters of California’s unsustainable government.

California’s government workers took longer than many of their counterparts to win the right to bargain collectively. New York City mayor Robert Wagner started a national movement back in the late 1950s when he granted negotiating rights to government unions, hoping to enlist them as allies against the city’s Tammany Hall machine. The movement intensified in the early sixties, after President John F. Kennedy conferred the right to bargain on federal workers. In California, a more politically conservative environment at the time, public employees remained without negotiating power through most of the sixties, though they could join labor associations. In 1968, however, the state legislature passed the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act, extending bargaining rights to local government workers. Teachers and other state employees won the same rights in the seventies.

These legislative victories happened at a time of surging prosperity. California’s aerospace industry, fueled by the Cold War, was booming; investments in water supply and infrastructure nourished the state’s agribusiness; cheaper air travel and a famously temperate climate burnished tourism. The twin lures of an expanding job market and rising incomes pushed the state’s population higher, from about 16 million in 1960 to 23 million in 1980 and nearly 30 million by 1990. This expanding population in turn led to rapid growth in government jobs—from a mere 874,000 in 1960 to 1.76 million by 1980 and nearly 2.1 million in 1990—and to exploding public-union membership. In the late 1970s, the California teachers’ union boasted about 170,000 members; that number jumped to about 225,000 in the early 1990s and stands at 340,000 today.

The swelling government payroll made many California taxpayers uneasy, eventually encouraging the 1978 passage of Proposition 13 (see page 30), the famous initiative that capped property-tax hikes and sought to slow the growth of local governments, which feed on property taxes. Government workers rightly saw Prop. 13 as a threat. “We’re not going to just lie back and take it,” a California labor leader told the Washington Post after the vote, adding that Prop. 13 had made the union “more militant.” The next several years proved him right. In 1980 alone, unionized employees of California local governments went on strike 40 times, even though doing so was illegal. And once the Supreme Court of California sanctioned state and local workers’ right to strike in 1985—something that their counterparts in most other states still lack—the unions quickly mastered confrontational techniques like the “rolling strike,” in which groups of workers walk off jobs at unannounced times, and the “blue flu,” in which public-safety workers call in sick en masse.

But in post–Proposition 13 California, strikes were far from the unions’ most fearsome weapons. Aware that Proposition 13 had shifted political action to the state capital, three major blocs—teachers’ unions, public-safety unions, and the Service Employees International Union, which now represents 350,000 assorted government workers—began amassing colossal power in Sacramento. Over the last 30 years, they have become elite political givers and the state’s most powerful lobbying factions, replacing traditional interest groups and changing the balance of power. Today, they vie for the title of mightiest political force in California.

Consider the California Teachers Association. Much of the CTA’s clout derives from the fact that, like all government unions, it can help elect the very politicians who negotiate and approve its members’ salaries and benefits. Soon after Proposition 13 became law, the union launched a coordinated statewide effort to support friendly candidates in school-board races, in which turnout is frequently low and special interests can have a disproportionate influence. In often bitter campaigns, union-backed candidates began sweeping out independent board members. By 1987, even conservative-leaning Orange County saw 83 percent of board seats up for grabs going to union-backed candidates. The resulting change in school-board composition made the boards close allies of the CTA.

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Firm loyalty

Goldman Sachs tells London to strip  Fabrice Tourre of his license. Hey, if they’ll fu** their clients, why not their employees?

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Sure, now they tell us, after Kindle

1992 survey: 20% of librarians were getting frisky between the stacks. I couldda been a contendah!

Will Manly, who said the New York-based Wilson Library Bulletin withheld the results of his survey in 1992, published results recently on his Web site indicating 51 percent of librarians in the early 90s were willing to pose nude for money and 61 percent of respondents admitting to renting an X-rated film, the New York Daily News reported Monday.

Manly said the survey questions were printed in the now-defunct journal, but bosses withheld the results and fired him for the saucy survey, which he said received 5,000 responses from librarians.

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By their fruits, ye shall know them

Goldman hires lawyer. Check out his client list, you decide.

Craig represented Senator Ted Kennedy during the 1991 rape trial of William Kennedy Smith.[8] (The Senator himself faced no charges in this trial.)

He represented the Cuban father of Elián González during the 2000 child custody dispute which ended when U.S. Marshals enforced court orders that the child be moved from the Florida home of relatives, where they had influenced the child to make a number of videos lashing out at his father.[9] The courts ultimately supported the father’s contention that the child should be returned to his custody, a decision father’s rights groups around the world greeted with overwhelming approval.

Craig represented United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan during the Volker Commission’s investigations in 2004 into the scandals involving the oil-for-food programme.

Recently, he represented Pedro Miguel González Pinzón, a Panamanian legislator wanted in the US for the murder in 1992 of a US soldier, and the attempted murder of another. The Dallas Morning News called on Senator Obama to ask Craig to choose between the campaign and involvement in the case.[10] Craig had earlier represented the Panamá government during the trial in 1990 of the former president, General Manuel Noriega[11] and had sought the return to Panamá’s treasury of funds stolen by Noriega.

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All for naught?

Fly away, little bird!

Hollywood turns its back on silicone implants. I was never into that particular fetish, but damn, some very nice girls spent a lot of money trying to impress casting directors with these things.

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More on Blumenthal – written before he married into wealth

From those heated days of 1967 and written from a Harvard Crimson perspective – how brave, how cutting! [All spelling errors from the original – but spelling rules were for the bourgeois, man!]

The intellectuals worry that most members of SDS have yet to shed the bourgeois outlook and prejudices of their middle-class upbringing. “In fact, most students hold a kind of dogged career-oriented conception of their lives which would do their parents proud,” observed Paul Potter, a past SDS president, and Hal Benenson, of the Harvard chapter, in a recent paper on the “critical radical perspective.” Despite the radical rhetoric and slogans, “there is very little comprehension of what the words that are slung around mean either as descriptions of the society or as prescriptions for action.” Most SDSers, they observed, still accept the notion that “getting a majority of people to vote for something creates a force for change”; that the United States will criminate poverty without radically changing, and that the country cannot lose the war in Vietnam if it employs its superior military power. “In a very real way,” they note, “rhetoric without content breeds the politics of despair and nihilism. The slogans we use acutely heighten our sense of distance and radical alienation … the failure of these slogans to specify any content also heightens our sense of desperateness and impotence.”

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Was Dick Blumenthal really captain of Harvard’s Varsity Swim Team?

Relaxing after (belatedly) filing suit against Big Tobacco

My earlier post questioning whether this load actually was captain of Harvard’s swim team has produced memories from the class of ’67 that remembered him once winning an intramural swim event but other than that, nada. It’s not a huge deal – who cares what someone did or didn’t do forty years ago, but if he’s being dishonest, it does say a lot about the man.

My father told me that when he showed up at Yale in 1923  the senior rowers made freshmen line up by height and, since he was the shortest guy in his class, he was made coxswain on the rowing team. No further qualification than that.

I told my own kids that the only reason I was a second-string half back on my prep school’s soccer team was that the school was too small to support a third-string.

I’m not sure our honesty makes my father and me more honorable men than Blumenthal, but there’s something desperately needy about a 64-year-old man lying about his collegiate athletic prowess, if indeed he is lying.

So Harvard ’67s – can you dig around old yearbooks and see if this face-lifted lightweight ever swam for Harvard?

UPDATE: Ooh ooh ooh! He wasn’t elected captain unless he changed his name to Peter Alter. Bad boy, Dickie!!!

Complete list of captains here. No Dick

UPDATE II: Another claim to have been captain.

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Merrill got what was coming to it

The NYT’s Dealbook links to this December, 2007 article in the WSJ detailing how Merrill got into the same crap cdo deals that Goldman did. The difference is, Merrill was stupid enough to hang on to the stuff, and that brought them down. How stupid were they? They went out and recruited a penny stock scam operator to run the fund for them!

Not always, but sometimes, the market punishes the truly stupid.

Norma illustrates how investors and Wall Street, in their efforts to keep a lucrative market going, took a good idea too far. Created at the behest of an Illinois hedge fund looking for a tailor-made bet on subprime mortgages, the vehicle was brought into existence by Merrill Lynch & Co. and a posse of little-known partners.

In its use of newfangled derivatives, Norma contributed to a speculative market that dwarfed the value of the subprime mortgages on which it was based. It was also part of a chain of mortgage-linked investments that took stakes in one another. The practice generated fees for a handful of big banks. But, say critics, it created little value for investors or the broader economy.

“Everyone was passing the risk to the next deal and keeping it within a closed system,” says Ann Rutledge, a principal of R&R Consulting, a New York structured-finance consultancy. “If you hold my risk and I hold yours, we can say whatever we think it’s worth and generate fees from that. It’s like…creating artificial value.”

Only nine months after selling $1.5 billion in securities to investors, Norma is worth a fraction of its original value. Credit-rating firms, which once signed off approvingly on the deal, have slashed its ratings to junk.

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Dodd’s banking “reform” will hurt start-ups

One of the more curious provisions buried in Dodd’s 1,300 banking bill is an attempt to kill off “Angel Investors” – rich people who invest their own money in Silicon Valley start-ups. Dodd raises the minimum wealth requirement for such investors to $2.5 million from $1 million, and requires the entrepreneurs to file with the SEC and wait 120 days for review of their business plan before accepting any money. That’s not how business works with start ups and presumably Dodd knows this, so the question is, why is he doing this?

I really don’t know, unless it’s antipathy towards small businesses – could that be?

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