Thursday, December 17, 2009

Happy Holiday?

I have enough money to last me the rest of my life, unless I buy something.
-- Jackie Mason (1934 - )

As we anticipate the possibility of snow, politicians who have been elected (or re-elected) are being sworn in. Most face the difficult task of doing more with less as New York City and New York State look for loose change to cover the growing financial shortfalls. California evidently was a harbinger of things to come and now falls somewhere between Greece, Latvia, Iceland and Dubai, in economic decline. Look for more of the same to spring upon us.
Governor Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg clearly have their hands full and when the MTA looks to cut service for the elderly and disabled, you know the problem is beyond voter rage.

In the Hamptons, newly elected Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst (a cipher who is a skillful politician that has managed to defeat Linda Kabot) will need more than just cooperation from the Republicans to keep things moving. Perhaps the success of the Shinnecock Indians in having gained tribal recognition from the Federal government should now be considered a godsend in improving the economy. This was written about years ago in the SoHo Journal when “Skip” Heaney (former Supervisor) and the Republicans fought casinos in the Hamptons. Looks pretty interesting now as a source of incredible income, which could offset the cost of keeping police, teachers, and social programs intact – while lowering property taxes. It’s something to seriously reconsider.

If you follow the meanderings of Wall Street, it is difficult to tell what the pundits are predicting -- since all things point to a resurgence of inflation, more prolonged pain on Main Street, an increasing number of foreclosures and job losses, a commercial real estate collapse this year -- come with record bonuses at Goldman Sachs -- along with a 50% increase in the Dow Jones.
All things point to improvement that investment bank employees experience -- coinciding with more financial and emotional pain for the average citizen. It is clear that the unemployment numbers are likely to continue to rise as inflation cures some of our problems temporarily. The fact that the employment numbers are “better” is no solace for people who are out of work, out of money and entering foreclosure. There is the possibility of a double-dip recession in spite of the numerous bailouts (like unemployment insurance) that keep the sans-culottes docile – and, as we wait for the credit bubble to burst, leading us into the Depression predicted for 2012-2013 – as a result of all of the money we have been printing.

Read between the tealeaves and hope that the spring selling season brings us some temporary relief from the pain. But, don’t be fooled by the economic shell game that does not hide a fragile economy where, instead of allowing the “too big to fail” banks -- to fail -- we have simply propped up bankers who want their bonuses at our expense and at any cost.
Remember, there were several drops after 1929 and they were much more severe than Black Friday.

PS. Since there is now an openly gay Mayor of Houston, the challenge of Regina Calceterra ( for State Senate takes on a new meaning. It is likely that State Senator LaValle will now face a credible and serious challenge to his incumbency. While there is certainly controversy over Gay Marriage, there is little disagreement over the need for equality – in long-term relationships and in civil rights. For many, it boils down to the use of the word Marriage. And, that is eroding. Keep your eyes open on this challenge in a typically conservative county on Long Island.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Hamptons Election Views

If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal.
-- Unknown

In the Hamptons, D.A. Spota, who holds the most powerful elected position in Suffolk County, will be re-elected along with a host of other candidates who were cross endorsed. This leaves only the Southampton Town Supervisor race as one of the few obvious, contested elections. While a few of the Town Board slots are in question, only the Supervisor race -- and that of Highway Superintendent are important. Alex Gregor, a strong local candidate wants to take over that sensitive, contract-laden post of Highway Superintendant in Southampton. All should support his run for good government.
Prior to this, that job was a huge source of largesse via political contributions.

Anna Throne-Holst is vying for the incumbent’s job as Supervisor, currently held by Linda Kabot.
The election melodrama has a long history with players from several political directions.
But, essentially, the Republican Party has had a lock on Suffolk County (where the Hamptons are located) for the last several decades. Although interrupted briefly, Republican conservatism has been the area’s moral (in theory) and political structure.

While “Skip” Heaney, the former Southampton Supervisor who now works for the County Executive, was a Republican – he was defeated by Linda Kabot (also a Republican) in a vicious Primary fight two years ago. Heaney did not take this lightly and there have been reports that he has not so surreptitiously thrown his support to Throne-Holst: the theory being, better to support the enemy of your real enemy, than your political adversary.
To complicate matters, the current Supervisor Linda Kabot was charged with a D.W.I. and arrested in September. She is not only fighting the legal battle but the “moral” battle in front of the voters.

How this will play out is anyone’s guess.
Political gamblers have their bets on Throne-Holst who seems to have had the good sense to not attack Kabot and is riding the coat-tails of the Democratic resurgence. While the support of Heaney and his grip on some Republican stalwarts may be a double-edge sword that will help Throne-Holst now (since the voters had rejected him for Kabot), it remains to be seen how this will play out later. It could backfire on Throne-Holst in the next election if she wins this time. Both Malone and Nuzzi are supported by Heaney and the traditional Republicans and the objective is clear. One is reminded how DePirro had relied on Fred Thiele in her Democratic administration.

Kabot’s D.W.I. issue is not at all uncommon in the Hamptons during the winter. Bus service, car services and designated drivers are about as common and available as are jobs these days. Now that – cash and jobs – is the real issue. No matter who wins. There seems to be some serious denial about where all of this Great Recession is going. We are only in the eye of this financial storm right now.
The only issue that seems to be relevant in Southampton is the budget and the missing Town money (anywhere from $8 million to $20 million depending on which report you read) – and that seems to have predated both Throne-Holst and Kabot.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Faux Pas in the Hamptons

You can observe a lot just by watching.
-- Yogi Berra (1925 - ), Berra's Law

After the screaming died down and the blogs and websites vented their bile over the DWI arrest of Town of Southampton Supervisor this past week, some reality has set in. DWI’s are a longstanding problem on the East End and also affect the restaurant business in the mini-Depression that we are all enduring. Bars and restaurants would wind up closing even earlier in the season if one could not stop in and have a couple of drinks after work. This does not make is smart or right to ever get behind the wheel while impaired – regardless of whether you are under the legal limit. It is one of the biggest problems in a suburban or rural area, such as the Hamptons, where transportation (both public and private) is an issue.
Fortunately, Kabot did not hit a pedestrian, do any property damage, or hurt herself. Having said that, she deserves her day in court – not to be tried in the court of public opinion – and, the opportunity to address the mistake no matter how it plays out. She’s already paid a price.

Of course, this was a gift to the Republican Party because she has had the gall to run against the machine and win in the previous Primary against Skip Heaney two years ago and went on the win the Supervisorship in the last General Election. The threatened Primary between Kabot and Maloney this year was called off because the Party knew she would win and essentially, by their actions, threw the race to Democrat Anna Throne-Holst by pulling a few party lines out from under Kabot. That’s politics. Holst is a good candidate and would benefit the Town. But, that isn’t the point.

Essentially, the lesson to be learned here is that making a stupid or dangerous decision -- is simply that. If you have a high profile it WILL be used against you. If you have friends in town, as in the past, coverage will never get published. If the ruling clique is after your ass, they will spread as much unsubstantiated dirt as they can against you. Linda is popular and she’s one of the people. Time will tell if they see through the smear and support her in spite of her mistake.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Summer in the Hamptons

Illusion is the first of all pleasures.
Oscar Wilde.

This turned out to be the summer that never happened in the Hamptons. Between the rain, cool temperatures and lowered expectations, many local businesses that do not serve alcohol suffered. Even restaurants suffered. Beaches were often empty. At times, it was actually quite pleasant not to be buzzed by Porches and Bentley’s trying to find a parking spot at Roger’s Pavilion in Westhampton Beach.
The Real Estate industry continued to contract and several brokers closed-up shop. Estimates of total price drops hover between 35% and 50% from their 2006/2007 highs and the main selling areas are now in the under $500,000 range. While there are sales in the million-dollar territory, price reductions and hard bargaining are now the norm since mortgage money in that category is difficult to obtain. While there are actually some new no-income verification loans available, generally a 30% deposit is required.
There are many differing opinions on when the market will return to some semblance or normality, but right now properties languish on the market for up to two years if they are not priced aggressively – translated: take a beating or sit with an unsold home.
East Hampton has done better in terms of rentals and sales and Southampton has had the biggest drop in activity. This summer, renters started out by offering owners 50% off the listed price. Buyers have brutalized brokers as well as sellers – often walking away after they got their price. Despite this, one $25 million dollar mansion rented for half a million dollars for the month of August only.
Nevertheless, the shake-out will net fewer real estate brokers, fewer rental units and fewer businesses to service them by next summer. Let’s just say that it was not a summer to be in the lawn sprinkler business.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Double Cross

I once said cynically of a politician, 'He'll doublecross that bridge when he comes to it.'
-- Oscar Levant (1906 - 1972)

The recent news pieces about election time in the Hamptons have evidenced a panoply of sub rosa deals and three-dimensional chess moves. Most of the reports focus upon a Republican deal in which Jim Malone was to have dropped back to run for Town Board instead of challenging Linda Kabot for Supervisor of the Town of Southampton. Current Supervisor Linda Kabot was to have a clear run in November, having apparently made peace with the Republican Party to avoid another Primary contest (she won the last one two years ago against incumbent Skip Heaney). But, apparently, the antagonism among Republicans who supported Heaney has deep strong roots and the deal to have Malone run for a Town Board seat and to step aside for Kabot to take the race to November against Anna Throne-Holst, has blown up.
With the Conservative Party endorsing no one in November for Supervisor, the several lines on the ballot gives an edge to Throne-Holst. Postings on 631politics ( "Conservative Party Tricks") have some blog entries that describe the gory details.

Malone is still running for Town Board but the tacit agreement that the Republicans would support Kabot for re-election has been side-tracked with the removal of support by the Conservative party endorsement.

The tea leaves point to a bait and switch whereby the Republicans would rather hand the election to Throne-Holst for Supervisor this round and place their bets on the contest for Supervisor next time around between Throne-Holst and Malone – than allow Kabot to have another term. Of course, one should not underestimate Kabot’s political acumen or popularity with residents. An internal struggle that would remove Heaney’s grip on the party may now be playing out between Kabot and Heaney forces.

No matter what you think about Skip Heaney, though, he continues to land on his feet and exert his influence over Southampton Town politics.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The End is Near?

It's a recession when your neighbor loses his job; it's a depression when you lose yours.
-- Harry S Truman (1884 - 1972)

After several years of doom and gloom blogs and articles that point to the potential for devastation in the local economy as well as the national financial health, we are knee-deep in muck and mire. And, it’s not the vaudeville act by that name appearing in the Catskills. Few remember the fact that in 1982, prices for homes in the Hamptons actually dropped. This time around it is much worse.
Real Estate brokers were embarrassed and sellers were stunned in 1982. Now, they are heading for the exits.
It is now more akin to a creeping Depression
– which some think we have already entered. When you factor in falling tax revenues, missing money, increased budget needs, evaporating credit markets and rising unemployment, the picture is getting worse by the week. Given the fact that employment figures are rarely accurate and do not reflect numbers of workers whose benefits have run out and drop-outs who have lost hope, the real unemployment numbers are likely to be closer to 15% than the much-advertised 9.5%.

Many optimists thoughtfully point to the recent stock market rally which in many previous recessions was thought to be a prognosticator of future rebounds. They thought that in 1932 too, after the 1929 drop was “over” and just before the market lost 90% of its value -- in 1933.
And, with the price of oil seemingly stabilized – it, too, is also in a dangerous decline. Comments by some economical professionals have warned of a precipitous drop. It is said that $60 dollar oil is manageable, but that $20 oil
will foment revolution in countries like Russia.

The Hamptons have had their fair share of scandals this summer – from accusations of mortgage fraud to politicians dipping into the Preservation fund – but, nothing compares to what a month of summer rain can do. Pool companies, contractors, real estate agents, landlords, car dealers and purveyors have felt the pain of a double-whammy.
All have suffered from the disappearance of Bear, Sterns and Lehman Brothers bonuses and have experienced what has been an increasing problem – no customers and no cash.
We are about to enter a winter on the East End with no reserves, no cash, no credit and no prospects for nearly a year when the Spring "buying season" arrives. Main Street already has empty stores and the bankruptcies as well as business collapses are just around the corner. Foreclosures on many prime loans are just beginning, as distinguished from subprime products that banks foisted upon borrowers – and commercial real estate is just now heading down.
Independent lenders are predicting that this whole process will take another 3 to 5 years at a minimum. Some say that value in the Hamptons will not return to “normal” until 2020. By next year, the value of property is likely to have dropped by 50% across the board.

This will be the Winter of nearly everyone’s discontent no matter what the upbeat Obama officials tell us.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


If I'd written all the truth I knew for the past ten years, about 600 people - including me - would be rotting in prison cells from Rio to Seattle today. Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism.
-- Hunter S. Thompson

The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.
-- James Madison

Imagine that you are a journalist in a country where the ruling party and its government does not tolerate criticism or a difference of opinion. Or, were you to voice opposition to the government, you would be killed or destroyed – using any means possible. That the focus of the government attacks may be couched in some other mainstream, popular vehicle, permitting vast media resources (including PR and phony leaks) to create an adverse frenzy is merely part of a strategy. Think about reporters waiting for you at every turn, walking around your apartment and offices, asking accusatory questions based upon innuendos and lies to sell tabloids and gain viewers. Almost any excuse can be used by a government to make you, yes you, a criminal to be pursued.
What is widely viewed as legitimate business practices, can, with a twist of focus by a government official, become an illegality.

In Russia, several journalists and human rights advocates have been the focus of convenient, high profile murders that were never solved. Court cases pointed accusatory fingers but juries have acquitted them – as arranged. In Iran, North Korea and other countries, similar actions have caused journalists following important issues to be tried and imprisoned simply for investigating and writing.

For a journalist in America, with financial devastation facing many publications, prospects for the continuation of Free Speech and Freedom of the Press is in severe jeopardy. Even the New York Times is in serious trouble and may be sold within a year. Only bloggers, themselves journalists, have a real handle on many issues and continue to carry the torch for truth, even if biased at times.
A journalist or blogger now must often choose between writing the truth, conveying a sense of the real subtext in his or her political environment or community, and being able to live one’s life unmolested. There is a heavy price to pay for speaking out.

Who will uncover truth in our society if these trends continue and more and more media slip into the mist of history? How will we continue as a Democracy if the forces of the State are allowed to destroy people using whatever means at their disposal?

Imagine that you had a point of view that you were afraid to voice in America. Will we now crucify and destroy those who disagree with us? Is this the new journalistic reality? Is this our future?

If we lose our liberties, there is no end to the slide into totalitarianism and terror.

Friday, April 03, 2009

The Hamptons Meltdown

I get no respect. The way my luck is running, if I was a politician I would be honest.
-- Rodney Dangerfield

As the politicians and media play out their roles in the recent real estate hysteria in the Hamptons, all eyes are looking away from the mismanagement and incompetence in the face of this financial Armageddon.

General Motors is facing the possibility of bankruptcy, Citigroup is certainly not making Saudi Prince Al-Waleed happy and AIG stumbles along on Federal loans.

Those who have been reading the tealeaves, including financial consultants and media gurus, watch Wall Street galloping away from the true cause of our potential financial demise – the derivatives market. Yes, that’s the $700 Trillion dollar elephant in the room. AIG is only a small element of that giant scheme which wrote insurance on sums that could never have been covered in case of a default.

Of course, that’s more difficult to comprehend and impossible to prosecute. It is an amorphous ride into Hell that makes Dante’s Ninth Circle seem like a trip to the Caribbean. Warren Buffet warned us all many years ago, as he started to unwind counterparty positions, that there was a ticking time bomb in our financial system. Even he has lost billions as a result.

As we consider the non-existent sales market -- auctions, short sales, and foreclosures have grabbed the headlines. But, until there is liquidity and a return to lending, all bets are off. Look for a shrinking of the commercial real estate market, downsizing of almost all businesses and the quiet disappearance of many real estate brokers. Jobs will also be difficult to find, except in the seasonal summer months.

This time around, unlike the crisis which began with the 500 point drop in the Dow in 1987, it is possible that the Great Recession may last anywhere from two to five years longer. Some predict that we will not be out of this until 2020.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Puffery in the Press

Advice to writers: Sometimes you just have to stop writing. Even before you begin.
-- Stanislaw J. Lec (1909 - 1966), "Unkempt Thoughts"

Well folks, the boys and girls at the Southampton Press are at it again. We’re not really in a Recession or even a mild Depression, because the “bridge and tunnel crowd” are all around us buying out the stores in the Hamptons. In fact, there’s barely any room to park those Mercedes’. Lizzy Grubman says so. Even though her comments are made from home in Manhattan.

After trashing Grubman mercilessly in their rag a few years ago, they now want to quote her to revive the local economy. The comments following the article all focus on Grubman and, of course, the negative remarks were all published. Press editors usually filter out negative comments about them or the publication if they appear online.

And, in a sideswipe at the New York press, (not to mention this blog) which has been reporting the fact that real estate sales are non-existent and that rentals are a disaster, this article practically oozes confidence in the Hamptons chic. In other words, maybe someone at Town Hall thinks that, “Gee, maybe we do need the New York people to pay the bills here, after all!” But, no one can seem to admit that and simply say it.

Of course, the fact that the author, “investigative journalist” Michael Wright, quotes PR people and advertisers found in the Southampton Press, begs the question: from what planet does the writer hail? Or, better yet, did the assignment to find optimism come from Joseph or Donald Loucheim, the current publisher. Is advertising down, perhaps?

Now, before anyone gets too testy, let’s understand our terminology. The “bridge and tunnel crowd” a term used by the Southampton Press writer, was coined to describe visitors from New Jersey and the Boroughs (as in Queens, Bronx, Staten Island and Brooklyn), who regularly visited Manhattan on weekends, to party. Referring to those from Manhattan obliquely as part of the “bridge and tunnel crowd” is not only incorrect – it is indicative of the negative attitude towards all New Yorkers. As, in, “we love to hate them but they bring cash.” In fact, the only cash that is likely to prop up the Hamptons. And, in truth, on an income basis, it is more likely that a Manhattan resident would be the owner of a weekend retreat in the Hamptons. Jerseyites generally visit and buy on the Jersey shore – where it is more fun, cheaper, and has less Code Enforcement police to hassle them in a summer rental. While the summer rental crowds from the Boroughs as well as Manhattan still do come to the Hamptons, they have been disillusioned by the anti-New Yorker attitude that has chased away summer house shares, which used to proliferate in the Hamptons and supported so many local businesses. Skip Heaney, as Supervisor, saw to it that they were treated as targets by Town government.

Now, the Town wants that money to come back because McMansions are no longer selling. With no mortgage money available, dwindling Community Preservation Fund money to dip into, evaporating property taxes, missing Town funds, and a budget deficit -- rentals may now be the only form of hard currency for the Hamptons. Think about that folks.

While the reporter acknowledges that Sag Harbor has seen no such uptick in business (except for the American Hotel), that fact is merely a tag line in this puff piece trying to pass as news. And, although Westhampton Beach Village was recently visited by another, stellar reporter named Jessica DiNapoli, no mention was ever made of the fact that in that village numerous businesses have closed up, several establishments have ceased to exist and large stores are vacant or closed with no date for re-opening (National, Westhampton Bowling Lanes, Westhampton Movie Theatre, the Health Food store and a few others). In addition, several stores have shrunk or downsized. Apparently, no one who attempts to write at this newspaper talks to each other about such “facts” to check.

There is no line for a space to park your Mercedes in Westhampton Beach. Nor is there ever a sighting of the Mayor or Village Board. Perhaps, those elected officials should visit Water Mill or East Hampton and pick up a few tips on bringing in business. Or, the reporter might give them a lecture on how to arrange for those crowds milling about in Water Mill, like zombies from “Night of the Living Dead,” to move their operation in front of some shops on Main Street?
It is likely that the business experienced in the last week was due to the numerous, rolling, spaced out St. Patrick's Day revelers that has brought some restaurant activity in many villages, but little else. The same holiday is celebrated for weeks in different East End Towns and Villages.

And, should it be pointed out that parking spaces and window-shopping do NOT bring in cash. Just as calls to brokers do not translate into sales or rentals.
In other words, folks, this bizarre puff piece has all of the earmarks of a plant for PR purposes, supported by PR operatives, designed to encourage more business from people who the writer wittingly, unwittingly or dim wittingly is insulting (“bridge and tunnel crowd” a.k.a New Yorkers) and who the Town continues to target if they rent a summer house and try to pay for it the old-fashioned way – sharing it with friends. In fact, last weekend saw another wave of Code Enforcement “visits” to no less than 40 properties owned by various New York landlords to check for rental permits. This is a prelude to more heavy-handed actions against Latinos and young New York renters—which is the reason why the new law was passed. It should be scrapped completely.

This article was, as they say, an attempt to put lipstick on a pig. The pig, in this instance, is the disastrous economy in which we are all suffering. To think that people, who are losing their jobs and cannot afford their apartments, will drop everything and flee to the Hamptons to line up in Starbucks – because of this puff piece -- is approaching madness. And it is an insult to those who are suffering in this deflationary recession. While Wall Street may be responsible for the derivatives-driven economic meltdown, New Yorkers are not stupid.

However, the article is.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Sun Also Sets

People everywhere confuse what they read in newspapers with news.
-- A. J. Liebling (1904 - 1963)

The journalism industry, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason.
-- Hunter S. Thompson (1939 – 2005)

As the apparent economic implosion arrives with full force more and more businesses are reading the tealeaves and what the facts portend.

It is already March and in the Hamptons real estate-driven economy – where the only form of financial engine pays for everything from summer rentals, to hamburgers, to newspapers – desperation has begun to set in.
This is playing itself out in a few ways. The election process, which has always been a Republican fait accompli at the polling stations, is now seeing inroads from a previously dysfunctional Democratic Party. That is no longer true and there have recently been real challenges and successes – including Sally Pope on the Town Board and possibly Anna Throne-Holst as Supervisor in November.

Many New Yorkers have moved from Manhattan, relocated to the East End, and become more involved in Hamptons politics along with the artists of previous decades. With them has come a more progressive view of how business should be done at Town Hall.
What cannot change overnight, is a response to the Wall Street debacle initiated by the creation of a derivatives market which has poisoned the well for everything from corporate debt and mortgages, to bonds and credit-default swaps for esoteric debt instruments. As this plays out on the economic stage, the Hamptons will suffer more than the canyons of SoHo, Tribeca and Wall Street where condos and coops will first experience defaulted common charges (to be assumed by the others in the building), and then move on to actual foreclosures.
Right now, the outer boroughs are contracting at an alarming rate and the default and foreclosure rates are soaring. The SoHo Journal has been writing about this for several years as Wall Street plumbs the depths of the Dow.

In the Hamptons, the big lie is that it is just going to be a “later season.” In fact, many real estate brokers are saying that the lack of phone calls is scary.

Where will this lead? Well, everyone will be cutting prices on everything. There will be a summer but you know that things are difficult when lawyers start calling for business. Many lawyers and brokers no longer do any closings because there are simply no mortgages, no customers (above the $350,000 range) and more than two year’s worth of product sitting in the pipeline. This will lead to layoffs at Town Hall, in the police departments, at local stores and at many real estate agencies. When the money runs out and the flood of tourists dwindles because they have lost their jobs, the economy WiLL contract. That is already happening.

How is this reality being handled?
Well, among the die-hard Republicans and old boy network, they try to protect their friends.
Instead of reaching out to New Yorkers, where the money has always kept this Ship of State afloat, those who criticize the local economy and lack of foresight – as well as the corruption among the politicians who have brought us to this place in time -- it has always been popular to attack the opposition.

The only source of Hamptons news has traditionally been the Southampton Press, a Louchheim publication that has always taken its direction from the Republican Party, Town Hall and Law Enforcement (whom they fear) operating on instructions and fealty to its advertising base – the Republican Party regulars. They employ inexperienced “reporters” who take direction on the slant that the publication should produce for so-called public servants, like Town Attorney/Assistant District Attorney Joe Lombardo (who has been sued in Federal Court for his irresponsible and unconstitutional behavior) and conducts smear campaigns on assignment from Loucheim.
Since there is no real news organization in the Hamptons, efforts by the likes of Jessica DeNapoli, a “reporter” whose journalistic expertise rises to the level of “What I did on my summer vacation” and who apparently follows instructions to target political opponents of the Loucheim dynasty and its political handlers. Joe Lombardo, who works for the Town and its Heaney holdovers as well as his boss Spota call the shots and provide the leads. No matter that they are criminals hiding behind a political appointment.

The search for reasons why the derivative market is THE reason for killing the world economy (all $700 Trillion of the bets that are burying us); the Wall Street boiler rooms which created the foreclosure meltdown by securitizing and selling off worthless debt; the fact that mortgage brokers were psychologically beaten and threatened to create more and more product – is nowhere to be found in the local press. What this “news” organization focuses on is the DWI’s in local police blotters, dogs being brought into Town Hall, and noise violations in Westhampton Beach. Instead of bringing New Yorkers closer to the Hamptons, targeting and attacks are the new “journalism.” The institutional racism, which has spawned numerous Federal lawsuits, against Town Attorneys and politicians, has received little or no follow-up.
Where are the reports about the true costs for legal fees due to the unconstitutional actions that hide behind the Towns legal decisions? Where is the investigation of Code Enforcement personnel that target landlords who rent property to immigrants – under the direction of the Town. Why are there no apologies for targeting landlords in news pieces that are completely false and pander to Town officials?
Why? Because it is too dangerous to the ad budget and would displease the Republicans. It would also open up the Loucheims to unwanted scrutiny and lawsuits. Best not to go there.

Watch for more “leaks” and attacks against political opponents or New Yorkers via DiNapoli which the Press despises and tries to pass off as “investigative reporting” from a “news” organization that cannot even spell-check its articles properly. The Southampton Press is a throwback to the type of local targeting mechanism-for-hire that takes orders from its political handlers who have a lot to hide.

The Howell Raines imbroglio at the New York Times comes to mind – but, of course, even those fictitious journalistic entries by Jayson Blair were not ordered by the local political party in power.

Let’s see how this plays out.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Hamptons Politics

Morality, like art, means drawing a line someplace.
-- Oscar Wilde (1854 - 1900)
Election rumors in the Town of Southampton are heating up. Between the missing money that no one can seem to find and the implosion underway in the economy, it will take clean hands and moral strength to pull the Hamptons through this storm. The bucolic East End was a sleepy rural area at one time but that was decades ago before McMansions and heavy Republican politics. Many of the former politicians like Skip Heaney were from “up Island” and influences from neighboring towns saw the money, which flowed through the Preservation Fund coffers and moved in.

This years contests include the Supervisor’s post, Town Board slots, Town Clerk and Town Highway Superintendent. Nuzzi is running again for a slot on the board and, surprisingly, while a Crookhaven transplant and Heaney protégé he’s come out on the right side of a few issues. But, the real contests are Town Supervisor and Highway Superintendent.
First, Alex Gregor is rumored to be considering a run for William Masterson’s position as Highway Superintendent. This is not the first time they would be squaring off against each other. However, the previous race was marred by dirty tricks on the part of the Heaney Republicans and a lot of local voters remember the bad taste in their mouths over that campaign and how Masterson won. Gregor would likely win this contest and it would be a major vote for good government.
The Kabot/Throne-Holst race is a bit different. Kabot was a step up from Heaney and the Republicans who controlled Town Hall for decades. The animosity between Kabot and the Heaney controlled machine was palpable. Unfortunately, Kabot has squandered her victory and has appeared to play it safe at every turn and has not come out with strength on any important issue. Unfortunately, she has also recently dwelled upon a non-issue and leaked a negative press piece to the local organ of the Republican Party – The Southampton Press – about Throne-Holst bringing her dog to work, of all things. Try as it might, the Press’s anachronistic attempt at journalism always manages to fall on its face and show its reactionary roots. If ad sales continue as they have with other major news organizations, however, the days of the online and printed version of this publication may be numbered.
Clearly, while Anna Throne-Holst has had minor missteps in the service of improving the environment, she is an outspoken reformer. The Town now has an opportunity to make a fresh political start in a resort area that will now be severely challenged by world economic events and its local history of punitive values. The little understood financial realities that have trickled down from the derivative disaster – which has caused everything from subprime defaults to the evaporation of credit -- is something that the new Supervisor must cope with. The financial investigation that is going on in the Town, the prospects of a severely reduced budget, and the realities of the Preservation Fund drying up – will be challenging. And, all are Republican-made problems that are a result of greed and, to be charitable, mismanagement.
Throne-Holst has a steady hand and does not owe her success to any group. While the Democrats supported her in her Town Board election, they do not own her vision.

Monday, March 02, 2009

The Panic Phase

The only way not to think about money is to have a great deal of it.
-- Edith Wharton (1862 - 1937)

It is difficult for most of us to believe that we now may be looking over the precipice.

A series of Doom and Gloom pieces published here were somewhat unpleasant – but now there is the real prospect of a very serious drop brought on and also perpetuated by a deflationary spiral. If you’re out of work in the Hamptons and you’ve been trying to figure out what to do next, there is no surprise about what’s out there. What was unthinkable before now seems possible.

Rentals are off, jobs are difficult to find, and home sales are few and far between and the blame game is now beginning in earnest. When in doubt, indict someone.
The press is not immune and the bloodletting in that industry is just beginning. Newspapers are filing Ch. 11 at an alarming speed. Suffolk Life was one of the first local publications to go after the Improper Hamptonian bit the bullet. More will follow. It has little to do with newsworthiness. The problem is lack of advertising. Businesses that typically advertise, which are failing, hasten the demise of publications -- and then there is the readership move to the Internet. and 27 East, for example, have had some success -- but that does not sell newspapers. Regardless of the merits of those publications, people have stopped buying newspapers, stopped subscribing, and will not pay for Internet access. It’s a deadly combination for publishing since reporters and office staff still needs to get paid. This week the venerable Rocky Mountain News ceased publishing,
The New York Times faces a possible Chapter 11 and most newspapers operate in the red.
To make matters worse, it has been open season on journalists. In Russia they shoot them, in Somalia they murder them, in Iran they arrest them, in Suffolk they terrorize and indict them.

The 401K that was supposed to allow boomers to retire in style are now worth 50-70% less than they did a year ago. And, the Buy and Hold crowd is thinning out. Enrollment has dropped at private schools. Real Estate prices are dropping in the Hamptons and in Manhattan and are expected to arrive at a point that is at least 50% below what they were a year and a half ago. There are some who predict that drops of 90% in value are possible if we truly hit the panic phase in the stock market and deflation accelerates. That’s possible. Not likely, but possible. This era of deflation may take all of ’09, ’10 and ’11 to play out. Not a pretty picture.
If that happens, none of us are safe from the financial devastation that will ensue. Social unrest will follow as it already has in the Eastern block countries.

Right now, newspapers and websites dwell upon salacious stories of fraud, murders, disasters and mayhem. Law enforcement personnel, like prime time players in old episodes of Law and Order, are busy trying to find someone to blame. Meanwhile, Wall Street continues to hand out bonuses for having papered the world with securitized debt that was worthless before it was packaged.

If they ever find out where the money went at Town Hall in Southampton, people might wonder if it really was all of those New Yorkers who are responsible for the mess after all. The Feds are at least looking to find out where the money went.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Other Shoe

I never did give them hell. I just told the truth, and they thought it was hell.
-- Harry S Truman (1884 - 1972)

As the Monty Python players famously remarked, “No one ever expects the Spanish Inquisition.” Similarly, in the Hamptons economy, which is driven by real estate, no one ever expected the kind of financial problems like those in California and Kansas. Still fewer expect the kind of dire financial problems about to hit New York – not to mention the Hamptons.

While the current difficulties were clearly predictable several years ago, it is only now that there is a sense if dire fiscal eventualities, that will soon be upon us. Manhattan is no exception. With a predicted loss of 275,000 jobs on Wall Street; the disappearance of Investment Banks –-which was the driver of the worldwide expansion of money and credit; and virtual elimination of mortgage lending – a one to two year recession may take five years to play out. There are those who think that this country will not recover from this bout of deflation, which may turn into hyperinflation from printing all of those trillions for bailouts, until the early 2020’s.

The Spring selling season in the Hamptons has all of the earmarks of a temporary lift, which will last 3 or 4 months. Small properties, those in the $300,000 to $500,000 are starting to sell. Larger properties are sitting with no activity.

And, while there are some rentals, local businesses in the Hamptons will face stiffer competition and budget conscious tourists. The Town of Southampton may need Federal money to remain viable. The “business-as-usual” trend towards increased fines, increased taxes and harassment of New Yorkers may not be a good idea in these economic times.
The immigrant problem, which created lots of bad blood and a very negative attitude, will be solved by economics. Everyone is leaving town due to lack of work.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Freedom of the Press

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.
--Abraham Lincoln (1809 - 1865)

In Suffolk County there have been numerous Federal investigations into corruption over a period of decades – all of which were unsuccessful. One possible reason for this is that there was no corruption.

The other possibility is that it is so entrenched that the circle-the-wagons mentality, which maintains an elite club of crooked D.A.’s, repressive Police, bought judges and fearful media, makes Federal prosecutions very difficult. Political enemies must be willing to pay the price in Suffolk’s “Democracy.”
The Marty Tankleff case, for example, which the SoHo Journal has been writing about for several years is an example of how an innocent individual was targeted and deprived of almost everything we hold dear in this best of all possible New York counties. From the Suffolk D.A. on down the chain, including prosecutors, judges, and police – do not like to be called out on their behavior. Retaliation is the political norm in the Hamptons.

Currently there is more press freedom in the former Soviet Union than is tolerated in Suffolk County.

And, there is very little in the way of opposition in the media. True Journalism is becoming a dangerous profession. Bloggers write at their own risk.

In Russia and Somalia they shoot people for writing the truth.

In this country they indict them for anything that will get headlines.

As a result of numerous articles that exposed the shameful attempts to keep Marty Tankleff in prison for a crime that he did not commit; commentary on the cover-up and involvement in that travesty by the current D. A. Thomas Spota; the series of blogs by this writer exposing racism in the Hamptons and complicity by the D.A.’s outpost in Justice Court; and, as a result of the unconstitutional behavior by the Town of Southampton in dealing with New Yorkers, property owners and Latinos who live in these properties –- the Suffolk County D.A. ordered and executed a raid on the offices of the SoHo Journal and this blogger. It was a bold effort ordered by Spota to teach journalists that anyone who criticizes him or his corrupt administration can be reached with the aid of the New York City Police Department.
At least 20 Suffolk County Detectives with automatic weapons, supported by three 1st Precinct police including Sgt. Morales conducted the raid.

Business records were taken, personal property and valuables were confiscated and Detectives, who were seeking to silence any opposition to political corruption in Suffolk County and the Hamptons, removed computers containing articles and publication drafts. A child’s cell phone and an artist’s computer were also taken.

Detective Josef Miceli, of the D.A.’s Detectives division -rapidly becoming known to be an individual closesly associated with the corrupt political structure and repression - led the raid.

Miceli is a zealot run by Spota, who has fostered indictments and phony confessions from little old ladies, blacks and poor people for non-criminal violations – (such as the “Star Program” tax deductions). Convictions are obtained by threats of imprisonment and the impossible cost to fight a criminal complaint - which supports the D.A.’s “conviction rate” and subsequent budget demands for law enforcement. Detective Miceli, acted on a phony “tip” initiated by a former police officers working with Town Attorneys (who have already been sued in Federal Court for targeting and retaliation), in attempting to shut down the publication’s offices.

During the raid, one glock-weilding Detective stated, “You don’t like police in this magazine, do you?” as a SoHo Journal was picked up.

Well, Hello! Wonder why you would say that, hey fella?

You’re here for what, suppression of Free of Speech?

As Sol Wachtler once said, “district attorneys now have so much influence on grand juries that 'by and large' they could get them to 'indict a ham sandwich'." And, of course, that’s the plan.

As has been shown in “The Terror” during the days of Josef Stalin, pressure by the State using its unlimited resources can force confessions and threaten to create crimes where none ever existed.

Soon, the show trials will begin anew in America. Anything can be made to appear to be a crime in Suffolk County – especially against one is speaking the truth.
For eight years, civil rights and the Constitution have been whittled away by George Bush – and one can only hope that that will now change under Obama.

This is the current state of our Democracy in the Hamptons.

Freedom-loving tourists and New Yorkers, especially those who believe in Constitutional rights, should stay in Manhattan. Let the Suffolk politicians pay their own bills as they arrest anyone who criticizes them.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Just One More Question . . .

Every culture has its distinctive and normal system of government. Yours is democracy, moderated by corruption. Ours is totalitarianism, moderated by assassination.
-- Unknown Russian

Now that we have learned that $19 Million dollars is missing from the Town of Southampton, the question becomes – where is it? And when was it missing?
For those of you who have not been following the handwringing, remember that real estate taxes -- the money that pays for this government -- is severely reduced and likely to partially evaporate. California can't pay its bills, New York City is about to follow suit and the Town of Southampton may be an economic disaster area before the end of this summer. It should not be lost on anyone that Wall Street drove the economy and paid for the Hamptons government. It should also not be lost on anyone that Investment banks drove the Wall Street machine -- and that they no longer exist.

Of course, if you read between the lines, it’s not so much a question of where that missing Southampton money is now. It is question of how long it has been missing and whether the money was being massaged over the last several years compliments of nearly a decade of Republican “management." Can we be surprised by a group of buddies fed by Masterson’s highway department and his contracts for Town highway contracts and a Planning Board run by a developer named Zizzi? Now that Heaney is carefully ensconced in one of Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy’s mindless jobs to save his lifestyle, will the cover come off the can of worms?

Richard Blowes resigned (was fired?) today from his job and a few other heads may roll. According to Kabot he will focus on finding the $19 Mil.

Instead of asking Blowes, perhaps Heaney and the Republicans can help them find the money. The cell tower and cash on the front seat comes to mind in the last Federal investigation.

According to sources in the Blowes matter, Charlene Kagen who is mentioned in the news reports and who was the former comptroller maintained that Blowes was incapable of reading a spreadsheet. His salary was $118, 000 and he had refused to allow her to train her successor (the Town will now probably hire her back as a consultant to plow through the mess). She is currently Comptroller, Town of Brookhaven but was not able to be reached for comment.

Cheryl Kraft, head of Code Enforcement was also demoted and there may be some changes coming from that direction as well. Her salary was reduced to “only” $114,000. Perhaps, if the Town needs to do a Ch. 11 filing at some point – considering all of the off-budget legal fees defending against unconstitutional behavior – she may be asked to get lost.

Or, perhaps, Obama’s Justice Department will find the racist evictions signed off on by the Justice Court in tandem with the Town Attorney’s office -- might become interested in the unconstitutional behavior there as well.
Just to keep it interesting, George Guldi, former Suffolk County Legislator has thrown his hat into the ring. There are quite a few happy voters and, surprisingly, a few sour faces in the Suffolk County Democratic Party hierarchy. We’ll keep you posted.

Southampton Village Police Chief Wilson apparently has been spotted looking for a job in Las Vegas. That could be interesting. The motivation for that has not yet been established. It might be hotter here than there.

Seems that the Appeals court has found that D.A. Spota’s hounding of nurses who quit their jobs because of abuse -- by threatening criminal action against them and their attorney is a little too much like Stalin’s moves in the Great Terror during the 1930’s. As the appellate court ruled, a synopsis by Mitchell Rubinstein wrote:

“Both the lawyer and his clients [were] criminally charged with endangering the welfare of critically ill pediatric patients and related crimes because the nurses resigned en masse without notice. You might think that such a case could not arise in Twenty-First Century America, but in 2007 that is exactly what occurred in Suffolk County New York and resulted in a New York appellate court having to prohibit the criminal prosecution of both the nurses and their attorney. Matter of Vinluan v. Doyle, ___A.D.3d___, 2009 WL 93065 (2d. Dep't. Jan. 13, 2009).”

They don’t call Suffolk County a Police State for nothing.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Institutional Racism

A functioning police state needs no police.
-- William S. Burroughs

There is some speculation about the meaning of a recent report that Town Supervisor Linda Kabot and Board member Nancy Graboski will take over the control of Code Enforcement in the Town of Southampton. A meeting is scheduled on that issue on Tuesday. Of course, almost anything is possible in the land of a real estate driven economy where cash literally used to fall from the spec house cedar shakes. Now that the grim reality of reduced transfer fees for the Preservation Fund, slimmer taxes flowing from an impoverished class of landlords and property owners, and a budget that predicts disaster for currently overstuffed Town bureaucrats – something needs to change. Six figure salaries for any police officers are absurd in this economy, unless they have a gun to your head, literally.

This potential change in how “City Hall” is operated may reflect the growing awareness that the racists who have operated this badly trained Police force (Code Enforcement) have done nothing to improve the Town. The sub Rosa instructions to this paramilitary group which has been used to target political enemies and conduct a terror campaign against immigrants and the landlords who dare to rent to them, is the real point of their mission. The major drivers of this band of incompetents have been Cheryl Kraft, Steve Frano, Donald Kauth and David Betts (Town Investigator). Together, with their flunkies, they have pressured judges to sign search warrants to check for smoke detectors and gotten Town Attorneys like Joe Lombardo to deprive landlords of their property – instead of conducting a sane policy of educating property owners. Housing safety was never their concern. Most of these characters, incidentally, have been named in Federal lawsuits for unconstitutional behavior.
It has always been true that if housing safety in the Hamptons was the point, ALL homeowners would be invited to take part in a Town-wide campaign of education – and, not in the Stalinist sense of the word.

Perhaps, the raid against Kabot’s aunt during Heaney’s primary challenge was a key ingredient in a coming shift? Heaney ran on a platform of destroying immigrants and those who harbored them in their homes and schools. And, now he works for Levy, someone accused of a deeply racist agenda. Every politician from D.A. Spota to Representative Bishop participates in this little charade in varying degrees.
Perhaps, the numerous Federal lawsuits that are costing the Town huge legal fees for the unconstitutional behavior of a few local malcontents whose racist agenda are embarrassing – has some bearing upon this?
And, perhaps, with the complicity of the Town Attorney’s office in prosecuting landlords -- exemplifying a pattern of Institutional Racism under a new Justice Department -- may not seem so wise after all. The new Federal view of these antics may not play well in Washington.

Time will tell.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Historic Shifts

It's a recession when your neighbor loses his job; it's a depression when you lose yours.
--Harry S Truman (1884 - 1972)

One of the problems with the blame game affecting the views of our contracting economy is that we fail to recognize the seismic shifts that occur among populations ranging from aging baby-boomers to new births – as well as flows of capital, business cycles and markets. The ebb and flow of capital and degrees of risk and risk-avoidance – as well as major financial cycles -- are outside of our control. Some of these sometimes generational factors are completely independent of toxic financial vehicles likes SIV’s and CDO’s and whether Bear Sterns or Lehman Brothers have taken the pipe. The shell games going on in corporate America are as much a result of the cyclical forces as they may be the cause of current pain. Even the Madoff fiasco is a symptom, not a cause. In short, nothing that the Federal government or we can do will alter what is about to happen.

We are entering a deep Recession that will become a Depression by 2011. During that segment in our history there will be a stock market rally lasting for perhaps several months, a very brief improvement in lower end real estate numbers and a resurgence of inflation – but will shortly be followed by an even more calamitous collapse.

Knowing this may or may not prevent the S.E.C. or D.A.’s office from trying to blame individuals for what is about to happen. But, it’s important to know that there is no correlation between specific events and the macro cycle we now face. The events we are about to witness are cyclical and inevitable. Those macro events currently affect the evaporation of capital, the downsizing of business and the deflation (and inflation) about to ravage the economy. The inflation, which will occur within the next year or two, will be short-lived and prepare us for the precipitous drop shortly thereafter.
Credible predictions for the local economy in Manhattan and the Hamptons see the loss of 4 to 5 million jobs, a reduction in the number of retail companies and stores through closure or bankruptcy, and a further deflation in the value of real estate. In the Hamptons, home prices will have fallen by 50% by the end of 2010. According Harry Dent author of The Great Depression Ahead, in order to arrive at values consistent with long term trends, real estate must drop between 40 and 60 percent from 2007 values in order to attain balance.

In Manhattan, where prices have just started to drop – meaning, that brokers have finally admitted that it is happening – the slide has just begun. Projects have stopped in some locations and commercial real estate will deflate at an alarming rate – which will cause bankruptcies and rents to drop precipitously. Harry Macklowe’s tribulations are a symptom of what will happen to many major developers and landlords.
Manhattan apartment rentals have already started to drop and we are only at the beginning of what will become a full-blown Depression by the end of 2010 to 2011. The reduction in services in Manhattan will be difficult to believe and the quality of life stemming from the relentless fines and fees that Bloomberg resorts to will sour any positive feelings towards his Savior image. A respite to this scenario may not occur until 2013 to 2016.

In the Hamptons, an economy that is entirely built and paid for on the backs of New Yorkers who buy summer homes and investment property, the only question is whether a Chapter 11 is in their future. In recent months, one broker described his business succinctly, “the phone doesn’t even ring.”
A broker in East Quogue reported that even the houses in the $300,000 to $500,000 range are not selling. Many McMansions have already dropped by 50% in value (if not price) – and have further to go on the downside.
There will be a modest upsurge in Hamptons real estate activity as people try to rent a summer house and pool their money to share it – as the Code Enforcement police (who will be getting pink slips along with many more of the Town of Southampton’s employees this year) try to fine and criminalize this last and only form of income.
Regardless of how Southampton Town or East Hampton Town treats this brief shot in the arm for the summer season, after the Spring “selling season” is over the slide in that economy will start in earnest. The deflation in real estate will be the new long-term trend – along with the tax base that once propped up the local economy. The brief resurgence of $200/barrel oil (which will collapse again to $30) will exacerbate local conditions that are made worse by with a corrupt political bureaucracy. The
flow of easy money
in the Hamptons is gone and this will end decades of political incompetence.
Look for oppressive attempts by the local governments to squeeze money out of tourists and property owners who will abandon properties in growing numbers.

While the towns in the Hamptons might seek a political solution by reaching out to New Yorkers in order to solve the impending disaster by working together, that will not happen. Lip service was once given about hiring a Public Advocate to bring New Yorkers – who pay for the economy – into the local political process but until the vote is garnered that would not happen.

Sell all real estate if you can and buy 30-year Treasury Bonds. It will be a long and difficult ride. Even buying food (which will escalate in cost) will become an issue for many families.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

A New Year in the Hamptons

Nobody outside of a baby carriage or a judge's chamber believes in an unprejudiced point of view.
--Lillian Hellman

A recent break-in involving several hundred thousand dollars of restaurant decor, fixtures and equipment was carted
away this weekend after an alarm went off in Westhampton Beach. The perpetrators produced a phony set of court papers to the local police officer (called twice on the matter). The police officer just waved on the workers who disappeared with three trucks full of merchandise. On the spot, the officer apparently had ruled that it had to be a civil matter while the alarm blared and the wires were being illegally ripped out. Seems like a little training might be in order.

In Quogue, the Motz case still hangs in limbo since the Christmas Verdict ploy apparently didn’t work. It appears that the stock swindle case will now be heard this month (instead of December) despite attempts to lessen the severity of the matter at hand. A new date is not yet set but is expected to go to trial this month.
Since the Federal judge is in his eighties, the plan to seek succor based upon age may not work. Motz is just a kid as far as he is concerned.
Federal prosecutors have a different level of credibility than local D.A.’s.
While indigenous D.A.’s, like Spota, are known to employ bag men for cooperating attorneys to obtain beneficial results for their clients, use corrupt cops for investigations and informers, and utilize docile jurors who are often half asleep – in order to obtain indictments -- the Feds are usually awake and have a point to make. Political targeting is big in the Hamptons.

Don’t expect too many different results in the Hamptons this New Year.