Posts tagged ‘Tony Soprano’

Police Unions Channel Tony Soprano

Tony Soprano Environmentalism

The Ecuadoran $18 billion court decision is turning out to be a monumental case of environmental fraud.  I am willing to believe that early critics of Texaco (now Chevron) had legitimate beefs about the company's stewardship in its drilling operations in the 1970's in the Amazon.  However, all semblance of principle has gone right out the window in a gigantic money grab.

A while back, it was reported that environmentalists (featured in the movie "Crude" were captured in the outtakes of the movie discussing how they lied about the science to the courts in order to score a big payday (bonus points for Obama appointing one of the fraudsters to the National Academy of Sciences).  See the link for the video evidence.

Past fraud revelations have cast doubt on the key scientific report submitted to the court as part of the proceedings, a report that is now known to have been ghost-written by the plaintiffs.  However, supporters of the judgement against Chevron have argued that the judge has always claimed that this study did not sway his decision in the case.  Now we know what did sway his decision:

Today new allegations of deceit and wrongdoing were leveled against the plaintiffs' lawyers bringing the already deeply troubled environmental suit against Chevron in Lago Agrio, Ecuador, which stems from Texaco's oil drilling in the Ecuadorian Amazon between 1964 and 1992. (Texaco was acquired by Chevron in 2001.)

In Manhattan federal district court this morning, Chevron filed the declaration of a former Ecuadorian judge, Alberto Guerra, who describes how he and a second former judge, Nicolás Zambrano, allegedly allowed the plaintiffs lawyers to ghostwrite their entire 188-page, $18.2 billion judgment against Chevron in exchange for a promise of $500,000 from the anticipated recovery.

Charles Carreon Discovers the Streisand Effect in 3..2..1...

I hate excerpting Ken at Popehat in times like this, because I simply love reading all his prose and hope you will do so as well rather than settling for the excerpt only.  I love Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon not because it is his best story (it's not) but because it has some of his best prose.  Six pages on eating Cap'n Crunch and ten or so on getting a wisdom tooth extraction, and I was left begging for more.  Ken is my blogging equivalent.  I could read a whole book just with Ken calling out censorious lawyers for threatening bloggers to try to shut them up.

That said, he has been writing of late about a site called Funnyjunk sending a lawyer-cum- Tony-Soprano after the Oatmeal.  Today he really rips into said lawyer, named Charles Carreon:

See, a legal threat like the one Charles Carreon sent — "shut up, delete your criticism of my client, give me $20,000, or I'll file a federal lawsuit against you" — is unquestionably a form of bullying. It's a form that's endorsed by our broken legal system. Charles Carreon doesn't have to speak the subtext, any more than the local lout has to tell the corner bodega-owner that "protection money" means "pay of we'll trash your shop." The message is plain to anyone who is at all familiar with the system, whether by experience or by cultural messages. What Charles Carreon's letter conveyed was this: "It doesn't matter if you're in the right. It doesn't matter if I'm in the wrong. It doesn't matter that my client makes money off of traffic generated from its troglodytic users scraping content, and looks the other way with a smirk. It just doesn't matter. Right often doesn't prevail in our legal system. When it does, it is often ruinously expensive and unpleasant to secure. And on the way I will humiliate you, delve into private irrelevancies, harass your business associates and family, disrupt your sleep, stomp on your peace of mind, and consume huge precious swaths of your life. And, because the system is so bad at redressing frivolous lawsuits, I'll get away with it even if I lose — which I won't for years. Yield — stand and deliver — or suffer."

Our system privileges Charles Carreon to issue that threat, rather than jailing or flogging him for it. And so Carreon supports bullying like that. He's got a license to do it. He knows that his licensed threats — coming, as they do, on the [slightly odd] letterhead of a lawyer — inspire far more fear and stress than the complaints of a mere citizen, and by God he plays it to the hilt.

By contrast, Charles Carreon doesn't like shows of force that you or I can muster. "I'm completely unfamiliar really with this style of responding to a legal threat," he sniffs. There's a whiff of Paul Christoforo of Ocean Marketing in there — the sentiment "how was I to know that I was picking on someone stronger than I am? Is that fair?" But what he means is "if the people I threaten don't have to dig into their pockets to go hire a lawyer, and spend unpleasant hours with that lawyer, and lay awake at night worrying, and rely on a lawyer who is part of my privileged culture, but can stand up for themselves . . . how can I intimidate them so easily?" Perhaps some rude Oatmeal followers did actually send true threats or abuse to Charles Carreon's office — which I condemn. That's morally wrong and not helpful to the cause of free speech; it's harmful. But I fail to see why Charles Carreon sending that threat letter is more legitimate, admirable, or proper than ten thousand Oatmeal fans sending back the message that Charles Carreon is a petulant, amoral, censorious douchebag. It doesn't take lawyers, it doesn't take law school, it doesn't take any special privilege conferred by the state — it only takes a robust right of free expression — sending it back by blogging it, tweeting it, posting it on Facebook, and posting it in comments on forums. Charles Carreon has power derived from an inadequate legal system and letters of marque from the State Bar; The Oatmeal has the power of goodwill and community respect earned by talent. There's no reason to exalt Carreon's power and condemn The Oatmeal's.

Read it all.  The Oatmeal's response is also classic.

Wow, I Wonder Why Job Creation Isn't Occurring in California?

I wonder if its because companies have to beg for government permission, and then pay a hefty bribe, to get permission to hire more employees:

The city council in Menlo Park, Calif., is set to approve a deal that will let Facebook employ thousands more people at its headquarters there.

Mayor Kirsten Keith says officials are expected to green light the environmental impact report and the development agreement at a meeting Tuesday night. City staff has recommended the city approve the deal.

That means Facebook employees, currently numbering about 2,200 in Menlo Park, will soon be able to stretch out. If the deal is approved, Facebook will be able to employ about 6,600 workers in Menlo Park, up from its current limit of 3,600. That was the constraint on Sun Microsystems, which previously occupied the campus.

Facebook will pay Menlo Park an average of $850,000 a year over 10 years to compensate for the additional load on the city. It will also make a one-time payment of more than $1 million for capital improvements and set up community services such as high school internship and job training programs. Facebook is also creating a $500,000 local community fund that will dole out grants and charitable contributions to communities surrounding Facebook's campus.

Facebook is making the payments because Menlo Park can’t collect sales taxes from Facebook.

The last is a dodge - this is a protection racket, pure and simple.  Presumably Facebook pays property taxes on its corporate offices, as do its employees who live nearby.  Also, these new employees will all spend money in the local economy that will generate sales taxes.  Facebook presumably pays for water, sewer, trash and other utilities, and their employees are paying gas taxes as they drive that pay for the roads.  Facebook pays California income taxes, as do their employees.  What are these mystery costs that are not getting covered?  The community services bit is a hint that this is a stick-up, with Menlo Park demanding its cut of the recent IPO.

The truth is that cities and counties in California see business expansion plans the same way that Tony Soprano looks at the Museum of Science and Trucking -- as a way to maximize their skim.  I operate a campground in Ventura County that DOES pay sales taxes the County so far will not let me increase my live-in staff without making a big payment.  Even the remodeling of our store required 7 separate checks written to Ventura County agencies.

Update:  Minutes after I posted this, I see this at Reason about Ventura County's efforts to use zoning laws to shut down businesses.  Another Ventura story -- we tried to put a small trailer, really just a booth, in a large asphalt parking lot so my employee there could get out of the sun.  Putting a portable shed on a parking lot apparently required permits - lots of them.  At one point we were asked to get a soil sample, meaning they were asking us to cut through the paving and sample the dirt underneath.  Eventually we just gave up.

A Peak Inside the Boiler Room

I got another boiler room broker call today, so I guess the recent downturn has not flushed out all the cockroaches.  A while back I discussed the frequent calls I get from boiler room stock promoters.  The approach they use with me is this:

So the other day, I accidentally let one of them go further than I usually allow.  He said he was from Olympia Asset Management.  (There is an Olympia Asset Management web page, but I don't know if it is the same company and the web page has not been updated for several years.)  I let him run for a bit because a friend of mine runs a very well-respected financial planning firm with a different name but also with Olympia in the title, and for a moment I thought it might have been one of his folks.

Anyway, he proceeds to try to convince me that we have talked before and discussed a certain security.  "Remember me, we talked six months ago about ____".  Of course, I had never heard of the guy.  At this point I usually hang up, because I have heard this crap before -- it is a common pitch.

Its pretty clear to me now that this is what he is doing:

  1. Trying to imply that we have some kind of relationship we actually don't have.  Or worse...
  2. Trying to convince me that he touted stock A six months ago, so now he can tell me stock A has gone up in price.  Many reputable brokers built their reputation by cold calling people and saying:  Watch these 3 stocks and see how they do and I will call you back in 6 months.  That way, you can evaluate their stock picking without risk.  The modern sleazy approach is to pick a stock that has gone up a lot in the last 6 months, and then call some harried business person and pretend you called them with that pick 6 months ago, hoping that they will give you the benefit of the doubt.

The call just went downhill from there.  I hung up after his discussion of throwing Molotov cocktails into the cars of people he doesn't like.  That was right after I asked him if Tony Soprano was standing beside him listening in on the call.

Anyway, beware.  The guy today called me and asked me if I remembered him calling 6 months ago predicting the downturn in the mortgage market and the crash of the financial stocks.  You are not crazy - no matter how certain the guy seems, you really did not talk to him 6 months ago.

By the way, I am not the only one getting this pitch.  Ed Moed got the same pitch from the same script from the same company.  Many of his commenters share similar experiences.

Update: Wow, they sure do like Mitt Romney over at Olympia Asset Management.  I'm sure there was no arm-twisting here, when every single employee of the company seems to have given the max donation to the same candidate, with no breaking of ranks.

Update #2: Mike Murphy, CEO of Olympia Asset Management, was "a member of the [Hoffstra's] elite football team."  Wow.  Remember that time Hoffstra ripped through all those SEC teams?  Yeah, neither do I.  Anyway, this achievement does not hold a candle to the fact that I was once captain of Princeton Tower Club's elite intramural coed field hockey team.

A Last Case for Payday Loans

Well, we have upheld the ban on payday loans here in Arizona.

The payday-loan industry, which flourished this past decade on Arizonans' almost-insatiable need for quick, short-term loans regardless of their high interest rates, may have to close down in Arizona unless state lawmakers can be persuaded to ignore voters' wishes.

Voters last week overwhelmingly rejected Proposition 200, a ballot initiative financed and written by the loan companies to allow them to continue charging high interest rates on small loans. That decision placed Arizona among a growing number of states that have effectively shut down the payday lenders.

So, payday loans from company A to person B are really popular with both A & B, and the industry has "flourished."  But persons C, who don't participate in this market, have decided that, for their own good, A & B need to stop engaging in this behavior.  One such third party explains it this way:

Sen. Debbie McCune Davis, D-Phoenix, opposed Prop. 200 and has steadfastly fought payday lenders. She sees no need to let payday lenders continue to charge higher interest rates than other lenders.

Her and voter's actions have effectively limited payday loan companies to charging total interest and fees equivalent to no more than 36% annual interest.  OK, you say, this seems like a really high rate.  That should be enough, right?  Well, the problem comes with fixed costs and loan size.  Lets look at an example.

A typical payday loan size and term is about $400 for 18 days (pdf).  A typical fee for such a loan is $50, which includes both fixed costs and interest.  Wow, annualized that is 250%.  Usurious!  So would you personally go out and get a payday loan?  No way! And that is why voters vote to ban them - they are not good for me personally, so they must not be good for anyone else.

But here is the problem.  How do you maintain a storefront and trained people and all the documentation and collection apparatus for less than $50?  The same loan at 36% would allow a fee of only $7.20.  That barely even covers paying someone to originate the loan at the counter, much less pay interest and a risk premium.

Try going to the bank and getting a home loan or some other type of loan for only a $50 fee.  Granted those loans are more complicated, but in turn you will likely get charged hundred and probably thousands of dollars in fees.  There is a large fixed cost component to the act of lending which we tend to ignore on larger loans, but is there none-the-less.  In fact, just try to go to a bank and get a loan for $400 at all.  They don't make them, outside of the credit card industry, which solves this problem in part through economies of scale and in part through cost-shifting costs to merchants, options not really available to payday loan companies.

And so far, we are only talking about fixed costs, not the underwriting risk of extending loans to about any person who wanders in the door and can sign his/her name.  Anyone remember sub-prime mortgages?  Maybe there is a justification for large risk premiums, after all, on loans to under-qualified borrowers.  Particularly when you consider that most payday loan customers could not qualify even for a sub-prime mortgage.

The best equivalent to a payday loan offered by banks is overdraft protection, where the bank will go ahead and pay out on checks where there are insufficient funds, though they will charge a $20-$30 fee per check paid.  As you can see, these fees are very similar in magnitude to those charged by payday loan companies, particularly when you consider that these fees are generally charged on checks that average about $150.  Also, folks who get one overdraft fee usually get several in a row.  People are willing to pay these fees because they are in fact lower than the fees of actually having a check bounce, which can incur similar fees from merchants as well as hurting one's credit.

So, you just had to write three checks to get the power and water and telephone turned on, and you are pretty sure the money is not there in your checking account.  You are facing $80 in bounced-check (NSF) fees or overdraft fees.  Now might you consider a $400 loan for a $50 fee?  Well, probably the answer is still no, you would put it on your credit cards.  But everyone doesn't have credit cards, or doesn't qualify for them, or don't have a lifestyle that allows for them.  Where do they go, short of Tony Soprano?

Update: A reader sent me a link to this report, comparing payday loan rates to overdraft protection, and finding them of similar magnitude.  The author calculates an average $28.61 overdraft fee on an average $155 bounced check yields an APR of 478%.  There is a fixed cost to lending, and small very short term loans cost a lot of money, no matter how you get them.

I will remind folks not to be fooled by 18% or 23% rates on credit cards and set that as the market rate for small loans.  First, this misses annual fees for the cards.  But more importantly, it misses merchant fees.  Merchants pay between 2.5% and 3.5% of everything you charge to the credit card companies.  This helps to subsidize rates and, particularly, subsidize the fixed costs of small lending transactions.

Politicians are freaking Schizophrenic

I remember it was not that long ago that the main issues for many urban politicians vis a vis the poorer parts of their city were

  • to encourage more and free-er mortgage lending
  • to encourage more retail businesses that would, through competition, help eliminate the retail price premium charged in many poorer areas

When I say I remember back to these things, I am not talking about 2 generations ago, for God sakes, I am talking about the 1990's.  Just one presidency ago.

Now, politicians are looking to punish bankers who provided easy mortgages for poorer borrowers, and are seeking to shut down payday loan companies, the last resort for ready cash before once goes to Tony Soprano.  Now, the LA city council wants to ban certain new retail establishments in South LA merely because they are too low cost and easy to use.

Restricting Credit to the Unsophisticated -- And Are You Really Any Better?

After years of arguing that expanded credit is critical for the poor, and attacking banks for "red-lining" poor and minority districts, the liberal-left of this country has reversed directions, and has decided that the poor can't handle credit.

No matter how much folks want to paint the recent mortgage problem as some sort of fraud perptrated on homeowners, the fact of the matter is that in large part, lenders lowered their income standards and a lot of those folks now can't pay.  While we have yet to see any specific legislation beyond bailouts, it is impossible for me to imagine any reaction-regulation that does not have the consequence (intended or not) of restricting credit to the poor.

But these restrictions are not limited to the housing market.  Many states, for example, are cracking down and even outright banning payday loan companies, often the last resort (legal) credit source before people turn to the loansharks.  First in Ohio (via Mises Blog)

  If Ohio's 1,600 payday-lending stores want to continue operating past this fall, it
appears they will have to find something else to offer besides payday loans.

   A hotly debated bill that effectively would spell the end of the short-term,
high-interest payday-lending industry in Ohio sailed through the Ohio Senate yesterday despite
pleas from lenders that their stores would close and 6,000 employees would be put out of work.

   The Senate was unable to find a compromise that both satisfied payday lenders and
eliminated the debt trap that bill supporters said forced too many borrowers to take out new loans
to pay for old ones. So it did what the House did last month: dropped the hammer.

   "I think everybody said there is just no way to redeem this product. It's
fundamentally flawed," Bill Faith, a leader of the Ohio Coalition for Responsible Lending, said of
the twoweek loans. The industry "drew a line in the sand, and the legislature kicked the line aside
and said we're done with this toxic product."

And perhaps soon in Arizona.  Yes, the interest rates are astonishing, though the dollars involved are seldom huge for the short life and small size of the loan.  And, as an extra added bonus, Tony Soprano does not send someone to break your legs if you don't pay (the Sopranos being the only alternative provider once payday loan companies are illegal).

So, for those of you oppose payday loans, you are welcome to comment below about what a bad idea they are.  However, I challenge folks to criticize payday loans without simultaneously implicitly expressing disdain for the intelligence of payday loan customers, or trumpeting your ability to make better decisions for payday loan customers than they can make for themselves.

However, for those who think they are ever so much smarter than payday loan customers, who are charged a lot of money for small liquidity boosts, consider this:  Let's say you take out $40 each week from an ATM to keep you liquid and that the ATM fee is $1.50.  You are therefore spending $1.50 or 3.75% for a one week liquidity boost of $40, which you must again refresh next week.  Annualized, you are effectively paying 195% to get liquid with your own money.  For this kind of vig, at least payday loan customers are getting the use of someone else's money.

The Tony Soprano Test

I must say that I find this state Supreme Court decision from Washington State terrifying.  It is interesting that the State of Washington has exactly the same proprietary attitude over the garbage business as does the Mafia in New York:

In a decision released this morning, the Court stated that hauling
construction waste is not a private enterprise and "is in the realm
belonging to the State and delegated to local governments." The court
found specifically that the provision of waste hauling service is a
"government service" and constitutional protections do not apply to
government-provided services.

I don't know the Washington State constitution, so it may indeed mention "construction waste hauling" as an enumerated power of the government.  If it does not, and by "constitutional protections do not apply" they mean the US Constitution, then this is a stunning over-reading of said document.  Nowhere, in the US Constitution at least, is there a provision for the government providing services of any kind, much less construction waste hauling. 

More Stock Broker Hard Sell

I am still getting the hard sell from cold-callers touting securities.  I am told this is because we small business owners are just behind dentists and doctors in terms of our capacity to make bonehead investments.

Before I proceed with this story, there are two things you need to know about me:

  • I answer my own phone at the office
  • I have never, ever listened to a sales pitch for an investment or security.  If I am in a good mood, I interrupt and say, "sorry, not iterested" before they can even name the stock.  If I am in a bad mood, I just hang up.

So the other day, I accidentally let one of them go further than I usually allow.  He said he was from Olympia Asset Management.  (There is an Olympia Asset Management web page, but I don't know if it is the same company and the web page has not been updated for several years.)  I let him run for a bit because a friend of mine runs a very well-respected financial planning firm with a different name but also with Olympia in the title, and for a moment I thought it might have been one of his folks.

Anyway, he proceeds to try to convince me that we have talked before and discussed a certain security.  "Remember me, we talked six months ago about ____".  Of course, I had never heard of the guy.  At this point I usually hang up, because I have heard this crap before -- it is a common pitch.  The best I can figure is that they are trying to give themselves more credibility by either:

  1. Trying to imply that we have some kind of relationship we actually don't have.  Or worse...
  2. Trying to convince me that he touted stock A six months ago, so now he can tell me stock A has gone up in price.  Many reputable brokers built their reputation by cold calling people and saying:  Watch these 3 stocks and see how they do and I will call you back in 6 months.  That way, you can evaluate their stock picking without risk.  The modern sleazy approach is to pick a stock that has gone up a lot in the last 6 months, and then call some harried business person and pretend you called them with that pick 6 months ago, hoping that they will give you the benefit of the doubt.

For some reason, maybe because I was bored, I decided to chat with him, and I had to admit that he was trained pretty well never to give up.  I interrupted him after the "do you remember" opening and said that we could not possible have spoken about a stock, because I always hang up on people within 5 seconds of knowing it is a stock pitch.  He said he had sent me a packet of information.  I said that he had not.  He insisted that we had talked, and that I had promised to write down the name of the stock on my calendar.  I told him I don't have a calendar  (which is actually true - I manage myself through a dysfunctional combination of memory and post-it notes).  Sensing weakness, I turned on him and said "gee, I was out of town a lot 6 months ago and am surprised you got hold of me.  What date did you call."  Then he starts getting all vague on me.  Anyway, I finally tired of the game and hung up but he never relented in his assertion that he and I had had a nice chat about some security.

Please, please.  Avoid these guys on the phone like the plague.  Several years ago I had a guy call me with some oil drilling "opportunity."  In that case, I also made an exception to my rule and listened to see just how bad this thing was going to be.  Finally I broke in and said "that's ridiculous, no one in their right mind would send you money for that."  He too was relentless, until I finally said "Look, I know Tony Soprano is standing behind you in the boiler room there and putting pressure on you, but I am not interested."  Then, without a pause, he starts telling me how he once threw a Molotov cocktail into the car of someone he didn't like.  I don't know if he was just having fun with me, but he was either wildly unprofessional or very creepy.  Beware, Beware, Beware.

Does This Really Work? Stock Scam Update

About once a week, I get a call from some stock sales boiler room that begins "My name is ________, do you remember me?  We talked about 6 months ago about a company named ________."  He then, if I let him, will proceed to tell me that he gave me a buy on this stock at that time and it's gone up some unbelievable percentage since then.

There is one problem.  We never talked before about a stock.  I never, ever let a boiler room guy go more than two sentences without hanging up or challenging his BS, so we couldn't have talked about it.  On a couple of occasions when one of the guys who called actually made the mistake of giving a specific date in the past for his call, a quick check of my calendar showed that I was out of town both times.  One guy got kind of scary.  I made the mistake of saying "Look, I know that Tony Soprano or whoever is standing beside you pushing this stock, but I am not interested and I can spot your line of bullshit a mile away."  The guy then proceeded to tell me, as a thinly veiled threat I guess, about his prior convictions for throwing a Molotov cocktail into the offices of someone he did not like.

What these guys are trying to do is to fake a track record of good stock picking.  Reputable brokers used to call me once in a while and say -- here are ten stocks, write them down and I will call you back in 6 months and you can see for yourself if I know how to pick stocks.  These new guys skip this step, looking backwards to find a stock that did well over the last 6 months and then trying to convince you they told you about it months ago before it went up. 

Is anyone out there so busy that they fall for this, and allow themselves to be convinced they had such a conversation in the past?  I get these calls at least once a week, so if they are expending this effort, it must be working on someone.

Dead to the World

For the last two days I have had some sort of food poisoning or gastro-intestinal something that has made me as sick as I every remember being.  Sopranos fans, think Tony Soprano in the episode he kills Big Pussy.  Starting to recover, I hope.

Update: Little did I know that when I posted this, it was only halftime.  I am finally better, but I can certainly do without getting that again for a while.

Shareholder Suits

I posted on shareholder suits over at Overlawyered.  A reader sent me this great article from 2000 in Fortune on Bill Lerach, the kind of shareholder suits.  These thoughts echo my own (or, since I guess this was written long before my post, my thoughts echoes these):

Stanford law professor Joseph Grundfest, a former
SEC commissioner, goes so far as to describe the current system governing
securities fraud as "nuts." As he sees it, class-action settlements amount
to nothing more than an unproductive "transfer payment" from current shareholders
to past shareholders--with big contingency fees skimmed off the top. "The
plaintiffs lawyers are getting a cut of the money that flows from our left
pocket to our right pocket," he says. Even in those cases involving genuine
wrongdoing, he adds, the individual perpetrators rarely pay anything out
of their own pockets, thanks to insurance and indemnification policies.
Nor do the shareholders get much--generally no more than 15% of their losses,
studies show. "Fraud is wrong," says Grundfest. "It has to be punished.
But what we have here is a shell game."

Read the whole article.  In many of the anecdotes, Lerach seems to be channeling Tony Soprano.

Vindicated, but Still Unhappy

Via Kevin Drum, perhaps the most ridiculous example yet of eminent domain abuse in our post-Kelo Amerika:

On May 24, the five-member township committee voted unanimously to authorize
the municipality to seize Segal's land through eminent domain and name its own
developer.

"They want to steal my land," Segal said. "What right do they have when I
intend to do the exact same thing they want to do with my property?"

.... Segal...signed a contract last week to sell his property to Centex Homes
for about $13 million, contingent upon local approval. Centex, a nationally
known developer with projects in Middlesex, Morris and Monmouth counties, would
then build 100 townhouses on Segal's property....

Florio and Capodice [the mayor and deputy mayor] said they preferred AMJM
because it is a local company.

"I've never heard of Centex," Capodice said. "They're not Union County
people."

Un-freaking-believable.  Who wants to bet that AMJM has Tony Soprano on the board, or that AMJM has made some nice donations to the township committee's various election funds. 

By the way, the post title comes from this closing remark from Drum:

Still, it smells pretty bad, and it couldn't have happened if Kelo had
gone the other way. Libertarians should feel free to feel vindicated.

Missed this Gem:  Sorry, the contributions revelation is right up front:

On May 21, Albert G. Mauti Jr. and his cousin Joseph [owners of AMJM] hosted a fundraiser for
Assemblyman Joseph Cryan at the Westmount Country Club in Passaic County. The
two developers and family members picked up the $10,400 dinner tab, donated
another $8,000 and raised more than $70,000 that night for the powerful Union
County Democrat, according to state election records.

Three days later, the governing body in Cryan's hometown of Union Township --
all Democrats -- introduced an ordinance paving the way for the Mautis to build
90 or so townhouses on six acres of abandoned industrial land along the Conrail
line in town.

Calls from the Boiler Room

Of late, I have been getting a lot of calls at work from stock boiler-rooms with high-energy come-on guys trying to sell me some hot equity.  The tactics used by these calls is very consistent, but to describe it I need to share some background.

Fifteen years or so ago, I from time-to-time would get calls from what I assume were legitimate brokers trying to get my business.  They would call me and say something like "I am not going to sell you anything today.  I am going to give you the name of 5 equities, and in 6 months I am going to call you back".  If played straight, this is not a bad sales tactic - prove your ability to pick stocks and out-perform the market in advance of asking for business.  Of course, this could be gamed:  I could create 20 lists of 5 stocks each and call a thousand people, giving each person one of the 20 lists.  Then I could wait 6 months and call back those people whose 5 stocks outperformed the market.

Today, there is a less patient variation on this call.  I get about three calls a week from guys saying "do you remember me when I called you last January 23, and fedexed you our stock selections - since then they are up xx%".  The only problem is that they never called or fedexed anything, but I guess they are hoping that I assume I forgot and then take their word for their stock picks.  The scam here becomes more obvious when you get your 10th call from these guys.  It became even more obvious given I have three numbers for my business and over a 20 minute time period I got three calls on three lines from three different people with the same spiel starting "this is X, you remember my call from a few months ago?"

LOL, I can just picture Tony Soprano in the back room monitoring the whole operation.