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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Christie Vetoes NJ Foreclosure Bill

In a little-noticed development late Monday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie conditionally vetoed the second iteration of a potentially disastrous foreclosure bill that would have given a state agency the power to use public dollars to purchase foreclosed properties, turn them into low-income housing (even if that would be radically different from the existing character of the neighborhood) and then restrict the deed for 30 years.  This horrendous piece of legislation would have created all-but-permanent single-structure housing projects in the middle of bucolic suburbs.  An earlier version of the bill was vetoed in June 2012.

The bill, titled the Residential Foreclosure Transformation Act, would better have been called the Residential Neighborhood Destruction Act. 

Christie continues to disappoint on basic economics. Just as his June 2012 veto of the first foreclosure transformation bill was the correct outcome with the wrong reason -- he cited state budget problems and not the severe danger to homeowners from the first bill, thus signaling to homeowners that he did not share their concerns nor would protect them against a foreseeable revision of the bill, which did occur just weeks later.  Now, his conditional veto is based on the belief that federal funds should be used to help defaulting homeowners.  These rationales continue to underscore my contention (fear) that Christie has no core philosophical or ideological values -- ambition notwithstanding as that is a character trait -- and consequently, the economic welfare of homeowners, property owners and business owners in New Jersey continue to be placed at risk.

On a positive note, however, Christie's veto of a different bill speeding up foreclosures is a necessary protection against litigation abuse, so-called sewer service and other abuses of due process.  We commend Governor Christie for his veto of Senate bill 2156.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Frigid Weather Running

Training for marathons, triathlons and other road races requires discipline, uninterrupted and regular training, and outdoor space. Cold snaps in the middle of winter are unavoidable, and do not need to interfere with your training at all. The zero-degree wind-chill (or RealFeel(R) measurement used by AccuWeather) cold wave hitting the Northeast is no impediment. Not if you're serious.

Forget the standard advice. I am a ten-time marathoner. Believe someone who's done cold-weather running (and who recently ran a personal-best marathon on a 30 degree wind chill day).

Here are the tips.

(1). Do morning runs. The sun is strongest, and the skies often the clearest, at or around sunrise. The winds often are the calmest as well, as the sun has yet to get the atmosphere "cooking" and causing the air to move around. This means you'll feel the least uncomfortable if you time your runs in the 6am-8am range. This holds true even if the air temperature is five to ten degrees warmer in the late afternoon. In my experience, it gets nasty after 1pm as it often gets cloudier and windier after four or five hours of sunlight. The sun also loses its warming strength once it is past its peak position. Remember, until daylight savings time moves the clocks ahead an hour in early March, the sun is actually at its highest point in the sky at or shortly before noon!

(2). Watch for ice. Another reason to do morning runs is that the sun has yet to melt any snowpack (even if the air temperature is well under 32 degrees Fahrenheit). Melting snow will turn into ice quickly, especially when the ground surface has a hard freeze from prolonged periods below freezing.

(3). Hydrate but never drink anything cold. I actually don't like cold drinks at any time of the year. Hot drinks are overrated and your key should be quenching your thirst. The cold weather will tend to dehydrate you by sparking an urge to urinate. The reason: the air in the winter is often very, very dry. The best measure of this is not the humidity but rather the dewpoint (temperature at which water vapor in the air will condense on surfaces). The dewpoint in the winter is routinely below zero.

(4). Cover your head and face. Most body heat is lost there.

(5). Minimize all exposed skin. A no-brainer. Your legs can be exposed, but use an oil-based lubricating jelly to keep moisture and avoid serious drying out of your skin.

(6). Don't overdress. You do not need five layers of clothing; a garbage bag is a great way to warm up as well as a fantastic conversation starter. Wicking clothing is a must but you need only one thin undergarment underneath it.

(7). Mittens not gloves. Your fingers will get cold in conventional runners' gloves. Buy hockey gloves (seriously!). The Canadians know something about fighting the cold. So don't be a dumb American! And ball your hands into fists so your fingers stay warm together.

(8)  Take care of your other extremity.  Your extremities will be most prone to frostbite.  But men must not  forget about your other extremity, the one which is the only one you have.  This is an issue for any long run taking you outside for an hour or longer and especially if you are running at an easy pace to put in mileage (as opposed to a brisk tempo run at race pace, which has the added protection of generating much more internal heat that may counter the temperature/cold moisture problem).  Perspiration will chill and start to freeze on your skin if it isn't wicked away.  If there is any place to have several layers on, it is the waist area.  Try three layers (sweatpants over shorts, for example).  This is one area to monitor during your runs regardless of whether you feel anything.

Happy running!

Eric Dixon
Eric Dixon LLC

Destroying Union City

Imagine a place, with a postcard-picture view of the world's economic and entertainment center, existing housing and a developed transportation infrastructure allowing for commuter and commercial traffic in all directions.

Imagine a place with tree-lined streets just minutes away from the cosmopolitan center of the nation -- if not the world -- featuring the centers of finance, the international media, all sorts of entertainment choices and even just an hour away from picturesque farmland and beaches. It's closer to Times Square than Astoria, Greenpoint, Maspeth or the new Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn!

Imagine this place being affordable, with rents for apartments and businesses available for much less than across the river. Imagine a place where your greenery is in your backyard, and not some dog-crap-infested dog run on the Upper West Side's Riverside Park...or the horse-crap-befouled Central Park South.

This is no fantasy. This is Hudson County, New Jersey.

Hudson County is host to this immense, untapped potential. Those daring to
capitalize on it stand to create wealth and get rich. But standing in the way are some Hudson County political leaders, who stay in power by keeping that potential captive, their residents poor, and young entrepreneurs out.

Union City -- located just two miles from the heart of the world's financial and cultural center, New York City -- should be a regional economic powerhouse. Ideally located within range of rail, ferry and bus routes to New York and numerous highways and railways for commerce to the entire Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, Union City could offer short commutes and a postcard-picture view of Midtown to upwardly-mobile, high-income workers and a cost-effective alternative for technology companies and other industries seeking to avoid high-rent Midtown Manhattan and have better transportation for commercial shipments. Instead, Union City sits in government-induced squalor.

Union City's mayor, Brian Stack, and his slate of commissioners (the city is run by a five-person commission which then chooses a mayor) routinely win re-election with over 90 percent of the vote. This, my friends, is political capital. Stack -- a nominal Democrat -- even is best buds with New Jersey's uberGovernor Chris Christie, whose approval ratings are soaring past 70 percent nine months before the 2013 statewide election. But Stack refuses to use his ample political capital to open his Union City up for growth.

As we all learned in high school biology class, success kills parasites. Just as the most efficient parasite kills its host and the most vicious pandemic wipes out its entire victim population, the most successful politicians often sow the seeds of their ruin from the fruit of overwhelming election victories and the arrogance it often breeds.

Union City's elected officials, not content with winning local elections virtually by acclamation, give out toys and turkeys during the holidays through a web of curious nonprofits and political organizations. The quid pro quo is clear: vote for us and get more handouts.

Union City doesn't need more people wanting free turkeys. The increase in the number of people wanting a free meal should not be -- and is not -- something Union City should be proud of. But there is Brian Stack, boasting that he's given away 10,000 turkeys to residents.  That represents almost half the votes in the last state senate election in which Brian Stack ran.  You can't compete with free turkey, apparently.

(Problem: What's the message received by potential investors and homebuyers? Here it is: Union City has no customers and all your new neighbors will be dirt poor. Now imagine what that does to drive away new business, and to home prices.)

Brian Stack is cynically aware that the turkey giveaway sends the not-too-coded message to homeowners of, here's all the people your taxes are going to, there's more of them every day, and you're going to pay for more turkeys next year, suckers! In a land of one person, one vote, two homeless men can outvote the one homeowner ... and decide to raise his taxes, cut his services, and pee on his bushes! But Brian Stack, and his equally cynical allies around the state, don't realize that businessowners don't see a workforce, or a customer base, when you show them poor people on a turkey line. They do see a bunch of people running up your taxes, using up every government service available, loitering in the parks and on streetcorners and urinating and defecating in alleyways. They see grime, crime and filth.

They see undesirables. That is a politically incorrect sentiment, but that's the business bottom line.  Businessowners -- and the banks rejecting them for loans -- don't see people who won't be customers or good neighbors. They see people who will drive away the customers and neighbors they want.

This is not how you grow an urban city. This is how you grow Camden-on-the-Hudson.

To own a home in Union City is to be a dying breed. The city keeps homeowners alive, just alive enough to pay their property taxes which account for only 60 percent of the city's budget (state grants account for
much of the rest). Far from needing the intervention of local government, this growth needs only the removal of obstacles placed in the way of productive business owners and home and condo owners. Union City needs only an attitude change, but this will require government fiscal responsibility. And if one glaring example is any indication, Union City's city planners better not do any planning.

Its local government currently depends on state special aid to the tune of tens of millions each year, and its school system is considered one of only 31 underprivileged "Abbott" districts in the state and so it qualifies for and receives over $170 million in special school aid. Yet for all this, the brain scientists in Union City recently closed two high schools to combine their enrollments into one new facility, upon which it was promptly discovered the new Union City High School didn't have enough space for all four grades of high school. Yes, that's right, this 21st Century planning is why Union City now has the Jose Marti Freshman Academy. Because its new high school is too small and -- at a reported $500 million cost -- was obsolete when it opened.

It is no surprise that Union City's homeowners and remaining industries have fled to more hospitable alternatives. The remaining tax base is not sufficient to support Union City's overly generous entitlements and "services" and the result is a city which needs almost as much aid from the state as it itself generates in order to balance its budget.

Very simply, a non-interventionist, fiscally responsible government less concerned with giving low-paying jobs to every resident claiming "need" in exchange for votes, and more concerned with keeping its remaining, productive businessowners and homeowners, will encourage residential development and bring in new waves of white-collar renters and owners. These are the type of people Union City needs, people who pay taxes, contribute to the community and who just might spark the next economic renewal, starting businesses at a fraction of the cost it takes across the river in Manhattan.

Instead, Brian Stack has resisted any new development. He is unwilling to bring in new blood which doesn't need free turkeys and has no inclination to take orders from a high-school educated Anglo.
Seemingly threatened by those who are smarter, more handsome or otherwise
"better" than he, Stack reminds one of the pretty girl in high school who makes sure her circle of friends contains only the comely, homely and lonely. This psychological dysfunction explains the pathological inferiority complex; Stack is content -- no, desperate -- to keep Union City full of people whom he considers his inferiors. (Not coincidentally, the
Irish-American Stack runs a city that is so heavily immigrant and Latino that Spanish is the co-equal language used in City Hall.). But the result for Union City is tragic; the city is held captive on a highway of mediocrity, dependent on handouts from the state and federal government to balance a budget that's bloated in order to run up huge electoral victories producing political capital which is not used wisely...or at all.
Stack has refused to use this political capital to attract the middle class
and young professionals whose pride of ownership and entrepreneurship could
revitalize Union City in the same way it has reenergized parts of New Jersey's Gold Coast (Hoboken, Jersey City, North Bergen) and Newark. Instead, he has made a foolish -- no, a tragic -- tradeoff. Unwilling (or afraid) to allow fresh blood to infuse his city, Union City has become dominated by elderly, poor Latinos, many of whom have never learned English and many of whom depend on government assistance for housing, food and medical care. Their multiple shackles of dependence make them ripe for exploitation by a political machine which demands votes and undying fealty in exchange for handouts and the promise of their continuance. But the Stack iron fist is never far from the velvet glove of Stack's pity, funded, of course, with other people's money.
Now who is supporting Stack's social co-dependent machine? The hapless,
shrinking homeowners and small businesses. One would write that they are forgotten, but that's not quite the case, with property taxes routinely in five figures for even the smallest home plots. The result is that Union City's real estate market remains a first-time-owner's market or a speculator's dream, dominated by multi-family, multi-story homes where the owners MIGHT live in the house but where every inch of rentable, subdividable space is leased out, by the month, for the week, on the books or off, legally or otherwise. Those wanting trade-up homes, with safe
streets, stable property taxes and a local government responsive to taxpayers must -- and do -- move to neighboring towns. But being near an institutionalized slum has its perils.

Eric Dixon

Monday, January 14, 2013

Using Public Disclosure To Persecute Gun Owners

The idiotic (and hopefully not nefarious) disclosure by a suburban New York media outlet of the names and addresses of registered gun owners in two suburban counties may have led to robbers trying to steal weapons from one identified homeowner, despite official denials.

The mania over identifying gun owners is a perverse tactic to effect constittutional change.  The tactic basically reduces to this: Assert your Second Amendment right to own and possess a weapon in your own home -- and face the consequences of being "outed," having one's privacy shredded and having one's property and personal safety placed in mortal danger.

The problem here is not only this one news media outlet, which ignored the risk which publicity would cause gun owners -- or intended to have that very risk serve to effect political change by exacting a high cost on gun owners.   The root cause is the conscious decision by the Rockland and Westchester County governments to disclose this information in response to public record requests.  This information should not be public, because the risk of personal danger outweighs the "public interest" in knowing the names and addresses of gun owners. 

Are we moving towards a nation where overzealous government officials and others in the public can use "public information" to attack others -- through exposure and the logically, reasonably foreseeable consequence of personal danger -- whose behavior or political beliefs they oppose? 

This nation has a Constitution and longstanding body of precedential court decisions which protect the rights of the minority, especially when they are unpopular groups or hold unpopular religious or political beliefs.   

When political zealots can use our laws and the news media to place innocent people in personal harm, how far is our nation from placing identifying symbols on members of disfavored groups?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Why Christie Should Run As A Democrat

A new poll of 1,100 registered voters by Public Policy Polling ("PPP") last week gives major clues as to Chris Christie's strange embrace of President Obama the week before the election.  As a nationally prominent Governor, you can bet Christie did confidential, internal polling and if those results match the results from PPP, you can see why his leftward turn would make sense politically.

Did you know that Chris Christie:
  • Has the highest favorable/unfavorable rating with independent voters (52 favorable, 18 unfavorable, 30 not sure, +/- margin 3%);
  • His second highest favorable/unfavorable rating is with Democrats (52-23-25);
  • Does WORST among Republicans (48-27-26);
  • Does the best among voters identifying as "somewhat liberal" (60-18-21)
  • Does as well among voters self-identifying as "very liberal" as those who are "very conservative" (45-31-24 vs. 45-29-27)
  • Is beloved by so-called "moderate" voters (57-18-25);
  • Does the WORST among Hispanic voters (40-35-26), best among whites (52-21-27) and pretty well among black voters (46-27-28);
  • Does the WORST among voters under age 30 (33% unfavorable);
And perhaps most tellingly:
  • Obama voters had a more favorable view of Christie (54-19-26) than Romney voters (48-28-26).
The question, to be left for pundits, is whether these preferences reflect ideology or governing style.  Nonetheless, the polling data indicate that Chris Christie's base is certainly left-of-center.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Will Steven Cohen of SAC Capital Climb Wall of Worry About Informant?

The "extraordinary cooperation" of former SAC Capital trader Wesley Wang was cited by federal agents in a recent federal court filing preceding Wang's upcoming sentencing for insider trading.  In addition to his help in building other cases that have led to numerous convictions or guilty pleas in a still-expanding insider trading investigation, the letter references numerous other people whom federal authorities have yet to approach or indict.

The letter is further evidence suggesting that SAC Capital titan Steven Cohen may be the ultimate target of the still vibrant federal criminal investigation.

Big Boy's Big Blunder?: Christie's Landslide Promise

Why in the world would a successful and nationally popular Republican Governor -- especially one who is presumed to be a frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination -- set the highest bar of an electoral landslide in this upcoming November's general election?

Chris Christie last week predicted he would win re-election in a landslide.  His prediction sets his bar very high; worse, he publicly stated this prediction instead of keeping it to himself.  Unless he is given to extreme arrogance, his publicly-spoken prediction leaves him extremely vulnerable to underperforming (that is, winning by a modest margin or less).  Any disappointing margin of victory weakens his image as a presumptively electable Republican presidential candidate.  Conversely, he made it very hard for himself to meet this entirely self-imposed expectation.  At the very least, the second-guessing his prediction fosters raises a significant question as to his political and strategic judgment.

There can be only two reasons for this inexplicably puzzling public prediction: Either he has amazing confidence, or for some reason not yet revealed to the rest of us, Christie does not plan to run for president. 

At least, not as a Republican.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Winning the Hockey Lockout

As I write, a tentative settlement to the hockey lockout has been reached after a marathon negotiating session lasting until near sunrise Sunday morning in New York.  But forget the terms of the deal; watch out for the writing.  A final written agreement and related "side agreements" have likely been drafted but need to be finalized, and that could be interesting given the intellectual competitiveness of the lawyers which has bred mistrust between the sides.

To their credit, both parties have cautioned an eager hockey fan base that the settlement is tentative.  It not only requires ratification by both sides (pretty much a given) but also needs finalized written agreements.  Each of those agreements can hold up "finalization." And note the plural. Large deals always have multiple side agreements.  Trust me, as a former corporate transactional "deal" lawyer, comprehensive transactions have several major aspects and each requires a separate agreement, with a "master agreement" tying in everything to "close the deal."

The problem here is that the National Hockey League -- the management side in this dispute -- showed its willingness to pull a "fast one" with regards to language on the concept of "hockey related revenue."  The players' union -- the labor side here -- recognized that and is now extra vigilant (as it always should be) on the gamesmanship.  There are plenty of untrustworthy lawyers who pride themselves on "slipping in something" in order to "win" the deal.  These lawyers seek to exploit the opposing lawyers' goodnaturedness, inherent honesty, trust, inexperience or raw physical fatigue.  Aside from lawyers who engage in outright criminality or quasi-criminality (that which can't readily be proven and which I consider even worse because the coverup and deception is taken to a new level and involves an additional step), these other attorneys who practice non-criminal deception and blatant lying are a pox on the legal profession.  They engender distrust between business parties in what can and often should be a collaborative, symbiotic process.  (Arguably, it's also bad for business, except that the legal profession is perhaps the rarest profession where bad or antisocial character becomes a desired character trait).

Now, could this deal have been reached sooner?  Absolutely.  The problem that 99.9% of observers fail to realize is that there are three perspectives: those of the league (management), the players (labor, or the union), and everyone else -- and in this negotiation, only the perspectives of labor and management really matter.  The outsiders have the view that a "middle ground" can be reached; indeed, this was likely the philosophy of federal mediator Scot Beckenbrough.  Outsiders think differently from management and labor, because they are thinking of how a deal can be done, whereas management and labor want "the best deal."  Often, getting that "best deal" means pushing things to the brink and being willing to "walk away" and destroy a deal or a hockey season.  This difference in perspectives illustrates why virtually the entire hockey world was confused and frustrated over the length of this negotiation and lockout.

Eric Dixon is a corporate and investigative lawyer who was admitted to practice in New York in 1995 and New Jersey in 1996.  Mr. Dixon is a 1994 graduate of Yale Law School.