08/28/14 12:42pm
Residents from East End communities packed a Wainscott TV studio for a special meeting on aircraft noise Wednesday evening. (Credit: Ambrose Clancy)

Residents from East End communities packed a Wainscott TV studio for a special meeting on aircraft noise Wednesday evening. (Credit: Ambrose Clancy)

Too low, too loud, too many.

That was the consensus from nearly 50 residents from East End communities who spoke at a packed public meeting Wednesday evening about a record number of aircraft — mostly helicopters — buzzing their homes this summer.  (more…)

01/04/14 10:00am

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Tourists on NYC’s Wall Street in 2011.

Depending on who you talk to, the economy seems to be on the mend and 2014 will be a good year for Americans’ finances.

But that qualifier of who you’re talking to says it all. So in an effort to gather all the information we can, here at Gimme Shelter, on which way the economic wind will be blowing this year, we’ve been paging Babson & Roubini, but haven’t had any luck.

AMBROSE CLANCY

Even though these two might sound like sole partners in an up-island law firm monitoring police scanners for four-car pileups on the LIE, they are actually economic forecasters. Roger Babson and Nouriel Roubini predicted the two greatest financial catastrophes of the last 100 years.

Playing Chicken Little with the correct information, Mr. Babson saw the October 1929 Wall Street crash coming. And Mr. Roubini told everyone in 2006 who would listen — no one in power did — that the U.S. economy was heading for flameout.

Today some people prophesize doom, some say happy days are here again, and others rely on the unassailable truth that even a broken clock is accurate twice a day.

We’ll dispense with reading the entrails of housing starts, the labor market, factory orders, interest rates and currency supplies to look at seven other bellwethers telling us where the economy is heading.

1. Mens’ underpants. Former Federal Reserve Chairman and Ayn Rand acolyte Arthur Greenspan once said declining mens’ underwear sales means “a prescient, forward impression that here comes trouble.”
You’ve already crafted your own punch line to Mr. Greenspan’s unfortunate quote, so we’ll move on.

2. Sonny “Junior” Giorgio. In Chicago, during an interrogation of the alleged Cosa Nostra don — arrested for conspiracy and hijacking — Mr. Giorgio told investigators the price for federal judges had remained steady over the past quarter.

3. High heels. At the depths of the economic crisis in 2009, the median height of high heels was seven inches, according to Portfolio.com. That median figure has been steadily dropping since then. Meaning women can’t afford the bimonthly visit to the podiatrist?

Not so fast. Others took the heel indicator to mean the economy was strapping on its dancing shoes. Researchers at IBM broke down data from social media sites to find that flat shoes and kitten heels are hot, meaning, said IBM analyst Trevor Davis, that the proliferation of do-what-you-will-to-me shoes means buyers are looking for “fantasy and escape” from bad times. Lower shoes, brighter times ahead.

Which begs the question: Who comes up with names like “kitten heels?”

4. Hemlines. George Taylor, a professor at the Wharton School of Business, has noted that during the Roaring 20s women’s hemlines went north dramatically and plunged during the 1930s Great Depression. Taylor deduced women wanted to flaunt pricey silk stockings while Roaring and hide their bare legs when Depressed.

But a fashion clue these days is short skirts and bare legs. No word yet from Professor Taylor.
However, women’s fashion tastes must be analyzed because, referring to our first indicator, most men wouldn’t even have underwear if their wives didn’t buy it for them.

5. Seagulls. If you’ve noticed flocks of seagulls hanging out in Long Island parking lots with the occasional flap over for a dumpster dive, this means the economy is on the upswing. Forbes magazine recently noted the size of restaurant garbage piles means people are eating out more, since restaurants throw away more in preparation in fat times than in lean. Of course, seagulls in parking lots might just mean storms are brewing out at sea. But you can impress your dimmer dinner companions by either predicting the weather or the economy.

6. Alligators. In Cut Off, Louisiana, the 60,000 residents at Savoie’s Alligator Farm are breathing a bit easier as they bask in the mud or slither in the creek for a dip. Seems there’s less demand for their hides.

The gator farmers are suffering because Gucci, Vuitton and Versace haven’t made the trek for skins to Cut Off lately. Meaning the wealthy are settling for stingray, ostrich, python, eel and lizard for their shoes and handbags.

We’re not sure if that means anything, but it’s always fun to point out there’s a municipality in Louisiana called Cut Off.

7. The one-eyed car. An old friend, Martin Melkonian, professor of economics at Hofstra, sees merit in counting the number of cars sporting only one headlight at night. When those numbers increase, more people are going broke and putting off installation of a new light.

“At least in the neighborhoods I’m driving, I’m seeing more one-light cars,” Mr. Melkonian told us.

Professor Melkonian said he’d ask his wife about more “quirky” indicators and get back to us. “She’s good at that kind of thing,” he said.

It didn’t seem appropriate to ask if Mrs. Melkonian bought the professor’s underwear.

Maybe John Kenneth Galbraith had it right when he said, “The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.”

Happy New Year.

Mr. Clancy is the editor of the Shelter Island Reporter. He can be reached at a.clancy@sireporter.com

07/04/13 6:00am

AMBROSE CLANCY

Today, July 4, Americans celebrate themselves on the 237th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Right?

Wrong.

Most signers put their “John Hancocks” on the document on August 2, 1776. After signing, Mr. Hancock remarked, “Gentlemen, we must now all hang together,” placing on a tee a reply for Ben Franklin: “Yes, we must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

Franklin’s wit contains the bravery of the men in Philadelphia that summer. They knew if things turned out badly the document they had just signed guaranteed they’d wind up swinging from the wrong end of an English rope.

Another question: Which people are rated among the most ignorant in the world?

We the People.

According to the European Journal of Communication, 76 percent of Finns and 68 percent of Danes could identify the Taliban. Only 58 percent of Yanks knew who they are, even though we’ve been fighting them for more than 10 years.

Which leads us to ask the European Journal of Communication: What’s a Finn? And come on, a big brown dog is smarter than we are?

It’s not just creepy European and foreign stuff, either. A while back, Newsweek gave the U.S. citizenship test to a group of Americans and close to 40 percent flunked. A third couldn’t name the vice president, three-quarters didn’t know what the Cold War was and 44 percent couldn’t describe the Bill of Rights.

To which we reply: Yeah? So?

But don’t get down if you missed some (all?) of these questions. America is the land of second chances, and so is this column, so here’s an opportunity to prove your knowledge of our country’s history.

Answers at the bottom. Eyes on your own paper. Check your work at the end. Begin … now.

1) Where was the Battle of Long Island fought?
a: Brooklyn
b: Penn Station, before the last trains to Ronkonkoma between Christmas and New Year’s.
c: Southold

2) Who said, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”
a: Richard Nixon
b: Barack Obama
c: Samuel Johnson

3) What American president imported Spanish fly for personal use?
a: George Washington
b: Andrew Johnson
c: William Henry Harrison

4) Who was William Floyd?
a: Billy “Sandman” Floyd, president and CEO of Calverton’s Dig This, Inc., indicted, never convicted for bid rigging concrete contracts for the parkway named for him.
b: Only Long Islander to sign the Declaration of Independence.
c: Will “Iron Hands” Floyd, personal bodyguard to Robert Moses.

5) How many presidents are not buried on American soil?
a: Five
b: One
c: None

6) Who said that along with age and citizenship, business experience should be a qualification for the presidency?
a: Mitt Romney
b: Ronald Reagan
c: Steve Jobs

7) Name the last four businessman presidents.

8) What political leader compared himself to Charles DeGaulle, Margaret Thatcher, Abraham Lincoln, Henry Clay, Marion Barry and Ho Chi Minh?
a: Anthony Weiner
b: Newt Gingrich
c: Barack Obama

9) What does the Japanese word “Bushusuru” mean?
a: Choking on a pretzel
b: Stealing an election
c: Publicly vomiting

10) Name the president who once worked as a hangman.
a: Grover Cleveland
b: Ulysses S. Grant
c: John Adams

11) Who was the only president who held a license to tend bar?
a: Abraham Lincoln
b: George W. Bush
c: Ulysses S. Grant

12) Harry S. Truman and Ulysses S. Grant share the same middle initial. What does the “S” in both cases stand for?
a: Simpson
b: Samuel
C: Nothing

13) Who said: “Our government rests in public opinion. Whoever can change public opinion, can change government.”
a: Barack Obama
b: Ronald Reagan
c: Abraham Lincoln

14) What was the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr fought over?
a: Money
b: Defamation charges in newspapers
c: “Sassy” Sarah Lippincott

15) Which Supreme Court chief justice rejected calls to adopt a judicial code of conduct?
a: John Marshall
b: Earl Warren
c: John Roberts

16) What did Dolly Madison save from the White House before it was torched by the British?
a: A portrait of George Washington
b: An ice cream maker and baking sheet
c: The silver

17) In Thomas Jefferson’s editing of his Declaration of Independence, what did he change to make the final “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?”
a: “… life, liberty and the pursuit of the indolency of the body and the possession of outward things.”
b: “… life, liberty and property.”
c: “… life, liberty and the pursuit of slaves.”

Happy Independence Day. Class dismissed. You’re free.

Answers: 1) a 2) c 3) a 4) b 5) a — Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama 6) a 7) Herbert Hoover, Harry S. Truman, Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush 8) b 9) c 10) a 11) a 12) c 13) c 14) b 15) c 16) a and c 17) b

05/18/13 10:00am

With the state Legislature upping the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour, and fast food workers agitating for a union, it brought to mind my own experience scuffling at low-paying jobs — and the three union cards I carried. I’ve seen unions from three distinct angles: the weird, the great and the awful.

But first, some thoughts on why some people think unionizing a KFC worker is strange or funny. These jobs are widely disparaged in American culture; someone “flipping burgers” is a figure of fun. (It’s the same as the widely used “trailer trash” description of people. Can there finally be a moratorium on that? Do people using that term ever think of the kid growing up in a trailer park, hearing herself and her family referred to as trash by someone on TV?)

And unions? They’re considered an anachronism at best, “job killers” at worst — that is, except to those union members who have a job and make living wages. The left and the right both complain about how the middle class has been squeezed and shrunk over the last several decades, and both political wings have their reasons for this.

One argument for the stagnation of real wages — productivity grew 80 percent over the last decade while hourly wages grew only 10 percent, according to the Economic Policy Institute — is that with the death of unionized labor, real money in the pocket has shrunk.

The union movement took off during the Great Depression, beginning in 1929, when the economy collapsed. Organization and collective bargaining thrived for several generations, contributing to one of history’s triumphs: the rapid and extensive expansion of the American middle class. In the 1950s, 50 percent of American workers held union cards. Today, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, 11.3 percent of workers are unionized.

So, my three unions: As a high school kid I landed a full-time night job at a municipal golf course. My duties: Starting at 5 p.m., running an ancient, one-gear truck, following the final foursome around the 18 holes setting up sprinklers; moving the hoses after a couple of hours; driving around later and shutting them off and coiling them in the back of the truck.

I then went into watchman mode, although what I was watching for was never clearly spelled out. I did my duty by sprawling on a derelict couch in a shack in the woods off the 15th hole, listening to the radio and reading. By 1 o’clock I was done, racing to catch the last bus home.

I was paid peanuts, but it kept me out of the pool hall. The job improved immediately one midnight when a guy in a suit walked in. This was startling, since for a year I’d seen no one after that final foursome every evening. Was he who I should have been watching for? Before I could say anything, he introduced himself and called me “brother.” I was now a member of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs and Warehousemen of America. I was told a few dollars in dues would be taken out of my paycheck next week, handed a pamphlet and a card and got a handshake. Before I could ask a single question, my new union brother vanished.

The few dollars were removed from my check but more were added. I got an immediate 20 percent raise and wouldn’t laugh at Jimmy Hoffa jokes for years.

Did I deserve the raise? Asking the question defines you.

A few years later, at loose ends, I went to a state labor department office in Manhattan one morning. By that afternoon I was running an elevator at a five-story school on Central Park West. Soon I was a member of Local 32B of the New York Building Services Union.

The pay was all right, but the benefits, medical and dental, were better. Summers, when school was out, the doormen and elevator operators became maintenance men, and I painted classrooms and hallways, did pointing on the roof facade and was a plumber’s assistant. Walter Brown, our shop steward, kept telling me to pay attention, plumbers made way more than elevator jockeys. Did I listen to Walter? If I had, my address today would be Easy Street, Fat City.

My final union was the New York City taxi drivers union, where I paid dues for four years. The union and the industry as a whole have changed radically since those days. Back then the union was led by goons who were in bed with the big fleet owners. The general union meetings were chair-throwing parties — literally. If you went down to the hall on Park Avenue South to get some clarification on dues or rules, some union brothers named Sonny and Junior would be happy to clarify you right out into the parking lot.

But whenever I hear of people trying to organize, I remember the cabbies I shared long afternoons with at the fleet garages shaping up for work, and the Teamsters I came to know and especially Walter Brown, who truly believed in a union of bread and roses.

Ambrose Clancy is the editor of The Shelter Island Reporter. He can be reached at a.clancy@sireporter.com.

01/30/13 5:00pm
PAUL SQUIRE FILE PHOTO | The Bridgehampton National Bank branch in Wading River.

PAUL SQUIRE FILE PHOTO | The Bridgehampton National Bank branch in Wading River.

Bridge Bancorp, parent company of Bridgehampton National Bank, released fourth quarter and year-end results demonstrating what officials called continued positive growth.

Net income for the quarter, ended Dec. 31, 2012, was at $3.4 million, a 16 percent increase over the same quarter in 2011 and at $12.8 million for the year, 23 percent higher than 2011 yearly figures.

At the same time, the bank was reporting its net income for the quarter, it announced that earnings per share were down to 39 cents from 42 cents for the same quarter in 2011.

The lower earnings per share resulted from a higher share count associated with $24 million in capital raised in the fourth quarter of 2011.

Net interest income increased $4.1 million and total assets were at $1.62 billion at the end of 2012, 21 percent higher than they were at the end of 2011.

Loan growth was up 30 percent.

“Our record achievements in 2012 of substantial organic loan, deposit and revenue growth, coupled with strong asset quality and capitalization levels combined to deliver industry leading returns,” said Kevin O’Connor, president and CEO of Bridge Bancorp, Inc. “The key to delivering on our mission is combining our expanding branch network improving technology and experienced professionals with the critical element of local decision making,” he said.

The expansion of the franchise’s geographic reach resulted in increasing core deposits and loans and generating record levels of revenue and income, according to the Mr. O’Connor. The revenue offset what has been higher credit and compliance costs, he said.
Five years after the financial crisis hit in 2008, the banking environment continues to be uncertain, Mr. O’Connor said. There are higher costs associated with compliance and greater capitalization required that affect shareholder expectations, he said. While lower market interest rates have created opportunities for borrowers, there are challenges for banks, he said.

“The eventuality of rising rates is arguably our industry’s greatest challenge and threat,” Mr. O’Connor said. It creates margin pressures and affects credit as businesses adjust to potentially higher borrowing costs, he said.