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.

11/11/12 7:30am

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO | Vietnam vets Joseph “Butch” Klenawicus, left, and James “Mac” McGayhey, find the name of fallen comrade James Wilson Jr. at the Vietnam Memorial.

Every weekend, if the weather’s good and the toll of his 89 years and the severe wounds he suffered permits it, the World War II veteran likes to sit outside with his wife.

Not an unusual experience for the quickly dwindling generation of servicemen who fought and sacrificed so long ago. But former Senator Robert Dole doesn’t sit in a garden or a leafy park. He places himself at an entrance to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., with his wife, former Senator Elizabeth Dole. One thing Senator Dole, now frail and handicapped, never lacks for is company.

Without announcement or ceremony, his fellow comrades-at-arms visiting the memorial always find him and he’s constantly surrounded by them. They’re immediately drawn to say a few words and get a few words back, to share smiles of recognition from strangers — yet brothers — who once made history together.

It’s Senator Dole’s memorial in many ways, not just for the wounds he suffered and still bears from a firefight on an Italian hilltop 67 years ago, but because he was the official who spearheaded the congressional effort to build the glittering marble rotunda, which opened in 2004.

On Saturday, October 20, nine Shelter Island veterans who went to war in the 1940s claimed their ownership of the memorial. They paid respects to Senator Dole and received his acknowledgement in return, as well as from countless uniformed others visiting the memorial. They were part of a tour organized by Honor Flight Long Island, the local chapter of a national nonprofit group dedicated to bringing World War II veterans to the memorial on the National Mall. That October Saturday there were, including Shelter Island’s, eight Honor Flights to Washington from around the country.

But equal credit for the successful day goes to Police Officer Tom Cronin, who came up with the idea to pay tribute to his own hometown vets. The tour’s guiding spirit every step of the way, he coordinated with Honor Flight and organized the raising of $13,000 that paid for all expenses for 24 veterans. Along with the nine Greatest Generation vets were men who served during the Korea and Vietnam eras, and those posted to Beirut, Lebanon and the first Gulf War, plus 18 people who accompanied them.

First-hand information about World War II is fading fast, considering that its U.S. veterans, once 16 million strong, are now dying at the rate of 740 a day, according to the U.S. Veterans Administration. That fact is one reason P.O. Cronin was inspired to provide the trip for the vets. His father, who died in 1998, was a Navy veteran who never talked about his service. “And I never asked,” P.O. Cronin said. Hooking up with Honor Flight Long Island, and organizing the trip to Washington, was a chance to be with and learn something from the veterans of his father’s generation, he said.

An exhilarating and sometimes exhausting one-day excursion, it kicked off at 5:30 a.m. at the American Legion Hall and wrapped up there around 11 p.m. In between were two plane trips, three bus rides and visits to four memorials in the nation’s capital. Also included were meals, honor salutes, a welcoming reception by Naval Academy midshipmen and some misty eyes mixed in with laughter along the way.

Meeting Senator Dole in the informal session at the World War II Memorial was the high point of the day for many who made the trip.

“I was shocked when I saw him because he didn’t look well,” said Robert Strugats, the same age as the senator, who flew 15 combat bombing missions in the South Pacific — each one consisting of 16 non-stop hours in the air — beginning when he was still a teenager. “I said to him, ‘Senator, thank you for this memorial.’”

Senator Dole told Mr. Strugats that he was the one who deserved thanks for his service.

Later, thinking about the long day that sparked memories to the surface, the Army Air Corps vet summed up the emotions of many of the heroes: “Words can’t begin to describe how I felt.”

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO | Police Officer Tom Cronin, second from left, who organized and guided the Shelter Island Honor Flight, with his son Pacey, World War II Vet Howard Jackson, and Honor Flight officials Virginia Bennett and Bill Jones at MacArthur Airport.

A LOT OF STORIES

A chartered bus was escorted from the Island before dawn to MacArthur Airport by the Long Island chapter of the U.S. Veterans Motorcycle Club. “Shelter Island has a special place in our hearts,” said Frankie Bania, president of the club. “We’ve always been there for the Kestlers and Theinerts.”

As dawn was breaking, the convoy rumbled through rolling fog into Islip’s MacArthur Airport, where Dr. John Rodgers, 87, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge as a 19-year-old, said of the group of travelers and their memories, “There are a lot of stories here.”

Dr. Rodgers himself was remembering another morning in 1944 when he went to Christmas Eve Mass in Marseilles, France and then soon found himself airlifted to frontline trenches in the Ardennes Forest. Describing just part of one of the many actions he fought in, Dr. Rodgers recalled trying to cross a river in rubber rafts under a withering crossfire. “The Germans had us zeroed in,” Dr. Rodgers said. “It was hell.” And the veteran left it at that.

Emerging from the jetway into the terminal at Baltimore-Washington Airport, the vets were surprised to walk down a long corridor formed by 40 midshipmen, students at Annapolis in their dress uniforms, applauding and whooping. Honor Flight personnel had handed out flags to onlookers who joined in the raucous welcome.

George Strom, 85, had tears in his eyes. Later, walking through the terminal to the bus with his wife, Marie, the Navy veteran was “surprised and astounded” by the greeting. Some of the midshipmen were female, which brought on a story he told with a smile, of shipping home after the Japanese surrender and docking in California. “We hadn’t seen a girl in months so we all ran to one side of the ship to get a look at the Red Cross girls who were there to greet us,” Mr. Strom remembered. “Then we got an announcement from the captain telling us to get on the other side because we were sinking his ship.”

KOREA AND VIETNAM

After the tour of the World War II Memorial, and the visit with the Doles, the Island Honor Flight group moved on to one of the most haunting sights in Washington, the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Walking up a slight incline, spread out and watchful, are 19 stone statues of American servicemen on patrol in full combat gear and rain ponchos, weary, marching though a bleak landscape created to reflect a vision of battlefield conditions in Korea.

William Krapf, 81, remembered the terrain, the battles and the unforgiving climate. “There was three months of solid rain,” recalled Mr. Krapf, who was 20 when he went to Korea as a Marine in 1951. He suffered frostbite to his left hand from the cold, 12 degrees below zero. “And in the summer, we changed positions with the Canadians and it was 120 degrees in the shade,” he said.

The most visited memorial in Washington honors veterans of Vietnam, according to the National Park Service. A visit with the Island Honor Flight proved it, with large crowds descending down to the center of the V-shaped wall, where the names of more than 58,000 Americans who died in Vietnam are etched in the polished stone.

It’s the most popular and also, at times, the setting for the most visible emotion. Joseph “Butch” Klenawicus, 62, James “Mac” McGayhey, 63, and Charles Wyatt, 67, looked for the name on the wall of a fallen comrade, James Wilson Jr., for whom the Route 114 traffic circle in the Center is named. All three men served in Vietnam, with Mr. Wyatt wounded in action and losing his right leg.

The name was found. The men paid their respects with silence. Then, with some catches in the throat, the stories began again. Mr. Klenawicus, originally reluctant to come on the trip, thanked Officer Cronin for encouraging him to join his fellow veterans.

“It’s unbelievable,” Mr. McGayhey said quietly. “All these names.”

“You know what bothers me?” asked Mr. Klenawicus. “You look down at this wall from up above and think, 58,000 men died, and for what?”

As the bright autumn day faded to long shadows, the tour went up a hill to the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial, also known as the Iwo Jima memorial, where another veteran confronted the sacrifices of war. Mr. Strom had been part of the naval fleet that supervised the Marine landings at Iwo Jima. “There was constant bombardment and constant battle,” Mr. Strom said. “It was just …” the Navy vet paused. “Just slaughter.”

A remarkable connection was made at the base of the memorial, when Mr. Strom discovered that Mr. Strugats, the Army Air Corps combat veteran, had crash-landed on Iwo Jima.

“We know each other, our wives know each other, and I never knew he was there,” Mr. Strom said later.

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO | Island vets greeted by a reception of U.S Navy Academy midshipmen as they arrive at Batimore-Washington Airport.

A FINAL SALUTE

Another warm greeting surprised the vets and their friends and family when their chartered bus with motorcycle escort returned to the Island after the long day. The fire department shot off water cannon salutes and draped an American flag from a crane high over the street at American Legion Hall.

As a four-piece brass band played, a crowd of about 50 residents turned out to welcome their veterans home.

Mollie Strugats, who accompanied her husband all day, was, like everyone on the tour, overwhelmed at her hometown’s reception. “Fantastic,” Mrs. Strugats said. “The motorcycles, all the people in Washington and everyone cheering when we got home. I could get used to this.”