Monthly Archives: October 2009

Waist size 63 is the new 32

 

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Peter Brant relaxes in his art museum

WSJ: Unemployed men snacking more, getting fatter.

 

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Coming soon to a Stamford tower near you?

Buyers sue Newport luxury condominium project for refunds.

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Carnegie Tower

By Christine Dunn

Journal Staff Writer

PROVIDENCE –– Three new lawsuits seek the return of deposits for luxury condominiums at the 22-story tower which opened in June at the exclusive Carnegie Abbey resort and golf club in Portsmouth.

The plaintiffs include Dr. James Yashar of Florida, a physician who formerly lived in Providence’s East Side; Richard J. and Jody E. Martin of South Salem, N.Y.; and John R. Ranelli and G. Ashley Davis-Ranelli of Niantic, Conn.

All three complaints claim the right to refund because the developer issued a “Supplement to a Public Offering Statement” on July 15, 2009.

The complaints state that under Rhode Island law, the buyers “have the absolute right to cancel” their purchase agreements within 10 days of receipt of an amended statement; and that all the plaintiffs exercised their rights to cancel on July 21.

“We’re not going to be able to comment … on the advice of legal counsel,” said Edward T. Lopes, Jr., senior vice president of development for O’Neill Properties Group. Lopes guided the tower construction, which cost in excess of $80 million.

A similar lawsuit brought earlier this year by noted Democratic Party fundraiser Mark S. Weiner and his wife, L. Susan Weiner, of East Greenwich, appears to have been settled out of court. The Weiners had sued for the return of their $219,300 deposit.

To date, only one of the 79 condos at the Carnegie Tower has been sold; unit 805 closed on Sept. 2 for $1.6 million.

(hat tip, Pat M)

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Google adds more real estate information to its maps

I haven’t tried it yet but according to Information Week, it is supposed to bring a little more competition to Zillow.com and the like. That sounds good. Zillow has been getting better and better, but competition should speed up that improvement.

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Peter Pervert and his money

 

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White Birch Polo Team Peter Brant, right

Peter Brant’s divorce case has produced some interesting details on how a silly heir with too much money squanders it – it didn’t all go to “Santa with Butt Plug”, although he spends hundreds of thousands of dollars a month supporting his “art” museum.

 

Yes, there is another half and they do live lavishly.

A Superior Court judge in Middletown recently issued an order in the divorce case of newsprint magnate Peter Brant, of Greenwich, and his wife, former Victoria’s Secret model Stephanie Seymour, that sets out the financial ground rules while the divorce is still pending.

Starting Oct. 23, Brant, who lists assets of about $490 million, was to begin paying his wife of 16 years $270,000 a month in alimony and support for their three children, according to the order of Judge Elaine Gordon.

But that appears just to be drop in the bucket to what Brant is worth, according to the judge’s decision.

The decision states that Brant’s monthly net income this year has been $1.552 million.

The family lives on White Birch Farm in Greenwich, a property solely owned by Brant. The farm, which Brant describes in court documents as a working farm, is 200 acres. It has also been home to a professional polo team supported by Brant. Documents state that Brant is in the process of dismantling the team and selling or giving away “40 some odd,” polo ponies he owns. He states that some of the ponies which are “not worth much,” $10,000 to $15,000, have been given away to colleges or universities.

The Brants live in a house on the farm described by Brant as being in the style of Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington. It is between 10,000 and 20,000 square feet.

“Puppy,” a very large sculpture by modern artist Jeff Koons. Brant pays maintenance of the sculpture of between $75,000 and $100,000 a year. Also on the property is the Venturi House, a 5,200- square foot home designed by architect Robert Venturi.

In addition, the family has two other multimillion-dollar homes, one in Sagaponack, N.Y., and the other in Palm Beach, Florida.

The Brants have a staff of seven in their home and another 15 work the farm. He contributes $500,000 a month to support the farm.

His financial affidavit shows that Brant spends about $30,000 a month on household supplies, which he states may be anything from “toothpaste to towels.” Brant donates $216,000 a month to the Brant Foundation, which maintains an art museum across the street from White Birch Farm.

This past summer Brant took his children on a one-week trip to the south of France. He chartered a 150-foot yacht for $300,000.

According to Brant, his newsprint business is suffering from lower demand and prices and business is off 20 percent in the last two years. But, he says, he is making efforts to control costs in a difficult market.

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Ford employees commit economic suicide

Reject wage concessions, leaving Ford to try to compete with government-owned competitors paying lower wages. All I can figure is that these bozos hope Ford will fail so that they, too can become government employees. I’m really not going to feel sorry for them when they go down.

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Sign thief is cooling his heels in the new police holding cell

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Field Club member waits for squash partner

No word on identity (any interested reader can call down and find out – it’s a public record) but word is the cops nabbed someone last night at the Lake Avenue circle. He was stealing signs of both political parties, apparently fueled by a desire to beautify his neighborhood and, possibly, a few too many scotches. He couldn’t post bail, which is why he is being held until Monday, and his lack of ready cash makes me wonder if he’s not a Round Hill Road resident. Ric? Walt? You guys still at home?

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Just what poor India needs: a growing communist insurgency

Tough enough to try raising a billion people from poverty, now India has to fight off bombers and madmen. It’s always something.

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In the WSJ: an appreciation of White & Strunk’s “The Elements of Style”

It’s been in print fifty years and still going strong. I loved it, tried hard to use its advice and have given copies of “the little book” to my own children. Come to think of it, I’m going to order more copies from Amazon and give them to them again. It’s obvious I’m no E.B. White, but this short, simple book improved my writing when I first encountered it in high school and has (usually) kept me from committing long, flowery sentences. If your own kids don’t have a copy, I’d recommend it to anyone over 12. I also recommend it to anyone in business who’d like to write clearly and concisely. Don’t blame the book for my own failures in that regard – just imagine how bad I’d be had I never read it.

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Short sale or foreclosure?

This WSJ columnists addresses a reader’s question on the subject. I particularly like his third option: pay your debt, you dead beat! There’s a writer who’ll never work for The New York Times.

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Sales data

I’ve got a permanent link to the site over on the right under “Useful Links”, “Greenwich Sales Data”, but if you haven’t seen it, check out Raveis’s statistic pages. Quite informative and I can promise you, no salesman will call. Besides, would I steer you away to a competitor? Good data.

UPDATE: Raveis also has an excellent mapping tool, showing homes for sale (not just theirs), distance to schools, train, highways, etc., and lots of other good stuff, if you play around with it. It’s a rainy day, go for it!

UPDATE II – Retired IB’R asks whether the data is massaged – it isn’t; even if I no longer work for Bill Raveis I still respect and like him – always have, and he has worked hard at producing useful, accurate data because of his vision that the future of realtors lies in being a dispenser of information, not its gatekeeper. But I notice some houses aren’t listed – that’s not Raveis’ fault, that’s the fault of certain companies who refuse to release their information. The sales statistics are complete – they come from the MLS (but beware the “sales to ask ratio” of, say 88% – MLS uses last asking price, not original), but the mapping feature is a little less than 100%. You’ll still get a pretty good idea of what’s out there, though.

Here’s an irony, by the way: I left Raveis because his legal department wanted me to indemnify the firm from any law suits that might arise from my blog, a $100,000 or so liability I was unwilling to assume, especially when I can defend myself for free. A friend who’s still there tells me that they are now pushing their agents to start blogs as a marketing tool! I offered, many times, to give classes on blogging, just to be a team player. Never accepted but now that they forced me out, someone in marketing looked around and said, “gee…”. Heh.

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Can’t we just slip them a little bubonic plague, instead?

While school children outside of Washington D.C. wait, Gitmo terrorists will receive swine flu vaccine. Since I lump swine flu right up there alongside global warming I’m not all that concerned that only the politically connected and terrorists are deemed worthy of protection from this mythical bug, but as a bit of symbolism, it’s interesting.

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Tea Party’s first victory

Scozzafava drops out. When Obama named my Pal Nancy’s old flame, John McHugh of Watertown, NY to be the Secretary of the Army, he freed up a Congressional seat that has gone Republican for the past 120 years and set off a race between a liberal Democrat and a liberal Republican, Dede Scozzafava. Tea Party types objected and got behind the independent candidacy of Doug Hoffman, who promptly started out-polling Ms. Scozzafava. Today, she quit. Rockefeller Republicans, if there are any left, must be choking on their gin and tonics.

Republican Dede Scozzafava has suspended her bid in next Tuesday’s NY 23 special election, a huge development that dramatically shakes up the race. She did not endorse either of her two opponents — Conservative party candidate Doug Hoffman or Democrat Bill Owens.

The decision to suspend her campaign is a boost for Hoffman, who already had the support of 50 percent of GOP voters, according to a newly-released Siena poll, and is now well-positioned to win over the 25 percent of Republicans who had been sticking with Scozzafava.

Scozzafava has “probably made her last campaign appearance between now and Election Day,” spokesman Matt Burns told POLITICO. “She’s releasing her support to the two other candidates.”

“I had a discussion with her last night, and we made the decision after I spoke with her. We talked about it, what this came down to was spending. It came down to the ability to defend herself from the get-go. And that’s the reality. She was unable to define herself where the people didn’t know her.”

POLITICO has the full story on Scozzafava’s surprise decision here.

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Lavery proves she’s a Demmerkrat

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Never Mind!

And has thoroughly read the Bill Clinton playbook. The lady sends out a flier stating that her opponent appointed his close friend to the position of “dockmaster”, at an exorbitant salary, and gave him a brand new boat. Turns out that Tesei didn’t know the guy, the position in question is that of Harbor Master, the salary is all of $750 a year and the boat in question is an old Boston Whaler already owned by the town.

Says our would-be First Selectman when confronted with the fact that her mailer was completely, 100% inaccurate, “Let’s move on, we’re beating a dead horse here.”

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From the fine folks who brought you the Spanish Inquisition, a warning

Halloween is the Devil’s play yard. Ooooh, scary!

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Food fight moves to Town Hall

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Frankie Fudrucker compliments Livvy Floren on her dress

The great debate of 2009 focused on the Harbor Master yesterday and the going got tough. Lyn Lavery bitch-slapped an inebriated Livvy Floren for calling Lyn’s homeboy, Frankie the Fud, a “loser” whereupon Peter Crumbine jumped out of retirement and knocked Lavery sprawling on the floor. Selectman Tesei huddled under a desk while Jimbo Himes stood on it above him pleading, “please, people, can’t we all just get along?”

I’m told the whole fracas was recorded and is on the Chanel 12 news loop this weekend. Bring popcorn.

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Hurricanes end, world continues

Last September 1st I linked to an amateur weather watcher, Sea Blogger’s prediction that we’d see no hurricanes hit the eastern seacoast this year due to a persistent wind current pattern. Not only did that prove accurate, we’ve had the calmest hurricane season since 1997 and we are in fact at a thirty year low. Does this prove that global warming is disproved? Not in my book, but it should put a stick in the spokes of Al Gore and his fellow religionists who proclaim that global warming causes bad storms. If, as Gore maintains, the presence of hurricanes proves global warming, then their absence disproves it, no?

Regardless, it will be fun to watch all those NEA members who frightened millions of school children with forced viewings of “A Simple Truth” now hold new assemblies where they recant the error of their ways and explain that they really can’t blame local weather (or earthquakes or Jacko’s over-due death) on global warming. I’m guessing we won’t be hearing os such assemblies for quite a while – there are still trillions of dollars to milk from this scam.

UPDATE: Even some global warmers seem to agree: Exaggerated claims undermine drive to cut emissions, scientists warn.

Exaggerated and inaccurate claims about the threat from global warming risk undermining efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions and contain climate change, senior scientists have told The Times.

Environmental lobbyists, politicians, researchers and journalists who distort climate science to support an agenda erode public understanding and play into the hands of sceptics, according to experts including a former government chief scientist.

Excessive statements about the decline of Arctic sea ice, severe weather events and the probability of extreme warming in the next century detract from the credibility of robust findings about climate change, they said.

Such claims can easily be rebutted by critics of global warming science to cast doubt on the whole field. They also confuse the public about what has been established as fact, and what is conjecture.

The experts all believe that global warming is a real phenomenon with serious consequences, and that action to curb emissions is urgently needed.

They fear, however, that the contribution of natural climate variations towards events such as storms, melting ice and heatwaves is too often overlooked, and that possible scenarios about future warming are misleadingly presented as fact.

“I worry a lot that NGOs [non=governmental organisations] are very much in the habit of doing exactly that,” said Professor Sir David King, director of the Smith School for Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford, and a former government chief scientific adviser.

“When people overstate happenings that aren’t necessarily climate change-related, or set up as almost certainties things that are difficult to establish scientifically, it distracts from the science we do understand. The danger is they can be accused of scaremongering. Also, we can all become described as kind of left-wing greens.”

Well yes, yes you can.

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The NYT reports that Obama used his visit to dead soldiers as a photo-op, until wiser editors intervened

The sentence that was in the New York Times, until it was not.

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There can’t be a crisis if we keep it under the rug, eh?

Federal banking regulators issue new guidelines permitting banks to hide non-performing loans. Your borrower’s loan is due? The assets securing his loan has fallen to 30% of its original value and he can’t refinance it or pay you back? Hey, don’t worry – the government doesn’t want to alarm folks by showing the destruction of value of bank’s portfolios so now you can just “restructure the loan in a prudent fashion” and presto! No problem, pal.

Just don’t count on ever getting paid back.

Federal bank regulators issued guidelines allowing banks to keep loans on their books as “performing” even if the value of the underlying properties have fallen below the loan amount.

The volume of troubled commercial real-estate loans is skyrocketing. Regulators said that the rules were designed to encourage banks to restructure problem commercial mortgages with borrowers rather than foreclose on them. But the move has prompted criticism that regulators are simply prolonging the financial crisis by not forcing borrowers and lenders to confront, rather than delay, inevitable problems.

[snip]

Critics say the new rules are yet another example of a head-in-the-sand approach by regulators, pointing to the relaxed accounting standards last year that enabled banks to avoid marking the value of the loans down. This is doing long-term damage to the economy, they say, because it ties up bank capital, preventing them from resuming lending.

Critics say a wiser approach would be for regulators and banks to deal with problems quickly like the Resolution Trust Corp. did in the early 1990s during the last commercial real-estate crash. Back then, the RTC helped purge the financial system of toxic mortgages.

The new guidance “gives people a long time to figure out they’re not going to pay it back,” said Douglas Durst, a leading New York City developer. “We are in a period where nothing is happening,” he said, adding that banks are “not making any new loans because they have this bad debt on their books and not writing it down and getting rid of it.”

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Missing the trees for the forest

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Tesei Manor, Belle Haven, circa 2008

Republicans whine that Demmerkrats are stealing their roadside campaign signs. If they are, well good for them – I just wish they’d take their own down too. But while Peter Tesei is knotting his underpants over this non-issue, he remains blissfully unaware of what’s really going on in town: the Democrats are passing out street money to down-and-out Republicans to wreak havoc on Tuesday.

Oh yes,I know this. Frankie Fudrucker is, of course, the Democrat Boss here in town and I’ve witnessed a steady stream of wan, haggard men, reeking of gin and dressed in whale pants and blazers with the faint outlines of the RHC crest ripped from the breast while being expelled for nonpayment of dues, shuffling into our offices, collecting some folding money from Fudrucker and heading back to Augie’s. It’s pathetic.

And what will these former financiers do? They’ll be getting out the vote, of course. Those whose Beemers haven’t been repossessed will drive their carless colleagues to the poll, with a promise that a vote for Lavery will get them a shot and a beer afterwards. Oh, the humanity!

And if I were the Republicans, that’s what I’d be yelling about.

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Big Government crushing small businesses

The blogosphere, particularly Walter Olson’s Overlawyered.com, has been alive with stories of how the new Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) is wiping out used book sellers, motorbike manufacturers and the like, but maybe the New York Times finally taking notice of the issue and profiling this small handmade toy maker being snuffed out will convince our politicians to be reasonable. So far, both the Consumer Product Safety Commission and Congress act exactly as our own Franklin Bloomer does when confronted with an absurd and punishing result of Greenwich’s FAR regulations: “so what?”

[M] akers of small toys and owners of toy resale shops and boutique stores — say their livelihood is being threatened by federal legislation enacted in the last year to protect children from toxic toys through more extensive testing. Big toymakers, including those whose tainted imports from China led to the recall of 45 million toys and spurred Congress to take action, have more resources and are able to comply with the new law’s requirements.

“This is absurd,” said Mr. Woods, whose toys are made of maple, walnut and cherry and finished with walnut oil and beeswax from a local apiary. He estimates it would cost him $30,000 — a figure he calculated from having to pay $400 in required tests for each of the 80 or so different items he produces — to show that they are not toxic.

“I use beeswax,” Mr. Woods said. “The law was targeted at large toymakers using lead. There was no exclusion for benign products.”

These homegrown toymakers are banding together to portray themselves as victims of bureaucrats and consumer advocates, and have started letter-writing campaigns to Congress.

The Handmade Toy Alliance, which has a section of its Web site titled “Countdown to Extinction,” sponsored a march on Washington last April and continues to buttonhole members of Congress. Still others have hired the Washington lobbying firm of Rudy Giuliani.

“The law is flawed,” said Rob Wilson, a director of the Handmade Toy Alliance, which wants Congress to reopen the 2008 legislation to new amendments. “It reflects decision-making that in a sane world makes no sense.”

“The law isn’t making toys more safe, but is making everything more convoluted,” added Mr. Wilson, owner of Challenge and Fun, an Ashland, Mass., company that sells organic toys from Europe. “We’re all losers, including the consumer.”

The law, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, was overwhelmingly passed by Congress in August 2008. For the first time, it set out mandatory safety standards for products used by children under the age of 12 and required toy manufacturers to test their products to prove that they were safe.

New regulations will not go into effect until February, but many of the big toy companies are not waiting — they are already testing toys in their labs, which have been certified by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, or through third parties.

The government estimates that $22 billion worth of toys are imported each year, mainly from big toymakers with plants overseas.

Before this law was passed, testing of toys was not required, and compliance with safety standards was voluntary. But the furor over the sale and importation of toys containing lead and other toxic materials, which led to widespread toy recalls in 2007 and 2008, assured its passage.

Some major companies lobbied to shape it, including toy manufacturers, like Mattel, andExxon Mobil, a maker of phthalates, substances used in many toys that are largely banned by the law.

The issue has put small toymakers at odds with consumer groups, which oppose any efforts to have Congress tinker with the new law out of fear that larger companies will try to gut its core provisions.

The nut jobs, too are unrelenting:

“This is landmark legislation,” said Nancy A. Cowles, executive director of Kids in Danger, a nonprofit that focused on safety in children’s products that supported the measure.

“These groups are not above using the small crafters to reopen the legislation and get the changes they want.”

Ms. Cowles also said parents needed to be assured that their children’s toys were safe, regardless of who made or sold them.

“From a product safety standpoint, it doesn’t make a difference whether the toy comes from a local store or a national chain,” said Ms. Cowles. “A child doesn’t know the difference and parents have the right to expect a safe product.”

The fact that an hysteric like Nanny Cowles, who can’t distinguish beeswax from petroleum, is head of a lobbying group says all I need to know about lobbying groups. We’re being regulated by morons.

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