Daily Archives: October 30, 2009

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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The good news, Honey, is that I got us Series tickets

Woman arrested for offering to swap sex for two World Series tickets, one for her, one for her husband. I consider my myself both an open-minded kind of guy and a baseball fan, but I’m not sure I’d approve of my wife, if I had one, going quite this far.

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Will they pay them with Stimulus funds?

Help Wanted: New Britain police seek armed robbers.

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Say, here’s a surprise: half the stimulus job money went to teachers

Most of these teachers wouldn’t really have been laid off, but it sure sounds good, and  The One knows how to reward the people who put him where he is. Obama, by the way, labelled as “calculator abuse” ABC’s figure of $160,000 per job “saved”. Of course he did.

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So much for the efficient market theory?

I’ve always been a fan of the efficient market theory for Wall Street, the argument that a company’s stock price at any given time accurately reflects all relevant information concerning that company. My faith suffered a jolt yesterday, though, when GPS manufacturer Garmin lost 18% of its value and Tom Tom 21% on news that Google had come out with a free map/driving application for cellphones.

Why? Because I’m a pretty clueless guy who doesn’t own stocks and therefore doesn’t follow any particular company’s prospect except from a general sense of curiosity, yet two months go I wrote abut Google’s progress in this direction and predicted the demise of Garmin and its competitor,Tom Tom. My point is, if idle curiosity could produce such a prediction then, shouldn’t the market analysts who follow these companies have done the same thing a year ago? So what kept their prices so high until yesterday? Fly, Retired IB’r,Shoeless and all you other finance experts are invited to educate me (Cos Cobber, you can chime in and tell us how Cos Cobbers don’t need no stinkin’ GPS cause they never leave their hollows). Thank you.


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Franklin Bloomer wept



I'm going home to America!

Free bicycle program in Paris done in by savagery and vandalism. Eight thousand bicycles ($3,500 each) provided for free use of citizens, 8,000 bicycles destroyed.


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Oh dear, another death penalty case the bleeding hearts will bore us about for years

Ringleader of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom torture team sentenced to death. Lemaricus Davidson and his gang of thugs kidnapped two Knoxville kids (20) at gunpoint raped and tortured both, shot Christian’s boyfriend after a day but kept Christian herself alive for two more days, raping her repeatedly with a broken chair leg, among other amusements, then slit her throat and left her to suffocate. The defense argued for leniency, arguing that Davidson had been whipped with extension cords as a young boy and thus had diminished capacity. The jury was strangely unmoved by this information but you can bet the ACLU won’t be.


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Will CBS join Fox and Edmunds.com on the White House enemies list?

CBS says Obama is fudging the numbers of jobs its “Stimulus” created. Lyndon Johnson knew he’d lost the American people when Walter Cronkite spoke out on Tet. I wonder if Obama is feeling the same eerie chill?

UPDATE: Is there room for Joe Biden on that list? He says jobs numbers “not 100% accurate”.

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They shoot horses, don’t they?

18 Ferncliff

18 Ferncliff Rd

Despite this ugly picture, this is a beautiful contemporary Deck House on Ferncliff Road with two bedrooms (“three, if you move a wall”, its agents says. “Fifteen, if you add 8,000 sq. ft.”, says I). It was first listed at the aggressive price of $1.995 million in 2007 and stayed at that price as the real estate market crested and collapsed. In 2008, the owners updated their kitchen and raised the price to $2.1950, only to drop it slowly to $1.950 and, finally, $1.9 million last month. So two years on the market without a sale plus maybe $100,000 in improvements now tossed away (the money spent on the improvements, not the improvements themselves). Again – this is a great little house, one that I’d love to live in myself, so if it’s not selling, my experience suggests that the problem lies with its price, not its merits.

Today the owners raised that price, to $1.950 million. Assessment, by the way, is $1.412 million.


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Where do we go from here?

We have, as of 4:30 pm today, 653 single family homes for sale (and not one contract today) so I thought it would be interesting to see how the high range is performing. Not so well.

In the $5 million – $10 million range, there are 97 for sale. We sold 9 in that range in August, 6 in September, this month and 35 so far this year, total. I’d guess we have at least two year’s inventory, and that’s assuming nothing else is listed for sale in that range during the next 48 months, an unlikely assumption. A random scroll through the listings shows that almost all of these houses are priced well above full assessment value.Taking Russ Pruner’s data that show 25% of our listings are selling above that range, that would indicate, to me, that 75% of these houses have to come down substantially in price before they will sell. If it wouldn’t offend Russ, I’d suggest that 100% do.

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Greenwich politics

You wouldn’t know it from the recent goings on, but Greenwich actually has a few serious problems that voters might care about. Instead of which, we get spats between the First Selectmen candidates that seem more appropriate for first graders. Take today’s hubbub over the Greenwich Harbor Master: Lyn Lavery claims he was hired because he’s a pal of John Tesei, given an expensive new boat and, as the result of the cost of providing all that, boating fees have skyrocketed. She is completely wrong on her facts (the salary is all of $750 a year, the “new boat” is $2,000 spent refurbishing an old Boston Whaler) and I understand there will be a press conference (!) today at 3:00 to denounce her.

Get a grip, both of you. In fact there are some very real issues affecting Greenwich boaters, including a ridiculous fee imposed on all boats moored in Greenwich harbors, even at private yacht clubs and on private moorings as far away as Tower Island. The town spends exactly zero dollars maintaining these areas and imposing fees for their use is just an unjustified money grab.

The Harbor Master is rude, arrogant (he’s been seen, repeatedly, speeding inside the harbors far in excess of the posted five mph limit and ignores shouts to slow down), and he’s a bully, threatening owners of private moorings with the confiscation of their ground tackle if they don’t immediately pay a huge new “equipment fee” he has dreamed up and imposed on private property bought and maintained by the owners themselves.

So if either candidate wants to address those issue, they should go for it. Otherwise, they ought to just shut up about boats, which they seem to know nothing about anyway.

(While I’m on the topic, why doesn’t Lavery ask Tesei why, out of 69 appointments he’s made to Selectman advisory committees, he’s only found three Democrats up to the task? Personally, I’m surprised he found even three from the ranks of the unwashed, but Greenwich has in the past run on more of a bi-partisan basis.)


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When you’re in a hole, stop digging

When Obama attacked fox News, the network’s ratings soared. Same thing, I’d guess, for Edmunds.com, the car information site that for bizarre reasons our President went after yesterday (well not that bizarre, they offered some facts that contradicted The Messiah’s claims for the Cash for Clunkers program). Now Edmunds has struck back. All this can only help Edmunds and hurt Obama – a fracas like this exposes the current Whiote House as a thin-skinned, bullying bunch of retards who can’t keep their attention on real issues or even distinguish between what is important and what is not. Good Lord.


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Greenwich spec builders – just stubborn or do they know something?

416 Davis

416 Davis Ave

This is a beautiful house on Davis Avenue (south of Bruce Park) with nice views of tidal wetlands. The owner/builder listed it for $6.975 back in April, 2007 and kept it at that price all the way through December, 2008 before dropping it to $6.495. Today it’s listed for rent at $19,000.

I’m aware of at least a couple of offers extended and rejected on this house. They weren’t close to its then-asking price, but I figure it’s costing something like $300,000 a year just to pay the interest on the building loan, so why the reluctance to cut and run?

Builders are notoriously mule-headed: I’m involved in a deal now where the builder just refused to see reason until literally the day before foreclosure. I know of another guy who, after rejecting our offer with a string of coarse words that his granny would never have approved of and has now, nine months later, lowered his price to what we offered then. The owner of 23 Cornelius Drive, having listed his project for $11.5 million, rejected offer after offer for six years while the house sat empty and deteriorating and the offers lower until he finally caved last summer. And so on.

Which is not to say that the same fate awaits this house on Davis. It is really a fine house and there’s no particular reason to think that someone will appear who is willing to pay its price. But if and when he does, will there be any profit left?


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The ethical swamp Pelosi promised to drain may actually get a little drier despite her efforts

Leaked report reveals that House Ethics Committee is investigating 30 Congressmen. Pelosi’s busy trying to prevent the Washington Post from revealing those names but Murtha, Maxine Waters and the usual suspects are involved. I’m shocked.


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Yesterday I asked how stupid Obama really was. Answer: this stupid.

Desecrated American flag video is finalist in DNC art contest. I don’t think Obama’s minions really set out deliberately to offend and alienate Americans, they’re just so wrapped up in their leftist fog that they are clueless. Clueless and dumb.


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Pssst! Wanna buy a custom, caramel – walnut desk for $100,000? Never been used.

cliff diverTalk about being knocked on one’s duff!

Oct. 30 (Bloomberg) — Phil Duff had a three-decade hot streak.

He earned degrees from Harvard University and MIT and then skipped through the ranks at investment bank Morgan Stanley, becoming chief financial officer in 1994, when he was 36. Hedge fund phenom Julian Robertson hired him four years later as chief operating officer at Tiger Management LLC.

Duff struck out on his own in 2000, founding hedge fund firm FrontPoint Partners LLC — which Duff, a lifelong outdoorsman, named for a mountain-climbing technique used to scale steep ice faces with crampons. Six years later, he sold the company to Morgan Stanley for $400 million.

He could have stopped there. He didn’t, and his legacy today is 43,400 square feet (4,030 square meters) of silent, unoccupied office space in Greenwich, Connecticut, with a custom food court, two jumbo flat-screen televisions and about $6 million of other amenities. The offices were to be the home of Duff Capital Advisors LP, a firm that the super-confident Duff, 52, once predicted would be bigger than Tiger, which at its peak managed $22 billion.

Then the global financial system seized up, and no pension fund had a spare $1 billion to invest with Duff’s moneymen. Duff never moved into his new digs. As of late September, his $39,000 desk — a single slab of caramel-colored walnut with bronze legs — still sat in a corner office with views across Long Island Sound. The landlord got the desk, $1.5 million of other furniture and an $11 million penalty when Duff Capital negotiated an end to its 15-year lease, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Duff, who lives in Greenwich and vacations in Sun Valley, Idaho, didn’t return phone calls or e-mails.

“It should have been a perfect opportunity,” says Josh Green, an independent money manager who joined Duff Capital in October 2008, six weeks before Duff dismissed all of his fund managers.


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Lavery denounces fast food subsidies

krumeich, lavey

Here's the beef!

In her latest campaign mailer First Selectman candidate Lin Lavery criticizes her own Democrat party’s extension of a tax credit for first time buyers. “Who needs a hamburger credit?” she demands. “You can get as fat as you like chowing down on McDonald’s Dollar Menu – look at my pal Ed here. This is just another example of my opponent’s willingness to spend other people’s money to reward his friends”.

When asked by FWIW’s Scusie whether she was referring to the federal home buyer, not hamburger, credit, Lavery appeared flummoxed for a brief moment but, after campaign aide Frankie Fudrucker whispered something in her ear declared, “I stand by what I said.” Atta girl, Lyn.

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Contracts in the fall

Single family home contracts so far this fall:


2009: 44

2008: 24



2009:  25

 2008: 12

2007: 33


2008: 11

2007: 37


2008: 7

2007: 23

Remaining Inventory, October 30,

2009: 646

2008: 614

2997: 548


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He could have been a contender

Virginia winemaker and philanthropist Patricia Kluge is offering her 300-acre English country estate in Charlottesville, Va., for $100 million, one of the most expensive listings in the U.S. ,The WSJ notes.

Ms. Kluge, 61 years old, is the former wife of John Kluge, a billionaire who founded the Metromedia broadcast and cellphone empire. Her estate, in the rolling foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, includes a 45-room neo-Georgian main house of 23,538 square feet with eight bedrooms and 13 baths. Completed in 1985, the home has a theater, library, recreation room with spa and sauna, a card room and an Islamic gallery featuring an antique Syrian fountain.The property includes a pool, pool house, log cabin, a greenhouse and several staff cottages. There are three stocked ponds, gardens, and a croquet lawn. The front grounds can be converted to an 18-hole golf course, for which designs by Arnold Palmer exist. Ms. Kluge also runs a Virginia winery that bears her name.

Among the most expensive listings is the Los Angeles mansion of Candy Spelling, the widow of television producer Aaron Spelling, who is asking $150 million. Michael Rankin of Sotheby’s International Realty has the Kluge listing.

So what’s missing from all this? That’s right, David Ogilvy’s listing of the Leona Helmsley estate. He was there, man, he was there! If ungrateful buyers and impatient trustees hadn’t forced him to slash its price from $125,000,000 to $60,000,000, he’d have been included in this article instead of being known merely as the proprietor of the biggest price cut in Greenwich real estate history. Oh, sharper than a serpent’s tooth!

Say, you don’t suppose some of these big properties are priced where they are just to get their brokers in the national press, do yoo?

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Food fight! Food fight!

fountain power

Greenwich Harbor Master at play

The First Selectman battle grows hotter as election day nears. Latest kerfuffle: Lavery’s claim that Peter Tesei hired his best friend to be Dock [sic] Master and bought him a new boat. Tesei denies it all.

“I’ve never met the man before,” he told our Scusie. “I was just walking around the dog park with Footzie when I saw this poor old fellow collecting recyclables from the trash and I said, ‘hey, you want a job? It only pays $750 a year, but that’s like 15,000 cans, which ain’t so bad’, and he took it. Besides, he’s our Harbor Master now, never steps foot on the docks.”

New hire Jonathan Asch tried confirming that. “I don’t know the guy from a hole in the wall,” he averred. Told that Tesei is in fact barely distinguishable from a hole a wall, Asch admitted, “well then yeah, I guess I might have seen him round.”

Lavery was not backing off. “Deck, dock, harbor, what’s the difference? I mean throwing around big bucks like this to some crony is just disgusting. I could send my dry cleaning to Paris for a week on that kind of dough. So what if they’re friends or not. So what if the boat I illustrated my flyer with wasn’t the exact boat – it’s still a boat, right? That’s what Frankie Fudrucker told me and he came up with that picture anyway – some guy in his office supplied it. But this isn’t about a couple of inaccuracies,” she said. “Jimbo Himes said he spent a year after college studying to be a roads scholar, like that made him a transportation expert or something, and no one called him on that. This is all because I’m a woman.”


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