Daily Archives: January 20, 2010

Well my my, the main stream media discovers “Tea baggers”

Dismissed as terrorists, know-nothings and worse all summer, we’re now considered smart operatives by no less than the New York Times. Blowing out a sure-winner will do that, I guess.

BOSTON — The e-mail message from a Massachusetts supporter to one of the leaders of the Tea Party movement arrived in early December. The state was holding a special election to fill the seat held by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, it said, and conditions were ripe for a conservative ambush: an Election Day in the dead of winter with the turnout certain to be low.

“To be honest, we kind of looked at it and said, this is a long shot,” said Brendan Steinhauser, the director of state campaigns for FreedomWorks, which has become an umbrella for the Tea Party groups. But the group was impressed by the determination of organizers inside this decidedly Democratic state and was intrigued by the notion that this could be a way to effectively derail federal health care legislation.

And so FreedomWorks sent out a query to dozens of its best organizers across the country. Within days, the clamoring response made clear that what seemed improbable suddenly seemed very attainable; within weeks, the Tea Party movement had established a beachhead in Mr. Kennedy’s home state.

Ms. Coakley did almost nothing early on, lulled by the knowledge that Democrats had held the Senate seat for 57 years and emboldened by her 19-point win in a four-way primary. She disappeared from the trail for a few days of rest. Her campaign, struggling for cash, was not conducting polls in the very beginning of January, a critical period, and had yet to broadcast a single commercial.

By the time Ms. Coakley’s campaign and Democratic officials noticed that things were not right in Massachusetts — after reading an outside group’s poll on Jan. 9 that showed Mr. Brown holding a 1 percentage point lead — the fire, as one White House official put it, was out of control. The Tea Party reinforcements had arrived, and a conservative group from Iowa started running commercials here portraying Ms. Coakley as a big spender who would raise taxes, a powerful issue with independent voters.

“It was a classic case of everybody getting caught napping,” David Axelrod, a senior adviser to the president, said in an interview. “This guy knew exactly what he was doing. He’s an appealing candidate. Pleasant guy. He’s smart. He tapped into an antipolitician sentiment.”

The two-week period that upended the politics of Massachusetts and the nation may well be remembered as the moment that undid the signature initiative of the Obama presidency, his health care bill. It is a story, based on interviews with more than three dozen people involved in the race, of missed opportunities and tensions among Democratic power centers here and in Washington.

But it also heralds the coming of age of the Tea Party movement, which won its first major electoral success with a new pragmatism, and the potential of different elements of a divided Republican Party to rally around one goal.

Mr. Brown’s views may not have been perfectly aligned with all of the conservative activists — in particular, he supports abortion rights, though he opposes late-term abortions — but he pledged to vote against the health care bill, opposed a cap-and-trade program to reduce carbon emissions and opposed proposals to grant citizenship to illegal immigrants. In the final week of the race, he raised $1 million a day on the Internet.

“For us, this is not so much about Scott Brown as it is about the idea that if we really collaborate as a mass movement, we can take any seat in the country,” said Eric Odom, executive director of the American Liberty Alliance, who helped organize last spring’s Tax Day Tea Party rallies to protest government spending from his home in Chicago.

For all the political power of the Democratic Party — its control of the White House and both houses of Congress — this contest highlighted serious flaws in its political operation heading into the tough midterm elections, from the political affairs office of the White House to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. It demonstrated the extent to which the White House was distracted by the exceedingly difficult task of passing a health care bill before the State of the Union address, along with dealing with an attempted terrorism plot on Christmas Day.

And for Congressional Democratic leaders already chafing at the political cost of Mr. Obama’s health care plan, it was confirmation that the bill could be deadly at the polls for any member of Congress in a competitive race next fall.

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Bummer – Robert Parker has died

Heart attack. I loved his Spencer mysteries.

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Carp – it’s what’s for news!

Aw, gowon, ya big lug!

These ugly, stinky, bony fish are prime fodder for all sorts of news flashes recently. Supreme Court decisions, for instance, and, constantly, every day, new obscure records, from “largest caught by teenager“, “largest caught by blind lady” (Okay, that was a catfish, but same thing, sort of) and largest caught by fat guy. I blame Bush.

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All sorts of smart people are coming up with solutions to our problems

Here’s Warren Buffet on housing:

A few quick bullet points on Warren Buffett’s thoughts on housing:

  • “The only way you clean up an excess inventory is to have more demand than supply for a while.”
  • “We produced 2 million housing units a year; we created 1.3 million households… The only way to clean that up, oh well there’s one way, you can start getting 13 year olds to start co-habiting and create more households that way, and I’m sure we’d get a lot of volunteers among 13 year olds.”
  • “A lot of the housing problem is behind us, the commercial real estate problem is not behind us.

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Megan McArdle solves the health care issue

Well perhaps not, but the woman’s much smarter than I am and her idea sounds better than anything I’ve heard to date.

I think those of us who opposed the Democratic bill should have one.  And I happen (ahem) to have a modest little plan right here . . .

Raise the Medicare tax by half a percentage point, and eliminate the tax-deductibiity of health insurance benefits for people making more than $150K a year in household income, $100K for singles.  Then make the federal government the insurer of last resort.  Any medical expenses more than 15% or 20% of household income, get picked up by Uncle Sam.

Yes, people don’t like taxes.  But it’s a pretty small tax.  The benefit exclusion gets the camel’s nose under the tent for ending the employer-health insurance relationship, but it’s targeted at groups that a) aren’t particularly sympathetic and b) can afford it.  And it answers the central fear people have, which is that they’ll end up sick and bankrupt.  20% of your income is a lot.  But it’s a manageable amount, especially if, as I suspect, many more people choose to self-insure for the first 15%, and take the differences as wages.

It doesn’t answer every single thing we could possibly want–David Cutler argues that compliance with treatment regimes is already so low that we don’t want to erect any cost barriers.  But it’s progressive, solves the biggest part of the problem, and it still leaves the market for most health care services intact.

In fact, I think it will be a more powerful impetus for cost control than any excise tax or IMAC could have been, because consumers will be making the decisions by themselves, not sullenly fighting an insurer, employer, or government bureaucrat.  It doesn’t exert cost pressures on end of life care, which will certainly blow the caps–but I found it pretty implausible that we were ever going to find the political will to cut off marginal treatments to the sickest and most vulnerable.  And in other areas, it could make a big difference.

Meanwhile, whatever awesome plans Democrats had to control costs in Medicare and Medicaid, they should implement and show us all how well they work.

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Idiocy in Haiti, sponsored by U.S. A.I.D.

American troops stopped from handing out food by U.S. AID workers. Somehow I doubt that starving Haitians share the AID worker’s disdain and contempt for U.S. soldiers and would just as soon have the food.

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Well everyone knows that

Chavez: US weapons test triggered Haitain earthquake. And socialism is the path to prosperity.

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Not that you would ever make this mistake

But never equate owning a Nobel prize with possessing brains. Krugman: Cowboy up, pass ObamaKare and then go get the banks.

What I think Krugman, Obam et als miss is that, while Americans seem none too pleased with banks, they also understand that Congress was cheek-by-jowl with them at the trough. I don’t think singling out bankers as our number one enemy will do more than make Fudrucker happy, and he wasn’t leaving the Demmerkrats anyway.

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The Dutch put an anti-islamist on trial

Hate speech or hard truth? In Holland, they seem to be one and the same.

And then there’s this: Saudis sentence 13-year-old girl to 90 lashes for bringing a cellphone to school. The best argument for quickly developing an oil alternative is that it would return these troglodytes to their tents in the desert and we could forget about them for another thousand years. Or, as Ron Popeil might suggest, “nuke ’em and forget ’em”.

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Remembering Dean Barnett

InstaPundit links to this tribute to my email-friend, the late Dean Barnett. Dean was a wonderful guy and it’s tragic that he succumbed to cystic fibrosis at 40 in the summer of 2008 before he could witness the Massachusetts Miracle. I do hope he’s looking down with approval.

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Foreclosure blight

Seeing 39 Boulder Brook come back on the market reminded me of a new hazard buyers and their agents should watch for these days: the financial stability of a particular street. Boulder Brook’s is poor. 35 Boulder is in foreclosure, as is #39. #33 (?) new construction hasn’t sold in the two years since it was built and #9, a beautiful new house, tried and failed to get $7.250 million for a couple of years before finally selling a few months ago at the fire sale price of $4.2, thereby setting a new low price for all other comparables on the street.

There aren’t many houses on this short street so two pending foreclosures, one distress sale and another spec project sitting empty are all bound to heavily impact values on it. Or that would be my opinion, anyway. So before bidding on a house, you would be well advised to check out the status of the neighboring properties. That’s not something I would have thought to do five years ago but it seems prudent now.

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Psst! It’s not the broker.

A local would-be developer who has some issues with his lender has fired his first broker and relisted his four properties, marginal all, for the exact prices or even higher than they failed to fetch for the past two years. What on earth does he think a new broker can do for him that his first couldn’t?

39 Boulder Brook didn’t sell at $4.998; you may now buy it for $5.498.

32 Montgomery wouldn’t sell for $5.295, for years, but here’s your chance again.

86 Mary Lane is scrub land, back again at $885,000, and

20 Langhorne Road, another iffy building lot, is again offered for the market-tested, market-failed price of $2.995.

I always wonder why brokers take these kind of listings, but we all have our own business strategies, I suppose.

UPDATE: as I thought I remembered, these properties are all in foreclosure (as is his 29 Byfield project) so it’s possible the new broker has worked a package deal with the banks: Patriot (surprise!) Wachovia, et als and that’s why he took on the listings. But again, why price them at levels that its been proven they’re not worth?

UPDATE II: Now he’s got all his projects back on, including 29 Byfield, 101 Clapboard Ridge and Brook Ridge Road. My guess is that there’s serious negotiating room on all seven, but you might get an even better deal from his banks.

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Another bidding war loser

54 Valleywood Rd

This home sold for $1.150 in 2002, $1.457,111 in a 2007 bidding war (asking price was $1.375) and again yesterday, this time for $1.350. So we’re ahead of 2002 prices, at least on this particular house, but below 2007’s. Sounds about right.

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Here’s one to watch

14 Dialstone, a plain vanilla (modular?) house in Riverwside sold new for $1.470 in 2003, sold again, in just 27 days for full asking price of $2 million in 2007 and is now back for sale at $2,095,000. Assessment is $1.268. So where will it sell this time? I don’t know, but as a pretty typical Riverside house, its final selling price should be instructive.

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The Prophet, peace be upon him, likes his women with some meat on their bones

Saudis shut down women’s fitness center attached to hospital. What an odd religion.

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How much does FAR cost you?

A whole bunch, if you own an under-sized lot. I have a couple of clients looking for land on which to build and a certain parcel came up for discussion. It’s shed a million or so from its price over the years but is still asking almost $3 million. We considered taking a run at it but it’s less than an acre-and-a-half in the R2 zone which means, under the peculiar regulations promulgated by Franklin Bloomer and his friends, the permissible size of a house on that 1 1/2 acres is smaller than a house on a one acre lot. Silly but true.

So how much is that house worth? Nothing  to my client but maybe – maybe – a million bucks to someone else? That missing half acre is an expensive piece of real estate.

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Price reduction season?

Twenty-five price reductions were filed yesterday (including rentals) and four more have already joined the trend this morning. I hope that’s a sign that sellers are finally giving up on the return of the 2006 market and now want to sell. I see that 19 Knoll Street, a 1928 Tudor-like house on a good Riverside street has been knocked down to $1.495, just a hair off its last price of $1.525 but a definite improvement from its first price of $1.795 back in May, 2008. The owners paid $1.170 for it in 2002 and its assessment is $1.175, so they’re getting there. If more owners follow suit, we could have a robust spring market.

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Politico’s analysis of Massachusetts and the Democrat’s dilemma

I’m pretty sure Politico’s a non-partisan site but those readers more familiar with it may correct me. Regardless, here’s an interesting analysis of last night’s results and the question facing Democrats: go hard left, as Howard Dean and others are urging, or veer back to the center? It’s a problem because you need “the base” to do all the nitty grit work of organizing, supporting local politicians and getting voters out on election day and if that base feels abandoned, why would they do that work? But the country is far more center-oriented than partisans like me on the right or Fudrucker on the left might wish, so if you want to win the most votes, that’s where you should fish.

My personal hope for the Republican Party is that they’ll incorporate some of the libertarian leanings of the Tea Party folks and get out of the morals business. I don’t lose sleep over gays not being allowed to marry in New Jersey or celebrating nuptials here in Greenwich. Same with abortion, an issue that drives more intelligent women to the Democrat party than anything else I’m aware of. If the Republicans left all that stuff for the states to work out and dedicated themselves instead to fiscal responsibility, a strong national defense and free market economic principles that grew the economy, I think they’d do very well in the coming years. They might lose the moral crusaders but as the tea party rallies showed, there’s a huge reservoir of enthusiasm available to be tapped in replacement.

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Hitler’s back!

I loved that UTube clip depicting Herr Hitler discovering that his real estate investments had gone south but here he is again, learning that he’s lost Massachusetts. Very funny.

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Beautiful house in Riverside

36 Lake Drive South

I mentioned seeing this house last Thursday during a broker open house but held off giving its address until Fudrucker’s clients had a chance to see it. They came, they liked it but decided on another area of town. For those who want to live in Riverside, I think it’s an exceptional house, even at its price of $3.995. That’s a lot of money (assessment is $2.5 50) but I could justify it if forced to.

The owners took a 1930’s house and moved out for two years while some master craftsman re-worked and expanded it. The results are incredible. Absolute top quality workmanship throughout: even the utility closet doors are solid, thick wood with beautiful hardware. My rule of thumb is if you find a builder who doesn’t go cheap on the insignificant things, he’s probably lavished at least as much care on more important areas. This builder did exactly that.

It appears that the only original rooms left are the two in front, while everything else is new, with high ceilings, great flow and a very comfortable, livable feel. There’s a half-acre back yard – big for Riverside these days, and of course it’s an easy walk to the train and schools, yet not so close to the tracks that you’d regret it. And of course there is the station pond in front of the house, one of the nicer little greens in town.

So $3.995? You could pay more and fare far worse, I believe. Great house.

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