Daily Archives: May 11, 2010

Has the revolution begun?

Another old fashioned pol, 14-term Democrat Congressman Alan Mollohan ( I wrote about him yesterday) has lost his primary to a conservative. The man was a crook, a cheat and nasty piece of business. Naturally, the establishment supported him, but the voters finally tossed him out. He will no doubt reappear as a lobbyist, make ten times his congressional salary (though he made millions through graft) so I’m sure, once he has time to reflect, he’ll be glad for the disruption.

But lobbyists are useless if Congress can’t dictate to business and individuals and step by step, inch by inch, we draw closer to tossing all these worthless people over the falls.


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Brilliant – unemployment at a record high? Raise the cost of employing workers

NYC planning to impose nine-day paid sick leave policy on small employers. The good news is that this law will mean thousands of would-be workers won’t ever be hired, so they can stay home full time to care for their sick kids, and the last remaining New York City taxpayers can pay for them to sit on their fat asses. It is, as they say, a “win win” proposition.

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Uh huh – Senate Democrats vote to “study” Fannie Mae

Instead of shutting it down and unwinding our multi-trillion dollar liability for this loser.

The Senate voted 56 to 43 to reject the Republican amendment to phase out the mortgage-finance companies in two years and eliminate their government support.

“Don’t tear down what you have unless you know what you’re going to replace it with,” Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd said during the debate. He called the Republican plan “the height of irresponsibility.”

Dodd, you may recall, along with Barney Frank, drove the sub-prime mortgage market to collapse by insisting that Fannie Mae lend to ever-more irresponsible borrowers.

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Well d’uh

Eeek, a peanut!

Food allergies a crock, report finds. We have an epidemic of hysterical mommies, not allergies.

A new report, commissioned by the federal government, finds the field is rife with poorly done studies, misdiagnoses and tests that can give misleading results.

While there is no doubt that people can be allergic to certain foods, with reproducible responses ranging from a rash to a severe life-threatening reaction, the true incidence of food allergies is only about 8 percent for children and less than 5 percent for adults, said Dr. Marc Riedl, an author of the new paper and an allergist and immunologist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Yet about 30 percent of the population believe they have food allergies. And, Dr. Riedl said, about half the patients coming to his clinic because they had been told they had a food allergy did not really have one.

Dr. Riedl does not dismiss the seriousness of some peoples’ responses to foods. But, he says, “That accounts for a small percentage of what people term ‘food allergies.’ ”

Even people who had food allergies as children may not have them as adults. People often shed allergies, though no one knows why. And sometimes people develop food allergies as adults, again for unknown reasons.

For their report, Dr. Riedl and his colleagues reviewed all the papers they could find on food allergies published between January 1988 and September 2009 — more than 12,000 articles. In the end, only 72 met their criteria, which included having sufficient data for analysis and using more rigorous tests for allergic responses.

“Everyone has a different definition” of a food allergy, said Dr. Jennifer J. Schneider Chafen of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Palo Alto Health Care System in California and Stanford’s Center for Center for Primary Care and Outcomes Research, who is lead author of the new report. People who receive a diagnosis after one of the two tests most often used — pricking the skin and injecting a tiny amount of the suspect food and looking in blood for IgE antibodies, the type associated with allergies — have less than a 50 percent chance actually having a food allergy, the investigators found.

One way to see such a reaction is with what is called a food challenge, giving people a suspect food disguised so they do not know if they are eating it or a placebo food. If the disguised food causes a reaction, the person has an allergy.

But in practice, most doctors are reluctant to use food challenges, Dr. Riedl said. The test is time-consuming, and doctors worry about asking people to consume a food, like peanuts, that can elicit a frightening response.

Authors of the new report — and experts on the guidelines panel — say even accepted dogma, like the idea that breast-fed babies have fewer allergies or that babies should not eat certain foods like eggs for the first year of life, have little evidence behind them.

Part of the confusion is over what is a food allergy and what is a food intolerance, Dr. Fenton said. Allergies involve the immune system, while intolerances generally do not. For example, a headache from sulfites in wine is not a food allergy. It is an intolerance. The same is true for lactose intolerance, caused by the lack of an enzyme needed to digest sugar in milk.

The chairman of the guidelines project, Dr. Joshua Boyce, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard and an allergist and pediatric pulmonologist, said one of the biggest misconceptions some doctors and patients have is that a positive test for IgE antibodies to a food means a person is allergic to that food. It is not necessarily so, he said.

During development, he said, the immune system tends to react to certain food proteins, producing IgE antibodies. But, Dr. Boyce said, “these antibodies can be transient and even inconsequential.”

“There are plenty of individuals with IgE antibodies to various foods who don’t react to those foods at all,” Dr. Boyce said.

The higher the levels of IgE antibodies to a particular food, the greater the likelihood the person will react in an allergic way. But even then, the antibodies do not necessarily portend a severe reaction, Dr. Boyce said. Antibodies to some foods, like peanuts, are much more likely to produce a reaction than ones to other foods, like wheat or corn or rice. No one understands why.

IgE blood tests are widely available. That makes it easy for doctors to test patients who think they are allergic to foods. Then, when the tests come back positive, often for several foods, patients and their doctors may think they have proof of an allergy, Dr. Boyce said.

The guidelines panel hopes its report will lead to new research as well as clarify the definition and testing for food allergies.

But for now, Dr. Fenton said, doctors should not use either the skin-prick test or the antibody test as the sole reason for thinking their patients have a food allergy.


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Here’s how overpricing works to thwart bids

I saw a great house today, one that I think a client of mine would love and would bid serious money for. But by my reckoning, it’s 20% overpriced, and I told him it was pointless to bid today because that only encourages sellers – “gosh, first day on and already an offer, I’ll just stick to my guns!” They get more stubborn, rather than recognize that often, the first bid is the best.

So we won’t bid. And, six months or a year from now, if the house hasn’t sold, it will probably be down to where my client would have bought it today but by that time, we’ll have found something else. It’s also possible, of course, that someone will pay the asked-for price, which is fine – that person will have bought a house he loved and my client won’t have wasted his money.

The odds are, though, that this seller will still be sitting in his house next May.


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Obama and Democrats abandon their black candidate in Florida to support Crist. Best of the Web:

Crist the Redeemer?
From the Washington Examiner:

A group of Florida Democrats have been urging the White House to abandon their own Senate candidate, Rep. Kendrick Meek, in all but name. And they appear to have succeeded.

The Wall Street Journal reports that President Obama is seriously considering offering only half-hearted support to his party’s nominee, the only serious black candidate for Senate in the United States this year, so as to help Republican-turned-Independent candidate Gov. Charlie Crist win the seat.

You’ve got to love this. Here we have a black Democrat running against a Hispanic Republican, Marco Rubio–and Charlie Crist, a guy who’s so Caucasian even his hair is white, is the hero of the liberal media and may even become the de facto Democrat in the race. Oh, and his failure to win the Republican nomination is supposed to prove that the GOP isn’t inclusive enough!

UPDATE: Can’t get the video link but for the funniest two minutes of any political movie, click here.

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An expensive house goes to contract, but no surprise

I wrote previously about 33 Baldwin Farms S., priced at $3.995, below its $4.1 assessment and in impeccable condition, with a great yard, beautiful view over the pond, and so forth. I predicted then it would sell quickly and it has.

Which just shows that, if priced right, there’s a buyer for almost any price range.

On the other hand, 5 Dialstone Lane in Riverside is back. This was new construction last summer and readers may recall that when I laughed at its asking price of $3.995 and suggested that it would eventually sell for $2.4, the builder chased me from the house.

He ended up renting it but now he’s placed it back up for sale, used, of course, asking $3.1. Getting there.


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Seller’s, this is what’s moving

14 Griffith Lane, NoPo

14 Griffith Lane, $975,000, is under contract.

9 Park Avenue, Old Greenwich, purchased for $2.185 in 2005, is “pending” at somewhere below its asking price of $2.195.

And that’s it for market activity today – period.

But we’re flooded with new listings, mostly retreads and all overpriced. Land that sold for $3.1 million in 2003 is on for $4.9. Houses that will eventually sell in the high 2’s, if the owners are lucky, are coming on in the $4s. I fear that Greenwich sellers are reading stories about a recovery in the California market, where prices dropped fifty percent, and have concluded that Greenwich is back to 2007 or even higher. Nothing could be further from the truth.


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Too funny – Science Magazine (Ed – who?) deplores anti-warmists

And uses a Photoshopped picture of a marooned polar bear to illustrate its concern. Dolts, dummies, buffoons. And tools of the state.

A tragic picture, were it authentic - but you get our point, right? Nod nod, wink wink!

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Staging for fun and loss of profit

There are at least two Old Worlds - this is not the one you want to emulate


While I loved the 21 Grove Lane restoration mentioned below, even if I didn’t like its price, I was totally turned off by its staging (the process whereby a “professional stager” loads up a house with fake photos, books and old furniture to suggest to dummies what a house could look like, were it furnished). 

A wall of pictures of old “family ancestors” looked more like a scene from Godfather II’s return to Sicily than anything remotely resembling former owners of the house next door to George Herbert Walker Bush’s childhood home. A nursery with a picture of a young mommy and her child might have been endearing if the room next door didn’t boast another picture of another mommy with her child – what is this, a boarding house? 

The child’s playroom, (neatly) littered with toys and lead ink used kids books – now banned by our thoughtful government – was creepy, not inviting. Did the children die of Scarlet fever?  Small pox? Leprosy? Let’s ask Edgar Allan Poe. Or the kid’s bathroom, with pristine, never used bath toys arranged around it. Gheeechh. 

The master bedroom, with its collection of sex toys, whips and electrical stimulus devices was the only interesting room in the house but [no, he’s just kidding – ED] 

It was all so phony, so off-putting that I almost missed the beauty of the house itself. And that’s a shame, because the house is incredible, while stagers charge a small fortune to screw up a house. I think the builder would have been better off leaving the house empty and using the saving to reduce his price.


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Back from open houses and what a depressing tour it was

Does no one get it? With the exception of 129 Clapboard, which I liked (but even priced at its 2002  price, I think there ought to be some negotiating room), everything I saw was overpriced, in my humble opinion. Some of the houses were just plain obsolete – I saw one house, priced close to $6 million and, while large and sprawling and in good condition, made no sense – clearly, it was added onto over the years as various owners’ needs dictated and while that can be charming in an old New England farmhouse, it just seemed haphazard here. As I went through it I was trying to picture which of my clients who are looking in that price range who might like it, and I came up zilch. It’s too new to tear down, I suppose, but I see it going in the low 3’s, years from now.

There’s a beautiful redo at 21 Grove Lane – 3 1/2 acres, right next to town; a beautiful old house that’s been completely – and I mean completely – restored. New stone work, siding, roof, windows, electrical, mechanicals, etc. etc  – just a gorgeous house and clearly someone has sunk millions into this project, but he’s asking $12 or $13 million, and I just don’t see him getting it. It was definitely the star of the day – I’d take this house over David Stockman’s, also on today, asking $23 million in Conyers Farm, and consider myself lucky, but I don’t see someone spending this kind of money here.

Saw another house that almost angered me. An old spec house, ugly brick outside and so cheap inside that it turned my stomach. You want cheap, go to Havemeyer – don’t try to sell me plastic hollow doors, Ring’s End trim and wobbly banisters for $4 million. Especially when there’s no useable yard. I figure that a builder willing to cut corners so severely on the visible things is more than likely to have done even worse on the buried parts of the house, like framing, foundation, and so forth. Ugh.


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Democrats push for yet another $200 billion in spending before November elections

Nancy Pelosi addresses her peers

They’re determined to bury the country hopelessly in debt during their brief stay in power. Friend or foe? We report, you decide.

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Going down

Nokia ousts cellphone management. Second time in 12 months. As I said the other day, better to try to compete with Apple than rely on patent infringement income. I liked this quote: where have I heard it before?

Rick Simonson, the head of its mobile phones unit and seen by some as a potential CEO successor, has decided to retire from his full-time duties, although he will continue as a senior advisor to the company. The 52-year-old former finance chief had taken over the mobile phones unit about seven months ago.

Mr. Simonson is stepping down for “personal reasons” as he wants to spend more time with his family, said Nokia spokesman Leo McKay


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So easy these days even trained monkeys can do it

Shooting fish in a barrel

JP Morgan traders match Goldman: no losses past quarter. Some might question whether they’re worth their bonuses – the custodians in the building would probably work for less with the same results.


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CNBC – on top of the world, but not world news

British P.M. Gordon Brown Resigns – But you wouldn’t know it if you watched CNBC
By Teri Buhl
Smack dab at the top of the lunch hour UK’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced he’s going to resign. Surprise-Surprise. But you might not have known about it if you were only watching CNBC for your business news.

On a day when the Dow was soaring 400 points and trading on debt defaults in Euro Countries are shrinking because  of the trillion dollar EuroZone bailout announced last night – Brown’s news was really market affecting.  But not one of the four talking heads on CNBC’s Power Lunch broke in with a news flash and began yelling at their viewers that Brown was stepping down. This would have been important to traders who might not have realized for a few minutes why trading on the British pound was in a tailspin.

CNBC even had their UK correspondent Simon Hobbs on set, who likely could have done a great job explaining what impact Brown’s news had for the markets.  But we got nothing, ZIPPO, from the crew who thinks they are the world’s leader in delivering unbiased-actionable business news before the Bloomberg speed desk can ever post story to their terminals.

Boy did they get beat. Because in fact Bloomberg’s print journalist had a whiff of the story posted on a terminal at 12:03 and their anchor Mark Crumpton was interpreting trader’s lunches at 12:06 to tell them long time British Prime Minster is giving up the fight to lead his country and will step down.

Meanwhile the intuitive journalist at The Business Insider  were able to speed write an easy to understand story on how Brown’s choice would affect investors, along with a chart showing you the slide to the British pound- delivering this important world news by 12:11.

Even the New York Times, whose readers aren’t exactly news hungry for instant updates on what the British leadership is doing, had an email alert out with an nice explanation of how Brown’s resignation will affect the battle brewing the UK’s hung parliament within 30 minutes.

When I found out at 12:04, via the FT’s Hedge Fund reporter’s tweet, that Brown was out I turned my attention to CNBC waiting for an instant explanation of why – but never came.

When I emailed Power Lunch Host, Tyler Mathisen, at 12:30 informing him traders on twitter were bashing CNBC for their lack of Brown’s Out coverage his response was “we flashed it, in a lower third, in our A block”. Really? It clearly wasn’t enough for any of the 100 plus trader-tweeters I was watching to notice. You’d think they might want to follow up that 3 second news flash with some verbal commentary reminding their data hungry traders that a big news event is going on RIGHT NOW.

Real time information is EVERYTHING and even just a minute of a news laspe can cost investors big money. Which goes to show either Power Lunch producers (the people who control what spits out of the CNBC host mouth) really just don’t have the skill to respond to news that isn’t pre-planned in their program or CNBC doesn’t get how decisions in the world’s other large financial community ( London ) affect U.S. Investors.


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Ding, ding, ding: we have a winner!

35 Winding Lane has been officially reduced from $332,500,000 to $3.250 million, thereby grabbing the title of largest price cut in Greenwich from Helmsley’s.

The listing’s history still shows the original price so if you have a buyer who insists on a bargain, show him this one and tell him what a deal he’ll be getting. If he’s from Wall Street, he’ll probably believe you, especially if he works for A.I.G.


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Second marriages

But now your dowry isn't worth as much, Dear

Scanning today’s preliminary Open House list it’s amazing how many old listings now tout that they’ve been “substantially reduced!”, or beg us realtors to “come see at new price!” The fact is, we did come, once, when these listing were new. A year on, or even six months on, they start looking pretty desperate and my inclination, at least, is to wait another six months and see what happens. No one has wanted the place so far, it’s probably safe to count on that continuing.

You’re only a virgin once.

BTW, Samuel Johnson defined a second marriage as “the triumph of hope over experience”. Probably applies here, too.

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Here’s a relief

The 2 acre, “33,000 sq.ft” house priced yesterday at $332,000,000 is in fact an Ogilvy listing, so even when they correct the typo, he’ll still have the record for the largest price cut in Greenwich real estate history.He had previously  earned that spot by cutting Leona’s place from $125 mm to $50 (and still falling) but this one will dwarf it.

Still, does a typo merit a title? Maybe with an asterisk added.

Another new listing that came on yesterday is 88 Conyer’s farm, asking $17 million. the owner has been trying unsuccessfully to get $19 mm for this since 2002. After that much time, you’d have thought the market had sent a message but perhaps the guy is hard of hearing.

UPDATE: It’s a tribute to Ogilvy, I suppose, that no one at the Board thought to question the input form. My listings, they call and demand corrections of the tiniest detail. Ogilvy runs in a $332 million price and they wave it through the gate – “hey, it’s an Ogilvy listing”. Wonder if the information on public utilities and school districts is as inaccurate?

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It’s open house Tuesday!

There are a couple I want to see, including 129 Clapboard Ridge which, I pointed out yesterday, is priced close to its 2002 purchase price. I don’t know yet whether it will work for a particular client I’m working with, but pricing like that sends a signal that the owner is seriously interested in selling his house. The wildly overpriced ones send quite the opposite message. So I’ll check out Clapboard Ridge and probably skip a slew of others.


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14 term Democrat on the ropes

W. Virginian faces primary challenge today

The FBI briefly probed Mollohan several years ago after he failed to disclose real estate holdings and other assets on his Congressional financial disclosure forms. That led Democratic leaders to oust Mollohan as the top Democrat on the House Ethics Committee. The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) listed Mollohan as one of the fifteen most-corrupt members of Congress.

Mollohan has refused to release his income tax returns. That’s drawn the ire of the local press which notes that the Congressman’s net worth has increased significantly since joining Congress. The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register recently awarded its endorsement to Oliverio.

“(Mollohan) has failed to represent us well – and has drawn attention to our state for all the wrong reasons,” the paper said.

Toss’em all out.

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