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Friday, August 28, 2009

 

The US Royal Family

Where does the summer go? September begins on Tuesday, and with it the cooler weather and the start of my 31st year of marital bliss. This year, we get an extra week of unofficial summer since Labor Day is not until the 7th. When you live in the Northeast, this is a major downer because while most of fall is pretty nice, our warm season of shorts and T-shirts is really only about 4 months, and that's not enough. That's why, on top of taxes, traffic congestion, and waiting lines for almost anything worth doing, people retire from here to Arizona, Florida, the Carolina's, etc. And now, with private sector jobs in short supply around here and home prices still too high, even young people are headed for warmer climes and low tax states like Texas.

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The urge to ignore the passing of Ted Kennedy for blogging purposes is strong since I really don't like to go too negative on the recently deceased. But I'm afraid my readers would consider that a cop-out, so here goes.

I can remember as a 5th grader, even then interested in politics, being swept up in the enthusiasm most young people had for the Kennedy brothers, and imagining with my other impressionistic friends a dynasty where Bobby and Ted would eventually succeed JFK as President and the US would thrive during an Era of Vigorous Feeling that would more than overshadow the Virginia dynasty of Jefferson, Madison and Monroe. Alas, it was not to be as violence ended the lives of two of the brothers and scandal disrupted Ted's career.

Nevertheless, Ted showed resilience and practicality by making the most of his situation. Without realistic Presidential possibilities after the Chappaquiddick incident, he forged a long and influential career in the US Senate, carrying the liberal banner in the face of the movement's waning fortunes (for most of that time). Though he was unable to realize his quixotic ambitions for expansion of the public sector to take over Health Care and other liberal goals, he kept the liberal dream alive for more than four decades. He did this in spite of his continuing personal demons - divorce, alcoholism, and the periodic scrapes his nephews got into, requiring his frequent intervention. In the process, he won over colleagues on both sides of the aisle. They respected his knowledge of the ways of the Senate, his ability to compromise and mediate disputes, his great staff, and his dogged work ethic when it would have been easy to rest on his family name.

As one might have expected, the media has been sickeningly effusive in its coverage of the death and send-off of the Liberal Lion. This has not been news coverage - it has been an affectionate tribute. So it is unwatchable for me and those like me who have a different perspective.

Though Kennedy was an admirable advocate for his cause, those efforts have caused tremendous damage over the years. It was Kennedy, the influential Judiciary Committee member who unfairly and maliciously trashed professor Robert Bork on the floor of the Senate, making it impossible for him to be confirmed by a Democrat majority. Since then, "Borking" by one party or the other is the prospect for any controversial Supreme Court nominee, no matter how qualified. It was Kennedy who, while failing to pass universal health coverage, has done much to expand the public sector in that field through SCHIP for example, and by trashing private sector solutions. Kennedy has led the fight against tort reform and other ideas that might be part of the solution. And it was Kennedy who enabled the totally unqualified Barack Obama through his early endorsement to defeat Hilary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.

On this last point, we need to consider that since 1960, the Kennedy's have effectively been the equivalent of our Royal Family. Their every move, for good or ill, is subject for the tabloids and paparazzi. They have used their inherited money and political influence to replace private services with public ones (that they themselves would never use, of course). In the process, America's freedom of choice ironically is restricted to a class that is smaller and more elite. This is the impact of liberal statism, and is reflected in all of the current administration's policy choices.

Yet, with the last of the brothers gone, looking back, their record is disappointing, even mediocre. It took Lyndon Johnson to record almost all of the true accomplishments of the Kennedy Administration. Bobby's promise was cut short, but he had veered very far left in reluctantly taking on Johnson/Humphrey. As for Ted, he lived mainly in an era when conservatism and private enterprise were ascendant. All in all, a surprisingly bleak lack of accomplishment, for all of the charisma and opportunity.

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Jazz fans, you can still catch the waning hours of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Lester Young streaming on www.WKCR.org , followed immediately by the birthday tribute to Charlie (Bird) Parker, running into Sunday. This is one of the top listening weekends of each year on WKCR.

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While we have been distracted by domestic matters, the situation in Iran continues to boil. The repressive and murderous tactics of the theocratic regime have not been able to staunch the desire of the population for liberty. Where is George Bush when we need him? It's time for regime change in Iran!

Of course our current President is wasting his energy explaining why Attorney General Holder seems to think that a special prosecutor is necessary to pursue a witch hunt against CIA operatives who prevented any number of terrorist attacks by extracting information from captured terrorists using admittedly aggressive interrogation techniques. We should be thanking these people, not investigating them.

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Despite all of the above lunacy, the world of finance goes on, and our stock market rally, despite the attempts of the most influential bears to talk it down, climbs the proverbial wall of worry (cliche festival over). We raised a little more cash. Last Friday, we sold 200 shares of I2 Technology (ITWO) out of our IRA, the result of a reverse stock split some years ago. This one has finally started to work out. We got 16.59 a share, compared to the 10.65 we paid on 4/30/08. We've got some unrealized losses on this stock sitting in our taxable account, waiting until Obama raises the long term capital gain (loss) tax rates. On Tuesday, we sold 100 shares of Lubrizoil (LZ)for 62.82, booking a taxable gain since the purchase price on 10/13/03 was 33.89. Yesterday, we switched to the buy side, picking up 200 shares of ING preferred (ISP) at 12.80. We are hoping that the double digit yield on this one in our IRA will properly compensate us for the risk in buying a shaky Euro financial services name.

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