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Monday, July 19, 2010

 

Passing Parade

If you've ever worked for a newspaper, you know that obits are written while celebrities are still alive and updated as necessary. Not much has to be added when the inevitable finally comes. This has been a month of file purging for the obits departments, as the death pools have been paying out with regularity.

When George Steinbrenner suffered a fatal heartache, thereby upstaging both the All Star game and the passing of Yankee Stadium PA icon Bob Sheppard, it was right in character. Though reportedly a generous and warm friend to those who knew him personally, the public persona of The Boss was frankly overwhelming, overbearing, and, often overachieving, though it must be reported, not always. In fact, the Yankees went through a long period under George when their failures on the field rivaled the days of inept CBS ownership.

Yet, that has long been forgotten during this latest Yankee dynastic period. And people, especially Yankee fans, underestimate the magnitude of the Bombers' accomplishments during the Jeter era. This is because they dwell on playoff performance, but a short series is always a crap shoot, and the post season is almost a lottery. The success of a team should be measured by division championships and playoff appearances, just as in the pre-1969 era, we gauged a team's success by pennants. Under this criteria, the Jeter era rivals prior Yankee dynasties.

As for The Boss, his major innovation was to exploit free agency and drive up player salaries to reestablish the advantage of the big market teams that was lost when the draft offset the Yanks'(and Dodgers) advantage in scouting and farm systems. If anything, it made baseball even a less competitive situation for small market teams than it had ever been. It also drove ticket prices and other costs of going to a game to levels that put what was once a relatively inexpensive sports spectator experience beyond what was affordable for many families. So while The Boss was great for Yankee fans interested in mainly having a winner, and great for the players and their wallets, he did baseball and its fans an unfathomable disservice in the overall.

George Steinbrenner, like Marvin Miller, belongs in baseball's Hall of Fame, based on my (and Stan Isaacs') criteria that you could not write any reasonable history of the game without mentioning their impact. However, the impact of both was a decidedly mixed blessing.
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I have no such ambivalence concerning college basketball coaching great John Wooden. Of course, Wooden didn't have to mix it up in the dirty business of the recruiting wars since everyone wanted to play for him, including the incomparable Lew Alcindor, aka Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Wooden approached coaching as the teacher he was, dispensing his well worn advice aimed at building teams that played to methodical. if often frantic perfection, and carried themselves like solid citizens rather than frat boys. During its heyday, UCLA simply played its own game and forced the other team to adapt; almost always, the opponents' efforts were futile. The zone press that UCLA habitually employed generally would bury the opponent in the first half. When the UCLAn's won 7 straight NCAA titles between 1967-73, they lost only 5 games while winning 205! They won all but two NCAA Championships from 1964-1975.

Every amateur coach knows the Wooden aphorisms - "Be quick, but don't hurry" and so on. More should teach his lessons about life, among them, "You can't let praise or criticism get to you. It's a weakness to get caught up in either one." "If you're not making mistakes, then you're not doing anything. I'm positive that a doer makes mistakes." "Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful."
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Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia was a man who lived certain principles. The overriding one was that he served the people of his state. In the process of doing so, he brought money for projects and other causes back to WV from DC. He was a man of his eras. When it served his needs, he could be a Klansman, or later, a determined advocate for affirmative action. In the Senate, he famously knew more about Senate rules and procedures than anyone else, a knowledge for which he was revered by his party and his allies and feared by his opponents. He won't be remembered for his policy positions other than that he won so much treasure for his state that somehow never seemed to alleviate its ranking among the most impoverished states in the union. Where did all that money come from? If some states are net winners in Washington, that means others are net losers. It never seemed to bother the Senator that this was the case, nor that the bottomless pit that the Federal Government became is passing on a hopeless debt to future generations.

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The Courts are backing the FCC off on its decency rules. Just as Larry Flint was ultimately legitimized, it now seems that Howard Stern was on the right side of the law all the time. Frankly, I never understood why the FCC made a federal case of broadcast indecency, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, other than that is how bureaucrats exercise power.

So the lesson is that we will really be at the mercy of the health insurance and bank regulators under recently passed legislation, given this regulatory mindset. Unlike broadcast rules though, health and finance are important parts of our lives.
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It is clear that the punditry class still doesn't know what to make of the Tea Party advocates. I think they just have not watched enough Libertarian Party convention shenanigans, or the sight of goofy characters in colonial dress would not be so off-putting. In fact, the "platform" of the Tea Party is more cogent and focused than either of the major parties. It is about fiscal responsibility and confining government at all levels to the areas where they are constitutionally permitted. I am not saying that everyone needs to agree with them, but to make the case that they can't be effective because their message is only negative or too muddled is 100%wrong and misses the point anyway.

Many Dems are consoling themselves that Tea Party types are winning GOP primaries and will be too wacky, too extreme, too inexperienced or too poorly financed to present the most dangerous opposition to them in the general election. They are so dead wrong. True Republicans will vote against the Dem anyway, and many are more energized by true fiscal conservatives than by more moderate Republicans. Fiscal conservatives also appeal to independents. I look for Tea Party candidates to gain momentum heading into November.

Incredibly, Dems are becoming concerned about losing the Senate as well as the House. That would take almost a clean sweep of winnable contests by the GOP, and I am not quite there yet. But today's WSJ had a pretty good breakdown of what it would take.
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George W. Bush's ineptitude as a communicator was acknowledged by even his strongest advocates, and his press conferences, impromptu and otherwise, were generally cringe fests. But at least he had them. Lately, the White House press corps has been complaining that President Obama simply has not been taking questions, period. Seems strange for a White House occupant whose main skill is talking.
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On 7/13, we bought 200 shares of the SPDR Gold fund (GLD) at 119.00 On July 15 (we took Bastille Day off), we sold 200 shares of ADC Telecommunications (ADCT) from the IRA at 12.50. This followed a takeover bid for the Company and we have quite a few more shares we will hold for the takeover price. Maybe there will be a better bid(doubt that)? Anyway, getting this bid cut the losses by a lot. As it was, we took a $7,322 loss on these shares purchased in 2000 and 2001 (and followed by a reverse split). That cut our Y-T-D realized gains in the IRA in half. Happily, we got another takeover bid today on Tomkins (TKS) taking our holding into a profit position. These bids show the efficacy of the average down technique for under water positions, which every broker will tell you to eschew. However, once you are buried in a stock, you can do one of three things. You can sell, cementing the loss. You can hold, hoping to break even, but probably wind up sitting on dead money. or you can average down, reducing your cost basis to an achievable level. You do the last if you still like the company and want to keep it on your buy/hold list. Otherwise, you might as well sell.

Today, we bought 300 shares of Marine Max (HZO) which our formula has had us in and out of, with good effect. The price was 6.76 and this was a value buy.

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