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Monday, January 17, 2011


Public Unions, Jets and Other Phenomena

I've just about read all the nonsense I can stand about how our overheated political debate is the environmental cause of the Arizona shootings. In fact, the real cause seems to be that an untreated schizophrenic got it in his head to shoot the Congresswoman. Period. The fact that he may have leaned politically left seems to me to be a red herring. In fact, like many of his generation, he seemed to be largely apolitical. None of this has stopped those on the left, particularly from academia, and from the New York Times, from somehow blaming conservatives and tea partiers. This has become reflexive. if you want to see which side's discourse is actually more inflamatory, go visit a left wing blog sometime.

Still, they are no more to blame than we are. If we want to stop this kind of violence, we will need to be more aggressive about identifying mentally ill individuals and seeing to it that they are in treatment.

Martin Luther King Jr. left a magnificent legacy and was perhaps the greatest statesman of the 20th century. But under the heading of nobody's perfect, his belief that public workers should be unionized and bargain collectively, a position espoused and enacted by liberal politicians around the country, has done immense harm and is the basic reason states and municipalities are in such hopeless fiscal difficulties today.

Unions were important in preventing private business from exploiting workers, but public workers have never needed such protection from taxpayers. More to the point, strikes by workers in essential services could be disastrous for local economies and public safety. Even after public worker unions were allowed to form, strikes by those unions were illegal for most of the 20th century. When the annual New Years Eve drama surrounding renegotiation of NY's Transit Workers Union contracts resulted in a strike, it was always accompanied by pictures on the 11 PM news of union leader Mike Quill being escorted to jail.

I don't have a problem with public workers having an association, or union or whatever they want to call it, but I am in favor of limiting or eliminating their collective bargaining rights. And certainly, teachers, transit workers, uniformed services, and other public employees should not be allowed to strike. As it is, the rich pension and benefit plans now in place in many jurisdictions will have to be severely cut back, especially for all new workers. New Republican Governors in Ohio, Wisconsin, and other states are already cranking out such proposals.

This will also break the unholy feedback loop, wherein liberal Democrats have negotiated sweetheart contracts with public unions, in return for generous campaign donations.

In another related development, the National Labor Relations Board is actually suing several states whose citizens passed amendments to their state constitutions guaranteeing workers secret ballots for union certification votes. The essence of the suits is that since card check is one of several allowable voting procedures under federal guidelines, it can't be prohibited by the states. This, even though Democrats and their union allies have been unable to get mandatory card check passed in Congress.

This will be an interesting case that will test whether states can provide higher level rights than are provided federally. Whatever the outcome, I can't believe that this kind of regulatory zeal is going to make the Obama Administration very popular in states where such amendments passed overwhelmingly. Despite Obama trying to look more "centerish" in his approach to Congress, his reliance on regulators to push his left wing agenda is not being lost on the Tea Party and on independents. If it continues, his reelection campaign is doomed before it starts.


As my daughter and I watched a tired, flat Knick team lose to the inept Sacramento Kings in front of a capacity MSG crowd Friday night, my explanation was "that's why they play the games." The same could certainly be said for the football playoff games over the weekend.

We started with the Ravens defense dominating the first half against the Steelers, as I expected. However, the Steeler offense warmed to their task in the second half. The Raven offense never did. Green Bay continues to impress, with yet another maximum effort. But this was more than effort. The Packer offense, featuring a red hot QB, completely outplayed the Dirty Birds.

The Pack will get a rematch with Chicago, their intradivisional rivals who gave them a major scare in Green Bay the last week of the season, almost keeping them out of the playoffs and putting the Giants in. Giant fans should be forgiven for thinking about what might have been, now that they have seen the Pack cruise through two games on the road. This time, the game will be in the windy city, which appeared to be very unfriendly confines for the overmatched Seahawks. However, it should be pointed out that the Bears' defense did not play all that well in the second half.

Finally, there was my team, the Jets, making the key plays, getting fortunate on a few (particularly some uncharacteristic drops by Patriot receivers), and being the beneficiaries of a strangely ill-timed and really poorly executed fake punt by the Pats. But we also enjoyed the rare sight of a clearly unnerved Tom Brady, and a poor coaching job by the revered "Bellychuck," allowing his team to run down the clock on an overlong second half possession, when trailing by more than one score.

The only winner we managed to predict was the Bears, which was just fine with me. So the question is who can I jinx this week. You have to pick the Packers and the Steelers based on logic. The Pack's offense is on a roll and the Bears D, while generally excellent may be vulnerable. In Pittsburgh, the Jets won a big game on their way to the playoffs. However, the Steelers arguably were without their best defensive player that week and are now pretty much at full strength. So beating them AGAIN on their field will be a challenge. It will be quite a hat trick of opposing QB's for the Jets to take down if they beat Big Ben on Sunday. Not impossible, just not probable.

But that's why they'll play the game.

On Friday, we sold 100 shares of Bristow Group (BRS) from the IRA at 47.64. We bought these on 3/7/06 at 29.40. BRS is one our Tulane Portfolio stocks.

The numbers are in for 2010. On a total return basis, we grew the portfolios
21.2%, another very satisfactory year of recovery from the 2008 debacle. Our formula, with only a few tweaks, has carried us through the financial crisis and recovered all of that lost ground and then some. We know that it is important to have respect for the vagaries of financial markets, and make no assumptions about performance in 2011. We'll stay in the game and hope for the best.

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