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Wednesday, January 26, 2011


The State of the Union...Better, Needs Improvement

The President's annual report card to Congress met the usual high standards of Obamaesque rhetorical skill, as the President continued his charm offensive aimed at independents and conservatives. However, it should be realized that other than reluctantly agreeing to extend all of the Bush tax rates, the President actually has done nothing helpful, and nothing really to depart from the progressive agenda.

Sure, progressives are moaning like jilted lovers, but that's because they are believing what they are hearing. On the right, we are skeptical and then some. As Bill Russell famously remarked about sizing up golfing buddies, "don't worry about their swing, just watch where the ball goes."

Take the regulatory review the President has promised. Digging a little further down, it appears we are merely going to eliminate outmoded verbiage on the books that no one has paid much attention to for decades. Are we going to see actual deregulation where it could help the economy, where it could aid in establishing energy independence, where we could actually become more efficient? Don't bet on it. Though the freeze on new off-shore drilling supposedly ended months ago, not one new well has been given the OK yet. Expedite natural gas from shale? Forget what you heard about natural gas last night. Finally get the trade agreement done with Colombia? What's taken so long? And still no treaty without imposing our work rules and other regulatory standards on our trading partner.

In the end, Obama will not do much of anything without the OK from his friends in labor, the plaintiffs bar, and the environmental activist community. And their basic premise is all about anti-industrialism. And people wonder why we have fewer manufacturing jobs.

What about education, our "sputnik moment." When push comes to shove, this administration is not going to buck the teachers' unions. So, just as Michelle Rhee was making great progress in turning around the worst school district in the nation, Washington D.C., out goes the maverick Democratic Mayor who appointed her in a primary. End of the Rhee reforms. Why? Because the D.C. unions opposed them. These are the President's allies. Mr. Obama made insightful comments about educational role models, but the black community has had one of the best for many years in Thomas Sowell, who has been decrying the anti-intellectualism and other causes of the patterns of failure in that community for years. Yet, rather than hold someone like him up as a model, they have made Mr. Sowell persona non grata in progressive circles for as long as I can remember.

In short, let's watch where this administration goes. Actions are what counts. For all the words aimed at raising Obama's poll numbers among independents, nothing has happened yet that will actually help. When this administration starts to make policy changes in the right direction, not merely talk about them in general terms that it can subsequently disregard, then I'll be the first to give them props.

Meanwhile it comes out that the government sent 89,000 stimulus checks to the dead and the incarcerated.

While we are dealing with such crappy weather this winter here in the northeast (which I'm sure my liberal friends believe is somehow due to global warming), it is useful to remember that Florida has now escaped serious hurricane landfall for five years. I'm not sure what the cause of such good fortune is, and not especially interested. I do note though that it has delayed the day of reckoning for Florida's underpriced public homeowners insurance provider of last resort.

Imagine if instead of creating a state owned entity to provide underpriced insurance, Florida had allowed private insurers to charge adequate premiums. Five very fortunate years later, those companies might have built up the reserves to handle the storms that will inevitably come. Instead, there is Citizens Property, which will surely become insolvent when that happens. Florida taxpayers will bear the load.

Truly, a lost opportunity.

Like Rex Ryan, I don't believe the Jets really came out flat Sunday night. I think they missed a lot of tackles they were in position to make in the first half, which I would ascribe to the extreme cold and to the Steelers' excellent blocking schemes and execution, not to mention a very good running back.

Rex did have a point about the difficulty of playing three hard road games versus a team that had a bye in the first round, but Green Bay won three road games against good teams and they will play in the big dance.

As for the second half, the Jets played terrific football. About the only bad moment was failing to score on the goal line, and I didn't like the pass call on third down of that series. Also, I would tip my hat to Big Ben for a great game (forget the stats) and those two clutch passes on the last possession.

So, I know the Jets are disappointed, and so are a lot of their fans, but I have to say it was a great season, a great championship game, and some kind of job by the coaching staff to take the team as far as they did given their obvious season-long deficiencies, which were pretty numerous (placekicking, so-so line play, inconsistency, stupid penalties, etc.)

For the Super Bowl, I think the Steelers came out of that game a little beaten up, losing a pro-bowl center, etc. Aaron Rogers is playing so well right now and so is the Packer defense, so my pick is Green Bay even though I am an AFC fan. That's just the way I see it.

Last night at Birdland, I saw Hub - Art, a tribute to the great trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, whose career spanned the bebop and hard bop eras. Out front, playing Freddie's instrument, was the leading practitioner of the day, Nicholas Payton. The legendary Donald Harrison was advertised to be on tenor sax, but that turned out to be in error; in fact Javon Jackson was the very capable, though not yet legendary saxman. But the rhythm section was in fact a collection of legends who frequently played with Hub - George Cables on piano, Dwayne Burno on bass and Lenny White on drums. Besides the music, a highlight for me was the opportunity to sit with the band at the bar before the set and hear them exchange hilarious stories (mostly told by White), many about their experiences with the great bassist Ron Carter.

There's just no place like Birdland. Hub - Art can be seen and heard through Saturday night.

On January 18, we bought 200 shares of Graham (GHM) for the IRA, a "zero" buy at 23.28. (For those new to musings, "zero buys" refer to the smallest holdings on our buy/hold list, and are not purchased necessarily because they are undervalued. Those are "value buys.") On Jan. 20, we bought 100 shares of MetLife preferred (MET.PR.B) at 24.72. On 1/21, we bought 10 shares of Allegheny Corp (Y) at 306.00, a value buy. Monday, we bought 100 shares of AAON, another zero buy at 26.76. Today, we sold 100 shares of Hubbell (HUB.A) at 56.93 out of the IRA for a nice profit (I'll provide the purchase date and price in the next post).

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