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Sunday, October 09, 2011

 

Special Columbus Day issue

What to make of these goofy demonstrations called Occupy Wall Street, parroted by similar efforts in Chicago and a couple of other cities? We can start with a couple of fairly obvious observations. First, this seems to be a progressive and populist answer to the Tea Party. It is similarly obscure in its message, perhaps more confusing and disjointed. What we are hearing is an anti-corporatist, anti banking, radicalism. On the one hand, it seems to have elements descended from the days of William Jennings Bryan's pro-silver inflationists. Some of it is a misguided and mis-informed attempt to put the lessons of the academic left into political practice. Then there is the pro-unionist element, bringing to mind the socialist early days of the union movement.

Whatever it is, establishment Dems are having the same trouble figuring out how to react to it as establishment Republicans had with the Tea Party. Some are focusing on what they have in common with the group, and others are looking the other way, hoping they won't be associated with them. Seems to me those are the more politically astute. Thinking back to 1968, and especially 1972, the behavior of left wing activists was an existential problem for Hubert Humphrey. Putting down the demonstrators in Chicago at the convention probably assured Nixon's narrow victory. In 1972, the public was repulsed by the Democratic convention, taken over by leftists and all manner of minorities with points to prove but no governing strategy. The result was that Nixon won a landslide, despite running perhaps the least ethical campaign ever.

I wonder how the anti-Wall Street crowd is playing to the states that will decide the 2012 election, especially among crucial independent voters. I am talking about Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Missouri, Iowa, West Virginia for starters. My guess is that the answer is that the longer this goes on, the better for the GOP candidates.
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I'm not surprised the Jets come home from their long road trip 2-3. Now it's time for Rex to cut out the braggadocio, cancel the Super Bowl reservations, and get down to the business of objectively assessing the talent and making needed changes. This team really needs help in the trenches where most games are actually won and lost.

The Giants had to be very disappointed in losing at home to Seattle, proving again that nothing in pro football can be taken for granted. This game was murder on suicide pool players. Fortunately for the Giants, the Eagles turning from Dream Team into Nightmare Team means Big Blue can stay in the division title chase.

Then there's baseball. We warned that the Tigers Yanks series was a tossup, and that the Tigers were the hotter team. Somehow, I will never understand the inability of the Yankees' organization and their fans to keep things in perspective. You would think that losing that series (after 5 very competitive games) branded their season a failure the way they reacted. In my opinion, the Yankees overachieved, winning the division going away with only half a starting rotation of any quality, and with a rapidly fading set of players in Rodriguez, Teixera, Posada, etc. They were carried by Cano, Granderson, Sabbathia, Mo, Robertson and a resurgent Jeter, and got surprising performances by Nova, and Martin. The Red Sox proved you can a high payroll and not have the best team. The Yankees will always have a very high payroll, probably the highest the next few years given what they are committed to for A-Rod and Jeter and what Cano is going to earn. Winning championships will still be a matter of doing it on the field, and considerable luck is involved with winning three short series in the playoffs. Yankee fans need to embrace winning the division title in 2011 and having the league's best record. The 162 game season has always been the truest performance indicator.

Then there are my Mets. Most people would say that their big off-season challenge would be to sign Jose Reyes, and that it's a no-brainer. Here's the truth. You'd like to have him back, but as a speed burner, his prime is only going to last a few more years. If you have to sign him for 7 or 8 years, you are going to seriously overpay. If you don't sign him, you will lose some but less than you think with the developing Tejada, whose bat continues to improve, and whose defense is only a cut under Reyes and will also improve. That would also open up second base for Turner.

If it sounds like I am mentally prepared to lose Reyes, let's just say that I am OK with it going either way. Maybe the best would be to sign him and trade him after two years, just before he really slips. But I expect someone to offer him too much money for the Mets to match.

The Mets really need to upgrade at catcher and in center field. My strategy would be to convert David Wright to center field, where he is just fast enough to play (and that gets him away from his increasingly shaky play at 3rd base), opening up third for Murphy, and allowing you to trade Pagan for the best catcher he would bring.

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Lots of passings recently. I don't have much to say about Steve Jobs that isn't already being said. Just as intriguing a figure was Al Davis, the Oakland Raiders owner and former coach who was a leading figure in the success of the American Football League, and who always marched to his own drummer. Sometimes that drummer's beat was quite a bit off, and the Raiders had lean times as well as good times. Davis could be impulsive and manipulative; famously, he moved the team to Los Angeles, then back to Oakland. But he was one of those guys who would figure in any comprehensive history of pro football, to my mind, the best way to determine a Hall of Famer.

Less well know was golfer Dave Hill. Though a superb pro with a great record, Hill was perhaps best known for his brutal assessment of U.S. Open venue Hazeltine in Minnesota. Though on his way to a second place finish in that event, Hill's assessment was that the course "lacked only 80 acres of corn and a few cows to be a good farm." Many of his competitors shared the same opinion, but had the propriety to keep their mouths shut. Hill never did, but had a successful career, winning 13 official PGA Tour titles. His brother Mike was never a success on the big tour but went on to dominate the Senior Tour for several years.
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Last week, I had the good fortune to play golf with Steve Garvey, the former Dodger and Padre. Garvey always had the reputation of being such a nice guy, that it was a little much and people didn't believe it. The truth is, his good guy reputation is deserved, and I think it's just genuine. At some point, the veterans committee should reverse an injustice and put Garvey in the Hall. How could you write a history of baseball and not mention Garvey, his part in the Dodgers longtime infield (with Cey, Lopes and Russell), his long consecutive game streak, his winning ways wherever he played? His numbers are a lot better than a bunch of guys already in too.
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On 9/30, we bought 1000 shares of Frozen Food Express (FFEX), a nice trucking company going through another of its cyclical downturns. This was a zero buy, highly speculative at 2.13. On 10/3, we bought 15 shares of the Gold ETF (GLD), also for the IRA, at 161. On 10/6, we bought 100 shares of Devon Energy (56.32), a value buy. Finally on 10/7, we acted on the decision not to retain the Home and Security spin off from Fortune Brands (FBHS), selling 300 shares, half in the IRA, for 12.60. We are still trying to determine the cost basis, but I think we came about even on these. We'll keep BEAM, the shares representing the spirits business of Fortune on the buy/hold list.

Today, we bought another 1100 shares of FFEX at 1.93. We warn you not to try this at home. These shares can still get cheaper.

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