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Tuesday, November 08, 2011


Special Off-year Election Edition

One thing you had to say about the late Joe Frazier, he never fought a dull fight. He was a relentlessly offensive boxer, liked to work inside, and had a lethal left hook despite being a little undersized for a heavyweight. He was also quite quick, really the only man fast enough to get to Muhammed Ali with any consistency.

Joe's weakness was defense, and he walked through a lot of shots to get his own in. Against a big puncher like George Foreman, the style could not work. Against Ali, it meant both took a lot of punishment, and their three great fights were a testament to that. A wise boxing journalist said both should have retired after the Manilla fight, since they had left the last of their skills in that ring.

As a man, Joe was no Einstein, but he knew the boxing game and was a good interview. He rose above Ali's taunting and always carried himself with class. Despite Ali's popularity, I knew lots of people who rooted for Frazier in those fights.
Has Herman Cain been unfairly treated as Clarence Thomas was (the victim of a high tech lynching)? I thought so at first, but it's starting to sound more like Bill Clinton now, with so many women coming out of the woodwork with similar stories to tell. No matter. I never saw him as the nominee and still believe the party will settle on Mitt Romney. The polls are showing a little boomlet for Gingrich, and maybe Perry could resurge, but Romney is every Republican's second choice, and that should be enough.

With respect to Gingrich, he is the most intellectually honest and thoughtful of all of the candidates, and Dorothy Rabinowitz wrote a persuasive column in the WSJ about his potential as the nominee in the WSJ this week. But Newt is bucking a lot of baggage. His own personal life has no shortage of embarrassing episodes, and his off-hand verbal pronouncements leave him susceptible to the gaffe. Also, he has no executive experience, unless you count being Speaker of the House as a management position, and not really a legislative one. He has higher negatives than Romney, and as much as I would look forward to a Gingrich administration, he is not nearly as likely to defeat Obama as Mitt is. In the end, Republicans will choose the candidate they think can win.

The next big political moment concerns the workings and deliberations of the "Super Committee" charged with attacking the deficit. Trial balloons are being floated almost daily concerning spending cuts and revenue enhancers. The odds are still heavily against any real agreement, which would trigger the automatic across the board cuts. How will Obama and Romney react? This is an intensely political exercise. In the background are Ryan and Reid pulling the strings for their respective parties. Getting those two to agree about anything will take some kind of magic, that's for sure.

The politics of the looming election year rest on more than the budget. Will the Iraq withdrawal prove to be well timed or a disastrous retreat? Why are we still fighting in Afghanistan, where the Taliban was removed from power and bin Laden is dead? Will Obama ever do anything about Iran's nuclear program. Or North Korea's? What about the seemingly stillborn peace initiative for Israel and the Palestinians? ? Will the Keystone pipeline from Canada finally be built?

Everywhere you look, we see the economy hamstrung by regulators, environmentalists, and other Obama allies. How long will the public abide the overtime costs attached to police protection for the Occupiers of Wall Street? There are minefields all over for the President and his reelection chances. Too many of them are of his own making.

The latest Rasmussen polls show Romney and Obama running about even and Republicans well ahead in the generic Congressional ballot. Given the distribution of the population, Dems need to have an edge to be really even. The message is that they are behind, and still losing ground.

So last night, after thoroughly enjoying the Louis Armstrong Centennial Band, featuring Wycliffe Gordon and Bria Skonberg, at Birdland, I had four options, all of which seemed attractive. I could go to Jazz Standard and catch a set or two of the Helen Sung Quartet. I could go up to Joe G's and hear Howard Alden. I could return to Long Island and either go to my favorite pub or actually go home and finish this post. But what I did was to go to Bar on Fifth at the Hotel Setai where for the expense of some overpriced, yet delicious, Pinot Noire, I heard the Helio Alves Trio. At least that's who was scheduled. But instead of the advertised Brazilian jazz set, there was only one Latin influenced selection out of the five played in the set. So I'm not quite sure who I heard, and they don't have any announcements, but what I do know is that I heard a very excellent and entertaining set by a really good pianist, accompanied by excellent drums and so-so bassist. They started off with a Monk tune, and for their third selection, played a really spirited version of Coltrane's Giant Steps. They finished the set with a soulful version of Autumn Leaves reminiscent of the Miles Davis treatment.

In two visits to Bar on Fifth, I have really felt comfortable and heard uniformly good jazz, with no cover and only a one drink minimum. There is food too and the whole bar area is very beautiful, with comfortable chairs and sofas. For true jazz devotees, the negative is that the music is largely ignored by much of the young crowd and there is certainly nothing like a quiet policy. So if you are interested in the music, it pays to sit in the vicinity of the players. I sat at the bar last night and that was fine. Definitely the place to stop for an ad hoc jazz experience nightly between 8 and 11.
If I were half as clever as P.J. O'Rourke, you wouldn't have to wade through all the politics and economics that dominate this blog. Instead you could read things like O'Rourke's April 2nd Journal article, where he had some fun with the idea of bicycle lanes springing up around Manhattan and other urban centers. With apologies to the dedicated bike riders in my readership, here are excerpts:

Bike lanes have appeared in all the predictable places - Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Berkeley and Palo Alto. But the incidence of bike lanes is also on the rise in unlikely locales such as slush-covered Boston, frozen Montreal, and Bogota, Columbia(where, perhaps, bicycles have been given the traffic lanes previously reserved for drug mules). Even Dublin, Ireland...surely unnecessary in a country where everyone's car has been repossessed.
Then there is the notorious case of New York City... Now New York has 670 miles of bike lanes - rather more than it has miles of decently paved streets. This is the work of the city's indomitable transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-(Genghis)-Khan. Her job, judging by rush hour cab and subway rides and last December's blizzard is to prevent the transportation of anything to anywhere in New York. Bicycles are the perfect way to go nowhere while carrying nothing.
The bicycle is a parody of a wheeled vehicle - a donkey cart without the cart where you do the work of the donkey...The reason it took mankind 5,000 years to get the idea for the bicycle is that it was a bad idea. It is the only method of conveyance worse than feet. You can walk up three flights of stairs carrying one end of a sofa. Try that on a bicycle.
One excuse for bike lanes is to decrease traffic congestion...(But) you can't decrease traffic congestion by putting things in the way of traffic. The answer to traffic congestion is lower taxes so that legions of baby boomers my age can afford to retire and stay home. Bike lane advocates also claim that bicycles are environmentally friendly...but bicycle riders do a lot of huffing and puffing exhaling large amounts of CO2. But maybe there's a darker side to bike-lane advocacy. Political activists of a certain ideological stripe want citizens to have a child-like dependence on government. And it's impossible to feel like a grown-up when you're on a bicycle if you aren't in the Tour de France. All but the most athletic among us get on and off a bicycle the way a toddler goes up and down stairs. Wearing bicycle shorts in public is more embarrassing then wearing Depends. And it's hard to keep a straight face when talking to anyone in a Skitties-colored, Wiffle ball-slotted bike helmet that makes you look like Woody Woodpecker...
Bicycle riders must be made to bear the burden of this special-interest boondoggle. Bicycle registration fees should be raised until they produce enough revenue to build and maintain new expressways so that drivers can avoid city streets clogged by bike lanes...And riders' license qualifications should be rigorous, requiring not only written exams and road tests but also bathroom scales. No one is to be allowed on a bicycle if the view he or she presents from behind causes the kind of hysterical laughter that stops traffic.

On October 31, we sold 100 shares of Amerisource Bergen (ABC) at 41.82. We paid 13.77 on 11/15/01 (split adjusted). You would hope to triple over ten years in a growth stock. On 11/7, we sold 500 shares of Mellon Bank of NY Preferred (BK.PR.F) at 25.15. With the stock above par, why keep it given the regulatory risk. The company's business model is being attacked by lawsuits and attorneys general because of its "standing order" currency trading procedures, where prices are abitrarily set after the close. This is in the agreement with clients and has been the normal practice, but we have seen more often than we would like that in this re-regulatory climate, normal practices are "criminalized." We are not in preferred's to take risk, we are in them for income. We paid 24.85 for these shares on 9/29/05. If this blows over and the company remains intact, we can go back in it.

On 11/8, we bought 300 shares of Genie (GNE), the spinoff we received from IDT, at 7.88. Readers might recall that we bought IDT originally because of the venture that Genie represents, an energy play that includes an important project in Israel. I am not sure whether I am going to keep the basic IDT shares, but do intend to add to the Genie position.

On 11/9, we bought 100 shares of Protective Life Preferred (PLP), a new name at 22.87 for the IRA. Finally, on 11/10, we added 1800 shares of Frozen Food Express, (FFEX) betting on a turnaround against all logic. The price was 1.25, and it is a high risk value buy at that level.

We also took delight in the news that our slightly sleazy dental network company, ADPI, is being taken over at 19. We won't sell to the arbitrageurs just yet; maybe there will be an even better offer.

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