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Tuesday, October 09, 2012

 

D.C. Musings (again)

So, I am here in Washington D.C. for a "fun-filled" 6 days of meetings with the international insurance regulatory community.  Just imagine the possibilities.  Thank goodness there are baseball playoffs, football games, and political shenanigans to provide sufficient distractions.
Televised debates at the Presidential level are rarely game changers, though they have had significant impact in some elections.  Many people no longer watch debates since often, the level of discourse is not far above what might occur in a high school student council election. 
They weren't televised of course, but the Lincoln - Douglas debates rightfully command the reputation as the most literate and significant debate series in our history.  Interestingly, the debates were not held in conjunction with the 1860 Presidential election (in which Douglas was one of three losing candidates), but rather were part of an earlier campaign for US Senator from Illinois.  Most believe today that Lincoln "won" the debates, but actually Douglas won the election.
In the 1960 Presidential election, the first televised debates occurred between Vice President Nixon and Senator John F. Kennedy.  Going in, Kennedy was still not well known to many, so the contrast in style and appearance had a real impact on those watching.  Though the discourse was largely fact free, most polled who watched the first debate thought Kennedy won.  Of those who listened to it on radio, most thought Nixon won.  The debate "performance" gave Kennedy the recognition, credibility and momentum needed to achieve a narrow victory, so close that many feel to this day the the election was stolen, compliments of Chicago Mayor Dailey.
In 1984, Dems nominated a very competent candidate in former Senator and Vice President Walter Mondale to take on President Reagan.  The first Reagan Administration had started inauspiciously with a severe recession in 1981-82, but with help from Fed Chairman Volcker, Reagan broke the back of the inflation and high interest rates inherited from the Carter years.  By 1984, the financial markets and the economy were back in gear.  Reagan's debate summation put the question simply and concisely: "Are you better off today than you were four years ago," and cemented his landslide victory.
In 2000, VP Al Gore's inane and arrogant performance in debates turned what should have been an easy election win for Dems into a virtual tie, that was ultimately resolved in favor of his opponent, Bush 43.
So here we are in 2012 and 60 million watched an inexplicably listless performance in debate by President Obama.  In contrast, Governor Romney was prepared, aggressive, and battle tested, having gone through so many debates in the GOP primaries.  The debate has reinvigorated his faltering campaign at the same time it took the air out of the Obama campaign balloon, which seemed to be flying high.  The Obama campaign and his media friends are frantically trying to spin this result, pointing to real and imagined factual errors in what, it must be said, was a typically fact free debate.  That effort will play largely as sour grapes.  They promise a better performance next time, but the biggest debate audience has already occurred and early voting in swing states is well under way.
Though it is unlikely to be decisive, the VP debate Thursday night pitting the blustery Joe Biden vs the wonkish Paul Ryan promises to be an interesting exercise.  The prediction here is that we are headed for another dead heat election, similar to 2000 and 2004.  Enthusiasm and turnout will matter a lot.  Down ballot, I expect the GOP to keep control in the House, with the Senate just about evenly split.
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I am enjoying the baseball playoffs and typical of the post-season, we are seeing exciting, if not always well played games.  Best of 5 is a coin flip in baseball, but if it has to be thus, I love the new format with only one travel day and the team with the better record starting with two games on the road.  When those two games are split, the home advantage for the higher seed becomes huge, as it should be.
The wild card play- in games were exciting, and I was thrilled to see the O's win on the road.  The Braves Cards game was marred by a late call by the left field umpire invoking the infield fly rule in short left field.  The Cards' SS was camped under the ball, but hearing the ump unclearly, probably believed he was being called off it by the LF, so the ball dropped untouched.  The runners moved up, but the batter was out as soon as the infield fly rule was invoked.  This led to a spirited argument, but the umps got it right, and the fact is that if the IFR had not been invoked, the SS would have simply caught the ball and nobody would have thought twice about the play.  The late call was just unfortunate.
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There was a time when women in jazz meant singers, like Billy Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and the Divine One, Sarah Vaughn, among others.  There are still great female singers around (my current fave would be Jane Monheit), but the girls are certainly not restricted to that role.  New York's great distaff instrumentalists include pianists Renee Rosnes and Helen Sung, reed star Anat Cohen, and the twenty-something trumpeter (and singer) Bria Skonberg.  Last week, I went to Ms. Skonberg's CD release "party" at Birdland, and an entertaining hour it was, as Bria led a quintet that included young stars Ehud Asherie on piano and Jason Brown on drums.  Naturally, I left with a CD.
If you are in New York on a Friday and are thinking of stopping in to see the Big Band for the early show, please be advised that they are on tour for the month of October, and will be stopping at various points in the Midwest to show off their chops.  They will have Tommy Igoe leading, by the way.  Ably filling in this month is the David Berger Jazz Orchestra.
Here are some October gigs to consider if you're in the area.  The Blue Note (Oct.16-21) has Paquito D'Rivera and Cyrus Chestnut playing in tribute to Dizzy Gillespie.  Oct. 16-20, Nicholas Payton leads a trio at Birdland.  Oct. 26-27, Joshua Redman is the guest star at Lincoln Center's Tribute to John Coltrane.  The New Jersey Performaing Arts Center Jazz Festival (Newark) features pianist Geri Allen in Quartet mode on October 21.  The Bill Charlap Trio takes residence at Village Vanguard October 9-21.  The Bob Sheppard Quartet includes pianist Dave Kikoski at Kitano October 18. In Guilford, CT., Oct 13-14, go to Jeff and Joel's House Party and you will hear Vince Giordano and trombonist Jim Freyer, among others.  Vince and his Nighthawks are also scheduled in Wilton, CT. at St. Matthews Episcopal Church the afternoon of October 21.  Jane Monheit will headline at the 92nd St. Y on November 3.  She also appears as a guest star in Birdland's early gig this Monday, Oct. 15 at 7 PM.  Donald Harrison,  a great tenor player, leads at Dizzy's October 16-17.  Following him in, Oct.18-21 is the Charles McPherson/ Tom Harrell Quintet.  The Thursday night of that gig should be a live feed via internet.  Finally, the George Coleman Organ Quintet, with Mike LaDonne on the keys, headlines at Jazz Standard Oct. 25-28.     
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On 9/27, we bought 600 shares of TATT at 3.74, a value buy, but one not for amateurs.  On the same day, we sold the remaining 1000 shares of FSI International (FSII) from our discount broker at 6.19.  The takeover at 6.20 should close soon, but in our E accounts, we have to pay for tender transactions, so it usually saves money to sell once the price gets close enough to the takeover price.  We paid 2.98 for these shares in June and July of 2011.  We still have shares at the full service broker and those will close soon.  On 10/1, we bought 100 shares of Harsco (HSC) at 20.62, a zero buy.  On 10/4, we added 100 shares of SunTrust Preferred (STI.PR.A) to the IRA account at 23.74.  On 10/5, we sold 100 shares of Lowes (LOW) for 31.26.  We bought these on 12/19/07 for 22.78.

Disclaimer time:  The transactions reported here are merely for the record.  Neither redwavemusings, nor its author are investment advisors.  The securities mentioned here should not be considered  recommendations and may not be suitable for readers (or even authors).  

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