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Thursday, January 16, 2014


Special Polar Vortex Post

The cold weather is headed back to the Northeast again next week, though nothing like the misery we endured a couple of weeks ago.  Of course, y'all understand that the reason the polar vortex descended this far south is...global warming. 

I guess the only thing not being blamed on global warming these days is the mysterious closing of certain lanes on the Jersey entrance to the George Washington Bridge.  On the contrary, the e-mail evidence clearly indicates that those lanes were closed by Governor Christie's out-of-control campaign staff.  Reminiscent of a certain Presidential re-elect campaign (1972 to be exact), owning a one-sided lead doesn't seem to bring about caution and safety first tactics to political zealots; instead they become emboldened and reckless.  Geez, even football players know enough to run out the clock when you're way ahead.

Still, the story of this "scandal" has been a source of endless amusement for the working press and TV's talking heads.  And for good reason.  The only thing more hilarious in this new year was the fine and benching incurred by the Knicks' J.R. Smith for attempting to untie the shoes of his opponents during play.  I can't understand why the powers that be don't see the humor in this antic, but they don't.  The way I look at it, if you can't or won't defend your man properly,  you need to find creative ways to slow him down.

The major beneficiaries of the Bridge story have, of course been the hapless and hopeless members of the Obama Administration in D.C., since it served to push their daily failings to the (often unread) middle pages.  Unlike their Johnny on the spot fellow Dems in New Jersey, who have rapidly initiated not one but two investigations into bridge-gate, the Obama gang has apparently concluded there is no reason to investigate anyone with regard to IRS-gate, the infamous targeting of conservative groups that severely hamstrung the Romney campaign last year.  The FBI, for one, which reports to the Attorney General as I recall, has apparently determined that no one is really responsible, even without performing an investigation.  So we should be glad that for once, no money will be spent I guess.  Of course, the Attorney General is way too busy criminalizing normal business activities to be bothered with an actual crime.

This lethargy when it comes to actual issues that should be investigated is of the same mold as the Administration's response to Benghazi, its failure to maintain any order in Iraq (and we are headed for the same end in Afghanistan), and its ineptitude in implementing PPACA.  Of course, when it comes to pursuing its own objectives in the face of Congressional intransigence, the Obama folks have become very energetic about circumventing the Constitution.  So today, Obama floated the trial balloon that if Congress won't enact an increase in the minimum wage, he'll simply issue another executive order to do it.  You would think that the Administration would be tired of getting slapped down by the Courts on all of these extra-constituional moves.  The most recent (of many) of these slap-downs involved the DC Circuit's dismantling of the FCC's net neutrality rules.  It looks like another one is coming (based on oral argument) when the Supreme's explain to Obama that for him to make a recess appointment, Congress actually has to be in recess.  That didn't bother the Administration when it appointed Richard Cordray as head of the new Consumer Protection Bureau, and when it filled out the Labor Relations Board with union cronies.

The point of all this is that we have an Administration that runs the Federal Government as if we were some banana republic, and whose foreign policy choices have left us at grave risk in the Middle East, in East Asia,  and caused us to lose the peace in Iraq.  In fact, it appears that a renewal of the centuries old civil war in Islam (The Great Schism) is underway between Sunni's and Shiites.  This is no place for the faint of heart, so my advice to Mr. Obama in this case would be to follow his instinct and get our kids out of Dodge.  Syria is now such a mess, we don't even know who to root for, since the opposition is split between Al Qaeda and the moderates we favor.  Somehow, when Assad exterminates Al Qaeda, he's not so bad.  But in reality, he is being propped up by Iran and its proxy Hezbollah, and those are really not our friends. Meanwhile, John Kerry's shuttle diplomacy between the Palestinian territories and Israel has yielded little except for a harsh condemnation from an Israeli official, making the often heard complaint that if it's bad to be our enemy, it's really dangerous to be our friend.  For that, Israel was harshly rebuked by a State Department spokesman (as if to prove my point).  While it was a very touching display of loyalty to the Secretary, one would have thought that maybe State's employees might have thicker skins, being career diplomats and all that.

So I guess one would have to conclude that all of the above, including the President's falling (39%) job approval rating, is because of...global warming.  That's as good an explanation as any, right?             

By the way, the increasing hostility of the courts to Obama's methods makes it all the more troublesome that Senator Reid resorted to the nuclear option to remove the filibuster and stack the DC Court with progressives.  Republicans should remember that cold blooded tactic when they reorganize the Senate (under their control) in 2015.  There will be no reason to worry about protecting the minority's rights after having theirs trampled in this session.

In case you didn't know (and why should you), we are approaching the Winter Olympics, coming to you live on tape from some Godforsaken Black Sea resort in Russia.  There is genuine, and well founded concern about security at these Games, given the disposition of Chechen and other Islamic folks in that part of the world.  Regardless, I make it a point to ignore as much of the Olympics as possible so as Hawkeye Pierce famously said, the instrument hasn't yet been invented that can measure my indifference.  In our era of the professional Olympian, is there any greater hypocrisy than the so-called "Olympic ideal" which viewers will hear about endlessly from opening to closing ceremony.  For my part, the Olympics resonated when we sent true amateurs to the game, great athletes though they were, even if it meant taking on the pros from the autocratic countries.  Now -nothing.  The other thing that sickens me is the concept of the veteran Olympian.  So Tiger Woods' girl friend being unable to ski in her third or fourth olympics due to injury doesn't exactly break my heart.  I don't like to see any athlete get hurt, but really, give someone else a chance.  If it were up to me, athletes could compete in a maximum of two Olympics, and coaches maybe two or three. 

I have to admit that when stuck watching the closing ceremony, the command that the youth of the world should reconvene in four years at the next site leaves me ROTFLMAO.  Youth?  Maybe at their first Olympics, but by your third Olympics, you ain't that young anymore.
We're changing the format for the investment recap, going for a little more economy.  Here goes.
Purchases since the last post
Date           Symbol        Shares         Price       Comment
12/20          STI.PR.A     100            18.64     Suntrust Preferred
12/27          ENI              200            14.78     value buy
1/2              BRLI            100            25.47     zero buy
1/3              TIP                20            110.15     ETF
1/3              GNE             200            10.19     value buy
1/6              FAST            50              46.68     Zero buy
1/7              MET.PR.B    100            24.96     MetLife Preferred  
1/14            NR                200            11.80     value buy - the "Tulane portfolio"

Sales since the last post
12/20          USAK           200             13.82    paid 4.79 on 6/25/12
12/23          RAVN           100              42.26   paid 30.68 on 8/31/12
12/24          HAUP           2,800            0.17    That's the last of 'em.  They can't all be gems.
12/26          AAON            100            32.11    Paid 4.27 on 1/26/05
1/2              ABC                100            70.11    paid 14.34 (adjusted for split) on 11/29/01
1/8              SFE                   83             19.90   paid 13.38 on 6/21/04
1/10            TMO                 25            114.48  paid 19.88 on 1/13/03
1/13            LFUS                50             92.34   paid 25.63 on 11/13/00

Monday, we got the good news of a takeover offer for our BEAM shares that pushed the stock up about 15 points.  All in, including dividends, our accounts were up 24% for 2013, a good job considering how much we keep in cash, preferreds, and muni's.  Returns matter, but risk adjusted returns are important to consider.  Markets do fall out of bed. 

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