Friday, August 31, 2012

Random Reflections on the GOP and Democratic National Conventions

Here are my random reflections from the GOP and Democratic National Conventions

I have none.

I did not watch the GOP Convention on TV, and out of a spirit of equal time will not watch the Democratic Convention.

The mainstream media, out of a capitalistic, free market, profit maximizing mentality has decided to no longer cover the conventions gavel to gavel. In essence only a few hours of key speeches, mainly from the Presidential and Vice Presidential nominees are covered live. 

Ironic that the mainstream reporters and commentators, who are overwhelmingly anti-business, work for capitalistic institutions!

If you want the real deal you need to watch FoxNews or a few other cable channels. which will even replay the live broadcasts. FoxNews incidentally had higher viewership than the major networks.

Anything worthwhile can be immediately downloaded on the internet today.

The networks are big with commentary on what they didn’t broadcast, which is analogous to Attorney General Eric Holder proclaiming Arizona’s SB 1070 to be unconstitutional without having read the statute, or then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi telling Congress, reporters and the American people that we have to approve ObamaCare to find out what’s in the Act.

I did not watch the GOP Convention because the Die is already cast in the election.

Either the American people will vote for jobs or for unsustainable government benefits.

Most Americans have made up their mind. Whether or not they are honest with pollsters is irrelevant. Whether or not pollsters over or under sample Democrats or Republicans or likely to vote voters is irrelevant.

Americans know how they are going to vote.

Even a blizzard on election day will not keep anti-Obama Americans from the polls.

That is the President’s problem this time. He had the enthusiasm four years ago. He was the shining beacon of light Americans were drawn to. He was the hope and change of the future. He was the unifying force in America.

Now he’s simply a failure, a beaten down failure, attempting to scare Americans into voting for him by demonizing his opponents. His speeches are heard for what they are - beautifully delivered vacuous words and passages. The more he communicates, the more he sounds like a broken record. We now recognize, as Gertrude Stein once famously said of Oakland “There is no there, there.”

Clint Eastwood portrayed the President as an empty chair, a metaphor for an empty suit.

"Yes, we can" became "No we can't and didn't."

President obama's opponents, the American people, have the enthusiasm this year, as they did in 2010.

James Carville coined the phrase for President Clinton “It’s the economy, stupid.” Governor Romney essentially revised it to “It’s jobs, stupid.”

Not even a Missouri Senate candidate will turn this election into one on social issues. It's JOBS!

President Obama is avidly courting the youth vote, especially college students. The young are historically more liberal and idealistic than their elders, and hence drawn to Democratic candidates..

Even today’s youth have to understand that they have only a 50% chance of obtaining a job upon graduation in President Obama’s economy.

Students are not stupid; neither are the American people.

President Lincoln, also from Illinois, famously said “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all of the time.”

Of course, if the American voters decide they prefer government benefits to jobs, they will soon learn they will have neither, just like Greece.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Michigan Fearless Prediction for 2012

Michigan Plays Alabama Tomorrow to Open the 2012 Football Season

How will the University of Michigan Wolverines, Team 133, do this year?

If I had predicted last year that team 132 would be 11-2 under a new coach, you would have asked to see my California medical marijuana prescription (there isn’t one).

If I were now to predict that Team 133 will go 11-2, or possibly 12-2, this year, you will probably also ask to see the same non-existent prescription.

Michigan, the winningest college football program, had just suffered through three disastrous years under a coach whose name shall no longer be mentioned in Ann Arbor.

Brady Hoke, the new coach, proved to be the second coming of Bo Schembechler. The stars lined up. Three of the toughest opponents, Notre Dame, Nebraska, and Ohio State were home games. Only Michigan State was an away game. Penn State and Wisconsin were not on the schedule. Virginia Tech’s kicker missed a field goal in overtime as Michigan won the Sugar Bowl. Team 132 also escaped crippling injuries.

Notre Dame, Nebraska, and Ohio State are away games this year, as is the opener with Alabama in Texas. Alabama, Notre Dame and Nebraska are under the lights, not Michigan’s favorite time to play. Notre Dame has lost the last three games to Michigan in the final seconds, as The Fighting Irish snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. They feel they’re due one in the shadow of Touchdown Jesus.

The Ohio State University is on probation and ineligible for post season play this year. Thus, their “Bowl Game” will be in Columbus on November 24 against Michigan.

Alabama is the defending national champion and favored to win. The odds today always favor the SEC to beat the Big Ten. Alabama is a 12½ point favorite. Michigan will show up to play.

You have to beat the best to be the best.

Michigan went 11-2 last year with the previous coach’s recruits. This year team lacks depth at several critical positions. Let’s hope the Michigan family hasn’t built up false expectations from last year’s success.

Most pre-season polls place Michigan in the top ten. Bo said the only poll that counts is the one at the end of the season.

If Brady Hoke is a great coach, then he can beat yours with his, and his with yours. We’ll see.

Let’s assume Michigan sweeps the slate at home, Air Force, UMass, Illinois, Northwestern, Iowa and even Michigan State at home, as well as Purdue and Minnesota on the road. That gets Michigan 8 victories. Michigan must beat Michigan State this year in Ann Arbor. Sparty has won the last four against Michigan.
That’s unacceptable in Ann Arbor.

The Wolverines would then have to win at least two of four against Alabama, Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State, as well perhaps as the Big Ten Championship game before a bowl game.

Doable – Yes, but Michigan is probably a year away.

Thus 8-4 or 9-3 is the probable outcome.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Governor Jerry Brown of California Reached an Agreement to Reform Public Employee Pensions. Or Did They?

Governor Jerry Brown reached a Pension Reform Deal With the Legislature. Or Did He?

Governor Jerry Brown announced an agreement yesterday with the Democratic leaders of the California legislature to reform public pensions in the state.

Or did they?

Union leaders reacted, to take a phrase from Vice President Biden, like “squealed pigs.”

Or they did?

Was it strum and drum, or simply Kabuki?

The Governor, Democratic legislators, and the public employee unions are in a quandary.

They desperately want the voters to approve a massive tax increase in November. They know though from the votes in San Diego and San Jose that the voters, even liberal Democratic voters, are fed up with the public employee unions, which are viewed as looting the public fisc.

The pension funds are short hundreds of billions of dollars to cover the projected long-term pension liabilities for current employees. Cities are galloping into bankruptcy because of the pension and health expenditures.

The voters are in a surly mood, but voting Republican is not an option in many legislative districts.

The political and union leaders believe the voters will not approve a tax increase unless the legislature enacts pension reform.

The Democratic leaders and the individual Senators and representatives understand it is political suicide to buck the union leaders.

Governor Brown calls the reforms “a radical change.” A better term would be a “cosmetic change.”

He claims that the reforms will save $18 billion over three decades. That’s $600 million annually, or chump change in the budget and pension deficiencies. The state, school districts and local governments are already paying extra to the pension funds to cover the obligations. CalPers, the major public pension plan, says it will be unable to estimate any cost savings until after the November election.

The Legislature had an opportunity to act earlier in the year on the Governor’s proposals, but ignored them. The legislative session ends Friday.

Suddenly, after a two hour discussion, an agreement is reached, supposedly without union representatives present.

If you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn or to Oakland for sale.

A few major changes occur, but the practical impact will be small. View it as a start.

The Devil is in the details.

The Governor had proposed that pensions become 401(k)’s rather than defined benefits. That’s history. The risk therefore remains on the state, and hence the taxpayers.

Second, most of the changes apply to new employees rather than current employees. The near term savings will therefore be minimal. Current employees with the hundred billion shortfall will feel little pain.

The current retirement plans for public sector employees, ignoring police and fire, are more generous than private pension plans, but far somewhat short of Greece.

Government employees can retire as early as 50 but can wait for full retirement at 63. At 63 they earn 2.4% of their highest annual salary times the number of years of employment. “Spiking” is a common practice in the last year of employment in that cooperative bosses let employees rack up large amounts of overtime, which are used to calculate the base salary for pension purposes.

The proposal will raise the minimum age of retirement to 52 with full retirement at 67. The multiplier percent rate will increase to 2.5% though.

It’s magic; you take with one hand and give back with the other.

Spiking will now be moderated by looking not to the highest year, but the average of the three most recent years of employment. That’s a start.

A cap will be placed on pensions of $110,000 annually if the beneficiary is receiving social security or $132,000 if not. This reform is estimated to apply to only 3% of the pensioners.

Employees will now also be required to contribute up to 50% of the costs.

It’s a start.

The changes though do not apply to charter cities, such as Los Angeles, which is careening towards bankruptcy. Nor do they apply to the University of California system.

The Governor and legislature have also not addressed the exploding health care costs.

Let’s do some simple math.

The proposed tax increases are optimistically estimated to raise $6 billion annually. They won’t. More entrepreneurs and businesses will flee the state.

The current projected state budget deficit has risen to $19 billion. The pension reforms, if not changed by future legislatures, will save $600 million annually.

$6 billion and  $600 million are substantially short of $19 billion.

The math doesn’t add up.

As President George H. W. Bush will say: California “is in deep doo doo.”

Monday, August 27, 2012

Congressman Todd Akin Is Still in a State of Denial

Congressman Todd Akin listened to God in deciding to run for the Senate. He listened to Governor Mike Huckabee in deciding to stay in the race.

He apologized and seeks forgiveness for the misuse of one word. God, Jesus and Christians forgive. Voters may not. Senator Claire McCaskill is praying daily for Congressman Akin to remain in the race.

He’s appealing to his base for funds to stay in the race, $3 each. About $200,000 has come in so far.

Todd Akin is, in his mind and the extreme Pro-Life Movement, a soldier in the anti-abortion crusade.

No, he’s not.

He’s a true believer, a zealot, and a fool. If he loses he will call himself a martyr for abortion opponents.

He’s deceiving himself and his supporters. In a radio interview with Governor Huckabee, he called himself “Braveheart.”

As a true soldier he would drop out, recognizing that he is hurting his cause both in Missouri and nationally.

If the race were a contest between Pro-Life and Pro-Choice, he would win because the incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill has a ton of baggage.

If the race were between the rights of the unborn versus those of the woman, he could win because Senator Claire McCaskill is an embarrassment to Missouri.

He could perhaps be forgiven for using “legitimate” rape versus “forcible” rape, but that’s not the problem.

It’s his incredibly stupid, medically na├»ve statement about raped woman’s bodies being incapable of impregnation that’s the problem: “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

He doesn’t get it; they don’t get it. He did not apologize or even acknowledge this inane thought.

He just doesn’t get it because he is still in a state of denial.

His statement is an embarrassment to Missouri and Republicans nationally.

He went from up 5 to down 10.

He can come back if he muzzles himself. There’s enough time; his gaffe was early in the campaign.

If, If, If.

If only he can zipper his lips between now and November 6. Maybe he will exercise self-discipline, or he will become known as the Republican equivalent of Vice President Biden. The media will scrutinize his every statement.

He can win because the Democrats could overplay their hand.

The Congressman though has a track record at the extreme right of the Republican Party. The Democrats will bombard the airways with his past statements about social security and student loans. The Republican Party dares not reinvest in his campaign because it will lend life to the Democrats’ canard that Governor Romney and the Republicans are waging a war against women.

He will lack the funds to counter the onslaught.

The Republican Party survived a faux Republican two decades ago. David Duke, a former Grand Wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, switched from Democrat to Republican to win a special election to the Louisiana House of representatives in 1988. He then unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 1990.

The Republican Party disavowed David Duke. His future campaigns were also a failure.

Republicans survived because the American people recognized David Duke was an extremist who did not represent the mainstream of the Party.

 The challenge for Republicans over the next two months is to distance themselves from Congressman Akin, who may still win in Missouri.

Both Congressman Akin and Senator McCaskill are an embarrassment to Missouri. One of them is destined to win.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Made in Everywhere But America

I noticed that an Angels cap I bought at Angels Stadium said "Made in china." Then I noticed that an Angels jersey from Costco said "Made in Swaziland."

Made in Swaziland?

Yes, Made in Swaziland!

As the song goes, "Something's happening here, but I'm not exactly clear what it is."

Then I knew.

I remembered a lesson from my high school economics class. We had a new, energetic teacher who assigned a non-traditional textbook by Robert Heilbroner, The Worldly Philosophers, or maybe it was the just published The Making of Economic Society. I'm fairly certain it was the first. Either way it was fascinating and I became an Econ major in college. The high school class was much more interesting than the 5 hour Macro Economics course.

Here's the lesson.

An impoverished country trying to create jobs will turn to textiles. The cost of human labor is cheap for those countries. They can mass produce textiles cheaper than any industrialized country with high wages.

Check where your school and sports team apparel were made.

I have T-shirts and sweatshirts from Michigan, USF, Chapman, University of Washington, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Cal Western, and LSU (don't ask).

They were made in Cambodia, China, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras,  Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Swaziland, and Vietnam. Most were from Latin America with Honduras in the lead.

The only items from the United States were decades old or from Crazy Shirts.

Crazy Shirts is an example of the few exceptions to the drive to imported apparel. Either the domestic provider provides a value added product, such as uniqueness, for which consumers will pay a premium, or a higher quality product. Crazy Shirts meets both exceptions.

How many suppliers of sport apparel offer unique or high quality merchandise?

Hence the shift offshore.

How important is the textile/apparel industry to an economy?

It started America's Industrial Revolution.

England relied on its textile industry two centuries ago for economic success. It forbad the export of textile machines, specifications, and drawings.

Francis Cabot Lowell visited several English mills in 1811 prior to the War of 1812. He memorized the workings of the British mills. He and a few fellow investors built a mill in Waltham, Massachusetts. Business was so good they expanded to Lowell, Chicopee, Manchester, and Lawrence. The Industrial Revolution was born in Massachusetts, based on water power.

In a sign of the future, the textile industry migrated decades later to the South. Labor was cheaper in the South.

The U.S. Olympics Team apparel could have been "Made in the United States," but the major American suppliers don't look to the United States anymore. They like the large profit margins from the Third World.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Neil Diamond's Hot August Night 40th Anniversary Performances

5800 senior citizens showed up last night at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park for a reunion, the revival of Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show, also known as the 40th Anniversary of the Neil Diamond Hot August Night Tour at the Greek Amphitheater.

Neil Diamond started a world tour 40 years ago with Hot Night in August 1972 with a live recording at the Greek. Today's audience came to relive the experience. Thus, they left their canes, walkers, and wheel chairs outside. They came in their BMW’s, Mercedes, and Lexus.’ They did not look for the tree seats this time. They are the survivors who came to reaffirm their belief in the man.

An age limit was apparently imposed on the audience – no one seemingly between 12 and 40 was allowed in unless they were working for the Greek. This concert is for the geezers. We have money to spend and memories to enjoy.

He returned for 5 nights this August to reprise The Hot August Nights as part of a new world tour. The August nights may have been hot 40 years ago, and certainly last week, but the heat wave broke. It was 66 last night during the concert. The only ones hot were Neil and his band.

Neil Diamond asked how many were here 40 years ago? Almost all raised their hands, just like 5 million say they were at Woodstock.

Much has changed in the past 40 years. The Greek has been shrunken and enlarged. Rows of bright red seats sit on steel bleachers – not your normal amphitheater architecture. The steel matches the hip and knee replacements, stents, and pace makers in the crowd.

The crooner has also changed. He’s now 71, not 41. He’s simply not capable of performing some of the athletic skits he was known for. He no longer performs back to back shows or 10 straight nights as in decades back.

He’s on his third wife, marrying on April 21, 2012 43 year old Katie McNeil. She must be doing something right because he was on stage for 2 hours and 20 minutes without an intermission. He can still sing, even if he can’t carry all of the notes of the past. View this tour as his extended honeymoon.

Neil Diamond is no longer A Solitary Man. His band and backup singers today consist of 14 musicians. Behind them was a conductor leading a strings band of about 20. The music though did not drown out the singing unlike other performers who will remain unmentioned, but instead highlighted the greatness of Neil Diamond's songwriting and composition talents.

He’s doing his best to revive the American economy.

He doesn’t perform new songs. Why should he? He has a gold mine of great songs, unlike most of today’s performers who have one or two hits which will not survive for decades.

Nor can he perform all his hits in a concert. There are simply too many.

He sang many of his classics, Shilo, Cracklin’ Rosie, Soolaimon, Kentucky Woman, You Don’t Bring Me Flowers, Girl, You’re Be a Woman Soon, Holly Holy, Cheery Cheery, Forever in Blue Jeans, Play Me. One song he sang five times, Sweet Caroline. It’s his most famous song today, known to many sports fans because it has become an anthem sung at games (albeit as of a few days ago not at Penn State). He performed it five times last night, a few more times than needed.

For the fourth round he called up a friend from the audience to be the lead singer. Who would have thought that the actor-comedian Jack Black has a good voice?

The fifth round involved letting the audience lead the song.

My favorite version of Sweet Caroline was not last night, but on November 26, 2011 in Michigan Stadium when 110,000 Wolverines gleefully sang Sweet Caroline. Carmen Ohio was not going to ring through the Big House last year, as Michigan quenched a seven year drought by beating the Buckeyes.

I Am a Believer.

He followed Sweet Caroline with the poignant “I Am, I Said.” The lyrics were felt by all because no one in LA is from LA:

        Well, I’m New York City born and raised
        But now I’m caught between two shores
        L.A.’s fine, but it ain’t home –
        New York’s home, but it ain’t mine no more

And then comes the chorus:

         I am, I cried!
         I am, said I.
         And I am lost, and I cannot even say why.

His encore started with Coming to America. He talked about his grandmother who left Kiev at age 10 to come to America. He did not talk about its use as a campaign song and theme in 1988 by Governor Dukakis, who coincidentally found his salvation at UCLA.

Neil Diamond has long found his home. His home is the stage.