Thursday, January 31, 2013

Hail to the Victors: Michigan Is Number One

Hail to the Victors. It’s about time. The Men’s Swimming and Diving Team is Number One in the nation. Michigan has a strong history in swimming and diving with several national championships and Olympic gold medalists.

Our fight song is The Victors. We celebrate all our champions: men and women’s, individual and team, hockey, baseball, softball, swimming, diving, ice dancing, golf, gymnastics, rowing, tennis, trampoline, wrestling, track and field, and yes, football and basketball. Volleyball and lacrosse will have their day. We celebrate the champion solar car teams.

Hail to the Victors.

Oh yes, men’s basketball is currently ranked first in one poll. Coach John Beilein apparently shares the views of Bo Schembecher; the only poll that matters is the one at the end of the season.

We know deep down that Michigan is a football school, and that basketball is like Rip Van Winkle. The team wakes up every 20 years. Michigan was last number one in 1992, the era of the Fab Five, the era tainted by Ed Martin and the forfeited victories, followed by wandering the basketball wilderness. Tommy Amaker raised the team from basketball death between 2001 and 2007, but he stalled out with a 108-84 record and no NCAA appearances. Some of his losses were blowouts, too painful to watch.

John Beilen came from West Virginia 6 years ago, and therein lies a lesson for athletic directors. His team went 10-22 his first year.

He needed six years to restore Michigan to basketball prominence.

Most AD’s would have pulled the plug after 3-4 years. Michigan stuck with Beilein because he was a winner, the team had to be rebuilt, recruiting was difficult with the aged facilities and limited scholarships, and he was chair of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Ethics Coalition.

Slowly he rebuilt the program in his image, and molded the players he could recruit. His teams were undersized, often playing four guards and a forward. Two of the guards would masquerade as small forwards and the actual forward would be center. DeShawn Sims at 6’8” playing center was a sight to behold.

Coach Beilein’s Wolverines might have been short in height and depth, but never overmatched in intensity. His teams played a tight defense, often with an unconventional 1-3-1 zone to compensate for the lack of height.

He took the team to the NCAA’s the second year, but then slipped to 15-17 his third year. Upsets over highly ranked Duke and UCLA, and victories over stronger rivals Michigan State and Ohio State excited the fan base.

The pieces slowly fell into place, always keyed around an underappreciated point guard coming out of high school. First came Manny Harris, then Darius Morris, and now Trey Burke. Burke’s numbers, ppg and assists, are being compared to another sophomore great in the basketball history of the state of Michigan, Magic Johnson, who is 8 inches taller than the 6’ tall Burke.

Magic’s Michigan State Spartans won the NCAA. Will Trey’s Michigan team follow?

Other players started showing up, including the sons of NBA greats. This year five freshmen are seeing significant playing time with two starting. The players play as a team, not an assemblage of talented, self-centered individuals.

Beilein can recruit, and Michigan wins.

Beilein can coach, and Michigan wins.

Michigan wins, the games sellout in the rebuilt facilities, and the AD smiles.

Success breeds success.

Success builds confidence,which wins games.

The games are exciting to watch, but let’s not get overly excited yet. No team has yet stayed at number I this season for long. Michigan plays at Indiana Saturday night and still plays Ohio State again and Michigan State twice.

The odds are that Michigan will collect at least one more loss in the Big Ten and drop out of the top spot. The final game March 8 is the one that matters.

Men’s swimming and diving might also lose a meet, but Hail to the Victors.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What Has President Obama Done To His Supporters?

What has President Obama done for his supporters, his loyal supporters?

President Obama’s constituency has been extremely loyal to him. Let’s see what their support has brought them – two words: taxes and unemployment.

For example, African Americans and Hispanics have overwhelmingly voted for the President. Their support is not supported in their unemployment rates. The United States unemployment rate rose from 7.3%% in December 2008 to 7.9% in December 2012. The African American unemployment rate jumped from 10.1% to 14% in this period while Hispanics grew to 9.6% from 7.6%.  

I’m not sure what the Blue states reap from the President except taxes and unemployment.

Of the ten states with the highest unemployment rates, seven voted for President Obama: #1 Nevada and Rhode Island with 10.2%, #3 California with 9.8%, #4 New Jersey at 9.6%, #6 Michigan with 8.9%, #7 New Jersey at 8.7%, and # 10 Connecticut at 8.6%. The President might get the woman in Cleveland an “Obamaphone,” but not a job.

Of the ten states with the highest percent of taxpayers with adjusted gross income of $500,000 or more, 9 voted for the President’s reelection: Connecticut #1 with 1.34%, New Jersey #2 at.98%, New York comes in at #3 with .95%, Massachusetts #4 at .94%, California fifth with .72%, Illinois sixth with .67%, Maryland seventh with .65%, Virginia ninth at .60%, and Minnesota tenth with .58%. The 1-2 percenters apparently like being taxed more. The President is willing to accommodate them.

The President has moved “heaven and earth” for the unions, including illegally stacking the NLRB with pro-labor recess appointments. Yet, membership in labor unions continues to fall. Indeed, union membership reached a 70 year low under his watch. The percent of union members in the workforce dropped ½% in 2012 from 11.8% to 11.3%.

Union membership dropped by over 400,000 in 2012. Even the public sector fell by 250,000 unions workers to 35.9% of the public workforce from 37%.

Only 6.6% of the private—sector workforce is unionized today.

President Obama courted college students, historically a liberal bloc, by cutting the interest rate on student loans. However, the June 2012 graduating class faces a 50% unemployment rate. Low interest is good, but jobs are better.

The President promised the middle class he was for them. He said we needed to avoid the fiscal cliff to save the middle class tax cuts. Then why did working middle class members see their payroll taxes rise 2% on January 1, 2013?

Consumers, including the middle class, are experiencing dramatic food and gasoline inflation.

Remember the hug-fest between Governor Christie and President Obama after Tropical Storm Sandy ravaged New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. The President dramatically promised “We will not forget … We will follow up to make sure you get the help you need,” and “Our biggest priority is getting power back on.” The President with Governor Christie’s imprimatur secured the Tri-state vote. Many survivors on Staten Island still lack heat, electricity, running water, or even housing. FEMA has not come through. The media savaged President Bush for less, but President Obama vacationed in Hawaii.

The President has inadvertently become the greatest pitchman for the gun industry. Gun and ammo sales are booming because of his proposed curbs on the industry.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Two Buck Chuck: The Canary in the Coal Mine

Coal Miners carried canaries underground into the mines. If a canary keeled over and passed out or died, then the miners rushed out of the mine because the gasses, such as carbon dioxide or methane, reached deadly levels in the mine.

Trader Joe’s most famous product is Charles Shaw,a brand name for wines, such as  cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, merlot, pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc, shiraz, vaudieguie, and white zinfandel. Charles Shaw, produced by Bronco Wine Company, is best known as Two Buck Chuck. It sold for $1.99 in California for 11 years. Boone’s Farm, Thunderbird, and Bartles & James had their day in the sun, but only Two Buck Chuck is sold by Trader Joe’s - about 5 million cases last year. Trader Joe's out-Galloed Gallo.

Trader Joe’s raised the price of Two Buck Chuck 25% on January 16 to $2.49. That’s inflation. The new nicknames for Two Buck Chuck are Upchuck and Inflation Chuck.

A bottle of Inflation Chuck’s Cabernet Sauvignon quaffing Subway’s 11” footlong sub tells it all – food inflation.

Prices rise and sizes decrease throughout the food industry, but the 25% increase in Two Buck Chuck is the canary in the coal mine. It hits us with inflation.

We’re used to volatility in meats, fruits, and produce, but not the steady as a rock Two Buck Chuck. It’s a rude awakening.

The government tells us inflation is under control. The official rate of inflation from December 2011 to December 2012 is 1.7% with food rising 1.8%, down from 4.7% the preceding year. Fuel rose 1.7%.

Prices at the supermarket belie the government’s 1.8% figure. Prices shoot up while sizes drop. For example, 16 oz. is now 14.4oz, a ten percent cut.

Energy prices are rising, driving up costs throughout America.

Oil is rising again, for seemingly little discernible reason. Actually, the doubling of oil in recent years is the result of the fall of the dollar over the past decade. Oil is traded internationally in dollars. As the dollar falls, the sellers of oil want more dollars in exchange.

One sign of inflation is rising commodity prices, such as copper and oil.

Inflation is a major threat because the Fed has been printing money, about $85 billion monthly to buy back bonds and mortgages under “quantitative easing,” QE3. It has printed about two trillion dollars in 4 years.

A second major factor, in addition to the supply of money, is its velocity. Banks, for now, are sitting on the money from the Fed. When they start issuing it out, such as in loans, inflation will heat up. Money will flood the economy.

President Obama’s inauguration speech was not reassuring. He wants to raise taxes, but not curb spending in the three entitlement programs driving the trillion dollar deficits: Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. These programs are unsustainable in their current state.

Purchasers of the government’s debt will soon be demanding higher interest rates to offset the increased risks.

The risks are even greater for state and local governments with shaky finances.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Arnold Schwarzenegger's Last Stand

The Terminator left Hollywood at his peak in 2003 to win a recall election as Governor of California. His premiere was SRO. He cut taxes, especially the despised car tax, and reined in spending. Pundits were speculating about amending the Constitution to let the Austrian-born citizen run for the Presidency.

He should have left the Governorship then. Instead, success fed his ego. Indeed, Californians learned he lives for acclaim. If the political winds change, then his politics change.

The Governator offers an important lesson for President Obama. You’re riding high, and it goes to your head. The lives of both have been an unparalleled success. Then the hubris kicks in.

The Governor was at a high 65% popularity rate when he derisively referred to picketing nurses outside a 10,000 woman conference in Long Beach: “Pay no interest … to special interests. I am always kicking their butts.”  He also called some politicians as “girlie men.”

The nurses kicked the Governator’s butt within a year. They defeated his four November 2005 ballot measures to reform California’s budget. The 65,000 California Nurses Association picketed him everywhere, including fundraisers in Boston and New York.

The New York fundraiser showed the movie brave Terminator desperately scampering for a refuge from the nurses. The nurses proved the Terminator lacked cojones. His body may have pumped up on steroids, and his head swelled, but his need for adoration trumped any political convictions.

Schwarzenegger shifted gears. He hired a partisan Democrat as his chief of staff, and then joined the tax and spend crowd in Sacramento, riding the state into economic chaos.  He did neither the citizens of California nor the California Republican Party any favors.

He left office a political failure, as well as the father of an illegitimate son by his housekeeper. The family resemblance is unmistakable. No DNA test is needed. Maria said “Hasta La Vista, Baby.”

The Governator replied “He’ll be back.”

And so he is in The Last Stand, which premiered last weekend. His film career picked up where his political career and personal life left off.

It bombed, coming in tenth with but $6.3 million in sales. Someone should tell The Terminator, Sylvester Stallone, and Bruce Willis that Americans are not interested in watching 65 year old paunchy action heroes. Unfortunately the trio will die hard, emulating Custer's Last Stand.

They should look to the 82 year old Clint Eastwood for guidance in selecting movies.

The Governator lost to a consummate, accomplished wispy actress, Jessica Chastain, who starred in the two biggest grossing movies, Mama with $28.1 million in receipts and Zero Dark Thirty with $17.6 million. She can act.

He accompanied the bomb with two statements. First, he defended movie violence, at which he excelled, as just being entertainment, and thus unrelated to violent shootings, and that he is still in love with Maria; he wants her back.

He failed a basic lesson. Kennedy men may cheat, but spouses of Kennedy women do not cheat on a Kennedy.

He should retire to the $20 million political think tank he recently endowed at USC. He could teach a course in “Lessons from Failures.”

Monday, January 21, 2013

President Obama's Three Insurmountable Challenges in His Second Term

President Barack Hussein Obama was formally sworn in yesterday as President and publicly today.

His inauguration speech today laid out his marker for the second term. His agenda is the progressive agenda. No need to camouflage it anymore:  climate change, equal pay for women, gay rights, immigration reform, preservation of the Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security entitlements, reforming the tax code and our schools, and sustainable energy.

President Kennedy 52 years ago asked what you could do for your country. President Obama answered what the country will do or you, or at least those in his new Democratic coalition.

There was no subtlety or obfuscation in the speech. No reaching out. The President is not a gracious winner.

He earlier made it clear that he would not negotiate. He views every major political debate as a battle until the Republicans surrender or he crushes them. President Obama knows the right way.

He will use the Bully Pulpit with the help of a compliant media to beat the Republicans into submission. The examples of profound media bias are seemingly infinite, but the words of John Dickerson, political director for CBS News, over the weekend exemplify this reality.

The reporter wrote in Slate Magazine that the President must declare war on the Republicans. The President “can only cement his legacy if he destroys the GOP.” He “must go for the throat.” CBS’ Bob Schieffer uttered similar statements over gun control. Andrea Mitchell was a veritable cheerleader for the President during the debates.

The House Republicans are not the Washington Generals. The more he ignores or humiliates them, the more united they become.

His arrogance is reflected in his rhetoric. He is enamored of his rhetorical skills. He speaks beautiful poetry, but it doesn’t move people. For example, the more he spoke out on the need to pass comprehensive health care reform, the more the public turned on it. The public tunes out his rhetorical flourishes.

He cannot defeat the delays inherent in the Congressional process. Every day gets us closer to the 2014 midterm elections. His arrogance is causing him to submit to the Senate nominees, such as former Senator Chuck Hagel, who will consume valuable days of Senate debate.             

Hubris is a terrible curse: “First the gods build you up, and then they bring you down.” President Obama said “I did it a few days ago.”

Yes he did. He defied the traditional odds to win a convincing reelection: higher unemployment than any reelected President, passage of an unpopular healthcare act, contempt for those who “made it in America,”

He won, and because he won, he feels vindicated in his policies of income redistribution.

The President won; he can carry through on the unfinished business of the first term.

President Obama won; he’s entitled to his progressive agenda.

That’s the hubris.

The President controls less of the future than he might believe.

If Benghazi and Fort Hood are indicative, he responds poorly to events outside his narrow, myopic vision.

His neglect of the weak economy will lead to another major economic disruption. Another stock market collapse or a surge in inflation can strike at any time.

We should not though underestimate the President. He has the will to carry out his agenda.

He has the will to fulfill his mission.

The unknown is when his arrogance and hubris will doom his Presidency.

Then there is the Vice President who just can’t control what he says. He said last Saturday at the Iowa ball “I’m proud to be President of the United States.” His gaffes will become an embarrassment for the President.

President Obama won reelection, but it was not a joyful election. The voters enthusiasm was lacking. The honeymoon will be short. 

But the arrogance and hubris will remain.