Monthly Archives: August 2011

Mad Dog and Really Mad Men

Well, it looks as though Mad Dog Qaddafi is about to join the ranks of the unemployed, or enter the chapter eternal, as they like to say in the college frat biz. And from what I could tell from TV reports while chasing the treadmill belt early this a.m., he went out with more of a whimper than a bang.

Wonder if he had already made his reservation for an extended stay at the Caracas Holiday Inn?

In any event, let’s keep our fingers and toes crossed that the new leaders in Libya really do have some commitments to political and personal freedom.  We’ll see.

Next in the high stakes game of international regime change?

Bashar al-Assad, come on down.

Let’s hope that he decides to go with a whimper rather than with a bang. Syria appears to have some military muscle that might make things a little more dicey in that country if and when fundraisers for the Arab Spring come knocking on the palace door.

And talking about really mad men, what’s up with the shootings and brawls at the San Francisco-Oakland football game over the weekend? Good grief. It’s just football — and a preseason game at that.

Here’s from the NYT, “In California, a Second Episode of Fan Violence“:

For the second time in less than five months, officials in California are investigating a violent event involving sports fans, after two people were shot Saturday in the parking lot of Candlestick Park in San Francisco following a professional football game.

The shootings occurred after a National Football League preseason game in which the 49ers defeated the Raiders, 17-3. A 24-year-old man suffered life-threatening injuries and another man in his 20s was hospitalized with less serious wounds, according to the San Francisco Police Department.

Details of the shootings and names of the victims have not been released by the police.

The shootings follow a confrontation at a baseball game in March when a San Francisco Giants fan was severely beaten in the Dodger Stadium parking lot after opening day. Two Los Angeles Dodgers fans have been charged.

Experts say that fan violence — especially postgame, perhaps aggravated by alcohol — can play out in parking lots and out of the view of stadium security, sometimes to deadly effect.

“There is a culture of aggression and masculinity that permeates out onto the fans,” said William Wiener, a sports psychologist in private practice in Manhattan.

“Having a conflict and not backing down seems more appropriate in this environment for some,” he said. “It becomes an outlet for their life’s aggression.”

This type of mayhem is commonplace at soccer matches throughout the world. Do we really want to see that happen in this country?

Folks, c’mon. Get a grip. It’s American football, a game being played by well-paid mercenaries employed by corporations that get tax breaks way beyond anything available to other businesses.

And as we’ve seen during this Arab Spring, there are plenty of people willing to put their life at risk for what they believe in — but I can guarantee that a sporting event is not worth taking a belly full of lead or possibly dying in a parking lot for.

Just sayin’.

 

The Prez on Vacation: Would You Stay Home?

OK. The Prez headed to Martha’s Vineyard yesterday to start his nine-day vacation. I don’t have a problem with that. He merits some time off from work just like anyone else. But that’s the rub. Millions of Americans aren’t working and might not find a job anytime soon. And the Prez says he has a plan to spur job creation — but we will have to wait until after Labor Day to learn the details.

Woo hoo.

So I guess we might as well all chill along with the Prez and members of Congress and the other miscreants who flee DC for all or most of August.

To quote the great American philosopher Zac Brown:

I got my toes in the water, ass in the sand
Not a worry in the world, a cold beer in my hand
Life is good today, life is good today

Clearly,  the angst over a president’s vacation — or not — or about rounding up members of Congress and making them return to DC — or not — is all about perception. And the perception among many in this country as expressed in recent public polls is that neither the administration nor Congress are doing much, if anything, to address the big issues of jobs and economic growth.

And the perception is that things are getting worse, with no solutions, certainly no easy solutions, in sight. Here’s from WaPo, “Stock markets are walloped by another sell-off as fears of recession build“:

“I think the risk now is that we fall into another recession,” said Patrick Newport, an economist at IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Mass. “I think the risks have just changed very dramatically in the last couple of months. People are spooked.”

Data from the National Association of Realtors, a trade group, painted a disappointing picture of the housing market, with sales of existing homes falling 3.5 percent in July to 4.67 million, the lowest rate in eight months. Economists had been expecting sales closer to 5 million.

“Just as mortgage rates are dropping, people are not applying to buy homes,” Newport said.

Jobless claims rise

The latest figures on unemployment, considered another key piece in any recovery, also proved disconcerting. The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly unemployment benefits again rose above the 400,000 level last week, a benchmark figure that many economists take as a sign of a declining economic trajectory.

“Right now, it’s all about jobs in the U.S.,” said Kurt Rankin, an economist at PNC Financial Services Group. “Nothing is going to happen in the U.S. until some jobs are created.”

Guess we’ll have to wait until after Labor Day.

So let’s encourage the Prez to have a relaxing and enjoyable vacation — while we keep our fingers and toes crossed that he really does have a plan.

And an update. I still have not received my invitation to the Kim Kardashian wedding this weekend. Maybe she thinks I’m on vacation and wouldn’t be able to attend.

Ohio State and Miami Football: National Champs?

Ohio State can’t catch a break. Just when it looked like the Buckeyes would top the list for this year’s college football cheating and related scandal the University of Miami has taken the field. And if the allegations reported in the NYT and first reported on Yahoo are true, it looks like Miami will capture the national championship and secure its place in the college football hall of shame.

Here’s from the NYT story “A Huge Scandal, but Probably Not the Harshest Penalties“:

As college sports officials confront yet another cheating scandal — this one involving Miami, the latest in a conga line of blue-chip programs that have recently stumbled into the crosshairs of N.C.A.A. investigators — speculation over the extent of the fallout intensified Wednesday. Questions were raised about the status of current players, former coaches and even administrators, including Donna Shalala, the university president.

A Yahoo Sports report on Tuesday implicated 72 athletes. They are accused of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, gifts, meals, even the services of prostitutes, from Nevin Shapiro, a booster now incarcerated for his role in a $900 million Ponzi scheme. There appears to be little doubt that the severity and breadth of the claims against Miami’s athletics program are worse than what peers like Ohio State, North Carolina, Tennessee, Oregon and Louisiana State encountered in recent months.

But Julie Roe Lach, the N.C.A.A.’s vice president for enforcement, said in an interview Wednesday that there had been little discussion about reviving harsh penalties like television bans or the so-called death penalty, two punishments once used by the N.C.A.A. that have long been shelved.

The N.C.A.A., which has been investigating Miami since March, continues to try to bolster enforcement, but it does so against a backdrop of television contracts in the billions and some coaching salaries that eclipse $5 million.

“There isn’t a public outcry to do something about a system that is so terribly broken,” said J. Brent Clark, a former N.C.A.A. investigator who is now a lawyer in Oklahoma City. “The game is too popular and the money is too big.”

One veteran compliance official, who requested anonymity because he was not permitted to speak publicly about Miami’s case, said that if the N.C.A.A. upheld the findings in the Yahoo report, it would be the most significant case he had seen. He said the most critical element of the report was that it appeared that coaches and administrators were aware of what Shapiro was doing and did nothing about it.

If these allegations are true, I can’t imagine that this level of misconduct could have taken place over several years without at least some coaches, administrators, students and others knowing about it.

Somewhere today E. Gordon Gee must be smiling — even though it looks like the Buckeyes are about to finish second again.

Ron Paul: Why Not?

OK. Is there any conservative out there who really wants Mitt Romney to be president? Admittedly, my world is pretty small these days. But I sure don’t know any. Romney strikes me as McCain — although without the long and heroic stay at the Hanoi Hilton.

Yet Romney appears to play well with the mainstream media. Go figure.

But how about Ron Paul?

Well, I’m not the first or only pundit to consider this since it was all over the Internet yesterday, but how come Ron Paul didn’t get any love from the Chattering Class following his strong second-place finish in the Iowa straw poll?

Here’s Roger Simon opining on Politico, “Ron Paul remains media poison“:

I admit I do not fully understand Ron Paul and his beliefs. But I do understand when a guy gets shafted, and Ron Paul just got shafted.

On Saturday, the Ames Straw Poll was conducted in Iowa amid huge media interest and scrutiny. The results were enough to force one Republican candidate, Tim Pawlenty, out of the race, and catapult another, Michele Bachmann, into the “top tier.”

There are so many “top tier” stories in the media today that I can barely count them, let alone read them all, and Bachmann is in all of them by virtue of her victory at Ames. The rest of the tier is made up of two candidates who skipped Ames, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney.

As The Daily Beast put it: “The new top tier of Bachmann, Perry, and Romney — created by Bachmann’s Iowa straw poll win, Perry’s entry into the race and Romney’s lead so far in many national and state polls — has unleashed torrents of talk about the reshaped race.”

Paul’s name was not mentioned in this piece nor in many others. A Wall Street Journal editorial Monday magnanimously granted Paul’s showing in the straw poll a parenthetical dismissal: “(Libertarian Ron Paul, who has no chance to win the nomination, finished a close second.)”

But “close” does not fully describe Paul’s second-place finish. Paul lost to Bachmann by nine-tenths of one percentage point, or 152 votes out of 16,892 cast.

If it had been an election, such a result would almost certainly have triggered a recount. It was not an election, however, and that is my point. Straw polls are supposed to tell us, like a straw tossed into the air, which way the wind is blowing.

And any fair assessment of Ames, therefore, would have said the winds of the Republican Party are blowing toward both Bachmann and Paul.

Nonsense, some would say. Straw polls are just organized bribery, with the campaigns buying the tickets and distributing them to supporters. (And, in fact, this is what I wrote before Ames.)

What they really show, many argue, is not where the philosophical heart of the party is, but the organizational abilities of the candidates.

Fine, I’ll buy that. But why didn’t Paul get the same credit for his organizational abilities as Bachmann did for hers?

I am far from a Libertarian. I believe big government is swell as long as it does big things to help the common good. But after Ames, it was as if Paul had been sentenced to the Phantom Zone.

Simon: “I am far from a Libertarian.”

Wonder how many know what Libertarianism really stands for? Let’s go directly to the source: libertarianism.

What is libertarianism?

Libertarianism is, as the name implies, the belief in liberty. Libertarians strive for a free, peaceful, abundant world where each individual has the maximum opportunity to pursue his or her dreams and to realize his full potential.

The core idea is simply stated, but profound and far-reaching in its implications. Libertarians believe that each person owns his own life and property, and has the right to make his own choices as to how he lives his life – as long as he simply respects the same right of others to do the same.

Another way of saying this is that libertarians believe you should be free to do as you choose with your own life and property, as long as you don’t harm the person and property of others.

Libertarianism is thus the combination of liberty (the freedom to live your life in any peaceful way you choose), responsibility (the prohibition against the use of force against others, except in defense), and tolerance (honoring and respecting the peaceful choices of others).

And more:

Are libertarians conservative or liberal?

You have a better choice than just left or right. The libertarian way gives you more choices, in politics, in business, your personal life, in every way. Libertarians advocate a high degree of both personal and economic liberty. Today’s liberals like personal liberty but want government to control your economic affairs. Conservatives reverse that, advocating more economic freedom but wanting to clamp down on your private life.
Libertarian positions on the issues are not “left” or “right” or a combination of the two. Libertarians believe that, on every issue, you have the right to decide for yourself what’s best for you and to act on that belief so long as you respect the right of other people to do the same and deal with them peacefully and honestly.

I used to believe that the only libertarians I knew were students majoring in advertising. They shared an almost universal belief that people had the ability to make up their own minds and do whatever they wanted — despite the sophisticated advertising techniques and millions of dollars spent to get them to do otherwise. Your kid is glued to a death stick because of the appeal of Joe Camel. Hey Mr. and Mrs. Parent Asshat — it’s your fault. Ah, the good old days teaching media ethics. I digress.
Anyway, I kind of like Ron Paul’s message about personal liberty and responsibility.
And he’s not Mitt Romney.
Just sayin’.

Ohio State Football: Buckeyes and Black Eyes

OK. I know there are big fish to be fried. But let’s face it. Not much new for even a pajama-clad citizen journalist to rant about these days. T-Paw is history before most anyone even knew he was running for president. Congress is on vacation until after Labor Day. The Prez is going around the country on his don’t-blame-me-it’s-still-Bush’s-fault bus tour before heading on holiday.  Kim Kardashian is still getting married. But my invitation must have been lost in the snail mail.

And the Gang of 12 Super Committee remains deadlocked. Oops. That’s next month’s story. Sorry about that.

So I guess I’ll opine on Ohio State football and the black eye Jim Tressel has given the Buckeyes. The NYT had a long story yesterday about the OSU debacle and the spotlight it has put on Prez E. Gordon Gee. By all accounts, Gee appears to be an outstanding university president — but he has himself in somewhat of an ethical jam by advocating high standards for college athletics, yet pretty much passing the buck when it came to his own coach and football program.

Here’s from the article, “At Ohio State, Football Scandal Rattles Reform-Minded President“:

Until that month, Gee, 67, enjoyed his reputation as an outspoken critic of Division I athletics, as a grand reformer, bespectacled and bow-tied, who once “declared war” on the culture of college sports. He knew this reputation would collide with the transgressions of the football program, his pleas for change marked hypocritical in the wake of the investigation.

Even if he disagreed, he knew how the whole thing looked. “Because here he was, the iconic leader, out there beating the drums for college reform, and he’s got a scandal on his hands,” Gee said. “He’s just like everyone else.”

The events of the past week — a retreat among university presidents to discuss reform in college athletics and then Ohio State’s meeting with the N.C.A.A.’s infractions committee — have further exposed Gee’s predicament. Namely, what power, if any, college presidents hold over their athletic departments and whether anyone, Gee included, can actually enact change in major college sports.

Yet Gee views the scandal in opportunistic terms. He is beating the same drum, using what happened at Ohio State as proof.

“We’re in the middle of this firestorm, and everyone will be looking to us,” Gee said. “I’ve always said I wouldn’t like to have myself judged by the vicissitudes of an 18-year-old running a football. But this is the system. College athletics has gotten beyond itself. Do I think it’s broken? Yes.”

Even, apparently, under his expansive roof.

When the scandal involving the rules violations first surfaced, Gee appeared willing to give Tressel a pass. Instead, Gee should have taken the ethical high road and either fired Tressel or forced him to resign. Yeah, I know. Tressel beat Michigan. The alums were happy and I expect prone to keep the checkbooks open. And it’s only football.

Well, not really. It’s about the reputation of the university and the integrity of its chief executive officer.

The NYT article IMO was favorable to Gee — but regardless, he earned his black eye.

Baseball and the Dog Days of Summer

Well, I made my once-a-year trek to Cleveland to watch the Indians play last night. And even though they lost to Detroit, I’ll go on the record and say I enjoyed myself. Nothing better than a ballgame on a near perfect evening in the middle of summer.

And fortunately I pulled enough money out of my retirement savings account before the stock market collapse to afford a few brews. Talk about price gouging. If BP were running the concession stands I’m certain there would be some kind of congressional inquiry. I digress.

Anyway, my point is that baseball is the perfect summer game. It was designed to be slow and leisurely, without the constant frenzy of ice hockey and basketball. Or the 10-second spurt of activity in pro football — followed by a TV timeout and a series of beer commercials. Baseball, long before TV and social media, allowed people to get outside during the dog days of summer and relax and enjoy face-to-face conversation absent Twitter, text messages and so on. I get a chuckle now about how many people sit at the game glued to their smartphone, presumably letting others know where they are and what they are doing as though anyone really cares. A side note: The asshat sitting next to me dropped his BlackBerry in the top of the seventh. Not sure if he was charged with an error or not.

Folks, chill. You’re at a baseball game — not at work. You don’t have to pretend you’re busy. Oops. I digress again.

And it struck me last night that the game hasn’t changed all that much (well, OK, except for the designated hitter rule, but don’t get me started) — but the environment sure has.  Exploding graphics that make scoreboards look like a battle from Star Trek, plenty of stunts and activities to keep the crowd occupied between innings and so on. Hey, just like a classroom in any school these days at any level. Sorry, I’m drifting off message today.

As a young lad growing up in Pittsburgh (circa 1955) I spent many a day and night at Forbes Field, now defunct. You could sit in the left field bleachers for a buck — and watch the hand of a live person extend from inside the scoreboard to post balls and strikes, outs and scores from other games.

And before the ump cried “play ball,” and as the sun started to set, you got that distinct whiff of cigar smoke making its way through the stands.

Ah, the good old days.

 

 

Stock Market Madness and TV Pundits

Wow. The bears must really be on the prowl on Wall Street. Fox and Friends showed up on TV an hour earlier than usual this morning because of the market crisis – and a host of pundits in the early a.m. opined that the market debacle will continue — or not — is fueled by economic uncertainty in Europe — or not — and stems from Congressional gridlock and the S&P downgrade — or not.

Barf bag anyone?

Kent State’s own favorite news reader, Carol Costello, offered similar insight on the CNN early morning show. Market direction: up, down, sideways, all or none of the above.

The truth is few have any clue why investors — especially the large institutional investors that move the markets — do what they do. And the scary part is that includes the financial advisers and “wealth managers” who we entrust with our savings and retirement accounts.

So after listening to the TV pundits for an hour while chasing the treadmill belt, I figured that as a pajama-clad citizen journalist it was my duty to try to bring some clarity to the deep dive on Wall Street and around the world. But, alas, since I have no clue, I’ll have to turn to someone who does:  Bill Gross. Gross founded and heads Pimco, the large bond mutual fund company, and he has a history of getting things right. Here’s his view in WaPo, “America’s debt is not its biggest problem“:

For a few days there it seemed like President Obama was the master of the bond market. This is a Triple-A nation, he intoned on Monday, and always will be a Triple-A nation no matter what some rating agency says. As if in applause, Treasury bonds rallied furiously in price and yields sunk to cyclical lows. Unfortunately, what they were applauding was the slow growth and perhaps recessionary future that an AA-plus nation faces with too much debt and too little fiscal flexibility to increase demand.

It is critical for politicians and investors alike to distinguish between cause and effect, disease and symptom. Washington has been operating the past few months under the assumption that the United States and our euro-zone economic trading partners are experiencing a debt crisis that must be resolved by exorcising excessive spending in the near term. To Republicans, and even many co-opted Democrats, the debate starts with spending cuts and how much must be done to appease voters and the markets, both now and in November, when the “Gang of Twelve” committee that resulted from the debt-ceiling deal potentially follows through with its mandate.

Revenue increases may be part of the solution, but even then, at some imbalanced ratio of spending cuts — such as three or four dollars of spending cuts to one dollar of tax hikes — the thesis assumes that markets and economic growth require what in essence is a fiscally contractionary step, reminiscent of International Monetary Fund policies in emerging markets during past decades. We must, the consensus goes, become like Argentina, Brazil and Mexico from the 1980s: Tighten the budget via spending cuts, reduce the deficit and voilá — economic growth will blossom.

But while our debt crisis is real and promises to grow to Frankenstein proportions in future years, debt is not the disease — it is a symptom. Lack of aggregate demand or, to put it simply, insufficient consumption and investment is the disease. Debt has been simply an abused sovereign and private market antidote to sustain it. We and our global market competitors are and have been experiencing a lack of aggregate demand for several decades. It is now only visibly coming to a head, as the magic elixir of leverage is drained and exhausted. This potentially fatal disease of capitalism is a result of several long-term secular phenomena:

(1) Aging demographics, where boomers everywhere spend less, in contrast to their youth, as they approach retirement; babies, houses and second cars shift to the scrapbook of memories as opposed to future spending power.

(2) Globalization, where 2 billion new competitive workers from Asia and elsewhere take jobs and paychecks from complacent and ill-trained 40-somethings in developed markets.

(3) Technological innovation, where machines and robots displace human labor, resulting in corporate profits but declining wages.

The debt crisis as it crests ultimately gives way to these growth-inhibiting, spending-contractionary secular forces. Having run up our credit card to keep on spending, we have reached market-enforced limits that force deleveraging. It is not the debt, however, but the lack of global aggregate demand that is at the heart of the crisis. As the entire world strives to put its own people to work before other nations do, policymakers constructively lower interest rates and delay sovereign, corporate and household defaults to provide breathing room. Fiscally, however, an anti-Keynesian, budget-balancing immediacy imparts a constrictive noose around whatever demand remains alive and kicking. Washington hassles over debt ceilings instead of job creation in the mistaken belief that a balanced budget will produce a balanced economy. It will not.

The president and Congress must recognize that an AA-plus country, to remain AA-plus, must focus on growth, not debt reduction, in the short term. We have a debt problem — but primarily a crisis of aggregate demand. A 21st-century Keynes would have recognized this and sounded the alarm, pointing out that policymakers from a fiscal perspective are pointing us toward recession and the destructive 1930s instead of a low-growth but still breathing U.S. economy of the 21st century.

Ah, let’s see. It’s all about economic growth,  jobs and investor confidence. Gee, I’ve been saying that for months. Maybe this kind of analysis isn’t so tough after all.

Woot!