Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Capitalism of Punishment

From July 16th 2001 until December 31st 20012 the two biggest For-Profit prisons in America, Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group gained an eye popping 671.73% and 502.49% respectively.  While, over his same period of time, violent crime in the United States dropped to 15 crimes per 1,000, a 40% drop from 2001.  This same trend is evident in property crime with a decline of 28% over this same period of time.

Corrections Corporation has a market cap of 3.71B and GEO Group has a market cap of 1.8B.  Analysts report that both have price upside in the coming 12 months. 

If you're an investor I suppose you have think that you might want to get on this bandwagon, right?  I mean if you had put 5k into Corrections Corp in '01 you'd have $335,800 today which is a pretty compelling return.  And for goodness sakes if you can grow 670+ % when your primary 'customers' are decreasing by 40% hell you can grow in any environment!  Let's lock everyone up!


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Which Way Marijuana

The Dallas Morning News today published a couple of opinion pieces regarding marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington.  In response to the opposing view I sent a letter to the editor and on the off chance they don't post my well reasoned and insightful thoughts I've pasted my letter below.  Because the DMN will only give letter writers 200 words I wanted to comment on my blog which effectively gives me a billion words-not that anyone would read such a treatise but those are the facts.

What I didn't refer to in my 200 word allotment is that the current war on drugs model is fully supported by an entrenched, money hungry bureaucracy that has heretofore escaped public awareness.  This bureaucracy is the private prison model.  From 1980 to 2000 the US experienced a 5x growth in private prisons.  And, now, while the US has only 5% of the world's population we, shamefully have 25% of the world’s prison population.  Wow, you say, I guess there're a lot of people committing a lot of crime.  BUT, not so much!!  From 1980 to 2009 crime has actually DECREASED by approximately 32% and current crime rates essentially equal those of 1968.  
This brings us close to the point I made in the letter.  Our current war on drugs is decimating individuals, families and communities. Once a person is caught up in the legal system for drugs a long line of hilarity ensues that essentially traps the individual in the bureaucratic snarl.  A young man nabbed a second time for an ounce of pot, now legal to possess in Colorado, can be charged with a felony, and if convicted can face revocation of his voting privileges, limitations to housing and employment options, and even, potentially, to his options regarding custody of his children.

Really?  Is that the world we want to live in?  Do we want the lives of countless young men and women to be ruined because of our inability to objectively view a relatively harmless drug?  Do we value the entrenched bureaucracy of for-profit prisons and thinly disguised racism more than the inherent decency and potential of generations of young men and women?  

NO.  Given the choices the majority of Americans would do the right thing.  Dismiss the war on drugs for what it is: paternalistic, racist, ineffective and wrong.  

DMN letter: 

Mr. Roper is ill informed and his ignorance isn’t benign: The US does not classify marijuana as a narcotic and marijuana is not physically addictive.  Studies indicate that marijuana is less damaging than alcohol, and, finally, conflating marijuana with heroin and the issues associated with it are inaccurate, confusing and not helpful.

The real damage made by Mr. Roper’s arguments stem from his very premise that we must outlaw marijuana to care for our impressionable children.  We are losing generations of young black men to disproportionately enforced drug laws.  During the halcyon days of the late 90s and early 2000s that Mr. Roper refers to, 1 out of every 14 black man was incarcerated compared to 1 in 106 white men even though the majority of users and dealers were and are white.  These statistics refer to drug violations (vs. violent crimes) and according to Ms. Alexander’s The New Jim Crow “the vast majority of arrests have been made for minor offenses, such as possession of small amounts of marijuana”.
We are losing the children Mr. Roper intends to protect.  

The war on drugs is immoral and must be stopped.  Legalizing and controlling marijuana is a logical and needed 1st step.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Garrett and Grit

“Garrett should be fired”.  I’ve heard this on talk radio a lot of times and I’m amused by it.  There’s a lot of folks on the air, mostly radio, that can’t tolerate that they are essentially being shut out by someone with the internal strength to firmly blunt their breathless entreaties for good stories and inside information.  No quotes about Mr. Fixit, no hotdogs on the sideline, no exhortations to ‘pound a few’ before the game just…dull.  FIRE GARRETT.  Fire the guy who gives us NOTHING.  They don’t want him gone for being dull, of course.  They want him gone b/c the Cowboys are bad.  They’re not winning enough.   And when they do win they don’t win in convincing enough fashion.  His decisions aren’t…right.  They’re not good enough.   They’re not the kind good coaches might make or for that matter what good media types would certainly make.  Although Garrett has a (slight) winning record he’s mismanaged the clock on several occasions and his play calling is widely regarded as too conservative to consistently win games.
However, what’s quietly going on in the background and what doesn’t get discussed during press conferences is that Garrett is doing what he has experienced from coaches all his life and while he’s working on winning ballgames with the folks he has he’s building men, and, more importantly, teaching them to find their fight.  Barry Horn in his recent piece on Garrett detailed some of the impact that Garrett’s previous coaches have had on him and it’s clear to me that Garrett sees coaching like his father and the coaches he had in high school did.  As an important job-an opportunity to mold men, something almost sacred.  Garrett’s performance in the face of Jerry Brown’s death and Josh Brent’s apparent responsibility in the accident highlights the fact that his team sees Garrett as the father figure he has been for a long time.  The wide praise Garrett has received for his handling of the trying situation the Cowboys have found themselves in seems to acknowledge that this is his style and that he is emotionally dialed in to his players.
And, it’s for this reason that I believe Garrett will be a long term coach of the Cowboys.  Potentially longer, and, if not thought of in more glowing terms than Landry, then certainly thought of just as highly.  
He may or may not come up with any innovations in coaching as Landry did but he’ll build teams of men that value and display ‘grit’.  University admissions folks want kids with ‘grit’.  Elementary schools are beginning to learn about and value ‘grit’.  Employers other than National Football League franchises also value ‘grit’ although not as much as they should or most likely will come to.
‘Grit’, Wikipedia simply defines, as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals”.  It’s what’s referred to as the missing ingredient when smart people fail, when necessary components abound but sufficient ones are absent.  It’s the comment about the guy on the field who isn’t that talented but who ‘outworks’ you.  Grit is character.  Grit is about not giving up even when there is no clear path to an acknowledged goal.  And, it can be argued, that it’s what’s been missing in the Cowboys organization for a long time.  The Cowboys have almost always had stars-certainly since Jerry Jones has owned them they’ve had stars.  There’s an argument to be made that Jerry Jones as GM has lived and died by the philosophy that stars are essential to a successful team.  That his focus has been on building a team of stars, not a team of depth, is cited as one possible reason for the Cowboy’s now familiar December fade (although not this year) as the stars become worn and injured.  As the focus has been on talent the Cowboys have often looked good on paper if not so much on the field.  And, in the recent past when they have looked good on the field they haven’t looked good in the playoffs.  In ’09 and ’07 they had successful regular seasons that ended with thuds in the post season, when all of their talent should have carried them.  
What Jerry Jones may have now come to realize, or perhaps, more likely, what he is now coming to serendipitously learn from Garrett is that grit is as important if not more so than talent.  
If Garret continues to have the opportunity to mold this team and I’ve noted that I believe he will, he will continue to build a ‘dull’ team that demonstrates ‘grit’.  One that lives not so much on talent but on the chemistry and trust that perseverance and ultimately the achievement through adversity that it brings.  It’s this key characteristic that will bring out the best in average to good players and make stars the kind of teammates that are coveted in the locker room.  It’s also the characteristic that will bond Jones to Garrett, Garrett to the organization and the fans to the team.  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

They're alive

Like a lot of folks I’ve been thinking a lot about the Cowboys lately.  I’m big Cowboys fan so it’s not too unusual for me to be thinking Cowboys on Monday.  This Monday’s different though as Josh Brent just bonded out of jail and his good friend Jerry Brown and teammate is dead with all indications being that Josh is largely responsible for his death.  
Just devastating to consider one young man is dead and another’s life is devastated.  Usually Cowboys football is nothing more than entertainment and now….there are people out there on that field.  People that have lives and problems and off field decisions to make.  Sort of reminds me of when I would see my elementary school teachers at the mall or somewhere outside of the school—who knew they had lives.    

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

If someone says to you "I don't get it.  J.P. Morgan lost their own money what's the big deal"?  The big deal is that if they lose 2B it's their money, if they lose 200B it's our money.  Perversely, the current system encourages big banks to take tremendous risk.  Either they win big or they get bailed out and all's good.
In this case J.P. Morgan went looking for a risky proposition, European debt, and then they looked to hedge the position.  Lo and behold the hedge didn't work and they got bit.  They took a speculative position, a la M.F. Global, and couldn't cover their position.  We're OK with M.F. Global (at least as OK as we can be with a firm that played fast and loose with investor money) b/c they were small and their failure didn't reverberate through the markets.  We shouldn't be OK with J.P. Morgan b/c they're too big and b/c the current environment encourages them to seek out tremendous amounts of risk.  The bigger the bet the less chance they have of losing.   

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Peace, Love, and PB&J

My mom was nutty.  Dependent, rageful, and flighty among other things.  She was also warm, genuine, and deeply concerned with my well being.

I remember when I was probably 7 or 8 that I wanted to run away.  There was either some real or imagined slight that I experienced in my family that was truly the straw that broke the camel’s back.  As I considered my response it was clear that I had to leave.  Most likely I would fare a great deal better on my own.

I can’t be sure what was going on in my mom’s head but as I’m now a parent of 3 with an almost 7 year old I suppose I can guess.  She may have been confused and concerned, wondering what had disturbed me to the degree to which I wanted to leave home.  Perhaps she thought it was cute that I was making a bold decision.  In any case I remember her acknowledging my decision with the kind of gravity it deserved.  She looked concerned and supported the fact that, yes, if that was what was decided then I must act.  She helped me pack.  And this is what  I really remember, she made PB&J sandwiches for me, wrapping them in plastic and putting them into my backpack along with my clothes.  I left home and walked the streets of my neighborhood.  I remember feeling a great deal of relief and freedom.  I had cut ties with the daily details that had grounded me and was able to experience the world without the worries of home.  I remember touching pine trees and cones in ways that allowed me to experience the wonder of how these things were made.  It was a tremendous stress relief for me, and, as I consider it today, I wonder how a 7 year old boy came to experience such stress in his daily life.

I’m much older now.  I look back on that youthful mom, the stressed out boy and I think about being young.  I think about my almost 7 year old boy.  How delicate and wonderous he is.  I wonder if he’s currently stressed out and how I might help him before he gets that way.  I’m respectful of the fact that daily stress affects him as much as anyone and that he needs support, respect, and encouragement.  
I give thanks for a flawed mom that never stopped searching for the strength to love me and for my wife who tirelessly loves and supports our 3.

Peace, Love, and PB&J.  

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Max Planck and the Smart People

I've recently started eating in an 'Atkins' type style, or probably more appropriately I'm working on adopting a low carb (LC for the cool kids) lifestyle.  It's really due to this guy.  Gary Taubes is a remarkable guy-applied physics scholar at Harvard and Stanford, trained as a journalist at Columbia and currently a straight up Bad Ass Iconoclast.  

Taubes' has authored numerous books and articles that you can find referenced on his blog, however, what made me a proponent of his work was his NY Times article "What if it's all been a big fat lie", and, "Why we get fat and what we can do about it" his most recent book.  In these pieces Taubes discusses the science behind obesity and weight gain.  What, as you read, is very clear is that the common wisdom that we've been force fed (pardon the pun) for the past 40 some years regarding fat, carbohydrates and a healthy diet is, in a nutshell, absolutely wrong.  There is, in fact, no clear evidence that exercise is necessary for weight loss.  There is also, in fact, no clear evidence that a low fat diet helps one lose weight, or reduces one's risk of heart disease.  In fact, following a low fat diet might just make these things quite a bit worse.

Holy Moley Batman!  I can hear the Dr.'s, trainers, dietitians and other casual observers now.  "This is Heresy!"  Well, perhaps, but our recent history of accumulated experience and the scientific data would suggest that it's not.  If you're intrigued at all read and see where we got our 'food pyramid', get an understanding of the political birthing of the value of a low fat diet, see how the impact of insulin as a major component in weight loss is routinely dismissed in favor of a wrong headed focus on will power and sloth. 

Amazing, Amazing stuff.  We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Dr. Atkins, Gary Taubes and others who bravely wave the torch of science as they attempt to illuminate thorny truths.  These men are continuing a tradition of Big Thinking that is slowly being strangled by too much data (thoughts for another post).  They would probably be the first to say they don't have all the answers, by the same token, however, they'd probably also be the first to speak up and say the Emperor has no clothes.

So, this discussion reminds me of one of my favorite quotes.  It's attributed to the giant in Physics, Max Planck:
A scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

Hopefully, now, we've grown to the point that we can discard old notions without waiting for their proponents to die.