Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pull The Trigger

I've been hearing about how GM and Ford and Chrysler are on the ropes for months now. I even bought some GM at $6 a share a few weeks ago, the sold it at $6.50 because I read a rather convincing article that GM could very likely fail.

Well, it seems that that eventuality is pretty close to becoming a reality. The Big Three have convinced the Democratic leadership (Reid/Pelosi/Obama) that they need a bailout and now Obama is trying to convince Bush that they need the bailout even before the Obamas can move in with the new First Dog. Nevermind that the Big Three already have $25 billion in low-interest loans, a little tidbit passed in the days before the $700 billion TARP plan made that look like chump change. They need more.

Part of the reason they need more is that the UAW has systematically strangled General Motors and other automakers for decades. I should know, both of my grandfathers were UAW members and retired with UAW pensions, one from Fisher Body, the other from Chrysler. I'm far removed from Detroit now, but Detroit is one of my family's ancestral homes and my own father recently retired from GM. The UAW nearly killed GM a last year with a strike, as part of the settlement the long-term UAW pension and health insurance benefits were to be passed on to trusts, funded by General Motors and run by the UAW. Sounds like a good plan -- GM gets to pay $36 billion to pay for 70% of its massive $51 billion in unfunded retirement benefits.

Well, here we are in 2008, just over a year later and the Big Three's lobbyists are walking the halls of Congress and prophesying doom if they don't get paid. Hope and Change are in the air. GM hopes it will have enough cash to make it to the end of the year, much less until the change comes in late January of 2009. Nancy Pelosi and others are trying to figure out how much to pull out of the national wallet to prop up these automobile manufacturers, in part because the UAW's trust fund is not yet fully paid up.

An ironic note is that when President-Elect Obama is able to issue executive orders, one of the ones he's likely to issue is a variance from EPA standards allowing the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to regulate CO2, and raise fuel efficiency standards for cars sold in California. CARB has already indicated they want to raise standards above what Congress just mandated last year -- efficiency standards the automakers have yet to meet. If President Obama allows California, where 40% of US car sales occur, to set the bar for the rest of the country, within 5 years the car companies will be right back to Congress for yet another handout. If he doesn't, the and hardcore environmentalist folks will be experiencing the buyer's regret that I expect them to encounter at some point in the first 100 days.

Pelosi, Reid and Obama are very interested in getting help to GM, not so much because they are ardent capitalists but because union households delivered Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, among other states, and unions are a major constituent of the Democratic alliance created back during the last great economic challenge -- the Great Depression. The Wagner Act is a legacy of those days, the adversarial position of union vs. management was enshrined by legislation during the 1930s. The UAW delivered for the DNC in ways they really have not for GM, now they want their government to work for them, and be sure their retirement plans are fully funded.

I predict that GM will be bailed out by the government, at least once, if for no other reason than to preserve union benefits. In fact, literally for no other reason than to preserve union benefits. GM as a company will not be helped by this cash infusion, they'll likely get enough of your money and mine to complete their pension mandates, and then the Congress will find themselves much more interested in the workings of a free and fair market.

My modest proposal to Rick Waggoner is to tell the government to stuff it, save the money he's spending on lobbyists, and declare bankruptcy now.

No other course of action will allow GM even the chance to get the UAW claw off the company's throat. The Democratic Congress will not pay for GM's survival directly, it's mainly the UAW they want to see benefit. Only bankruptcy will allow General Motors to sever its relationship with the UAW and move forward like the other half of the US car industry. GM going bankrupt will not be the end of domestic manufacture of cars -- automobiles are still needed, and GM has the plants and fixtures to make them. But GM cannot do so and make money with its current cost structure, so to save the company the cost structure has to go.

You see, there are two automobile industries in the United States. One is northern, unionized, domestically-owned, and dying. The other is southern, non-union, foreign-owned and thriving. GM cannot continue to compete with Japanese companies who do not have to tote around the UAW. Taking Congress' money will weld GM even tighter to the UAW, and will likely be the end of a domestic industry.

So, Rick, buddy -- we both know you're on the precipice. Take a big step over the edge, before you get pushed. Maybe you can fly without all the deadweight, it's certainly possible. You'll never know until you try.

And Ford and Chrysler -- do you really want to be the last union shop in the auto industry?

Pull. The. Trigger.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Whither Palin?

Well, the results are out and while the polls generally overestimated the level of Obama's support, they didn't over-overestimate it to the point of missing a hidden McCain victory. I believe Scott Rassmussen's group came the closest on the quadriennial dart throw, predicting a 6.5% advantage in people identifying themselves with Democrats over Republicans. And there's your difference, more or less. The PUMAs are apparently much rarer animals than they chose to let on.

Congratulations to President-Elect Obama. Now all you have to do is deliver on everything you've promised, and quite frankly you have as much chance to do so as your average department store Santa does to get everything under the trees of the kids they meet each year. It does not escape my notice that Barack Obama is the first man of African extraction to become the President. This is a big deal, but whether it changes much of anything with regard to race relations I don't really know. If GOP people opposing his agriculture plan, for instance, get the Race CardTM deployed against them, little will have been accomplished.

Giving Her The Finger...Or At Least Pointing It

The recriminations are now beginning to boil out of the McCain camp, with a number of fingers pointed at Sarah Palin. Here's just a sample, according to Carl Cameron of Fox News Channel these kinds of things will be coming out for days.

Hey, why take blame when you can pass it on to others? The McCain campaign, unable to craft an economic message until an unlicensed plumber talked to Barack Obama in front of a rope line, figures it must all the Caribou Barbie's fault. For the record I tend to doubt she thought 'Africa' was one country.

The good thing for Sarah is that she has her day job, and can go back to Alaska where her popularity is only slightly dimmed (from 80%) and the Personnel Board has cleared her of any wrongdoing. She might have to fight the legislature over the Branchflower report, but chances are pretty good that they won't go after her. For one thing, it will look petty. For another, she's no threat to Obama and got her ears boxed on the national stage in a way that the Alaska Legislature couldn't dream of pulling off.

The shame of all this nasty talk is that it's just the standard pettiness that comes from losing an election, and in this case it's likely a bunch of insiders sticking knives into Palin and hoping for jobs in the next election cycle -- which starts a whole 100 weeks from now or so. Less, if you can wangle a staff job with a PAC. The maneuvering for 2012 at this point is pretty unseemly. David Frum, no Palin fan, blames Nicole Wallace, a former Bush staffer who worked for the McCain campaign. The kinds of things that are coming out are petty and catty, like she answered the door to her suite in a bathrobe. You mean, she didn't let the staffers stand in the hall? Goodness, how inappropriate...or something? Sounds like the kind of thing someone used to taking care of her own business would do, that's the mark of a humble person, not an arrogant one.

It's a shame the McCain campaign people weren't as effective at real politics as they seem to be at office politics. Could have made a difference.

Senator Palin?

Ted Stevens, Alaska's senior Senator (and newest felon!) might win his re-election bid after being convicted of perjury for failing to report $250,000 in home improvements an oil services company performed for him. If elected, he will most likely face censure and expulsion from the Senate, if not jail time, so he will not be serving. Alaska law requires a short-interval election within 90 days, so someone will be replacing him and will run against (most likely) Mark Begich.

Sarah could run, but it would be a bad idea. First, it looks like naked political ambition. She was elected governor, she should serve out her term. Second, if she wants to run as a Senator, Lisa Murkowski is up for reelection in 2010. I have nothing personal against Lisa Murkowski, but with the name there's probably a body or two buried somewhere and if she has ethical issues Sarah has the opportunity to run. Waiting is better. If she gets to appoint someone, I imagine she will appoint Sean Parnell, the Lt. Governor who she supported in the primary against Don Young.

Finally, being a Senator probably wouldn't add much to her resume. It would destroy her "Washington Outsider" credentials, which are probably going to be really useful because the Reid/Pelosi/Obama group have challenges before them their ideological bent does not prepare them for (war, recession, crushing debt) and their chances of screwing something up badly are very high. She will benefit from staying out of the blast radius of the debacle as much as Barack Obama did from being a state Senator during the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force vote before the Iraq War.


For someone who was such a punching bag for Saturday Night Live, the real Sarah Palin seemed to really make an impact on at least three people: Lorne Michaels, Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin. None of these folks would you expect to be political allies, and none of them are. But they have an interesting perspective, politics has been described as "Hollywood for ugly people", there is a certain similarity in what they do. Performers in Hollywood know they are at the apex of a very high and steep pyramid where only the best get where they are, and then with more than a little luck. When the guy that launched the careers of Bill Murray, John Belushi, Eddie Murphy, Mike Myers and Chris Farley, among many others says:

What do you think Palin gained from her appearance?
I think Palin will continue to be underestimated for a while. I watched the way she connected with people, and she's powerful. Her politics aren't my politics. But you can see that she's a very powerful, very disciplined, incredibly gracious woman. This was her first time out and she's had a huge impact. People connect to her.

She's a ratings magnet, too — do you think she can land a development deal if this VP thing doesn't work out?
She could pretty much do better than development. I think she could have her own show, yeah.

Lest you miss it, "I think she could have her own show" is a bit of a compliment. Maybe it's a way to get her out of politics and into something where Lorne feels she could do less damage, but either way it's a compliment.

Even Alec "I'm going to move to France" Baldwin is fairly circumspect in his criticism of her during his appearance on Letterman:

Same for Tina Fey on Conan O'Brien.

Obviously, it's easier to be nasty when you're being anonymous and not-for-attribution to Carl Cameron behind the campaign bus, and harder to do it when you're on-camera with Conan or Dave. Nevertheless, there is some acknowledgment from people pretty close to the top of their game in working in front of cameras that Sarah Palin has...something.

What she does have, and more importantly can communicate very well, is a general happiness about her life as an American. Of all the gifts that Reagan had, this was his most potent. Nothing draws people like happiness and love, and Sarah Palin is at her best when she communicates these things. If she can add an uncrackable knowledge base to that, she'll be a fierce competitor in the next election cycle. Contrary to popular belief and MSM assumption, conservatives really are happy. It's kind of our little secret, but when someone like Sarah Palin can get onstage in front of 40 million people and be conservative and happy at the same time, well that snaps the needle off the approval meter for conservatives. If being an Angry Conservative was enough, Pat Buchanan would have been GOP nominee for life.

Then again, after this turn as the punching bag, she might decide to just raise her kids, stay in Alaska and remember that couple of months when she was the first female GOP nominee for Vice-President. It would be our loss, I believe, but I think she's earned some peace and quiet.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Kiss Me, I Voted

Yup. On the way to work, at Pine Tree High School. There were three people ahead of me in line, and it took about three minutes of waiting.

The "books" were gone this year, it's all on laptops and little printed-out stickers to sign. We've had E-Slate voting machines for the last few elections, they're pretty simple to use and it took a whopping sixty seconds or so to page through the options and make my choices. I didn't get a sticker, though. I wanted a sticker.

If you've already voted, congratulations. If you haven't voted, get out and vote for John McCain. There's always the possibility that your neighbor's useless kid will set down the bong long enough to find a polling place this year, you need to be there to cancel him out if he does.

No matter who wins, this is going to be a really, really big election. If Barack Obama wins, there will likely be a leftward tilt to the American government not seen since the Great Society days of LBJ, not to mention that America will officially be no longer racist.

The biggest game-changer of all will be if John McCain wins, though. It will be huge because a monstrous swath of the media and political elites will have been shown to be spectacularly and phenominally wrong. A sizable portion of those people will later be found to have been complicit in one of the biggest Psy-Ops attempts in American political history, the inevitability of Barack Obama. They will have missed a huge groundswell of opinion, and completely misread the political situation in the United States. You won't be able to sell anything with a poll for years in this country. It's happened before, in 1994. It may very well happen again.

If you're interested in what I'm saying, there are a couple of fairly long 'think' pieces I would invite you to read. The first one I read was from the oddly-named Zombietime and is called The Left's Big Blunder. Read that one and then go to Sean Malmstrom's site and read his entry called Toast.

Go ahead, I'll wait. I have to go to Starbucks and get my free coffee.

Now that you're back, those are a couple of well-reasoned arguments to keep your chin up, aren't they lil' GOP voter? Did you respond to a poll phone call this year? Me neither. Would you respond to a poll phone call? Yeah, me neither. I believe that McCain voters are horribly under-polled this year, and the majority of the polls show such wild swings and divergence from each other than they're useless. No two "scientific" polls using similar sample size and methodology should show a 15-point difference. The fudging always favors the Democrat.

Do not believe the exit polls, either. The media have too much riding on a Barack Obama win to not call the election as soon as possible and try to create a self-fullfilling prophecy. Exit polls are as subject to bias as anything else, the major bias factor is that Obama voters are more likely to tell you they voted for Obama, and McCain voters have to get back to work.

What if the media are wrong? If you've read the Zombietime and Malmstrom articles you're aware of the media either being swept up in or, in the case of MSNBC, pushing the meme of Obama's inevitability -- the poll-weighting, the Palin-hating (how much do you wish Obama could trade Biden for Palin at this point?). If they're wrong, after all that -- how will you believe them about anything in the future? They will have completely missed the largest political story in modern history because the Democrat/New Party candidate sent a thrill down their leg.

Their objectivity is shot whether Obama wins or loses in my opinion but an Obama loss, even a close one, would be devastating to the credibility of the media. They have obviously picked Obama. They have been less than honest in their role as servants of the public knowledge, and yet believe or at least proclaim their neutrality.

Bull. You get this one wrong legacy media and you're dead to me. You're not looking good even if you get it right. When the Los Angeles Times is sitting on a relevant piece of video like the Khalidi tape, they're cheating. When the San Francisco Chronicle fails to report Barack Obama's punitive carbon tax plans and intent to bankrupt the coal industry in the pursuit of the elimination of a trace gas, only quietly making the audio available online for 10 months, it's a problem.

When the media won't report on how completely insane Joe Biden is, that's a problem. When a guy like me on his couch with a laptop can call BS during the VP debate and then with a few more hours of research find that Joe Biden's version of reality is his and his alone, that's a problem. When the media is denied access to Biden and has more access to Palin without the public really knowing this fact, that's a problem. Right now it's a problem for the consumers of news. If the media gets the election badly wrong, it will rapidly become their problem.

And so, my Survival Guide For Election Night

1. Don't believe a single exit poll unless they show Obama with less-than-expected support. McCain voters are much less likely to answer, and the PUMAs will flat-out lie.

2. If you live west of the Eastern Time Zone, MAKE SURE YOU VOTE. Do not listen to a thing the media says. It's over when the votes are counted, not when the media "calls" a state for one candidate or the other. Pennsylvania is a good example -- the media may call the state because of the outcomes in urban counties but not wait for the rural voters. PA is very, very important, as you'll deduce from the Zombietime and Malmstrom articles.

3. We should know quickly if Obama wins, there are some must-gets for McCain on the East Coast and if he loses FL, VA, PA and OH then it's really over. Go to bed, and start digging your bunker tomorrow morning.

4. If McCain wins PA and FL and VA, it won't be over until the last Obama lawyer throws in the towel, but winning those three goes a long way to winning overall. It will still take MO and OH and NV to go Red this year, but if McCain can flip PA it will be huge.

Best of luck to us all, I've been praying for the country and for McCain and Palin for weeks now.

I might do a liveblog of the election returns, but maybe not. I think I have one more Palin piece in me before the election but I have miles to go on the PACS before I can do that.