Monday, March 30, 2009

Throw The Bums Out

President Obama has asked for (and received) the resignation of GM's CEO, Rick Wagoner. Of course, the Anti-Anything-Obama crowd has wasted no time crying "Socialism" and lamenting the President's abuse of power. They fear for those poor unfortunate millionaires, and speculate as to who's going to be next.

For myself, I can't imagine why I'd feel too badly about what's happened. There is an axiom in the business world that whoever is paying the bills is the one in charge. "If you want to know who's in charge, follow the money." Think about it this way: if you go to a restaurant and order something, you have the right to request that the kitchen prepare it in a certain way for you. After all, they can assume you'll pay the bill when it comes due, and this entitles you to a little pampering. No ice in your drink? Steak well done? Dressing on the side? These are not foreign concepts to us. However if you found yourself in a line at a soup kitchem where the soup was free, you might think twice about being high maintenance.

The truth is, our government has given billions to the auto industry for decades, and when we ask them to toughen up their emissions for the sake of the environment, they whine like little bitches. When we ask them to improve the gas mileage to help the average American, they whine like little bitches. When we pass legislation giving the cars more stringent safety requirement to protect the passengers, they whine like little bitches. And so it goes. They have forgotten the debt they owe to the government for all the money, all the tax breaks, all the preferential treatment. They act with an overblown sense of entitlement, pay their elite exhorbitant salaries, and whine like little bitches when the UAW members want to make enough money to do such uppity things as own their own homes or send their kids to college.

But now, and for the next four to eight years, there is a President who is calling their tab. We have a President who did not grow up rich. We have a leader who had to go and earn everything he has, and the mindsets of the corporate elite are unknown to him. For someone with a work ethic, the pampered elite do not elicit much sympathy. The worst possible thing that could have happened to Detroit's leaders has come to pass: a leader who understands the concept of paying one's dues and being held accountable.

I hope he fires the lot of them. I hope he appoints Al Gore as auto industry czar, and Michael Moore as assistant. I hope Executive orders fall on Detroit like snowflakes, demanding quality vehicles. I hope the Obama Administration grabs the Big Three by the short and curlies and twists, by God. I wish to see the end of Business As Usual in Detroit. I hope we can say goodbye to the Age of the Oversized Gas Guzzlers.

And I don't really care how much gas costs. Two dollars a gallon, four dollars a gallon, even twenty dollars - it shouldn't matter. What should matter is that we take significant steps to wean ourselves off of this oil addiction that has gripped us for years. What is important is that we pollute less. What is important is that Americans have the option of quality affordable cars that are safe and that last. For years, Detroit has plugged its fingers squarely in its ears and drowned out all the good ideas taken up by foreign car makers. America prides itself on inventing the car (we didn't actually, but you can look it up yourself). We pat ourselves on the back for our innovation and ingenuity, and as soon as someone suggests that American carmakers could be more competitive globally if they made smaller cars, more hybrid and alternative fuel cars, well we just can't shut them up fast enough, can we?

The point: For decades the government has doled out millions and billions to the American auto industry to keep it afloat. When given the options, the suggestions, the requests to innovate they have dragged their heels. In recent years we have seen companies like Honda and Toyota eclipse American companies. Now Fords, GM's and Chryslers are no longer the best-selling, or even the best made care in the world. In order to regain their competitive edge in the global marketplace, these companies will either have to kowtow to the Administration's demands or find another financial teat to suckle. It is fitting that President Obama has called their tab and fired Rick Wagoner. It should serve as a notice to other CEO fat cats: this is the dawning of a new day, and if you're not on board, there is no room for you here. As an American I am proud that this has happened.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

AIG, blah blah blah

Oh so NOW we're upset? Suddenly the media is saturating us with news about how AIG gave nearly $200 million in bonuses to its elite, and now we're filled with righteous rage? Why now? Is it because they took all those billions in stimulus dollars and swore on a stack of Bibles that THIS TIME they'd stop with the bonuses? Are we storming the Bastille here because that stimulus money they're handing out like Monopoly money was essentially our taxpayer dollars? Or, is it because your average American family is facing the prospects of foreclosures on their homes and layoffs at work?

Now? NOW we're upset??


I say it's high time we all got good and pissed off. Sure, this is a lame pretext to go all torches-and-pitchforks: I mean, $200 million? Whoop de friggin do. In the grand scheme of things, this is a DROP in the bucket, people. Even though $200 million is more than most of us will ever see in our lifetime, it still pales in comparison to the big picture. If anything, it just illustrates that we are dealing with people who are completely detached from reality. They think the rules do not apply to them. These are people who wear $1000 suits to work. These people have not brown-bagged a lunch since the third grade. These people have never had to sit at the kitchen table and draw names out of a hat to see which bills got paid. These people exist on an altogether different plane than the rest of us paycheck-to-paycheck riffraff. They do not see the big deal in taking millions in dollars in bonus money in addition to their already lucrative salaries. These people do not see what the big deal is, taking rewards while the companies they control hemorrhage money. These people have no moral misgivings about sending jobs overseas for the tax dodge. Their patriotism is eclipsed by their need for profitability. And whenever we question these practices, they hide behind their imaginary obligation to their investors and stockholders.

Let's also remind ourselves that AIG is an insurance company. Since when do insurance companies do the right thing? Do we really expect them to have a conscience all of a sudden? Think about your own dealings with insurance companies: if they owe you money, how prompt are they to pay you, generally? If anything, they will refuse to pay out, even when the policies state their obligations clearly. Then when they do pay out, they make their customer fill out reams of useless paperwork, all in the hopes that you'll forget to sign somewhere, forget to initial, fold something that isn't supposed to be folded, anything to give them a flimsy pretext to deny your claim, since you didn't do it right. How many people every year have to sue their own insurance companies just to get their fair share? You can bet they keep a cabal of lawyers on tap to steamroller you if you try. Taking on an insurance company is either very brave or very stupid, but most often it just very pointless.

So the insurance company AIG, in order to keep itself solvent, agreed to a laundry list of conditions to get their hands on a government bailout package. They pinky-swore that THIS TIME they'd do the right thing and be responsible with our money. They wouldn't be greedy little pigs anymore. And now they're failing to observe the terms of the deal by using that money (or at least part of it) to pay millions of dollars in bonuses out to their elite. Are we supposed to be shocked here?

Add to all this, the idea that they are somehow "too big to fail", and we have to consider the stockholders in all this. First - too big to fail? I am ALL for testing that theory. Perhaps letting them fail is exactly the cautionary tale the insurance industry needs to get them to realize the gravity of our situation. "Too big to fail", my ass. How about "too pompous and corrupt to exist"? If they fail, they fail. And as to the stocker holders? Well, seeing as how OUR tax dollars went to bail them out, and seeing as how without that bailout they'd be out of business, I'd say that makes the American Taxpayer a stockholder. It's our money they're using to stay afloat, that gives us a say in their future. So as a stockholder vis a vis my tax dollars, I say: screw you, AIG.

Welcome to my world, bitches.