Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Auto bailout

I've been listening to the discussion if money with the financial bailout should be used to help the ailing auto industry, namely giving the Big Three (GM, Chrysler and Ford) money to restructure their companies and be more competitive with the Japanese company, some of whom operate production and assembly plants in the US.

Ok, I'm obviously not an economist, or more so, an automotive economist to have any real idea about the best solution here, but some things do cross my mind which I hear from some representatives in Congress who plans to attach caveats to any loan to the auto companies. And I thoroughly agree because in all the bailout talks, most of those in Congress and the Bush administration are failing to consider the obvious, the American people.

If the American people don't have jobs, affordable mortages, good healthcare plans, and reasonable taxes, then all the bailout of the financial industry is moot. They'll still be rich and we'll still be poor. And if the auto companies do get a bailout, as they say, the devil is in the details, but to me there should be some guarrantees.

No bailout, ie loan, should not eviscerate any of the current labor contracts with the unions and workers.

No bailout should not allow any of the companies to jettison their employee health insurance packages.

No bailout should not allow the companies to transfer their retirement packages to the federal government program.

This means a bailout would be to help the company stay in business and focus on new cars and not simply find ways to enrich the company, the executives and the shareholders. They shouldn't take any money then move production out of the country. It's our money, and they owe use some guarrantees as to its use.

The same applies if any of them decide to go into bankruptcy, which is the way they want to jettison all of the three above things. They're after finding ways to lower labor costs, but in doing so will cost the workers, Americans, an affordable job and life. Is this not what America is about. It's about keeping Americans working with good jobs with decent benefits. It's about keeping affordable retirements.

Otherwise, Congress should simply turn a blind eye and deaf ear to their pleas for financial help. The companies drove themselves into this space, they can drive their way out without our help. If they want that but don't want the caveats, then fine, go to bankruptcy court and let everyone fight it out, and see how far you go and how many customers you have and get.

Burrowing in

This is a phrase used with federal employees where the current administration converts political appointees into permanent civil service jobs (as the SES level, meaning near or at the salary ceiling of over $100K) or "C" level (civil service grade) by redefining their position as civil service jobs, and then bypassing the required competitive selective process by appointing them based on their pre-existing experience in the position.

It's not illegal, but it's unethical at best and, in my mind, bullshit. And yes, almost all Presidents do it, including Bill Clinton (only Jimmy Carter banned this practice), but this time it really does hurt everyone. Foremost, why do republicans who complain about "excessive government" approve this when it adds to the number and costs of government employees. It also only creates conflict in the agency when real permanent employees could plan that an incompentent political appointee would be gone to discover they've been converted to the same ranks as them with a higher salary, something they never earned and don't deserve.

It also creates problems with the next administration when they have to use the civil service rules and regulations to get rid of these employees than simply showing them the door as usually happens. I don't know why a political appointee in the Bush administration would want to become a permanent employee when they know they'll be facing problems with the new boss, who could just as easily undo their position and find a way to make them resign.

It is an easy process to find these employees, simply those in the senior executive service and those in the higher civil service grades who were only recently officially hired but on staff since 2001. And the GAO tracks them too. Then all you have to do is reorgnize around their position, esentailly back to the old organization, eliminating it, and forcing them to either accept a transfer to some god-forsaken office or resign. You can even force them into a lower job if there are no equivalent jobs.

And with little permanent senority, they would be stuck. I hope the new administration has some serious conversations with these "employees", which they're not, just political hacks, many of whom were only there to impose a political agenda, about their future with the government, like, "We have some very nice offices in Fairbanks, Alaska and Fort Peck, Montana which need employees."

So all you converted political hacks, your time will come when your boss asks for a conversation about your future. And as they say, "Don't let the door hit you on the way out."

Saturday, November 15, 2008

What we're not the economy

I was reading that Congress is postponing any ecomomic stimulus package until atfter January 20 when President-elect Obama will become President. And while they're not doing this they're continuing to spend nearly $ 1 Trillion to bailout banks, financial services companies, financial insurance companies (AIG), and now the auto industries and regular insurance companies.

They're spending our money too. Not their money or the various industries' money, but our tax dollars. And we're seeing that some of the money has disappeared and can't be found even by government auditors (AIG's first $120B). And why are they ignoring the American people?

Simple, we did what they ask with our stimulus check. We paid down debt and put it in savings. To the extent only about 15% of the money they refunded us was spent buying anything. We did what they asked and as any competent financial advisor will tell you, and now we're being blamed for the continued downturn in the ecomony because they really wanted us to spend our money.

But they failed to mention buying something doesn't help the financial service companies, they failed on their own arrgance and stupidity. Why would we spend money on failing industry, buying bad securities? What, do you think we're that stupid? We got suckered into buying all this bad shit for years now and lost much of our investment and seeing our retirement package lose extensive value. And they want us to buy more?

Another story that was interesting was the story about the soybean grower in North Dakota, the grocery store in Japan and the home owner in Pennsylvania (NPR story).

There's a shortage of containers (those standard sized giant metal shoe boxes everything is transported globally) and so the soybean grower who's products sells well in Japan can't ship there because Americans, like the woman in Philadephia who isn't buying furnishings, is hurting imports, where most goods are made now, causing a shortage of containers in the US to ship overseas, and is making the dollar stronger, causing the prices of US soybeann products higher, causing the price to go up in Japan, reducing sales of soybeans.

So it's contradiction. Since our economy is about consumerism and indebtedness, they want everyone to spend and go in more debt if necessary, which makes the dollar weak, increases imports and creates a trade imbalance against us. But then they argue we should be paying down our debt, clearing it if possible, and saving money which helps the banks, which puts more of the money into the credit and loan cycle.

They bailout the banks and financial institutions, but exclude the American people in the plan, the very people they blame for the economy and our financial mess of indebtedness and credit. Then they want us to spend and go more indebt to help the economy so they can complain that our debt and credit is the problem, overlooking the US government's debt of nearly $11 Trillion, making the interest a significant part of the government's annual spending.

We're the economy when it's good because we're spending and we're the economy when it's bad because we're not spending, but we're not the economy when it implodes and needs government help? What don't they understand when the pundits say, "It's the economy stupid.", they really mean, "We (American people) are the economy stupid."?

So the question to Congress is when do they plan to address that issue, our incomes are hurting, our credit is bad, the value of our house is falling, foreclosures are up, our retirement funds and our plans are fading, and on and on down the slippery slope into a recession and maybe a depression. But ya'll focus on the financial and banking companies with our money?

What don't you remember about being our representative? Or do you think the lobbyists are more important? But did you forget who elected you, and who can just as easily unelect you? Yes, us, the economy stupid.

Pro Life is Choice

I read EJ Dionne's OpEd piece today (11/15/08) in the Washington Post about supporting the pro-life folks Obama did in the campaign when Obama said, "There surely is some common ground,", toward the end of the third presidential debate. I agree, there is common ground here.

But that common ground isn't about walking across the line and unreservedly supporting the pro-life position. It is about supporting their position by talking with both sides and making the clear point, pro-life and pro-choice are two views of the same horizon. Both sides are looking in the same direction, they're only at it differently.

Pro-life folks want abortion banned, and if not that, serverly restricted. They want the choice to be one, theirs, and controllig the family planning and birth control rights and information of women to just that one choice. On the other hand pro-choice folks feel the horizon is wide with many paths, and it's about choice and freedom for all women.

And that's where I think the OpEd pieces misses the point. You don't jettison the pro-choice folks by embracing the pro-life folks. You talk with the pro-life folks to inform and educate that no one advocates abortion, and while it is one of the choices women have, it's about the freedom to choose including being pro-life. Pro-choice is pro-life if the woman decides that is what's right for her.

After all how many women give birth without the thought of abortion? And how many women, in comparison, give abortion a thought because of the circumstances or situation of their pregnancy? Huge difference. So, abortion isn't something most women think about, but should we deny women the choice if there are good reasons for an abortion?

In the end my view doesn't change, the argument isn't about abortion or about pro-life or choice, but about the freedom to have choices which fits their life. They can easily, as almost all women do, choose life. But a few need the choice of abortion, and it's about being pro-life for women and their rights.

So, in the end, both sides are standing under the same umbrella looking at the horizon. And pro-life is just one of the path in the pro-choice directions. They share the right to be pro-life. So, maybe it's time for the pro-life to see you're one of us, and you can promote your view with those who agree, just don't take away the freedom of women to see other choices.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Comcast Update

Ok, folks, I've ranted enough at Comcast for the recent software upgrade, and I won't, or promise to try not to, rant anymore, except where appropriate. And after a technician replaced the cable box and talking with a Comcast representative, who was technically savy, here's what I've learned.

First, the problem restated. Using the HD signal off the back of the cable box for HD-capable TV's, switching from HD channels to non-HD channels, the signal would lose the color, displaying the non-HD channels in a weird black and white with purple, lime green, etc. colors. And reseting the box or TV, or simply unplugging the cable would restore the color to the non-HD channel.

It's consistent and once it's off color, it's always off color, even switching back to HD channels and back to non-HD channels. All HD channels are uneffected and all non-HD channels are weird. And the reason?

As best I can discern from conversations so far, it is the new software, and not cable boxes. This is because the new software was written for HDMI connections for the HD TV channels, and it has to adapt the signal to the DVI HD connections on those cable boxes with DVI connectors. Most older to recent HD TV's, like my 3 year old Sony, use DVI inputs where newer ones have HDMI inputs for HD signals.

The Motorola cable boxes with DVI outputs are the ones that don't work with the new HD signal from Comcast. You need to get a HDMI ouptut cable box. This will solve the software problem but may not solve your TV problem. You can adapt your DVI input TV with a HDMI (box) to DVI (TV) cable or adaptor. And then hope it works.

So, why did Comcast write software that has a known bug for HD TV with DVI inputs? That's a good one for Comcast to answer to all their customers who have the DVI output cable boxes. It's a mystery to me since the software worked fine before and they made some software design decisions without fully understanding or testing the results.

Me? I plan to switch the boxes and cables and see if this solves the problem. I'll keep you posted on this.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Choice is freedom

I've written about my views on abortion, but any vote about abortion isn't about abortion, it's about freedom and choice. And it's not about whether you're for or against abortion, it's about your view that women have choices and women have the freedom to make the best choice for them, and not restricted by someone else's believe, religion or values. It is that simple.

You see freedom is about access to the full range and diversity of information and choices. If we begin to restrict choices we begin to restrict information. The more we restrict information, the less knowledgeable our society is about the whole of our life and humanity. And the more we do that, we narrow our views where we can't see anything beyond our narrow personal interests.

And that's where some who is pro-choice is really about the whole. The whole suite of information about sex eduction, reproductive rights, birth control, pregnancy and birth, and if necessary, abortion, especially when it involves the health of the woman, in the case of rape or incest, or for the woman's personal reasons.

When you begin to restrict that, you begin to hurt our society with less knowledgeable people. And what's also not understood is that pro-choice advocates aren't for abortion as the only option, but for the whole range of information and choices for women. They believe women should be smart and should have the freedom to access the information and make the best choice for them.

As we all know from history, restricting the choice of abortion hasn't and won't eliminate abortion. It's always been there and always will, no matter how hard the anti-abortionists try to make it illegal. And we also know restricting the information about sex education, reproductive rights and birth control won't make women, especially young women, only choose abstinence. And it certainly hasn't and won't stop teen pregnancy.

And the Republican Vice Presidential candidate is the best example of this with her 17 year old pregnant daughter. And she is the spokeswoman for the anti-abortionist. As much as she can talk about the virtues of pro-life and anti-abortion, and all the restrictions on teens to the information, it doesn't work when you daughter wasn't listening and learned the way many other young women learn.

She is now an example of history. So why not vote for freedom and choice, and if the women doesn't like abortion as a choice, that's a choice she can make, as all women can make. That's what freedom is about, the freedom for choices. Why not vote for that?