2.28.2009

GOP Response to the State of the Nation Speech

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29289533/vp/29378488#29378488


You know, I really liked Bobby Jindal - that is until he did this rebuttal to President Obama's speech. I found it to be hokey, almost a "hey-we-Republicans-have-a-colored-in-our-ranks" kind of a ploy.

I still like Bobby, but he was played a fool.

The Employee Free Choice Act II

Get ready. The hype building around the next attempt to pass the so-called Employee Free Choice Act (HB800). First attempted in 2007 this act failed, due largely to partisan differences. Now, with a clear Democratic majority, the bill is poised to become law. So, hold onto your hat. Labor Unions and Corporate America are about to engage in that tried and true American tradition of hyperbole and political spin.

Arkansas IndyMedia
Committee on Education and Labor

Those who know me understand I don't much care for unions. Those who know me well understand that I don't oppose them either. However, I can't help to get ticked off every time I hear a union representative flapping his trap. They just don't seem to understand the new reality (well it's not all that new, but it's new to them). Workers like myself no longer see unions as a savior, in part because of the three highest profile industries they represent - automotive, airlines, teachers - all of whom are struggling and badly. But there's more to it than that.


My Granddaddy's Union
For starters, Big Labor 2009 isn't the union my granddaddy joined. The union of yesteryear worked tirelessly on behalf of ALL Americans. Among their many accomplishments - 40-hour work week, overtime pay, safe working conditions, affirmative action, minimum wage, Labor Day, holiday time off and pay - things we now take for granted. These efforts in Congress were clearly to help their members, but that union understood it was to help all Americans. In doing so the unions made themselves attractive to non-union workers. Membership increased because people saw value in their services. No more.

Big Labor 2009 is and has been focused inward - more so on its declining enrollment and making sure its members keep their benefits, no matter what. I can thoroughly appreciate their desire to take care of their members, and that should be commended. But from what I see too often - both nationally and personally - is the efforts are often not in sync with reality. We see in the news that Big Labor is in tough negotiations with an airline and win getting most of what they want (most often subsidized health care, which many of us don't have at all), then we see the airline fall into bankruptcy. Not to say the union had anything to do with it, but it doesn't look good nonetheless. Why would I want a union representing me if all the high profile companies they bargain with are failing?

That brings me to the Employee Free Choice Act. You may notice this is the one act before Congress that Big Labor showed up for, and it has to do exclusively with their ability to organize at currently non-union companies. Big Labor has been conspicuously absent from the other major debates that would have a far greater impact on their ability to organize. The biggest issue being universal health care. I'm sure Big Labor made some statement on it, but they are not at the forefront. My granddaddy's union would have been front and center.

The Battle
The specific provisions of the bill are hotly contested, which is where Big Labor and Corporate America will be doing battle. Big Labor contends this bill will eliminate the intimidation used by Corporate America to keep Big Labor out of its house. Ironically, it is Big Labor that uses fear and intimidation just as or if not more effectively as Corporate America because it is not only in your face, but in the face of customers too. Of course Big Labor will deny this but I have proof that such incidents have happened at several locations at my company. Which effectively turned us off on Big Labor.

For Corporate America's part in this debate, they will claim this bill strips employees of a secret ballot. Also, it will allow unions to claim representation simply by obtaining 50%+1 to sign authorizations. Which means, an employee can suddenly become unionized without ever getting a vote. It also gives the union powerful information to target those who are more friendly towards their aim as well as the ones who refuse to go along. Of course the unions will say they have no power to do such things -right....

One thing that is overlooked, but just as important - the right for the Corporation to provide opposing viewpoints. This is the sticking point for Big Labor because to them, simply providing information about the "other side" of unionizing is considered "fear and intimidation" by Big Labor. Think of it this way: What if Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton were running for President, but Hillary wasn't allowed to campaign and all you heard were glowing statements from/about Sarah? Would that be a fair election? Don't think so. Don't know about you, but I want to know all the details - the good, the bad, and the ugly before I make any major decision.


Can I Get Some Help Please?
My plea to Unions - help ALL of us find universal health care, sustainable pensions, and/or solvent Social Security and Medicare - and I promise you, membership will improve. Keep looking inward, and I can also promise you things will keep getting worse.

My plea to everyone else - do not blame unions for the current economic crises. They are not responsible for GM's demise or the insolvency at unionized airlines. Hold them to their legacy, because it is a good one.

2.16.2009

Another Revolution Tied Down

This is horrible news for Venezuela. It's not the specter of no more term limits for Venezuelan presidents, or the prospect of 30 or 40 years of Hugo Chavez, it's the principle of the matter. Venezuela voted and decided to remove term limits - great, that's their decision to make and I'm in no position to question that, nor would I want to. But if Venezuelans want genuine change, a genuine "revolution" that withstands the test of time, it won't happen with this decision.

Wrapping up a revolution in the guise of a single person will ultimately fail shortly after the death of the revolutionary. History is full of examples. There is also a very eerie recent example of how another democracy was upended by a skillful orator and became a dictatorship under the banner of a "revolution". That nation was Germany - 1938.

Is Venezuela of 2009 the same as Germany of 1938? Of course not. But when anytime a president refuses to give up power, and then convinces the people to allow him to retain power, you have disaster. Look no further than Zimbabwe. Now Chavez may do a fantastic job, may never be challenged, and may restrain from crushing all dissent like Mugabe has, but why even make that a possibility in the first place?

Good luck to Venezuela. In spite of their leader's animosity towards the USA, I'm not mad at him or the people of Venezuela. In fact I'm actually concerned for their long-term welfare.

2.15.2009

Pay Me Back First

I have mixed feelings on this.
http://www.cnbc.com//id/29197739

There's a couple of issues at work here. Number one, I like the fact that Congress isn't pushing for a hard number limit on compensation (unlike so many other rules). That allows a lot of flexibility to adjust to changing conditions both on the part of Congress and on the bank's part. That's a good thing.




Number two, banks will do what humans do - find ways to maintain the status quo in the face of overwhelming change - and will simply pay executives more via stock options. The argument however, that somehow banks will lose their best and brightest if they don't pay bonuses is marginally true. Yes, some will bolt, but there are thousands - literally - that are currently unemployed precisely because of this economic downturn. Whatever talent is lost can be quickly filled and even upgraded. The sooner that is realized, the better off any bank will be - bailout or no bailout. So bonuses are not required, but bankers expect it.

Number three, as for the government assistance the rules aren't hard to understand. If bonuses are that precious, then pay us back, plus a bonus, then sail off on your own. And if you sink - so be it.

Personally, I don't think any money should be in the bailout of banks. The crux of the problem were allegedly toxic mortgages - adjustable rate mortgages or alternative mortgages that skyrocketed far above the borrower's ability to pay. I don't understand how giving banks - the same ones who came up with alternative mortgage financing, oversaw its distribution and created securities based on those mortgages that are so complicated the banks themselves don't understand them, somehow brings my mortgage rate down or props up my property value. If anyone can explain that to me, I'm all ears.

My suggestion: start a new bank(s) - one that has zero bad assets, and let them start competing with existing banks. That way those who need credit and always got it before can once again get credit and we can move our economy forward. Let the existing banks deal with the mess they created while the rest of us move on.

But hey, I'm an engineer - what would I know.

(Photo by Michael Nagle/Getty Images North America)

UAW Backs Away From GM, Chrysler

As if we couldn't see this coming.... http://www.cnbc.com//id/29198688

I have to side with the UAW on this one. Although that's a rather hollow endorsement because GM is in dire straits. If the UAW (and GM bondholders) stick to their guns and forces GM to honor previous commitments, things can and will probably get ugly - fast. President Obama may have to step in much like this CNBC article (via Reuters) states. The best option in that point would be bankruptcy in my opinion.

What would bankruptcy mean? Probably not as dire as GM portends it to be. For starters, consumers aren't buying cars now, so what difference does it make if GM files for Chapter 11? GM and Chrysler are concerned of course that the public won't buy from a bankrupt company. Not sure where they get that from - virtually every legacy airline has filed for bankruptcy, some multiple times - and the public still flies on those planes.

I'm sorry to say this to my friends in the automotive industry, but slow car sales didn't start this economic downturn and getting those sales back won't bring us out of this malaise. According to economists and those who watch these things carefully, the problem started with toxic mortgages and therefore the solution must be in addressing these mortgages the securities based on them. Solving the mess in Detroit does not meet that goal.

For the record - I drive two Chryslers.

NPR Topics: News