Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Proposition 8: Shame on Us, California

The ongoing irony of Californians amazes me. We overwhelmingly pass a bill to guarantee minimum space standards for the livestock we eat (Proposition 2), and we narrowly pass a bill which prohibits how two consenting adults can define their relationship.

The most bizarre pro-Prop 8 poster I saw leading up to the election exclaimed, "Keep Government Out of Marriage!" Huh? The whole point of Proposition 8 was to establish a law (i.e. "Government") which placed restrictions on civil unions between adults.

But that was one of the main points of the Prop 8 supporters, that the California Supreme Court somehow "made law." Go back to Civics class, folks, and refresh your knowledge of Constitutional Law. Basically, it goes like this: The State should have no interest in the civil relationships between consenting adults, so long as personal and property rights of others is not infringed. Furthermore, since we have anti-discriminatory statutes on the books for sexual orientation, then, well, you can't discriminate! Being "offended" by or "fearful" of gay couples, or what many refer to as the "Ick Factor," does not affect your personal rights. So, the California Supreme Court ruled correctly that banning marriage between a particular class of people is wrong, wrong, wrong.

But never mind, I'll just keep rambling. Keith, as usual, puts everything in proper perspective. It's six minutes long, but worth every second:

U.S. Auto Maker Bailout: There Better Be Major Strings Attached

The US auto industry has been in decline since the first oil crisis in 1973. Even during the heyday of SUV's and big trucks in the 90's and 00's, anyone with a serious forward-looking focus could see that any major blip in oil prices, oil supply, or macroeconomic health would send the industry off the cliff.

Why? Because American consumers change their buying habits quickly, and the American auto makers have never built a diverse enough fleet to satisfy consumers' changing whimsy.

The major foreign makers, like Toyota, Nissan, and (yes) Hyundai have built and maintained a diverse fleet of vehicles of useful features and high quality that meet customer expectations. You can buy a bad-ass pickup or SUV from them, and you can also buy quality subcompacts and alternative fuel vehicles.

Meanwhile, Detroit has fought long and hard against improvements in the most basic standards for safety, fuel efficiency, and emissions. They claim that better standards will cripple the industry. At the same time, they spend years developing buggy, butt-ugly vehicles that fewer Americans are willing to buy. Just look at Honda and Toyota, and what they have successfully done on their own in the same areas, using the same market forces that Detroit seems unwilling to heed.

Here we are now, and Detroit has been caught off-guard again, with a huge inventory of big clunkers and no answers for consumers' current demands for highly efficient and high quality vehicles. Auto dealerships for American cars are closing at a fast pace, too, and that's no wonder. I have rarely received good service on either the front or back ends of a car sale through an American dealer.

So now, Detroit has joined the mantra: "Bail us out!" Now, I certainly don't want the auto industry to implode, at least not right now. Job losses will be mounting over the next few months, anyway, and a few million more added to the jobless rolls would be nasty.

That being said, we can't just give money to Detroit and expect them to do the right thing. Left to their own devices, they would just go back to designing 20th century vehicles for the 21st century. And, they would still complain about improving standards, the same as before. Hey, Detroit, quitcherbitchin!

So, Congress, here's what we should ask for return from Detroit before handing them the money:
  • Ownership stake in the companies (preferred stock)
  • Observer status on the Board of Directors
  • Commitment to design of vehicles which meet aggressive fuel economy and emission standards. (Additional tax breaks are welcome here.)
  • Commitment to manufacturing processes which are sustainable. (Again, additional tax breaks are okay.)
  • Retooling of the sales and inventory process, so that most vehicles are built to order. The traditional auto dealership should be moved to its proper place...a museum.
This is the short list. In any event, we should not allow Detroit to come to the trough without expecting some long term changes to their business model.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Historic Moment, and Daunting Challenges

I rarely experience chills from speeches. But tonight's acceptance speech was eloquent, humble, conciliatory, but most important, cautionary. President-Elect Obama knows full well that entering his term with a damaged economy and an obscene budget deficit leaves few options. So he asked for us to be willing to sacrifice and work harder. I hope you all heard it, too. Sign me up, let's get to work.

Part 2 of my "Screwed" series never saw the light of day. The premise was that we can't overcome the challenges we face, because we have pissed away the cash and credit needed to solve them. Over a trillion dollars squandered on the Iraq and Wall Street misadventures.

Why, with a trillion dollars, we could:
  • Provide health care to everyone in the USA
  • Educate all of our children and provide activities for them while their parents work
  • Transform our society and economy to be sustainable
  • Rebuild our infrastructure for the 21st century (it's gotta be sustainable, after all)
  • Fund a Manhattan Project to mitigate the climate problem
But, who am I to whine over squandered opportunities? What's done is done, and all those lives and money won't be coming back.

I think we have elected the right person at the right time, except Mr. Obama won't have the luxury of a budget surplus to squander like his predecessor. It will be most interesting to see how the new administration plans its strategy to address all the immediate problems that have been ignored for eight years.