Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Not Your Father's Stock Market - Does Anyone Really Miss Oldsmobile?

Not Your Father’s Stock Market – Does Anyone Really Miss Oldsmobile?
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
November 19, 2008

During Independence Day weekend in 2005 I bought a brand new Chevy Malibu. It’s such a nice automobile that General Motors now wants me to buy another one, except they won’t actually let me have the car. They, along with Ford and Chrysler want my money, but have nothing to offer in return. The same is true for the rest of American automobile owners and even those who do not currently own a vehicle of any kind.

Yes, my friends, welcome to the great American Automobile Bailout. The big three American auto makers in the United States flew into Washington, DC – on private jets, no less – obviously not learning anything from the piggish largesse demonstrated by AIG – hats in hand – upturned – begging Congress for a $25 billion “loan” to keep them afloat.

Remembering former First Lady Nancy Reagan’s anti-drug mantra of the 1980s, advice to Congress, “Just say no.” First the banking and financial industry, now the automobile industry, where does it end? Who will come calling next? Textile workers? The newspaper industry? Of course their failings are their own fault for all the pulp fiction the alleged mainstream media disguises as journalism. Well, as Harry Truman so eloquently noted on his Oval Office desk, “The buck stops here,” and here is with the American taxpayers. After all, the money Congress would “loan” the big three comes from the revenue provided by the American taxpayer.

And what do the taxpayers get in return?

Supporters of the bailout say it is necessary to prevent the auto industry from going bankrupt and eventually out of business causing the elimination of over one million jobs related directly and indirectly to the auto industry. US Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) never met a bailout he didn’t like – starting with the initial $700 billion and the $100 billion dumped in the laps of the AIG weasels who continued living high off the hog on the backs of the taxpayers while the AIG executives were getting cushy massages. If Frank is for it, it must be the wrong thing to do.

On the other hand, Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) was right on target when he called for Edward Liddy, AIG’s beleaguered CEO, to resign as a condition of the bailout. Why keep the same leaders at the helm to continue running the ship aground.

The automobile industry is to blame for their current failings. Obviously they are not producing the vehicles that the American motorist wants to drive or if they are, the cost is too prohibitive. And just why is the cost too prohibitive? It begins and ends with labor costs. The labor costs of the big three auto makers in the United States is roughly $73 to $74 per hour, while the labor cost of the average American worker not a part of the big three is about $28 to $29 per hour. By the way, in Japan, the labor cost of the auto worker is about $45 an hour.
If the government bails out the automobile industry what is to prevent it from continuing along the same path to disaster? Certainly not the government, who can barely manage its own affairs. If the big three face Chapter 11 bankruptcy they would be forced to reorganize themselves in a more fiscally prudent manner. Perhaps it is time for GM’s G. Richard Wagoner, Jr., Alan Mulally of Ford and Robert Nardelli of Chrysler, the Larry, Moe and Curly of automotive CEOs to be left at the side of the road.

Reorganization ought to include a panel of “civilians” to advise the big three what will drive customers back into the showrooms. Perhaps the big three simply need to make better vehicles. Although to be fair, I have only owned American cars and have had success with them, including my current Malibu, which I really enjoy, but then, I have low expectations – get me where I need to go safely and in a timely fashion. I probably would not be a good candidate for the civilian panel.

In fact my first car was a 1973 Delta 88 Oldsmobile – a big ole honking four door, dare I say, Carolina blue, behemoth of a car that had crank windows, AM-only radio and took regular leaded gasoline. Oldsmobile has gone the way of the dinosaur and America has survived. Perhaps if GM, Ford or Chrysler faded away or merged with one another and streamlined themselves, they could once again be the strong, solid American automobile manufacturer people remember from yesteryear. Sometimes a thinning of the herd strengthens the herd. Probably something of which Darwin would approve.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (R), himself a Michigan native, has come out against the bailout. He suggests that bankruptcy is the appropriate way to go as well, because why should the American taxpayer be forced to pay for something they obviously did not want in the first place. Romney’s father, George Romney headed up American Motors starting in 1954. Anyone miss American Motors? They came into this world as a result of a merger between the Nash-Kelvinator Corporation and the Hudson Motor Car Company in 1954. They foolishly merged with the French company Renault in the 1970s and finally exited stage left when Chrysler bought out AMC. (Renault after all produced the hideous Le Car in the early to mid ‘70s. What a piece of crap.)

Lead, follow or get out of the way is the advice for the big three. If they can’t make it on their own, it just wasn’t meant to be. If bankruptcy will shake loose the cobwebs and give people something worth buying at a price worth paying, consumers will be back. If not, perhaps one of the big three needs to fade into the sunset.

Some who support the bailout have suggested it would be bad for the economy if the bailout does not occur. Well, let’s look at the tumbling stock market. When the Democratic-led Congress approved the initial $700 billion bailout did the market suddenly turn around and enjoy an upswing? No. And with continued talks of more government handouts with taxpayer dollars, the market continues sliding into the mire and muck.

When the Dow Jones Industrial Average, first published on May 26, 1896 in Customer’s Afternoon Letter, the original Dow Industrials featured but 12 companies from America’s important industries. In 1916 the Dow expanded to 20 companies and finally in 1928 settled on 30 companies – the number used to this day. Of the original 12, General Electric is the last man standing – and barely at that. They have enough of their own problems.

So, what happened to the US Leather Company? Dissolved in 1952. What about North American Company? Broken up in the ‘40s. How about the National Lead Company? Today they are NL Industries, but they were tossed off the Dow in 1916. And the American Sugar Company? Today, they are Domino Foods, Inc. – sugar, not pizza. Companies come and companies go – like the Bible says, a time to be born and a time to die.

And what about the original Dow 30? Sure, Chrysler and GM are still standing, but did the country fold when Bethlehem Steel, founded in 1857, went bankrupt in 2001 and dissolved two years later? No, other businesses pick up the pace. Anyone miss Woolworth? OK, it was an American institution, but now there is Wal-Mart. Potsum Inc. became General Foods, while American Can became Primerica. Standard Oil of New Jersey became Exxon while Texas Corp. became Texaco and is now Chevron – just a hair of a different color. All part of the original 30. In business there are no sacred cows.

It may not be necessary to reinvent the wheel, but reinventing the American automobile industry sure seems like a prudent idea.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and political consultant living in Alexandria, VA.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

"Wake Up, Damn It!" - Ralph Waldo "Petey" Greene

“Wake Up, Damn It!” – Ralph Waldo “Petey” Greene
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
November 6, 2008

For the uninitiated, Ralph Waldo “Petey” Greene told it like it was in his world on the Washington, DC airwaves on WOL during the late 1960s and early 1970s before succumbing to cancer. The ex-con, who described himself in his boss’s word – a miscreant, because it sounded more sophisticated, would no doubt be shocked that his trademark show opener on the DC soul music station would be used in conjunction with the Republicans. Don Cheadle more than adequately portrayed Greene in the enjoyable 2007 film Talk To Me.

With the GOP’s rapidly and radically shrinking numbers in the Congress, the elephant has become an endangered species and qualifies the Republican Party for federal aid and protection. But being the proud party of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, the GOP would never stoop to the level of the Democrats of milking from an already bloated and overextended federal government teat.

While the battle has been lost, the war wages on and it is incumbent of the Republican Party to coalesce, look forward and stop the blame game. Although there is more than enough blame to go around, it should not fall into the lap of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Like a rabid pack of wolves devouring their young, the McCain staffers are throwing Palin to those very wolves. They are wrong to do so, as much of the blame falls on the narrow shoulders of the McCain camp itself. John McCain needs to step up and silence the critics while defending his vice presidential nominee.

The 2008 GOP presidential campaign sadly resembled the 1996 milquetoast effort phoned in by the Bob Dole campaign. Make no mistake, I like Bob Dole – even voted for him (although I voted for Alan Keyes in the primary) and do not fault him as a person, World War II hero or United States Senator. But his campaign went through the motions as many people anointed him because the party majority believed it was “his turn,” much was the case with the John McCain campaign, until Palin was added to the ticket.

The problem was not that McCain’s people threw Palin under the Straight Talk Express after the election, but before the votes were even cast. Why was Palin not more properly prepped prior to appearing before a hostile media? Why was Palin not put on the Fox News Channel first, where she would have been given a fair shake on the fair and balanced news network. There, Palin could have gotten her “sea legs” in preparation for the unfriendly onslaught from the allegedly mainstream media that would inevitably follow.

No, no, Palin is not to blame for the loss this past Tuesday. History was made Tuesday because very motivated people voted for Barack Obama and fewer, less motivated people voted against Barack Obama as opposed to voting for John McCain. This campaign could not have been run more poorly. There is no honor in losing with what was at stake. The McCain camp allowed the media and Obama campaign determine what the McCain campaign would say or not say simply due the fear of being labeled a racist.

There is no question that Senator Obama ran a solid campaign, and why not, he had more money than any candidate has ever seen in history. He had the resources provided for him by many people who turned their dollars into votes to deliver the victory home for Obama. People were excited by the Obama candidacy because of his youthful exuberance, his promise of change, which is what will be left in people’s pockets if his economic proposals are enacted, and many people believed he is one of them – be it young, urbane, or biracial – both blacks and whites could associate with Obama.

Yet, while Senator McCain said he would run an honorable campaign, which he did, he failed to bring relevant issues to the forefront and force the media to either deal with those issues or admit they were in the tank for Obama. But McCain did not do either. So, while McCain was getting whacked like a piƱata, only a handful of talk radio hosts – true conservatives like Sean Hannity and Mark Levin, for example, carried McCain’s water and begged him on air to hit back with Obama’s association to unrepentant domestic terrorist William Ayers, Antoin “Tony” Rezko, anti-Semitic Rev. Louis Farrakhan, incendiary Michael Pfleger and Obama’s 20-plus year, anti-American Pastor Jeremiah Wright.

McCain should have hammered Obama on his socialistic economic plans, government-run health care plans, poor grasp of foreign policy including his willingness to sit down without preconditions with Cuba’s Castro, Venezuela’s Chavez, North Korea’s Kim Jong Il and Iran’s Holocaust denier Ahmadinijad who has repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel, calling the Jewish state a “stinking corpse.” By voting in favor of the economic bailout several weeks ago, McCain ceded the economic socialism issue as the bailout was just that – socialistic and the stock market reacted adversely in the immediacy of that slippery-slope of a vote. And, just look at the continued downturn of the market in the days since the Obama victory – speaks volumes. Even Obama’s and Vice Presidential nominee Joe Biden’s own words were not used against them as often as they should have been. Obama-Biden ran on Carter issues, but with a Clinton campaign – thus the electoral success.

The American people were as in the dark about Obama on the eve of his historic election as they were when he announced his candidacy on the state house steps in Springfield, IL nearly two years ago. Statistically, it is known that Obama is the most liberal member of the United States Senate. Why that did not lead to a more conservative GOP nominee remains a mystery.

In fact, the most conservative Republican candidates for president, those who most adhered to the GOP principles of smaller government, less government interference in people’s lives, fewer government giveaways, fewer bailouts, a strong defense, an unwillingness to compromise on the issue of illegal immigration, a support of school choice – including vouchers and charter schools and lower taxes, were Jim Gilmore, Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo. Unfortunately, these three have a public demonstration of warmth roughly equivalent to a burned out light bulb. They are as about as exciting as a mug of warm milk. Yet, because of their principles and unyielding stance on the issues, Congressman Tancredo (CO) and Congressman Hunter (CA) were my top two choices. Sadly, neither could even muster enough support to garner the requisite signatures to place their names on the Virginia ballot. Gilmore (VA), who was slaughtered in his bid to replace retiring John Warner in the US Senate, was long gone by the time of the Virginia primary.

That left the ever amusing former governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee, the uber-wealthy former governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney, Mr. Law & Order Fred Thompson, a former Tennessee senator, America’s mayor Rudy Giuliani of New York City and McCain – none of whom, save for Thompson, could be considered a conservative and Thompson ran such a lackluster campaign that he too was out before the Virginia February primary. Thompson earned my vote, as he was still on the ballot, and it also a message to Senator McCain that he needed to make a sharp right turn.

McCain did just that with his selection of Palin, but that seemed to be a Hail Mary pass late in the fourth quarter down by five points. Palin was hardly vetted – not her fault, and although she gave some fiery speeches and certainly reached the GOP base, the McCain folks did not prepare her well enough to face what awaited her.

With more grooming, education and experience as the Chief Executive of Alaska, Palin will have a future with the Republican Party. Few others loom on the horizon, save for representatives Marsha Blackburn (TN-7), Eric Cantor (VA-7), Shelley Capito (WV-2), Jeff Flake (AZ-6) Thad McCotter (MI-11), Adam Putnam (FL-12) and Paul Ryan (WI-1), as well as governors Charlie Crist (FL), Mitch Daniels (IN), Jon Huntsman, Jr. (UT), Bobby Jindal (LA), Tim Pawlenty (MN), Rick Perry (TX) and Mark Sanford (SC). The national party lacks leadership at the helm of the Republican National Committee (RNC), its core constituency is shrinking and not being replenished. So, aside from a failed campaign, the GOP has more internal problems that do not paint a pretty picture for its future.

For all its finger pointing and blaming each other, this is time for the GOP to heal itself. Recruit younger conservatives – people who believe in, and adhere to the core values of the Republican Party. Go forth and spread thy wings in the directions of Jewish, black, Hispanic and Asian voters who believe in traditional values of faith, family and freedom. People who believe in country before party. Actively engage on college campuses. Do not surrender academia to the Democrats, socialists and others attempting to brainwash our young people.

The GOP must widen its tent and not just give lip service to minority groups. It’s great to see the likes of my friend Michael Steele of Maryland at the head of GOPAC, but where are the other conservative black voters? It’s great to see Eric Cantor of Virginia as chief deputy minority whip in the House of Representatives, but where are the rest of the Jewish conservatives? There was no excuse for the Jewish vote to have turned out so heavily for Obama with his questionable associations and less than stellar support for Israel. Yet, in traditional liberal lockstep, the Jewish voters gave Obama 70-plus percent of their support.

With the defeat of Gordon Smith of Oregon, there are no longer any Republican senators on the west coast in the lower 48. With the defeat of Connecticut’s Chris Shays, there are no longer any Republican congressmen representing a single New England state. These are daunting and virtually insurmountable problems facing the future of the Republican Party. The white, Christian, male over 50 years of age is a fast shrinking demographic that the GOP must replenish from other avenues.

During the next four years the Republican Party must not wander the desert aimlessly while in exile from Washington, DC. The party must promote its brand in a positive fashion with fresh faces. Give younger people reasons to form Republican clubs on high school and college campuses. Promote positive reasons for being a Republican, not just negative reasons for not being something else. Seek out the minority groups that have traditionally believed there has not been a seat at the GOP table in the past.

During the next four years of exile, the Republican Party must be ever vigilant in keeping a close eye on the Obama administration. As Americans who believe in country first, we wish him well and hope for success. But we will be watching as liberal Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens will no doubt retire and probably justices “Darth Vader” Ginsburg and David “the disappointment” Souter as well – all liberals, giving Senator Obama ample opportunity to put a major handprint on the Supreme Court that will have a long-lasting impact for the foreseeable future. The Republicans must not be a rubber stamp on the confirmation of justices, judges, cabinet members and the other crucial appointments that will come before them in the Senate. Question them hard and vet them carefully. Do not be afraid to use the filibuster – and use it correctly – the way Jimmy Stewart aptly demonstrated in the great film Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.

The party must also go on offense as well in recruiting top flight candidates to run for the Senate in 2010. As the Reagan campaign slogan told us in 1980, “Now is the time.” Recruitment must already be under way. Of the 34 senators up for reelection in 2010, 15 are Democrats, including the seat currently occupied by Obama, which will be filled by another Democrat.

Chris Dodd (CT) could be in trouble with the right opponent, perhaps the recently defeated Congressman Shays. Russ Feingold (WI) could be in trouble as well, again with the right opponent, perhaps the up and coming Congressman Paul Ryan. Blanche Lincoln (AR) is a Democrat in the Deep South – she should be in as much jeopardy as Shays and Smith were in Connecticut and Oregon respectively. With all of his incendiary and polarizing remarks over the past four-plus years, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV) should face stiff opposition, if the GOP can find an attractive candidate lacking Reid’s perpetual dourness. Ken Salazar (CO) could face a tough reelection battle if Tom Tancredo comes out of retirement. He has made overtures about seeking the governor’s mansion in the Centennial State.

Unfortunately, the remaining 10 Democratic senators facing reelection in 2010 will probably encounter no more than a token challenge and be returned for an additional six years. This includes Evan Bayh (IN) because he’s a moderate in a typically red state, Barbara Boxer (CA) because it’s California, Byron Dorgan (ND) because of his seniority, Daniel Inouye (HI) because it’s Hawaii, Patrick Leahy (VT) because it’s Vermont, Barbara Mikulski (MD) because it’s Maryland, Patty Murray (WA) because it’s Washington, Chuck Schumer (NY) because it’s New York, Ron Wyden (OR) because it’s Oregon and whomever fills Obama’s seat in Illinois because that person will have only served two years and have a connection to Obama.

Conservatives must not be afraid to speak up from the wilderness. Our voices must be heard – not just as reactionaries, but as visionaries with an eye toward the future of the greatest nation G-d put on earth. Republicans and the Republican Party ought to heed the words of the late Petey Greene and “Wake Up – Damn It!”

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and political consultant living in Alexandria, VA.