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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

That was Quick

The UAW strike against GM lasted a whole 3 days, that was quick. It might lead one (me) to believe that it was called not because GM and the UAW were so far apart on issues, but instead because the union wanted to show that it still could strike.

The other reason I don't think the strike had much to do with the current negotiations is that GM is sitting on 67 days worth of inventory, 90 on it's trucks. Unless the UAW thought that they were going to be out for at least half of that, it really wasn't a strike that was going to bother the automaker. All it did was reduce their costs for a week, and help sell down inventory.

Details of the tenative agreeement aren't being released, though both sides have said that VEBA, the trust that the UAW will run to manage retiree health care is part of the deal. That's good for GM (up about 7.3% in European trading) because it kills about 3 billion a year in expenses after a one time charge to fund VEBA.

Hopefully GM's management will use the extra "leg room" they are getting finacially on this to do some smart things, like lower prices on a few of the models that are decent sellers to get more of them on the road.

They also need to put a chunk of it into tooling up for some "real" hybrid production to compete with Toyota and Honda, who basically own that market. Their current crop uses a big battery to start the engine while idling, but not to actually run the car. A full hybrid Saturn Vue and small car on the Chevy Cobalt platform would go a long way towards getting them competitive in that market segment.

It will be interesting to see what concessions were made towards a lower (Toyota USA like) payscale for new workers and a 401(k) style retirement plan for them. With nearly 25% of GM's workforce eligible for retirement in the next five years, those savings would make them cost competitive with just about anyone before this contract runs out.

Technorati Tags: GM, UAW, Strike, Contracts

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Turn it Around

Tens of thousands showed up in Jena, La. to protest for the "Jena 6"; six black high school being prosecuted for beating a white student unconscious at school.

The original problem was that some white students, who'd claimed a tree as their hang out (and evidently it had been a "white" hangout for decades) decided to hang nooses from it when black students decided they wanted some shade, too. The school suspended a few kids, but really didn't make a big deal of it. They probably should have made a bigger deal of that.

This caused some bad feelings; rightfully so; and led to an escalating group of fights between the students. When it was one on one, or groups against groups, it seems that all were treated equally, and given 3 days suspensions for the fights.

However, when 6 people beat one, and he was taken to the hospital, the police got involved, and the DA filed attempted murder charges against the six. Considering the kid was treated and released, it probably was a reach on the charges, and they were reduced to second degree battery.

That, apparently, is still too much for a lot of folks, since they came by the thousands to protest. Yet, when compared with other such crimes in other cities, the charges aren't that tough, and probably should have be prosecuted under hate crimes statues.

When you look at the facts, a racially motivated beating, six people of one race on one of another, who according to the evidence had nothing to do with the noose incident, it fits the bill of a hate crime.

Were the rolls reversed here, we'd still have had a protest in Jena. Had the DA let six white kids go back to school after putting a beating on a black student, the buses still would have rolled, complaining about the fact it wasn't prosecuted as a hate crime.

Six on one beatings aren't "boys will be boys" school yard fights, contrary to what some of the protesters believe. And, if they really want to "begin healing" Jena, as Rev. Jackson claimed yesterday, maybe they should put the shoes on the other feet for a few minutes, and see if they'd be satisfied if six white students were put back in class after such actions.

The only way to "racial healing" is to look at it through both sides of the glass. Yes, the kids who hung the nooses were treated too lightly, but that doesn't give carte blanche to others to go around beating folks based on their race, regardless of who is being beaten and who's doing the beating.

Technorati Tags: Jena 6, Racism, crime, punishment, Jesse Jackson, Hate crimes

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Health Care Everywhere

Health care is popping up everywhere, it seems. The UAW and GM's biggest issue in contract negotiations is getting the union to take over management of retiree health care. Hillary wants us all to buy insurance, and Wal-Mart is opening clinics in it's stores.

GM is the "lead company" in the UAW contract negotiations. One of GM, Ford and Chrysler's goals is to move retiree health care from the companies to the unions. Contrary to the belief of some in the UAW, this isn't "unprecedented". Most smaller unions have run their health care systems for retirees for years.

One only need look at the steel industry to see why the companies probably SHOULDN'T run the retiree health care system. When that industry collapsed tens of thousands of retirees too young for medi-care found themselves with no insurance. Considering the shape of Ford's balance sheet, retirees should be thinking this might not be a bad idea.

Hillary has announced her plan to get everyone insured, mandate it! That's right, a federal law that says you have to have insurance, but with a tax credit carrot to get you to buy it. The problem there is the tax credit doesn't show up until months after you have to pay your premiums, little solice to those who already forgo insurance because they can't afford it right now.

We already offer a number of tax incentives for health care, from credits to income offsets, her plan (like many republican one's) would expand on that for those who's employers don't offer insurance, or have it at a high cost.

Her plan, to her credit wouldn't create a new bureaucracy, instead it would expand existing one's, by making current federal government health care programs available to everyone. And of course, there are taxes. If you are an employer and don't offer insurance, you get taxed. If you got a tax cut in 2002, it'll be going away.

The cost of her plan? Supposedly $110 billion a year to cover 47 million. I say supposedly because as I pointed out when Barack Obama and John Edwards came out with similar numbers in the summer, we can't cover one third less than that number on Medicare for 3 times the cost. How are we now suddenly going to become so lean in government provided (mandated) health care that we cut the cost that much?

The UAW and Wal-Mart, of all folks, could end up as sort of strange bedfellows in the whole health care saga. Wal-Mart is opening quick care clinics in a number of it's stores, which have prices far lower than most doctors offices and hospitals (80-90% less than an ER visit).

They also offer low cost ($4) generic prescriptions, even if you aren't insured. If the UAW does end up as it's retiree's health care insurer, Wal-Mart may end up as one of their best options to keep their costs down.

The UAW would be smart to look into reimbursing retirees for generic prescriptions, and low cost office visits at something like the Redi-Care clinic's at Wal-Mart at a 100% rate. If you chose to use a higher cost alternative, you get less of it back.

As John Stossel pointed out on ABC's 20/20 last Friday, more insurance may actually be the worst solution to our health care system's rising prices. Areas of medicine that traditional insurance doesn't cover, lasik eye surgery, and cosmetic procedures have seen their prices come down relative to inflation, while insured proceedures keep going up. Why? Competition in those fields of medicine make it imperitive to keep costs down. ER's and regular doctors who take insurance don't have that incentive, because the patients aren't paying for (most of) the cost.

He also showed how HSA's (Health Saving's Accounts) at places like Whole Foods had reduced their costs, but not cut the quality of care that employees got. Instead of a huge cost major medical plan, Whole Foods offers a catastrophic care plan, and a $1500/yr HSA to employees. The workers suddenly started "shopping" for doctors when they needed something, instead of just going to the first one they found in the yellow pages. After grumbling by some employees about the loss of "traditional" insurance they held a vote, and 77% decided they liked the new plan better.

Technorati Tags: Health Care, Insurance, UAW, GM, Wal Mart, Hillary Clinton

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Still No Unity

My title doesn't refer to Iraq, where our Congress would have us believe that not having complete unity of the country after 5 years makes any efforts there a complete failure. Instead, it refers to this article in today's Washington Post, about the lack of full unity in Bosnia.

It seems that 12 years after ending their civil war, they still have no national security force, instead it's divided between the two ethnic enclaves in the country. Yet that country is the example of how to "do it right" by some on the left. Funny, but they are fractured into two major "sectors", each lead by it's own leader, reporting to a PM, each supplying it's own security forces, even in different uniforms. That's not exactly a "unified" country.

I bring it up because I'm surprised the Post published the story. It gives credence to the idea that maybe our Congress is pushing for too much to fast in Iraq, and setting unrealistic benchmarks. Hell, it will probably become fodder for the legion of right wing talk radio hosts and bloggers to point out that progress is slow in new democracies.

And rightfully so; it took 3 years for the fledgling US to come up with the Articles of Confederation, our first shot at a national unity government. It failed after just a few years, and we started from scratch with the Constitution we now have. It was five and a half years after the end of the Revolutionary war before we had a President under the Constitution; that was 13 years after we declared our independence. Iraq, though, should have everything done in under six, with no infighting or problems, right?

Technorati Tags: Iraq, Bosnia, United States, Government, Unity

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Big Surprise

So, was anyone surprised over the last few days when the Democrats attacked Gen. Petraeus' assessment of the situation in Iraq? If you were, you've had your head in the sand for quite a while. Last Saturday in his radio address Harry Reid basically said the exact things about Petraeus' testimony as he did AFTER he heard it.

For months conservative commentators, including me, have said that because of the reduction in violence in Iraq (about 35% according to Petraeus) that Democrats would start moving the target from violence to political benchmarks.

While our congress wants to complain about "lack of political progress in Iraq", how would they fair if they were given such benchmarks? We are less than three weeks from a new fiscal year, how many of the 13 appropriations bills have been passed? CongressPedia has a pretty good run down on what's been going on with our own budget. (0 appropriates bills have made it through conference committee yet).

While our own Senators and Congressmen (and women) complained of the Iraqi Parliment's August recess, they took 3 weeks off themselve, not passing any legislation.

While our legislators complain of the lack of progress in Iraq, they ignore the fact that from January 21st until the August recess Iraq's parliment had passed more "real" legislation than our own Congress (0ver 60 items to 57). Maybe if we spent less times on hearings about Iraq, and more on hearings about what's going on in our own country we'd have a budget done, and some of the reforms promised last year by the Democrats.

Instead, we have endless "gotcha hearings" and no real political progress in our own country. I'll be our congress is happy that no one gave them any benchmarks.

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Osama And The Democrats

Osama Bin Laden's latest tape sounds like a new commercial for Moveon.org, chastising Democrats for not ending the war in Iraq like they were elected to do. (Looking at his pictures, one wonders if George Soros paid for a beard dye job. Or maybe John Edwards barber made a trip to the cave, for $1200, to give him a touch up.)

I don't normally give MSNBC credit for anything (who'd notice, their six viewers?), but Tim Curry, on their website, gets his analysis of the political reality for Democrats and Iraq correct, and even slaps Moveon.org for their idea of attacking House Democrats who voted for funding. (h/t to Mac Ranger)

A lot of the far left of the Democratic party have forgotten that if they want to accomplish anything they need two things, a majority in congress, and strong leadership. They've got one of the two, but by their lack of success on anything; including Iraq; the other seems to be missing.

Curry correctly points out that most of the 83 Democrats who've voted to continue funding are mostly from districts that could well end up as GOP districts in any given election. By doing something could be seen, or construed, as "bad for the troops", they'd probably be cutting their own necks. This of course, would cause the Democrats to have zero of the two things they need to accomplish anything.

While Nancy Pelosi may not be a strong leader, she is a pragmatic one; and understands that the long term goals of the party are probably more important than the short term goal of it's far left wing. Unfortunately for her, Osama and George Soro's don't agree. One makes tapes to give her grief, the other is going to fund challengers to her party, who could cost them their majority.

On a related note, the Washington Post has an op/ed piece by Bruce Hoffman about why we shouldn't be concentrating on Osama, and should be looking instead forAyman al-Zawahiri, who seems to be running the show.

Technorati Tags: Bin Laden, Pelosi, Reid, Congress, Iraq, War on Terror, Politics
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Friday, September 07, 2007

Would They Bitch if it was Texas?

California's Attorney General and Secretary of State have certified a ballot initiative that has Democrats up in arms this week. If the initiative gets enough votes to get on the ballot, and then wins approval in the state, the 55 electoral votes would no longer to to the highest vote getter in the state. Instead, two would go to that person, the other 53 would go to the winner in each Congressional district.

I railed against a Maryland proposal in April that would give that state's electoral votes to the winner of the nationwide popular vote, for what I think is a good reason. It wouldn't guarantee that who the voters of Maryland voted for is where their electoral votes went to. In fact, in 2004, Maryland would have had to give it's electoral votes to GWB, not John Kerry, not what the state's residents wanted.

The California proposal though, is different. It would do exactly the opposite, ensuring that the electoral votes in congressional districts went to who the voters wanted. This of course has the DNC scared stiff.

As the San Francisco Chronicle points out, "The initiative is a ticking time bomb for Democratic presidential hopes next year, which are pinned on winning all of the state's 55 electoral votes."

They also note that it's not a first, Maine and Nebraska already divide their electors this way. However, Nebraska is a "flyover state" that generally goes to the GOP, so the Democrats pick up a few votes there. Maine, as far as the folks in California are concerned is a misplaced province of Canada, that should probably have no place in US elections.

My guess is that if Texas or Florida got a similar measure approved for a referendum the DNC would be pouring every dollar in it's war chest into getting it passed. They are generally red states, and siphoning off electoral votes from the GOP would seem a great idea. However, this is California, where 20% of the needed electoral votes reside. Losing any of them to the GOP would be a disaster for the Democrats.

I'm not sure if the California initiative has a chance to pass, but when 45% of the states voters had their electoral vote cast "for the other guy", you already have a starting point for getting it through.

It will be interesting to see if enough money shows up to fund the initiative, and get it on the ballot. If it does, expect a lot of Democratic money to be spent trying to defeat it.

Technorati Tags: Elections, Electoral College, GOP, Democrats, California
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