Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Let's Regulate Corporate Banking Welfare

CC'ing the world on my dealings with my congressman (who has responded to me dutifully in the past), John A. Boccieri:
Congressman Boccieri,

Given the recent bail-out of financial institutions using government-backed funds, I have to raise a couple of issues and ask for your consideration of the implications as opportunities arise to address the issues at hand.

1) Bankers are supposed to manage risk.

2) Some of these people have clearly missed the mark, managing this risk. At the same time, the executive management of these same institutions were compensating themselves at a rate that most of us (the vast majority of your constituency) would consider obscene.

3) Having our tax dollars shoring up this risk is a dangerous proposition for our government.

4) They're continuing to pay themselves as if they were creating wealth -- recent measurements show that they're attempting to return their pay to pre-2008 levels.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/27/opinion/27krugman.html?_r=1 (Article reference is Paul Krugman's article in the New York Times entitled "Money for Nothing").

I ask you as my representative in the House to please do your part to regulate this new form of welfare. If we're going to turn the banking system into a new welfare state then there should be welfare-like compensation for the executive management. If they don't want this kind of regulation then they should find ways to be profitable and not take the money as a loan from United States taxpayers (such as you and I).

That's my request -- feel free to call anytime.

PS: Posting this on my blog as well -- just keeping you informed. I trust you as my representative and believe that true democracy requires transparency.

--Paul Ferris.
Writing your representatives is a really good idea. I'm sharing here in the hopes that everyone reading will feel similar motivation to get involved with their government and the overall solution. Vote, contribute and protest if need be. But above all things, be informed and involved.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Pontiac, the mark of Dead Car

GM is about to give Pontiac the axe. What comes to mind when you think of Pontiac? Youthful, Wide-Track, ... Sporty -- Dead?

The Pontiac brand has been targeted by GM management. It's likely going to be gone soon.

First a disclaimer: Paul Ferris isn't a fan of GM products -- I do think that new Camaro is smokin' hot though, and I'm a big fan of the Corvette -- though I'm not likely to own one simply because of the impracticality of a 2 seater in my life. Fact is that if there is anything I'm not it's a car snob. Cars are expensive. I have things I'd rather have my money doing than soaking up the remains of a BMW or some other brand of vehicle. If I want to have fun, a decent Toyota, Ford or Honda is probably going to fit the bill. I've blogged about my tastes in Mustangs and various other car-related opinions over the years. I've also made quite a few comments on GM and their deletion of brand-names.

So it is with no surprise that today I read that GM is finally doing the obviously stupid, and killing off Pontiac.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not totally in view of the GM brand management lineup here -- what I am aware of, however, is that the management of this company has to be one of two things:

  • Chock full of political stupidity.
  • Just plain stupid.
Dozens of reasons not to kill of brands come to mind. Think of a much reduced GM here -- one where the people that manage Pontiac and say Chevrolet are merged together into a cohesive unit of people that were the exact same size (or smaller) than the people that used to manage just the Chevy brand. In this new scenario, the Pontiac brand is sold at Chevy dealerships and vise versa.

In this new reality, GM simply manages the Pontiac brand the way that someone would manage option packages on cars. If a Pontiac branded car is coming down the line it simply gets the right badging and color options. If a car is one of the signature items for Pontiact it might get different grills and/or body panels. In some cases, the Pontiac version of a corvette, for example, or Camaro (for another obvious example -- something called a "fire bird") is manufactured. Otherwise, it's essentially a branch off of the Chevy item of the same name.

This isn't hugely different than what's been going on for the past 20 years or so. There was a time when Pontiac cars had completely different bodies, engines, transmissions. The buyers expected this kind of differentiation. The world has changed (more on all of that later). Buyers of today are not looking for the same thing they were looking for in 1969.

But GM -- wake up here. You may survive for another year doing stuff like lopping off your Pontiac leg. You're going to do it at massive cost, however, if you manage to piss off a whole bunch of Pontiac fans. I don't have to speculate much here -- likely there's a bunch of Pontiac executives that are slated to get the axe. Why GM can't pull it's head out of its collective ass and simply merge all of its executive leaders into a cohesive team that manages all brands is likely a big part of their problem.

The GM of today has to shrink in executive leadership -- let's hope that they can pick the best of the best inside of the company. Let's hope the people that stay behind are frugal, nimble and most importantly creative problem solvers -- and not simply blowing away brand names because of political infighting -- like I suspect is going on -- I don't know for sure that this is the case. If you're a GM executive insider, feel free to post some comments here or send me a private email.

The sad thing is, the GM of today has to be a completely different GM than the GM of 1959. The GM of 1959 functioned in many ways as a bunch of independent car companies. Buyers of a Pontiac or Chevy took note of the massive differences with pride. Those days are obviously gone. GM can't afford different executive leadership for all of the different brands -- but I'd argue that they still need those brands to be GM. Managing the brands shouldn't require different dealerships, assembly and so on. This is the point I'm trying to make. The fact that they're killing Pontiac says that they don't get part of their problem.

GM has to face some rather obvious glaring problems (that have nothing to do with brands) head on:

  • They're no longer the manufacturing technology leader that they once were. Hybrid cars, fuel cell vehicles, lagging engine technology -- I have no doubt that they have had the jump start here from an engineering perspective. They have smart engineers, in other words, that have been in front of the competition, and probably on all of the times I just listed. They have moronic executive leadership that hasn't let the cool stuff get made -- there's a rather obvious problem they need to fix. My father and I go to the Cleveland auto show -- we see their prototype stuff. It never makes it into product form. In the mean time, a few years go by -- someone else makes it happen. This has to stop.
  • Quality: GM quality is getting to be something of a joke. I have a next door neighbor that is a huge GM fan -- his wife just bought a brand new Saturn product -- and on the first day it blew an ABS sensor. I have a friend with a brand new truck -- the expensive alloy wheels look like crap. His dealership wants to replace them with "refurbished" items. His wife's brand new car has a set of headlights and grill that look like junk. And this is just me thinking of examples -- I haven't gone out to interview people or something -- these are examples that I've just accidentally came across in the past couple of weeks.
  • Brand cultivation: GM needs to have its Mustang or F150. No -- I don't mean that they need the trucks to be better, or to go head to head with the Mustang on effort (that would be cool, though) -- I mean that one of the things about Ford is that they're obviously starting to get the fact that brand management of automotive products involves making the same products (with minor improvements) year after year.

    People come back for quality. They come back because their kid someday needs a car for college -- and that [brand item] served them well. The lights must be on somewhere in the company or they wouldn't be doing the new Camaro. They wouldn't be making the Corvette, Impala and Malibu. Sure -- there are times to make new brand items for people to get attached to -- those times are not to be every year or two, in an effort (I'm supposing here) to get people to forget the crappy product that the Citation or Cavalier turned into. No obvious choices for this come to mind. This is probably a core weakness; GM has not made a long-running product that gained market share and made lasting brand awareness in quite some time.

It's truly as sad day when one of your brand detractors is sitting on the fence lamenting the situation (that would be me, for the record).

A closing note here: I have real reason to be sore at GM. There was a time, early in my engineering career. I was still a student, looking for work in Warren Ohio so that I could support my family. GM didn't hire people back then at the Packard engineering facility -- it used a contractor work situation. I had to take a job at close to minimum wage working as a long term contract employee. They had a system worked out where the contract middle-men took a big portion of your salary while you worked over many years getting next to no benefits and crappy pay. All of this was eventually cleared up with a settlement for a class action lawsuit (long after I had moved on in disgust). I got to drive my 1966 Ford falcon into work and hear crap about how I should be driving a brand new GM product to help support the company (I was biting the hand that feeds, according to a couple of people, driving a 20 year old rat-bag of a car). Oh yeah, I also drove a 1974 Nova -- it was my wife's car at the time, upon occasion. When it ran.

If you wanted to switch contractors to get a raise in pay there were all kinds of "unwritten rules" to prevent true marketplace competition in the compensation department. This kept the contract suppliers happy and was in effect a reverse union situation -- workers, unable to compete for a fair wage, were kept making really crappy pay while their contract bosses made out like bandits.

I still get angry when I look back. I had a 2 year old son and we had to make seriously hard choices between food and medical care at times. All the while, the cleaning people (GM employees) were making several orders of magnitude more than we were. I sat it out, learned some valuable skills -- and left for a company that would hire me as an employee. I left for a large raise and never looked back.

I vowed at that time, never to support the company that had been so callous as to treat me the way that Packard (A GM subsidiary at the time) had treated me. The situation was compounded by the way that the employees walked around in a manufactured feudal system -- looking down their noses at the contract help like a second tier of society. They had GM car discounts, real medical benefits and a host of other reasons to feel so much better than the "contract help".

Years later, as I write this, real memories of disgust come to mind. The inefficiencies back then were obvious. My guess is that what we're witnessing these days is simply the result of a disease running its course.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Public Service Annoyance.

What are the police from Brecksville doing on Route 77 North, around Mile Marker 149 doing to help make the world a safer place? Catching speeders? Sure! But what about other forms of helping the community...
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That's probably what the people paying their salary (the dear folks living in Brecksville, namely) like to think. Too bad they're not making the world a safer place. Too bad that's not the image that they were projecting this morning. This morning, they appeared to be simply pulling people over for speeding on the Interstate to pump up the money for Brecksville township.

Call me an idealist -- but I think of Police fulfilling the roles that my Father-in-Law, a sheriffs deputy for many years in the 70's, used to fill. In that role, he gave out tickets, sure, but most of the time he was looking to make the world a safer place. That meant helping people in need -- not just cutting tickets for passing motorists.

I don't see the Brecksville cops in that light for a simple reason. On or about 9:06 AM, Good Friday April 10th of 2009, I witnessed them (2 cars) sitting in wait for passing speeders. Oh, and there was that elderly couple, with a flat tire, within eye-shot of both of the patrol cars, broken down on the side of the road.

Yeah, it's hard to have a conversation with them -- but not at all impossible. I did manage to locate a nice email address for Brecksville. I took a couple of minutes to write a nice message to them (repeated below, for your entertainment).


   Just wanted to say that this morning, around mile marker 
149 on 77, I saw an elderly couple fixing a flat on their 
car in the Southbound lane while I was driving on the north-bound 
lanes.  I'm writing you because two of your Police vehicles were 
in obvious eye-shot of the situation -- and obviously doing 
their usual duty (my guess: gathering speeding ticket revenue 
for your township).

   While I appreciate the safety that this regulatory 
function of your constabulary brings to the table, I would 
expect them, in situations such as this, to add some value 
in the form of community service.  Specifically, I was 
kind of saddened to see them sitting nearby and doing 
nothing.  I see the highway patrol upon occasion, helping 
others in times such as this.  Why not the Brecksville 

Awaiting your response,


--Paul Ferris

I don't expect a response -- if I get surprised, I'll post it here.

Any of my readers in the Brecksville area care to comment on this? How does it make you feel, knowing that representatives of your government (I count the police in this category) are projecting this image for your beautiful township?

Monday, April 06, 2009

Mister Rogers, the Epitome of Evil (to Fox and "Friends")

It's amazing how stupid you can look, when you simplify reality down to a few basic, incorrect statements, string them all together and attempt to make sense of your own nonsense. Then, to make up some air time, you sit around with some other people, who, like yourself, clearly have brains the size of a walnut. This "stupidity as a sounding board" tactic is part of what's going wrong with media today.

Seriously guys -- Mister Rogers?!? Can't you find some other villain to peg here? Mother Theresa is wide open -- why not her too? The basic gist of their argument is that Mister Rogers taught children to feel entitled. Backing it all up, some lame college study.

This is more of the same, simplistic thinking that's at the core of what's wrong with something I call "Partisan Logic" -- it's the kind of Logic whereby you can justify going after one president that blew a secretary whilst in office and lied about it, all the while thinking that invading another country while borrowing money from a hostile Communist state is just fine. Or, for contrast (I'm an equal party offender), you can rail against a gender or race inequitable system, and make arguments that sexual harassment by a President wasn't all that bad at the end of the day.

Can they seriously think that the this kind of lame, half-baked logic is a substitute for thought or basic reality? Have any of these people raised children?

Here's something to think about -- maybe turn the TV off -- that's what we did, by the way. I can't claim huge success but if crap like this Fox TV program was my Kid's only choice, I would have bought a signal jamming device in case he turned the set on one day when I wasn't home.