Free Markets, Free People

Monthly Archives: March 2009


Pres. Obama Fires CEO Wagoner?

I‘ve been following this story with numbed amazement at just how surreal it all is. No matter how many times I repeat this sentence in my head — The President of the United States has just fired the CEO of General Motors — I can’t quite convince myself that it’s true.

That’s not to say that I’m unsympathetic to the argument that the U.S. government, as lender, has every right to demand such a resignation if its going to be funding the company. Indeed, that’s a fairly common demand whenever a funding source enters the picture at dire times. And rightly so.

But let’s not forget that Obama is not the U.S. government. And, in reality, he’s not the lender. Congress holds that dubious distinction by being the keeper of the public purse. You’d think that Obama would have understood that and, y’know, at least told them about his plans for Rick Wagoner’s head. You’d be wrong, though [HT: Allahpundit]:

President Obama didn’t want any advice from Congress on the decision to ask GM CEO Rick Wagoner to resign, according to Carl Levin (D), Michigan’s senior senator.

“He didn’t ask us about it, he informed us,” Levin told reporters in a conference call Monday afternoon. “The president said he’d already decided.”

Levin said he and three other lawmakers were informed of the decision in a phone call Obama made from the Oval Office. Obama told the members of Congress that Wagoner needed to resign so that the administration could show the public it was making an effort at a fresh start with helping the auto industry, according to Levin.

I guess Congress isn’t about to argue with The One over this. Maybe they’re just upset that they didn’t think of it first. Nevertheless, is there any doubt that Obama has absolutely zero authority or power to make this decision?

Aside from the stupefying hubris driving Obama’s actions here, what real good is going to come of Wagoner’s ouster? He’ll walk away with about $20 Million in severance, and GM will still have around $6 Billion in legacy costs to deal with each year, on top of pay for its unionized workforce. And even if all those costs were brought into line, what exactly is the new (Obama picked?) CEO going to recover from the fact that GM is losing about $1 Billion per month? The sad answer is “probably nothing.” GM will proceed into bankruptcy, just like it should have from the start of all this mess, and it will take down several billion taxpayer dollars with it.

But all that pales in comparison to the precedent now set, without even a peep of objection from Congress, that the President of the United States considers it within his purview to fire the heads of companies when he sees fit. Lovely.

Did I miss some fine print in the election last year about voting for King of the United States?


I’d Like To Hear The Left’s Comments About The Expansion Of “Executive Power” Now …

I‘m still in rather stunned disbelief about the White House ousting GM’s CEO.  

It’s not about how good a CEO he was or whether I agreed with his plan, his leadership style or his results.  It’s about the White House going so far as to ask him to step aside.  And, according to Obama’s own statement today, his “team” will “working closely with GM to produce a better business plan”.

Why, that sounds like something we’ve seen pass this way before and firmly rejected:

Italian Fascism often involved corporatism, a political system in which economy is collectively managed by employers, workers and state officials by formal mechanisms at national level.

Now I’m sure there are those out there who will argue that this is hardly a “formal mechanism”. But of course that’s simply not true. It is formal enough that a CEO is gone. Someone believes it is a mechanism of some formality for that to happen. And, if you think about it, it is just one more mechanism among many that have been put forward lately. Timothy Geithner’s plan to have the government take over financial institutions and hedge funds if the government deems them a threat to the economy’s well-being, for instance.

After all the caterwauling by the left about “unprecedented executive branch power expansion” during the Bush years, they’re rather quiet about these. The market, however, has cast it’s vote. Down about 300 at 4pm.

And this is all based in a false premise – something I’ve noticed that Obama uses quite effectively:

“We cannot, we must not, and we will not let our auto industry simply vanish,” President Obama said at the White House.

Anyone – who would expect the domestic auto industry to ‘simply vanish’ if the companies were left to go the traditional route of bankruptcy?

Since when does bankruptcy equal “vanish”? Delta airlines seems to have survived it quite well, thank you very much. Their bankruptcy or the bankruptcy of other domestic airlines hasn’t seen the domestic airline industry “vanish”. Why would anyone believe it would happen if GM or Chrysler went bankrupt?

And that said, what did he suggest in his speech today?

The administration says a “surgical” structured bankruptcy may be the only way forward for GM and Chrysler, and President Obama held out that prospect Monday.

“I know that when people even hear the word ‘bankruptcy,’ it can be a bit unsettling, so let me explain what I mean,” he said. “What I am talking about is using our existing legal structure as a tool that, with the backing of the U.S. government, can make it easier for General Motors and Chrysler to quickly clear away old debts that are weighing them down so they can get back on their feet and onto a path to success; a tool that we can use, even as workers are staying on the job building cars that are being sold.”

Seems like that is precisely what all of us were telling them to do before they started throwing bucketfuls of imaginary dollars at the two companies, wasn’t it? And you can call it “surgical”, “structured” or whatever you want in an attempt to spin this as something other than fairly ordinary bankruptcy procedures, but that’s what they’re talking about.

One of the primary reasons they’ve attempted to keep these companies out of bankruptcy court can be described in three letters: UAW.

Their problem isn’t just “old debts” which need to be cleared away. Instead it is what is euphemistically called “legacy costs” which would go as well. And those “legacy costs” include the gold plated benefits the UAW now enjoys and doesn’t want to give up.

Administration officials on Sunday made it clear that an expedited and heavily supervised bankruptcy reorganization was still very much a possibility for both companies. One official, speaking of GM, compared such a proceeding with a “quick rinse” that could rid the company of much of its debt and contractual obligations.

The thing to watch out for is whether or not this “quick rinse” in a “heavily supervised bankruptcy reorganization” included “contractual obligations” to unions. If not, it will be a “quick rinse” of taxpayer’s wallets.

Among challenges the administration faced leading up to this weekend’s decision, foremost were the efforts to draw steep concessions from the United Auto Workers union and from the bondholders.

Attempts to solidify deals with the UAW and bondholders were slowed by disagreements by both parties over how exactly the other party needed to budge. The UAW, for instance, insists it already made health-care concessions in 2005 and 2007, and argues that the bondholders have never been asked to concede anything.

“I don’t see how the UAW will do anything until they see what the bondholders will give up,” one person involved in the negotiations on behalf of the UAW said Sunday.

Progress? Apparently both GM and Chrysler have been negotiating with both the bondholders and the UAW. But there’s not much to report there:

Both GM and Chrysler are negotiating with the UAW to accept a range of cost-cutting measures, including greatly reduced work forces, lower wages and a revamped health-care fund for retirees.

[...]

GM and representatives for its bondholders remained in talks over the weekend about a deal that would force these investors to turn in at least two-thirds of the value of the debt they hold in exchange for equity and new debt.

This arrangement would force GM to issue significantly more stock than what is currently being traded in the market. In addition, the government is being asked to guarantee the new debt with federal default insurance in order to entice bondholders who otherwise wouldn’t be interested in participating in the swap.

If GM can’t eventually forge a deal with the ad hoc committee representing the bondholders, the company may be forced to issue a debt-for-equity swap without the blessing of some of its biggest and most influential unsecured investors. This would heighten the possibility of the company eventually needing to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Or said another way, they’ll end up doing what we said they should have done in December, less umpteen billions of taxpayer money poured down a rathole. Of course, had they reorganized under Chapter 11 as we all said they should, the Obama administration wouldn’t have been able to make this unprecedented power grab, would it?

~McQ


Two New Examiners

Jason Pye and I have –  unbeknownst to the other, which we each found hilarious – applied for and become “Examiners” for the Atlanta Examiner.  What that essentially means is we write for an online publication (Examiner.com) and actually get paid to do so.

However, and this is the part I actually love – it really brings the libertarian out in me – we get paid for the number of page views we generate.  So our pay is based on how many eyes we bring to the articles we write.

As you might imagine, they’re more locally focused and pertain to topics we may or may not cover here at QandO.  However, being the “Atlanta Libertarian Examiner” and Jason being the “Georgia Libertarian Examiner” we pretty much have the freedom to write about what we want to.  What I’m trying to do, as is Jason, is keep it pertinent to the location but still spread the libertarian message.

Your support is requested.  If you will take a short moment and click in.  Check out the articles.  Jason and I will be embedding links in various posts as we put new articles up on Examiner.com.  Your feedback and comments are solicited and welcome.  But remember, clicking in helps pay the writer and I can promise you both writers would very much appreciate those clicks.

My links are here and here.

Jason, the prolific one, has links here, here, here, here and here.

Thanks for your indulgence and support.  Both are appreciated.  Thus ends the commercial.

~McQ


GM = Government Motors

I thought I’d quickly steal that title from one of our commenters (Brown). It pretty much encapsulates the latest and rather significant change as apparently the CEO of General Motors stepped down at the behest of the White House. Apparently Obama is now in the car business.

The two following paragraphs are significant:

“We are anticipating an announcement soon from the Administration regarding the restructuring of the U.S. auto industry. We continue to work closely with members of the Task Force and it would not be appropriate for us to speculate on the content of any announcement,” the company said.

The surprise announcement about the classically iconic American corporation is perhaps the most vivid sign yet of the tectonic change in the relationship between business and government in this era of subsidies and bailouts.

The folks who run the post office and Amtrack are now stepping in to run the auto industry. That’s not to say the auto industry has done so well itself, but there’s a market result for poor leadership, and it isn’t to prop up the industry and let government run it.

I’m sorry but this pain avoidance scheme which is costing us trillions of dollars we don’t have has now spun off into the absurd. If you think the auto industry is ailing now, just wait until the “Administration” engages in “restructuring the US auto industry”.

~McQ


Podcast for 29 Mar 09

It’s a full crew on the podcast today, and Billy Hollis and Jason Pye join Bruce, Michael and Dale to discuss the country’s headlong rush to statism.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.


BlogTalk Radio – 8pm Tonight (EST)

Call in number: (718) 664-9614

Yes, friends, it is a call-in show, so do call in.

Subject(s): The Geithner plan, the AfPak plan, the Drug War and Mexico, “Earth Hour”, the award to Murtha by the SecNav and the Economist suddenly discovering that Obama isn’t much of a leader (and what that portends) – all tonight, if we have time.


Saying Goodbye To A Warrior (UPDATE)

I‘m headed to a rather somber ocassion, where the family of a young paratrooper who served with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team will be presented his posthumous award of the Silver Star.  It will be awarded in the high school auditorium from which he graduated.

I did aSomeone You Should Know segement about the fight in Wanat, Afghanistan where 9 soldiers lost their life.  But they gave much better than they got, killing well over 100 Taliban and al Qaeda.

The young man being honored today is Cpl. Joseph Ayers.  This from the script of the SYSK delivered on WRKO 680am, Boston on Pundit Review Radio:

At another spot on the observation post, Cpl. Jonathan Ayers laid down continuous fire from an M-240 machine gun, despite drawing huge volumes of small-arms and RPG fire from the enemy.

The enemy put everything they had into knocking out that machine gun. At least 5 or 6 RPGs exploded all around him and he never even flinched. Those that saw what he did said, “He just kept rocking on that 240.”

The survivors said it was the most heroic thing they’d ever seen. Like a movie. They feel he saved their lives. He kept the enemy from getting anywhere near COP. And Ayers kept firing until he was shot and killed.

I’ll have more on this later.

UPDATE: Well that was one heck of a great ceremony.  The auditorium was packed.  The Patriot Guard lined the room.  Old members of the 173rd Airborne Brigade (from my era) were on hand.  So were Cpl Ayer’s comrades.  His mother had decreed (in a motherly way) that this ceremony not be a memorial service but, instead, a celebration of his life.   And that’s precisely what it was.   Speaker after speaker talked about Jonathan, his life prior to the Army, the fact that he was the commander of the JROTC unit at Shiloh High School and that the military seemed always to be in his future.

His former company commander, who will receive the Silver Star in a ceremony at Ft. Benning tomorrow, talked about the fact that had it not been for Jon Ayers, he wouldn’t have the honor of  standing on that stage addressing Ayer’s family.  His mother, Susan, talked about the son she’d lost but was so proud of the man he’d become.  And his father brought the house down with a poignant yet humorous remembrance of his son. After the presentation of the Silver Star to the family, the family was the first to leave and then other relatives. When the soldiers who had served with Jon rose to walk out, the entire auditorium stood and applauded them. 16 Sky Soldiers from Chosen Company of the 1st of the 503 Airborne Infantry battalion lost their lives during their tour in Afghanistan. Over 60 of them were awarded Purple Hearts. 14 Silver Stars. One Distinguished Service Cross was awarded to a member of the company and one is pending. And one soldier from the company has been nominated for the Medal of Honor.

It was an inspiring afternoon – one remembering a young man who gave his all for a unit, in which his mother said, he was so proud to serve he found it difficult to express the full depth of his pride. Today they honored him.


Darkened Cities For ‘Enlightened’ People

Oh, good – another meaningless, feel-good effort in which to participate (or not):

EARTH HOUR is about to sweep around the world in what the United Nations is calling “the largest demonstration of public concern about climate change ever attempted”.

The event, which started in Sydney two years ago, will see well over 3000 cities and towns in more than 90 countries switch off their lights for an hour this year. Hundreds of millions of people are expected to take part.

From the international dateline, Earth Hour starts in New Zealand’s Chatham Islands this afternoon and will conclude in Honolulu tomorrow night (Sydney time).

In between, tens of millions of houses and public buildings will dim their lights to call for an effective global deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions. More than 10,000 street parties are planned. Sydney’s turn comes at 8.30 tonight.

Sounds like a lot of fun – partying in the dark I mean.

Frankly I like James Taranto’s idea from yesterday better:

Reader, if you are against global-warming hysteria, high taxes, socialized medicine and a weak foreign policy, Sunday is your day. Show how you feel about the issues by turning on your lights in the evening and leaving them on until you go to bed. If you go out for a drive after dark, make sure you turn your headlights on too.

Granted, the EarthHour people have a head start on us. They started planning this months ago, whereas we’re giving you all of 48 hours notice. Yet we think the outlook is bright for this effort. Tell your friends, tell them to tell their friends, and so on, and we’ll bet millions of people across the country will turn their lights on Sunday night.

If no one will listen to the silent majority, let’s at least make sure they see us.

Indeed.

~McQ


The Leadership Gap (update)

I continue to be amazed that seemingly smart people are just suddenly figuring this out. “Blinders” doesn’t begin to describe what it must have taken to ignore Obama’s lack of experience and to hope the fact that he’d never displayed a scintilla of leadership in anything he’d ever done would somehow rectify itself prior to his assumption of office.

The latest to drop the blinders is the Economist, which heartily endorsed Obama’s election:

His performance has been weaker than those who endorsed his candidacy, including this newspaper, had hoped. Many of his strongest supporters—liberal columnists, prominent donors, Democratic Party stalwarts—have started to question him. As for those not so beholden, polls show that independent voters again prefer Republicans to Democrats, a startling reversal of fortune in just a few weeks. Mr Obama’s once-celestial approval ratings are about where George Bush’s were at this stage in his awful presidency. Despite his resounding electoral victory, his solid majorities in both chambers of Congress and the obvious goodwill of the bulk of the electorate, Mr Obama has seemed curiously feeble.

You can still read read the disbelief in that paragraph. Question for the Economist – what leadership position of any importance has the man ever held that would indicate he had what it took to lead as President?

And why didn’t you explore that question, its answer and ramifications before you jumped on the Hope and Change bandwagon?

Journalism 101.

UPDATE: Ed Morrisey at Hot Air has thoughts on the article as well.

 

~McQ


The Newest Emerging Market

Desmond Lachman, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, was previously chief emerging market strategist at Salomon Smith Barney and deputy director of the International Monetary Fund’s Policy and Review Department.  So, he’s spent a lot of time watching emerging markets from the IMF’s point of view, and pointing out where the leaders of developing countries ran the economy off the rails.

Just like he’s watching our political leaders doing the same thing to us.  In essence, he writes that the US is repeating the same mistakes that led to Japan’s “Lost Decade”, and Russia’s default on it’s debt.

A singular characteristic of an emerging market heading for deep trouble is a seemingly suicidal tendency to become overly indebted to foreign creditors. That tendency underlay the spectacular collapse of the Thai, Indonesian and Korean currencies in 1997. It also led Russia to default on its debt in 1998 and plunged Argentina into its economic depression in 2001. Yet we too seem to have little difficulty becoming increasingly indebted to the tune of a few hundred billion dollars a year. To make matters worse, we do so to countries like China, Russia and an assortment of Middle Eastern oil producers — none of which is particularly well disposed to us.

Like Argentina in its worst moments, we never seem to question whether it is reasonable to expect foreigners to keep financing our extravagance, and we forget the bad things that happen to the Argentinas or Hungarys of the world when foreigners stop financing their excesses. So instead of laying out a realistic plan for increasing our national savings, we choose not to face up to the Social Security and Medicare crises that lie ahead, embarking instead on massive spending programs that — whatever their long-run merits might be — we simply cannot afford.

After experiencing a few emerging-market crises, I get the sense of watching the same movie over and over. All too often, a tragic part of that movie is the failure of the countries’ policymakers to hear the loud cries of canaries in the coal mine. Before running up further outsized budget deficits, should we not heed the markets that now see a 10 percent probability that the U.S. government will default on its sovereign debt in the next five years? And should we not be paying close attention to the Chinese central bank governor’s musings that he does not feel comfortable with the $1 trillion of U.S. government debt that the Chinese central bank already owns, let alone adding to those holdings?

Speaking of canaries in the coal mines, I note with interest that there have been two failed bond auctions in Germany this year, followed by a failed bond auction of 5-year gilts this week in London.

I just keep watching the kangaroo.

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