Friday, May 29, 2009

Car Dealers, Unemployment, and Politics--Oh My!

First, thank you for reading past the title. Many folks see the word politics and keep moving. Second, I acknowledge that I am not a politician, not proficient at macro-economics, and have limited experience with business. So basically, my opinion on this matter doesn't matter much.
But I will express my opinion anyway and the beauty of a blog is that you can choose to read and agree or read and disagree or just not read.

The question driving this post is this; "How does closing multiple automotive dealerships help Chrysler and General Motors reach their goal of profitability?"

Again, I confess ignorance of the structure of franchise agreements between manufacturers and dealers. More knowledge there might answer some questions. If GM owned the dealerships and the costs of keeping one open were higher than the gross profit, then closing would make sense. But GM does not own the dealerships so even if a dealer is loosing money every year, how does that hurt GM? GM does not pay the utilities for that dealership and whether it takes the dealer 3 days or 27 months to sell a car does not matter much to GM--except selling faster means ordering more sooner. All that is not even relevant though, because most of the dealerships that are being closed are, in fact, profitable. Many have been owned by a family for generations and those families have made a comfortable living. Why then would you want to close thousands all at once? Some fuzzy math has been proposed by those who desire to follow the model "foreign" auto-makers use. Toyota, Nissan, and Honda all have fewer dealers and sell more cars per dealer. Toyota is nearly four times as many per dealer. If you have driven cars a few decades, you don't need an MBA to realize those numbers are not a result of dealer density nearly as much as quality and price considerations. The big three have come a long way in quality and service--because they have been forced to by the imports. Of course, imports are not imports any longer. They are now made in the USA because it was cheaper to build factories here and pay higher wages here than to pay the outrageous taxes levied on imports to protect the big three. Again, you don't have to be a Political Science major to know that the big three spent lots of money to get politicians to pass legislation to "level the playing field". That means we paid more for Toyota's, etc. but were willing to buy them anyway because they were just better for years.
So how does that connect to the dealer closings? Follow the money. The big three charged more for cars because the cost to build them were higher. The cost were higher because of three words--UNITED AUTO WORKERS. Yes, I know the executives make crazy salaries and get all the press. But blue collar workers are making six figure incomes--not just for high skilled labor, but for operating a fork-lift or cutting grass. Why does this continue? Follow the money. The UAW learned long ago that money spent on congressional candidates--almost always democrats--was money well spent.
Now this disturbing information is coming to light;
This link is to a lengthy article with links to other related articles that paint a frightening portrait of a national government taking control of the largest industries in the nation and forcing them to close dealerships based on.................political affiliation? Can that be true? There will certainly be much, much more written on this topic and clarifying details will emerge over time. Granted, the fact that 90 % of the dealers marked for closure contributed to republicans does not itself prove anything. Likely, 90 % of these and other small business owners contributed to republicans--which would mean that probably a similar portion of those remaining open did as well. Maybe. But there is more. When you add that the "car czar" Steve Rattner is married to Maureen White, former national finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee the direction of flow begins to become more apparent. The reality that no politician will touch is that the UAW has something like 120,000 working members and nearly half a million retired workers. The benefits, especially health care for these retirees are a staggering cost that dwarfs the salaries of executives. What is happening to these companies is coming to Social Security and other areas of our economy based on simple math. To force others in the industry into the unemployment line will not help. One more fact from the linked article; RJL-McLarty-Landers has a chain of dealerships, none of which are being closed while their local competitors are being closed. So what? These dealerships are owned by three men; Steve Landers, Thomas "Mack" McLarty, and Robert Johnson. McLarty is the former Cheif of Staff for President Clinton. Robert Johnson is the founder of Black Entertainment Television and owner of NBA's Charlotte Bobcats. McLarty campaigned for Obama in 2008 and Johnson has contributed boatloads of money to democrats. Coincidence?
Does that sound like crazy, conspiracy talk to you? Fine, then you explain how closing these dealerships and reducing the retail outlets that spend their own money to advertise, sell, and service cars will help GM and Chrysler? And why doesn't Chrysler and GM just tell the dealers and the public the criteria used for determining which dealerships will be closed? I heard Susan
Shines interview on radio yesterday and she certainly is not happy with the forced closing. Her family has made money for years with a large dealership and she would like answers.
It certainly appears that the strong-arm politics of Chicago have arrived in Washington. And just because closing dealerships does not affect you directly, don't think the next wave will not.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Memorial Day

As with most of you, Memorial Day was another great opportunity to visit with family, eat more than health requires, and enjoy the freedom to go and come however I desire. Sometimes I forget to say "thank you" as I should to those who work and sacrifice to provide and protect my freedoms. As a small tribute, here is an animated film (about 10 minutes) that was created by Harding College (now Harding University) in 1948. It addresses threats to our freedoms that arise from within our borders rather than from other countries. The threats were very real half a century ago and are largely being realized today. See what you think;

Thursday, May 21, 2009

What was THAT about?

This is a 10 minute video. Please watch it.

It appears to be about golf. It is not.
It seems to be about parental love. Not really.
Maybe it is about setting goals or perseverance.
But I really think it is about becoming an individual.
When I watch the emotion in DJ's face as he wants to explain why he does not watch himself on TV, I feel the embarrassment and shame of those times I didn't do it right. You know the feeling, when you realized you look different or can't keep up.

I have been thinking about a bike ride. It would be the ride of the century. Okay, the ride of A century--100 miles in a day. Here is the thing; most of my friends and family think it is a crazy idea. It would take lots of time and effort--for what? What does it prove? Nobody will mistake me for Lance Armstrong, even if I wear the Livestrong jersey. No, I am much thicker in the middle and white as snow on the top. I don't even look like a cyclist. It is very hard to understand, but the goal is not to be good or great compared to Lance or anybody else. The goal is to be great compared to me. Just like DJ's goal is not an "official event" and may not mean much to someone else, each of us needs goals that stretch us to step out on faith in an attempt. Not an attempt to "go where no one has gone before". Just to go where you and I have never gone before. Would reaching that goal just lead to dreaming up something else? Maybe. Hopefully. What changes do you think DJ experienced during 2008? He made many contacts and established friendships because people noticed that he was attempting something that was great--for him. "Cast your bread on the water for you will find it after many days."
09/05/09 is my target date.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

What Now?

Most readers of this blog are close friends or family and are very aware that I recently retired from the Postal Service. Most of you were tired of hearing about that transition long before it arrived. And most of you know that I have committed time to think about, talk about, and pray about what direction I should choose for "what I do when I grow up". Part of that consideration is the possibility of earning a Ph. D. for the learning and to become more marketable in the higher education arena. While weighing the pros and cons of spending that much money and time at my age to prepare for a limited remaining number of "productive work years", I seek to talk to folks with a variety of perspectives. Then this morning I see this;

Just call her 'Dr. Dolly': Parton receives Ph.D.

Are you kidding me? Short, busty, country singer Dolly Parton has a Ph. D.? Apparently, the University of Tennessee has awarded an honorary doctorate to Dolly for her work in humanity and the arts. Her contribution to the music world is widely known. Most may not know that she gives away LOTS of money. She gives books to 500,000 kids every month until they start school. That is pretty impressive. What was her response to the doctorate? She said that now when people refer to her as "Double D", it will have a different meaning. I like that she is not afraid to make fun of herself, including her figure which certainly has contributed to her success.
This will be good ammunition for teasing UT fans--so be prepared Dale Gentry.

So, what is the take away for me? Well, I have long known that people who knew me as a bare-footed kid running around the dirt roads of south Georgia would be shocked to think of me as Dr. Roxy. But really, is that more strange than Dr. Dolly. I can hold my own arguing that it is not. Thanks, Dolly. Tell Kenny Rogers I said hello.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Tuesday Night

Tuesday nights have always seemed special to me. As a kid, the only hour of the week that our family had "appointment TV" was Tuesday night when Red Skelton came on. For the past three years, Tuesday nights have meant working as a counselor in the Pre-Trial Diversion program for the District Attorney's office. The work is very rewarding and seems like part of what I was meant to do. Tuesday night, March 10, seemed normal until 9 p.m. when we are usually finished "debriefing" among the counselors. That night I had a lengthy conversation outside the building with one of my fellow counselors. I got home around 10--about an hour late. LaWanna goes to bed at 9 like clockwork so when she was still up in the den, I knew something was not right. She said she had some bad news. Possibilities quickly flashed in my mind. The news she had was not something I had considered. At Laura's check-up that day, the doctor could not find the baby's heartbeat. After praying and trying so many things, after deciding on adoption and sending in a down payment, after finding out she was pregnant, after passing 13 weeks, after thinking about job changes and how a baby was going to impact their lives and ours--their baby was no longer alive. I was hit with a wave of concern for Laura and guilt that I was not immediately there to hug her. Since they left the doctor's office late and called after arriving home, I had left the house for the evening. Not knowing, I stood and talked--which kept LaWanna up waiting to share bad news. I felt bad for LaWanna. I felt bad for myself. I felt bad for Baron. Mostly, I felt bad for Laura. Why, God? I had just left dozens of unmarried, unprepared, unfit mothers who had baby after baby that they could not parent properly. And this strong, Godly man who has spent his life encouraging young people, and this pure, smart, funny woman of God who wanted to raise a child to know and love God lost a baby that was precious to them. Why? I want to know. I NEED to know. So for two months I have been processing this as I watch my amazing daughter think, pray, and write about what it has meant to her. I have watched sweet, loving friends encourage her and wrap arms around her literally and figuratively. Then last night several thoughts converged that may explain why I can't sleep and am writing at 4 a.m. After Bible class, I walked up the hall to visit with Laura and Baron as they stood with a circle of close friends; Brett, Judy, and Ashley--Jamin had just left to chase kids. Judy is "great with child"--her first. And Ashley is expecting her third. Laura is very happy for them and I am very happy for them. They, of course, hurt for Laura. Still, it is difficult to go through the months with your pregnant friends and all the anticipation when you have had to "drop out". I still hurt for Laura. I re-read her original post about the doctor visit tonight and cried again. And again. Not for me. Not for the unborn baby. Just for Baron and Laura. It is not the same for Baron or any expectant dad as it is for the mother. But I know he hurts for Laura and loves her enough that he would do whatever he could to take away her pain. Baron is a good, strong, Christian man and I am thankful that he is Laura's husband. I could not ask for a better person to help her through a difficult time.

The other thoughts from last night originated in our study of I Samuel and later from a conversation I had with LaWanna as she was hoping to go to sleep. I will not re-tell the story of Saul as the first king of the Jews and God's decision to replace him with David. As that story slowly moves toward the inevitable conclusion, Saul eventually becomes angry with his son Jonathan for defending David. In I Samuel 20:30 Saul expresses his anger by calling Jonathan's mother unflattering names. Then in verse 31 he says "For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, you shall not be established, nor your kingdom." That was it. That is why Saul clung to the crown and refused for so long to accept what God had decreed. He had planned the rest of his life and his son's life with the assurance that they would always be the kings. God had promised that--if Saul obeyed and in Saul's mind he had. It did not seem fair and it was not what he had planned.

That is where I have been. It does not seem fair for Baron and Laura, of all people, to loose their baby. It is not what we had all planned. This was going to be the most fun pregnancy ever. Laura was going to be 5 months pregnant at the extended family vacation at Vogel. She would quit her job in late summer. She had already told them. Baron and Laura would incorporate the baby into their elaborate halloween costumes. We would have a baby to spoil at Christmas. It was all planned out. But for whatever reason, that was not God's plan. God's plan is better. I wish I knew what it is. I feel like I NEED to know. But I don't really. What I really need is to realize that 20% of pregnancies ending in a miscarriage means that an amazing 80% result in live births. The fact that God provides that and we take it for granted is what is not fair. The fact that I make ANY plans for June, November, and December and assume that God owes me that time and all things continuing is not fair.

I love you, Laura. I love you, Baron. You are both doing great. I am extremely proud of you both. I don't know how well I have said these things to you personally, but I should have written it here sooner. Now maybe I will feel more like writing about the fun things and silly observations of the day.