Been a bit busy lately…

Started a new job.

Actually a turbo version of the old job. Instead of waiting for my client to come to my van, I go inside the house and pick up the patient. Even move said patient when he/she needs to be moved.

And I do fewer of said trips. And more paperwork, even with the fewer trips.

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I figure it’s better that I spend the time learning the stuff than blogging about things.

So things will slow down on this blog – indeed they already have. However, I can see myself going back to posting, indeed posting on a regular schedule once I figure out what the work schedule is.

I still have at least one/two posting for my “Is America Going Feudal” series, as well as some further stuff on General Motors and some other items I’ve been thinking of for a while.

Is America Becoming a Feudal Country? Part 2: Privatized Government

In the first part of this series, I talked about the gutting of our surroundings for a few extra bucks by the poor and desperate around us. This one I’m gonna talk about the gutting of government and how it’s going to affect us.

The fact is, until recently we’ve always expected government to work. We’ve always expected the trash to be hauled, the schools to educate, the roads to run smoothly and the police to do a good enough job at finding and punishing our criminals. More recently we’ve also expected them to help us through some rough economic patches (maybe not us specifically, but “US” in general) and to protect us from the more problematic tendencies of capitalism and protect us from discrimination from certain groups.

But now it looks more and more like things are falling apart. Schools don’t educate, roads fall apart, the police is reviled (by those who don’t know better), the statistics are fixed so that our Social Security won’t be able to help (never mind the spending), and capitalist are getting their disastrous excesses protected, legalized and monopolized while the protections are made illegal. At least some groups get to have “hate crimes against them” illegalized.

So what happens? We’re now getting privatization. Government programs for profit.

Think of it: Subdivisions guarded by rent-a-cops, toll roads run by Spanish-Australian conglomerates, schools run by churches but paid for by the government…eventually we’re going to figure out a way to hand control to families, with the idea that somone trying to make a profit off governing people will figure out how to give the people what they want, cheaper better quicker and more satisfyingly.

And we’re going to get a lot of stuff that we’re not bargaining for.

Such as: If someone owns the government, they get certain powers that the government by the people doesn’t have.

Like the ability to keep people out. Private schools can kick out troublesome students easier than public schools can, and I see no reason to assume that one (or two) owners can’t insure that some poor sap (or group of saps) is trapped within some small town with a limited number of roads and private ownership of them.

And you think that a bureaucracy is a heavy burden to carry; try someone whose sole means of support is living off the people he’s supposed to rule. At least we require some semblance of having lived in the real world when we elect our congressmen/senators/president/governor; imagine knowing that the people above you have to make that living off of you. Your grains gives the people above you the right to feed you and dictate their rules to you.

Here’s another thing that privatization of government leads to: deification of the rulers. Think of it: “Divine Right of Kings” wouldn’t have occurred if the people didn’t own government. There needs to be a reason for the masses to accept that somebody above them DESERVES to be on top; hence the idea that God (or the Gods) placed said person (or people) on top.

So let me ask you: Do you want things privatized?

Here’s the issue: Privatize something and it becomes one less source of long-term income. You may get a bunch of money up front, but you lose a long-term source AND power over it as well. And when the item privatized is important enough, the privateers come to own the government.

You want an example of what privatization can lead to, think of Railroads: Unlike the European nations, the United States never nationalized its railroads (outside of Amtrak, and that was a failed attempt to kill off passenger railroading) and throughout the late nineteenth and the first decade of the twentieth centuries all the people seemed to talk about was how constricting it was to travel by train and how the forces who owned the railroads were running the nation. When the car became affordable people began leaving the train and using the publicly kept road system.

Again, do you want privatization to continue? Do you want us to become a Feudal nation (or set of nations, as things will fall to)?

first posted 7/18/08, edited 7/19.08 at 9:45 am

Understanding Gereral Motors

General Motors is an odd duck of a corporation. It has always been a bit unwieldy and too big for itself. And while it can be argued that there are bigger companies and groups that work well enough “despite their size,” I’m arguing from the angle that a marriage can be too big if the two people (assuming childlessness) cannot handle each other or the responsibility OR that the people married can best handle their lives when alone (Yes, there are some people like that. If they’re lucky, they get married to people who understand; historically they ended up becoming monks or drunks.).

First, the guy who got the ball rolling: Billy Durant. Started with the Coldwater Road Cart Company, which eventually became the Durant-Dort Carriage Company and the largest producer of cart for the nation. Was invited to run the Buick company in 1904, eventually built it up to the classic General Motors (minus Chevrolet) by 1910, when he was forced out. Went in with Louis Chevrolet, built the Chevrolet brand up enough to buy out General motors, went into another buying spree, was forced out in 1920. Set up another company in an attempt to create yet another General-Motors type corporation, but the Automobile business was beginning to mature, and the Durant companies were unable to gain traction. By 1934, the Durant Companies were bankrupt and the properties bought up for use by General Motors. His last years were spent holding together a bowling alley empire (around the Factories in Flint. Makes sense.).

Next we have Alfred P. Sloan. He organized things at General Motors, and made them into what they were for the longest time – the largest car company in the world. He took Billy Durant’s idea of car divisions segmenting the market and allowed the car companies some independence. He also liked the segmentation so much that he tried to crate Companion Makes – brands created to fill in perceived price/status gaps between the established brands. For the most part the Companion Make program failed, although Pontiac ended up replacing its parent brand (Oakland).

For much of the early 1900s, the idea was this:

  • Entry Level: Chevrolet
  • Getting Established: Oakland/Pontiac
  • Middle Class: Oldsmobile
  • Doctor/Lawyer: Buick
  • Old Money: Cadillac
  • Heavy Duty Trucks: GMC

In short, a set of class distinctions that also worked as a barometer of establishment in the community.

And as long as things worked out that way, there was nothing GM could do wrong. They could show a utopia of Automobility (which we now know as the dystopia we’re suffering from) in New York City and people would pine for it. They could (and did) turn the tramway systems into bus systems and suffer minuscule fines for side-charges.

Then, in the sixties things began to blur. Everyone wanted their own small car, everyone wanted their own pocket rocket, everyone wanted their own full-sized car, and they wanted their own identity separate from their neighbors. Eventually it shook down to this:

  • Entry Level: Chevrolet
  • Sporty, fun: Pontiac
  • Family Car: Oldsmobile
  • Upscale: Buick
  • Luxury: Cadillac
  • Heavy Duty Trucks: GMC

This was actually a bit tight for the market. Chevrolet and Cadillac were safe owing to their positions at the endpoints of the continuum, but sports cars were a smallish part of the market (despite their cache) and Buick was being squeezed between the Luxury Cadillacs and Family-marketed Oldsmobiles. And when Buick and Pontiac recovered, it was Oldsmobile that suffered to the point of being eventually destroyed (although one would have to note that it was family brands that died out; Chrysler’s Plymouth brand, aimed at the same general market as Oldsmobile, was quietly folded during this time).

GM also suffered what was discovered to be quality problems when Japanese automobiles started making inroads into the American market. Cars that were engineered to last 80,000 miles since the end of WW2 (I saw a Shell booklet that talked about how to make your car last 100,000 miles, as if that was an amazing goal) suddenly fell short in people’s eyes when it was seen that 150,000 was doable. GM (and Ford and Chrysler/AMC) never recovered, even with the better cars made today they’re still seen as (and are indeed measurably) inferior to Japanese and European brands (using different measuring sticks).

General Motors also tried to go after other markets, the results of which would drain energies GM would have better used fixing their situation in the eighties and nineties. Saturn was a nice concept, but it ended up being a cul-de-sac of intriguing inventions and a factory that would be refitted towards another division’s model before its assets could be written off. The Hummer Purchase, while temporarily profitable, was stupid on all fronts (and, sadly easily seen as fitting for a company that seemed unable to build a halfway decent small car).

So now the GM lineup is a mess:

  • Chevrolet still covers the entry-level cars and pretty much works as a car-for-all-seasons for GM
  • Pontiac covers the small mid-range cars, Buick the big mid-range and GMC mid-range trucks.
  • Cadillac is for luxury cars and trucks. Needless to say, it’s secure in its place (as is Chevy)
  • Hummer is the Heavy-Duty Truck segment (which has its uses, but not Saturday Night on Broadway)
  • Saturn, once the fun person in the group, is now the pretty shell of itself awaiting its fate.

Pontiac, Buick and GMC have pretty much become three brand names for a single brand. Definitely a drop-down from the past, when they served their own market without problems.

So in the end, we have a company which at some level was unable and/or unwilling to change for the marketplace. Various weaknesses include hierarchical rigidity (including a white collar force that desperately needs to be stripped down), a sales force that benefited from a past that no longer works and can’t be fixed (franchises that couldn’t be changed for the company’s benefit), actions that should have been taken a decade or two ago, actions that should have been held off on and workers who had things that they held on a bit longer than they should have.

The sad thing is that the worldwide company makes enough money, it’s the US market that’s dragging the corporation down. I could easily see a splitting of the two companies, followed by an immediate chapter 7 bankruptcy of the US GM while the worldwide corporation steams on, unburdened of its dead weight.

Belated Update, 4th of February 2017: Pontiac, Hummer, Saturn and Saab (a once-intriguing foreign brand known for safe, stodgy, long-lasting cars eventually turned into another Saturn-like brand) were quietly folded, leaving Chevrolet as the workhorse, Buick as the soft-luxury brand (and the workhorse for the China Market – otherwise it too would have been folded up), GMC as the mid-level truck brand and Cadillac as the hard/European luxury brand (with VERY sharp stylings, I must add). No real mid-level entry in the bunch (GMC always seems a bit odd as a truck/SUV seller, as those vehicles don’t necessarily translate well in the Suburban/Urban market).

Is America Becoming a Feudal Country? aside: Aluminum Recycling Rates

Just went by a recyclers in Northwest Indiana and looked up their prices for aluminum. How much was it?

Seventy cents a pound

When I was much younger, I collected a bunch of cans before a Knoxville football game and saved them until Tuesday to take them to a recycling center. There I learned a couple things:

  1. It takes about twelve cans to make a pound of recycled aluminum cans
  2. Two cents a can makes no sense to recycle.

Of course, that was back in 1989, when recycling aluminum cans brought you 25 cents per pound. Now, at seventy cents a pound, we’re talking close to six cents a can. That’s actually more than most states with recycling, and would make a trip to Michigan a cost-waster.

Now understand, we had aluminum can collectors in Michigan (even did some myself) because the 10 cent deposit made for a good return. Collect a whole bunch, and you did well. Even made for some problems with out-of-state collectors (they had to put on a 90 day jail penalty plus renumeration if you turn in out-of-state cans).

Of course, that was when gas prices and collection rates were low – when it cost $1.25/gallon and the local recyclers were giving you twenty cents per pound (if you were lucky), it made sense to load the Astro Van and try your luck across the border. Now that we’re staring down $4.25/gallon and prices nearing 75 cents per pound, the question becomes: is it worth the gas usage and risk of imprisonment?

And america slides further into Feudal Country status.

Is America Becoming a Feudal Country? Part 1: Scavanging

A couple bits of news heard this week:

Add this to the view of a couple other houses with their aluminum siding torn off in Gary, and I have to keep asking the question of whether the United States has indeed become a third world nation.

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The reason I ask whether the United States has become a third world nation when talking about scavengers is that it used to not make sense to scavenge stuff. Sure, there were exceptions (aluminum cans and glass/plastic bottles in Michigan) but for the most part there was only enough remuneration from scavenging for those who were dedicated or too poor and scattered for anything else. While that meant there was a lot of waste, it also meant a lot of stuff was left alone.

Like a house I remember standing abandoned and open to the weather (somewhat) for a few years. I remember actually walking through it once, wandering around the rooms and noticing the pickles sitting in the cupboards waiting for someone to use them. Nothing was taken (it was a house, I just wanted to explore) and soon enough it was rehabbed with people living in it again.

Today, that house would be stripped of everything of value both inside and out. Then it would be torched and the local fire department would spend useful time putting out a fire at a now useless building.

And what’s this about manhole covers being stolen? Twenty bucks for two hundred pounds of iron, and this is something you need to have friends help you out with. To make this work out well, you’d have to steal twenty or thirty of them and risk getting a hernia.

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But here’s the point: forty years of Republicratomics (rip off the poor for the rich, give the poor a bribe here and there to make it appear that they’re on our side, sweep the evidence-gathering mechanisms under the rug so we’re stuck with anecdotes, take everything not securely fastened to the ground) has brought things to the state that the people of the nation have become too poor for their surroundings. And when that happens, the surroundings get gutted because the people want money and see that the stuff around them can be used for that.

It’s like fruit trees down on Easter Island. While they may have been fruitful when the natives first landed on the island, it got to the point where there was no longer fruit coming from the mature fruit trees. So, needing something to keep them warm, they cut down those now-sterile trees, then worked on the smaller saplings.

But consider this: now that people are using empty houses and manhole covers and catalytic converters to get money, it means there’s only one way for things to go: down. It’s now become impossible to rehab various areas of the country because the people around them will steal what’s not secured to the ground.

And so areas go backwards. The people live with less, and learn to like it.

Welcome to feudalism, 2008 style. Watch it develop.

It All Goes Downhill From Here, Folks…

GM’s 50 Millionth Car Celebration, Preparations and the car itself

GM’s 50 Millionth Car Celebration, Speech and Parade

Take a look at the downtown. There’s thousands of people standing around, watching the floats and marching bands. Buildings are standing which were torn down without replacement in later years. The old buildings of Oldsmobile, Buick, AC (now Delphi and semi-independent) and Fisher Body that have since been torn down (or at least lost their identifying signage).

I recognize the area where the sign pointing out Flint and Saginaw is. It’s Saginaw Street at Dort Street, the southern intersection (“Saginaw” sign points to Dort Highway and the M-54 bypass route, “Flint” points to Saginaw Street and the BR-54).

Everything else looks foreign in its prosperity.

One question comes to my mind: Who’s Mrs. Fisher Body 1955? If nothing else, she’s got one hell of a rack. Hope she didn’t get it reduced at some point.

Effects of the Death of The Ownership Society on Renters and Those Forced to Rebecome Renters

Rise in Renters Erasing Gains for Ownership

Gist of article: Many former homeowners finding the shift back to renting harder as rental properties become worth more to the landlords and the renters themselves. Also, former home owners are now being looked at leerily by the landlords (Having failed once, what stops them from failing again? Besides, you’ve heard the stories of houses torn apart by former owners just before the bank reclaims the house).

So we’ve been following all the problems from the side of the developers, the homeowners, the housing industry and the banks and investors. In short, the rich and those who failed at their version of richness (owners and those who tried to own). Now we’re looking at it from the view of the renters.

Probably one of the most pernicious effects of Bush’s presidency over the past eight years is that the rental market has become silent. Rents have shot up, then dropped precipitously, then begun shooting up again over the seven and a half years of Bush’s presidency.

Consider what’s happened: cities have developed lots and lots of “condominiums” (apartments that are owned instead of rented, the idea being that if you can’t put up a bunch of $$$ you shouldn’t be allowed to considered living there) and while many of them were carved out of standing rentals, more of them were built with the idea of making new residences. Meanwhile suburbs and exurbs were developed with ticky-tacky forms of construction that were inconceivable when songs were made about it in the fifties and sixties (although there’s some definite tackiness from there that makes today’s ticky-tacky look solid).

The results could be seen in the want-ads in the early 2000’s. I saw the “Studio – Under $500” in the Chicago Reader go from nearly nonexistent to taking up full columns between 2001 and 2005. It’s since gone back to a part of a column (with a lot of ads using the word “from”), but is still bigger than it was around 9/11.

But the building boom was fueled by people gambling that they could finagle their way to financial health, people thinking that more people would want to buy their property at higher prices, and people operating on the “build it and they will come” mentality. And when the money ran out, things started falling apart. Buyers disappeared, jobs disappeared (and not just in construction, a lot of the Bushian boom was deficit spending caused by people thinking their houses were worth more than they were and acting accordingly) and suddenly banks and investment conglomerates were stuck with hundreds of thousands of houses they had no idea of what to do with. A lot of the houses were torn up from the previous owners, and many of the rest have gone on a slow decay that happens when houses are left uninhabited.

So now the rentals are under pressure. Prices are going up (because owners can do so) while useble building stock remains highly underutilized or unused. Whole developments stand with two or three houses standing in the middle of a field with a slew of roads winding around what amounts to nowhere.

So are we getting more rental properties? Slowly but surely. Rental properties ARE being built, and a few condo developments are beginning to welcome rentals. But elsewhere people are rebelling against rentals. Quite a few cities in Florida are taking to the courts to prevent people from refitting their homes for rental purposes. That’s right, folks, they’d rather find their neighborhoods empty and abandoned swimming pools breeding mosquitoes than allow for people to make money housing other people! (or, more to the point, the wrong people making that money)

Not that I don’t understand that house ownership is beneficial as a whole (stake in the community, owners more involved than renters, stability, etc.), but get real, folks. Even at the height of the “ownership society” supposedly espoused by Bush, only 2 in 3 households were “owned.” While that seems to be the magical percentage (in that you can ignore anything under 1 in 3), it’s still a sizeable number of people.

And the number has actually dropped since that moment, back to the 60% that has been the norm since well after WW2. And before WW2, it was less than half.

Not everyone is ownership quality. Some people can’t afford it (look at all the houses that look clap-trap because of repairs that look jerri-rigged), some are too lazy and some people would rather rent. Add onto this the number of people who’d rather own but are unable to due to market conditions, and you’re talking about a sizable number of people who, for need or want, are renting.

What people are going to need to do is to look more kindly at renters. True, they may be poorer, but we’re part of society. The people who work in the restaurants, the gas stations, the bowling alleys and Targets are not going to be able to afford 50-80 mile commutes in cars about to fall apart for long. That may be your wet dream, but it can’t last.

Welcome to the new world. 2008: the arising of the new society, whether you like it or not.