Letter To God

Dear God,

Hey what’s up!  Thanks for reading this.  There’s been something I’ve been meaning to ask you – what the hell gives with life, seriously?  I don’t want any meaning to life, I just don’t get why it has to be so damned hard sometimes.  I mean is this some kinda joke to you?  Or something else?  I’m just kinda frustrated, God.  I try very hard to do what I think will bring me success.  I utilize what tallents I have to help my friends and family.  I mean sure, I could probably do a lot more for others.  If it’s true that the real measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do absolutely nothing for him, then I guess I come up short.  Is that it?  Am I not walking my talk?

Why did you put people here that’re unwilling to care about their fellow man?  Isn’t that what you taught?  Why would you put people on this planet that are completely unwilling to do anything but look out for themselves?  Is it different up there?  Do people actually care about one another in heaven?  Please don’t tell me it’s like it is down here, otherwise I don’t ever want to come.  It’s really hard down here, God.  Do you realize that?  There are a LOT of starving people, and lots of sick people too, it’s very scary, we’re slowly killing ourselves by poisioning our bodies, our earth, our water – it just doesn’t seem like there’s anything right happening down here.  People are uncaring and it almost seems as if they’re TRYING to kill the planet.  Really, God, what’s the deal?

Are you even in control?  Or did you just put us here and leave us to our own damn devices?  If this is the best we can do as a people, I’d like to resign right here and now.  Can I have my own planet, or at least a continent…I’d settle for a state.

But what would happen if we all got our own place, away from all the uncaring people?  I guess we’d never help anyone, or be helped. Huh…maybe that’s the point, we just need to realize it’s not about “me.”

Thanks for reading this God.

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Bankruptcy Is The Only Option

Just in case you haven’t heard, there is a proposed $25 billion bailout planned for Ford and General Motors.  Chrysler is not eligible for the bailout because they are a privately held company – technically.  This bailout is literally to aid the automakers in retooling their plants to build more fuel-efficient vehicles and speeding up development of said vehicles.  Not one red cent can, once again technically, be spent on anything else – i.e. liquidity.  General Motors has announced they will reach their critical point by December 31st, 2008.  On that date it is anticipated that they will only have $10 billing cash available for ongoing operations.  At that point in time, the company will be bankrupt.  Ford, which reported a small (in comparison) loss in the 3rd quarter, is staying their course of becoming more of a global machine.  What this means is that the small, fuel-efficient cars they build for other markets like Europe, will be the same ones they build here.  This is the opposite of what Japanese companies do, but it makes sense.  So what are GM and Ford to do?  Well I believe that Ford is actually heading in the right direction, they have more cash than GM and they’re burning through it at a slower rate.  The money would be nice for Ford to have, but not needed.  But GM…

General Motors needs to go bankrupt.  Not Chapter 7, which is liquidity, but Chapter 11, reorganization.  A lot has been said about customers not willing to purchase a car from a bankrupt company, but you know what’s worse?  A company that everyone is afraid is going to go bankrupt.  Point in case:  Studebaker-Packard, 1956.  The rumors that the company would go bankrupt soon and strand its owners and dealers strangled sales.  Bankers cut off funding to the company, thus stopping development, which made customers panic more.  By June of 1956 Packard was dead, and Studebaker lived for another 10 years.  GM has nearly 10,000 dealers, brands that are dead or dying, and a “captive” lending unit called GMAC, which has refused to fund any more car loans or any leases. Top heavy, under funded, strangled sales – history does repeat.

A lot of people are going to say, “well General Motors deserved it,” for any multitude of reasons.  Be it the horrible quality of the late 70’s, 1980s and 1990’s, the gas guzzling SUV orgy that ALL of the automakers took part in, or my favorite one “GM is evil, they killed the electric car just so they could make more SUVs.”  Well here’s my response to all of that:

1.) Yes, GM quality was crap for 3 decades.  No argument there.  But have you been in a brand new GM vehicle today?  Not only are they rated very highly by many journals, but to misquote a GM marketing message; it’s not my mother’s Oldsmobile.

2.) SUVs.  You will not find a more ardent opposer to SUVs than I.  If you want to hear my views on them, let me know and I’ll blog about it.  But the truth is this; yes, GM, Ford and Chrysler were making huge SUVs and huge profits in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.  They ignored cars, unlike their competitors.  But you cannot name ONE mainstream-automaker who doesn’t make an SUV today…. even the much vaunted Toyota and Honda jumped on that bandwagon. (Toyota just shuttered their Texas plant built specifically for their new large SUV and pickup truck)  I hate SUVs. I find them wasteful, inexcusable vehicles, but the truth is that these were profit centers for the entire automotive industry.  GM’s fault lays in the fact that they took WAY too long to redevelop and move forward their car designs and engineering.

3.) GM Killed The Electric Car.  Ok, ya know what, I’m all about recycling, conservation, and protecting/utilizing our natural resource wisely and I am a “greenie,” but SHUT UP YOU STUPID UNINFORMED HIPPIES!  It just fries my cheese that these people assume that GM is a big bad Goliath.  The electric car in question, the EV1, was killed because it was launched at a time when a.) Battery development was very poor, b.) SUV’s were hot, gas was cheap, who needed an electric car and c.)  Had they not crushed those cars, the first time someone got injured by one, in one or near one, there’d be a HUGE lawsuit…this is the same reason that concept cars are crushed and why non-authorized accessories void your warranty.  It’s funny how people fail to hear that the EV1 development gave GM a huge push forward with their Volt development.  A vehicle that will go 40 miles on electricity alone and then use a gasoline engine to power the electric motors and charge the batteries.  (This is the story from GM, though conflicting reports keep coming out. the latest news is that the engine will power the car when the electricity runs out, and not recharge the batteries)

I’m not a GM cheerleader.  I’m an automobile cheerleader.  I love cars and frankly I think GM finally got its love of cars back recently, too.  But they are so weighed down with all of their brands, a terrible customer perception and a Board of Directors, which should have been ushered out over 10 years ago.  So, Chapter 11…

Chapter 11 would allow GM to cancel dealer franchise agreements and kill brands.  The ideal situation would be the deletion of all brands except for Chevrolet and Cadillac, thus giving GM a mass market brand and a luxury brand, modeling themselves after Honda, Toyota, Nissan, etc.  They would be able to close plants, break UAW contracts and right size the company to be able to build the amount of cars that its current market share will support and not have to spread all of its research, development and marketing dollars across 100 different vehicles.  Yes, GM sells over 100 different vehicles.  It is also hoped that by going into Chapter 11 the courts will force the Board of Directors out and clear out the old executives and hopefully bring in individuals that are more interested in creating a successful business than in corporate raiding.

But what about the customers?

The publications I read feel that the perception of bankrupt companies has changed enough to keep people buying cars from a bankrupt automaker.  I’m not so sure of that, but there’s only one way to find out.  One example is Oldsmobile.  Even in their last year of production, with plenty of notice that the brand was dying, Oldsmobile sold over 100,000 vehicles – more vehicles than Saab (another GM brand) has sold in any year since GM has owned them.  This just shows that people will buy a car from a company or brand, which is going to be discontinued, so long as there is support for them.  And support there was; any Oldsmobile can be serviced through a Chevrolet dealer with no problems.  Therefore were Buick, Pontiac, GMC, Saturn, Saab, and Hummer to die, GM would still be able to offer support for their owners via Cadillac and Chevrolet.  All of their cars share the same major components.  Yes, the residual values for these cars would plummet, some would probably even be worthless, but what’s better?  No GM or a better GM?

Just let GM die?

Let me just say, I really hate people who say this.  We need a strong manufacturing base in this nation.  We will be in deep trouble if we let one of the last vestiges of a manufacturing industry leave.  Sure, sure, most of the foreign automakers have a factory or two here in the states.  But all of the money earned from sales doesn’t go to our GDP and should the government need to take control over the manufacturing industry for one reason or another, such as they did during WWII, they will have a hard time taking factories from Toyota and Honda.  We cannot have a country that doesn’t make anything but consumes everything.  We also cannot allow our automotive industry become an “American Leyland.”  Go to that Wikipedia and search British Leyland if you have no idea what I’m talking about.

No bailout!

I am 100% against any bailout for the automakers.  Shocked?  If we throw good money after bad, like we did with the banks, we’re just enforcing the idea that a company can be too big to fail; history owes an existence to no one.  A bailout package will prevent GM from being forced to declare bankruptcy, which won’t be good for anyone.  Bankruptcy is the only option to get out of bad contracts, a UAW who feels they’re entitled to waayy too much and a brand-addled corporation.  I’ll finish this blog with a story:

A GM manager was at a factory, which was building a redesigned Cadillac Eldorado.  He was explaining what the changes were, what their goals were, and asked for any questions.  A UAW member raised his hand and asked “Are you going to make it much more expensive?  Because I really like the one I have now and I want to get a second one.”  The manager answered a politically correct response, but thought to himself “damn you, you shouldn’t be able to afford one!”  This is a true story; it may ruffle a few feathers, but the man piecing together your luxury automobile isn’t its targeted customer and never should be.

I Am Not A Democrat, I Am Not A Republican

There has been a heated discussion going around my family today over the results of the election.  I frankly am very excited to have heard that we had the highest percentage of voter turnout in a century – now that’s what counts.  This family discussion which has gotten heated has been via email.  Below is my one and only response to all of it.  It may seem a tad ideological, but you’ll forgive me if I’m not old enough to be jaded just yet:

“Let us all embrace those who feel scared and uncertain with the election results and continue to let them know that “we are going to do this together.”  Every time they try to diminish your happiness, enthusiasm or overall contentment with our new President, just smile, and thank them for taking their time to share what’s occurring for them. Say “thank you for sharing that with me.  now let’s work together to unite and strengthen our country.”   Take what the President-elect speaks of, working together for a better future, and encourage others to follow that lead.  When you transform your way of being, others transform around you.  Let those sometimes foolish remarks roll off your back like so much water off the back of a duck.  Don’t stoke the flames of discontent, instead, just keep building bridges because, yes, change is coming- but not if we don’t hold our fellow Americans tight and let them know that there is no “us” or “them,” just we the people. ”

 

There’s been enough division.  It’s time to unite.  A house divided against itself cannot stand. 

With Liberty & Justice For Who Exactly?

I live in a neighborhood in transition, to be polite.  It’s not a rich neighborhood and it’s a heavily minority one.  I went to vote at a brand new community center just behind my house today, what unfolded was something out of a Michael Moore movie and not our fine democracy.  I arrived at 6:45 am, 15 minutes before the polls were set to open, and there was already a line about 5 deep, which added 5 more with every 10 minutes.  Most people were somber, with few words spoken.

 

“It’s time to change, mmhmm!”  Said a small black woman with blood red nails, behind me. 

 

“Is it time?  I wanna get this done with.”  Asked a man, absently, in front of me, playing with his cell phone. 

 

We mulled about until around 7:00 am, when a woman pushed ahead of us all and walked into the center. 

 

“Who’re you?”  Asked an old woman at the front of the line.

 

“Poll worker.” Is all she said before she ran in.

 

We stood around for a while longer.

 

“Well,” I say, “It’s seven!  Let’s get this thing goin’!”

 

The doors are still closed.  The girl that ran in previously comes out, rushes by.

 

“What’s goin’ on?”  Asks the woman behind me.

 

“They’re not ready.” She says, mostly ignoring us and never to be seen again. 

 

We stand around, talking to one another, not surprisingly I don’t hear a single republican voice in the crowd.  I look at my phone, its 7:10, and I have to get to work.

 

“What the hell is going on?”  I mumble. 

 

A lady at the front of the line opens the door and shouts:  “What’s goin on!  We want to vote!”

 

She’s told they’re not ready yet and she relays the information back to us. 

 

“Jeeze,” I say to the crowd, “It’s like they weren’t expecting us or something.”

 

“We’ve only been waiting for this for 4 years.” Says blood-red-nails.

Finally, around 7:20, they open the doors, 20 minutes late.  They say they can check us in, but we can’t vote. 

 

“Why can’t we vote?”

 

“The machines, they’re down, we don’t know how to work ‘em.”

 

“Well where’s Mary Jones!”  Shouts red-nails, I find out later, that’s the precinct judge, who is supposed to be here. 

 

“She not here, and we cain’t reach huh!”  Shouts another poll worker.

 

This is getting weird; I pull out my phone and Google the national voter’s rights number and start to call.  I get sent into voicemail hell at first, I call back and I get someone right away. 

 

“Our Vote, what is your location and name?”

 

“This is T. Anthony, Houston, Texas Precinct 159.”

 

“What’s the matter sir?”

 

“We are unable to vote, our location is on Greene Street at the Community Center, Fifth Ward.  Machines are down.”

 

“Can I speak to a polling rep?”

 

“Hang on.”  I put the phone down and shout above the very heated arguments that are taking place around me.  “I NEED A POLLING REP!”

 

A small, very frail elderly woman wearing a velvet hat looks up at me and raises her hand. 

 

“Ma’am, I have election officials on the phone, could you please speak with them?”

 

She does, I don’t hear what they say.  They’re also trying to check me in, but keep mistaking my first name for my last, so they flip from one book to the other and back again.  I’m tempted to reach down and flip to my name, but I think better of it.

 

“No, ma’am, over there.  My last name does not start with T, that’s my first name, go to the other book..yes that one.  There I am!  Thank you ma’am.”  I sign, and have my phone handed back to me. 

 

“Mr. Anthony?”  Asks the woman from the voter’s rights center.

 

“Yeah, I’m here.”

 

“Ok, well here’s the situation.  The machines are down, they have no paper ballots, which they are required to have, and the judge is missing.  We will be contacting the Harris County officials to send out their officials, we will be personally dispatching an attorney in the area to your precinct as well as an election official.  I will call you back in 10 minutes.”

 

“Ok, thank you very much for all you’re doing.”

 

“Thank you sir for calling, this is very important.”

 

We all start to line up after being checked in.  There are 20 of us inside and a line that stretches far outside the door.  There’s nothing we can do, so we sit, and we wait.  I dial another number.

 

“Mumblehello, what is it?”  I called Delma, the only person I know would be home.

 

“Del, its Trev.  I need your help.”  She suddenly awake and at attention.

 

“What’s goin’ on?” I relay the issues to her.

 

“That’s nuts, I don’t get it.  What do you need me to do?”

 

“Get me the number for KHOU.”  It’s our local TV affiliate, just then my phone beeps through with a call from New York.  “Del, I gotta take this, hang on.”

 

“Mr. Anthony?”

 

“Yes, Ma’am.”

 

“This is Rachel from Voters Rights, I wanted to update you on the progress here.  Houston election officials were not aware of the issues at your precinct, they are now aware and dispatching personnel as well as an attorney.  We have been unable to locate the judge for your precinct, give me 10 minutes and I should have another update for you, alright sir?”

 

“Yes, Ma’am, thank you.”

 

I click back over to Delma.

 

“You there?”

 

“Yeah, I just texted you the number for KHOU.”

 

“Awesome, I’m gonna call them, I’ll keep you posted. Thanks for your help.”

 

I call KHOU, their offices are closed before 8:30 am.  What?  Does news not happen before 8:30?  I guess not.  They have an option to leave a tip.  I leave my name, number and what’s going on in our precinct, making sure to emphasize we’re a poor area.  Finally off the phone, I look around to see if there’s any progress.

 

“Still nothin’.” Says red nails.

 

“You know that this isn’t happening in River Oaks!” I shout, making sure everyone hears.  River Oaks is the place to live, in fact it’s where all the guys from Enron lived, and it’s a beautiful area, but you can be damned sure that they didn’t have any voting problems. 

 

“Even if they do fix it, how are we sure the vote is gonna count?”  Red nails opines.

 

She has a point.  In Texas we use a machine that leaves a false paper trail.  You get a ticket to vote, you punch in the code on it at the machine and vote.  But this machine is widely criticized, as most electronic machines are, for not keeping any record.  The paper tape is more there just to mollify any concerns we the public may have.  In reality, if that machine crashes, accidentally purges our votes or just doesn’t communicate our votes to the voting center, our votes will, 100%, never be counted. 

 

My phone rings.

 

“Yes?”

 

“Mr. Anthony, Rachel again.  We’ve reached the judge for your area.  There are now provisional ballots on their way to your voting location, the judge should be on her way.  Before you called nobody was aware of any issues in your area, thank you so much for calling.  Officials are on the way, do not leave.  Make sure you stay and cast your ballot.  If you can, try and convince others to stay too.”

 

“I will ma’am, thank you for all of your help.”

 

And that’s it.  We sit and wait.  We watch as the polling volunteers plug and unplug wires and machines and just try every combination they can think of to get the machines to work.  I don’t mean to be rude, but most of these people are old enough to have voted for Ike and remember teletypes…to say my faith in them fixing a computer was nil is putting it lightly. 

 

Finally the machines light up, their hubs make a weird noise and the fake-paper-trail begins to whir. 

 

“We got ‘em!”

 

“Yeah, but will it count?”  Wonders red-nails, “You’d think with the importance of this election, the number of people they knew would come out, how many of us want to do our duty  that they would make sure we could vote!”  She was getting angry.

 

“It’s my first time voting.”  Chimes in a young girl behind her, which softens red-nails.

 

“Welcome to the electoral system.”  I beam at her.  I look at the machines.  None of them are connected to a modem. 

 

“Hey, how are we sure our vote will get counted?”  I ask. 

 

“As soon as you cast it, it gets sent on down to the downtown center where it’s stored.”

 

“But how?”  I ask.  She has no answer.  “None of these machines is plugged into any internet connection or modem.”  I might as well have asked for some lettuce to put on my head, she had no idea what I was saying.

 

It’s my turn to vote.  I grab the paper with a number on it, and go to the station.  I dial in my choices.  No vote flipping here.  I cast my ballot.  I look around at each machine and each terminal that they’re connected to.  Not a one is connected to a modem, even though there’s a very large notation and port on the machine that says “Modem.”

 

I sigh, concerned, not knowing whether or not my ballot was really cast.  I look at my phone.  It’s 8:15.  What a joke.  What a waste.  We’re all urged to do our civic duty and when we try to exorcise that right we’re met with obstacles, diversions, misinformation and a system that every 4 years seems utterly shocked that, YES in fact we ARE doing this AGAIN!

 

If we want to fix these United States, how about starting with our antiquated, rusting hulk of a machine they call the election system.