Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The More Things Change...

I am back from vacation and getting caught up on e-mails and news. In no particular order a few brief comments:

1) The Timberwolves are dreadful- Randy Wittman was fired as coach while I was gone and Kevin McHale was "demoted" from Vice President of basketball operations to coach. Why owner Glenn Taylor can't bring himself to fire McHale is beyond me. McHale made one good move his entire career as VP when he signed Kevin Garnett as a kid out of high school, but he has bungled every other decision he has made. Taylor is incredibly loyal, which is admirable, but McHale needs to go.

2) Politicians are corrupt - Not all politicians are corrupt and in fact most are fine, if flawed, public servants. But some are corrupt and some are so stupidly corrupt that you wonder how they ever managed to get elected to office, unless of course they bought or cheated their way in. Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was arrested after he was caught on a wiretap essentially selling the US Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama to the highest bidder. He even said that if he couldn't enrich himself in a deal for the seat he might just take it himself. There is some convergence here between the arrogance of power and sheer stupidity that makes it possible to think you could get away with this, and to talk about it all over the phone and not imagine that someone might be listening in.

3) The American auto industry is in denial - It appears a bailout of the big three auto industries is near complete; everyone seems to agree that they, because of all the jobs linked to them, are too big to fail. I read about this on the front page of the Star Tribune this morning. On the back page of the Sports section was a full page ad by the Walser Automotive Group, one of the largest auto dealerships in the twin cities. Here, in part is what the ad said:
Part of the Big Three automaker's plan presented to congress details the investments being made in fuel efficient and alternative fuel vehicles. If gas remains at its current, relatively low, levels will America embrace these new vehicles? Lower demand is a key factor in the drop in gas prices. The drop in gas prices is a key factor in the sale of larger, less efficient vehicles. See where this is heading?

We think folks should be able to own the type of vehicles they need...and enjoy driving. If you own a boat you need to be able to tow it. If you are a carpenter you can't haul your tools and building materials to the jobsite in the trunk of a sub-compact...
The message here is that Americans won't buy those fuel efficient vehicles if gas prices stay low. They want the big gas guzzlers they enjoy driving. But wait, then why is the American auto industry in trouble in the first place? If America wants what the Big Three are building then why are Americans buying Toyotas and Hyundais and Nissans? And who really thinks gas prices are going to stay this low when the economy recovers? The same market forces - increased global demand for oil coupled with the arrival of "peak oil" - is going to push gas prices higher again.

The issue isn't whether you need a big truck or a small car. The issue is whether that big truck or small car is fuel efficient and built with quality. The American auto industry has fought tooth and nail every attempt to mandate better fuel economy in vehicles, arguing that Americans don't want to pay for it. But long before the latest energy crisis hit us with $4 a gallon gas Americans were deserting American car makers for foreign cars. The energy crisis just accelerated the process.

But don't believe any of this silly stuff about an energy crisis or even an economic downturn. Go out there and buy yourself a new Hummer. You know you want one.

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