Pontiac Enters Car Heaven

The 1967 Pontiac GTO was the first muscle car

The 1967 Pontiac GTO was the first muscle car


Pontiac Enters Car Heaven by Gregory Hilton–General Motors made if official today. The Pontiac brand name will cease to exist at the end of next year, and an additional 21,000 employees have been fired. It was also revealed that the number of GM dealers will decline by 42%, and the company is currently negotiating with over 2,600 dealers that are on the chopping block. In addition, 28% of all plants will be closed by the end of next year. The automaker announced the sweeping moves as part of a revised business plan it is submitting to the Treasury Department.
The key elements of the new business plan are not surprising, and they are a result of an astounding 97% fall in GM’s stock value since 2000. When I grew up the world’s largest and most profitable corporation was General Motors. By 1980 they had a staggering 853,000 employees, and the most respected figure in the American business community was the GM chairman. He always led the “Big Three” (GM, Ford and Chrysler), and the sentiments of 1950s CEO Charles Wilson were still accepted, “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.”
GM was always considered a blue chip stock, but now it is struggling to stay out of bankruptcy, which remains a very real option. A final decision will be made by June 1st and GM’s fate is now in the hands of President Obama’s auto task force. The current reorganization plan would give the U.S. government at least a 50% stake in the automaker, with the union holding up to 39% and bondholders with an additional 10% share. Current shareholders would effectively be wiped out.
The market capitalization of GM is now below Oprah Winfrey’s net worth. Pontiac is not alone among the major changes. Saab has already entered bankruptcy protection and is being separated from GM. Saturn will be phased out in 2012, and this blow is particularly painful because the brand was once seen as GM’s future. Saturn began 19 years ago as an effort to attract owners of small Japanese cars. GM also announced that it plans to sell or close Hummer. For the next year Pontiac will be reduced to a few sporty models, primarily the Solstice and Vibe.
All baby boomers will remember Pontiac’s “wide track” hey day when the brand included GTO, Firebird, Grand Prix, Trans Am, LeMans, Catalina, Tempest, Ventura and Bonneville. Now those models will join Oldsmobile, Plymouth, Packard, Hudson, Nash, Kaiser-Frazer, Duesenberg, Tucker and American Motors in U.S. automobile history. As Pontiac enters car heaven we will thank them for giving the world its first true muscle car (GTO), as well as distinctive styling that will long be remembered.
Pontiac’s greatest moment was the GTO. This car was produced in spite of GM management, not because of it. The GTO was assembled in violation of GM’s corporate rules against putting big block engines in that type of body shell. John DeLorean did it in secret and by the time GM could do anything about it, the car had become too big of a hit for the home office to do anything about it.
GM was the largest U.S. corporation by revenue as recently as 2000. The company had 50% or more of new-car sales for decades, peaking at 55% in 1956. In 2008, that figure fell to less than 22%. Market capitalization peaked at $52 billion in 2000. In February, after GM revealed its survival plans, the figure was $1.33. Toyota’s market cap is now $103.6 billion.
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In the late 1960s both Pontiac and GM were at a pinnacle of success. The impact of the Japanese imports would not be relevant in the American market until after the oil shock of 1973. The beginning of the energy crisis was when the GM story became a tale of accelerating irrelevance. The company was also slow to recover from the long UAW strike of 1970, when over 400,000 workers walked off their jobs.
The UAW won, and they would continue to win in show downs with the Big Three. They soon acquired the nick name “Generous Motors” because of the wage and benefits being received by UAW members. The cost of those benefits would bedevil GM for the next 35 years. But they didn’t buy union peace. Rancorous relations and periodic strikes remained a fact of life at GM.
Customer preferences changed, competition tightened, technology made big leaps, and GM was always driving a lap behind. GM has been losing market share in the U.S. since then, destroying capital for years, and returning no share price appreciation to investors.
A “Fortune” magazine cover story about GM in August of 2008 by Alex Taylor (who has written about the company for four decades) concluded with this observation: “If Washington wants to bail out GM, it’s fine with me. A lot of short-term angst will be avoided, and taxpayer money has been spent for worse purposes. But you have to wonder whether the insular, self-absorbed culture that still dominates GM is up to the job of restructuring the company quickly enough to make it profitable and competitive again.
“GM has been on a downward path ever since I began covering it. What is going to make it different this time? As painful as bankruptcy may be, it would give GM the leverage it needs to redo its labor contracts and dealer franchise agreements, downsize the company, recruit new management, and position itself for an economic upturn in 2010 that would enable it to regain some fraction of its former glory.”

The Timeless Message of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby"

 “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”


I visited the grave of F. Scott Fitzgerald this morning in Rockville. Fitzgerald is one of the two greatest American authors of the 20th century, but he spent only a short time in Maryland. His tombstone says “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” It is the last line from “The Great Gatsby,” arguably Fitzgerald’s finest work and certainly the book for which he is best known.
The grave site is in a small cemetery at St. Mary’s Catholic Church at the busy intersection of Routes 355 (Rockville Pike) and 28. It is almost the first grave you encounter when you enter the cemetery.
What is the meaning of the quote on the tombstone? The narrator believes Gatsby’s life was focused on the past. Gatsby achieved wealth, fame, and the lifestyle he worked so hard for, but he never had Daisy. He got as close to her as he could. Five years after their first meeting he finally met with her again, but Daisy doesn’t live up to his dream. She chooses her husband Tom over him, and doesn’t lend herself to the dream as fully as Gatsby did.
Many people look at the book as a commentary about class distinctions. I often think of this because of my efforts with major donors for various charities. “The Great Gatsby” movie contains a scene where Gatsby is showing Daisy a full closet of beautiful custom made shirts. The point is that no matter how many shirts Gatsby had, no matter how rich and famous he became, no matter how much Daisy raised his hopes, Gatsby wasn’t going to make it into the club. The club is ruthless, and it killed him.
Tom and Daisy Buchanan represent old money, which does not accept Gatsby. The class distinctions between Daisy, a true upper class maiden, who can never lower herself to accept Gatsby, the aspirant to a class rank which wealth and parties cannot buy.
Gatsby’s dream and hope of her and himself is what drove him, with the hope that she would come to his parties or that he would visit East Egg. When his dream was so close to being reality, it shattered.
Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald is often overlooked. She was the subject of Nancy Mitford’s “Zelda: A Biography.” It was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, and spent weeks on The New York Times best-seller list. The book emphasizes Zelda’s artistic talent.
Her mother did not like the paintings and burned at least 30 of them, but today they are quite valuable. Many are on display at the Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum in Montgomery, Alabama. Mitford portrays Zelda as a woman whose unappreciated potential was suppressed by a patriarchal society.

U.S. Boycotts UN's "World Conference on Racism"

The burning of an Israeli flag was typical of the protestors

The burning of an Israeli flag was typical of the protestors


President Obama made the correct decision in keeping the U.S. out of the UN’s “World Conference on Racism.” It turned out to be anti-Semitic and anti-American hate festival. Obama’s action was criticized by the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and Human Rights Watch, but George Bush came under far stronger attacks when he did the same thing in 2001.
The difference between the 2001 and 2009 conferences is that the news media did a far better job of exposing the lunacy of this event. Obama was right not to legitimize this conference with US participation. It is also encouraging to see the Obama Administration opposing the simplistic notion that “engagement” is always preferred. Zvika Krieger of “The New Republic” has done an outstanding job of reviewing both conferences: http://www.tnr.com/ A large percentage of the U.S. Congress did not want to see a replay of 2001. Last week a bipartisan group of House members sent a letter to Obama congratulating him for deciding to boycott the meeting, which began on Monday.

“We applaud you for making it clear that the United States will not participate in a conference that undermines freedom of expression and is tainted by an anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic agenda,” said the letter signed by seven members of Congress. Israel and several Jewish advocacy groups urged the United States and other nations not to take part in the conference. Canada, Australia and Italy did not attend because of similar concerns.

Speaker Pelosi: WMD, Cross Border Invasions, and UN Resolutions Do Not Matter

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is now denying knowing U.S. officials used waterboarding. However, a Washington Post story describes an hour-long 2002 briefing in which Pelosi was told about enhanced interrogation techniques in graphic detail. Former Intelligence Chairman Pete Hoekstra (MI), who is now the panels ranking Republican says “if she did not know, she was not paying attention in the meetings. . . I’m puzzled, I don’t understand what she’s trying to say. I don’t have any sympathy for her — she’s the Speaker of the House; there should be some accountability. She shouldn’t be given a pass.” She is the only participant who did not hear “waterboarding.” Former CIA Director Porter Goss says she must be suffering from amnesia. Goss, who was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee when Pelosi was the ranking member, said: “The chairs and the ranking minority members of the House and Senate intelligence committees, known as the Gang of Four, were briefed that the CIA was holding and interrogating high-value terrorists. I do not recall a single objection from my colleagues.”
The members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees knew what was being done at Guantanamo. They supported it at the time. Now they want to be able to say “we didn’t know what was happening” to score some political points. Pelosi attended 30 briefings, and Hoekstra says “the reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement.”
Another official present at the early briefings told the Post, “there was no objecting, no hand-wringing. The attitude was, ‘We don’t care what you do to those guys as long as you get the information you need to protect the American people.'”
Sen. Christopher Bond (R-MO), ranking member of the Senate intelligence panel, called the Pelosi comments “frightening.” “The idea that a 10-year veteran of the intelligence committee would just rubber-stamp a program she thought was illegal or morally wrong is frightening, especially when the claim comes from a member who has never been afraid to challenge publicly the Bush administration. As members of Congress we have the constitutional authority and responsibility to take serious our oversight role.” Speaker Pelosi now wants the prosecution of Bush administration officials who signed off on the use of the techniques. President Obama previously said he was opposed to such prosecution, but now says it is up to Attorney General Eric Holder. Pelosi supports the creation of a “Truth Commission” to root out wrongdoing by the Bush administration on interrogations — putting her at odds with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Obama, who want the matter dealt with exclusively by congressional committees. Former Secretary of State James Baker said the type of panel Pelosi is seeking would America in the business of “criminalizing policy differences.”
In addition to waterboarding, Pelosi’s entire record on Iraq definitely puts her in the category of the hard core left. The U.S. invaded Iraq on March 19, 2003. While President Bush argued that he did not need congressional approval, ultimately both houses of Congress approved a resolution authorizing him to do so. The House vote of 10/10/02 was 296-133, and Pelosi opposed the war from the outset. Pelosi said Iraq had WMD but that did not matter to her. Some lawmakers were falsely claiming Iraq had a nuclear weapons stockpile, but if this had been true it would have made no difference to Pelosi.
From her work on the Intelligence Committee, Pelosi was well aware of the WMD issue. On 12/16/98 Pelosi said:
“As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, I am keenly aware that the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons is an issue of grave importance to all nations. Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons of mass destruction technology which is a threat to countries in the region and he has made a mockery of the weapons inspection process.”
On 11/17/02 Pelosi stated: “Saddam Hussein certainly has chemical and biological weapons. There’s no question about that.” She followed that up on 10/10/02 by saying: “I come to this debate, Mr. Speaker, as one at the end of 10 years in office on the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, where stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction was one of my top priorities. I applaud the President on focusing on this issue and on taking the lead to disarm Saddam Hussein. … Others have talked about this threat that is posed by Saddam Hussein. Yes, he has chemical weapons, he has biological weapons, he is trying to get nuclear weapons.”
Pelosi participated in numerous Iraq WMD briefings. Along with everyone else she assumed Saddam Hussein had them. Her argument was that Iraq should not be attacked because then Saddam would use his WMD. In October of 2002 she said: “I want to call to the attention of my colleagues a statement about Saddam’s use of chemical and biological weapons that was just declassified and sent to the Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The question is: If we initiate an attack and he thought he was an extremist or otherwise, what is the likelihood in response to our attack that Saddam Hussein would use chemical and biological weapons? This is a letter from George Tenet, the head of the CIA to the committee. The response: Pretty high, if we initiate the attack.” She said we should not put our troops in harms way.
It also made no difference to Speaker Pelosi if Iraq invaded another country. On 1/12/91 the Congress authorized the use of military force to drive Iraq out of Kuwait. The votes were 52-47 in the Senate and 250-183 in the House of Representatives.

In a Major Change, Obama Backs Free Trade with Colombia, Panama and South Korea

NAFTA trade has increased steadily

NAFTA trade has increased steadily


In a major policy shift, President Obama is now pursuing efforts to secure free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. The shift was apparent at the recent Latin Summit where Obama had to endure anti-U.S. harangue’s from Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. Continue reading

Four Former CIA Directors Oppose Obama Declassification of "Torture Memos"

Protestors Demonstrate Waterboarding

Protestors Demonstrate Waterboarding


President Obama’s decision to release the so-called “torture memos” remains controversial in the national security community. Obama overruled the advice of his CIA director, Leon Panetta, and four prior CIA directors by releasing the details of the enhanced interrogation program. Former CIA director Michael Hayden immediately responded by saying the action will make it more difficult for the CIA to defend the nation.
As former CIA Director Hayden says, “”The (harsh) techniques themselves were used selectively against only a small number of hard-core prisoners who successfully resisted other forms of interrogation, and then only with the explicit authorization of the director of the CIA … fully half of the government’s knowledge about the structure and activities of Al Qaeda came from those interrogations.”
The U.S. does not torture. The memos laid out the extent of exactly how far we could go before it would become torture, because it was important not to cross a line into torture. A major hold up in releasing prisoners from Guantanamo has been obtaining guarantees from other governments that they will not torture prisoners who are returned to them. Guantanamo and prisons in Afghanistan are completely consistent with our international obligations. The United States has violated no laws.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney is asking why President Obama simultaneously withheld other classified memos demonstrating what those interrogation techniques produced. They “show specifically what we gained as a result of this activity. They have not been declassified, and I am formally requesting it,” Cheney said.
Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), the former Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said it was not necessary to release details of the enhanced interrogation techniques, “because members of Congress from both parties have been fully aware of them since the program began in 2002. We believed it was something that had to be done in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to keep our nation safe. After many long and contentious debates, Congress repeatedly approved and funded this program on a bipartisan basis in both Republican and Democratic Congresses.”
It has also been revealed that the CIA briefed top lawmakers on the House and Senate intelligence committees more than 30 times about this program. The techniques are now controversial but they were not in years past. Congress could have killed the program at any time by withholding funding.
Dennis Blair, the National Intelligence Director, in a memo last week to his staff, also said Congress had been notified of the tactics: “From 2002 to 2006 when the use of these techniques ended, the leadership of the CIA repeatedly reported their activities both to Executive Branch policymakers and to members of Congress, and received permission to continue to use the techniques.”
Blair got it right when he noted how easy it is to condemn this “on a bright sunny day in April 2009.” In addition, George Tenet, who served as CIA director under Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, believes the enhanced interrogations program saved lives.
The tactics outlined in the CIA memos are the same techniques used on Americans for training purposes. Everything that was done in this program are tactics that our own people go through in SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Evasion) training. We did not torture our own people.

What Happened to that Huge Anti-War Lobby?

Anti-War Demonstrations Were Popular During the Bush Administration

Anti-War Demonstrations Were Popular During the Bush Administration


President Obama has authorized a 21,000 troops surge for Afghanistan. He has also asked Congress for an additional $83.4 billion to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for FY2009. On the table, too, is a request for $130 billion to fund the wars in 2010. The House and Senate Appropriations Committee will markup the bill next week, but there is no opposition!
This legislation will be the main topic when Hillary Clinton testifies tomorrow for the first time as Secretary of State. The only lawmakers who have so far come out against the supplemental are Reps. Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Lynn Woolsey (D-CA). Moveon.org was outraged by last years supplemental but now they do not have a position. That is also true of Americans United for Change, which spent $600,000 on TV ads against the 2007 legislation. What happened in the interim?
The favorite chant of the anti-war lobby continues to be “No Blood for Oil.” They believe America’s aim is to steal oil and other natural resources from Iraq.
We have been hearing the accusation for years, but no one has touched Iraq’s oil. Iraq is free to sell its oil to the highest bidder. Their annual income from oil is about $18 billion. It takes our economy about 14 hours to generate that much money. We have also spent hundreds of billions in Iraq. Does anyone think we did this to steal Iraq’s oil?