Appearing today on CNBC, Steven Rattner, the former head of President Obama's auto task force, made some surprising observations that undermine his previously articulated optimism about the future of bailed-out General Motors. Although he cleverly tried to lump Ford in with GM, he acknowledged GM's recent reliance on incentives to sell autos:
Kenneth Boehm, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center in Falls Church, Va., was once a senior official of the Legal Services Corp., serving as counsel to its board of directors from 1991 to 1994.
Since then, Boehm has been one of the LSC's most persistent critics, urging reform and even elimination of the agency. Last year he testified before the House Judiciary Committee, asking members to reject a bill that would have, in his view, eliminated many of the beneficial reforms Congress enacted in 1996. He warned that if the bill passed, "once again Legal Services will be known as a federal program plagued with unaccountability and controversy." The bill died.
Last week, the Volt, GM's signature hybrid vehicle, turned in a lackluster performance in its first series of road tests by Consumer Reports. CR told Reuters on Monday that "when you look at the finances, [the Volt] doesn't make any sense." The publication went on to note that the Volt was "not particularly efficient as an electric vehicle and not particularly good as a gas vehicle... This is going to be a tough sell to the average consumer."
Famed investor Warren Buffett once said, "If you have to have a prayer session before raising prices by ten percent, then you've got a terrible business." So, what does it mean if your business is slashing prices month over month through discounts and other incentives? Take a look at this graph.
From the 1st quarter through the 4th quarter of 2010, GM's lobbying expenses more than doubled from $1.8 million to $3.89 million - a 113% increase. After all, when the government is your largest shareholder, your company execs will inevitably be spending an inordinate amount of time cozying up to Washington politicians.
Moreover, GM's lobbyist team reads like a who's who of the government bailout business. And why wouldn't it? When you're lobbying Washington to privatize gains for your clients and socialize their losses among taxpayers, you hire those firms with the most experience representing other notorious companies that received massive bailouts by U.S. taxpayers - Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Goldman Sachs, AIG and others.
News coverage of General Motors over the past few weeks has painted an increasingly glowing picture, but here's a dose of reality: GM still has not repaid taxpayers for the bailout and it's looking less and less like taxpayers will ever be made whole.
A brief comment of mine was included today in a report by Peter Overby on National Public Radio's All Things Considered. Here's a transcript:
The fight over public employee unions has exploded into a high-stakes partisan war. In Wisconsin and several other states, Republicans want to end collective bargaining with many public employee unions. Two favorite proposals would disrupt the ability of unions to build their political funds. And that would deal a major blow to the Democratic Party.
BP Plc, whose Macondo well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico caused the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history last year, co-owns the well that was granted the first deepwater drilling permit since the disaster.
BP is Noble Energy Inc's partner in the well, holding a 46.5 percent interest, BP said.