UC System – Extortion at its Finest

Education Comments Off

I have worked UCSD for about 5 years and as much as I have enjoyed my time here, I have learned what a complete money racket it actually is. This is a bit of a rant on my part having been issued an unjust parking ticket today, but its still very true, and everyone I know that works here agrees. UCSD is a fine educational institution, but their bureaucracy and system of extortion is truly a thing of beauty. I don’t know if this is true at other campuses around the country, but I know its true for the UC system and its complete BULLSHIT!

So how does UCSD extort money? Well starting from the top, most people who work at UCSD are funded by some sort of grant. Some are research grants and others, like mine are for developing and maintaining an educationally and scientifically beneficial resource. Whatever your grant is, UCSD immediately takes 54.5% of the grant money for itself. In most cases this is taken into account prior to applying for grants, but its a huge chunk of money that is consumed for esentially nothing, and can make obtaining a grant that much harder. Part of that fee is justified since they provide hr, payroll, workspace, electricity and internet for you, but its a standard percentage fee for all projects and that has major impacts on most grants holders. Some projects, such as mine, are very well funded, but we have an extremely small team (3 offices – 10 employees), yet end up paying on the order of hundreds of thousands of dollars just to use said space and serivices. Smaller projects give less money but have to have to spend half of their time applying for new grants just to squeak out a measly salary. Keep in mind most of these people are PHD’s who are now making on the order of 30-40k per year, and are working hard, not to make millions, but to better the world in one way or another.

Moving down the chain of extortion, if losing more than half of your grant wasn’t enough, UCSD places a 50% overhead charge on any equipment you purchase that is under $5000. That means that if that desktop you need costs $2000, you actually have to pay $3000 for it, $1000 going to the university. They also do not allow you to bundle purchases together. If I want to buy 3 of aforementioned systems, I would have to pay the 50% overcharge PER ITEM.  “So what, I’m just going to buy top of the line desktops and avoid the overcharge!” you may be saying. In certain cases that is preferable (especially if you’re hovering around the $4k mark) but certain things just cannot be bought at that value. Pens, paper, printers etc. All of the purchasing is strictly controlled by the university and we have allowed vendors we can deal with. There are exceptions, but require exhausting amounts of justification. With that in mind, a $5k laptop is not a possibility. Even a $5000 desktop is hard to come by, but even then budgets are usually too small to buy such exorbitant equipment. To make matters even worse, all hardware over $5k (in my case servers) have to be justified up and down and have to go through countless approvals.

So the university has eaten half your grant, and has pumped you out of another 1/3 of what’s left, but that is it….the rest is yours to get paid and do science. WRONG. On top of everything that UCSD has taken, it still requires all employees to buy parking permits in order to park on campus. This isn’t news for anyone that works in academia, but to you guys and gals in the real world, they actually charge us money to come to work, and its not cheap. I have a staff permit that runs me $78/month. Faculty has to pay ~$98. Oh and unlike other places where you rent a parking spot, UCSD does not guarantee you will even get a spot. The part of campus where my office is located has always been pretty close to capacity as far as spaces were concerned, but recently UCSD felt that they needed to do something about that. First they took 20 spots and converted them to visitor spaces, in which we, who pay monthly for our privilege to park, are not allowed to park and must buy an additional $8 daily pass. This wasn’t enough, so they took half of the parking lot and have begun to erect student housing. Not only do half of us now have to park across the campus and ride the bus to get to the office, but they are erecting student housing there, where upon completion will increase the demand for parking by another several hundred cars. They also have an army of meter maids that will slap you with a $45 ticket for any excuse they can find, including expired tags. Keep in mind, these people are not police, they are UC employees who have the power to cite you for almost any infraction. Forget parking off campus as well, because its not really possible. University City area of San Diego is mostly covered with no street parking signs and the university is surrounded by malls where they will fine you if you leave your car too long, and will most likely have your car towed. San Diego is also a special case since our public transportation is dismal. People who live in the vicinity can choose between a 30-45minute walk, or 35 minute bus ride. I live further away (15-20 minutes by car) and my public transportation timed arival was on the order of 1 hour 30 – 2 hours each way, depending on traffic and bus schedule.

USCD is also a state university which means that its partially funded by the state and the tuitions of students are subsidized as well, bringing in tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars each year. So where does all this money go? I really don’t know. According to the emails that I have been receiving from the university, the state is broke so the non-grant funded staff is probably not going to be paid next month, or will at the very least have to take temporary pay cuts. The students still pay their tuition, my grant is bleeding into their pockets and my personal bank account keeps coughing up parking fees and the university is crying about being broke? What we get in return is massive buildings that are half empty, disgusting pieces of art that look more like litter and garbage than art and a massive bureaucracy who’s only real purpose is to sustain itself. Its a massive extorsion racket and its a damn shame.

Ban All Marriage Now!

Politics, Religion Comments Off

I am not gay. No one in my family is gay. I know a few gay people, but no one in my inner circle of friends. So when I tell you that straight marriage is an issue I couldn’t give a damn about, you can understand how little I cared about gay marriage. What did grab my attention was the ballot results of proposition 8 in California and the aftermath.

Gay marriage seems to have become the hot topic again, after the controversial ballot that passed in California banning gay marriages and invalidating thousands of gay marriages that have already been performed. This seems to have upset many, but not me. I see it as a step forward. Don’t misunderstand me, I have no problem with gay people or their wish to have equal rights. In fact I am all for it. What I have a problem with is the current institution of marriage.

The ban of gays marrying is justified by statements such as “a threat to the American family” but unless marriage turns gay people into murderers or terrorists, I can’t rationalize that statement. Could it be that gay marriage is frowned upon in the bible? I think so. So based on one religions principles we are taking rights away from our own citizens. Hmmmm…I could have sworn there was something in the constitution about separating church and state, at least as far as making policy.

Another excuse that I often hear in defense of the “traditional family” is that it is the cornerstone of our society, and I actually have to actually agree with that statement, to a certain extent. Families are an integral part of any society as far as procreating, nourishing and educating the kids until they are old enough to start their own family. The problem lies in the idea of “traditional family” that has some how, over the last 100 years become husband-wife-kids. Throughout history, this has rarely been a standard template for a family and has only become the norm in the last century, but even if we concede this as a norm, I still cannot see how gays are going to ruin the system. Allowing them to get married will not turn straight people gay, and banning marriage will not cure the gays, so like I said before, unless marriage turns gays into murderers, this excuse is retarded as well. There is no reason, outside of a religious bias, to deny gays marriage. Or is there?

All that being said, I once again reiterate that I think prop 8 was a step forward. Here is what I mean; Marriage today consists of 2 parts: a ceremony and the paperwork. The ceremony can be a religious one or can be a formality performed by a city official. The paperwork on the other hand is the formality that takes care of all of your benefits: prenuptials, taxes, benefits etc. Religion is then an optional part of the proceedings yet is the basis for denying gays rights and benefits. Whats going to be next? Ban Jews from marrying cause they killed Jesus? Ban atheists cause they don’t believe in god? Ban all people of color cause Jesus was a white man from Oxford? I digress.

I say lets treat everyone equally, with the same rights and benefits under the law and cut out the religious influence of policy making. So, I am here and now calling for a complete ban of marriage as a legal institution. We have already banned gay marriage, now lets ban straight marriage.

I know we, and by we I mean all of us religious and non-religious normal people together, cannot force closed minded religious nuts to ever accept gays and if we allow gay marriages, it will inevitably piss them off, again. At the same time we cannot deny rights to a whole group of people simply based on who they love and what they do in the bedroom, something that the government has no place to govern. I say lets make civil unions the norm for all. Raise the benefits of civil unions to include everything that you get from marriage and cut out the ceremony. If people still want to tie the knot under god, then can go and do that on their own but it must not have any implications under the law. This way the religious extremists could still have their sacred institution protected, and the gays would have all the rights they deserve. Hell they can even find sympathetic priests that could marry them under god as well, and if anyone has a problem with that, it wont be a public issue anymore.

Auto Bailout – Part Deux

Politics Comments Off

Well it looks like its Merry Christmas to GM this year as the 13.4 billion dollar bailout was awarded by our beloved leader and chief. As you might have guessed from my previous post on the subject, I do not care much for this bailout, but then again I did not care for the overall bailout either. Companies start and end. They make and lose money and in the process give us new standards of life. The government tries to scare us into believing if any of these companies fail, they will bring the market down with them, but that is just complete bullshit. Do these people truly believe that the big 3 are the only companies in the world that make cars, and if they go down we are all fucked? The truth is that only a small subset of people would be in trouble, but the damage that this bailout will cause long term will be devastating to us all. There are dozens of Asian and European car manufacturers that have been clawing to try and get their vehicles here, since after all, we have had the highest percentage of disposable income per capita than most of the rest of the world. So what if GM is forced to close its doors. Its going to take less than a week for investors to come in, buy up the assets and before you know it, the doors would open and most of those workers that lost their jobs would be back at their stations. I say most, because the guys that come in drunk or are lazy would have to look for new employment opportunities in the service industry, which is the way it should be. Granted they guys left would be putting in modern fuel efficient 4-cylinder engines instead of 1950′s V8′s into modern frames, and the dealerships that currently dispense Saturn’s and GMC’s would have to re-brand, but the overall status quo would be preserved. They would still have cars to make, and we would still have cars to buy; except they would not suck.

Lets put aside all the reasons why the big 3 are in trouble for a minute and just concentrate on the philosophy behind this bailout and the principles of a free market. In the United States, we all enjoy a free market and capitalist ideals. The American Dream itself is a purely capitalist idea; Anyone can become anything they want, and by that we all mean rich. With this core value, we have built a free market economy, where anyone can start a legal business enterprise, and if they were smart enough and sold a product which is, or can be, mass consumed, could achieve the dream of becoming a part of that elusive top 1 percent. What most people don’t want to admit to themselves is that if everyone could reach the top 1%, then it wouldn’t be the 1%…it would be the 100%. What keeps the dream alive and has us all striving to come up with that big new thing that will make us millionaires is the fact that in healthy markets, giants do not stay on top forever. Markets change, technology advances and the companies either have to adapt or fail, and the small forward-thinking companies will eventually take their place. A completely free market, as we have all learned in our intro to Economics class, is not a good thing though. If left uncontrolled, large companies will unfairly crush competition by establishing vertical, or horizontal monopolies and undercutting any viable competition. So we have some laws and regulations in place to prevent this but the reality is that if a giant is forward thinking enough, it can go on forever, just based on the amount of R&D capital they have at their disposal.

The market, therefore, is a very brutal place, but what makes it solid and successful is that all who participate are governed by the same rules of the jungle. With the bailouts, the marketplace is no longer an even playing field. It has now become a socialist, yes, there, I said it, playground for the established. What is the point of starting a company that will be in direct competition with GM, investing enormous amounts of capital and time to come up with a superior product and try to take their market share, when as soon as they get in trouble the government steps in and bails them out allowing them to artificially compete without major effort on their part. What if my company cant keep up with GM due to my lacking funds in marketing, or my product being more expensive, or lower quality? Will I get a bailout? Of course not. So all are equal, but some are more equal than others. Wasn’t this how the USSR operated? Of course not, they also had healthcare for their citizens.

Giants, like the big 3, should have adapted their business strategies back in the 70′s to reflect the changing times. Instead they struck ridiculous deals with the UAW, continued to make vehicles from the dark ages and waved their cocks in our faces believing the whole time they were indestructible. Letting these companies fail would have been a good lesson for the rest of the world on how NOT to run a business. Instead all we are doing now is coddling three spoiled brats and wondering why they wont stop acting out and getting into trouble. The saddest fact of all is that the US manufacturers had one advantage that could have kept them on top of the markets for a long time: Patriotic Loyalty. Americans used to buy only American. They were cars built for Americans, by Americans and the rest of the world wanted to share in that sentiment. It was a huge advantage they had over all of the foreign auto makers, and all they had to do was keep up. If I can buy an American car that looked as good, drove as well and was as reliable as a BMW or Mercedes, I would have bought American without thinking twice. Instead of keeping up all they did was rely on the blind patriotic loyalty, until people started waking up and realizing how far the European and Japanese auto makers have advanced, and how retarded the US manufacturers had gotten. If you aren’t familiar with this sentiment, go test drive a BMW and a Cadillac, and it will become extremely apparent what I am talking about.

The Mercedes S class, for example, is still widely regarded as the showcase of things to come. New technologies, standards in beauty, comfort, safety and quality are all derived from this car. I ask you now, why isn’t the Cadillac this icon? It could have been, but instead looking at a Cadillac is like like looking into the past. Why isn’t the Corvette, a racing icon, as good as a Ferrari? Why do the big 3 have nothing in this country that can come close to rivaling anything that comes from Japan? In Europe, Ford has great cars (Focus, Ka, Fiesta, Mondeo) that give the Japanese and other European car manufacturers a run for the money, but why are they not here? We have the Focus here, but it has a horrible maintenance record in comparison with its Euro counterpart, and one of the greatest advances this company has made, the new diesel Focus, will not even be sold here. So Ford wants a bailout, but they sell their best stuff overseas and give us shit here…. WHY? The reason is that for every dollar that does not go into research and development, or quality of materials, or even little gadgets and details, goes directly into the pockets of the CEO’s and investors. Why invest $100 million into high quality plastics and leather, or independent suspensions, or fuel efficient engines, when they can buy another house, or private jet, or a Ferrari Enzo. These pricks in charge still refuse to take the smallest concessions in order to help their companies and for that I believe they should lose every penny to their name. A CEO of a Japanese Airline which is in trouble has gone as far as cutting all fringe benefits and refusing pay without any promise of a bonus at a later point, living off of savings, eating in the employee cafeteria, and putting in more hours than most of his employees, and these pricks wont even sell their private jets, not to mention the multimillion dollar bonuses they are still receiving for doing such a great job.

In my last article I mainly pointed the finger at the UAW for causing the failure of the big 3, and even though I still believe that they do have a big hand in the money and quality issues, I really wanted to clarify that they are not alone in guilt. Everyone involved with the big 3, which as of last Friday includes our government, is guilty and should be punished to some varying degrees. The concessions that UAW has been making in the talks over the last few weeks are not nearly enough to help, but at least they are willing to negotiate and help. Now that they money has been dolled out, I say the first course of actions should be the immediate dismissal of all CEO’s followed by a strict tax audit of their finances. I am sure by doing this we will be able to recover a good chunk of the money we just involuntarily gave them. This should obviously be followed by complete restructuring of the companies and modernization of their business plan.

Lets face it, folks, this money is gone, and we will never see it repaid, so instead I want to see quality cars made in the next 5 years, and I want each citizen of this country to get a fucking coupon for one.

The Automaker Bailout – EPIC FAIL

Politics Comments Off

It has only been a few weeks since the bailout of the US financial market passed through congress and the US auto industry has jumped up to get the slice of the pie. This isn’t the first time that US auto manufacturers asked for federal help, (see Chrysler bailout #1) and it certainly wont be the last, if they succeed that is. Gas prices have dropped and SUV sales have started to rise again, but they still want help. They need help because they cannot compete in any section of the market except in the SUV slice, and even there they are losing ground to overseas competition.

The question on my mind right now is, what the hell happened to free markets? It used to be, that if a company could not compete, it would die, and another would take its place. It was a process of ‘creative destruction’ and it is the basis of any free market. Keep up or get out, it is that simple. The big three, Ford, GM and Chrysler are asking for $25 billion dollars to keep up with foreign competition, and they threaten us with loss of jobs and general financial collapse if they don’t. In return they vow to look into alternative energy technology and fuel-efficient vehicles, but this is just political fluff to stay afloat for a little while longer. I don’t buy it.

By now, you might have guessed that I am opposed to this bailout vehemently and it has to do with their track record and their business plan. These companies have spent the better part of the last 50 years sitting on their asses, raking in profits while churning out the same lineup of vehicles with slightly different looks. At the same time their competition invested billions in R&D. Let’s, for example, take a look at a new V8 Mustang, one of the more popular American cars. It features a monstrous 4.6L V8 engine that only puts out 300HP. Subaru does that with an engine half the size and twice the reliability. Ford even brags about the Mustang having a solid-axle rear suspension, a technology that has not been used by any civil vehicle for 30 years. Yes, it goes fast in a straight line, but it also kill’s you when you try to turn, and that’s not much fun. In fact, going through the spec sheet for one of these I noticed that the things they tout about are simple bolt on upgrades, like new headlight bulbs and interior ambient lighting, and absolutely nothing substantial or innovative.

It is no wonder then that they cannot compete when it comes to fuel-efficient vehicles. I will concede that this has a lot to do with the fact that gas has always been much cheaper and more abundant here than in most places around the world. There was no need to spend money researching and building better and more efficient vehicles, when the old ones were still selling like hot cakes. The 1970′s oil crisis should have been a hint though. 30 years later, they still consider 25mpg a good gas millage and now they expect us to bail them out for their short sided decisions. They also trying to sell us on the idea that they need this money to research fuel-efficient systems and electric cars, but what about the Saturn EV1, or the Ford lineup of hybrid vehicles? They have the technology, and have had it for a while, so what’s the money for? Even if they didn’t, the Tesla Motors company was able to make a beautiful and ever so fast fully electric sports car without billions.

I ask again, what the hell is the money for? It might have something to do with unions. I think one big problem that these companies have, that is not entirely their fault, is that they are slaves to the unions, most predominantly UAW. Don’t get me wrong, unions had their place in history and served a purpose, but now these corporations are full of overpaid and under worked employees that strike at the smallest inconvenience. They are forced to pay people outrageous wages (about $72/hr on average), account for over-burdensome healthcare and retirement costs and are stuck with employees who barely do any work, some of whom don’t do anything but sit around all day. They cannot even fire people who perform poorly and are instead forced to pay them six figure sums to quit. This leads to cars that are built poorly, look ugly and use old technology, not to mention the fact that they often lose money per vehicle made. The thing that these unions don’t understand, or simply don’t care about, is that they have brought these companies to their knees, and in turn are forcing them to fail. When they do fail, close their doors and no longer are able to pay, who will provide for their healthcare and retirement? I sure as hell don’t want to. So a company, like Toyota, who does not employ a unionized workforce, knows that all of its employees will show up sober and ready to work Monday morning cause they know they can easily be replaced. Unions are supposed to protect the workers from being exploited, but in realty they’re exploiting their employers to the tune of billions, that might get passed onto the rest of us.

So, what can be done to save the American auto industry? Throwing money into the union pit is like, well, throwing money into a pit. The only long term solution is to do away with unions. I don’t have an answer for how to do it, but I know as long as the unions control these companies, they will not be able to survive. The only solution I can think of is for these companies to go completely out of business (or at least close all US plants) and sell them off to 3rd party investors that will start from scratch. Anything short of a total overhaul will not fix the situation. I don’t condone outsourcing jobs, but when your own workforce is pulling you under, you need to get out of town and start fresh.

For the actual cars they build, they need introduce vehicles people want to own. They need to be good looking, well performing, fuel efficient and most of all quality built. No more steel wheels with plastic hubcaps, cheap plastic interiors, underpowered big block V8s and solid-axle suspensions. Modernize! Take a page from BMW, Honda and even Apple and see what they are doing well. Invest money in F1, Touring Car and Rally racing (not just NASCAR). A lot of modern technology has come from those motor sports.

Finally, the government. The cracker jack box full of idiots that run this great nation of ours. Please listen to what I say, because its common sense, and you all seem to lack it. STOP TRYING TO FIX THINGS, YOU ONLY MAKE THEM WORSE! The beauty of an open market is that it fixes itself. It is the collective body of consumers that run the market, and it is our confidence in specific companies and the market overall that drives its growth. When you bail out a company that should fail, it undermines the confidence and destroys the faith we have in the market. If they fail, they fail, but sooner or later there will be someone that will come along to replace them and the industry will recover, but it will be with quality and innovation. What you should do is put in incentives for companies to thrive and succeed. Insure the low return safe investments that should pay out, do pay out, even if the company tanks. Cut taxes on domestic vehicles, relax regulation and offer perks to those consumers that do purchase US vehicles. Stimulate the market, don’t try to control it.

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