With candles.

An interesting cri de coeur in the Free Press Sunday — it was the lead story on the front page, this column by Susan Tompor, headlined, “I never knew Detroit was a dirty word.” It’s a good column, although I think anyone who honestly didn’t know Detroit was a dirty word in the rest of the country needs to get out of town more. I recommend it to you because it’s a pretty fair ground-level look at public opinion around here:

Each night when I go home and turn on the television, I find myself insulted by the righteous tone on cable or the networks. Look, I’ve always understood that many people do not like American cars or union workers or car company CEOs.

I didn’t know that some really, really hate us — and couldn’t care less if one or two or three Detroit carmakers up and dies. So we’d have hundreds of thousands of people suddenly unemployed. And the response is: Who cares?

That shouldn’t surprise anyone, really. I’ve written about this phenomenon before — I call it distancing. It’s a human trait, after a disaster, to look for differences between thee and me, so we can tell ourselves this would never happen to us. It’s actually easier to say “who cares” than to face the fact it might actually come true, and how we all might cope. I seem to recall, during the early-80s recession, when unemployed Michigan autoworkers were pouring into Texas in search of any sort of work, the natives sneeringly referred to them as “the black-tag people,” after the license plates then in use. I also remember a bumper sticker: “Let ’em freeze in the dark.” How I am looking forward to revisiting those happy days.

Let me say only this: I hope the Michiganders keep their deer rifles handy when they head south.

I’m writing this on Sunday, because Monday is going to be busybusybusy and I have the time now. Guess what’s happening outside? Fat fluffy flakes, that’s what. The whole mitten is covered in precipitation, most of it the freezing kind. And so it begins. Someone once told me more babies are born in November than any other month, a statement I could probably verify somewhere if I cared enough (but I don’t). There’s certainly nothing much to do in February, but I always link my birthday month to outright suckage, the real cruelest month. The only thing that saves it for me is Thanksgiving, which, as Jon Carroll points out, is a holiday that requires nothing of us but gratitude and approval of roast turkey. No problemo for either of those.

I’m not the only one with a November birthday, of course:

That was a lovely cake for Kate and Alan. Thanks to Jeffrey Steingarten, Joy of Cooking and the NYT for the recipe; it’s not the “birthday cake” recipe here, but the buttermilk-layer variety with chocolate-satin frosting.

The sweetness of another year, honored, the sweetness of the one to come, hoped-for. That’s what that cake was about. We’ll see what Congress thinks.

Oh, and as bad as it gets here, this was the view from Ricardo’s back yard Saturday. Here’s hopin’ for higher humidity, California:

UPDATE: Just got an e-mail from our frequent commenter (and my neighbor) JohnC, who recommends this Mark Phelan column from today’s Freep, and adds:

Couple other thoughts.

1. The main competitors of GM, Ford and Chrysler are already heavily subsidized by their governments in the form of universal health coverage. (Note: NOT socialized medicine, as some would have you believe, but guaranteed health coverage, in a private system, for all. ) This knocks at least $1,500 PER CAR off the overhead for foreign auto makers. The fact that the United States is the only industrialized country in the world that does not have universal health coverage is not only mind-boggling, but crippling to our industrial economy.

2. After Sept. 11, the economy, including the auto industry, went into a tailspin. You will recall that the airline industry was quickly bailed out by the government. The automakers, led by GM Chairman Rick Wagoner, rejected suggestions that they seek government help and instead lowered their prices to drive sales.

Posted at 1:14 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' |
 

58 responses to “With candles.”

  1. Kevin said on November 17, 2008 at 1:44 am

    “Each night when I go home and turn on the television, I find myself insulted by the righteous tone on cable or the networks. Look, I’ve always understood that many people do not like American cars or union workers or car company CEOs.

    I didn’t know that some really, really hate us — and couldn’t care less if one or two or three Detroit carmakers up and dies. So we’d have hundreds of thousands of people suddenly unemployed. And the response is: Who cares?”

    Hi from New Orleans, Susan Tompor.

    Trust me from 3 years ago when we were all down here screaming “we’re not a special case in any sense of the term, and attention must be paid, if not for our sakes, then for yours.”

    The next move will be making the people who are suffering into the villains in the piece, and it’s already begun: witness the current spin to turn the failures of the industry away from corporate incompetence and toward those greedy production-line people who expected health insurance and pensions and all those things that are, these days, referred to as Something For Nothing.

    It stinks. You will be blamed. You better start working on a plan for yourself, and right now.

  2. Dexter said on November 17, 2008 at 2:19 am

    Sen. Shelby’s tone on MTP Sunday morning is not really conveyed by this bit of transcript, but trust me, he hates more than CEOs and unions…he hates the industry and all its people.
    Brokaw’s comment leads off this seg:
    “Senator Shelby, no one has been more outspoken than you in opposition to all of this( the $25 ,000,000,000 bailout). Are there any conditions that would permit you to vote for a loan or a bailout of some kind for the Detroit Big Three?

    SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R-AL): I haven’t seen them yet, Tom. I would–first of all, I think that we would have to see conditions that would fundamentally change the way Detroit does business. They’re not building the right products. They did at one time. They’ve got good workers. But I don’t believe they’ve got good management. They don’t innovate. They’re a dinosaur, in a sense, and I hate to see this because I would like to see them become lean and, and hungry and innovative. And if they did and put out the right product, they could survive. But I don’t believe the $25 billion they’re talking about will, will make them survive. It’s just postponing the inevitable.”

    …and so it’s dead.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    and for Ricardo:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dhqhOrQWpY8

  3. nancy said on November 17, 2008 at 7:41 am

    Funny you should mention New Orleans, Kevin. That was the first thing I thought of — “well, why do you live in a city below sea level, anyway? you must have wanted this to happen,” etc.

  4. Jolene said on November 17, 2008 at 8:15 am

    Shelby’s statement is offensive in a number of ways. I mean, has there ever been a less innovative organism or entity than a Southern senator?

  5. beb said on November 17, 2008 at 8:16 am

    I was thinking about Susan Tompor’s Sunday headline as I was driving in to work today. She must have missed all those Zuckerman Brothers movies where going to Detroit was a fate worse than death. And you don’t really have to leave the City of Detroit to hear people complain that their GM, Ford or Chrysler vehicle is a P. O. S. (perhaps with an “F-ing” thrown in their somewhere. ) But then Tompor was advising readers less than a year ago that ARM’s were great mortegages to get into. So she might be the best person to look for, for insight in this area.

    I’m not happy with the idea of a bail-out for the auto industry because it seems so much of their problem was of their own making. They deserve to be punished, but as Eleanor Clift [?] pointed out yesterday on The McLaughton Group, we should be punishing the workers, who weren’t responsible for this mess.

    I’m not happy with the bail-out of Wall Street either. The moreso when I hear that some of these bailed out companies are still planning to give their CEO’s tens of millions of dollars in salary bonuses. Bonuses for what — running their company into the ground? Have they no shame? No loyalty to their company?

  6. coozledad said on November 17, 2008 at 8:18 am

    Just more of that noxious right-wing projection. Remember the “Why do you hate America so much?” crap.
    But Detroit can at least take heart, this time. If it’s any consolation, Bubba’s gonna be starving his ass off,too.
    It’s a good thing we finally turned those jokers out. They fully intended to send all the jobs to China.

  7. Jim said on November 17, 2008 at 8:57 am

    I remember when International Harvester in Fort Wayne was on the brink of shutting down, which it eventually did. There was a lot of local resentment against the “$17-an-hour broom-pushers” who had had it too soft for far too long. Althought the impact on the local economy was hard, there were a number of people who didn’t mind seeing Harvester go under. The company had a reputation for building shoddy products and not a few in town delighted at seeing it get its comeuppance.

    But I don’t think the local economy ever really recovered from the loss of such a major employer.

  8. Andrea said on November 17, 2008 at 9:22 am

    In 2007, I attended the Public Relations Society of America’s annual meeting in Philadelphia. The host city for the following year always has a booth to advertise the next meeting. The 2008 show was to be held in Detroit and the slogan was “It’s about time Detroit got some good PR.”

    On the surface, without knowing too much about the issue yet, I’m in favor of bailing out the automakers, only because we’ve bailed out everyone else over the years – Amtrak, the airlines, the post office, now banks – so why not them?

  9. nancy said on November 17, 2008 at 9:22 am

    It never did recover, Jim. The loss of Harvester was really the death blow to the southeast quadrant of the city, at least as a going concern of decent neighborhoods.

    I have mixed feelings on the idea of a bailout, and I don’t think bankruptcy is necessarily the worst possible thing GM could go through right now. It’s entirely possible Chapter 11 could be just what it needs, even.

    But I grow very impatient with the eye-rolling disdain at all those horrible autoworkers, with their pesky demands for things like pensions and health care. Many of the benefits every one of us, white collar and blue, take for granted today, came because unions like the UAW asked for them and fought for them — things like paid vacations, sick leave, safe working conditions and a certain measure of respect that was never granted by their employers. It seems that respect was always an illusion, anyway, but it was nice while it lasted.

  10. Julie Robinson said on November 17, 2008 at 9:25 am

    And don’t forget, the IH shutdown was preceded by a lengthy, bitter strike that didn’t win the workers any favor.

    I’m with beb on both bailouts. But even if US car companies start making cars we want to buy, their costs are too high. Workers will have to start paying health insurance and copays, just like the rest of us, assuming we are so fortunate to have any coverage at all. Or maybe Obama can push through universal health care.

    That said, we have a Chrysler minivan that we love, as well as a Camry.

  11. John said on November 17, 2008 at 9:29 am

    I’m back from vacation. Is LA Mary anywhere near the fires? I thought of her when I saw the news.

  12. coozledad said on November 17, 2008 at 9:37 am

    One of Shelby’s motives is to bring a few more Japanese automakers to Alabama. They’re probably funding some renovations to old Tara.

  13. brian stouder said on November 17, 2008 at 9:46 am

    Four sentences about Southeast Fort Wayne, where I was born and grew to adulthood. My friends and I used to ride bikes and play (out of sight of our moms, all day long) all around the area between McMillan Park and Pontiac Street. Back in those days, people all up and down the neighborhood bought new cars every 2nd or third year, and many had boats on their driveway, and lake cottages. They all worked at Tokheim or Fruehauf Trailer or IH or Falstaff Brewery or Rea Wire or ITT, and it wasn’t unusual to see folks walking to work with a lunch pail (if they worked at Fruehauf, anyway). And in the space of just four decades, visiting my mom’s home in SE Ft Wayne, those times are more like an ethereal dream than a real memory.

    (Call me hopelessly out of date and dangerously misinformed, but some rational battery of protectionist import tarriffs seems to me to be long-overdue)

  14. Jolene said on November 17, 2008 at 9:53 am

    Aside from the politics or the economics of bailing out the auto industry, I’m a little stunned by considering the practical details. Hard as it is for me to imagine what it’s like to run a global corporation, it’s even harder to figure out how anyone would undertake the restructuring of such a complex entity.

    I really feel like we need more reporting re what would happen if GM filed for bankruptcy or what management do w/ the money if a bailout were approved. Or possibly I need to look around for such reporting. If anyone has useful links, I’d be interested in knowing about them.

  15. Catherine said on November 17, 2008 at 10:18 am

    The WSJ had an article this weekend that declared it would be less expensive for the government to just give every auto worker $10K and let whatever happens, happen to the companies.

    The WSJ also had an interesting graph on Friday(?) showing where the jobs actually are in the auto industry. IIRC, the biggest chunk is in sales, like your local showroom. The next biggest chunk is in parts manufacturing. Again, spread out all over the globe, though most concentrated in the Midwest. Actual putting-the-cars together was like 10-12% of the total, I think. So not all the jobs are in Detroit, by any stretch.

    Sorry not to have links, I’m too cheap to pony up for their subscription (though it’s tempting).

  16. coozledad said on November 17, 2008 at 10:32 am

    Do you suppose there’ll be any cuts in missile defense program spending? Probably not. In fact, I hear the Republican strategy is to ratchet up demands for military spending to offset domestic programs, then claim the Democrats are slashing the defense budget.
    http://www.defensenews.com/story.php?i=3823105&c=FEA&s=COM
    (via josh Marshall)

  17. brian stouder said on November 17, 2008 at 10:35 am

    A thought from the cheap seats –

    I think a useful paradigm for government outlays in this unfolding economic crash is – war.

    If this was 1941, and we had just been attacked, massive public expenditures would unquestionably go forward for corporate retooling, R&D, and production (think of Willow Run and Ford and B-24 bombers). What if the emphasis is on (in this case) environmentally ‘green’ cars and not B-24’s?

    At the end of several years of unimagineably steep public spending (augmented by public bond drives), government can ease back out of the arena, and the refurbished (and well regulated) industries can go forward

    This crash will apparently require a continuing series of huge public outlays, and general failure simply isn’t an option….and the heartening part of this is – we will be financing the reorganization and recapitialization of our industrial base, and NOT the wholesale destruction of human beings on the other side of the world. (sort of a Marshall Plan without the literal carnage and destruction that preceded it)

  18. Jolene said on November 17, 2008 at 10:41 am

    Thanks, Catherine. I’ll look for the article you mentioned. But isn’t the WSJ free now?

    The WaPo has a blog about “the transition”, focusing on announcements of appointments and such. Yesterday, they pulled together a set of links that include what might be called after-action reports on the election, including discussions of electoral trends, demographic trends, changes in party affiliation, and such. Several pieces are very good; I particularly liked the piece by Tod Lindberg on the idea that we are becoming a center-left nation and the piece by Ron Suskind on the beginnings and endings of political eras.

    The Suskind piece contains this lovely sentence:

    The transforming promise of the nation, after all, is the idea of welcoming the stranger, the outcast, to a place of limitless possibility — a place where each of us might discover our best self, be comfortable in our skin and find a home.

    That may be a little more positive than most of us are feeling about our country right now, but it was nice to be reminded of the idealism I learned in school.

  19. Sue said on November 17, 2008 at 10:58 am

    ‘”November is the most disagreeable month in the whole year,”
    said Margaret, standing at the window one dull afternoon,
    looking out at the frostbitten garden.
    “That’s the reason I was born in it,” observed Jo pensively,
    quite unconscious of the blot on her nose.’

  20. Michael said on November 17, 2008 at 11:08 am

    I have a different take, that Sen. Shelby might want to consider. It seems to me that with Chapter 11, the Japanese just might buy up some of those plants in MI instead of greenfielding in AL. The infrastucture is there, the employees are there (albeit at much lower wages and benefits), and the town wants a savior. Sen. Shelby, in my world view, should be first in line to save the big three with another hit from the bottle of easy money. With that in place, they don’t empty the plants and sell them, or worse yet, fix their product and become competitive.

    As to the broader question of what Chapter 11 looks like, it seems to me, the union contracts are vacated, and the pensions are declared void. Then the government through the PBGC (I probably have the acronym wrong) takes over the Pensions and makes good on part of them (the amount of the part is the rub) which means the almighty tax payer is on the hook whether they do the bail out or wait for the end to come naturally.

    I vote against bail out, because I would rather see us pay the workers directly through gov’t guarantee of pensions, than to give management more paper to re-decorate the executive washroom, or whatever they do.

  21. moe99 said on November 17, 2008 at 11:13 am

    Brian,

    I think one of the main reasons that no one buys a car every two or three years and no one has a boat anymore, is that wages have not kept up with real prices. That’s why our houses became our banks for the past ten years or so, because we had no other way to pay for the extras. And now that is coming back to haunt us big time. Because I see no way that Obama can ever convince Congress to increase wages to the level needed, nor can it be done without setting of a huge round of inflation. This should have occurred gradully over time and kept pace with the price increases.

  22. Jeff Borden said on November 17, 2008 at 11:15 am

    One thing that is truly striking about our Republican politicians and their rightwing choruses is the difference in tone between the financial sector bailout and talk of helping the Big Three.

    We are pouring hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to stabilize the economic markets and propping up unworthy companies in the process. Christ, those pinheads in the big offices at AIG are still trying to live like pashas! The proposed amount headed to Detroit is a pittance in comparison, but I keep hearing that the automakers should be allowed to simply fail. So, we’re socializing the banking industry but we balk at helping out an industry that’s vital to the nation’s defense?

    The hatred of organized labor runs deep. So, too, does contempt for the poor. I got into it with an Ohioan Republican over the weekend, who insisted that it was the Community Reinvestment Act that has caused the current financial meltdown. Yessir. It’s all the fault of the poor. Those vampires in $5,000 suits who bundled derivatives? Not guilty.

    There’s an instructive story on Page One of the NYT this morning about Phil Gramm, who helped launch this disaster because his mother once borrowed money at a very high rate of interest to buy her home. He’s unrepentant, of course, about all the deregulation he championed and that, sadly, Bill Clinton signed into law.

  23. LA Mary said on November 17, 2008 at 11:24 am

    No fires near me, but plenty of smoke and ash and horrible air. Everything smells burned. On the news this morning I heard the Montecito fire was arson. The ex used to work at San Ysidro Ranch, a very posh resort there, and the houses around there are huge. Bel Air looks shabby by comparison.
    My employer sent out an email asking if anyone wants to contribute PTO hours for co-workers who need time off due to fire issues. This is a pretty painless way to help out. Two or three hours of PTO is not missed, but if lots of people contribute that much, it’s a huge help.

  24. coozledad said on November 17, 2008 at 11:28 am

    Brian, Michael: Krugman must have been listening to you. he says we need to have a massive public works project on the order of WWII, without all the killing. Spend unrepentantly, but intelligently. Then we can hand it back over to the idiots in the next gilded-age cycle.

  25. Linda said on November 17, 2008 at 11:33 am

    Jeff, what I specially like about the hypocritical refusal to help the Big Three is the objections of Richard Shelby of Alabama, whose state has done everything for Mercedes Benz but French kiss them:
    http://www.cfed.org/focus.m?parentid=34&siteid=46&id=177

    Of course his refusal to financially aid rival auto firms is principled! What’s funny to note is that, after all the goodies and giveaways, the MB plant in Alabama just announced a buyout program for its employees. Hee.

  26. Julie Robinson said on November 17, 2008 at 11:42 am

    Coozledad, I think that is what Obama meant in his 60 Minutes interview. He said he would take ideas from any presidents of the past, specifically mentioning Lincoln, FDR and Reagan. We need to rebuild lots of infrastructure and have available workers and factories. Why not a replay of the CCC?

  27. Peter said on November 17, 2008 at 11:43 am

    Brian’s idea is a really good one – it’s about time we invested in our industrial base instead of propping up vapid profiteers.

    Buit as for Brian’s (and Moe99’s) take on the old days; I guess it must depend on where you live. I grew up in Chicago, and nobody I knew had a boat, vacation house, or second car, and almost everybody rented an apartment. On top of that, you can bet that most of the people who did have a boat in the driveway wouldn’t have had one twenty years earlier. Let’s face it – the US hit the jackpot in the ’50’s and ’60’s, and for once in history, a lot of people got a piece of it instead of some greedy slobs on top.

  28. Jason T. said on November 17, 2008 at 11:50 am

    As my high school history teacher used to say, it boils down to a simple philosophy: “Hooray for me, and to hell with you. I got mine.

    Three of my last four cars have been American (a Ford and two Mercurys) and I’ve been very happy.

    I actually thought about trading in my current car (Mercury) to “help the economy,” but I like it too much … enough that it’s in the shop all week because I decided to get some body work done. (Pennsylvania winters are murder on cars. My only Japanese car went almost 200K, but was comprised mostly of rust and duct tape when I got rid of it.)

    “Detroit” built a lot of crap in the ’70s and early ’80s, but those days are mostly gone. (When I say “mostly,” I’m looking at Chrysler, but many of its problems were caused by its German overlords.)

  29. mark said on November 17, 2008 at 11:54 am

    good morning all-

    I’m not sure whether Detroit suffers more from it’s assocoation with the auto industry or the auto industry from it’s association with Detroit. Probably the latter.

    GM has to restructure and bankruptcy court is the best place to do it. Yes, Unions brought lots of improvements to the workplace during the last century. That sometimes laudable history can’t change economic reality and does not entitle one particular generation of membership in one particular union to a level of pay and benefits that require massive public assistance in order to be maintained.

    Pensions have to be phased out, everywhere. They represent a model that no longer conforms to reality. In the hayday of pensions, the life expectancy of a retiring worker was 10 to 12 years post retirement. Today?

    My father worked for Chrysler, retiring as a maintenance foreman and tool room supervsor. He spent 15 years or so in the UAW, as a tool and die maker, then elevated to the “foreman world”- mid-level management responsibilities but no executive perks.

    In 1985, during one of the many automotive industry downturns, he was offered early retirement or transfer to a different City and plant. He took early retirement. Sixty percent of his pre-retirement pay for life with COLA. Twenty-three years later he is, thank God, still in good health and still drawing his pension. If he lives as long as his father (also a Chrysler retiree) the pension will continue another 15 years.

    Only government offers a pension these days. As pay goes up people retire earlier. As health care advances, people live longer. Pensions have to be replaced with defined contribution plans and that is happening in every responsible industry.

    brian-

    If government knows how to make cars better than private industry, why not nationalize all auto production? And where is government not better than the private sector? Computers? Clothing? Situation comedies? There are countries that have gone much further down that road than we have, and I’m hard pressed to think of any that have enjoyed great success.

    Paulson had a “solution” to the credit crisis- $700 billion to buy toxic mortgage backed securities. In the space of two weeks Congress was herded like cattle to authorize the money. Some, like my idiot congressman (Souder), were even spouting off that the taxpayers would “make money” buying these securities. Now we are told “never mind.” I’m dubious about government’s ability to run a business.

    GM has been slowly outsourcing everything but assembly and research for years. All that most of those suppliers need is for GM to be more competitive. Their pay and benefits are already non-UAW scale and many of them sell to Toyota and Honda as well. GM will continue to produce in bankruptcy and to buy parts. With luck, they will buy more parts once they have restructured and can be more competitive. If not, well, Studebaker doesn’t sell covered wagons these days either.

  30. nancy said on November 17, 2008 at 12:00 pm

    I’ll give up my pension — such as it is, if it even exists — when General Electric takes Jack Welch off its welfare rolls:

    The divorce papers filed by Jane Welch detail her husband’s use of an $80,000 per month Manhattan apartment owned by the company, court-side seats to the New York Knicks and U.S. Open, seating at Wimbledon, box seats at Red Sox and Yankees baseball games, country club fees, security services and restaurant bills, according to the Times.

  31. mark said on November 17, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    I am in favor of an Eisenhower like investment in infrastructure like highways, bridges, dams, water treatment, etc. For 50 years we lived large off the highways Ike built. We should have done this under Clinton, when times were good and we had the benefit of the peace dividend. But better late than never.

  32. Catherine said on November 17, 2008 at 12:03 pm

    Michael, your point about “giving management more paper to re-decorate the executive washroom, or whatever they do” is echoed in the Sat. WSJ article (which I found still lying on my kitchen table). It’s from a finance professor at NYU, and the part of his argument that I found most interesting is his calculations about what GM and, to a lesser extent, Ford, have done with the capital that has flowed into them in the last 10 years, which is: squander it and ask for more. He says that making a bonfire of all the potential bailout cash would actually leave the country better off than setting GM up to squander more capital.

    And this is the difference, according to him, with the Wall St. bailout. Yes, the financial crisis was made by those firms (with a bunch of government looking the other way, IMHO), but they have shown historically much better use of capital.

    He doesn’t say this, but it would seem like the airline industry bailout is a better parallel for the auto industry.

    Just think it’s an interesting perspective.

    And, Jolene, I think I have a cookie from an old WSJ subscription — it won’t let me see bupkus online without re-subscribing! (Hence the pile of newspapers on the table…)

  33. mark said on November 17, 2008 at 12:07 pm

    nancy-

    I think it is a different topic, but executive compensation is and has been an outrage. And I see it is spreading to colleges and universities. People who build and create things deserve all that flows to them. People who merely manage, with lucrative exit packages negotiated at the time of hire, take little risk. Corporate boards need to be sued by shareholders for guaranteeing outrageous wealth for life as “compensation” to newly hired management.

  34. nancy said on November 17, 2008 at 12:11 pm

    Mark, true. I just wanted to point out that the “time to take it easy” mentality affects a lot more than the UAW. Who are bearing a disproportionate share of the public blame for what’s happening.

  35. Jeff Borden said on November 17, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    More good news today: Citibank will cut 53,000 jobs.

    I am in complete agreement with Paul Krugman that the first thing President Obama must do is start a wide array of public works projects. This would not only help create a lot of decent jobs, but would perform an invaluable service to this country.

    We still use the schools, bridges, museums, parks, libraries, roadways and dams built during the Depression. Anyone who walks, pedals or drives on a regular basis knows how far our infrastructure has fallen into disrepair.

    Then, I hope someone follows the advice of Thomas Friedman, who I agree is often something of a pinhead. His call to commit the U.S. to becoming the world leader in environmental technology is, I think, a wise one.

    This nation is capable of astonishing accomplishments in a very short period of time. The arming, supplying and fielding of two huge armies during WWII comes first to mind, but as a kid, I remember how this country dove into science education when the Russkies launched Sputnik. Within 12 years, we’d landed men on the moon.

    My fear is that we may be depending on a generation of political pygmies. Time will tell if Obama is FDR or Jimmy Carter. But when I look at the Congressional political leaders on both sides –Pelosi, Reed, Boehner and McConnell– I’m not exactly lifted by a tide of hope.

  36. Jenflex said on November 17, 2008 at 1:07 pm

    Yes, Jeff, but who the heck was Speaker or Senate Majority Leader when FDR took office? Darned if I can remember their names. Sam Rayburn wasn’t until ’40.

  37. beb said on November 17, 2008 at 1:17 pm

    me at 8 am: So she might [not] be the best person to look for, for insight in this area.

    Left out the negative. I don’t think highly of Tompor.

    Julie Robinson says: But even if US car companies start making cars we want to buy, their costs are too high. Workers will have to start paying health insurance and copays, just like the rest of us…

    I’m not employed in the auto industry but I kind of think workers already pay a portion of their health care with co-pays and so on. But when you talk about the need to off-load health benefits unto the workers that is punishing the workers for the mismanagement of the owners.

    A bigger issue is the pension fund obligations. I see pensions as a binding contract between owners and workers. Workers were asked to work at a lower rate because they were guaranteed a better deal at retirement. The owners never invested sufficuiently into their pension funds to cover their obligations and now are crying poverty. But it’s not the workers’ fault that the owners spend their pension money. They shouldn’t have to suffer. And the management who wasted that money should be going to jail.

  38. Jeff Borden said on November 17, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    Jenflex,

    You make a great point. Well-taken.

    Regarding the automobile industry, I recall reading a story about Toyota, which was considering two sites for a new production plant: Alabama or Ontario province.

    Despite the higher costs of doing business in Canada, Toyota chose Ontario. Representatives of the company cited two big reasons: a better educated work force and national health care.

    Frankly, I’ve been amazed that American big business did NOT champion national health care. It’s clear a lot of industries would be more competitive globally if they were able to get out from under medical coverage. This does not address the pension issue, of course, but it’s a start.

    My heart agrees with Beb that some of these arrogant jerks in Detroit ought to be behind bars, but my mind says it would be just as well if they were simply ousted. They’ve forfeited the right to maintain their lofty positions.

  39. John c said on November 17, 2008 at 1:34 pm

    Michael:
    The foreign automakers would never buy plants in Michigan or any other state with laws sympathetic to union organizing.

    And whoever pointed out that “actually assembling the cars is something like 10-12 percent,” I’m not sure what your point is. None of the more than 100 people laid of at my wife’s company in the last month assembled cars. They helped GM spend advertising money. My friend Jeff is a metal fabricator. He’s never assembled cars, but has always worked in the car industry. He spent most of this year laid off and is very worried the job he finally landed won’t last. I think of him because I just went to a fundraiser to help defray costs for treatment of his wife’s breast cancer. My friend Tom never worked for a car company, though he did assemble cars. He also took them apart. His job was to write the service manuals mechanics use to estimate labor costs. I haven’t seen him for a few months. But last time I checked he was working at a hardware store.
    Getting back to the foreign auto makers briefly. They will be in dire straits if the Big 3 go down, as they share many of the same parts suppliers, many of whom will drop a few moments after GM, Ford and Chrysler.
    I agree that bankruptcy may be the way to go. But those who lightly say we should let these companies die, well, I don’t think they understand what that means.

  40. Catherine said on November 17, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    John c, it was me, quoting the WSJ. I think my point was that the notion of “Detroit” is far less simple than the TV news clip of a unionized guy assembling a car in Detroit.
    Pain in that industry is already extending far and wide. Our local Ford dealer shut down a couple months ago — nothing on the scale of what’s going on where you are, but perhaps a sign of how it’s not just happening to some *other* place called “Detroit.” So I guess just echoing Nancy’s point about distancing.

  41. moe99 said on November 17, 2008 at 2:42 pm

    OT (but the discussion on the GM bailout has been great):

    I.F. Stone’s grandaughter speaks:

    http://tehipitetom.blogspot.com/2008/11/one-hundred-years-of-if-stone.html#0

    she thinks he would be a blogger these days.

  42. crinoidgirl said on November 17, 2008 at 3:15 pm

    I’m in Detroit.

    I just lost my job as a technical writer for a supplier to the auto companies, after PREVIOUSLY losing my job as a non-degreed engineer with a Major Auto Company starting with “F”.

    Now the only companies that are hiring (and hiring like mad), are defense contractors. Which I swore I would never work for.

    I hate this. But I need a job, and I have a family to support, and can’t move. I have no alternative.

  43. Joe Kobiela said on November 17, 2008 at 3:15 pm

    Being a retired union worker, this bail out is interesting to say the least. I haven’t decided yet what side to be on. Kind of was hoping Brother Dave K might weigh in on this, he was a union official, and by the way, a HILLSDALE COLLEGE, graduate. If your lurking Bro chime in.
    Joe K

  44. mark said on November 17, 2008 at 3:54 pm

    One more thought on the bail-out.

    To a degree, I think the automotive industry is a victim of it’s own success. When I was a kid (60s and 70s) it was pretty commonly accepted that after 60,000 miles or so, it was time to look for a new car or accept some pretty significan repair and maintenance bills. And even if you were great working on your own car, in most parts of the country you had 3 to 5 years before rust took hold, paint faded and cloth interiors tore and wore out. (My maternal grandparents always had a plastic cover on the “good sofa” and they kept one on the seats of the “new Buick” as well. Do they even make such things anymore?)

    Cars wore out faster, aestheically and mechanically. Remember automobile inspections? The average guy was looking at a new car every three or four years.

    Today, with just a little maintenace, a car will go 150K or more miles and still look pretty good even 10 years post manufacture. Autos have become much more of a durable and less of a consumable. Materials, engineering, safety, etc are all radically better than 25 years ago.

    For the last 10 or 15 years auto manufacturers have spent huge sums on advertising (and 36 month lease programs) to get us into new cars. Increasing the number of cup holders and in car refrigerators can only sell so many new cars.

    Nobody really needs a new car. There’s a glut of very good used ones and car life expectancy is way up. The industry has already put three cars in the typical 2 adult home (slight exaggeration). Countries that don’t have our sprawl aren’t going to create it, or destroy existing mass transportation, so more cars will be needed.

    The entire industry is very vulnerable to any prolonged economic downturn.

  45. Dorothy said on November 17, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    Happy, happy birthday to Kate & Alan! Even if it’s belated, the wish is sincere.

  46. brian stouder said on November 17, 2008 at 4:12 pm

    Mark – an excellent point. I bought a ‘company car’ back in 2003; a 1998 Olds 88 with 140,000 miles on it (mostly highway). We replaced some electronic thing in the ignition a few years ago, but other than that – and a set of tires, that’s about it .

    We still have that car – it starts every morning and all the odds and ends still work, and it has 50,000 more miles on it…and despite all the snowey, salty Indiana winters it has endured, it has essentially no rust at all (although the paint wants to flake off of the front fenders up near where the engine hood seam is)…and they don’t make ’em anymore!

    a GREAT car!! (even if it makes me an old guy to drive an Olds 88!).

    We also have an ’03 Dodge Caravan, which we love. (no matter what anyone says – minivans are marvelously pleasant to travel in, and for day-to-day kid hauling). I cannot understand why some people worship the Honda Odyessy – gimme a Caravan anytime.

    ‘Detroit’ (ie – American car makers) are OK with me – but further to Mark’s point – we almost never buy new

  47. Julie Robinson said on November 17, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    Amen, Brian–who can afford an Oydessy anyway? Just to make you feel better, I inherited my grandma’s 1972 Olds 88 while in college and had it for several years. It was one of the last made before the oil embargo (remember how we had the chance to fix all this then?) and got about 5-6 mpg. You could literally watch the gas gauge fall on a trip across town. Great cargo capacity though–it probably held about as much as our minivan.

  48. Jeff Borden said on November 17, 2008 at 5:43 pm

    My second car was a used 1966 Chevrolet Bel-Air four-door. I bought it from the father of a friend, who worked at a Ford dealership. The car was five-years-old and had exactly two options: automatic transmission and an AM radio. Try parallel parking a beast like this without power steering. It also was a four-door powered by a pathetic straight 6 and looked pretty much like an unmarked police car. The farm couple who traded it in on a new Ford Custom had never opened the back doors. I think it took two cans of WD-40 to get those hinges working again.

    Not a fast car, but it did seat eight for dinner.

  49. paddyo' said on November 17, 2008 at 6:43 pm

    Hear, hear to the calls for public works programs to help us climb out of this economic crevass. Anybody looked around at the sorry state of our national infrastructure lately?

    Otherwise we’ll wait around for the next Twin Cities bridge, or New Orleans levees, or deteriorating interstates, or broken-down water and sewage systems . . . the list is as long as an interstate. (BTW, remember when driving on an interstate highway/freeway — well, OK, SOME interstates — was smooth as glass?)

    The CCC built a lot of the buildings and facilities that put the still-young National Park Service (full disclosure: after three-plus decades as an ink-stained wretch, I work for that agency now) on the map as the keeper of our national scenic and historical treasures. Think what a 21st-century CCC-style effort could do for the economy AND the national infrastructure . . . especially if we weren’t spending those daily billions in Iraq.

  50. LA Mary said on November 17, 2008 at 8:04 pm

    I don’t wish unemployment on all the auto workers and all the other businesses that connect to them in any way, but I do wish evil on the jerks who decided to make Hummers for passenger car use. And Escalades, and Expedition/Excursions and all the passenger vehicles that excede the weight limit for local streets but drive on them anyway.

  51. Suzi said on November 17, 2008 at 10:20 pm

    Regarding IH, the company did not go under. Navistar still has a healthy presence in FW — about 1200 employees, mostly UAW engineers who work in product development. That’s about the same number of employees at the local Raytheon (formerly Magnavox) and ITT engineering facilities. In fact, the local Nav facility is in hiring mode and employing a lot of contract engineers who are commuting weekly from the Motor City. The company is supplying the US military with lots of vehicles as it did during WWII. Can you say MRAP? (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected v-shaped hull vehicle that is saving lives on the battlefield). Tho the plant in FW that once employed several thousand is no more, Navistar does still employee thousands of assemblers in the US, Canada and Mexico. I’m having a deja vu of bloggage with Harl Delos . . . whatever happened to that guy?

  52. Dexter said on November 18, 2008 at 1:41 am

    Harl disappeared months ago and never re-surfaced here.

    After WWII my dad and uncles were part of the wave of returning soldiers. Dad and one uncle went to different schools in Chicago, Dad to be a salesman and my uncle to be a machinist.
    When I was a boy in the 1950’s the best paying jobs were Warner Gear in Auburn and “The Harvester” . Lots of men from DeKalb and Steuben county drove to IH every day. Others hired in at Warner Gear. Generations of men and later women made careers out of those jobs.
    If your dad worked at Harvester or Warner Gear you lived in a new stick-built home and you rode in a new car. Women encouraged (maybe even nagged a bit) husbands who did not work there to get an application.
    I lived north of Garrett a few miles and I knew kids whose dads worked at places in FWA like Mohawk Motors, Falstaff, Zollner Piston,and in DeKalb County, Auburn Clutch (later Dana , later Eaton) , but it seems those dads were always getting laid off.
    Harvester dads and Warner Gear dads did too, but it seemed they usually got called back.
    By the time I came of age, instead of being on the cusp of a new era, I was consigned to sort of mop up . I was one of the last draftees before the draft lottery started. After Vietnam I hired into one of those UAW factories and made it to retirement just before the whole damn place went to hell.
    My wife and I were able to guide and help all three daughters through college, and they now all have good jobs.
    I guess it all works out.
    After the army I attended college for a while but ran out of cash and simply went to work full time, and eventually retired.
    What do kids with just 12 or 13 years of education do for a career these days?

  53. Jolene said on November 18, 2008 at 1:57 am

    Dexter, if all of our kids had 12 or 13 years of education, we could count ourselves well off. Detroit has a 75% high school dropout rate. Nationally, the numbers are around 50% for African American and Hispanic kids and about 30% overall. It’s an awful, awful situation.

  54. moe99 said on November 18, 2008 at 4:14 am

    Nancy, here’s a must see zombie movie: Nudist Colony of the Dead

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0102564/

  55. caliban said on November 18, 2008 at 8:32 am

    Fox calls henhouse black. Man bites dog? Mixed metaphor? Take that bull by the horns and run with it. Biggest crooks in history.

    No shame. These assholes will try this with Blackwater before all is said and done. Little Miss Runamuck must get a shiver up her thigh when embedment is the story of the day.

    You know, the misadministration screwed up badly on embedding exceptionally foul environmental regulations. Thought they were clever. Like they japped on the NAFTA side agreements and home heating fuel to Korea. Clever frat boys.

    It’s contagious. crooks.

    Nudist Colony of the Dead is on Hawkeye’s to do list.

  56. brian stouder said on November 18, 2008 at 9:32 am

    Speaking of “no shame”, check out Nate Silver’s blog; he goes after an egregious example of what happens when you mix whiney-righty sour grapes, with a huckster’s desire to separate rubes from their cash, AND give chest-thumping partisans like Sean Hannity some racist talking points, wrapped up as shiney baubles (poll results, doncha know)

    Nate Silver became and remains one of my favorite stops on the internet, for just this sort of ‘answer-back’ material

    http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/

  57. Linda said on November 18, 2008 at 9:23 pm

    Brian, I should never have stopped reading fivethirtyeight after the election–that interview was priceless. Reminded me of the interview in this Sunday’s NYTimes with Karl Rove. When they are cornered–or not on top of the world–both are no-class, snippy ***holes.

  58. Ricardo said on November 21, 2008 at 11:55 pm

    If there is any consolation, imported autos are piled up sitting at the docks in Los Angeles. Detroit pulled out of the great depression, but it left a lot of scars on the landscape. The Ford history book that was made into a PBS movie had a lot to say about the Guardian collapse. At that point, Detroit was on its way to surpass Chicago as the second city. Then after, all was left was an unfinished city. You can still drive around and see where the nice buildings ended. It is a little harder to see, because of the other decay, but it is there. Edsel Ford lost everything and had to face Henry who warned him about New York bankers. He gave Edsel a million in cash and told him to ditch his NY friends. The old coot probably had it in a mattress over at Fairlane.