“A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside an Enigma”

What to Do About the American Auto Industry

recessionjobhunters

 

Job Hunters During Great Depression

I’m of two minds . . .

Very bad news for November: highest unemployment rate, 533,000 jobs. One in ten homeowners are behind in their mortgages by at least one month. And by the way, the country is officially in a recession, has been for at least a year. Woo hoo. Glad to know that it’s official. I never would have known if someone in charge hadn’t told me. Thanks.

Corey and I were talking, and we realized that this is the first time that we have officially been in a recession. I mean, in the last one, we were both employed, so while we felt its effects peripherally, as in higher prices, we didn’t feel its effects directly, as in unemployment and higher prices and late mortgage payments. Have to tell you, I like it much better the other way. When you are just hearing about this stuff on the radio on your way to work, you can empathize. When you pay more at the pump and at the grocery store, you can bitch and moan, but you still have that paycheck, and it doesn’t really occur to you just how bad it can be on the opposite side.

Well, now we’re on the opposite side, and I have to tell you that every time I read a new article about the recession and Congress and the bailout and their plans for helping main street, I start to do a slow boil. I mean, I’m sitting here on main street, and so far, that $700 billion hasn’t found its way to my door yet. And what’s worse, they aren’t even sure where some of it went.

Excuse me? You lost track of some of the $700 billion bailout money, Mr. Paulson? How does one do that exactly? Is the money located in some ultra secret location that you forgot to close the door to, and someone just came in and took out a few billion? Did you just happen to leave a million or two on the table and go to lunch? I mean really, how do you lose track of a few hundred billion? BILLION?

And then when the Big Three auto makers come asking for some help, you treat them like proverbial ca ca, like something you stepped on and can’t quite identify and send them off with their tails between their collective legs. Granted, their method of arriving was a bit ostentatious: The private jets didn’t quite jibe with the hats in hands. However, a bailout of the Big Three seems a bit more reasonable and practical than the bailout of Wall Street. And I have to wonder about the very different way in which the two requests were treated.

In the first case, we had flashy suits asking for money with no strings attached; AIG execs took spa days after receiving a bailout; many of said execs are still going to receive their bonuses, bonuses that are far beyond anything the average UAW earns in one year, and there has been little to no oversight of that big $700 billion price tag. No one is sure yet what the money from the first bailout is going to be used for or how or when, which leaves me just a teensy bit concerned.

In the second case, when the Big Three came calling, they were treated like Oliver Twist asking for another bowl of gruel: “Please sir, may I have some more.” They were told to go away and come back with a game plan, a revised strategy on exactly how they would use the money they were requesting, how it would help to save the auto industry from going under, how they would compete with the foreign market.

Ford Dearborn Assembly Plant
Ford Skyliner Assembly Line

Why the discrepancy? After all, if the auto industry goes down, America loses the ability to manufacture on a big scale, and then there is that small consequence of three million jobs lost, that’s million. After November’s jobless numbers, can we really afford to have that many more people out of work? And while the UAW certainly isn’t blameless in this mess, neither is it completely to blame. Auto workers do not make as much as the suits on Wall Street. When they do, then you can start to complain to me about auto workers’ salaries. Sure, there are problems with unions, always have been, always will be. Does it make sense that a pallet will sit unloaded while a union worker sits nearby doing nothing because it’s not his/her job to unload it? No. Should things be better? Yes. Is this whole mess because of the UAW. Absolutely not.

Granted, there is a lot wrong with the American auto industry. Let’s put mismanagement right up there at the top. How about lack of foresight in there somewhere? Designs are not keeping pace with foreign auto makers as far as producing cars that are more fuel efficient. We are behind in electric and hybrid designs. Drive train design hasn’t kept pace, nor have basic things like what kinds of warranties American care companies offer in comparison to their foreign competitors. And then just small things, for example, compare the ergonomics of a Toyota with a Ford; there is a noticeable difference. Unfortunate but true.

President-elect Obama is taking office on the promise to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. He has named this as a priority in his administration. Until the big three can begin to make cars that can live up to that promise, do we have an obligation to help them restructure or should we let them fall? This is one of those rare times in which I am actually truly torn. Part of me is sick to death of bailouts. After all, the bottom line is that the bottom line belongs to us, the taxpayers, and I don’t know about you, but my checkbook is way past being able to support any more bailing out of anyone other than myself.

On the other hand, part of me feels that if we bail out anyone, it should be the American auto industry, that they should have gotten a piece of the pie well before AIG or some of the other greedy bastards who received bailout money without any preconditions. After all, people who work in the auto industry, for the most part, are not millionaires (I’m ignoring the upper echelon who deserved the spanking that they received for flying in on private jets).

On the other hand, this is a free economy system. Those who cannot make the grade should be allowed to fall, which is why we shouldn’t have bailed out some of those banks in the first place. If Chrysler falls, and it probably will even with a bailout, then we should let it. Lee Iacocca was able to turn it around a few decades ago, but I don’t think that an Iacocca is in Chrysler’s future this time, and since it didn’t learn its lesson after the first time, it deserves to go down. As to the other two, maybe they should file for bankruptcy, restructure, start all over, renegotiate with the UAW so that American union workers are more like their foreign counterparts: the wages and benefits are essentially the same; the big difference is in how the jobs are handled. With the foreign unions, jobs aren’t pigeon-holed.

Of course, one of the things that a lot of people keep forgetting to mention is the trickle down effect of the failure of this industry: how many smaller industries will fail, and subsequently American workers will lose their jobs as a result of the Big Three going under? There is no easy answer to this one. It is a “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma” (Winston Churchill).

For once, I think that I am actually at a loss for words. Hmm. A liberal Democrat who doesn’t know what to say? Mark it on your calendars people because this doesn’t happen often. There will, of course, be more later. Peace.

Notes From the Road #2 (If I Were On the Road)

Fifteen Days and Counting

You Meet the Most Interesting People Sometimes

Yesterday I was working the phone banks at the Obama Campaign Headquarters, and I spoke with a 67-year-old woman who hasn’t voted since the Kennedy election. She told me that she hasn’t really wanted to participate in politics since then, but she decided that this election was too important not to participate. She also said that she thought that Barack Obama was the first candidate to come along since Kennedy to give her hope.

Most of the people on my calling list were over 65, and I was surprised by how many said that they were voting for Obama. Of course, several people hung up on me right away, which is always the case when you are making these kinds of calls, and then you have more people who screen now, so you leave the scripted message for the answering machine or voice mail, and hope that they listen to it. But with a lot of the elderly, you find that they are willing to talk to you because they do not get many telephone calls, so they are more generous with their time. Corey found himself on the phone with one gentleman for half an hour and ended up talking about FDR and Truman; he said that it was one of the most interesting telephone conversations that he has ever had. The gentleman was 88 years old.

One of the things that really impresses me about this campaign is how organized they are in Virginia. In Hampton Roads alone, they have over five headquarters; whereas the Kerry campaign had only one. The other thing that I think is really great is that these people are making sure that anyone who needs a ride to the polls is going to get one. Giant marker board already have lists of names and destinations. “Get out the vote” is alive and well in my town! How awesome is that. A Democrat hasn’t carried Virginia since Jimmy Carter. I’m not counting any chickens, that’s why I plan to volunteer as much as my back will let me these next two weeks.

Colin Powell Endorses Barack

He may be a Republican, but his endorsement carries weight. Former Secretary of State said in an interview on “Meet the Press” that he endorses Democratic candidate Barack Obama for president even though he has known John McCain for over 20 years and the junior Senator from Illinois for only two because he believes that Obama offers offers a better chance to repair “frayed” relations with countries around the world. Powell also said that he is “troubled” by McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as his choice of Vice President and that he does not believe that she is ready to be Vice President.

Many believe that Powell’s endorsement will be especially helpful to Obama’s campaign in counteracting charges that he is not ready to be Commander in Chief, especially since Powell commands a great deal of respect as former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Bush I. Personally, I really liked what the General had to say about the comments accusing Obama of being a Muslim. In essence, Powell said, he’s not, but what if he were? As a country, we have to recognize that we are a country composed of people of many faiths, and just because someone is a Muslim, does not make them un-American or not patriotic. Powell then went on to relate the story of a mother grieving over her son’s grave at Arlington cemetery. The boy was 10 when 9-11 happened, and he waited until he was old enough to enlist so that he could serve his country. He happened to be Muslim.

Sarah P. on SNL

Never thought you’d hear me say this, but props to Sarah Palin for her appearance on Saturday Night Live. The governor actually did a good job in her cameo on the show Saturday. I think that it was a great idea to pair her with Alec Baldwin. Actually, I don’t know why I’m so surprised. Palin is a born performer; it obviously her milieu. She loves the spotlight and the cameras do love her. It’s just real people that she doesn’t do so well with . . .

If you haven’t seen it yet, check out the youtube clip. I would post it here, but it’s such a long clip that it would eat up my allotted space.

And Now a Word from Our Sponsor

I finally managed to nab an Obama/Biden yard sign. I’ll keep you posted on whether or not it stays in my yard. I’m surrounded by McCain/Palin signs. After a quick drive through the neighborhood, I’ve espied only three other Obama signs. While Democrats might carry the state, I doubt they’ll carry my neighborhood. They definitely won’t get my mother’s vote. She’s still one of the old guard who believes that he’s a terrorist, and there is no convincing her otherwise. One of the people Corey talked to on the phone yesterday told him that she was convinced that if Obama won the election that the White House would become the Black House. Fortunately, I didn’t talk to any people who responded in that way, and I’m not really sure what I would have done if I had. Bit my tongue I suppose since it wasn’t my telephone or my call, technically.

That is one of the problems with calling on behalf of someone. When you are representing someone else, there is a certain amount of decorum required. Even I, in my curmudgeonly ways know that, but it’s still an irksome position in which to find oneself when you would like nothing better than to start spewing facts and statistics.

However, facts and statistics are lost on the ignorant and closed-minded. I should know this after encountering it numerous times on my own. When an individual has already taken a stand based primarily on fear and ignorance, nothing can change that position, least of all logic. Fear is one of the greatest motivators known to humankind. It’s what drives terrorism, wars, cults, murders, and all kinds of violence, domestic and other. What we fear, we seek to destroy. Only those who choose to enlighten themselves, to take another path to rid themselves of their fears, are able to overcome fear without violence, whether that violence is internal or external.

Oddly enough, it was a stream of consciousness quote on “ER” for the character Abby that reminded me of some of this. The first part of the quote was from Job Chapter 3. In verse 25 Job says, “For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.” But as Abby is leaving the ER, she has moved on, and the stream of consciousness has changed to Chapter 38, which is actually god’s response to Job:

“Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea
       or walked in the recesses of the deep?

 Have the gates of death been shown to you?
       Have you seen the gates deep shadows?

 Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?
       Tell me, if you know all this.”

Now, I really don’t know a lot of Bible verses. This just happens to be one with which I am familiar because it is beautifully poetic, and when I heard it, I knew that I remembered it from somewhere, so I Googled it. But as I’ve mentioned before in this blog, I am a believer in signs, and I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the hate and anger that has been bandied about on this campaign and what that means, and how the charges of anti-Americanism are being hurled so easily.

And all of this has reminded me of being a little girl with olive skin, newly back in this country and how hate was so easily thrown my way, and I had no idea as to why. So I ponder hate and racism and bigotry frequently lately, and I watch the clips of the rallies, and I worry about the lunatic fringe. And then I hear beautiful words such as “Have you comprehended the vast expanse of the earth?” and for a moment I feel peace and hope, and I pray that in the end, people will remember that we are all Americans, that a different name, and a different skin color is just that—different, nothing else. Not worth hating. Not something to be “greatly feared.”

Peace. More later.