Friday, December 12, 2008

So Long GM, See Ya’ Chrysler, Hope We Enjoy The 2nd Great Depression

In the 1950s, “Engine” Charley Wilson – then chairman of General Motors – said at his confirmation to be defense secretary, “What’s good for GM is good for America.”

We’re about to find out that the reverse is also true.

Thanks to a handful of Republican Senators whose two-fold purpose of trying to bust the United Auto Workers while simultaneously protecting their home state, non-union, foreign-owned car manufacturers who received tens of millions of taxpayer subsidies, the loan deal passed by the House died in the Senate last night. Why? The GOP knuckle-draggers maintain the auto industry shouldn’t receive government help.

“Let them eat cake,” which Marie Antoinette never actually said, has become “let tens of millions of Americans go to hell.”

Republican Senator Bob Corker insists the breakdown came over differences on employee compensation. But he and other GOP Senators say the UAW must make even more concessions than they already have made, a clear attempt to break the union which is busy trying to organize workers at Honda, Toyota, BMW and Volkswagen plants in the old Confederate states.

Corker and his pals are liars.

For one thing, the Southern states they represent gave millions in taxpayer money to foreign manufacturers to attract their plants. These companies continue to receive property tax breaks, another taxpayer subsidy. Moreover, union workers in Detroit already earn less than non-union workers. The average hourly rate in Detroit is about $27 per hour while non-unionized auto workers Southern states earn an average of roughly $39 per hour, according to MSNBC. At Toyota, workers earn an average of about $37 an hour – plus an annual bonus.

Clearly, the issue has nothing to do with bailouts but is all about unions, not the phoney concerns raised in their pompous, self-serving speeches on the Senate floor about wasting money.

Repeating History

What Republicans are doing today parallels precisely what the GOP did as the Depression gripped America following 1929’s stock market crash: Nothing.

Like frail birds trying to fly directly into the gale force winds of history – and economics – Senate Republicans today aren’t content with losing two elections in a row, both badly and the last one horrendously. Instead, they are eager to follow Herbert Hoover and his Congressional cronies into perpetual discredit, allowing America to sink helplessly into economic disaster while sanctimoniously claiming to be looking out for the very people they’re destroying.

For their effort, may it take the GOP as many years to recover in the 21st century as it did in the twentieth. With rare exceptions, Republican inaction meant the party didn’t control Congress from 1932 to roughly 1994, and they didn’t move back into the White House for twenty years. In fact, it took nominating the general who beat the Nazi’s for president in 1952 for the GOP to break the Democrats solid lock on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

What’s that echoing in my brain? Oh, yeah. “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it?” As an ancient Chinese curse states, thanks to the Republican Party we are doomed to live in interesting times.

There’s a reason why both sets of my grandparents devoutly believed that Franklyn Roosevelt saved the country and them, personally, from the Depression. Today’s victims may be saying the same thing about Barack Obama for as long as they’re alive.

Believe it or not, there is an upside to what happened Thursday night. If anyone in the country still thinks Republicans are capable of leading a nation, surely their misguided belief has been shattered.

Bush As What?

OK, I can’t believe I’m actually going to write this.

Yes, it’s early in the morning and I didn’t get enough sleep. But I’m not smoking anything funny and I didn’t suck down sugar cubes last night. There aren’t any butterflies darting about in my field of dreams or vision. My office walls are not appearing in waves of changing, vivid colors. I’m not about to douse myself in petulie oil after showering. I’m not insane or even borderline schizophrenic. And I haven’t become besotted with a new love, clouding my judgment or thoughts.

Here goes and may I please be protected from being struck down by evil forces or by any dumbfounded progressives who may read this.

Right now, George Bush might be the only person who can save us from a 1930s redux.

America’s looming economic catastrophe can be averted only if George Bush and Hank Paulson decide to divert a relatively small part of the already-approved financial bailout money to the Big Three. Legally, it can be done, sort of, but any administration that can wordsmith its way into making torture legal can rationalize helping Detroit. Bush is adamantly opposed to the idea but, as recently as a few months ago, he also opposed any money for financial service companies. The lug nut, a newly converted socialist, might actually consent.

The downside is that the Wall St. TARP money comes with almost no strings attached so Congress would have to move fast to affix some: Limits on compensation and bonuses for executives and mid-management; a search committee to find replacements for the CEOs who got them into this mess; eliminating dividends to shareholders; creating a new, workable business model and plan that’s delivered to Congress within 90 days; an overseeing Lord of the Manor who can veto how the money is spent – sure, Detroit winters are miserable but no morale boosting spa getaways in Arizona for the top brass traveling on my money, please – and who also has a seat on the board of directors where his or her vote counts one more than all others cast.

Untenable Alternative

While it’s true that a line of credit at Treasury would effectively reward lousy management, not tiding Detroit over for the next three months is an untenable alternative. GM and at least one other Big Three automaker has already retained bankruptcy council, and it’s doubtful that any of the US manufacturers would survive either Chapter 11 or a pre-structured bankruptcy. Secured creditors would demand the company be liquidated so its assets could be sold to foreign car makers when buyers shy away from showrooms in droves.

It’s been at least 25 years since I’ve driven a US car – hell, it’s been 18 since I’ve even owned a car, my last one being a magnificent Volvo that I sold when I moved to Toronto. It simply ran and the only maintenance it ever needed was changing the oil twice a year if I remembered to stop at Jiffy Lube. I have no love for cars American car compies build that are lower quality that many imports, don’t retain their value and bear little resemblance to what I want in a car. Clearly, there are millions of people just like me. To change things around, Detroit’s management should be booted out on their keesters, including the boards that hire and overpay them for running the business even more into the ground.

But I do love American workers who’ve been taking it on the noggin for decades, and will suffer first and most when the economy fails them more than it has. These people will suffer even worse if we end up saying so long GM, see ya’ Chrysler, hope we all enjoy the Second Great Depression.