Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Take Me for a Ride

I took time out of my busy schedule of undermining heterosexual marriages and recruiting young people into my lifestyle the other night. Hey, even we gays need time to ourselves.

While relaxing at home, a man that I had gone out with a few times this past summer phoned me. We didn’t get to know each other well. I had always intended to try to reconnect with him, but timing was against us. Unfortunately, when we first met, I was deep into the Never Ending Research Project of Doom. Later, the semester started and I became bogged down in classes. I meant to phone him when things stablized, but I had to travel for some conferences. Then, of course, there was the Project Runway finale. When all was said and done, I just never found the right time.

When he called the other night, he let me know that he had been laid-off by his company in Decaying Midwestern Urban Center. As a result, he was leaving the Midwest region and wanted to say goodbye.

I was struck by his disappointment at having to move. He was a Mexican national who had come to the U.S. Midwest because he wanted a place radically different from his home surroundings. For him, life in the Midwest was an adventure even after several years. He was one of the few people that I have met here who talked about this state with enthusiasm.

With his company hemorrhaging money, though, they cut his position. Unable to find any other work around here, he was forced to take a job in Texas, a state that he hated passionately (We had so much in common! I should have tried harder to make that relationship work).

Such is the story of the U.S. Midwest. The economy has become so crippled that even people who would like to stay simply can’t. The mass exodus from the Midwest has meant that people have relocated to places which are environmental disasters. I am looking at you, Phoenix. The Midwest actually has water. Arizona does not.

For decades, this part of the country has been in decline while the rest of the nation simply ignored it. I am willing to wager that the conditions in Detroit are comparable to pre-Katrina New Orleans, probably even post-Katrina.

Most times, the media pretends like the Midwest doesn’t exist at all. Take, for instance, election night coverage. I was astounded by the number of pundits who claimed that the Democrats, before 2008, were only a “coastal party." Well, yes, as long as you count the shores of the great lakes as “coasts.”

Today there is a question about whether the U.S.-based automotive industry will survive. The corrupt leadership in Detroit has come to the U.S. government looking for a handout. To my mind, it’s the same as giving your druggie cousin $500 for tuition money that he promises will turn his life around. Oh, sure, the auto execs made us all sorts of assurances that they will put the money to good use and become upstanding citizens. A week after they get it, though, you just know that we are going to stumble upon GM sprawled out in an alley somewhere with a needle full of petroleum up its arm. We’ll confront them, but they’ll tell us that we don’t understand what it is like when you start jonesing for the high-premium.

Much to my surprise, it is the Republicans who are now calling for these industries to fail. Their arguments can be persuasive (except for the part where they blame those audacious unions for demanding a living wage (If only American companies could simply enslave people again! Then we would show you an automobile worth driving!). Of course, many of the Republican critics are in states with foreign-owned auto factories. So, are we, as a people, conceding that we are unable to build decent vehicles anymore?

As a nation, we will now produce what exactly? Some argue that we are a "knowledge economy" or a "technology economy." To them I ask, Have you tried using Microsoft Vista? If that's our niche in the global market, we are screwed.

The sad reality is that the collapse of the automotive industry will be the death knell of several major states. Longtime readers know that this is not my first time in the Midwest. My graduate university was located in a town that once produced a major car brand that ceased to exist somewhere in the middle of last century. What replaced that industry in town? Nothing. Do I mean several smaller industries? No, I mean nothing. Do I mean that the town became oriented to service or information technology? No, I mean nothing. The abandoned factory, some sixty years vacant, still stood in the middle of the town (which was too broke to even have it torn down).

Even my current residence, Midwestern Funky Town (which is largely considered one of the garden spots of the region), is clearly feeling the economic collapse. Some of our roads have gone so long without repair that I am thinking of calling NASA for a moon-buggy to navigate the potholes.

The problems of the Midwest are the problems of the nation. I don’t mean that in some idealized “fields of amber grain” or “apple pie” sort of way. Instead, I mean that the nation’s worst impulses has resulted in the near total destruction of this part of the country. Unless we seriously reevaluate our priorities and relationships, it will happen to the rest of the U.S. Greed, petty self-interest, and unchecked corporate growth have now given us its fruits. And let me tell you, it’s going to be some nasty-ass lemonade that we are going to end up making.

I am uncertain and torn about what is best. On the one hand, I am furious by the greedy idiots who ran the companies that churned out gas-guzzling Ford F150s or Hummers. I am also furious at the people who bought gas-guzzling Ford F150s or Hummers.

Most of all, I am frustrated by the continued myth that corporations are the key to the nation’s salvation. Corporations have created many of our problems because they have sought wealth for the few at the expense of the many. I am disheartened that Democrats seem to cling to long defunct notions of “trickle down economics.” We are to believe that rescuing banks, automakers, and Goddess-knows-what-else will ultimately make its way down to help the working class. This has not proved to be true. Meanwhile, they have totally ruled out helping individual citizens in debt up to their earlobes.

Throughout this economic crisis, we have often heard that certain banks/companies are “too big to let fail.” Well, isn’t that the problem in the first place? Why did we allow any company to become that big? Mergers that were against the interests of consumers and workers have been granted for well over the past two decades. How many of you, my dear readers, heeded my Cassandra-like advice and wrote to your government leaders to oppose the merger of Northwest Airlines and Delta? Think of me in my star-spangled panties telling you “I told you so” when you try to book that ticket home to see grandma for Thanksgiving.

Alas, I can’t disagree that the region needs the auto makers for the time being. If the U.S. government does bail out these industries, however, they should adhere to GayProf’s demands:

    * First, there should be a clean-sweep of all executives in the company. They ran it into the ground, they should be shown the exit.

    * Second, let’s break up “the big three” into the “mid-size ten” or the “small twenty.” Why do we need three giant corporations? If we are capitalists, aren’t we supposed to believe that competition will make better products?

    * No matter what, the government should own part of the companies and have a direct hand in their operations. If we are paying for it, we should have title to it.

    * Fourth, profits from GM’s overseas Asian operations should also be funneled directly into their U.S. branch.

    * Lastly, GayProf should receive a brand new Dodge Challenger as payment for this advice. Hey, no matter what, it still is a hot car.


Roger Owen Green said...

I too am conflicted. I've long thought that if the fuel efficiency standards that Washington would put in place and then renege upon, because Detroit wailed that it was "too hard, too restrictive", HAD gone into effect, then the industry AND the country would have been better off.

On the other hand, they file Chapter 11, reorganize and gut labor, they my survive, but at what cost to the work force?

tornwordo said...

I was astonished that they had one really bad quarter and that's going to cause them to go bankrupt. Really, you had no contingency plan? Imagine if every company went out of business for having a bad few months. And then yesterday when I saw them fly on their luxury jets to beg for money.... The only word to describe my expression is agape.

Doug said...

I love your demands, except that last one. I mean, a Dodge Challenger? Doesn't one of the big three make a nice hybrid? Oh, right, they don't. Go Dodge Challenger!

pacalaga said...

I'm sorry, all I read was blahblahblahblah Dodge Challenger.
(Totally kidding, but I swear, now I know why muscle cars had such large back seats, esp compared to Geos.)
Yes, your #1 requirement was one I could get behind. "We'll loan/give you this money, as soon as you fire (without severance) all your executive board members." It's interesting to me how often the tech industry splits itself off into offshoots, smaller companies, subsidiaries, whatever, and yet the manufacturing corporations are still trying to consolidate.
And what do you mean, Phoenix doesn't have water? Don't you know they're going to have the World's Largest Water Park soon?

Alan said...

Having lived here all my life, I can tell you when the doom began: the recession of the late 1970's, and the economy of Midwestern Peninsular State hasn't recovered since. Seriously.

It isn't just cars. Back in the day, there were several major factories within spitting distance of the tiny Midwestern Tiny Town in which I grew up. Gibson's Refrigerators had two factories, GM had a major magnetics plant nearby, untold numbers of tool-and-die shops, etc., etc. Now they're all gone. Gibsons became Frigidare which became Electrolux which moved to Mexico. The magnetics plant became Hitachi Magnetics which moved to Mexico. The folks from those companies who didn't retire, lost their seniority, and moved to the bottom of the latter at auto factories or auto factory suppliers.

In Midwestern Tiny Town, where my folks still live, nearly every other house on their street is for sale for about half of what the owners paid for it originally.

So what about this Chapter 11 idea? Well, for Chapter 11 to work, people would have to continue buying GM cars during restructuring. Why buy a car from a company that may not be around in 6 months? Why buy a car with a 5 year, 50,000 mile warranty that won't last 6 months? Not gonna happen. Chapter 11 will insure that GM fails.

And GM's 123,000 employees? Feh. That's a drop in the bucket when we consider all of the suppliers who will also be run out of business, not to mention the stores and service industry jobs in and around factory towns. Oh, and the towns themselves? Several of them are already bankrupt, like Midwestern Polish Enclave, next to Decaying Midwestern Urban Center, which itself has been bankrupt.

I think people have no idea what Michigan is like these days. We've had almost double the rate of unemployment of the rest of the country for years. And for the last 7 years, the Big 3 have been trying to meet with the Bush Administration about figuring out a way to get government support for retooling for fuel efficient cars and R&D and were unable to do so. (Government aid that other car companies get from their respective governments, I might add.)

So, somehow we're able to find the money to give $700 billion dollars to crooked Wall Street firms and moronic banks who gave moronic mortgages to moronic people who bought more house than they could afford. But we're not able to find $25 billion to loan to an industry that employs hundreds of thousands of workers and makes real products? Really? $700 billion was OK, but $25 billion, that's too much?

So much for the Wall Street vs. Main Street rhetoric we heard throughout the campaign.

BTW, I'm all for attaching whatever strings are necessary to this money ... heck, use ropes if necessary. I just don't think it's responsible to get rid of hundreds of thousands of good paying jobs when the economy is in free fall. Particularly when it is the American taxpayer who has been buying the now unpopular SUVs for years. Suddenly now they want to be responsible?

(Oh, and just to make this whole story even happier, Don't forget that in Midwestern Peninsular State, we pay for our public schools using property taxes. Say goodbye to our already troubled school systems once GM goes out of business and everyone either loses their house through foreclosure and/or moves to some other state.)

GayProf said...

ROG: I agree that we have given automakers a free pass for much too long. But their total collapse, I fear, will be incredibly crippling to this region.

Torn: Yeah, the jet-setting CEO's need to go (I actually think that this is true for all sectors of business).

Doug: My rusty memory seems to recall a Detroit promise from long ago to build "muscle" hybrids. Apparently they changed their minds.

Pacalaga: "Dodge Challenger" was probably the most interesting bit in this entry anyway.

Alan: You actually write up this issues involved much better than me. So much so, I thought about adding your whole comment as an addendum to my own entry.

The only two things that I would add are a) Democrats proposed taking the $25 billion from the already existing $700 billion package. So, it wouldn't be $725 billion, but Republicans and bankers don't want to share that package (what a surprise). B) Many of those factories that relocated to Mexico have recently recolated again to China. So, not only have they screwed the U.S. Midwest, they have also screwed Northern Mexico. All in pursuit of the cheapest, most exploitable labor possible.

Alan said...

Oh, I forgot to add.

Dodge Challenger?

Dodge has never made a hot car, nor a good car. They should have stuck with the Omni, it was more appropos of what Dodge is all about. :)

BTW, my word verification word is "ressessi" which I assume is Italian for recession.

Earl Cootie said...

Lose the millionaire execs. You and I both know they're what's keeping me from my thirty-hour work week. (Not to mention flying cars and moving sidewalks and bubble cities and all the other amazing things I was promised in my formative years.)

Yes, it's a conundrum. I can't see letting the Big 3 collapse, but they do (it would seem) need a boot of some kind on their throats to make them mass-produce the fuel-efficient vehicles that we are capable of engineering and that a majority of Americans would snatch right off the assembly lines.

Hm, maybe that boot needs to be on the throats of the oil companies?

Go, Waxman!

Chad said...

I think a blog I read put it best, in dramatic form:

Little Miss Market: Oooh, unky, can I have a bit more of that seven hun bill? I swear I won't spend it all on other banks. Double promise.

Uncle Sam: Here you are, you little brat. But if you don't start doing your mortgage chores, I shall be very cross. [yelling after her] And I mean it this time. [chuckles] Ah, I have no idea what she gets up to. [pause] Now, where were we?

Chaz Auto: Well, I...really need some money. Just for a while. Things didn't go quite as planned.

Uncle Sam: [harrumphing] Quite as planned. Well, well, well - that's all you've got to say for yourself? I'm afraid you're going to have to much better than that. You've made a right hash things haven't you? [Chaz opens his mouth] And don't go blaming it on your cousin. She's a right fine lady while you - and your unions and grubby factories. Well, it's not very financial, is it? Honestly, it's hard to believe we're related.

Chaz Auto: But, sir. There's a lot of people depending on me.

Uncle Sam: [sighs] You're right. Well, you've got me only because I've got my reputation to consider. But first I want you to write out exactly what you plan to do with my money - and don't forget it's my money - and you'd better be ready to stick to every letter.

Chaz Auto: So you'll help?

Uncle Sam: Maybe. Perhaps. Well see. [pause] Now push off, I've got a little lunch with one of Miss Market's friends. She's a peach and a half. [he pats his pockets, then pulls out an empty wallet] And it seems little Miss snuck another trillion when I wasn't looking. She's so naughty!

prof bw said...

I worry that your analogy is correct; if bailing out the big 3 is akin to handing money to a strung out relative, then what is the solution to the crumbling that you discuss so astutely here? I've been thinking about it for some time b/c I too think blaming the unions is mostly far fetched and funding another corporate vacation on tax payers' money is unthinkable. And oh yeah, I have tried to use Windows Vista and that is why I now refer to my brand new $2000 Toshiba as "the paper weight from hell."

It seems to me that there are several other countries we could look to for how regulation, green economies, and job production could work and fearing those places as "communist" is not only inaccurate it is ignorant with so much on the line. Perhaps if we all took some time to teach that in our classes we could really be the liberal threat we've been painted as. Or am I just dreaming again?

In all seriousness, when I get to Midwestern Funky Town (Planned for some time next year), we will have to discuss in person why you cannot pine after a car that looks like "the general lee." I think its the NM in you ;P

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the WKRP clip. I'm too exhausted from my own never ending project to comment on anything more substantial that TV reruns.

Michael said...

Being from Michigan, I felt ignore when our Amendment banding Gay marrigae and Civil Union. Its was like you live there why should we care.
I like the upper mid-west the great lakes states where I live. It's surprisely "more Happening" then people give it credit.
Plenty of famous gay folks from the Midwest.
Lots of pockets of Liberism through out the great Lake state
Here's my blog

GayProf said...

Alan2 Them is fightin' words. My first car was 1975 Dodge Dart Sport. It was a solidly built car and I still catch one or two on the road today.

But, of course, that was then. My parents, who are Mopar slaves, bought a Plymouth Horizon (a stripped down version of the Omni (if you can imagine!)). It was quite possibly the worst car ever built, ever, ever.

Earl: The CEO's must go now and larger corporations must be broken apart.

Chad: Yeah, it's interesting all the ire directed to the auto industry while the banking industry had been given a free pass.

Prof BW: The General Lee was a Dodge Charger, a "B" body. I want the Challenger, which was based on the original "E" body. They are totally different.

Anon: Sometimes television makes everything feel better.

Michael: I still haven't forgiven the Democrats for the primary mess in Michigan.

Homer said...

When I went to a funeral in Michigan last April I forgot my suit jacket so I ended up at the Goodwill Store in Traverse City. I have never seen so many people at Goodwill, diligently looking for a bargain. The parking lot was full.

All of the little companies in northern Michigan that supply auto parts are closing and all of the other manufacturing jobs are going off to some foreign country. Those were the only good-paying jobs for poorly educated people.

There are a lot of desperate people in northern Michigan. I expect if things don't change parts of that state will empty out like North Dakota.

jeremy said...

So interested to hear your take on Richardson's appointment

Kevin said...

You could have written this about Cleveland as well. Except our population exodus is probably even greater than Michigan's is. Plus we have a major interstate high level bridge into downtown, literally on the verge of collapse (ala Minneapolis), that rather than find money to repair it...they instead shut down two lanes in each direction and now ticket any truck or bus that dares to cross it! Can you say "death trap waiting to happen"? Turns out that, plain and simple, there is No Money. Not on the city level, the state level or even, apparently, the federal level. We are a forgotten, dying city and nobody wants to help. Funny how there's all the money in the world for banks and huge corps. though. Oh well.

I agree that the Unions once served an important role in this country but the problem with them is that they became as greedy as their employers. I had a co-worker whose father worked for a large steel plant in this region. He once bragged to me about how his father was up to seven weeks of paid vacation by the time he retired. I was aghast. 7 weeks??!!! PAID???!!! Nobody needs seven weeks of vacation time. That man was paid to sit on his rear end doing nothing for 7 weeks and those costs were passed on to us, the consumers. Is it any wonder the steel industry high-tailed it to Mexico and overseas?

Laverne said...

oh gayprof, I've missed you so.

I am naive, I know, but maybe we need to learn a lesson as a nation. Will it truly be so bad if we don't support the big three?

I know, I know, there was a compromise; which only means that we, the taxpayers will be out more money, and the big three will still probably go under.

This is one of the times I wish I was omnipotent, or at least smarter.

As it is, I just try to make it through every day, hoping not everyone decides to send their child to private school.

My word verification is "spree." That just strikes me funny.

Anonymous said...

I am that drug addicted relative you so cavalierly dismissed and I really NEED the money.

CoffeeDog said...

I wish I was in the market for a car right now, because I'd have them by the balls and I'd walk out of there at $100 over invoice! I agree, let's wipe the slate clean and get rid of all those greedy bastards.

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