What to do with the Big Three?
What to do with Chrysler, Ford and GM, which have repeatedly proved themselves arrogant and incompetent over seven decades; which have steadfastly opposed innovation in the name of short-term profit; which consistently have insisted on making a product that directly kills 45,000 Americans per year (and many more worldwide), that kills millions more through pollution, that requires huge indirect subsidies in the form of roads, highways, bridges and parking, and which is now killing the very planet itself, while engaging us in vicious and unjustifiable wars?
Now the Big Three chief executives are asking the American public to hand them billions of dollars so they can continue on the same course a little longer, and line their pockets a little thicker, all in the name of jobs jobs they have been slashing away at for decades anyhow.
Yet the jobs that remain are real, and they might amount to as much as 10 percent of the employment in the country.
Is the only possible way to save those jobs simply to throw more money at those pinstriped pirates who have mismanaged the industry into the dilapidated state in which we now find it?
If we let them go bust, what will all those workers do? Toyota's, Honda's and BMW's U.S. plants certainly can't absorb them all.
Must we really throw big money at the Big Three CEOs, and watch them fail their way into oblivion just a few years later? It won't be the first time they've begged for handouts: In 1939, the conservative writer Walter Lipmann noted, "GM has spent a small fortune to convince the American public that if it wishes to enjoy the full benefit of private enterprise in motor manufacturing, it will have to rebuild its cities and highways by public enterprise." Now they want the money directly in hand.
Maybe what we need is a retraining program ... no, not the sort that teaches machinists how to do data entry. I mean something else altogether.
Years ago, GM and a number of other companies were convicted in federal court of a conspiracy to buy up and dismantle the urban rail systems that used to serve this country so well, even the magnificent Pacific Electric Red Cars of Los Angeles (whose routes the freeways still follow). In fact, GM had a special executive whose assignment was the management of tramway buyouts from the mid-1920s.
If we still had those rail lines, we might now have compact, efficient and elegant cities where residents would have a choice of whether to drive or not. People, despite decades of Big Three agitprop, still want that choice. So our cities are rebuilding, at great expense, those rail lines that GM and its cohorts destroyed: even cities such as Los Angeles the Ground Zero of Carmageddon Denver, Salt Lake City and Dallas, and others where the warlordism of a car-only culture has so long reigned.
In each of these cities, money to rebuild the rails is in eternally short supply. And once the rails are built, the trains that run on them must be bought from Italy, Canada, Japan anywhere, it seems, but here.
The retraining we need is the rebuilding of a native urban railroad system, with its components sourced within our own economy.
Let's use the money that the Big Three are begging for to accelerate all the urban rail transit projects now in progress, and to jumpstart new ones anywhere they're wanted.
And let's retool the Big Three so they, and their workers, can make the rolling stock these systems need now, and will need in the future. There's a huge base of industrial capacity in the Los Angeles area in Watts, Lynwood, Commerce, Industry, Vernon, even downtown foundries, forges, mills, machine shops and more, as well as current and former auto parts suppliers that could jumpstart this project working with the Big Three and the bailout money.
Think of all the orders they could receive if America were to rebuild, and expand, the 1,500 urban rail transit systems the National City Lines conspirators destroyed! And even more once high-speed rail finally comes (a half-century late) to the United States.
Instead of making something that destroys community, sucks up public funds and poisons the Earth we depend on, they'd be supplying the country with clean and convivial mobility, and strengthening communities while reducing to a minimum the acreage needed to accommodate the daily travels of our citizens leaving more room for housing and businesses, and more money for schools, squares and libraries as well.
Don't bail the Big Three out. Retrain them, so they can retrain America.
Richard Risemberg is co-editor of the urban sustainability Webzine the New Colonist, publisher and editor of bike commuter Webzine Bicycle Fixation and owner of a small business that designs and manufactures clothing for bicycle commuters. He lives and works in Los Angeles.
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