Where politics and faith dance in the shadow of the windmill.

A cheer or two for political courage

The President was in Toledo Friday, making one more stop on a victory tour for the auto bailout. By most accounts, the program has succeeded in its basic goals: safeguarding workers, communities and suppliers in the great auto meltdown of a few years ago. Manufacturing is now up. GM has added a third shift at Hamtramack, and even Chrysler is showing life.

A presidential win, that not only goes to Obama but to his predecessor, as well.

Still, folks dislike the deal. For them talk of saving industry, suppliers, communities cannot overcome the actual cost — estimated at $25 billion. These issues, the reluctance and the push back can both be found in Megan McArdle’s writings at The Atlantic, here in this blog cited by Lowry in The National Review, but also in a more measured published response, where McArdle admits

The worst fears of many critics—including me—were overblown. The government did not simply leave the bloated legacy costs intact in order to protect its political friends.

What the current debate highlights more than anything else, is the uncertainty of that initial decision, and the continuing skepticism about government action generally. This continuing debate driven in part by the ascendency of the Tea Party only further highlights the political courage of those who stood up, as odd a mix of political bedfellows as you will find: Virg Benaro, Mike Cox, Thaddeus McCotter, and our own David LaGrand.

That political courage takes place amidst uncertainty accounts for why so many go silent. Practical calculus paralyzes. We may believe but we muffle our voice. As with all things political, it is one part rashness, one part calculation of benefit and one part driven principle.

All this comes to the fore with the other current instance of political courage in our midst, that of Rep. Justin Amash. His co-sponsoring of the War Powers Resolution certainly belongs in the category of political courage. And then he adds to it with the success of his Amendment to protect Freedom of Information Act requests at the Homeland Security Agency.

Like those who stood up for the auto bailout these are actions whose actual outcome is uncertain (will hindsight prove him right? Wrong?), but that is the substance of political courage. And like those who came before, Rep. Amash moves with that mixture of principle (moral and philosophical) coupled with a mix of political calculation and political rashness.

And let’s be clear: political courage deserves its honor.

Filed under: Economy, Politics, Washington, , , , , , , , ,

Standing with GM

The future of Michigan and West Michigan politics is being decided not in our state, but in the corridors of Washington. For a few smart pols have seen the writing: now is the time to stand up for the state and yes, for the much maligned General Motors and the much-maligned auto industry. What is remarkable is the way that so many area and state politicians have become remarkably tongue tied about this. Some have not.

Bluntly, this is one of the most important issues to have faced our state. The enormity of a potential failure, the continuing impact of “successful” bailout can immobilize civic leaders.  The enemy at hand is the sense of helplessness, a sense that muffles our voice and dulls our imagination.

That silence is all to present. Where is Vern Ehlers? The last news on his official site is dated November 21. Is it too much to ask that we see him speaking out for jobs here in our community? Where is governor-wannabe Terri Land? Meanwhile Hoekstra has certainly said some things even backtracked, the better to protect his gubernatorial chances (of course, with the requisite, right-from-the-playbook swipe at unions).

Yet if some are tongue-tied, others are not.

Virg Benero speaks out eloquently, forcefully on the problem.

Grand Rapids City Commissioner David LaGrand has not only spoken, but is paying his way to lobby in Washington.  “Ten thousand jobs on the line” is how he puts it (and leaves you wondering about other leaders along the Grand)

And to be bi-partisan:

Gubernatorial candidate and Attorney General Mike Cox has argued early.

And Thaddeus McCotter (CD-11) matches Benero for passion and forthright speaking.

This is a battle that will define Michigan politics for the next two years, and likely for far longer than that.  For those who aspire to real leadership in our communities they will have to stand up and be counted. Make not mistake, the battle for 2010 has already started.

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , ,

Gentleman’s C

News this morning is one more shot to the head, with Citi (“C”) receiving another $20 billion, because it was “too big to fail.” Somehow, here in Michigan this all comes across as a little too self-serving, another privileging of finance versus the actual manufacturing of stuff.

Last week we were treated to the theatre of political outrage over executives who flew down in jets. Obviously profligate. The loud protests are certainly familiar. What is the rhetoric here, except that of moralistic contempt for the old drunken working stiff: we won’t give money to you, won’t have programs for you because you’re a drunk, morally unfit etc. This was always the language of moral uplift, all the more for the progressive good government types who sniffed at the working class, terming them “machine politics”, boss-ism, ethnics and the like. Political morality with a class bias: that has been the way of the world for some time, especially in this democracy.

There are some counter weights out there, however.

First, in case one ever doubted it, Detroit is still very much in business, as Mark Phelan notes in yesterday’s Free Press, in 6 Myths About the Detroit 3 . Here on the west side, we sometimes conveniently forget this; since the opportunity of the all-purpose punching bag that is Detroit is too inviting. This weakness among the auto industry and its union has a hidden perilous side: in their weakness it is easy to pile contempt upon contempt, fueled as it is by its mixture of envy and resentment. What goes missing is that it is not just the auto plant and its union, but a linked series of industries, whose connections transmit the pain to all parts of society.

That was the point in today’s New York Times — the Big Three are more tightly wound into the American economic fabric than many of the too casual commentators realize.

Over the past three years, as the auto industry’s fortunes darkened, big banks like Bank of America, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase helped the automakers sell more than $56 billion of new debt securities,

And of course, it almost goes without mentioning that the very uncertainty introduced into the system by the refusal to come to terms creates fiscal doubt at all levels in the supply chain and in the supporting communities.

So we’re back to the deal, and the ease with which $20 billion can be found for the financier and his edifice, but that other edifice, the one found in the factory towns throughout the midsection of the nation — those lives are less visible and so, sadly, less served. In 10 days we will have an answer, for the sake of our communities lets hope it’s more than the F for factory that so far has been the case.

Update.  The class/regional bias is not simply the ravings of a midwesterner.  Evidently, Time understands this as well.

Filed under: Economy, Uncategorized, , ,

Rescue Me!

The political horror show that has been the auto hearings took another turn today as Congress and the Republicans refused to offer any relief. As Wednesday’s Times notes,

But with the House set to adjourn at the end of Thursday, the automakers were left with only the dimmest of hopes that Congress would provide any assistance this year.

And faced with this, how does our would-be governor respond?

But (Hoekstra) said if lawmakers are inclined to dole out $25 billion to Ford, General Motors and Chrysler, executives at the Detroit Three and the thousands of employees across the nation need to make concessions, including slashing pay and developing new business models.

While the clock ticks, he’s basically fiddling. Of course new business models have to be found. And yes, it’s pretty clear that workers are going to get it, too. Underneath the reluctance of the present Republican leadership is the hope that maybe, perhaps it won’t be as bad as the executive leadership has portrayed it (though the idea of GM burning through $5 billion a month is simply staggering. That’s not sustainable). So behind their actions lies the rather pathetic hope that if worst comes to worst, there’s always the President

A punt to the President who really doesn’t want to play.

There are of course, some crass political calculations. This has all the makings of a classic stand-off, the kind where the President has stood firm and the Democratic congress blinks. But other factors are also in play. First, the prospect of a new administration certainly is stiffening the spine of some on the Democratic side; and second, there is the question again of legacy. If an economic disaster looms, it threatens to add one lasting black eye to an already punched-out administration.

At the local level, the prospect of a GM collapse doesn’t seem to play so well. If the President doesn’t help, what happens to the perception of the GOP? Can they switch the blame to the UAW? Or are they stuck as the agents of this collapse, willing to spend billions on the financiers but nothing on the guy on the line? It’s Hoover II. This evident political risk renders Hoekstra’s stance all the more peculiar. No amount of righteousness protects them from a collapsed state economy — even the possibility for blaming the UW will scarcely help if the corpse of GM is deposited at the doorstep.

So the politicians — and especially the GOP — seem to be playing the high stakes game. Meanwhile, at the level that most of us understand, at the line at the grocery store, or at the hardware store, this is a situation that threatens us even more. And whoever gets the blame will keep that albatross for a generation. Or more.

Filed under: Economy, Republican Folly, ,


March 2020