In Time to Reboot America, Thomas L Friedman remarks that (according to Fortune) General Motors “lost more than $72 billion in the past four years, and yet you can count on one hand the number of executives who have been reassigned or lost their job.” He says we can’t continue to be “dumb as we wanna be” and that:

…our present crisis is not just a financial meltdown crying out for a cash injection. We are in much deeper trouble. In fact, we as a country have become General Motors — as a result of our national drift. Look in the mirror: G.M. is us.

That’s why we don’t just need a bailout. We need a reboot. We need a build out. We need a buildup. We need a national makeover. That is why the next few months are among the most important in U.S. history. Because of the financial crisis, Barack Obama has the bipartisan support to spend $1 trillion in stimulus. But we must make certain that every bailout dollar, which we’re borrowing from our kids’ future, is spent wisely.

It has to go into training teachers, educating scientists and engineers, paying for research and building the most productivity-enhancing infrastructure — without building white elephants. Generally, I’d like to see fewer government dollars shoveled out and more creative tax incentives to stimulate the private sector to catalyze new industries and new markets. If we allow this money to be spent on pork, it will be the end of us.

The photo is Oval Office reproduction – Harry S. Truman Presidential Museum and Library – Independence, Missouri by Marshall Astor – Food Pornographer. You can see some of that food pornography in his Flickriver, and over on his blog he has a cool video of Earth Kitt, who passed away yesterday.

I picked it because while Friedman sometimes upsets me, I agree wholeheartedly with his assessment that the next few months are critical to the future of our nation. We’ve been stumbling down a golden road for the last decade or so. I think as we start to slip and fall on it we are all beginning to see that the gold is just faded and peeling paint and we haven’t amassed any real riches.

I for one am willing to invest in America, to make financial and lifestyle sacrifices and to really work on the behalf of building a better nation and world.

I sure as hell am not going to give any money to people to develop new instruments of financial deception though.

I hope that the man who sits at that desk in just a few weeks and the team he has assembled feel the same and will make the same effort and inspire others to do so as well. I also hope that they will try and drag our governmental apparati into this century and out of the Truman era.

Michigan is burning

In Senate to Middle Class: Drop Dead, Michael Moore says that the Senate could have given a bailout tied to reducing greenhouse emissions, increasing fuel efficiency or just for the simple fact of keeping a few million people working in this difficult time.

But instead, the Senate said, we’ll give you the loan only if the factory workers take a $20 an hour cut in wages, pension, and health care. That’s right. After giving BILLIONS to Wall Street hucksters and criminal investment bankers—billions with no strings attached and, as we have since learned, no oversight whatsoever—the Senate decided it is more important to break a union, more important to throw middle class wage earners into the ranks of the working poor than to prevent the total collapse of industrial America.

We have a little more than a month to go of this madness. As I sit here in Michigan today, tens of thousands of hard working, honest, decent Americans do not believe they can make it to January 20th. The malaise here is astounding. Why must they suffer because of the mistakes of every CEO from Roger Smith to Rick Wagoner? Make management and the boards of directors and the shareholders pay for this.

I understand objections to bailing out the Big Three. What I can’t understand is how there is no alternative plan offered by the luminous body of elected pulchritude that is the US Senate. What is Plan B, Senators?

Michigan has been sputtering for years … it’s burning now.

The Elephant and the Blind Men

Addo Elephant National Park by exfordy

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The above is the beginning of The Blind Men and the Elephant, an ancient Indian tale translated in 1873 by John Godfrey Saxe. Please go read this if it’s an unfamiliar tale … or read it anyway, as it’s stood the test of time.

The story came to me as I was pondering an assortment of modern calamities. It made me think about how our work on these problems is so remarkably compartmentalized.

We’ll spend $800,000,000,000.00 (or so) bailing out people who have been playing Games With Money: Other People’s Version. We’ll wonder if we should spend 5% of that staggering sum on three companies that are responsible for the jobs of 1,000,000 to 3,000,000 people (depending on who you ask) and the pension and retirement of many more. We’ll say that Social Security has a $10,400,000,000,000 shortfall looming (actually, the Bush Administration said that in 2005). We’ll lament at the fall of lake levels and the rise of seas and the melting of the Arctic and the death of species.

We’ll do everything, it seems, but sit down and take a good look at the whole picture, to see that we can no longer borrow from a future if we can’t figure out how to repay the debt.

The photo is Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa by exfordy* and can be enjoyed in their South Africa, 1999 slideshow (set). He writes:

This bull walked right by the car. If I had kept the window open I could have touched it. We had been told that if we stayed in our car we would be OK. A Japanese tourist had got out of his car the previous week and had been killed by an elephant.

*exfordy as in “Ex Ford Employee” – what are the odds that Michigan-crazy me I would find and choose this photo from the vasty herd of elephant photos under Creative Commons license on Flickr?????

Rock always wins

An episode of Seinfeld proved that rock shatters scissors and flies through paper. In short, nothing beats rock. Rock is immovable and obdurate – it makes no compromise and brooks no discussion. Rock simply is.

I’m tempted to say that for 8 years we Americans have acted as if this wasn’t so.

I realize, however, that we’re talking about a number far greater than any one man or nation, a problem more complex than any single issue and a time that is quite a bit longer than any handful of turnings of the seasons.

The drugstore pony of “cheap” energy we have ridden for centuries is playing out. The equations of growth appear impossible to solve and armies of woe march across our world unchecked. Consequences unimaginable don’t seem quite so unimaginable any more.

We’re about to wrench the wheel of the world, to set ourselves on a new course.

The course correction can be to whatever degree we want.

I’m hoping it’s to the degree we need.

Canary in a Depression

CNN reports that some member of Congress are upset that the Big Three auto CEOs flew private jets to ask for taxpayer money:

At Wednesday’s hearing, Rep. Brad Sherman, D-California, pressed the private-jet issue, asking the three CEOs to “raise their hand if they flew here commercial.”

“Let the record show, no hands went up,” Sherman said. “Second, I’m going to ask you to raise your hand if you are planning to sell your jet in place now and fly back commercial. Let the record show, no hands went up.”

Let the record show that I don’t F*&^ing care if they flew a M0^%#&^@&* experimental CONCORD that burns $1000 bills. And neither should you.

Yes, the auto industry needs to watch the bottom line but this isn’t about nickels and dimes, this is about the future of America’s auto industry and ultimately, the economic vitality and military security of our country. This is the same auto industry that won WWII and has tens of thousands of former employees who have been promised pensions and health care for life. Foreign companies do not have those obligations and probably won’t build tanks and stuff for us if we need them in any case.

The auto industry is a canary in the coal mine that is the US transformation from an economy fueled by cheap petroleum and providing lifelong security to workers to one fueled by renewable energy that provides who knows what. Other industries have made similar promises to workers (though none to so many or frankly as much) an other industries will be facing re-tooling challenges that will require massive reinvestment and retraining.

Each one that we let sink beneath the waves will make it harder to lift our whole economy.

The photo is Canary in a coal mine from David Ambridge. He writes that it’s a gas detecting canary from the Haig coal mine in Whitehaven, Cumbria. Like me, he’s unable to resist linking to The Police’s Canary in a Coalmine.

More discussion and links about this on Michigan in Pictures.

Obama is asking for more

Reason #4 in the 30 Days | 30 Reasons series by Lee Stranahan is that Obama is asking for more of us than McCain. For Obama to do this takes not only courage, but also takes a level of trust in Americans to realize that you can’t shop or tax cut your way out of the massive challenges we face.

Lee has many more of these are they’re all great – find one that resonates for you and share it around!

More of his work can be found

Vote. Everyone. Please.

Please watch this short video:

If you agree that we have an economy to fix, two wars to end, veterans and veterans’ families to care for, cities and towns to rebuild, children to educate and nurture and feed and a planet to protect for the next generation and those after, then ask yourself: which candidate can help to put us on the road to accomplish all that and more?

If your answer as mine: the candidate who talks about doing it and has energized millions of people all across the country and the world, then please send it along to friends – tell them WHY they should treat this election as the most important thing they will do this week.

You never get another chance to be ten years old, to catch your first fish, to hear a story from your grandmother, to be a new father or mother, to watch your oldest graduate from college or dance at the wedding of your youngest, to see the Grand Canyon or whales off Alaska.

Vote. Everyone. Please.

Blame the poor?

Subprime Suspects in Slate says that while there appears to be a concerted effort to lay the fault of the subprime crisis at loans through Fannie & Freddie, the dumb-lending virus originated in Greenwich, Conn., midtown Manhattan, and Southern California, not Eastchester, Brownsville, and Washington, D.C.

…lending money to poor people and minorities isn’t inherently risky. There’s plenty of evidence that in fact it’s not that risky at all. That’s what we’ve learned from several decades of microlending programs, at home and abroad, with their very high repayment rates. And as the New York Times recently reported, Nehemiah Homes, a long-running initiative to build homes and sell them to the working poor in subprime areas of New York’s outer boroughs, has a repayment rate that lenders in Greenwich, Conn., would envy. In 27 years, there have been fewer than 10 defaults on the project’s 3,900 homes. That’s a rate of 0.25 percent.

On the other hand, lending money recklessly to obscenely rich white guys, such as Richard Fuld of Lehman Bros. or Jimmy Cayne of Bear Stearns, can be really risky. In fact, it’s even more risky, since they have a lot more borrowing capacity.

I’m guessing that the amount of money required to buy up the really bad loans is just a candle in the mighty wind o’ greed that’s howling through the financial markets.

The photo is Takin’ it to the BANK$Y by guano and you should click over to read the backstory, and maybe also check out the Banksy group on Flickr and/or Banksy’s Wikipedia entry.