Opinion

Friends, enemies, automakers and welfare | Angie Vogt column

There’s a great line in the current James Bond flick, “Quantum Solace,” that caught my attention.

Giving her best sage advice to Bond, played by the hunky Daniel Craig, the indomitable M says: “When you can’t tell your friends from your enemies, it’s time to go.”

That line just about sums up the situation we’re in. Americans don’t know who to trust, and for good reason. U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is playing a game of chicken with Congress and U.S. taxpayers — while holding hundreds of billions of our “bailout” money.

Never mind the fact that the money did not really come from us, but from a printing press and is ultimately worthless. This week we discovered that we don’t really know where or to whom the money is going.

On Wednesday, we were treated to the spectacle of America’s Big Three automakers making a play for the bailout money.

I was torn at first. Losing our manufacturing base, especially those companies so iconic of America’s industrial past, just seemed so ominous to me.

I think “past” should be the operative word. The mantra of “buy American cars to keep jobs in our country” has worn thin over the past three decades for good reason. In 2006, foreign automobile makers, especially Toyota and Honda, employed 402,800 Americans. The average annual compensation for these employees was $63,538.

Most of the dreaded “outsourcing” of Detroit jobs has gone not to India, China or Mexico, but to the conservative Southern states, where governments are business friendly and the cost of living is easier.

Foreign companies have been very successful at in-sourcing jobs into the U.S. economy, largely the result of NAFTA and other free trade policies of the Bush-Clinton-Bush years.

For instance, according to the Wall Street Journal, Toyota has production facilities in seven states and R&D facilities in three others.

Honda, another sustainable auto company, operates in five states and earned $6 billion in net income in 2008. In contrast, General Motors lost $38.7 billion last year.

Bailing them out and propping up failure is nothing more than corporate welfare. The real beneficiaries of a bailout will be the executives and union bosses who get to keep up their exorbitant lifestyles — while inciting class envy and protectionism among the working class.

One of Ford’s bosses, for instance, lives in Seattle and flies the corporate jet to work in Detroit, you know, just to see how the little people are doing. It was difficult watching him give the puppy dog “help us please” pitch to Congress, no doubt before enjoying his lobster bisque for lunch on Capitol Hill.

I’m afraid that as more bottom feeders come drooling to the public trough, I mean treasury, the more we engage in this destructive and enabling cycle of financing failure.

Printing up hoards of money on demand and pumping it into the economy is like trying to revive a heart patient with endless blood transfusions. Pumping more blood into the sick body doesn’t make the heart stronger. Pumping more money into a sick system only makes the money and the dysfunctional business worthless.

Still, we know who is indebted to the unions for the November elections, so it will be interesting to watch the dog-and-pony show as Congress pretends to fight over bailing out Detroit (just to impress their constituents at home) before the Democrats (the usual recipients of union largesse) pretend to begrudgingly hand over more dough.

No problem. Just fire up the printing presses!

Federal Way resident Angie Vogt: vogt.e@comcast.net. For past columns and further commentary, visit www.soundupdate.com.

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