The US auto company CEOs just arrived in Washington, DC -- this time sans private jets -- to make their ask again (I think it’s up to $32 billion this time, just to stay in business). My environmental colleagues are rightly upset that there seems to be a deal coalescing that will give these companies bridge loans with no environmental conditions attached. The auto executives’ argument here is that these companies are too big to fail, that they have too many employees plus the workforce of the myriad related industries, to let them fall into bankruptcy.
But let’s think about it a different way. If Congress were to let them fail, and perhaps just come up with a package that provides long-term unemployment and retraining benefits to the employees, here is how the world might be a better place:
- A current end to the lawsuits by GM and Chrysler against the laws now in place in 14 states, covering half the nation’s population, to increase auto fuel efficiency for our automobiles. Yes, auto companies want us to bail them out while they are suing us.
- The world is awash in automobiles. The car lots are full. Even the giant flags and the balloons aren’t helping to sell them this time. Nobody knows where to put them. Nobody is buying them. Keep the auto companies in business? Why? We don’t need more cars, especially not the US specialty, heavy SUVs. That is, unless the government wants to provide them as shelters for the homeless as part of a comprehensive social services package.
- Last benefit of the US auto companies shutting down, no new superfund sites will be created. Or maybe after a bailout, these companies -- instead of making cars -- could clean up the hundreds of superfund sites they’ve created over the years. Yes, stinking, abandoned lots contaminated with oils and heavy metals and chemicals with names you can’t pronounce that have transformed huge tracts of land into a cancerous stew. Then at least the bailout would be going to something useful, and would force auto companies to finally be held accountable for the messes they’ve made.
So think about it Congress, you could save lots of money and stop lots of bad things from continuing to happen at the same time. Do we really want to do this bailout? Or should we let evolution run its course, and let these proverbial dinosaurs go the same way as the literal ones.
Obama wins! I feel a powerful sense of hope. I know that we have miles to go to fix our economy, our environment, our reputation throughout the world. The damage that has been done cannot be fixed in four or eight years. But my hope comes from believing that President-elect Obama has a gift for leading us through dark times without division and blame. That he can set an example for the country to follow whereby we settle our differences and sort our priorities through fierce debate and the development of ideas that will advance America's principles. I have hope that our own dark Joe McCarthy era has ended with this election and that we can now stop putting so much energy into stopping the bad and instead put our precious labor into building a world we can be proud of.
None of the executives could remember how much they make, although most admitted it was in excess on 2 million dollars. They all did their best to look somber about the record high prices of oil and then went on to blame China, OPEC (remember that old boogeyman?) and most importantly, lack of access to new places to drill for oil to help make America energy independent. These guys are paid enormous amounts of money to pretend they care about the pain the public feels when they tighten the screws on us. Congress throws some theatrically tough questions and act concerned, although they don’t pay for the gas for their own limos. You and I do. So its sort of like Broadway except it seems the makeup artists use brooms.
J. Stephen Simon, the Senior VP of ExxonMobil went through a series of arguments showing how dramatically the oil industry margins have been reduced. By the end of his explanation it seemed that ExxonMobil was profitless, although thanks to public records we know that their profits were a record 40 billion dollars last year and are on pace to crush that record this year. He spoke of working together to strengthen American competitiveness, advised us not to worry about the current “upcycle” (that was his euphemism for the sky high gasoline prices) and all the while whining about taxes.
All the executives stated directly or implied that the oil price crisis could be alleviated by giving them access to the last wild places where oil is still to be found in America: the Rocky Mountain Front Range, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and more coastal drilling. If your grandmother had oil in her teeth they’d want those too. The fact is that these sources take years to explore, destroy wild areas permanently and would only reduce the price of oil marginally. But they would add handsomely to the oil companies’ profits. It’s the perfect argument for the oil companies: they want more of the same, record profits, easy access to our lands and waters, continued subsidies of about 40 billion dollars a year for oil and gas (easy to remember as it is the same as ExxonMobil’s 2007 profits – and both are on track to go up in 2008), and blame the lack of access on the environmentalists.
The fact is I am not against oil prices going up. That is what is going to make us use less. If oil prices were being driven up by a federal system that put a cap on the carbon that these and other companies bring into the economy and force them to buy credits to emit permitted amounts, the revenue from the credits would then go back to Americans, all Americans to help offset the higher energy costs – not drive profits higher.
The retiring head of Shell had a fun way to try and downplay the record profits. He mumbled out something about the profits they are reporting being very large in absolute numbers but you have to look at the segments of our business, the upstream something or another, historic age of oilfields, marginal costs…
I started to feel sorry for these guys, I felt less resentful of the 40 billion dollars in subsidies that we give these guys each year who can’t remember how many millions of dollars they are paid. Heck, I felt like running down to the Hill and bringing them flowers. After all, they got some pretty tough questions from the Senators. To make matters worse, a protest kicked in, I could hear the voices in the back of the room while watching on my computer screen the faces of the witnesses as they heard somebody demanding that we separate oil and state Dammed hippies insisting that the politicians stop taking campaign donations from the executives that they are supposed to protect Americans from, yeah, and wreck the whole game.
Pretty nuts… like enough to make you wanna take the bus.
But exactly 28 minutes into his speech he did it. He talked about “taking it to ‘em” blurring 9/11, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Tonight the President was in classic form, grinning and winking like he had just pulled off a great fraternity stunt at the Delta House… not acting like the first president in US history to start and oversee the loss of TWO wars. A President who fueled a Holy war and put our young people in front of shrapnel with the cavalier attitude of a man who has never done an honest day’s labor.
Tonight the President spoke of the goodness and smarts of the American people even after he undermined our government for seven years. He weakened the agencies that were designed to protect us from lead in toys, chemicals in foods and predatory lenders and employers. He gave this government, our government, over to ExxonMobil, Ford, GM, Peabody Coal, and he’ll still be grinning on the golf course a year from now when we try to clean up this mess for the next generation.
Bush’s speech and his seven-year reign can be summed up as “the Great Fraud.” He promises to help New Orleans and then doesn’t. Promises clean government and we get corruption. Promises economic growth and we get decay. Promises to take care of veterans and we have more and more uninsured.
He asked for more trade agreements to “…show our neighbors in the region [Latin America] that Democracy leads to a better life.” This democracy did not demonstrate that. At best, we showed that our democracy was able to withstand a completely unmoored leader with an unethical team around him willing to give our government over to the corporations, especially the energy corporations.
He promised two things that have never happened: to effectively capture carbon dioxide emissions when coal is burned (to prevent global warming) and safe nuclear power. Both are promises by the industries that live off of massive government subsidies, subsidies dependent upon repeating these false promises.
He offered a gratuitous nod to our men and women in uniform, the thousands he has left behind to live their lives with prosthetic arms and legs. A generation of soldiers who will have to live with the fact that this war had as much to do with finishing his father’s business and enriching the security contractors as any false statement about security in the region.
Then he rolled out an all too familiar story line: the threat from, this time Iran, its development of long range missiles, and how the U.S. will defend our oil in the Persian Gulf.
Then hunger, AIDs, Darfur, funding for veterans, orphans, widows… All poured from his mouth after little action for seven years.
And then it ended. The long, false partisan applause that accompanies these speeches finally dimmed, and I thought: Go home, you’ve done enough. We’ve got work to do.
Instead he was upbraided inside by various delegates, professionally polite people who were unusually harsh towards Bush in their comments in the press and by activists at the front gate who were making sure that Americans knew this meeting was a fraud and that leaders from other governments knew that we out front knew it was a fraud. I was there with a large group of colleagues, volunteers, interns, students, one board member (Jeffrey Hollander, CEO of Seventh Generation) and allies from the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Oil Change International and the US Climate Energy Council to make the point.
We spent a day in jail but the point was made. And not just by those of us in the handcuffs. From those silken-tongued delegates to the DC Police, there was kinship all around. Bush is completely isolated. History will judge which was his larger calamity, war against Iraq or stalling on global warming. Either way he’s left us all with a world in need of repair.
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