I should have turned the radio off.
But the ongoing train wreck that is the Senate Banking Committee held yet another hearing from on high, and it proved too tempting turn away from. This auditory rubbernecking has caused me much consternation this year as I listen to the mightiest public servants in the land plod through testimony attempting to outdo one another with the toughest question or most intelligent preamble to a rhetorical question.
The latest subjects paraded in front of the Kangaroo Court were the chief executive officers from GM, Ford and Chrysler. The committee wasted no time trying to impress them with their vast knowledge of the auto industry and ability to ask long-winded, self- aggrandizing questions. I could hear their fingers wagging through my car radio and hear their aides actually speaking in muffled tones while they ignored the executives who were answering their insipid questions.
My road rage became palpable when one committee member suggested they each take $1 salaries, like Lee Iacocca famously did, until their companies became profitable again. I have a better idea. Since the Banking Committee systematically and autonomously dismantled the regulations put in place after the Great Depression to avoid another economic collapse, why don’t they work for $1 per year?
It’s hard to swallow the committee’s self-righteous indignation when these are the same bastards who tore down the financial markets and have been shifting the blame ever since. It was, after all, the Banking Committee that repealed acts such as Glass Steagall, which efficiently regulated the banking industry since the 1930s.
One of my favorite criticisms by the committee is how U.S. auto manufacturers didn’t respond quickly enough to rising fuel prices by rolling out more fuel efficient cars. Yet it was the same committee that deregulated the commodities market allowing rampant speculation to artificially drive up fuel prices to record highs rendering their product lines virtually obsolete overnight. These same senators are the ones who haven’t been able to rally the United States government to adopt emission standards and follow stricter efficiency protocols that have been seamlessly implemented by foreign nations that are now more competitive in auto manufacturing than we are.
I wonder how many of the Senate Banking Committee members drove away from the hearing in their standard government-issue black SUVs?
I’m no apologist for SUVs and overcompensated executives but it’s time to cut out the negative discourse surrounding the bailout. For that matter, stop referring to it as a bailout and consider it an investment into the workers who carried the nation on their backs and ushered in an era of unmatched American productivity. Besides executive compensation being out of control, another critical problem is that auto manufacturers have essentially become, as I heard described by one pundit, giant healthcare and pension companies that happen to make automobiles on the side. That’s why many claim that bankruptcy is the only solution to lawfully reorganize these companies and allow them to press the reset button. Unfortunately, no one is going to purchase an automobile from a bankrupt car company, which would force the manufacturers to slide from chapter 11 to chapter 7 faster than the attorneys could draw up the paperwork.
Instead, the government must use its power to intervene with the unions and mediate a settlement instead of forcing the automakers into bankruptcy to reorganize. Government should be working alongside automakers to meet more aggressive corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards and provide incentives for American workers to get hybrid and electric vehicles on the road.
As a nation we can decide to view the challenges that lie ahead as problems or opportunities. Let’s get past the blame game with executives pointing the finger at the unions, unions pointing the finger at management and government pointing the finger at Wall Street. There’s no question that executive compensation should be curtailed and bonuses should be forfeited. Once that’s established, let’s get past the punitive portion of the hearings and begin a partnership where we can collectively challenge one another to adapt and improve.