Uncategorized — December 6, 2008 at 3:00 am

Detroit Free Press Open Letter to Congress


Today, the Detroit Free Press had an extra Front Page. The entire page was an open letter to the United States Congress regarding the bridge loan they are considering for the Big Three automakers. It’s not something I’ve ever seen the Freep do (that’s what we Michiganders call the Detroit Free Press, btw.)

In it they make a pretty compelling case for the loans. They acknowledge the boneheadedness of the Big Three but they also make some very solid points about the impact letting them fail will have on our country.

First, this is their explanation as to why they sent the letter and published it in such an in-your-face way:

Why we’re sending this message
The Free Press is sending copies of this edition to members of Congress.

We have chronicled the U.S. auto industry since its birth, as Detroit became the world’s Motor City, as cars and trucks changed the American culture and landscape, as assembly line jobs gave rise to the American middle class. Our journalists have reported the automakers’ triumphs and exposed their troubles. We know this industry better than anyone.

We also know that while a newspaper needs to inform, there are times when a newspaper needs to speak up for what’s right.

We know what automakers and autoworkers mean to this nation. We know what will happen if one of the auto companies is allowed to collapse. We know because this industry has been our story since it started.

And we know that America needs this story to continue.

— Paul Anger, editor

Here are some excerpts from the letter:

You don’t want an economic disaster on your hands. Not when you could have prevented it. And not in times that are already the worst in a generation.

But that’s exactly what you’ll have — and more — if one of the three Detroit automakers goes belly-up for lack of a government-backed loan. There will be economic hell to pay — not just in Detroit, but all across America, including in your state, in your district.

This is, to my mind, a pretty important point. Actually, TWO points. When I listened to Senator Richard Shelby from Alabama on the Meet the Press a couple of weekends ago, I was struck by how much in denial he seemed to be about the impact this would have even on states like his own that have no vehicle-production facilities. Does he really not realize how many other industries are tied to vehicle production? Does he not realize how many people are employed by suppliers, dealers and others that are directly or indirectly involved in the making, selling and repair of these cars? I thought Senator Levin from Michigan made this point very well during the discussion.

The letter continues:

…the people of Michigan, and especially those who toil for the automakers, are as angry as anyone over the string of misjudgments, failures and bad decisions that contributed to the industry’s woes. No one here is enthused about the idea of extending government money to a private industry with so many self-inflicted wounds.

Paul Anger hit it on the head with this acknowledgment. I know from personal experience, working for a company that has upwards of 60% of its sales somehow connected with vehicle production, that many of us here in Michigan are disgusted by the decisions the Big Three has made over the years. GM in particular deserves a lion’s share of our emnity considering their grossly indulgent product line that has so many cars that are nearly duplicates of each other. And their insistence on pumping out gas guzzling behemoths in the face of high gas prices, global climate change, and, yes, customer desires for more fuel-efficient cars and trucks that spew less greenhouse gases and that reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, particularly oil.

But we also shudder to think what will happen if these companies go under. As bad as things are in Michigan right now, our current situation will pale in comparison to what it will look like when an enormous chunk of our manufacturing companies suddenly close their doors.

Anger ends with this:

The Detroit automakers are hemorrhaging cash to stay in business. Two of them are nearly drained, and the third is getting by on a transfusion. They can get well. They have shown how. But first they have to survive. And their survival is in America’s best interests.

You can help them. And if you don’t, make no mistake: There will be bleeding throughout the land.

Yesterday the Freep had a large headline that said, “Hey, Congress! It’s a LOAN!” This week our governor, Jennifer Granholm, is making the rounds to any and every newspaper, radio show and news outlet that will give her time, letting them know just how serious this both to Michigan and to the entire country. It has become a full-frontal assault on Congress to get them to loan the necessary funds.

Trust me: I’m not wild about it. I’m in the market for a car right now and I’m disgusted that I have to buy a Japanese car because I can not find a single one made in America that gets at least 35 mpg on the highway.

But I think that maybe, just maybe, Ford, Daimler and GM might just be getting the message this time. They’ve got lots of time to make up and they’ve got lots of innovating to do. But the consequences of not giving them that chance make it imperative that these loans are given.

Put restrictions on them. Watch them closely and demand regular updates. But, in the end, GIVE THEM THE LOANS. The alternative will be much, much more expensive.

I’m just sayin’…