Tomgram: Nick Turse, Closing Down Main Street

March 7, 2009

February 22, 2009
Tomgram: Nick Turse, Closing Down Main Street

[Note for TomDispatch readers: Last week, I asked you to consider writing friends, colleagues, relatives — whomever — to urge them to go to the “sign up” window at the upper right of TD’s main screen, put in their email addresses, and receive the mailing that offers notification whenever a new post goes up. (Word of mouth is, of course, still the major kind of publicity this site can afford.) A number of you did so and TD got a nice stream of new subscribers. So, many thanks indeed! If some of you meant to do this but didn’t quite get around to it, now’s as perfect a time as any. Lots of good posts coming up, so please pass the word! By the way, let me offer special thanks to those of you who, unbidden, used the site contribution button (“Resist empire. Support TomDispatch”) and sent in contributions. Your generosity allows the site to offer younger writers like Dahr Jamail and Nick Turse a few extra $$$s for all their hard work. It matters. Tom]

As I read an early version of today’s third (but by no means last) piece in Nick Turse’s Tough Times series, I couldn’t help thinking about an old line that, by my childhood in the 1950s, had become a kind of national folk wisdom: “As General Motors goes, so goes the nation.” (Indeed, as befit the rise of the U.S. as an imperial power, “nation” was sometimes replaced with “world.”) Of course, in those days, if you were the head of General Motors, it wasn’t so unreasonable to imagine that you controlled the fate of the nation and the planet. Not only were you atop a global powerhouse of a company, but you might still be going places.

After all, in 1953, Charles Wilson, GM’s president, did become President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s secretary of defense. Asked in his Senate confirmation hearings whether he would have a problem making governmental decisions that might not be in the interest of GM, he famously replied that he found it hard to imagine a conflict of interest “because for years I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa.” (Soon, that would be simplified to: “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.”)

Only a few years after Wilson stepped down, a new President, John F. Kennedy, asked Ford’s president, Robert S. McNamara, to step into the very same post. At that moment, it seemed true indeed that, as Big Auto went, so went the world. Of course, that was before McNamara and his “whiz kids” got us deep into, but not out of, the Vietnam War. Now, that’s so much ancient history — though today, you might imagine a new version of the old adage, based on Bush and Obama administration staffing decisions at the Treasury Department: What’s good for Goldman Sachs is good for the country.

In any case, if Wilson’s statement seems like history, the old GM line doesn’t. As General Motors goes, so goes America. How sadly true. We know just how GM is going these days — down the tubes; and, as Nick Turse indicates in his latest post, so go the towns and small cities not only in the vicinity of the Big Three’s collapse, but countrywide. Tom

Tough Times in Troubled Towns
America’s Municipal Meltdowns
By Nick Turse

When Barack Obama traveled to Elkhart, Indiana, to push his $800 billion economic recovery package two weeks ago, he made the former “RV capital of the world” a poster-child for the current economic crisis. Over the last year, as the British paper The Independent reported, “Practically the entire [recreational vehicle] industry has disappeared,” leaving thousands of RV workers in Elkhart and the surrounding area out of work. As Daily Show host Jon Stewart summed the situation up: “Imagine your main industry combines the slowdown of the auto market with the plunging values in the housing sector.” Unfortunately, the pain in Elkhart is no joke, and it only grew worse recently when local manufacturers Keystone RV Co. and Jayco Inc. announced more than 500 additional job cuts.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

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Tomgram: Snitow and Kaufman, Water Wars in America

September 26, 2008

[Note to TomDispatch Readers: Since the following piece is excerpted from a new book produced by the invaluable website Alternet.org, I thought this might be a fine moment to urge all of you — if you don’t it the site already — to visit that ever vigorous, thoughtful, provocative site. Everyday it has a menu of superb pieces — some from websites like this one, others original — that add up to some of the best reading on the progressive blogosphere. You can sign up (as I have) for their emails, which put their top pieces in your email box daily, by clicking here.]

The headlines scream. The world goes mad. The Bush administration, which failed to fully impose its unitary executive presidency on the nation through war via a Commander-in-Chief presidency, now seems intent on doing the same in its waning days through a Treasury-Secretary-in-Chief version of the same. The following passage in the original proposed bill for the $700 billion bailout legislation now in Congress may take your breath away — “Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency…” — but it is recognizably pure Bush.

Though that particular phrasing is now gone, administration officials are using the politics of fear and panic over the very financial mess they had a hand in creating to institutionalize a presidential power grab of startling magnitude. And then, of course, following the pattern of this administration, they will privatize that power, undoubtedly subcontracting the work of governmental buying and selling to the very financial characters involved in creating this mayhem. As a result, in the Bush years the Treasury Department, like the Pentagon, will have both expanded its power exponentially and privatized it all at once. Yes, Congress will add caveats and “oversight,” but these may be little more than window dressing from a body of government which has already essentially given up the ghost (of power) along with its power of the purse. If you thought we had an imperial presidency before the present economic meltdown, what’s coming may put that to shame.

Anyone who believes that an administration incapable of getting itself out of its own disasters from Kabul to Baghdad to New Orleans finally has a formula for doing so at a moment of ultimate economic debacle is surely deluded. In the meantime, Congress may turn over the checks (as in checkbooks) from those classic American governmental checks and balances to the Treasury. And as for the balances, well, you already know that story. So, a skyscraper’s worth of private financial indebtedness will now be socialized on the backs of taxpayers; and yet, as Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman, award-winning filmmakers and experts in the privatization of water supplies and systems, indicate below, the most basic public services that once gave meaning to the government now stand in danger of going “private” not just in the developing world but in the United States.

Their post, by the way, is an adaptation of an essay they wrote for a wonderful new book on a subject that will reshape our lives for decades to come — the redistribution of water on this planet, including the present fierce droughts in the American southeast and west. The Alternet.org book, Water Consciousness: How We All Have to Change to Protect Our Most Critical Resource, is in itself a resource of the first order. (Check out the book’s website while you’re at it.) Tom

Drinking at the Public Fountain

The New Corporate Threat to Our Water Supplies

By Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman

In the last few years, the world’s largest financial institutions and pension funds, from Goldman Sachs to Australia’s Macquarie Bank, have figured out that old, trustworthy utilities and infrastructure could become reliable cash cows — supporting the financial system’s speculative junk derivatives with the real concrete of highways, water utilities, airports, harbors, and transit systems.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.