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December 2, 2008

Travels with Uncle Chet: AIG isn't the only needy one

NEW BERLIN _ ``Can you believe the government would rather save AIG than the American auto industry?'' Uncle Chet asked me while serving some stuffing.

``It's crazy,'' I said, sitting across from him as we celebrated Thanksgiving at his and Alice's house. ``But maybe that'll change when the new Congress is seated.''

``Republicans say we need car insurance more than cars,'' he said. ``They think it's more important to push paper from file cabinet to file cabinet than to make tomorrow's transportation systems.''

``AIG insures more than cars,'' I noted.

``Sure they do. They're up to their necks in this Wall Street shell game, and now we've rewarded them with $87 billion,'' he said. ``But we won't come up with $25 billion for General Motors, Ford and Chrysler?''

``This looks wonderful,'' Hon told Alice, stabbing some white meat with a fork.

``May I have the cranberry sauce?'' asked the little miscreant, our 15-year-old.

``It has whole berries in it,'' Alice cautioned.

``Oh,'' said the girl, as if she'd been told it were moldy.

``It's berry good for you,'' Uncle Chet cajoled.

``I'll pass,'' she said.

``Me, too,'' said Buddy, who'll soon be 8.

``I guess it's an acquired taste,'' said Hon, helping herself. ``And I've acquired it.''

``The turkey's great,'' said Buddy.

``Your uncle cooked it,'' said Alice.

``While she made the potatoes, squash, stuffing, fruit salad and apple crisp for dessert,'' said Uncle Chet.

``Well, you've outdone yourselves,'' I said, ``and all we've brought are empty stomachs.''

``At least you didn't come by corporate jet,'' said Uncle Chet. ``Talk about being dense. GM goes to Congress, crying poor, and has to show up in a Cadillac.''

``And that's what the media have focused on,'' said Hon.

``True, and I'm not defending the bosses,'' he said. ``They ought to be dropped out the window without a parachute. But if the American car industry slips away like the Conestoga wagon, we're going to be a second-rate country in my lifetime.''

``Could happen by next year,'' I said.

``It's an outrage,'' he said. ``This whole bailout's an outrage.''

``I never liked the bailout, because I knew the Bush Administration couldn't be trusted to do it right,'' said Alice.

``It amounts to class warfare,'' said Uncle Chet. ``They're doing everything they can to save executives and to stick it to labor. Want to know if your company will get a bailout? Well, if you're blue collar and unionized, forget it. But if you're white collar and snap your fingers for the secretary, you're probably all set.''

``Well, I read somewhere that our auto workers are paid something like $72 an hour, and Toyota's a lot less,'' said Hon. ``So, the theory goes, GM can never compete because its labor is so expensive.''

``That's misleading `Romney spin,''' said Uncle Chet. ``GM spends about $72 an hour per employee, but a lot of that goes to health insurance. Actually, Toyota's wages are about the same as Ford's and GM's in this country. But most of Toyota's employees are in Japan, which has universal health care, so companies, like Toyota, aren't being fleeced by insurers to the same extent.''

``Back to the insurers, are you?'' I said.

``They're at the root of our decay.''

``But you have to admit, Toyota makes a pretty good product,'' I said.

``Agreed, although American cars have been catching up,'' he said. ``And if the government invests in Ford and GM, we ought to have some say-so in what they produce. They ought to operate in the national interest, even the global interest, by making efficient, durable, green products that anyone can be proud to own.''

``How about Chrysler?''

``I'm not sure about Chrysler,'' said Uncle Chet. ``They're privately held, and unless they want to go public _ unless we get seats at the board and a better look inside _ I think I'd let them go the way of the DeSoto.''


Cooperstown News Bureau Reporter Tom Grace is traveling with his Uncle Chet, who he says is imaginary. Grace's column appears every other week.