Michael Moore’s advice to Obama on General Motors

Roger & meMichael Moore is a polarizing figure with a mild-mannered way of suggesting some rather far-fetched, ultra-liberal ideas. I find myself often feeling swayed by his emphaticness but more often than not, unconvinced by the logic of his arguments.

That said, he does from time to time incite a good deal of discourse and discussion, and on the cusp of the bankruptcy of General Motors, he sent around his suggestions to Barack Obama on what should be done with the company, and so I thought I’d reproduce his nine points here, since I largely agree with them:

  1. Just as President Roosevelt did after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the President must tell the nation that we are at war and we must immediately convert our auto factories to factories that build mass transit vehicles and alternative energy devices. Within months in Flint in 1942, GM halted all car production and immediately used the assembly lines to build planes, tanks and machine guns. The conversion took no time at all. Everyone pitched in. The fascists were defeated.

    We are now in a different kind of war — a war that we have conducted against the ecosystem and has been conducted by our very own corporate leaders. This current war has two fronts. One is headquartered in Detroit. The products built in the factories of GM, Ford and Chrysler are some of the greatest weapons of mass destruction responsible for global warming and the melting of our polar icecaps. The things we call “cars” may have been fun to drive, but they are like a million daggers into the heart of Mother Nature. To continue to build them would only lead to the ruin of our species and much of the planet.

    The other front in this war is being waged by the oil companies against you and me. They are committed to fleecing us whenever they can, and they have been reckless stewards of the finite amount of oil that is located under the surface of the earth. They know they are sucking it bone dry. And like the lumber tycoons of the early 20th century who didn’t give a damn about future generations as they tore down every forest they could get their hands on, these oil barons are not telling the public what they know to be true — that there are only a few more decades of useable oil on this planet. And as the end days of oil approach us, get ready for some very desperate people willing to kill and be killed just to get their hands on a gallon can of gasoline.

    President Obama, now that he has taken control of GM, needs to convert the factories to new and needed uses immediately.

  2. Don’t put another $30 billion into the coffers of GM to build cars. Instead, use that money to keep the current workforce — and most of those who have been laid off — employed so that they can build the new modes of 21st century transportation. Let them start the conversion work now.
  3. Announce that we will have bullet trains criss-crossing this country in the next five years. Japan is celebrating the 45th anniversary of its first bullet train this year. Now they have dozens of them. Average speed: 165 mph. Average time a train is late: under 30 seconds. They have had these high speed trains for nearly five decades — and we don’t even have one! The fact that the technology already exists for us to go from New York to L.A. in 17 hours by train, and that we haven’t used it, is criminal. Let’s hire the unemployed to build the new high speed lines all over the country. Chicago to Detroit in less than two hours. Miami to DC in under 7 hours. Denver to Dallas in five and a half. This can be done and done now.
  4. Initiate a program to put light rail mass transit lines in all our large and medium-sized cities. Build those trains in the GM factories. And hire local people everywhere to install and run this system.
  5. For people in rural areas not served by the train lines, have the GM plants produce energy efficient clean buses.
  6. For the time being, have some factories build hybrid or all-electric cars (and batteries). It will take a few years for people to get used to the new ways to transport ourselves, so if we’re going to have automobiles, let’s have kinder, gentler ones. We can be building these next month (do not believe anyone who tells you it will take years to retool the factories — that simply isn’t true).
  7. Transform some of the empty GM factories to facilities that build windmills, solar panels and other means of alternate forms of energy. We need tens of millions of solar panels right now. And there is an eager and skilled workforce who can build them.
  8. Provide tax incentives for those who travel by hybrid car or bus or train. Also, credits for those who convert their home to alternative energy.
  9. To help pay for this, impose a two-dollar tax on every gallon of gasoline. This will get people to switch to more energy saving cars or to use the new rail lines and rail cars the former autoworkers have built for them.

Well, that’s a start. Please, please, please don’t save GM so that a smaller version of it will simply do nothing more than build Chevys or Cadillacs. This is not a long-term solution. Don’t throw bad money into a company whose tailpipe is malfunctioning, causing a strange odor to fill the car.

14 Comments

  1. at 6pm on Jun 1st # |

    The trains thing still boggles me, how can America honestly not have a decent cross-country rail service at this stage? It’s so very strange. I’m all far super fast, efficient, trains.

  2. at 7pm on Jun 1st # |

    Nice post Chris. I’m about to go to Japan. I’m excited but I suspect it will just make me jealous.

    Some more thoughts on the possibility of Michael Moore’s wacky ideas: http://sf.streetsblog.org/2009/06/01/bye-bye-general-motors-hello-again-general-locomotives/

  3. Marshall said
    at 11pm on Jun 1st # |

    “To help pay for this, impose a two-dollar tax on every gallon of gasoline”

    This one is so misplaced for me it ruined the rest of the ponts.

    Rising gas prices were a huge catalyst to onset of recession. Agreed that they stimulated discussions about more fuel effecient cars, etc but at a huge, huge economic cost.

    Moore’s arguments always seem about 35% thought out.

  4. jomar said
    at 11pm on Jun 1st # |

    Japan as they say shows the future of the world. And the future is bright and full of anime!! Land area is the US is too big to be compared to japan though but Moore’s right! Perhaps the best thing to happen to the US is the crash of a big company like this -if only it will open up new alternatives to travel. However i fear that this is wishful thinking on Moore’s part. Obama is going to rescue GM to put money back into GM’s owner’s pockets but he’s not going to change that company.

    You think the “change we can believe in” is true right now – after he’s elected? We shall see. But I’m not keeping my hopes up but I do hope to be proven WRONG.

    Jomar

  5. Grover said
    at 6am on Jun 2nd # |

    “This one is so misplaced for me it ruined the rest of the ponts.”

    Agreed. A two dollar per gallon hike in gas would put an immediate and painful strain on just about every middle-class budget. We were having to make hard decisions at 3+ dollars a gallon. 5+ would be a disaster.

    It’s often hard for people like Moore to remember that the majority of the country does not live in a major metropolitan area where public and alternative transportation make sense.

  6. ron said
    at 8am on Jun 2nd # |

    how are gas taxes a catalyst for recession? somehow the rest of the civilized world has had high gas prices for years thanks to gas taxes yet that didnt spur a recession in those countries.

    the bad thing about gas taxes is that they are regressive. how about we not build any new major roads like they want to do in houston, and instead just fix the ones that already exist.

  7. at 3pm on Jun 2nd # |

    Unfortunately, this makes far too much sense for any government to actually implement it :)

  8. k0an said
    at 4pm on Jun 2nd # |

    17 hours to go from NY to LA would… suck! I can make that trip in 5 hours for $260 (current kayak.com pricing) via plane. Incredibly long train trips don’t make much sense when it’s affordable and radically faster to fly. I think the distances that make sense are those that take about 2-4 hours by high speed train. Short flights aren’t actually that short because of the time it takes for all the pre-flight red tape at the airport. If getting on a high speed train takes merely minutes then it will be faster than planes for short distances (500 miles or less). If they could rework the US flight grid to only focus on medium to long distance flights and high speed trains for short distances that would be the best of both worlds.

  9. Doug said
    at 5am on Jun 3rd # |

    I think if you stacked all the bullet trains build in Japan since the 1964 Olympics end to end they wouldn’t reach from Los Angeles to New York. Japan is the size of California, and most areas don’t have bullet train access.

    Japan is able to have some really nice rail and subway transport because the population is so concentrated into a few small areas. Plus, people here will walk 15 minutes or more to and from the stations. And live in small houses, apartments, and condos, so that the necessary population density can be achieved.

  10. at 9am on Jun 3rd # |

    @k0an The point is not that you would go from NY to LA, but that train across said distance could service everything *between* NY and LY

  11. k0an said
    at 9am on Jun 3rd # |

    @Stephen Paul Weber – That’s one way of interpreting what Mr. Moore meant to say, but I think that’s giving him too much credit. Why would he mention how long the trip would take if he wasn’t trying to propose it as a valid trip? Was he just spouting out random numbers?

  12. nickgark said
    at 4am on Jun 7th # |

    I’d like to raise a point of information re: Ron’s comments on gas prices.

    I live in the UK, and we’re used to petrol prices that are now around GBP1.00 per litre – about USD6.00 per US gallon. From the UK perspective, petrol prices of less than USD5.00 per US gallon look more like a luxury than a disaster.

  13. BabsCakc said
    at 9am on Jun 10th # |

    Is flying really cheaper? I don’t know the real costs of transport in the US. Who pays for roads? Are they all toll roads or does general tax fund them? Aviation fuel in Europe appears cheaper, but that’s only because it’s not taxed, unlike other fuels.

  14. Ken said
    at 9am on Jun 11th # |

    I liked your comment about the oil people fleecing us. However, just to play devil’s advocate; that sludge comes out of the ground and has to be put through billions of dollars of equipment and refinery apparatus to be usable, then shipped halfway around the world. For this we pay (now) approximately $2.65 a gallon. Our own American farmers take milk from their cows. To be usable for safe human consumption it has to be boiled, thats all. They then have it packaged, truck it to the the next county and stock the store shelves. For this privelege we pay $3.50 a gallon and up. I honestly ask you: WHO is fleecing us more??