Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw | AspenTimes.com

Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw

Andy Stone
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

They must be punished! They’re guilty, guilty, guilty! “They,” of course are:

1) Detroit automakers.

2) Bush administration war criminals.

3) Idiots who decided Sarah Palin was “hot” and therefore would make a great vice-president.

4) Nah. Let’s stick with these three.

No. 3 is the easiest to deal with. The “Sarah’s hot” crew have already been punished. If they have the slightest iota of honesty, they know that their “hot babe” quite likely cost John McCain the election.

And now those who were blinded by hotness can spend the next four (or eight) years in sticky-fingered isolation.

But, really, items 1 and 2 are far more important.

Each presents an essential choice between reality and ideology.

First, Detroit.

The Three Crippled Dwarves (Ford, Chrysler and General Motors ” formerly the Big 3. Hah!) are about to go bust. Without a government bail-out, bankruptcy looms. There is no question that those guys screwed up massively, terminally, unforgivably.

Let me note that I grew up with a deep-seated love for American cars. I just plain loved that Detroit iron.

But that doesn’t change the obvious fact that Detroit’s Big 3 made an unholy hash of their business in the decades since I was a boy.

They let quality go to hell. They gave up on innovation. They fought desperately against any attempts to drag them into a more fuel-efficient world. They let foreign automakers surpass them in almost every way.

And, the autoworkers unions joined right in, playing their part in the growing disaster.

There isn’t time or space here to apportion blame among the corporations, the unions and the politicians.

But, all in all, it’s hard to resist declaring: Let ’em die! Let their rotting corpses serve as warnings to others. Let the vultures pick their bones clean.

And I’d agree. If ” and it’s a mighty big “if” ” this nation were not mired in a deep economic crisis.

But we are in crisis and letting the automakers go bust just might be the final push that sends us into a full-fledged depression.

A point that some have made and too many others have ignored: When people say “bankruptcy,” they are thinking of the painful, but ultimately hopeful Chapter 11 bankruptcy. That’s the process that lets corporations reorganize under court protection, postponing debts, re-negotiating union contracts.

The problem is, Chapter 11 requires loans to the bankrupt company to keep it in business while it reorganizes. And in our current situation, there are no likely sources for those massive loans.

So Chapter 11 would quickly turn into Chapter 7, which is what we used to think bankruptcy meant: total liquidation. Out of business. All gone.

That would mean, according to some very reputable economists, the immediate loss of several hundred thousand jobs followed by the trickle-down loss of perhaps two million other jobs.

Two million lost jobs. First, the car manufacturers. Then their suppliers. Then all the small businesses that count on the workers who get their paychecks from those companies.

That’s a grim picture.

Do you want to take the chance? I don’t.

Those who cry “Let ’em die!” are putting ideology ahead of reality.

And sometimes, ideology is a luxury.

With that in mind, let’s turn our attention to the call for the Obama Administration to commit to immediate investigation of Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld et al for their role in allowing ” even encouraging ” war crimes.

The crime most in evidence, of course, is torture.

Speaking personally again, I have to admit that I am one of those deranged liberals who considered Bush contemptible from the start. “Contemptible” became “despicable,” then “criminal.”

There is no question that we tortured prisoners. There is no question that some died under torture. No question.

Just as there is no question that torture is a war crime. The only question, is whether we truly are a nation of laws.

And yet, jus as we cannot afford to blithely wave goodbye to the car companies, so I believe that President Obama will not be able to afford the bitterly divisive battle that would erupt if a criminal investigation and prosecution were launched.

Just as our economic troubles are too deep to let the car companies get what they deserve, so our combined national woes ” economic, military, social ” may be too deep for Bush to suffer his just reward.

Obama needs to unite and heal our nation. Investigation and prosecution ” no matter how justified ” could be fatal to that effort.

Once again, ideology can be a luxury.

Let me be clear, neither the automakers nor the war criminals should get off scot-free.

A bail-out for the car companies could take the form of government loans to make Chapter 11 bankruptcy possible, leading to the painful, but necessary, reorganization.

And perhaps there is a non-partisan route ” following the model of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission ” to reveal the Bush administration war crimes. (And we should not forget that war crimes are a matter of international justice. Perhaps, sadly, others will have to step in where we fall short.)

But what saddens me, as I look at both of these issues, is the thought that we must step back from the administration of justice because our nation is too fragile to face reality.

How sad.

I grew up with the image of America as all-powerful. And not just all-powerful, but wise and honest and just.

Over the decades, I admit, that image changed to one of America as sometimes misguided, sometimes deeply wrong. But still all-powerful.

And now I find myself writing that we are fragile. Too fragile. Our economy, our morality, our unity, our spirit are all in tatters and we must act carefully lest we fall into an abyss.

It is, in a way, like that moment when a child realizes his parents are not all-powerful. Not immortal.

As we grow from children into adults, we see our parents grow frail. At some point we realize we must, take care of them, instead of them taking care of us.

It is a sad moment.

But it is an inevitable step on the road to maturity ” the opposite of blind allegiance to ideology.


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