I never thought I would own GM, or even a piece of it, when I was an eight year old kid playing in my dad’s parked, sky blue Oldsmobile Cutlass. But all of us Americans are inches from owning the new GM with a bankruptcy court ruling approving the deal.
It’s more than ironic that right after the 4th of July, as we celebrate the rule of law and the ethical customs and social mores that led us to found this nation, that the government-backed bankruptcy proposal doesn’t protect drivers injured or killed in GM cars before the bankruptcy, avoiding traditional "successor liability." Those burned, killed, crippled before the bankruptcy closes are just out of luck.
As the owners of GM we owe it to the families to uphold an American ideal that we celebrated this weekend. It’s right up there with the apple pie, motherhood and Chevrolet. Human life is priceless and it should be honored.
There is too much evidence that the engineers at GM over the last many decades put a price tag on human life. In one infamous memo, posted by Consumer Watchdog, a GM engineer writes about how it is cheaper to pay out lawsuits than recall millions of vehicles, even though people would die. That’s not American. If the government’s bankruptcy goes through, that engineer’s calculation will prove true, though.
President Obama sent me a nice email this weekend, borrowing from the Declaration, about Americans’ lives, fortunes and sacred honor being pledged together. Now the time’s come for the White House to prove it to the families who lost loved ones in exploding GM cars, particularly given the other financial priorities in the bankruptcy.
An insurance policy for past GM victims would cost $1 billion. There’s already $2 billion per year slated for advertising at the new GM, more than Toyota’s budget. Court filings show $100 million for board of directors insurance. Hundreds of millions more is to be paid to well connected Wall Street advisers. And taxpayers have sunk $52 billion into the company already. Isn’t it worth another billion for the preservation of our Americans ideals of fairness?
It’s complicated to be an American who owns an American car company, but let’s not forget we are a nation founded on grievances against tyranny. We should not become what we hate. One of the greatest complaints against King George was his suspension of the administration of justice and depriving colonists of trial by jury. If the President and Congress don’t step up, that’s exactly what the New GM will do to victims of the Old GM.
Americans never dreamed of owning banks either, but when we stepped in we did the best we could with those exploding mortgages. We tried to save people’s homes, we didn’t just forget them. Legislation introduced by Representative Andre Carson of Indiana would require the government to buy an insurance policy to take care of the victims of GM’s cold hearted calculations and design defects. Let’s hope the White House re-reads the Declaration of Independence and embraces it.