I've wondered often why people who go to "town meetings" held by campaigning politicians rarely ask fundamental questions.
Here is one that should have been asked of presidential candidate Barack Obama: "If you get to the White House, will you appoint to top positions Americans who have a track record of making the right decisions in their respective fields?"
"Of course, I will," Obama would have undoubtedly replied.
Of course, he did not when it came to the collapse of the corrupt Wall Street casinos and the bailout of these gamblers by the American people. Obama chose the very Wall Streeters and Wall Street servants who were involved in, condoned, or profited from the speculative binges that led to the biggest government bailout scheme in world history. The President's explanation is that he wants experienced people who know how Wall Street works. Yeah, right! In reality, he wanted political cover.
Something very important is missing when even people who are part of the ruling establishment are ignored, marginalized, or ridiculed even though their detailed, public warnings prove to be all too accurate.
Consider billionaire, Ross Perot. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, Ross, as everyone calls him, was right on General Motors, right on NAFTA trade, and right on the federal deficits.
In 1984, he joined the Board of Directors of GM after selling his successful company, EDS, to the auto giant. He could scarcely believe how stodgy, bureaucratic, and insensitive GM executives were in running the company. He tried to shake up the boys at the top to meet the fast-growing competition from Asia and Europe.
The GM brass couldn't stand Ross "at large" probing up and down the company, so in 1986 they bought out his shares in return for him leaving the Board.
Two years later, reflecting on his experience at GM with a reporter from Fortune, Perot called the "General Motors system a blanket of fog that keeps people from doing what they know needs to be done."
Warming up, Perot continued: "One day I made a speech to some senior executives. I said, ‘Okay, guys, I'm going to give you the whole code on what's wrong. You don't like your customers. You don't like your dealers. You don't like the people who make your cars. You don't like your stockholders. And, to a large extent, you don't like one another. For this company to win, we're going to have to love our customers. We're going to have to stop fretting about dealers who make too much money and hope they make $1 billion a year though us. The guys on the factory floor are the salt of the earth-not mad-dog, rabid, burn-the-plant-down radicals. And all this sniping at one another-the financial guys vs. the cars guys-is terribly destructive.'"
GM didn't listen to Ross. Now, after a long, relentless slide, GM is bankrupt, abandoning their workers, two thousand of their dealers, and their customers' grievances. Moreover, GM is into the U.S. taxpayer for over $70 billion.
Perot devoted much of his 1993 published book Save Your Job, Save Our Country to NAFTA and trade. Looking back, he was right most of the time. NAFTA cost more U.S. jobs than it created, generated a huge U.S. trade deficit with Mexico, and mainly benefited the "36 businessmen who own Mexico's 39 largest conglomerates or over half of Mexico's Gross National Product."
The border-located maquiladora factories have high worker turnover and squeeze the laborers in often unsafe conditions for little pay.
Here is how Perot described the scene behind the boasting of Washington, DC, and corporations about the large increase in trade after NAFTA:
"Most of the goods produced in the maquiladoras are shipped into the U.S. market. Consequently, most of the so-called trade between the U.S. and Mexico is not trade as trade is commonly understood. Rather, it is primarily U.S. companies shipping their own machinery, components, and raw materials across the border into their Mexican factories and then shipping their finished or semi-finished goods back over the border into the U.S."
A good deal of the U.S. auto industry went south after NAFTA, leaving workers and communities stranded in Michigan and other states. Bankrupt Chrysler is planning to move a modern, award-winning engine plant in Wisconsin to Mexico after receiving billions of dollars in taxpayer bailouts.
On Perot's nationally-televised deficit warnings (with charts), what more need be said? Even he did not envision what would pile up after his clarion calls. The burden on the next generation and the tax dollars diverted from our country's needs to pay the interest on these trillions of dollars of debt were pointed out again and again nearly twenty years ago by the Texas entrepreneur. He even has a website (perotcharts.com) updating the red ink.
In Bush's and Obama's Washington, there is no room for Perot to gain visibility and recognition.
It is one thing for the Washington politicians to ignore prescient progressive commentators, like William Grieder, who have been prophetically right on. It is quite another escape from reality to turn their backs on leaders within the business establishment itself.
There are many like Perot who must be watching the day's news and saying "we told you so, but you didn't listen then and you are not listening now."