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Eagles, Turkeys and Detroit



Benjamin Franklin's distaste over the choice of bald eagle as the symbol of the then-fledgling United States of America is more appropriate in 2009 than when, in 1784, he wrote to his daughter Sara Bache about his low regard for the bird:

"For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

"With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy."

Franklin would have preferred that the turkey be designated our national bird, which may be why his description of the eagle is so disdainful. But that characterization comes into keen focus these days, especially the line, "Men who live by Sharping & Robbing," which strikes me as a spot-on description of the sight of the CEOs of America's Big Three automakers in Washington, D.C., hats in hand, begging for relief from the government.

What temerity. What brass. What a shameful, pitiful display.

Instead of standing before their stockholders and employees to issue an apology for failing to do what they are paid handsomely to do, they travel to the Capitol to ask Congress (perhaps the only assemblage of people in the country who can sympathize) for a handout - apparently a fait accompli at this writing.

Relying on nostalgia when American consumers demand quality, these so-called captains of industry act as if they have a right to access the wallets of the American taxpayer because of their own collective failure to perform the basic functions of their jobs, namely, manage a profit-making company profitably. If we can't build cars for which Americans are willing to pay their hard-earned money, their logic goes, we'll just pull an end-around and take their money via Washington. America owes us.

But really, should we expect less? These are the same geniuses who think so little of the intelligence of the American consumer that, if we don't want to buy a Ford Taurus, maybe we'll buy a Mercury Sable; if we don't want to buy a Chevy Tahoe, maybe we'll buy a GMC Yukon. Same car, different label.

These are the rocket scientists who lobby Congress for legislation that makes it cheaper for them to move production out of the country in order to save a few pennies and please wealthy stockholders, and then wonder why the former jobholder, America's middle class, doesn't have the money to buy American products anymore.

Last month I wrote of a growing frustration within the citizenry and a potential for violence that I predicted would be incited, in part, by a sense that Congress is spending taxpayer money at the behest of the wealthy and well-connected, without regard for the tax payer. This bailout of the auto industry is just such a scenario, but the prediction may be coming to pass much sooner than expected.

Robber barons and their abettors in Washington have grown so out of touch with us hoi polloi that they can't understand the outrage welling up when we read news reports of fat bailout checks being given to supposed economic stalwarts, even as more and more of us find ourselves out of work. This past weekend, employees of Chicago vinyl window maker Republic Windows and Doors occupied their shuttered factory after being laid off last week, upset that they will likely not be paid the severance owed them. Republic closed down after being denied credit by Bank of America.

According to news reports, Bank of America issued a curt and callous statement that it isn't responsible for Republic's financial obligations.

Are you kidding me? Bank of America isn't responsible for Republic's financial obligations, but Republic's employees, apparently, are responsible for Bank ofAmerica's financial obligations - to the tune of a $25 billion taxpayer-funded economic relief check specifically intended to fund the kind of credit Republic says it needs, and that would have allowed its 300 workers to make ends meet for at least one more cold month. Now really, who's fooling whom here?

Bald eagles, once again, swooping in to steal from the labors of the hard working fishing hawk.

Benjamin Franklin wasn't able to gain enough support for his choice of turkey over the eagle as the national bird. More than two centuries later, I suppose, it doesn't matter: Washington and Detroit are full of both.

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