Roundtable: Chrysler's Deep Cuts, 'Rebranding' Africa
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.
On today's Roundtable, DaimlerChrysler announces 13,000 hourly jobs will be cut and Africa may get a media image makeover.
Joining us are E.R. Shipp, professor in journalism at Hofstra University School of Communication, plus John McWhorter, Manhattan Institute senior fellow in public policy. They're both at our New York bureau. And we've also got from Alexandria, Virginia, Ron Christie, vice president of the lobbying firm DC Navigators and former special assistant to President George W. Bush.
So Ron, I'm going to start with you. DaimlerChrysler - 13,000 jobs gone, its Newark, Delaware, plant is going to close. Executives say, okay, we're redesigning, we've got a new business model. But U.S. automakers, are they on their knees? Is this the end of an era, at least the era of the truck and the SUV, if not the era of American autos?
Mr. RON CHRISTIE (Vice President, DC Navigators): Well, Farai, I don't think that we're at the end of the era for the U.S. automaker, but U.S. automakers are in a very difficult position right now to remain competitive with the world market. If you look in the United States, the transportation sector accounts for the majority of the petroleum that's used in the United States.
And breaking that down a little further, cars and light trucks are the largest users of petroleum, given the reliance on foreign supply of oil. And given the spikes of energy costs in the United States, I think the American auto industry is facing the reality that consumers are switching to more fuel-efficient cars. And those gas guzzling light trucks and SUVs, consumers are turning away from those, and as a result the U.S. auto industry is suffering.
CHIDEYA: Now E.R., there's a lot of talk about China, which seems poised to enter the U.S. auto market. You've got Japanese, Korean, Yugoslavian carmakers. Does this really bode ill for the American car market and for the many people, African-American and of all races, who work in the auto industry?
Professor E.R. SHIPP (Journalism, Hofstra University): Well, in the short term it does. In the long term it may not be such a bad thing to get people thinking about fuel efficiencies and even using public transportation rather than driving everywhere they have to go.
The issue of which workers are going to be affected, I was interested that in your previous segment talking about the debt that people have and how it's very hard to become middle class and to retain middle-class status these days. This is definitely going to be a hit on those people - black, white and otherwise - who have been depending upon the auto industry to give them that leg up in the middle class.
CHIDEYA: John, I just really wonder, looking at what is happening with the U.S. auto industry. African-Americans, a lot of folks were able to go from high school into the plants and earn a good living. And is there a real undermining of the black community or have we already reacted to the downward slump in terms of the, you know, the good working-class job that seems to be disappearing in this era?
Mr. JOHN MCWHORTER (Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute): Well, you know, there was a grand period from the '20s into the 1960s when it was possible for a black man, or sometimes a woman, with no education to have a good solid job in an auto plant. And I think we're taught to look to that as the way things should be, when in fact I think we need to think of it more as a matter of who moved my cheese?
This factory closing is a symbol of the fact that those days unfortunately can't come back, and in a way, in a global sense, so to speak, it's for a good reason because the fewer of those big guzzling cars we produce, the more leverage we'll have on certain rather pressing geopolitical issues elsewhere.
But this is a wakeup call for us to realize that the old idea of the black father who works for the River Rouge Ford plant in Detroit - that was a good thing. But that's gone and that was actually only for about one-tenth of black American history, and we've coped in other ways.
And nowadays we need to start looking at other solid working-class jobs of that kind. Like nowadays, when you see a black security guard, that's the equivalent of somebody who used to work in the black factory. We need to look to other jobs like that and adjust. It's an era that is unfortunately and fortunately over, and we just have to face the challenge of the future.
CHIDEYA: But security guards don't make nearly as much as autoworkers.
Mr. MCWHORTER: Depends on how long you stay as a security guard. And if you become something like a real estate inspector or building inspector, or even if you have a job as a - commercial fisherman is a job that is not closed to black people, and you could start making good money as a commercial fisherman. It's just a matter of imagination, I think.
Prof. SHIPP: But we're using up all the fish.
CHIDEYA: Yeah, that's another whole topic but…
Mr. CHRISTIE: Yeah, we will always have (unintelligible)…
CHIDEYA: But that is very true. Well, you know, I just want to turn to another related issue about money. And E.R., you mentioned coming out of our previous segment the whole idea of Americans in jeopardy because of credit card debt. But now, forward to 2007, Bank of America is offering credit cards to customers without Social Security numbers, many of whom are undocumented immigrants.
Now this is part of a trend by banks across the country to cater to the Latino community. Some are offering checking accounts and mortgages to undocumented immigrants. I guess there's a couple of factors here. One, does this sound like good business? And two, does it kind of tar and feather the Latino community with this image of being undocumented?
Prof. SHIPP: Well, it's good business for the banks. They're charging super high interest rates. They're charging fees to apply for these special credit cards. So they're going to make money. For the person on the other end, the consumer, it seems to represent a way to obtain credit, to obtain credit history so that eventually one might even be able to buy a house. That's what some people have said they're working towards.
Mr. CHRISTIE: (Unintelligible).
Prof. SHIPP: But they're going to - they're having to pay a big price. I am conflicted on this because I like to see people with opportunities, but the issue becomes are we winking and nodding and saying we don't care about illegal immigration anymore?
Mr. CHRISTIE: And we are. And as far as I'm concerned, that's just one of those eggs that we're going to have to break to make the omelet. I think this is the most wonderful thing, because in the larger scheme of things we're talking about micro-credit. And rapacious as those interest rates seem - it's funny, if you look around the world, very poor people have a way of coping with them. And so you combine the capitalist impulse of the evil, cigar-chomping bankers with the initiative of people on the bottom, and next thing you know you have social growth.
I think that this whole model should be extended even to the lower economic part of the African-American community. Micro-credit is the next big thing, I suspect.
CHIDEYA: Well, John, what about the political implications? I mean at this point should the U.S. government be involved in anyway with regulating who gets credit if in fact people don't have green cards?
Mr. MCWHORTER: Well, you know the way I feel about it, although I know for many people this would raise hackles, is that those people aren't leaving. And it is unclear to me that there is any kind of technology we could come up with that could keep an appreciable number of them out. So we can argue till the cows come home as to whether or not they should be there and what the meaning of the word amnesty in. In the meantime, they're there, they're leaving places, they're in the schools, they're in the hospital system, and they're not going anywhere.
Prof. SHIPP: And their children…
Mr. MCWHORTER: You need to be pragmatic.
Prof. SHIPP: Their children in many cases are citizens because they were born here.
Mr. MCWHORTER: Exactly, yeah.
Mr. CHRISTIE: Well, I hate to say the wet blanket into this, gentlemen. But see this is exactly why I'm against with Bank of America is doing. I think that John is absolutely right that micro-credit is the way of the future. And particularly looking at what we've seen with red lining for insurance in African-American communities and the reluctance of some banks perhaps to extend credit to African-Americans, I think that's something that we'd all agree that we should combat. But when you specifically look at a bank, an institution that's in it just to make a buck. They're charging higher interest rates to people who they know or have a high likelihood of knowing are here illegally. That's thwarting our immigration laws. It's against the law.
I understand that these folks are here, and that's a separate issue. But for a financial institution to decide, well, we're going to make a big buck off a group of people who are poor and desperate and we're going to charge them these rates, I think it's wrong and I think that it's these types of actions by big corporations and big entities that allow illegal immigration to thrive in this country. Because people know that they can come here, they can work, and now they can get credit and they can get a credit card from a major institution.
CHIDEYA: Well, Ron, you worked in the White House with the vice president. What is the White House thinking about this? Does the White House even consider the implications of this kind of a commercial transaction that takes place on U.S. soil?
Mr. CHRISTIE: Well, Farai, for having worked for both the vice president and the president of the United States, they are both very concerned about controlling our borders. But I think as you've heard the president, particularly in recent months, talk about the need for comprehensive immigration reform, the president feels very strongly that we need to take steps to address those illegal immigrants who are here in the United States; and that despite some of the calls by members of the House of Representatives to just build a fence and lock everybody out, that we have to deal with the 12 to 16 million undocumented individuals in the country.
So without speaking for the White House directly, I can tell you that the White House is very concerned about the individuals who are here and that all Americans, recognizing that we have illegal aliens who are in our borders, we have to find a way to make it work so that you're not just throwing people right out and just, you know, showing them the exit. But this credit program is one way, undoubtedly, that a big institution like Bank of America is trying to help folks assimilate into society.
CHIDEYA: All right, well, in case you're just tuning in, this is NPR's NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.
We were just talking with Ron Christie, V.P. of the lobbying firm D.C. Navigators and former special assistant to President George W. Bush. We've also got E.R. Shipp, professor and journalism at Hofstra University School of Communication, and John McWhorter, Manhattan Institute senior fellow in public policy.
Let's turn to Africa. I just recently got back. I enjoyed a great trip to southern Africa. But if you go to Nigeria, there is an issue on the table - Africa's media image. There's a big summit, Africa's International Media Summit, good name, very simple. They want to concentrate on the good in Africa and re-brand the continent. Now John, how do you re-brand an entire continent?
Mr. MCWHORTER: Well, for one thing, you don't. And I hate to say this but, you know, having been to Africa more than once, I would say that I think that the negative aspects of Africa are something that require an urgent attention and perhaps more than the fact that they have interesting animals and vibrant cultures, et cetera. I can see why they might want tourism, but the AIDS crisis, the thugocracy crisis, the malaria crisis, the war in the middle of the entire continent that rages on and off.
I'm not sure that I'm interested in the idea that we are stereotyping Africa or we're focusing on the negative and not the positive and belittling the people or something like that. Unless what this is really about is let's foster tourism to Africa, and that's fine with me. I'm afraid that what's going on in that particular continent is too uniquely awful right now for us to paper it over with pretty words.
Prof. SHIPP: I agree.
CHIDEYA: I think it's not just about tourism, but business in general. And E.R., you were saying you agree but is there a way that this kind of re-branding effort, although it sounds on some level trivial, could help bring more business and could help stimulate the economies and help solve some of the problems that John just outlined.
Prof. SHIPP: Well, the problem isn't so much that the economies need stimulating, it's that there needs to be a whole new leadership in many countries.
Mr. MCWHORTER: Yup.
Prof. SHIPP: Because the money is there. CNN has been featuring a series of stories this past week about the oil in Nigeria and how much of that money is flowing into the hands of a small group of people, while nearby residents of the area are starving.
So I don't think re-branding Nigeria would mean anything for those people until there's a new leadership and a new morality that's in place. If anything, we are now beginning to focus on Africa as a continent, not as a country. I remember a few years back when this - U.N. had a Security Council meeting or something - and various heads of state would stop by The New York Times. So, one day, I wondered who was there that day because there was all kinds of security outside. And somebody said the president of Africa.
CHIDEYA: In a newsroom?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Prof. SHIPP: Yeah. So I think we've gotten beyond that.
Mr. MCWHORTER: Boy.
Prof. SHIPP: But the issue still remains that Africa has a lot of serious problems that a branding of it is not going to really solve.
CHIDEYA: Ron, what do you think?
Mr. CHRISTIE: Well, I couldn't agree with my two colleagues more. Having spent a lot of time in Cameroon and having represented the prime minister of Cameroon, you'll don't need a re-branding of the African continent as it relates to tourism and to try to bring dollars in, you need to re-brand some of the leadership in some of these African countries, particularly in Western African and sub-Saharan Africa.
For goodness sakes, if you look at Cameroon for one, a majority of the people on the government payroll in Cameroon work for Camair, an airline that has been defunct for several years that isn't flying. There is rampant corruption in many of these countries. There is a lot of vigorous, I would say, natural resources that are there to be sold and there to be utilized by the people of these countries.
But, unfortunately, it seems that in many of these countries the power and the wealth is in the hands of the handful of individuals. And we need to re-brand the governments and re-brand and have democracy and transparency rather than try to re-brand the continent for tourism.
Prof. SHIPP: Well, maybe you need to brand the way they used to brand cows in the West. You need to put some heat to their butts and get them to do the right thing.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CHIDEYA: Well, there certainly are a lot of leadership issues on the continent, but at one point we talked to an entrepreneur who's giving out a leadership prize for people who step down from power. Our own NPR's special correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault has talked extensively about how the continent is not just doom and despair.
So what do you think, E.R., could be done positively that acknowledges the need for leadership transition, acknowledges the crisis, but also points out that there is hope and that there are people who are trying to change the systems?
Prof. SHIPP: Well, we do hear those stories periodically of specific incidents where positive things are happening. Whether it's Oprah's school opening or some new telecommunications company deciding to do business on the continent.
So yes, we can focus on those things. But I think, as we've all been saying, you can't polish over the fact that this is a continent with a lot of different problems. So what we can do maybe is to have more of the Africa/African-American summits where people get together and talk about problems they're going to try to solve together, and then have some kind of accountability. But you can't just pretend that saying we're an African people and let's throw some money to Africa is going to solve their problems.
Mr. MCWHORTER: It's hard to (unintelligible) business to a country where one out of three people are sick or dying, for example.
CHIDEYA: Right. Well, let me - we have almost no time, but I want all three of you to answer this just very briefly: Should African-Americans be more involved in development in Africa? Just give me a yes or a no, Ron.
Mr. CHRISTIE: Absolutely.
Mr. MCWHORTER: I'd like to see a little more concentration on our own community, and then we'll get to Africa. Other people should be taking care of Africa, I think.
Prof. SHIPP: I agree more with John, I think.
CHIDEYA: All right, well that's a wrap. Thanks guys.
Mr. MCWHORTER: Thank you.
Prof. SHIPP: Thanks.
CHIDEYA: From our New York bureau, we had E.R. Shipp, professor in journalism, Hofstra University School of Communication, along with John McWhorter, Manhattan Institute senior fellow in public policy. And from Alexandria, Virginia, Ron Christie, V.P. of the lobbying firm D.C. Navigators and former special assistant to President George W. Bush.
And next on NEWS & NOTES, author Lisa Gray-Garcia tells us about being a young kid on the streets and we meet a Mississippi reporter who's helped solve high-profile civil rights murders.
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