Letters to the Editor

Let Japan pay

In his column "The Big Three are driving on 'E'" (Metro Times, Nov. 29), Jack Lessenberry points to unfair competition and currency manipulation, among other factors that have hurt GM and Ford. Subsequent quotes from automotive journalist Jerry Flint imply that the U.S. government should do something about it. This would be the wrong approach.

Frequently, international trade is wrongly demonized as a source of our economic woes. Populist politicians call for fair trade rather than free trade because "fair" sounds appealing. After all, who wants to be opposed to something fair? Unfortunately, the word lacks an objective definition. Is it fair that the United States imposes its labor and environmental standards on foreign countries whose economies lag behind ours? Is it fair, or even proper, for the United States to involve itself in the internal policies of other countries? Fair trade is spin for protectionist policies that favor narrow interest groups. On the other hand, free trade, meaning trade without barriers, benefits all consumers.

For example, Flint points out that currency manipulation hurts Ford and GM, but fails to emphasize how it benefits consumers. In order to manipulate the exchange rate, Japan must purchase excess dollars (with tax revenue from its citizens) and hold them in reserve. This results in lower prices for all Americans purchasing their goods. Although Ford and GM are adversely affected, this is outweighed by the overall benefit to everyone else. If Japan wants to subsidize my next car purchase, that sounds like a fairly good deal to me. —Steve Sutton, Farmington Hills


Thoughts on the Big Three

I read with interest Jack Lessenberry's article, "The Big Three are driving on 'E.'" I have been passionately reading up on the Big Three for about 27 years, ever since I moved to Detroit in 1979, because of their tremendous impact on the economy of Michigan and on metro Detroit, in particular.

The domestic auto companies have definitely made improvements in quality and reliability as a result of competition from the Japanese, but their products are still perceived to be inferior to Japanese auto products. I suspect the perception of quality is more important than the quality itself.

Also, the domestic auto companies tend to play catch up with the Japanese auto companies, instead of surpassing them: GM benchmarks Toyota, but never tries to outperform Toyota.

One of the reasons domestic auto companies have trouble competing with the Japanese auto companies is because of the culture of short-term thinking on the part of Americans vs. the Japanese culture of long-term thinking. American companies are under pressure to show a profit in each quarter and that does not bode well for long-term thinking.

Auto companies don't lobby as well as the oil companies. Therefore, our president says that auto companies simply have to make "relevant" products that people want to buy and there is not much the federal government can do to help them. But he doesn't mind declaring a war on Iraq to secure our crude oil supply.

The UAW is killing us. Japanese transplants are usually in the South, are nonunion and employ young workers with a much lower health-care cost than that of older UAW workers of the North.

The "legacy cost" that domestic auto companies have to bear make their products more expensive than that of Japanese transplants. This cost covers retirement and health-care costs of retirees, which Japanese transplants don't have to deal with.

The United States is the only industrialized country that expects corporations to pay for the health-care coverage of their employees. That makes their products more expensive compared to those of other industrialized countries, which have universal health-care coverage financed by the government.

Domestic auto companies still have to adjust to the global economy and the competitive pressures that are imposed by it.

I wonder why the auto technology hasn't changed. We have been making internal combustion engines for more than 100 years, whereas computer chips are supposed to become obsolete in 18 months!

The federal government budget is partly financed by Japan, therefore, if the yen is undervalued, our government just puts up with it. You never argue with your banker! This puts the Big Three at a competitive disadvantage to the Japanese automakers.

Since the Big Three have been losing money, anyway, why don't they hire CEOs who are willing to take some risks and have an impeccable experience in turning around companies? —Pradeep Srivastava, Detroit


Wild about Vinnie

Thanks to Jim McFarlin for his wonderful comments about Vincent D'Onofrio ("Phosphor-dot poisoning," Metro Times, Nov. 22). He is without a doubt the best actor on television and one of the best in movies as well. It is true that he doesn't receive public acclaim as much as he should, but he is certainly recognized by many critics and his peers to be a great and passionate actor. Thank you so much for recognizing his talents. —Regina Caschetto, Stratford, Conn.


Not the best

Re: The Best of Detroit entry for WDET-FM ("Community Chest," Metro Times, Oct. 18).

While I agree that the added news and information programming on WDET is laudable, particularly in light of the diminishing quality of news provided by our other local newspapers and media outlets, I must take issue with the idea that this represents the "best radio format change" in the metro area.

I still have a variety of avenues for obtaining good quality news and information. In contrast, I now have no avenue for listening to the music programming WDET formerly carried — a type that I would characterize as important, non-commercial, American music of all kinds. I am not aware of this music being played anywhere else on the radio dial in this area. Instead, there is a welter of cookie-cutter, commercial, popular music and talk-radio blather.

I, and I am sure many others, depended upon these axed programs for our listening pleasure and to broaden our musical horizons. Some music was kept: jazz, in particular, which I can hear elsewhere on the dial, along with a limited amount of Saturday and late-night programming.

I suppose I can migrate to commercial satellite radio for my music needs. However, I would have been just as happy supporting public radio music programming rather than some large commercial interest —Michael Reade, Southfield

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