Ford Motors and Democracy in America

Here’s an interesting story that has to do with power, influence, “Free” Trade, and democracy, in case you missed it. At the bottom, check out three repeat announcements plus a new ad for a great magazine.

Back in the sixties, Volkswagen was making killing in the American market selling its mini-utility-vans. Some of you (of a certain age) probably owned one back then with a sun burst on one side and a peace symbol on the other. The popularity of the vans cut into sales of the big three U.S. auto makers, so the companies went to their friends in Congress, whose re-election campaigns they paid for, and got them to write an anti-competitive, anti-free market law that put a whopping 25% tariff on foreign manufactured utility vans imported into this country. That slowed down considerably the imports of those mini-vans. (I’ll bet you thought they tapered off just because you got married and your spouse thought they were tacky.)
Pic of minivan That plan worked fine for a while, but years later, Ford began sending its truck-building jobs overseas to plants in countries with cheap wages and no unions and then shipped the trucks back here to be sold. One in particular was a light-weight commercial van called the “Transit Connect,” which they manufactured in Kocaeli, Turkey. The trouble was that when they tried to import it back to the U.S. they were slapped with the same high tariffs on utility vans that they had once told Congress to write for them to keep out Volkswagon mini vans. Chalk that up to the law of untended consequences.

Not one to let the law get in the way of profits, Ford started marketing their new vans as “family vans” instead of “utility vans.” The reason was that the tariffs on “utility vans,” you remember, was 25%, but “family vans” were 2.5%. A big difference. But the two vans weren't really very similar, so to make the scam work, Ford had their plant in Turkey outfit the utility vans with family-van-style seats and windows and then export them to the U.S. as “family vans” instead of “utility vans.” Then, when they arrived and snuck past customs disguised as “family vans,” they were taken to a “Vehicle Modification Service” in Baltimore, where the seats and windows were taken out and replaced with panels and new floors and the vans were sent to dealers to be sold as utility vehicles. What a deal.

But then they had another problem. What to do with the windows and seats that were put in (and then taken out) to make them pass for family vans? Originally they planned to send them back to Turkey, where they would put the seats and windows into new vans and then send them back here again. But the transportation costs were too high for that, so instead they decided to send them to someone up in Ohio, who breaks out the glass and rips out the cloth from the seats and sells all of the pieces for scrap. That allows Ford to advertise all of this ripping out and selling of brand new seats and windows as a part of its exciting new “recycling” program. They actually list the whole program in their Annual Report as an example of how they have become a “green” company.

I’m not making this stuff up.

(Sources: “Sustainable business growth creates lasting value,” Environmental and Social Responsibility Report of Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics, 2007, p. 9; The Port of Baltimore, July/August 2009, p. 1b; “Creative Ways Around Import Tax Barriers,” NPR, “Morning Edition,” September 23, 2009; Matthew Dolan, “To Outfox the Chicken Tax, Ford Strips Its Own Vans” Wall Street Journal, September 23, 2009, p. A12).

Announcements and Ads
(Don't quit reading yet, these are good)

Jubilee Action Party: January 10
When: January 10th, 2009 2 pm-4:30 pm
Where: Hope Church, UCC
87 Seaverns Avenue Jamaica Plain
Parking is available, and you can access the meeting from the side entrance to Capen Hall.

Please join us for a Jubilee USA Action Party on Sunday, January 10th! It will be an exciting chance for Jubilee activists from across the state to celebrate our past victories and plan for the February Change Not Chains National Week of Action to pass the Jubilee Act.
The party will be hosted by Jubilee activists, Neeka Stanley and Stan Duncan

Pilgrim Association Mission Fair: February 6
The Missions Committee (of the Pilgrim Association of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ) hosts a fair once a year for a broad range of mission and justice organizations. Organizations are invited to come, set up a booth and talk about their work. Typical organizations are Bread for the World, Equal Exchange, Church World Service, Heifer International, Jubilee USA, Habitat, and others.

If you are interested in faith-based mission and justice work, if you have a local project you would like to show off, if you would like to schmooze for a few hours on a Saturday with people who share your values and commitments, sign up and come.

Keynote Speakers: Sr. Linda Bessom, Faith Into Action Together (Coordinator) , Mass. Conference Task Force on Homelessness, Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless
and Sr. Diane Whitmarsh, intern at Faith Into Action Together

Date: February 6
Registration 9:30
Beginning time: 10:00
Place: First Congregational church, UCC, Hanover, MA (For Directions, Click here)

Ecumenical Advocacy Days: March 19-22
A movement of the ecumenical Christian community, grounded in biblical witness and our shared traditions of justice, peace and the integrity of creation. Our goal is to strengthen our Christian voice and to mobilize for advocacy on U.S. domestic and international policy issues.

This Year's Theme: A Place to Call Home: Immigrants, Refugees, and Displaced Peoples
And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ -Luke 9:58

* Dates: March 19 – 22, 2010
* Registration: Click here for a form
* Location: DoubleTree Hotel in Crystal City, Virginia just outside Washington, D.C. Click here for directions and here for reservations at the special conference rate (Make your reservation under the name “Advocacy Days”).
* Warning one workshop in the Global Economic Justice track is being led by Stan Duncan, but don't hold that against them. The rest of the conference will be fine.

For more information about Ecumenical Advocacy Days, please visit on the Web.

Tikkun {tē-kűn} to heal, repair, and transform the world

This is a blatant ad for a magazine that most of you have heard of, but few subscribe to. Tikkun is a wonderful interfaith magazine of religious and political commentary that most everyone reading this newsletter would benefit from subscribing to. It takes on some of the big issues of war, peace, justice and equality from a dedicated and wide range of faiths perspectives.

In this age of major declines in reading and reading print magazines in particular, and especially reading print magazines from a religious perspective, you should subscribe to Tikkun. I have read it and stolen sermon ideas and conversation starters for years.

Below is a selection of some of the articles that appear in the January/February 2010 issue. You can click on them and go to the web page and see the article. They make a few articles from the current issue available to web visitors. Click on the link at the bottom of this note to subscribe. You'll be glad you did.

Click here to check out the full table of contents for the current issue. Click here to check out archives of our past issues.
Click here to subscribe to the magazine.

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