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Bail faster

BY BEAU ELLIOT | MARCH 31, 2009 7:30 AM

How do you say “Chrysler” in Italian?

I don’t know, either, but it appears as though we’re going to get the chance to find out pretty soon.
However “Chrysler” sounds in Italian, I’m willing to bet my NCAA picks it’s a lot prettier than in English, if only because everything sounds prettier in Italian. Even the words you shouldn’t really print in a family newspaper undoubtedly sound more beautiful.

Now, I don’t really know that for sure, because I don’t speak Italian, beyond, say, “spaghetti” and “broccoli.” But I’m also willing to be my NCAA picks that those words sound prettier.

What’s that you say? My NCAA Tournament picks aren’t worth anything? Well, there’s a glimmer of truth in that. Perhaps more than a glimmer.

However, I’m declaring my basketball picks to be toxic assets, and I’m going to get a bailout package. So hah. Of course, this is in part, secret inside White House sources tell me, because I — ahem — “borrowed” President Obama’s tournament picks and then watched those picks turn into AIG, only without the bonuses. And because Mr. B is a good sport about these things — and because the White House doesn’t want anyone to know that his picks led my tournament card into the credit-default swamp of hoops, I’m going to join the United States of Bailout.

(Yes, well, I did have a second ticket with my very own choices, and, yes, they turned out somewhere south of Obama’s choices. Down Under south, if you’re being cruel. Don’t be cruel, as Elvis once sang.) (No, not Costello. Think classical music — Beethoven, Bach, Elvis.)

I’ll be in good company (it’s just an expression, not a description of reality) in Bailout Nation. AIG, GM, Chrysler, public radio. (Oops, not public radio. Public radio is funded by fundraising weeks, such as the one going on now, in which we the public put the public in public radio by helping to pay for the shows we hear, or, in the case of “Live from Prairie Lights,” no longer hear.)

GM and Chrysler are much in the news these days, because Obama decided to shower the automakers with some tough love. After something on the order of $17 billion in bailouts, the two behemoths have a limited amount of time to become, well, less behemothic (which is not a word, I realize, but should be) if they want any more government money. “Behemoth” comes from the Book of Job, the American Heritage Dictionary cheerfully informs me, which is almost ironic, because one of the ways companies become less behemothic is to shed jobs.

“Restructuring,” it’s called, in much in the same way “collateral damage” is used to describe civilian deaths in a military conflict. Thus, vanilla-ization (another made-up word) of the language glosses on.

The first job lost, which is not the way it usually works, was that of GM CEO Rick Wagoner. Obama, basically, fired him. Wagoner might be a “sacrificial lamb,” as one person interviewed by NPR described him, but, as the New York Times pointed out, under Wagoner, GM’s stock “has fallen from $70 a share to less than $4 now, and its market share has fallen roughly 10 percentage points.” And the company lost “$30.9 billion in 2008,” according to the Times.

I guess you could charitably describe that record as a car wreck.

Over at Chrysler, the Obama administration told the automaker it had 30 days to reach a partnership deal with Fiat, or else. Which is why we may soon learn to say “Chrysler” with an Italian accent. (Or, more realistically, something approaching an Italian accent.)

I wonder if we call Obama’s move an executive fiat.

Most auto industry experts seemed skeptical about the Chrysler-Fiat shotgun marriage. David Kiley of Business Week, being interviewed on NPR, pointed out that “Fiat has zero consumer confidence in the United States. And so does Chrysler.”

He also noted that such automaker marriages haven’t worked out all that swell: Ford and Volvo. GM and Saab. GM and, well, Fiat.

So how do you say “Chrysler” in Italian?

How about “ciao”? (Which, it turns out, comes from the Italian for “I am your slave.”)

See you in the bailout line.


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