tv Q A CSPAN September 19, 2010 11:00pm-12:00am EDT
conversation without going minnesota governor tim pawlenty on his life and possible 2012 presidential bid. later, another chance to see sarah palin's speech at the annual ronald reagan dinner and i will. >> this week, our guest is warren brown, cars columnist for "the washington post." >> warren brown has written about automobiles for 30 years for "the washington post." first question, how involved is the u.s. government in determining what we drive in this garment? >> the government is very involved. involved. how the car companies reach
government goals is pretty much up to them as long as they reach them. safety affects structure, interior development, emissions controls, what happens the treatment of exhaust and the whole fuel economy thing affects everything from the shape to the overall size of the car. >> how did you get started reviewing automobiles? >> i had a very wise colleague at "the washington post" who told me that if i wanted to make it at "the washington post," i had to develop a franchise. i had to do something no one else was doing and do it. and live with it.
try to love it, if i could. so that is what i did. i was on a national desk when i petitioned to join a business staff. this was much to the chagrin of my editors who felt i was throwing away my career. throwing away my career. i was lucky enough to have friendship with a guy who thought i was crazy but he gave me space to be crazy. so that helped. >> when did you first get interested in automobiles? i grew up in new orleans in the 1940's, 1950's, and 1960's. i had to sit in the back of the i had to sit in the back of the bus.
that always bothered me. it always bothered my father. boarding a bus and having to sit behind a sign saying that no coloreds allowed beyond this point. freedom came when my parents bought their own cars. that was power. that was freedom. cars have always meant more to me than the sum of their parts. they were a way to escape and see other worlds. they were a way for me to see my parents in charge of something rather than sitting behind a sign. >> how did your parents explain to you back in those days owhy there is a division between white and black? >> they did not. we went to catholic schools. i came home from high-school one day complaining to my father, who was a scientist for the science foundation and a
teacher, complaining to him that the priest, one of my priests, was a racist. this happened to be a priest that taught me geometry and chemistry. my father did not say anything. he told me to get my chemistry and my geometry books and to show him where i am in those books. i showed him and he wanted me to work a formula and i could not do it. he did not say anything. he told me to show him where i was in geometry. i showed him. he looked at me and said that the priest may be a racist, but you are stupid. as long as you are stupid, it doesn't matter if he is a racist. that was a lesson that's stuck with me. that sums up the entire way my
parents dealt with race in new orleans. they said it was no excuse. we do not care if somebody calls you the "n" word. if you do not know what you are doing or if you are behaving improperly or you are not trying your best. some people may call that foolish. i call it a blessing. it is how we reared our children as well. not to base your life on what somebody else thinks of you, but somebody else thinks of you, but to base your life on what you think of yourself and what you want for yourself and what you're doing for other people. >> what did you do differently after your father said you were stupid? >> i never came home and told him that someone was a racist. if i had a complaint, i made sure that i had researched the complaint thouroughly before
bringing it to him. it was the best defense was to know what you were talking about before you started talking about it in his house. i studied. that is what i did. i stopped worrying about what i thought the priest thought of me or did not think of me and i figured out what he was trying to teach me in the academic subject matter. so i studied, that is what i did. >> i read about you and it said that blacks could not take communion at the same church as the whites? >> we used to live in the lower ninth ward. there was a st. mary's church around roman street. around roman street. we could attend that church,
but we normally, by tradition, had to stand in the back of the church, behind the benches. sometimes the priest would not serve you communion until the whites were served. my late friend, thomas brown jr., popped me on the back of the head after mass. to avoid that, we went to black catholic churches which were our true parish churches. it is just outside the french quarter. we would go there. those were black catholic churches. mostly run by priests and nuns. mostly run by priests and nuns. >> did you ever ask any priest
priest or confront anybody in that church as to why you had to stand in the back and why you had to take communion after the whites? >> yes, i did. they said i had to learn obedience. i did not need to learn that kind of obedience. understandably, a lot of blacks that grew up with me who were baptized catholic and grew up with me, left the catholic church. even people in my own family. i never did. i married a woman who never did because we never really identified the teachings of the church with the way that some people practiced the teachings. so, we were able to separate that. i had good training. i remember on good friday, at
holy redeemer, the nun was sister mary vincent, and we had gone to morning mass and we were falling out of the church and white kids across the street, which was a white only park, started calling sister vincent a. nigger lover. we took offense to that. we got into fisticuffs with them. we thought that we were heroes. we got to the classroom and she told us how disappointed in us she was. that we had learned none of the teachings of the church, nothing about forgiveness, nothing about turning the other cheek, that we behaved as
hooligans first and catholics second. >> when we first asked you to come to the interview, we were talking about two things. the automobile stuff and the kidney operation. >> it is like i tell -- i have had two kidney transplants. a wonderful colleague of mine, martha mcneil hamilton, both transplants are still functioning in me. it has taught me that you have to try to take advantage of life now. without going through pain, i do not regret it. do not regret it. >> go back.
when did you have the operation? >> the first one was in 1998. that was my wife's transplant gift to me. my wife, marianne. the second one was in 2001, which was from martha hamilton. we worked together for a long time. she said that i needed another kidney and she said that she had two and that i could have one. we did the book. we did the book. you have a copy right there. is "black and white and red all over"
we did that together. that was on behalf of "the washington post." >> how long have you been back on dialysis? >> almost two years, now. >> did the other kidney fail? >> it stopped functioning as well as it should be functioning. to avoid other problems, we chose to go back on dialysis. >> so, are you going to have another transplant? >> i don't know. my youngest daughter wants to give me her kidney. i am now 62-years old. i am doing quite well on dialysis this time round. i do not know if i want to put another life of someone i love,
and i love both of those women and i love my daughter. i do not necessarily want to put another one of them at risk when i'm actually doing ok. >> how often do you have to go? >> i have to go two or three days a week. the only thing about going to dialysis has meant to me is that i have had to do something that martha and my wife, maryann have always criticized me for not doing, which is planning. i will be at the paris auto show. i will probably do dialysis at the american hospital in paris. in order to do that, i have to plan now. the only thing that this disease has done is make me grow up. [laughter] before, i had an assistant who shakes her head because i never really tell her anything and she figures it out.
i have begun to tell people things. it makes life easier for me and for everyone else. >> i read your book and i can't go without asking you this. if you have a kidney transplant, they do not remove your other kidneys from your body? what's no, i am a 4-packer right now. removing anything from the body requires another surgery. the doctors prefer not to do an extra bit of surgery if it is not bothering you. they do not bother me. they have apparently shrunken or atrophied or something. >> as long as we are talking about this, we have a clip of you and your donor back in 2002.
>> i am no longer worrying about dying. if there is one thing you learn when you go through something like this is if you're going to die. regardless of whether or not the operation is successful or not. operation is successful or not. the question then becomes how much better will you live? that is a difficult question to answer. i have been spending a lot of time trying to answer that. basically, you try to love and live and work as hard as possible in the time that you possible in the time that you have and you do not make a big deal out of it. you go on. i do not know if i look the same, but that is still my thinking. i think of that even more now. >> the book, as you said, is
"black and white and red all over." where does that title come from? >> it means that martha is white, i am black, but our internal organs are all covered by the same color blood. >> they also used to say that about a newspaper. about a newspaper. what impact did either the whole experience from the race standpoint have on your life and martha's live in the book? >> the impact of race was that my siblings and i -- i had six brothers and sisters. we are now a sibling group of four. we could not have had better parents.
we were lucky in our choice of parents. i had a father who had every reason to be an angry, angry black man. he served in world war ii. fought in world war ii. he was a u.s. army medic and try to get into too a university and they were not accepting blacks. i went to it xavier university. i went to it xavier university. mother katherine took him under her wing and he became a teacher in catholic schools in louisiana, teaching science. louisiana, teaching science. i recall him telling me that
when she told him that if he could not become a doctor, maybe he could train future doctors. doctors. he took that to heart. he taught science in catholic school in louisiana and then he taught science for a long time in the black new orleans public schools. even when i am overseas, i may wind up in somebody's pharmacy and see a black person behind there and wonder if they came from the united states. i will ask them where they grew up and they say new orleans and now ask if they know my father and they say that he taught him. it is the greatest amount of
pride that he chose not to hate. he chose to take the advice and he did train the black doctors of the future. of the future. that is a very special thing for me. >> you are sitting at a dinner party and somebody sitting next to you has an opportunity to talk to you, do they ask you what your favorite car is or do they ask you about your kidney operation? >> they usually ask what my favorite car is. i tell them that i really do not have a favorite car. i am not an automotive gigolo. most every car is good. i am extremely interested in alternatively powered electric cars. i love diesel. my favorite car is one that can
give you the most horsepower, the most torque, with the least fuel consumption. if you give me a car like that, then i am happy. >> who builds the best cars? >> everybody builds very good cars. people were getting on toyota's case during the summer. primarily because toyota -- they discovered that toyota can make mistakes. i had known that all along. i had been saying that for the past 10 or 12 years. they make mistakes. the you do not believe me, see what the toyota consumers say in japan. in the united states, we somehow had given toyota the mantra of infallibility. that was nonsense. toyota's problem is that they started losing a grasp of quality.
it started losing its grasp of infallibility. the media had always ignored them by and large. as a result, so did our government. toyota is as good as toyota has always been. it has always made the same mistakes it has always had. general motors had bad quality. they made a lot of errors. the error was not the physical error, the error was the management error, pretending that you were not making mistakes when you made consumers suffer and being arrogant about it. it makes people angry and when they become angry they remember that for a very long time.
the current gm is not the old gm. the current gm started coming about in the late 1990's when they started paying more attention to quality and started paying more attention to basically how to please their consumers. the gm cars that you see now that people are raving about did not just happen in 2008. that started happening 10 years ago. the question is, now that they learned a painful lesson, will they continue with good management? here is still hoping that is the case. >> how many people do what you
do in american newspapers? >> it is hard to tell. >> there are not very many, are they? >> i am an odd fish. dan miller at the "usa today" always had this idea of the car industry is not the sum of its parts. there is a movement going on. i bring all of my historical baggage to cover it. people ask why you you are so willing to give general motors and ford a break. i have no problem admiting it. i have no problem admiting it. i give them a break because they were the companies that gave my people a break.
it is arguable that we would not have a black middle class if we did not have general motors, ford and chrysler. if you go to detroit, today, to the old automotive neighborhoods, the difference in those neighborhoods in 1950 and 1960 is that the blacks that were working in the plants back then wanted their kids to run the plants. they wanted their kids to design the cars and to be lawyers and so on. one of our chief foreign correspondents at "the washington post" is a guy that grew up in that kind of family. did i have affection for those
companies, yes. does that affection translate into turning a blind eye? no. i was probably more harsh towards their feelings than people who fancied themselves as being objective and having a feeling for those companies. it is our legacy as americans. the idea that you would throw away manufacturing superiority because you're just chasing the bucks and you do not care what you're producing, the idea that you would throw away leadership infuriated me. i was angry for those companies
for a long time. i was also willing to give them a break once i was convinced that you had people that actually cared about turning out top products. out top products. >> i tried to find all kinds of numbers. which country in the world today manufactures the most automobiles? >> i think you would have to say japan. but mostly for export. china is coming up very fast. we are still in there, but not nearly as much as we used to be. >> how do we relate to china? how many american companies are over there build and cars? every company for the exception of chrysler.
general motors is the biggest company in china right now. buick is the best-selling nameplate. it was not until i went there that i thought that there could be a good buick. i did not get it. why are you guys making great buicks here, but lousy buicks at home? it had to do with what the chinese buyer demanded. if you can afford to buy any kind of a car, it says something about you. honoring face is a very important thing, and oddly enough, g.m. steps up to it in china while gm north america was sitting on its laurels and not doing that. gm north america and gm china,
in my idea, are one. that is a good thing. now we are getting the new buick regal. it is a midsized car. i credit gm china for somehow transforming its culture to gm north america and reinvigorating gm america. >> how far do you travel to see an automobile being manufactured? >> i travel the world. that is one reason i love this job. i went all over khazikstan looking for cars. all over russia, not all over russia, but moscow and places like that, looking at their automobile industry. looking at production and the car industry down there.
it is a fascinating industry. europe is kind of like a second home. germany and france and japan for it is a fascinating industry. whoever said that travel is the best way to eradicate your biases knew what they were talking about. >> when you travel to germany, the first thing you see are those [unintelligible] they were two strokes. five years later, we went back and they were gone. you had a car from russia. >> an interesting story is that two years after the wall came down, i went to look at bmw.
there were three or four little white trivants. i asked what was with the trivant. they said that was people from east germany that were coming to look for a job. the bmw executives said the company could not hire them because it would be culture shock. bmw is constantly going. you do not stop. if something breaks, you fix it. apparently, some of these guys from east germany were not accustomed to that. if something broke or fell down, you shut down the line and come back the next day.
>> in your job, how do you protect yourself from being protect yourself from being schmoozed to death by all of these car people? >> people like you, buyers. i see myself as a public servant. servant. i am serving the people out there that are buying cars and trucks i am their servant. that basically means that i have to keep them happy. i have to keep them happy. i have to look up for their interests and they tell me what their interests are. i cannot be anybody's boy from a manufacturing standpoint. i have to serve the people. if they do not like something,
they are not the least bit shy to let me know. if i run a whole bunch of expensive cars, say three or four in a row, they say "hey, knucklehead, do you realize this is a recession? what are you doing? write about something that we can afford tomorrow." so, i listen to them. my readers keep me honest. the buying public keeps me honest. if they do not like it, they let me know. >> what is your take on general motors being 60% owned by the american government? >> if there were not 60% owned by the american government then we would not be talking about
general motors, would we? it was a shock to see the company go into bankruptcy. i was never really worried about gm going into bankruptcy because i knew the work that gm had been doing on new products for the past five years. by the time gm went into bankruptcy, it was a completely different general motors. different general motors. this is what i mean by that. the spirit had completely changed. we would go to detroit to do interviews at gm and you could hear the shutters coming down. we could not speak to engineers
without having public-relations people around us. these days, the stylists and the engineers are calling you. we want to show you what we've got. there is a sense of pride at the place. they really believe in what they're doing. management finally has gotten common sense enough to understand that if you hire someone to be an engineer, maybe you should let her be an engineer. let her do her best work. and pay her for it. encourage her. so, that gm, that is a gm that went into bankruptcy.
poor rick wagner. he did everything he possibly could. he did everything he possibly could do, putting most of his emphasis on improved products, improved product quality, throwing billions of dollars into it, taking alot of loans and that part of his reign was successful. the part of wagner's reign that was a failure was that he was too nice of a guy. he could not bring himself to shut the plants as quickly as they should have been shut. he could not bring himself to get rid of individuals that should have been gotten rid of. he could not bring himself to fire people that he probably
should have fired. so, he got fired. not a fair life. >> what is your take on why ford did not have to get money from the government? >> because when you are already head over heels in debt, you are not exactly going to rush out to put yourself in more debt. ford had the good fortune of failing before gm and chrysler. it had the common sense of listening to whoever said that you had to bring in new management and they brought in the new manager and they would not let him be himself. he threw out what they did not want to throw out.
he cut what they did not want to cut. he poured everything into new products. that product is an excellent product. so, ford could not borrow more money because they were too heavily in debt. they had fixed the problems that got them into trouble. could they have used the government's money? yes, but they were wise enough to say no. they got the favorable blowback. they were internal long before general motors. they borrowed their way into new products.
they could not borrow more money and were smart enough not to take a handout. >> looking back on chrysler, why did daimler first buy them and why did the financial operation take it over and then why did fiat get into it? >> ego. >> just plain ego? >> plain ego. chrysler had been shopping itself around, looking for a partner. bob eaton and lee iacocca had done a good job of making chrysler sellable.
using the first bailout money back in the 1980's, bringing back in the 1980's, bringing chrysler back and developing a good portfolio. making chrysler a renewed moneymaker. daimler chrysler, they used chrysler to expand in united states and put their product everywhere. except, the same thing happens in a dysfunctional family. sisters and a and b go off and do everything and chrysler is the problem child, but now you are bringing chrysler into the family. you had people at mercedes-benz who said that they would have nothing to do with them.
there would not give them engines or anything. they did not want chrysler near anything that says mercedes- benz for it was like a dysfunctional family. now comes fiat. i contend that the only reasons fiat wants chrysler is because of dodge. fiat doesn't really have entry into the truck market and the truck market is going to start growing again as the economy starts growing again. their entry into chrysler gives them some of the best trucks in the world. yea for fiat. the media looked at it as chrysler needing small cars. they will get the fiat 500 when gas prices go down.
it makes chrysler a little bit less of a deal in the united states for chrysler. but it makes those big dodge trucks and that is a great deal for fiat. >> 10 years from now, project what you have seen about oil, gas and the electric car. i have seen you write not so many great things about the prius. >> prius is not so much the answer as technology is the answer. answer. it is not. when you look at beginning to
end of what it takes to maintain it, you're spending more in terms of energy than you are on a hummer. that is the reality. electric cars, i love them. particularly if you could get something like a tesla going. it is a great neighborhood car. no pollution, electric. energy has to come from someplace. if you want to know where energy comes from, go to west virginia and look at those mountainsides. what are we looking at in 10 years we are looking at a combination of things. we are looking at electric, gas/electric, natural gas and propane, but you are probably still looking at a majority
market of fossil fuels. a more intelligent use of those fossil fuels, and gasoline and diesel engines, lighter weight materials and that sort of thing. there is no silver bullet out there. if you want a silver bullet and you want to scare people, then why not nuclear? why not? it works. in france, a lot of their electricity is nuclear power electricity and it works. why not put it in a car. never mind. [laughter] >> let's go back to the days -- personal stuff, here. seventh grade, you started writing gov. jimmy davis, the
singing governor, the so-called author of "you are my sunshine." what was it that moved you to write governor davis? >> the schools in new orleans were being integrated at that time. as punishment, the federal government said they would stop paying black schoolteachers. paying black schoolteachers. >> why? >> i never had the opportunity to ask him. >> he was poor as you could be. >> i think it was racial spite. i never did understand that. >> was he playing for votes? >> i think he was playing for votes. my father was a very proud man.
this was around christmas time. my father is a very proud man. very, very, very proud man. >> is he still alive? >> no, he died about 12 years ago. he was not a person to ask for handouts. i could see the pain and the hurt in his eyes. he would not say anything about it. i took it upon myself to write gov. davis a nasty letter, telling him a bunch of other things and telling him how he was hurting our family with this stupid policy. the mistake i mailed the letter without letting my father read it first.
but he was proud. >> did you ever get an answer? >> from gov. davis? >> yes. >> no. >> this is from july, 2007. i have been accused of stridency, of thumping my chest and shouting that i am right. the charge has come from spouse and children, friends and acquaintances and for more than a few of my fine editors at the "washington post," one of whom wondered about me. i do not know if you remember that column. what led to you starting that column? >> i probably would have gone
into another diatribe. it was a diatribe prelude to a diatribe. >> why with pride and with contrition? >> i have often been accused of opening my mouth when i should have kept it shut. i stand guilty. sometimes with contrition because sometimes i should have kept it shut. as they say in the catholic church, it is a hell of a lot easier to seek forgiveness than ask permission. >> in your book, you dedicated your book to a lot of women and your son. what are they doing in their lives?
>> the girls are partners in a law firm. my son has chronic epilepsy and a lot of brain damage as a result of that, so we are trying to work with him to get him into an independent living program so that he can have more of a life by himself. >> and your wife, maryann, she gave you that kidney back in 1998. >> yes. i think it was 1998. she is a fine woman. she was insistent on giving her kidney.
regardless of the pain, medical inconvenience or anything. it did not cross her mind. she loved me. here is my kidney, take it. the impact about losing a kidney, i never saw anyone so devastated. she was absolutely devastated. her transplant only lasted two years or so. she was depressed. for a long time. >> after it didn't work? >> the hardest time in my life was telling mary and that i was losing her kidney. because i knew how devastating it would be to her. and it was devastating for her. it told me a lot about her.
>> what about when the second kidney failed? likertha's kidney was this. this. we had been working together for a couple of years after she gave me her kidney . it is like having a second wife in the office. you go out to lunch and ask what you are going to eat. you cannot have any of that because you have part of me in you. when they give you a part of themselves, they are doing more than giving you a part of themselves. they have a long obligation to
live up to that. the recipient has a moral obligation to do everything in his or her power to take care of that gift. that was another part of helping me to grow up, understanding that not only did marianne or martha give me a physical part of themselves, they gave me something else of themselves and i owe them. it is owe as in i have to return a gift of love by how i behave. behave. the people who are receiving the gift of a transplant, and the one thing that i wish they would understand is that it is far different than receiving a car park. you are receiving a part of a
life. life. as a recipient, you have to honor those people with how you live. >> when you are at the end of life, with renal failure, medicare has to pay for it? >> it is a complicated thing. insurance companies want to know how long you have been on dialysis. after a year so, your private insurance cuts off. it does not matter how rich you are or what you were doing. are or what you were doing. we talk about a public health
care plan. i am on a public health care plan. 95% of the people who are receiving dialysis right now are on a federal health-care program. program. i go to dialysis three days a week, up 3.5 hours per session. that is $800 per session. medicare, for the most part, pays that or will be paying that once my private insurance runs out. you have numerous other people who are not as nearly as fortunate as i am to be an employee of the "washington post." we are not rich but we are not poor. we are obama rich. we are obama rich. people who have private
insurance, that will take care of it, most of the people on dialysis today are funded by the federal government. you will not find one of them that says that they do not want the federal government paying for this because without it, we would die. dialysis is now so routine that you can schedule your life around it. but without it, you die. >> you mentioned earlier, what do you want to do? >> the question that is frequently asked me -- i was the poster child for a kidney transplant.
they want to ask if i am cured. no, i am not cured. if you read the bible, eventually you die. and so will i.. do you hang your head and feel bad about it? how do you think about it? the way that i think about it is that you have to look at every moment, particularly every gift of love as the ultimate gift. i have had too many gifts of love. -- i have had two major gifts of love. it has extended my life. it is extending my life now. the question is, what do you do with the extension? if it is just an extension and you do not make a difference, then what value is the extension? so i want to write about that.
i may do it with martha if she is willing. if not, i will try to do it alone. i hope i can do it with martha. >> warren brown has been our guest. his book is "black and white and red all over: the story of a friendship." can you still get it? >> you can still get it on amazon. >> thank you for your time. >> thank you, i appreciate it. >> for a dvd copy of this program call 1-877-662-7726. for free transcripts or to give us your comments about this program, visit us at q&a.org. episodes are also available as podcasts.
>> coming up on prime minister's questions, british prime minister david cameron talks about combating human trafficking and u.k. border security. then on "road to the white house," it conversation without going minnesota gov. tim pawlenty on his personal life, career, and it possible 2012 presidential bid. after that, sarah palin speech friday night to iowa republicans. >> every weekend on c-span 3, experience american history tv starting saturday at 8:00 a.m. eastern. it is 48 hours of people and events telling the american story. here historic speeches by historical riddles. -- historical readers.
-- historical leaders. american history tv, all weekend every weekend on c-span 3. >> when the conservatives were in opposition, they regularly complained about the fact that the prime minister's questions is only once a week. now that the prime minister knows how enjoyable experience can be -- [laughter] does he plan to bring it back to once a week. -- a week? >> that is one of the few things that tony blair did that i approve of. >> and now from london, the prime minister's questions from the house of commons. prime minister david harmon face-off with