retail news in context, analysis with attitude

This commentary is available as both text and video; enjoy both or either. To see past FaceTime commentaries, go to the MNB Channel on YouTube.

Hi, Kevin Coupe here, and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

There was a time when it was generally believed what was good for General Motors was good for the country, and vice-versa.

Well, these days we're seeing a General Motors that seems to be slowly, painfully twisting in the wind. And it isn't pretty.

Just this week, GM announced its 29th recall this year.

Let me say that again: its 29th recall this year.

Oh, wait … in between the time I started working on this piece and now, it announced a 30th recall. Who knows what will have happened by the time you see or read it?

That's more than 2.5 million vehicles that have been recalled for various reasons. And that doesn't even include the 2.6 million small cars recalled for having faulty ignition switches that are blamed for the deaths of 13 people.

GM is expected to declare recall-related costs of some $400 million this year alone.

GM says it has added 35 separate product investigations since the beginning of the year.

And GM already has been fined $35 million for violating federal safety laws.

Now, there is a lot of debate about culpability. Some of it is legal, as in, since GM has gone through bankruptcy, and this supposedly is an entirely "new" GM, can it be held responsible for the acts of previous administrations?

I have no idea how the courts might rule on such a question, but I would like offer one consumer's response. It is one of two words that often are used interchangeably, and are each two syllables. One starts with "bull," and other starts with "horse." Bankruptcy ought not be a way to avoid taking responsibility.

The numbers are off the charts, but to my mind, they all add up to one thing: a company that is in deep, deep trouble because of an unwillingness to do the right thing, to deal with reality.

We know, based on company memos, that as far back as 2008, employees were being instructed not to say "defect," but to say"does not perform to design." And, the memos said that employees were to avoid "judgement words," such as "Kevorkianesque,” “apocalyptic,” “Band-Aid,” “Challenger,” “Cobain,” “Corvair-like,” “death trap,” “decapitating,” “disemboweling,” “genocide,” “grenadelike,” “Hindenberg,” “impaling,” “rolling sarcophagus (tomb or coffin),” “spontaneous combustion,” “Titanic,” or “widow-maker."

I mean, who even has this internal conversation without someone - anyone - standing up and saying, have we all lost our minds? What the hell are we doing here?

(John Oliver, on HBO's excellent Last Week Tonight, had a great line about these words-to-be-avoided: He said that when demons have sex, these are their safe words.)

GM says that there are customers out there still interested in buying its cars, but that is really hard for me to believe. I can't imagine paying one dollar for anything that GM makes, and I don't even want to hear it if all these woes force the company back into bankruptcy and its managers come looking for taxpayer money and a bailout. Besides, the real problem, in my mind, is moral bankruptcy … and in this case, GM has proven that it is not too big to fail.

Here's the lesson, for all of us. Next time you have to make a business decision with any financial or ethical considerations, think to yourself, what would GM do? And then do the opposite.

As GM goes, so goes the nation? I hope not … because if this is any measure of our moral compass and sense of business and personal ethics, then this country is in even worse shape than I think it is.

That's what is on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

KC's View: