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Friday, April 3, 2009

Cult of Wessonality

Politics is a slippery slope. You grease the wheels for months, garnering support for your cause, and when you get a hold of the brass ring people expect results. I’m not even talking about the ones who paid for it. I’m speaking of us, the general public who made the call. Unfortunately, instead of being patient while plans are set in motion, we’re looking for instant gratification and so is the ticker on Wall Street.

The economy is in the outhouse and most of America is in the poorhouse. Well, not everyone. The tenet of “He who dies with the most toys wins” is alive and well in America. In recent weeks, there has been more fingers of shame pointed at bad behavior then ever were, domestically, in the past few years. To equate to an office environment, the Obama administration is calling everyone into the break room and informing us all that we are all required to work more efficiently and cut down on expenditures. Usually, the boss wouldn’t name names in public. He’d address the group as a whole allowing the guilty parties some anonymity in order to change their actions but folks from AIG to GM are still thinking that the Administration is talking about someone else and continue to do business as usual. Finally, Obama had enough and publicly called out AIG for its bonus scandal and also asked Rick Wagoner to step down as CEO of GM. Both of which have had polarizing effects on the public and the economy.

Then the question arises, should Obama have done it? Is this positive movement towards that ‘change’ thing he spoke of for months prior to the election? In a word, yes. There are those who think that it’s not the job of the White House to make these requests. However, who’s job is it? It’s obvious that the reason we are in this mess is because no one bothered to watch the trends. It’s not just the fault of the previous administration, but it’s their fault that is wasn’t stopped sooner. The fact remains that this is a country of the people, for the people, and by the people and we have every right to question what we think is wrong, whether you are for the current administration or against it. Either way, we gave the administration the right to cover our asses.

When we elect an official to put our best interests forward, we give him/her the power to speak and act on our behalf. When that entails our tax money being used to bail out troubled corporations, whether they deserve it or not, the official exercises, by proxy, our wishes. Therefore, we and the elected official acquire the ability to make that call. Now, the President can ask for the resignation of Rick Wagoner, but it was up to the board of GM to approve it. There is the rub. Everybody talks about how this is the first step towards Socialism when all it is calling out someone for farting in the car. As long as you ignore the problem, Stinky McGee will keep letting them rip.

Then there’s the case of Bank of America wanting to spend TARP money on sponsorships for sports deals. Well that’s just great. We just gave Jack our only cow to sell and he came back with magic beans. It’s like giving someone money to pay off their debts and instead of doing just that, they turn around and try to double it at the craps table. I didn’t spend my stimulus check or tax refund on scratch and win tickets. I paid off some debt and bought some items for the home. I stimulated the economy.

Maybe we’re asking for too much here. Maybe bailing out these big companies was a bad idea. We hoped that by shoring up their assets, they’d help grease the frozen wheels on the economy and get it going forward. Instead of doing that, perhaps a better message to them would have been to reap what they sowed. Of course, letting them fail would have been the first domino in a huge That’s Incredible display that would have made things worse. Yet, everyone was so quick to get the TARP money out to stop the bleeding that nobody bothered to make sure that we were stitching up the wounds and not just putting a band aid on it. There should have been some provisions on how the money was spent. Grants given with some language attached that specified the purpose of the money. Instead we gave Joe, the copy room guy, an expense account and sent him to Vegas for a conference. Now, AP is looking over Joe’s expense report and asking, “What the hell is this $500 charge for special services?”

Here in Pittsburgh, we faced a similar situation. The city was given a grant in the neighborhood of $400 million dollars, to construct a tunnel from the main part of the city to the North Side. The purpose was connecting downtown with the main sporting areas and a new casino that is being built near them. In a time when the city was in jeopardy of losing a major hockey franchise, needed a new arena constructed for sporting and other events, and also needed major overhauls to the transportation system and road infrastructure, it seemed silly and irresponsible to spend that kind of money on an underwater tunnel for an underused light rail system. Yet, that is what the money was allocated for by its donors. We didn’t have a choice. We either had to use it or lose it. So, drilling and construction began on what is called the North Shore Connector.

Now, there is talk that it may not be completed because of a ballooning budget due to materials and the poor economy. Still, the money, given to the city, was specified for a certain project. Not like the drink tax or Onorato tax, as we like to call it, which give the city the ability to add a 10% tax to alcoholic beverages in order to pay for the Port Authority’s budgetary expenses. When the final tabulation was made at the end of its first year, there was a huge surplus beyond what was forecast. Instead of using that money for its intended purpose, Onorato wanted to spend the money on other projects like bridges and roadways. This was met with huge amounts of criticism because the opinion of instituting this tax in the first place was a major point of contention with residents who were then threatened with the idea that if they don’t pay the drink tax, property taxes have to go up. Let’s say the shoe was on the other foot and the Bar and Restaurant Owners Association was hurting for money. If the Port Authority had added a tax increase on transit fares to help them out, which they would never do, and the Bar and Restaurant Owners Association decided to use that money for other expenses instead of their budgets and payrolls, there would have been a major uproar over the issue.

Now, in the case of public opinion over the economy, we need to either be a little more patient and make more concessions. This was my biggest fear when Obama was elected. Not ‘what’ he would do, but how we would perceive it. We believed in change, yet we want someone else to do all the work. We need to take a little more responsibility for making things happen. That goes for unions, CEO’s, and everyday Americans. Our short attention span approval ratings need to get a reality check and we better start realizing that we need to be the force behind change. The coach can call the plays. He can design them, inspire us with a rousing “Gipper” speech, and give us all the tools for success, but ultimately, we have to go out on the field and win the game. For once, in a long time, there has been no glossy film put upon a Presidential Administration. We got what we asked for and there’s been no attempts to hide any actions. It’s just time for us to grease the wheels a little bit on our own and make the country go a little smoother. Thing is, we all have to give it a little push.

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