Opinion

Torrens Talk: Corporate titans' lack of grasp on reality is frustrating

President Obama gave a speech this past week on the economy. One would have to be a hermit living in the wilderness to not know that things are bad.

He made the point that we have all been affected by what has been happening: either personally or by knowing someone in that position. That is certainly true. And one does not have to look far. For those who enjoyed the food and view at Emily’s Bistro in Poulsbo know that today, Friday, is their last day. It is very sad to see a good business not succeed and all those employed now looking for work at a very difficult time.

At the same time, it is hard to not be infuriated by the actions of the finance industry and corporate titans. They seem to have no grasp that perception is reality and how lousy a job they are doing in running their operations. Another major bank, Northern Trust, just sent its executives and top clients to a junket in Los Angeles where they stayed in posh Beverly Hills Hotels. The bank maintains it made a profit last year and was forced to take the approximately $1.2 billion in bailout. If that is true, then why not return the money and be done with it?

Wall Street CEOs maintain that they must be able to give their employees their six-figure bonuses to get the best and brightest. It does not seem to register that those bonuses are easily more than double the average wage for workers in this country.

It is also unreal that CEOs of failing companies get severance pay that far exceed most workers’ lifetime wages. Their packages aren’t called golden parachutes for nothing. Being a CEO seems to be the only job that guarantees a fat paycheck regardless of the performance.

And yet, when it comes to public employees, like teachers, these approaches go out the window. In our state, one of the first ideas to cut the looming deficit was to suspend the initiative that gave teachers an annual cost of living increase. We say we want the best and brightest teaching our children yet we continually object to paying them the kind of money the financial wizards on Wall Street get. And then we wonder why young adults do not choose teaching as a profession.

We also demand that public employees and union shops should be subject to performance-based standards to receive their wages. Thus, if they do a good job, they get more and if they do not do the job, they are let go. This argument would go a lot further if those espousing them were as vociferous about applying these to all levels of the corporate ladder.

It would be refreshing to see a CEO get fired when their company has gone under and not get a golden parachute. Especially when that parachute could make life a lot better for longer for all those employees who are laid off due to the CEO’s ineptitude.

I am glad to see that there will be strict oversight of the spending of the bailout money. The idea that one can go online and track the monies is novel (the Web site is www.recovery.gov). It can be a wonderful way to have extra eyes without adding cost. After all, what taxpayer is not going to report what they think is an inappropriate expenditure of their money?

There are those who decry this government oversight and regulation of the private sector as a bad idea. They say this will only cause more problems than it could solve. Maybe if the private sector had to withstand the level of scrutiny the public sector does, we would not be in this mess.

The Republicans’ response to Obama’s speech as stated by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is that government is not the answer, it is the problem and it is the American people who will get us out of this economic mess. Clearly, Gov. Jindal is a Reagan disciple.

Too bad it is that attitude that got us where we are today. Government is the answer for now and the private sector is the problem. When the excesses have been curbed, things will balance out again. Just like life, business practices are best in moderation.

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