Thursday, February 05, 2009


Today as I catch up on some non Radio or Not work, we turn to my friend and colleague Jim Bleikamp for a guest commentary. Enjoy... NS

My sun-draped winter day in New Jersey has been made brighter still by the news that President Obama, in a pledge to "take the air out of golden parachutes", is announcing that executives of companies receiving federal bailout money will have their pay capped at a half million dollars under a revised federal compensation plan. Much Jenny Craig-ing is still needed to slim the waistlines of these corporate hogs, but as someone wiser than I once said, "a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step."

Following the details of this compensation issue, much like the struggle to unravel the mysterious weave of our modern economy, is not a serene task, and not for the faint of heart. In fact, the politics of compensation is such a maze that it may make Alice's journey down the rabbit hole seem like nothing more than a quick jog to 7-11. Very few of the players are who they seem to be. It's a time to read the fine print and watch closely. I mean really closely. It's so hard to find a hero these days, especially in our capital city, (and yes, it's more capital than capitol), and once you pour all of what's left of your almost bone-dry reservoir of hope into one hand of the latest glowing being to speak like a saviour, you may realize that his other hand may be fingering the wallet of a Human Hog. In a legal way, of course. Just a campaign contribution.

So with all this on my mind, I couldn't help but notice the reaction in today's New York Times of James F. Reda to the president's latest directive. Mr. Reda is founder and managing director of James F. Reda and Associates, a compensation consulting firm--and by the way, wouldn't we all like to have a stake in that business? According to Reda, "that is pretty draconian--500 thousand dollars is not a lot of money, particularly if there is no bonus." Oh, and he didn't stop there. "And you know that these companies that are in trouble are not going to pay much of an annual dividend."

(Pause to catch my breath here).

Ok, I'm back--typing again--a part of my brain is still in shock--and numb, but my fingers are moving again. And all I can really think of doing at this point is to turn it back over to you, Mr. Reda. Since you've told us that a half million is not a big enough number--even for companies taking billions of dollars of handouts from American taxpayers at the moment of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression--I ask you Mr. Reda to please, after you've thought about it for a moment, GIVE US A NUMBER.

Think hard, Mr. Reda. Think again about where this money is coming from. From people--people like those you might have known once, but don't think about much now. Or if you do, they're drones. Yeh, just drones,really--no more. Not as cunning as you, and they haven't, like you, come up with a way to game the system. Some might not have been smart enough; others just didn't have the stomach. Some aren't pretty, some are fat, some pick their noses, and Christ, fifty million of them don't even have health insurance, but they're chipping into the bailout of your pals, from whom you take a cut. And they need you to GIVE US A NUMBER.

Many of them have kids--some are really cute--smart, too--and many aren't old enough or damaged enough to have had the light stolen from their cute little eyes. To use a Wall Street analogy that would make sense to you, Mr. Reda, they just want someone to buy a little of their stock. Enough to get them to college and maybe just a peak into your world, Mr. Reda. Fairly low-priced stuff. Like an over-the-counter trade. But before we can do the deal, you need to GIVE US A NUMBER.

Think about the body count here, Mr. Reda, and remember that the bodies are live ones. And some of the bodies are getting old--they've been out there for so very long--sometimes maybe not, like you, at careers, but rather at JOBS, and mostly doing the right thing, although often in a less gorgeous, less pin-striped, less fabulous way than yours. They'd like to come home now, but some of the moves your smart buddies made are throwing up roadblocks. There may be a straight line between the size of your number and the length of their homebound journey. But we won't know for sure until you GIVE US A NUMBER.

I read the papers Mr. Reda, and I know that we are printing more dollar bills these days than God has children, but in the end, there are still only so many dollars to go around, and you and your crowd already have the magnets to attract big bills in bulk shipments. And I know that what I am asking here is not that easy, because, well, you know and I know that it's just very hard for people like us to understand the breadth and depth of the needs of a person in your world. And whatever number you give us is always going to sound just so GODDAMN BIG. But nonetheless, if we are even to attempt to plan our economic future, and figure out just how wide the gap in wealth (or poverty) among our citizens is going to be, and determine our capacity for fairness and unfairness in this great land, it is imperative that you GIVE US A NUMBER.

We're waiting, Mr. Reda.