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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Shameful Bonuses

Well, he's only been in office a short time, but already President Obama seems to be taking action. While he's trying to implement changes and be the renaissance man everyone voted for, few would deny that he's facing formidable challenges.

But perhaps one of the more surprising challenges that he's faced is the lack of morality and decency among this country's top government and business leaders. While it would be unfair to say that America's government and business leaders all lack integrity, there are certainly no shortage of examples that would suggest that indeed is the case.

The most notorious examples are not found in the finger-pointing blame-game going on in Washington last year, trying to figure out who broke our economy. No, the most notorious are grave-robbers who are preying on the government as it tries to bail out our broken economy.

The most outrageous (and infuriating) examples have been massive bonuses paid out to executives of banks and other financial services companies that received taxpayer funds to help stabilize them financially. Basically these firms had to beg our government to save them from self-destruction ... so they could turn around and pay themselves enormous bonuses. Perhaps the only people who would argue in favor of such lunacy would be the recipients of those bonuses and their families (who benefit from them).

So what is Obama doing about it? Well, there is actually precious little he can do. Government has a difficult time imposing its sense of morality upon corporate America. So while his Illinois governor was just thrown out of office for corruption, President Obama embarks on a bold call to exhort American business leaders to his sense of morality.

In this story, we see Obama doing two things that most presidents haven't done before. First, he had someone reach out to Citicorp (bank) and question their intended purchase of a $50 million jet. Citi is on shaky ground financially - and on the receiving end of government bailout money. It seems Obama thought they should reconsider the jet purchase. (And they did --- backing out of the deal to get it altogether!)

Next, he lashed out publicly at Wall Street investment bankers who paid themselves one of the highest levels of annual bonuses on record - for one of the worst performances their firms ever have turned in. President Obama called these bonuses "shameful" and said that there is a time and place for such things ... but now is not the time.

So what do you think? Do you suppose the American people approve of Mr. Obama's tactics to reform the morality of corporate America? What effect does the fact that he hires people who may have shaky personal records of fiscal morality themselves have on his public tongue-lashings? It appears that the real bottom line is whether or not Obama can actually persuade greedy, selfish Americans to change their behavior and stop screwing each other for a buck.

So far into his presidency, I'm convinced there is a great deal that Mr. Obama can do to make himself the most remarkable president our country has ever had. I'm not talking about change we can believe in either. Instead, I'm watching for change that can make a difference! Let us pray that President Obama continues to be bold in calling America to higher morality. And let us pray that America listens to him.

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