Thursday, February 5, 2009

Citifield Stadium & Your BailOut Money

The Mets begin playing at Citi Field in just two months

A deal is still a deal.

Citigroup is right to honor the $400 million contract for naming rights of the new Mets stadium even if the bank is receiving billions of bailout money.

That does not mean the bank has to stick with the name Citi Field.

One righteous alternative that comes to mind is Taxpayer Field.

Better yet, make a random pick of one individual out of the millions of beleaguered taxpayers chipping in to bail out Citigroup and all the other bungling financial institutions.

You could just extend an index finger to make a closed-eye choice from the phone book, but that could produce an Obama appointee.

The lottery is a better model, though any choice would still need vetting, and by folks more astute than those who served our new President so poorly.

Once approved, the lucky taxpayer would see his or her name go up on the new stadium in time for the April opening.

Whoever it is, Citigroup would acquire something its own name could never generate amidst the current crisis, something as rare as a clean balance sheet for a big financial institution these days.

This rare something is goodwill.

Citigroup could even present it as a way of saying two words no bailed-out bank has uttered:

"Thank you."

Of course, a thank you and a goodwill gesture do not begin to excuse the recklessness of the top executives who led Citigroup to near ruin.

Instead of those subslimes, we should think of the thousands of lower-ranking employees.

Even with the huge lay-offs, the bank continues to employ thousands of decent, hardworking and blameless souls who have families to support.

And, as galling as it is to fork over hard-earned tax billions to save a bank from the consequences of its own greed, the fact remains that Citigroup's profits and payroll were a big source of tax revenues in recent years.

Indeed, all the big financial institutions have poured tax money into the city's coffers, sums that kept us in relatively good fiscal shape.

The budget cuts that loom because of the collapse are a measure of how much we need Wall Street to prosper.

I keep thinking of the Bronx hardware store owner who cheered when the rich lost their shirts in the stock market crash of 1929 only to lose his business in the ensuing Depression.

The present crisis should make all the more clear the need for the city to diversify and become less dependent on the financial industry.

In this regard, we might look to Pittsburgh, which was even more dependent on big steel than we are on Wall Street.

Once all but a ghost town, Pittsburgh is a winner in many more ways than its football team.

As The New York Times has noted, salaries and property values there are actually on the upswing. Unemployment is 5% there, while hitting 8% here.

Part of the secret is investing in higher education and technology research, which spurs the entrepreneurship that is the start of new wealth.

And nobody is richer than New York in new scientific and technical talent.

Just consider this year's finalists in the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search for high school students. Only 16 states had any at all. All of Pennsylvania had one. Massachusetts with its great tradition of education had one. California, home of Silicon Valley, had five.

We had nine.

Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan had two, more than all but nine entire states. Anissa Yuenming Mak's project was called "A Certifying Algorithm for the Modular Decomposition of Undirected Graphs." Classmate Adam Benjamin Sealfon was chosen for "Complexity Gap Between Adaptive and Nonadaptive Algorithms for Property Testing of Hypergraphs."

Too many of these young stars end up in labs in other states. The trick is to make NYU and Columbia the places for a Mak or Sealfon to be.

Meanwhile, we should all hope that Wall Street somehow bounces back. Citigroup could at least earn a little goodwill by naming the field in honor of those hardworking, honest souls who came to its rescue.

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