Daschle Down And Out, Wells Fargo In Retreat

Maybe there’s some hope for us after all.

In these troubled times, it shouldn’t be a whole lot to ask that the people that lead us are above reproach and abide by the same laws and rules that the rest of us do.  But really, how often in our lifetimes has that actually been the case?  Having authority or influence has been, more often than not, a license for abuse.  That’s why it’s both refreshing — and a little bit surprising — to see Tom Daschle withdrawing his name from consideration for the Cabinet post of Secretary of Health and Human Services.

I’ll grant Daschle’s supporters the fact that the former Congressman was well-qualified for the position and may well have been a great fit for the job.  However, his failure to pay his federal taxes in a timely fashion — you know, like all the rest of us have to do under penalty of law —  should have been enough to eliminate him from the position.  Daschle has claimed that the tax snafu was an inadvertent oversight — of course, it’s always easier to claim that after you’ve been caught.  While that claim might be true, the fact is that the tax oversight coupled with a potential conflict of interest involving Daschle’s work with Alston & Bird (which had received $5.8 million while representing clients before Congress, 60% of which was coming from the health industry — this while Daschle was being paid by the Atlanta-based law firm as a “special adviser”) should have been enough to have red-flagged his nomination to begin with.

President Obama ran on a message of  “change”, and he promised to bring an end to business as usual in Washington.  Daschle’s presence in his Cabinet would have, if nothing else, given the appearance that despite the rhetoric, nothing had really changed.  However, the President’s tough stance here (and despite his public support, it’s easy to see Obama’s hands in nudging Daschle out the door) — and in pushing the similarly-tax-paying-challenged Nancy Killefer out as well — send the right message out to a nation that, frankly, is tired of those in Washington thinking that the normal rules don’t apply to them.  President Obama said today that he was “angry with himself”.   He shouldn’t be — he wasn’t the one in danger of letting the rest of us down.

Meanwhile, have the voices of outrage across America regarding the complete disregard of common sense by those financial institutions who’ve received government money finally begun showing some dividends?  Apparently so, at least so far as one troubled banking company goes.

I’ve never been to Las Vegas, but I can reasonably guess that twelve nights at a high-priced casino would probably leave me with a hefty bill when it was all said and done.  Running up that type of tab would be pretty much unthinkable if I was having serious money troubles, as I would imagine it would be, again, for pretty much all of you.

Whew — thank God, the good folks at Wells Fargo don’t think the way we do! After receiving $25 billion of taxpayer money in the form of a bailout — hey, think of how good of a time we could have had in Vegas with that type of money! — the financially-stricken Wells Fargo had planned to send 1000 of its employees and select guests to live the high life on the strip for nearly two weeks — and this after the company had lost $2.3 billion in the last three months of 2008.

Clearly, the dress code for Wells Fargo board meetings has been loosened over the years

Clearly, the dress code for Wells Fargo board meetings has been loosened over the years

When public furor over the junket started, Wells Fargo was quick to defend their actions, claiming that the trip was designed as reward and recognition for its employees, as well as enabling the company to “focus on continuing to do all we can for U.S. homeowners”.  What, were you guys planning to put all those foreclosed homeowners up for the night in your lavish suites?  Just how many roll-away beds can you fit in one of those rooms anyway?

Well, call me crazy, but when the rest of us don’t have the money to do something — particularly when its something that would be considered non-essential — we don’t do it!   What a revolutionary thought that is.  Now, if you and I understand that simple premise — why can’t companies like Wells Fargo?

Well, whether it was the outrage by the public — or pressure from Capitol Hill — Wells Fargo finally relented and cancelled the Las Vegas excursion.  The lesson, as always, is twofold:  1) Never be surprised by the audacity of some and 2) When you see something that is absolutely inexcusable, don’t just sit there and do nothing — make yourself be heard.  Outrage may be one of the few weapons we, the ordinary citizen, might have left at our disposal, but in this case at least, we can see it’s still pretty powerful.

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