March 9, 2009 in Opinion

Outside Voices: A lesson in value

Bank president’s reward to workers should be an example

About this column

Outside Voices is a weekly roundup of excerpts from recent editorials published in newspapers around the nation. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial board of The Spokesman-Review.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 27: In 1982, President Ronald Reagan began the lovely tradition of inviting everyday heroes to be the president’s guests during the State of the Union address, and perhaps to serve as human talking points during the speech.

The first such guest was a young federal employee named Lenny Skutnick, who a couple of weeks before the speech had jumped into the Potomac River to rescue survivors of a plane crash. Ever since, the White House speechwriting staff has referred to the president’s special State of the Union guests as “Skutnicks.”

(No) Skutnick ever got a bigger round of applause than did Leonard Abess Jr. at President Barack Obama’s not-really-a- State-of-the-Union speech. The president said:

“I think about Leonard Abess, the bank president from Miami who reportedly cashed out of his company, took a $60 million bonus, and gave it out to all 399 people who worked for him, plus another 72 who used to work for him. He didn’t tell anyone, but when the local newspaper found out, he simply said, ‘I knew some of these people since I was 7 years old. I didn’t feel right getting the money myself.’ ”

What he learned growing up in the banking business, he told the Miami Herald, was that “if the president doesn’t come to work, it’s not a big deal. But if the tellers don’t show up, it’s a serious problem.”

So when he decided to sell the bank, he determined that somehow, he’d take care of the bank’s 399 employees, plus 72 who had left the firm. He was concerned that their 401(k) plans had taken a beating, so last Nov. 7, when the sale closed, he quietly handed out bonuses.

“I sure as heck don’t need the money,” he said.

At a time when other bankers are taking federal money and passing out bonuses to themselves and their staffs, it made a startling counterpoint.

If America is to recover, it will take genuine recognition that the labor of every working man and woman is valuable.

Leonard Abess Jr. knows that. We hope the lesson is not lost.

Philadelphia Inquirer, March 5: A freshman Colorado congressman who claimed the blogosphere contributed to the recent demise of a Denver newspaper was quick to apologize for his boneheaded gaffe.

At a convention of bloggers in Colorado, Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis posed and answered his own question: “Who killed the Rocky Mountain News?” which closed last week.

“We’re all part of it, for better or worse, and I argue it’s mostly for the better. The media is dead, and long live the new media,” Polis said.

Polis, 33, is an Internet entrepreneur wunderkind who made millions selling greeting cards and flowers online. So maybe he’s not into the printed word – unless it appears on a tiny floral arrangement card.

But Polis struck a clueless and arrogant note – which means he probably has a bright political future. For all the jibes thrown at the mainstream media, it’s pretty much beyond dispute that the blogosphere thrives on reporting generated by major media outlets. Whatever antipathy bloggers may feel toward print media, it’s rare to find someone who believes that fewer newspapers would be good for democracy.

Fortunately, Colorado’s largest surviving daily, the Denver Post, was still around to report the congressman’s ridiculous remarks.

Chicago Tribune, March 4: The journal Nature reported recently that huge snakes, stretching up to 43 feet long and weighing 2,500 pounds, thrived on Earth 60 million years ago, after the dinosaurs died off.

Our first thought was, how could we not have known for eons that snakes this big – twice the length of the biggest anacondas and pythons around today – once slithered on our planet?

Snakes need heat from their environment to power their metabolism. Thus a hotter climate means larger snakes. This find reveals the resiliency of ecosystems that face extreme heat in a carbon-dioxide-rich tropical environment, and may tell us something about the likely impact of global warming.

What else is hidden in the mists of disappearing rain forests and the other nooks and crannies of this planet? What a joy to be a scientist, engaged in the quest to find out.

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