Trust eroding fast in bailout leadership
Wake up and good morning. At this early hour of the day, let's not get too political here. But we're talking about -- what else? -- the massive federal Wall Street/mortgage industry bailout that went down in flames Monday when House Republicans and more than a few Democrats defied congressional and White House leadership and voted against the $700-billion rescue that had supposedly been so earnestly crafted over the past weekend. Let's talk about this leadership thing because getting a rescue package approved is one thing. Overseeing it, managing it well, fixing its hopefully minor problems on the fly -- that's another thing, one that will be inherited presumably by either President John McCain or President Barack Obama. Lucky guys. There's rapidly growing doubt the folks in charge (some lame ducks, some apparently just lame) are doing their jobs to the country's satisfaction. Consider the Washington Post headline ("For Many Americans, Fear and Distrust Run High") on this story about the public backlash to the rescue. Or this New York Times analysis titled "In Bailout Vote, a Leadership Breakdown." Or the Wall Street Journal piece: "Dysfunction in Washington Exacts a Heavy Price."
The hyped image of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson going down on one knee in mock begging for congressional support a few days ago was cute at the time. Maybe he should have been more sincere. And Treasury's "Let them eat cake" style of remark in this Forbes.com article is now mainstream fodder for ridicule on TV and radio talk shows. Asked how the government came up with $700-billion, this was the response: "It's not based on any particular data point," a Treasury spokeswoman told Forbes.com. "We just wanted to choose a really large number."
Yeah? Well what if that number isn't big enough? How will Washington sell Bailout 2 - The Sequel to America? It's all laughable if we weren't so close to a major financial meltdown. The profound lack of "get 'er done" credibility helped topple the Dow 777 points Monday and is mangling the stock values of corporations, and especially other banks, across Tampa Bay and the country. Regions Bank down more than 40 percent in one day? Steady SunTrust losing 20 percent? Bank stocks can only limbo so low before they get caught in the fear that helped sink Wachovia and forced it into a government assisted sale to Citigroup. It's hardly a leap to say Creative Loafing Media, whose alternative newspapers help make Tampa Bay and other metro areas more interesting places to live, would not have gone Chapter 11 Monday if the credit faucet from banks had not been turned off. Here's hoping Tuesday brings more sober actions in Washington and Wall Street.
On to more upbeat news. Tampa Bay rises to the top once again among business travelers, finds Conde Nast Traveler's eleventh annual Business Poll. Portland International Airport is the favorite among business fliers, according to the results published in the magazine’s October issue. Portland's airport barely squeezed ahead of Tampa International Airport as top dog. Following TIA came Washington, D.C. (Reagan), Milwaukee and Orlando airports. Portland had high marks for its location and the ease of making connections. Tampa also did well when it comes to snagging connecting flights, edging out Portland in this category.
-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist