You could see this one coming from 406 feet away, straightaway center. Remember when America went to the mat for Citigroup, handing over a $300 billion loan-guarantee bailout (on top of an original $45 billion handout) that some critics called "an undisguised gift"? And remember how it was clear that Citi was nevertheless not bailing out from its naming deal for the new New York Mets ballpark in Queens -- which some people will call Citi Field.
That's the deal that brings in $20 million a year to build the ballpark that allowed the Mets to sign the likes of K-Rod and Putz (which sounds like a horrible FM morning team, but I digress). Remember the outrage over our tax dollars not just supporting a baseball team but the hated rival of Philadelphia's Phillies. Remember how that felt?
Well, Congress -- or part of it, anyway -- is waking up to what's going on:
A former Democratic presidential candidate, Dennis Kucinich, has written a joint letter with Republican congressman Ted Poe asking the US treasury secretary to force an end to the sponsorship.
"It's just totally unacceptable that Citigroup should be able to spend $400 million on naming rights when they're recipients of a massive federal bail-out," Kucinich told Long Island's Newsday newspaper.
The controversy comes amid mounting anger over perceived profligate spending by Wall Street banks. On Thursday, president Obama railed against "irresponsible" bonus payments to bank staff. Earlier in the week, the treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, told Citigroup to cancel an order for a new $50 million executive jet.
Two New York City councillors have suggested a compromise name for the baseball stadium – they have proposed that it should be called Citi/Taxpayer Field.
Unfortunately, there may not be much that even the all-powerful federal (or New York City, for that matter) government can do; the Mets and Citigroup do have a legally binding contract that wasn't negated when the feds bailed the bank out.
There's no need to feel powerless, however. The truth is that the arrival of the new ballpark and its new name (which I'm not using anymore, remember?) is a golden opportunity of a lifetime to shame some of the people who got us into this mess. In fact, the experience can -- and should -- be so humiliating to Citigroup that they won't only wish they could funnel the $400 million straight back to the U.S. Treasury, but they will wish they'd never been chartered.
1) This is the most important thing -- no media person in America who has a pulse should ever again refer to the home field of the New York Mets as "C--- Field." It should be called Taxpayer Bailout Field -- a nightly, constant reminder of Wall Street's fiscal folly. If that weirds you out, call it Jackie Robinson Field, as some have suggested, or simply the Jack (which is what taxpayers are getting back.) Just don't call it anything that gives Citigroup a return on its investment.
Now, I realize most of our tightly wound city desk editors and some sports editors even will have some kind of "objectivity anxiety attack" and not go for this -- but there are thousands of sports columnists, bloggers, and brave opinionated journalists across the nation who have the freedom to make Taxpayer Bailout Field a reality, wherever their writing appears. Let's go for it.
2) Government officials may not have power over the name of the ballpark -- but they do control all the access to the stadium, including highways and mass transit. Wouldn't it be great if the stadium known as Taxpayer Bailout Field were located at the intersection of Robert Wanker Rubin Boulevard and Corruption Way? And the New York Transit Authority could rename the No. 7 subway -- how about the Flushing Money Line, also known as the No. -345000000000 train.
3) Or here's a better idea: How about a public statue (if there money left to pay for something like that...) at the place where baseball fans come off the subway: The Monument of the Unknown Taxpayer, digging deep into his empty bronze pockets, or maybe in the Wile E. Coyote motif, holding up a tiny sign reading "Help!" as a 16-ton weight marked "Citigroup" comes down.
4) Then there's always this: Don't like what Citigroup is doing with our tx money? Then...DON'T PUT YOUR OWN MONEY IN CITIBANK! It's pretty simple, isn't it? That's what's so frustrating about this crisis and the way it's being handled: The American taxpayer could actually have a lot of power, if we all stuck together. Don't like that a bank isn't telling anyone what it's doing with all the TARP money? Fine -- everybody withdraw their money from that bank, on the same day. That'll get 'em to talk.
Meanwhile, with this economy I'm ready for a diversion, especially with two more long months until the start of baseball's regular season. I'm looking forward to another Phillies' World Series win, and the way I see it, the road travels right through Taxpayer Bailout Field.