Economy and Government

NOTIONS:

January 24, 2005

The other night, former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton appeared on my TV. They said the tsunami had been devastating. They said people need help. They asked me to send money.

"No one can change what happened," Bush said. "But we can all Slow tsunami wreaks havoc in Indiana

change what happens next," Clinton said.

I went to lunch with my editor. After the waiter announced the specials, he pointed to a tent card on the table. It said the restaurant was aiding tsunami relief by selling stuffed mushrooms. For each order, it would donate $1 to help people in need.

A flyer was posted in my office-building elevator. It said a woman from the secondfloor salon was donating "esthetic services" to raise money for tsunami victims. In theory, one could get a massage here and soothe someone's stress halfway 'round the planet.

I worked the remote last Saturday-switching between the NFL, the Pacers and whatever looked interesting.

I found a telethon called "Tsunami Aid: A Concert of Hope." Big-name stars were singing songs and telling tsunami stories.

I heard Norah Jones sing "We're All in This Together." I saw Stevie Wonder working the phones. I watched Diana Ross' "Reach Out and Touch" finale.

As this column went to bed, NBC hadn't released results, but producers hoped to have raised tens of millions of dollars.

The New York Times reported last week that three Sri Lankan factions, previously at odds, are now trying to outdo one another in providing disaster aid. Government commandos are guarding refugee camps and offering their rations to the homeless. Tamil rebels are distributing food, repairing roads and cleaning up Hindu temples. Marxists are cleaning houses, purifying wells and removing debris.

"Leaders of all three groups say the deluge of relief activity here is nothing more than an impassioned volunteer effort to aid tsunami victims," the Times said. "But it is also being described as a fiercely competitive drive to use the disaster to jockey for power. In calamity lies opportunity, every political player knows, and Sri Lanka's are moving to make the most of it."

As statesmen, restaurateurs, masseuses, entertainers, militants, communists, donors and volunteers raced to aid victims of the sudden, surprising, act-of-God tsunami in South Asia, Indiana's slashspending/no-new-taxes masses were once again proclaiming "Not with my money, you don't" to in-state victims of the slow, predictable, man-made tsunami that is the Hoosier economy.

Figure this out:

When televised bodies lie bloated on beaches, when fathers wail on CNN for missing wives and children, when orphaned kids cry out on "NBC Nightly News" for missing parents, there are no people more generous and quick to say "How can I help?" than us.

But when our Hoosier brethren lie in under-compensated, on-the-financial-edge rural or urban hospitals; when our neighbors' kids swelter in overcrowded, un-airconditioned classrooms; when caseworkers struggle to serve too many abused kids; when our jails overflow and our courts are backlogged; when child support goes uncollected and highways are under-protected, why does this all-for-one, one-for-all, domy-fair-share sense of urgency get shoved aside by parochialism, pontificating and procrastination?

In an ironic role reversal, our new governor, Mitch Daniels, a former Bush-administration budget boss, used his first state-ofthe-state address to outline a Kerryesque solution to Indiana's budget crisis: a onetime, one-year, 1-percentage point incometax hike for those earning more than $100,000 per year.

In an effort to balance the budget (as required by state law), he paired this proposal with painful but potent spending cuts and freezes.

And how did the party of Kerry react to this tax-the-wealthy notion? Well, legislative Democrats sounded a lot like White House Republicans: "We're turning the corner," they said, stealing President Bush's wait-itout, fall-deeper-in-debt diatribe. "Read our lips," they said, quoting the president's father, "No new taxes."

How easily we walk in the other fellow's wingtips.

And so the slow tsunami wreaks havoc in Hoosierland. As Sri Lanka's commandos, rebels and Marxists fight to alleviate their people's misery, we Hoosiers fight to postpone and prolong ours.

As TV, movie and music stars donate millions of their own dollars to serve strangers in South Asia, well-to-do Hoosiers say "Don't look at me" when asked to aid their own neighbors.

As the masseuse donates her time to ease suffering in Indonesia, our landlords lock the stairwells and garage elevators so homeless folks can't escape there from the cold.

And as two former presidents seek international aid, our local United Way sits $1.3 million short of goal-putting a $400,000 challenge grant at risk of never being realized.

As the Times said, calamity begets opportunity. And as Presidents Bush and Clinton said, while we can't change what's happened, we can all change what happens next.



Hetrick is president and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bhetrick@ibj.com.
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