Question of priorities

March 5, 2009 2:04:47 PM PST
One of the best parts of my job is talking to non-profit groups. My producers would say it's the allure of having a microphone and no time constraints. And I suppose there's some truth to that.

But the ability to help an organization and a cause is beyond fulfilling.

Today, I talked to the Long Island Alzheimer's Association. I have a personal tie to the disease: My father died of complications from a strain of the disease. And it quickly becomes clear - everyone there has a backstory. Some of them remarkable.

There's the woman who quickly started crying as she talked about her father who died from Alzheimer's last year.

Another woman, whose mom died but who for years got dressed up for dinner and sat watching our 6 p.m. newscast because she was convinced we were at her dining table with her.

That one got me.

And then there's the long-term care facility in Amityville where, in less than a month, 54 Alzheimer's patients will be tossed out because the home has lost its funding. It's $100,000 short, and just doesn't have the money.

Alzheimer's is a weapon of mass destruction that we don't have to search for. It's everywhere. If you believe the experts, there will be 16 million Americans with the disease by 2050. Maybe they're off by a million, or three.

But it hardly matters. The hard truth is we spend precious little money trying to find a cure for Alzheimer's - or the cause.

Research last year totaled about $600 million.

By contrast - this week alone we forked over $30 billion to the horribly run giant worldwide insurance company AIG. The total in bailouts to this company is $180 billion. If my math is right, it would take 300 years of Alzheimer's research to reach that sum of bailout money.

Something's wrong with our priorities. At least it seems that way to me.

And how about that Citigroup - my bank, my mortgage holder, to offer full disclosure. We taxpayers have pumped in $45 billion to that once high-flying banking corporation. Today, Citigroup stock fell below $1 a share - or less than the ATM fees it charges. The current market value of the company: $5.5 billion.

Let me repeat: We've given Citigroup $45 billion, and it's worth only $5.5 in stock market value.

And then there's General Motors, which has received more than $13 billion in federal "loans" -- said in its annual report that auditors have raised "substantial doubt" about GM's ability to continue operations.

GM was once the biggest corporation in the world. What's good for GM is good for the nation - that was the slogan when I was growing up.

Now we can say, bite your tongue. Oh, and maybe write off those "loans" we taxpayers just forked over.

But don't worry about GM's C.E.O., he's ok. His pay package last year was nearly $15 million, although most of it was pegged to the company's stock, which means it's not worth much. But, really, a $15 million compensation package for a guy who leads a company that has piled up $82 billion in losses during the last three years? Hello?

We talk about the cost of these giant companies failing. What about the cost of keeping them propped up?

And what if we used some of that money instead to fight Alzheimer's? Or find a cure? Or a treatment?

I'm just sayin'.

We'll have the latest on the fiasco we now call the U.S. economy - and the stock market's several-hundred-point drop to its lowest level since April, 1997, tonight at 11.

Also at 11, an absolutely terrifying story by our investigative reporter Sarah Wallace, about a man in a rental building in the Bronx who is, according to tenants, terrorizing residents. The scared senior citizens came to Sarah, looking for help. Her story is remarkable.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and the night's sports, including the latest on Alex Rodriguez. Will he or won't he need hip surgery for that mysterious cyst? His brother says yes, the Yankees say not-so-fast. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.

BILL RITTER


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