Maureen Dowd is not a great writer, but she's a great columnist. She dishes out snark better than anyone. What's not to love? In today's column she rips into the mindless culture of excess at Citigroup. More on Dowd's fun in a moment.
First, let's be clear: Citigroup is a horrible, vile institution, probably the worst of all the big banks. It ran itself into the ground by taking on deeply troubled "assets" and by paying its executives (domestic and expat) way too much money. The bonuses and perks paid out to these feckless meatheads were outrageous enough before the bank took billions in taxpayer bailout money; the bonuses and perks paid out after that are simply criminal (or should be). And rather than cut into their bonuses and perks, the bank's fatcats chose to layoff 75,000 employees in 2008. Why share in the pain if you can make others bear most of it?
Then the news came out earlier this week that these clueless ignoranuses who run Citigroup were about to upgrade their corporate jet to the tune of $50 million — this, on top of the news that John Thain (over at Bank of America) had remodeled his office for the tidy little sum of $1.2 million. Really. What is wrong with all these people? Even if their own internal compasses are so flawed as to fail to warn them that such actions are simply wrongheaded, don't these banks employ fleets of PR people whose job is to protect them from the "optics" of such boneheaded moves? Good lord. (Incidentally, Citigroup only dropped the plan for the new jet after the Obama Administration made its extreme displeasure evident.)
All of which brings me back to Maureen Dowd and her gift for snark, which sets my heart aflutter. Here's her column. I hope you enjoy it, as I did:
As President Obama spreads his New Testament balm over the capital, I’m longing for a bit of Old Testament wrath.
Couldn’t he throw down his BlackBerry tablet and smash it in anger over
the feckless financiers, the gods of gold and their idols — in this
case not a gilt calf but an $87,000 area rug, a cache of diamond
Tiffany and Cartier watches and a French-made luxury corporate jet?
Now that we’re nationalizing, couldn’t we fire any obtuse bankers and
auto executives who cling to perks and bonuses even as the economy is
following John Thain down his antique commode?
Citigroup be so dumb as to go ahead with plans to get a new $50 million
corporate jet, the exclusive Dassault Falcon 7X seating 12, after
losing $28.5 billion in the past 15 months and receiving $345 billion
in government investments and guarantees?
(Now I get why a $400
payment I recently sent to pay off my Citibank Visa was mistakenly
applied to my sister-in-law’s Citibank Mastercard account.)
“Citiboobs” — as The New York Post, which broke the news, calls them —
watched as the car chieftains got in trouble for flying their private
jets to Washington to ask for bailouts, and the A.I.G. moguls got
dragged before Congress for spending their bailout on California spa
treatments. But the boobs still didn’t get the message.
The former masters of the universe don’t seem to fully comprehend
that their universe has crumbled and, thanks to them, so has ours. Real
people are losing real jobs at Caterpillar, Home Depot and Sprint
Nextel; these and other companies announced on Monday that they would
cut more than 75,000 jobs in the U.S. and around the world, as consumer
confidence and home prices swan-dived.
Prodded by an appalled
Senator Carl Levin, Tim Geithner — even as he was being confirmed as
Treasury secretary — directed Treasury officials to call the Citiboobs
and tell them the new jet would not fly.
“They woke up pretty
quickly,” says a Treasury official, adding that they protested for a
bit. “Six months ago, they would have kept the plane and flown it to
Senator Levin said that the financiers will not be
able to change their warped mentality, but will have to be reined in by
Geithner’s new leashes. “I have no confidence that they intend or
desire to change,” Levin told me. “These bankers got away with murder,
and it’s obscene that close to nothing is being asked of financial
institutions. I get incensed at the thought that a bank that’s getting
billions of dollars in taxpayer money is out there buying fancy new
New York’s attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, always
gratifying on the issue of clawing back money from the greedy creeps on
Wall Street, on Tuesday subpoenaed Thain, the former Merrill Lynch
chief executive, over $4 billion in bonuses he handed out as the
failing firm was bought by Bank of America.
In an interview
with Maria Bartiromo on CNBC, Thain used the specious, contemptible
reasoning that other executives use to rationalize why they’re keeping
their bonuses as profits are plunging.
“If you don’t pay your best people, you will destroy your franchise” and they’ll go elsewhere, he said.
Hello? They destroyed the franchise. Let’s call their bluff. Let’s see
what a great job market it is for the geniuses of capitalism who lost
$15 billion in three months and helped usher in socialism.
Bartiromo also asked Thain to explain, when jobs and salaries were
being cut at his firm, how he could justify spending $1 million to
renovate his office. As The Daily Beast and CNBC reported, big-ticket
items included curtains for $28,000, a pair of chairs for $87,000,
fabric for a “Roman Shade” for $11,000, Regency chairs for $24,000, six
wall sconces for $2,700, a $13,000 chandelier in the private dining
room and six dining chairs for $37,000, a “custom coffee table” for
$16,000, an antique commode “on legs” for $35,000, and a $1,400
“parchment waste can.”
Does that mean you can only throw used
parchment in it or is it made of parchment? It’s psychopathic to spend
a million redoing your office when the folks outside it are losing
jobs, homes, pensions and savings.
Thain should never rise
above the level of stocking the money in A.T.M.’s again. Just think:
This guy could well have been Treasury secretary if John McCain had
Bartiromo pressed: What was wrong with the office of his predecessor, Stanley O’Neal?
“Well — his office was very different — than — the — the general décor
of — Merrill’s offices,” Thain replied. “It really would have been —
very difficult — for — me to use it in the form that it was in.”
Did it have a desk and a phone?
How are these ruthless, careless ghouls who murdered the economy still
walking around (not to mention that sociopathic sadist Bernie Madoff?)
— and not as perps?