Monday, June 22, 2009

De plane, boss, de plane

Well, I for one was relieved to read in The Journal last week that, even after signing on the dotted line for billions from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, many bank execs still felt okay about the use of corporate jets. Personally, I would have felt guilty if these guys and their families got the idea that us taxpayers didn't actually want them to enjoy a small perk or two. Especially when those small perks are so absolutely and completely earned. Plus it was probably in their contracts, and I am completely down with honoring every clause in those contracts. In fact, I'm so down with it, I'm thinking that it might be the right thing to do to read all the fine print in those contracts and encourage- maybe even force - these deserving execs to take advantage of every last thing that they're entitled to.

I don't want or need anyone to feel guilty. And I do not condone for one Gulfstream minute anyone trying to make bank execs look greedy, ridiculous, or tone deaf - and that includes The Wall Street Journal.

Gosh, didn't we learn anything from The Great Depression? What do you think all that Fred and Ginger top hat and tails dancing in swank night clubs was about? It was about making us feel really good that at least there were some folks out there who were enjoying themselves, and not worrying about whether anyone would buy an apple or a pencil from them the next day, or whether they'd be able to find a discarded newspaper to stuff into their hole-y shoe or use as toilet paper.


I am happy as a quahog to know that neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, nor TARP money stays these courageous couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds of golf at the Greenbrier.

One of my heroes: C. Dowd Ritter, who twelve days after accepting $3.5B for Regions Financial, bravely flew with his family in two Regions' jets from Birmingham to West Virginia. He did this so that they could get to the Greenbrier for a Thanksgiving stay in the seven-bedroom, $4,515 per night Presidential Suite, which, by the way, he pays out of pocket for as this is a personal expense.  Frankly, I think he should renegotiate his contract.

I'm not sure it was C. Dowd, or some other deserving Regions exec, who was on the company jet for a trip to the U.K. So what if they made "a three-day stop stop in Prestwick, Scotland, which is near several famed golf courses." So what if they have no European operations.

They still could have had plenty of reasons for using the company jet to get over there.

Did you ever consider that they might have been checking out whether it made sense to open a branch bank or maybe an ATM in Prestwick? Plus:

At Regions Financial, a proxy statement says the CEO should always use bank-owned or other noncommercial aircraft, unless flying commercial is more efficient and "does not involve unreasonable personal risks."

So. There.

When is flying commercial - with those nasty TSA waits and wand-scans - ever going to be more efficient?

And don't tell me that flying cheek to jowl with people you don't even know invading your personal space, coughing, sneezing, and drooling on your shoulder which they just happen to fall onto during an in-flight doze, doesn't 'involve unreasonable personal risks.'

And what was Sandy Weill thinking when, after seven measly post-TARP flights on a Citigroup plane to his vakay home on Saranac Lake, and one lousy post-TARP trip with his family to a Mexican resort, he decided he "was waiving his contractual right to use Citigroup aircraft."

Sandy, Sandy, Sandy.

Not good for American taxpayer morale.

You heard it here: we like our bank execs to comport themselves like tycoons lighting $50 cigars with $100 bills. (Failed bank, shmailed bank.)

And, fellow taxpayers, jetting execs do have to pay taxes on their personal trips. For example, the trip to Cabo would have an IRS "imputed income" impact of $3,300, based on mileage. Just because the actual cost to Citigroup would be roughly 10 times that amount is not Sandy's damned fault.

Further, try flying a mile in someone else's Bombardier, and look at it from Citi's and Sandy's viewpoints: a comparable charter flight would go for $90K, which would have the same paltry mileage-based imputed value.

The way I figure, we actually saved a lot of money on this.

Bank of America's Ken Lewis has also been a noble and intrepid fly-boy.

Among his trips was  one from BofA HQ in Charlotte to Greensboro, Georgia, where he was staying at a resort.  Driving time would be four hours; flying time is 38 minutes. And think about what Ken Lewis is worth per minute? You do the math. His time is valuable. The time of most niggling, carping taxpayers is not.

Frankly, this makes me proud to be a Bank of American.

Or at least it used to.

A Bank of America spokesman declined to comment on specific trips but said, "We are implementing a new policy in 2009, under which personal use of aircraft will not be permitted."

It's mean-spirited, spiteful little rules like that that just might get me to close out my BofA accounts.

It would be too much to hope that Regions Financial has any outlets around here.

Maybe I'll just stuff that money under my mattress until the banking world comes back to its senses and, TARP money be damned, lets our bank executives travel the way that God intended them to: in the corporate jet.

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