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Greed, Suites and Bailouts

By Larry Gross · March 11th, 2009 · Living Out Loud

I haven’t been using my ATM card lately to withdraw money from my checking account. With this financial crisis, I’m afraid that one of these days the receipt coming out of the machine is going to read, “Sorry, you’re a day late. We had to spend your money yesterday to pay our utility bill.”

So, instead of the machine, I’ve been going to my bank branch at Court and Main streets downtown. There’s not a teller there I don’t like, I enjoy cutting up with them and I figure they like me so they’ll give me my money.

I don’t consider bank tellers to be bankers or “suits,” but to my way of thinking the further up the organizational chart a bank person goes the more I start to become suspicious and untrusting. In other words, the higher up you go — really in any kind of business — the greedier you become.

My mind is on all those billions and billions of dollars that we, the taxpayers, are giving banks, the automakers and anyone else wearing a suit looking for a handout. Maybe this bailout stuff is new to us, but greed in the big business world isn’t new to me.

You see, I was a “suit” for many years. I have the gold cufflinks to prove it.

Before becoming a writer, I was an accountant and served as an accounting executive for four or five companies. They all had their differences, but they also had things in common: the bottom line, “perks” and greed. I know how they think.

I quickly learned as a liberal in the conservative business world to simply keep my mouth shut. It wasn’t always easy — like when workers were trying to form a union in a pharmaceutical company. I was their Controller back in the 1980s.

Meetings were held with the factory employees to discuss how unions were evil. If I didn’t know better I would have believed what the CEO was saying — that the pharmaceutical company was willing and capable of treating and paying their employees fairly.

I sat in those meetings, not volunteering a word.

The CEO and the rest of us suits won. The union got voted down, and we suits celebrated our victory over dinner at a four-star restaurant downtown. For the factory people, we ordered in pizza.

Several months later, the pharmaceutical company had a product recall and got in major financial trouble. Layoffs became necessary.

About 40 percent of the workforce was let go, mostly factory workers. This was on a Friday. On the following Sunday, we had the company picnic.

I didn’t go, because many of my friends were laid off and I didn’t feel like celebrating their job loss at a picnic. I heard all about it, though.

At the picnic, a company executive wore a white T-shirt. On the front of it, these words were printed in big black letters: “I survived the black Friday layoff.”

He didn’t care about those factory workers. The main thing to him was he still had his job as a suit.

In the following months, the company continued to suffer losses. Executives were asked to make suggestions as to how the company could save money. One was obvious to me.

Most of the senior executives — and I wasn’t one of them — drove company cars. There must have been at least 12 automobiles we were making monthly payments on, and I’m not talking about Ford Escorts.

To my way of thinking, if a company is losing money, why should executives be rewarded by having their automobiles paid for? We could have saved thousands of dollars each month.

Silly me. I brought this up in an executive meeting, and I basically got stared at. A few of the suits even laughed.

I probably was lucky not to be fired for making such a ridiculous statement.

Again, this was back in the 1980s. The nearest I now come to dealing with suits are those bank tellers at my branch downtown.

Things have only gotten greedier with big business and the suits since I made my exit. Sometimes when I watch the news on television I feel like I’m watching a nightmare.

It blows my mind that, despite big losses, the suits spend billions of dollars on bonuses, private jets, luxury hotels and fancy rugs for their fancy offices. It’s sickening.

That kind of bullshit needs to be done away with forever, but will it? Don’t expect these suits to have any kind of common sense. Don’t expect them to know it’s not business as usual.

Take Citigroup, for example. This bank has received three bailouts in the past five months. It’s not enough. They’re still tanking.

Our government — or I should remind you that it’s really you and me, the taxpayer — is now going to have a 38 percent stake in Citigroup just to keep them going.

It’s the same deal with AIG, the insurance corporation. They’ve already received billions of dollars from us. Not enough. They want billions more.

Maybe it’s just me, but why haven’t these damn suits been fired? It literally gives me a headache thinking about it.

Don’t expect this financial mess to turn around quickly. The accountant still in me predicts this bailout shit is going to get worse before it gets better.

I hope President Obama can make the greedy suits accountable and can reel them in. He’s smart and capable, but I still worry.

Remember, I know how the suits think.

CONTACT LARRY GROSS: lgross@citybeat.com



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