The real rat pack

Years ago, David Letterman was doing his show from Las Vegas for a week, and, as he walked out of his hotel one night, he ran into a raggedy man who asked him for $5 for food. Letterman said, “How do I know you won’t spend it gambling?” and the guy says, “Oh, I got gambling money!”

That joke gets less and less funny every time I read about banks that have received billions of dollars from taxpayers.

“How do we know you won’t spend this bailout money on bonuses to the people who ran this bank into the dirt in the first place?”

“Oh, don’t worry, we got bonus money!”

It gets less and less funny when you read that the “financial adviser” who parachuted out of his plane, leaving it to crash on autopilot, had declared personal bankruptcy twice before and has left four different brokerage firms under a cloud in 10 years. You’d think little things like that would disqualify him from being a licensed financial adviser, except at a craps table.

“How do I know you won’t buy a million-dollar plane instead of investing my money in the stock market?”

“Oh, don’t worry, I got plane money!”

Bernie Madoff is under house arrest in his $7 million Park Avenue apartment because he allegedly swindled $50 billion from investors. Now he says he’s broke. I don’t know what you mean when you say you’re broke, but I know what I mean. It means I have no money. It means I’ve cut back, I’ve scrimped, I’ve gotten rid of everything of value. If it weren’t for my worthless car and a fleabag hotel I’d be out on the street.

What Madoff means by “broke” is that he has nine other multi-million-dollar homes, four boats and three luxury cars. They found $173 million in checks in his desk drawer that he was ready to put in the mail right before he was arrested. It won’t make a dent in $50 billion, but you’d think he could make the effort.

“How do we know you won’t sell everything and hire a high-priced lawyer instead of trying to pay back your investors?” “Oh, I got high-priced lawyer money!” What a swell guy, saving us the cost of a public defender. Because he doesn’t have a dime, his wife’s paying for the lawyer. Hmmm. I wonder where she got the money? And when?

The car companies have their hands out, too.

“How do we know you won’t keep making the same old gas guzzlers that got you into trouble in the first place?”

“Oh, we got gas-guzzler money!”

As far as I can tell, not one executive has been fired, not one has been put in jail. The CEOs say they deserve these huge paychecks and bonuses because they are running big companies. But when things go south, they tell Congress they didn’t know this division was fudging this and they didn’t know that manager was shredding that. Well, if you don’t know, why are you getting paid so much? And if you do know, why aren’t you in jail? You can’t have it both ways. Or I should say you can, they’ve just proved it.

Obviously, the rest of us are doing things backward. We all had this crazy idea that if we worked hard, if we paid our bills and stayed out of debt, we’d get ahead. What were we thinking? There we were, not buying Park Avenue apartments, not buying million-dollar planes, not gambling, not making 15 million cars a year when we only sell 12 million, not getting multi-million-dollar bonuses, not eating at fancy restaurants every night, not buying millions of dollars worth of jewelry, and not going on half-million-dollar corporate junkets.

Where are our bonuses?

Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at

Copyright 2009, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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