Wanted: One Grouchy Controller

March 2, 2009, 2:21 PM UTC

chiIf you take my money, you have to abide by my rules. Isn’t that what your parents always used to say when you were an unruly teenager? You can’t have that girl or boy in your room with the door closed. You can’t smoke in the house. You can’t have any contraband in your desk, even if you’re just holding it for a friend. And you can’t pay out billions of dollars in bonuses to your pals.

Oops, that last part just snuck in there. But the comparison is apt. These bad boys have taken a bunch of dough from the family kitty. This morning it looks like another $30 billion is going to prop up AIG, the guys who are supposed to be so thoughtful and austere that they are qualified to prop up the rest of us. And still the stories of business-as-usual in the largesse arena keep emerging. Recently Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, citing that enterprising source, TMZ, went off on one bank who had recently received a billion-dollar bundle from the Feds, only to turn around and hold its long-scheduled boondoggle in Los Angeles, featuring salmon, steak, and performances by Cheryl Crow and Chicago.

Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care?

I have a simple idea to make sure they do. I suggest that part of the national plan for recovery should be the creation of a National Handout Controller. In corporate terms, this would be the guy who goes over the expense accounts of every person who works for firms that have received bailout money. I know there are probably offices that purport to do this right now. But the establishment of such a dedicated position would speak to the serious nature of the function.

You don’t have to be told how it works, not if you have an expense account and work for a company that has its head on straight. You go to dinner at a nice restaurant with a client and have a $300 bottle of wine. You get a call. What’s up with the wine? Wasn’t there a $100 bottle that would have impressed your companion just as much? You order Castle Wolfenstein for your cell phone, so you can kill Nazis while you wait for the next plane. You get a call. Sure, it’s only $2.99 a month, but it’s clearly personal. We don’t kill Nazis here. We make plastic hangers. And you take a $50,000,000 plane to Washington to ask for more money, every hour in the air costing thousands and thousands of dollars? Guess what. Next time, fly commercial. And you can pick up the tab for your lack of taste and judgment, too. That will be $50,000, please. The corporation will take a check.

We can sure use it.