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The Whole World is Watching

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

There is an old saying that goes: Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.

If that is so, then unbridled chutzpah is doing the wrong thing even when everyone is watching.

Ever since the federal government started doling out billions of dollars to Wall Street we have been treated to example after example of unbridled stupidity. The huge insurance company, AIG, held fancy corporate retreats for its best brokers before the ink had dried on the first $85 billion and the second $65 billion hadn't yet been contemplated.

Then we had the heads of the Big Three car companies show up in Washington, begging for money, having flown in their private jets. They were sent home empty handed but Chrysler and General Motors drove back to DC and they got their money.

Just the other day we were treated to the public undressing of the guy who had headed up Merrill Lynch, John Thain, which was in such horrible shape last December that the feds had to give bailout money to Bank of America so it didn't sink under the weight of taking over Merrill Lynch.

On top of forgetting that Merrill may have lost $15 billion more than he had mentioned to B of A; and having given billions in bonuses to the sub-geniuses who, for all I know, are still at Merrill and still making the kinds of excellent financial decisions which got them bought out in the first place, there was one more little bit of idiocy: It became public that Thain had decided he couldn't possibly hold his head up in his limo if he didn't redecorate his office suite to the tune of some $1.3 million.

All that happened when Merrill Lynch and Thain knew everyone (including Andrew Cuomo, the Attorney General of the State of New York) was watching.

So what's the outrage du jour? Citigroup has needed some $45 billion of our money to keep its doors open. Well, ok. Stuff happens. Investment decisions are made. Things don't go the way you thought and you need $45 billion to stay afloat.

Then it becomes known that this very same Citigroup which, until recently featured former Treasury Secretary under Bill Clinton, Robert Rubin as one of its senior board members, had on ordered a $50 million corporate jet.

Not sure why they thought they needed another corporate jet. According to some sources, the Citigroup Air Force is at about five jets now.

But that's not the worst part. Not only were they going to take a healthy chunk of the $45 billion U.S. Taxpayers were providing to buy a private jet, but Citigroup was buying that private jet from a French company.

While. Everyone. Was. Watching.

In a release, the Citigroup press folks said that the bank had "no intention" of taking delivery of that airplane which was true at the moment they issued it. It had most assuredly not been true 24 hours earlier when there was probably a lottery in the executive suite to see which senior bankers would fly to France to pick it up.

And, I think it's safe to assume, they weren't going to fly coach on Delta to get there.

Next up is the annual schmooze-a-thon in Davos, Switzerland. CNBC has a crew there to talk to the movers and shakers who couldn't possibly get on the phone to talk to each other; nor could they walk down the block to visit each others' (newly-redecorated, in some cases) offices.

We'll see which CEOs decided to take a piece of taxpayer money and buy a little trip to Switzerland.

While the whole world is watching.

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