Hollywood video was giving away free tote bags with two movie rentals yesterday. It’s a snappy little number, blue canvas with two sturdy straps and a big M&M’s logo on the side. Who doesn’t love chocolatey M&M’s? And besides, free stuff is always welcome. While you and I enjoy our M&M tote bags, there’s some other people out there in this great nation of ours who are enjoying some really cool free stuff. They’re getting million dollar bonuses and brand new jets! Is this a great country or what? And they didn’t even have to rent two movies to get them!

Those people would be the guys who run our giant banks. It seems that last year they ran out of money, a pretty embarrassing thing for a bank, and went to the Federal Government to get a whole bunch more. LIke $700 billion more. They were back in the game again, big time! Then they figured, what the hell, filling out that one-page-form was such brain-busting activity, and they had just had such a close call with their mad money disappearing, that they deserved a nice reward. One guy even bought himself an eight-thousand dollar wastebasket, which he proceeded to fill with the ashes of the hundred dollar bills he used to light his cigars. Champagne was passed around and they voted each other bonuses amounting to billions and billion of dollars. 

Life was good again in the corporate suites. At least for a while. It seems their behavior pissed off our new president no end and he called them all into his office and told them the party was over. These guys just sort of looked at each other perplexed, then busted out laughing, figuring the president was pulling their leg. When the president assured them he wasn’t kidding, they were flabbergasted! One was heard to exclaim: “This guy thinks this whole thing was on the level. Can you believe that!” The president was less than amused and before a few days had passed the eight-thousand dollar wastebasket guy was fired.

Now the big shots were getting all uneasy and wondering if the president is serious about taking back their bonuses, not really believing what was going on. They went back to the new president’s office, felling pretty uneasy that they didn’t know anybody in the White House anymore, a place that used to be filled with their buddies. When reminded that this was the taxpayers money they were playing Monopoly with this time, they went into their blank stare routine again, then one if them reminded the president that the money they blew last year wasn’t their money either, but their stockholders’ money. “That’s what we do, sir,” he explained patiently. “Not anymore,” replied the president, “not on the country’s dime!” 

There was then another pause while one of their aides explained to the executives that a dime was “a small, slim coin worth one tenth of a dollar. He then produced one from his pocket to show them and the assembled executives of the largest banks in the world gathered around the man to examine the dime, never having seen one before, or if they had, they weren’t sure what it was. More time was wasted when the metaphor was explained to them about dropping a dime in a pay phone to make a call, and that the dime belonged to the one making the call, and hence the term “On my dime.” They still didn’t get it. “We have people to dial the phone for us,” one of them explained. Others agreed that executives don’t dial their own phones. “Very bad form,” it was said. More mumbling among the gathered titans of finance was heard about what a foolish concept was a dime.

At this point the president sort of realized these guys weren’t going to get it anytime soon and  sent them away. Within a week he announced to the press that some of these banks were doomed to fail, knowing that within the next couple of months they’d be back in Washington looking for more jet money. “This time there will be strings attached… ” he said, “… steel strings!” After that last disturbing meeting with the president the executives had a meeting of their own and it was decided that they should call Dick Cheney to straighten this whole thing out, maybe get good old Hank Paulson back as Treasury Secretary and keep the money train rolling. Junior aides attempted to explain that the Cheney Administration was out of business and then it was blank stare time again, followed by a bunch of guys talking at once: “Impossible!” “Can they do that?” “How can we be bankers in 5-year old jets?” and “Somebody call somebody for me!”

The executive meeting was threatening to get out of hand until a resourceful young assistant took the initiative and started handing the CEO’s some free stuff from a briefcase he carried around for just such occasions. Rolex watches, diamond cufflinks, platinum pens and stacks of crisp $100 bills for visits to strip clubs were distributed to the traumatized bankers and order was restored. Drinks were served and strippers were called to make sure these guys remained calm in the face of the biggest crisis of their careers. This swift action reassured the bankers that things were back to normal and they ended their meeting resolved to carry on as if nothing had happened. 

One CEO put the whole thing in perspective when he addressed the assembly: “After all, like the punch line of the old joke about the lady and the snake says, we never said we weren’t snakes!” Multi-million dollar bonuses were voted all around and the meeting was adjourned, and the men repaired to their spiffy new jets to fly them someplace warm, sunny and expensive, far, far away from reality. Each man was given a nice tote bag filled to the brim with cash for their assistants to carry around for them.

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