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Merrill Lynch bailout: Bonuses for bungling

Former Merrill Lynch CEO, John Thain, gave out up to $4 billion in bonuses before Bank of America took the company over. Normally, bonuses are paid in January, but they were rushed to beat the Jan. 1 takeover by Bank of America. This came as Bank of America was getting $20 billion more in federal funds in part due to the takeover. Thain, by the way, topped the 2007 list of highest-paid CEOs at $83 million last year.

Now what is wrong with this picture? New York Attorney General, Andrew Cuomo, is asking the same question. He is questioning the fiduciary duty of Thain and other executives.

Fiduciary duty? Who pays attention to that anymore? We have had a culture in financial circles of "every man for themselves" regardless of who gets hurt. Think of Madoff and Kenneth Lay. The people at the top scramble for the bucks while the little guys get busted.

The $4 billion in bonuses were given out quickly. How do you get a bonus for bungling? Very simple, get the taxpayers to give it to you. It is so easy to spend someone else's money when you don't have to be accountable.

I have owned and operated three business and a large hospital system -- I never got a bonus for bungling things. In every business I have been involved with, there were measurable accountabilities and money was paid for performance. If the business was not doing well -- no bonus. If my performance wasn't up to par, I heard about it.

Our culture has become one where overpaid executives, incompetent CEO's, and addictive greed are tolerated. I think it is time to reverse things. If a company is not doing well, like Merrill Lynch, the executives should pay back their salaries. If you bungle, you don't get a bonus. This would bring accountability and stop this crazy financial trainwreck. And the taxpayers could put their money into something that counts, like schools.

Barbara Bartlein is the People Pro. Get a copy of her new book at: Marriage Tips and receive a FREE Couples Workbook for immediate download.

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