A New York sportswriter of another generation by the name of Dick Young, a hard-boiled, take-no-prisoners reporter who cared little about making friends and a lot about getting to the truth, used to regularly pen a must-read column titled "What's Going On Here?"
Young's regular rants usually dealt with the frustrating happenings in the arena of professional sports but occasionally would drift into what I call bar stool politics.
Now and again, I'm tempted to create my own branded version of "What's Going on Here" particularly in response to some of the stories and news briefs that cross my desk.
Case in point: According to a survey conducted by the AFL-CIO and the Corporate Library released last week, more chief executives received pay raises as opposed to pay cuts in 2008.
The survey, which aggregated data from nearly 950 companies listed in the Russell 3000 index, showed that 480 executives received a pay hike, while 463 had their compensation cut.
Of CEOs who were on the receiving end of a pay raise, their average compensation was $5.4 million, including salary, bonuses and stock options. The average comp packages of those whose paychecks were slashed approached $4 million.
The median chief executive salary rose 7 percent during 2008, with commensurate perks also rising nearly 13 percent, to an average of nearly $340,000.
The methodology used for the executive pay study calculated compensation packages that also included stock options granted to the CEOs but had not yet been vested.
Under those guidelines, one report listed the CEO of Citigroup as having earned some $38 million in 2008 - including options. Though ridiculously exorbitant in my opinion, even in boom times, it seems beyond absurd when you factor in the $45 billion that the company received in federal bailout proceeds.
Not to single out the Citigroup chief as I'm sure there are similar examples littered throughout the survey, but the news could not have been released at a worse time, as billions of taxpayer dollars have been funneled into shaky companies and banks, while millions more have found themselves on unemployment lines.
Now, I'm sure the AFL-CIO, which represents some 11 million workers, has its own agenda behind the survey, not the least of which would be to use its resources to force lawmakers to mandate greater oversight of executive compensation at public companies.
That's an issue which has gained momentum over the last several years and now in the midst of the current crisis has steamrolled its way to Capitol Hill.
Understand this. I consider myself a free market sort of guy and if a CEO leads his company to record earnings and establishes it as a benchmark for others to follow, then I have little problem with a handsome compensation. However, if my tax dollars are going to prop up some troubled entity taking on more and more water, then when it comes to paying the CEO I will want to know exactly what's going on here.
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