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Execs resort to luxury as nation aches

This wasn't fiddling while Rome burns; it was manicuring while the country convulses.

But you know what?

It was just as disgusting.

Last month, in a move that would have stunned Nero himself, executives from American International Group gathered at the plush St. Regis Resort at Monarch Beach in California for a little rest and relaxation.

You remember AIG, surely. They're the outfit Congress recently bailed out to the tune of $85 billion, as the country plunged deep into an economic meltdown. The same company the Federal Reserve last week agreed to loan another $37.8 billion.

That September bailout came just days before the company executives escaped to a week at the luxury resort -- which is, according to its Web site, a "Tuscan-inspired" getaway offering a "seamless blend of comfort and technology."

What's stunning, here, is not just the bad timing. An AIG spokesman told a news service that such trips are "standard" in the insurance industry, as a way to reward high sales.

But that doesn't begin to explain the in-your-face costliness of the whole affair.

Look at what happened at the St. Regis, and you begin to understand why the country is the staggering downward spiral it is.

For the week's stay, AIG paid $440,000. As part of that, AIG execs somehow managed -- amid what must have been many deeply meaningful conversations and moments of intellectual uplift, to justify that kind of a due-bill -- to rack up $23,380 in spa treatments.

Now, let us ponder the multiple layers of hideousness implicit in this situation.

After all, your tax money went to pay for this week's worth of pampering for the privileged. You have a right to think about exactly how that cash was spent. And so:

Your tax dollars went to a spa that charges $350 for a 60-minute "Mediterranean harmony" massage -- while you are struggling to meet the mortgage so you can keep a roof over your kids' heads.

Your tax dollars went to a spa where $260 nets a "Hollywood Glow" facial -- while you were trying to decide whether you should transfer your retirement nest egg into a savings account before it vanishes.

Your tax dollars went to a spa that provides $175 "Chardonnay Sugar" body scrubs -- while you stood in the supermarket aisle wondering if you could afford to bring home both the orange juice and the milk.

All over the country, people are suffering. In some parts of Buffalo, they are suffering more than most. On the same day that news accounts broke about AIG's spa excursion, at the St. Agnes food pantry in Lovejoy volunteers were trying to figure out how they are going to get enough food this Thanksgiving.

"There's been a big increase lately," said Annette Przybyla, a volunteer for 15 years at the pantry, which sees 150 people on a typical day, most of whom have never had a manicure in their lives. "It's the unemployed. Single parents. The elderly -- we see a lot of the elderly."

Of course, somebody famous once said that the poor will always be with us.

Maybe that's what the AIG executives were thinking, when they engaged in the popular little ritual that begins all spa appointments at the Spa Gaucin at the St. Regis. Patrons are invited to toss a coin into the "Well of Desires," where all their cares, the resort brags, "will be left behind."

Isn't that nice for them? Maybe their cares truly were left behind at the start of their getaway.

Too bad their consciences were, too.


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