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Countrywide's School of Higher Earning

Did you hear that sound? It was a huge sigh of relief let out by investors in Countrywide Financial (NYSE: CFC  ) after learning that Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) agreed to take over the troubled mortgage lender.

Granted, nothing's written in stone here. According to today's Wall Street Journal, Bank of America will have to gelatinously squeeze through the cracks of federal regulations that prohibit banks from controlling more than 10% of U.S. deposits. It seems that no one's attempted to go that high before, but since there's a loophole excluding thrift deposits from those calculations -- and Countrywide's banking subsidiary is a federally chartered thrift -- Bank of America might be able to slither on through.

Speaking of slithering, Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo looks like he'll be just fine after all, thanks for asking. Despite the pain and suffering investors in the mortgage lender have suffered under his management "skillz," last year he managed to eke out a meager existence on a $48 million salary, while cashing in on $145 million in stock options.

Nice timing, but before you call in the Feds to take a closer look -- oh, never mind, they're already here scrutinizing his sales -- understand that Mozilo was being selfless in all this. He told CNBC that he needed part of the money to send his grandkids to college. Man, I knew college costs were spiraling out of control, but I didn't realize tuition increases had reached Zimbabwean hyperinflationary proportions. (That rate would be 1,033%, according to the CIA World Factbook.) Mozilo will be able to buy one heck of a lot of textbooks.

Not to mention what he stands to earn if the regulators let the Bank of America deal go through. Although he's gamely said he'll stay on as long as Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis needs him (please, no laughter), the Los Angeles Times calculates that Mozilo stands to earn as much as $115 million in severance pay. Three years' worth of base salary, two pensions, and a bevy of remaining stock options add up to a soft landing for this hard-charging exec.

Of course, Bob Nardelli might snicker at the paltry sum Mozilo will get, considering that Home Depot (NYSE: HD  ) strapped a lavish $210 million golden parachute on his back when he left. But Mozilo joins a growing list of CEOs who don't necessarily have to perform to get rewarded.

The CEO position is fast turning into one of entitlement. Once the coronation is made, pay, perks, and benefits are expected to flow without fail. Boards of directors are still abdicating their responsibility, just as they did when they let Dick Grasso rummage through the shareholders' pocketbook at NYSE Euronext (NYSE: NYX  ) for $140 million to say goodbye. Pfizer (NYSE: PFE  ) gave its exec the golden heave-ho in 2006, and UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH  ) was originally scheduled to give William McGuire a $1.1 billion retirement package until it hit the fan.

Maybe that sigh we heard wasn't shareholders' relief at the rescuing of their investment. Instead, it might have been the weight of an excessively paid executive taking his boot off their necks.

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