The AIG bailout debacle: Careful not to let the pitchfork wielding crowds out

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It was quite amusing, watch The Colbert Report dated March 16th where Colbert encouraged his audience to join him in creating a huge, angry, pitchfork wielding crowd and go march on AIG (watch the clip here). And while most of us do feel that anger at what happened, we are far too civilized to actually do that.

Or are we? Discussion boards are teeming with angry threats, and I have received a couple of emails about some readers’ anger over what happened with AIG. While the anger is understandable, perhaps we aren’t channeling it in the right way.

One example of a positive channeling of this anger is – can you guess who I am going to talk about? Yes, about Barack Obama. But let’s face it – he’s the President of the United States, ergo he has some power to do what needs to be done. But what can we, little people of the world, do when all the power we have is that over our younger siblings and/or our children – and even that power is often challenged?

There needs to be a major restructuring of the way we do things, not only at the top (which good old President Barack Obama seems to be taking care of), but also at the bottom. We cannot continue to feed into a system made to make us consume excessively and irresponsibly.

My advice? Stop shopping too much, start shopping wisely and start contributing your time, money and attention to those around you who need it, from your neighbor’s child with ADHD who needs to be tutored with patience to the poor people across the city who can barely make ends meet. Let’s be the change!

There are probably a lot of other things we can do, and I’m open to trying many of them – but the one thing we can’t do is let this anger blind us or, worse, make us so things we are going to later regret.

From IHT: Whipping A.I.G. feels good, but it hurts us all

By Joe Nocera (published on March 21st 2009)

Can we all just calm down a little?

Yes, the $165 million in bonuses handed out to executives in the financial products division of American International Group was infuriating. Truly, it was. As many others have noted, this is the same unit whose shenanigans came perilously close to bringing the world’s financial system to its knees. When the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, said recently that A.I.G.’s “irresponsible bets” had made him “more angry” than anything else about the financial crisis, he could have been speaking for most Americans.

But death threats? “All the executives and their families should be executed with piano wire — my greatest hope,” wrote one person in an e-mail message to the company. Another suggested publishing a list of the “Yankee” bankers “so some good old southern boys can take care of them.” (…)

How does outing these executives fix skewed compensation incentives, which have created that unjustified sense of entitlement that pervades Wall Street? No, it’s mostly about using subpoena power to satisfy the public’s thirst for blood. (…)

Then there was that awful congressional hearing on Wednesday, in which A.I.G.’s newly installed chief executive, Edward Liddy, was forced to listen to one outraged member of Congress after another rail about bonuses — and obsess about when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner learned about them — while ignoring far more troubling problems surrounding the A.I.G. rescue.

Oh, and let’s not forget the bill that was passed on Thursday by the House of Representatives. It would tax at a 90 percent rate bonus payments made to anyone who earned over $250,000 at any financial institution receiving significant bailout funds. Should it become law, it will affect tens of thousands of employees who had absolutely nothing to do with creating the crisis, and who are trying to help fix their companies.

Meanwhile, the real culprits — like Joseph J. Cassano, the former head of A.I.G.’s financial products division— are counting their money in “retirement.” Nobody on Capitol Hill seems much interested in getting that money back. (And the bill does nothing about bonuses that were paid before 2009, meaning that most of those egregious Merrill Lynch bonuses, paid at the end of last year, will not be touched.)

By week’s end, I was more depressed about the financial crisis than I’ve been since last September. Back then, the issue was the disintegration of the financial system, as the Lehman bankruptcy set off a terrible chain reaction. Now I’m worried that the political response is making the crisis worse. The Obama administration appears to have lost its grip on Congress, while the Treasury Department always seems caught off guard by bad news. (…)

How is the political reaction to the crisis making it worse? Let us count the ways.

IT IS DESTROYING VALUE During his testimony on Wednesday, Mr. Liddy pointed out that much of the money the government turned over to A.I.G. was a loan, not a gift. The company’s goal, he kept saying, was to pay that money back. But how? Mr. Liddy’s plan is to sell off the healthy insurance units — or, failing that, give them to the government to sell when they can muster a good price.

In other words, it is in the taxpayers’ best interest to position A.I.G. as a company with many profitable units, worth potentially billions, and one bad unit that needs to be unwound. Which, by the way, is the truth. But as Mr. Ely puts it, “the indiscriminate pounding that A.I.G. is taking is destroying the value of the company.” Potential buyers are wary. Customers are going elsewhere. Employees are looking to leave. Treating all of A.I.G. like Public Enemy No. 1 is a pretty dumb way for a majority shareholder to act when he hopes to sell the company for top dollar.

Read the rest of the article here.

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