What Am I Missing?

If employees of AIG violated civil statutes, the should pay money damages.   If they committed crimes, they should go to jail.   Congress should have nothing to do with any of it, at least not in their legislative capacity.  They had their shot, which would have been to pin a ransom note to any bonus payment that preceded a nickel of TARP money changing  hands.   They didn’t do that, and do-overs are for children under five. 

As Chris Dodd straightened his tie for the cameras with increasingly obvious haplessness, Treasury raised knotty questions.    “Geithner here.  I know I don’t have any..uh…staff or anything, but I think what you guys are proposing may be illegal.  I have a catalytic converter supplier on Line 2, so I’ll have to get back to you.”

And so this truth–however inconveniently– defied  its vanishing pont:  a confiscatory tax which is purely an ass-covering and “signal sending”  legislative gesture is almost certainly illegal.   And shameful.  And positively spineless.  Why not just burn a symbolic derivatives trader at the stake?  While the pain (and the stench) would be more concentrated, the spectacle would be mercifully shorter and  roughly as productive.

It is tempting to identify as the “bigger issue” that our government has already focused far too much psychic energy on a level of lucre that is inconsequential in the grand scheme, and that the AIG bonuses are simply a vestige of financial deregulation run amok during the Bush regime.    It is also tempting to utter the following heresies:  that the bonus recipients at  AIG were, quaintly, ” doing their jobs;” that they likely didn’t get out of bed in the morning hell-bent on destroying anything; and that at least a number of them were not hiding the Mark of the Beast beneath  their $200 haircuts.  

It’s tempting, because it’s all true.  But this would miss the point.  Because the bigger issue is actually, well , bigger:  if we live in a nation  where Congress can take money from people because Congresspeople are  embarrassed, none of us should feel very safe.   Because whether or not there is, there should be a lot of Congressional embarrassment to go around.

It is of course too obvious to point out that all Congressional salaries are “public money.”   What say that anyone who voted in the majority on the 90% tax bill has his or her pay docked for that day?  

Don’t bitch, Congresspeople.  You’re getting off easy.  And you might think twice before spending your paychecks.  I have my eye on you.

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3 Responses to What Am I Missing?

  1. Paul V. Cali says:

    Spot on, with one modification. Financial deregulation ran amok prior to the Bush administration, and, to be fair, continued during Bush’s eight years. The overwhelmingly bipartisan repeal of Glass-Steagall in 1999 played a big role in the current debacle.

    • johndthornton says:

      All fair. I seem to remember that, while the repeal of G-S was indeed bi-partisan, a fella from
      Texas named Phil Gramm had a lot to do with it. He also worked like the dickens to make sure the credit default swaps were not regulated by the CFTC, where his wife Wendy was a commissioner until 1993 (and where she was lobbied successfully by Enron to exempt its trading activities). She later joined–what else–the Enron board, where she served on the audit committee. But I digress.

  2. John Hamlin says:

    You are not missing anything on this one John– well said and the line I like most is “if we live in a nation where Congress can take money from people because Congresspeople are embarrassed, none of us should feel very safe.” Unfortunately that is the world we live in, and anyone who has read the current budget and tax plan should not feel safe. We are moving from a disease they are embarrassed they let us catch to a cure that is going to sicken us more.

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