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.