It’s not that I object to the blitzkrieg of coverage devoted to these AIG bonuses by every media outlet in the goddamn world. I just think the coverage misses the point. Here, briefly, is how I see what went down.
American International Group (they’d be the AIG all this fuss’s been about) received $173 billion in federal bailout dollars. This past Friday, without going out of its way to draw attention to it until shortly before the checks were in the mail, AIG paid $165 million of those billions to its top executives in the form of bonuses, including 73 lucky execs who got bonuses of over a million dollars. In response to this, Congress — anticipating the reaction of the rest of the country — has lost its mind, and is calling on the well-bonused execs to return the cash voluntarily, or face massive taxation to return their gains to the federal treasury.
Those bastards. But of course, Congress saw this coming. The stimulus bill they passed included an amendment allowing already contracted bonuses to be paid to employees of companies benefiting from the stimulus — companies like, say, AIG.
Right-wing media is chalking this up to congressional incompetence, and the more liberal side is focusing entirely on the appalling lack of character on behalf of every single person who accepted a massive bonus from money intended to salvage the company from bankruptcy. Those who took these bonuses, knowing where the money came from and its intended purpose, ought to be ashamed. They most likely aren’t ashamed, since it seems to succeed in the thin air of corporate America you have to be more reptile than man, but still . . .
Personally, I don’t think this is due to congressional incompetence. I think they set the old boys at AIG up, and AIG played right into their hands like fucking Robert Shaw in The Sting. Sure, we’re all outraged at AIG paying their execs huge bonuses with taxpayer dollars, but are any of us surprised? This is exactly the sort of thing we’d expect to happen. Chris Dodd and the other members of Congress knew this was coming, and they also knew what would come next: AIG’s embarrassed, justly pilloried CEO coming to testify with his hat in his hand before a congressional committee, where a small army of righteously indignant congresspeople holler and carry on and rake his ass over the coals. It’s their big chance to take our side in all of this, to make a show of looking out for our interests and getting our backs against the big, evil, heartless, amoral, disloyal corporations who have no sympathy or understanding of the little guy.
If it wasn’t such a transparent setup, it would be sort of touching.
Writing a decent bill that prevented this sort of thing from happening in the first place would have been even better.