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AIG 'Bonus' Comedy Show Continues. Good Conversation!
AMY GOODMAN: Edward Liddy, the chief executive of the failed insurance giant American International Group, AIG, will testify before a subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee today, as outrage continues to grow over the nearly $165 million AIG paid as taxpayer-subsidized bonuses this year.

While angry lawmakers proposed legislation that could impose a special surtax on these bonuses to recoup taxpayer money, the Treasury Department said in a letter to congressional leaders late on Tuesday that it will deduct the $165 million from the government’s next infusion of $30 billion of bailout funds.

Meanwhile, New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo divulged in a letter to Massachusetts Congress member Barney Frank that AIG paid bonuses to 418 current and former employees. This includes over a million dollars each to seventy-three people from a unit considered most responsible for the toxic derivatives that led to AIG’s downfall. According to the contracts obtained by Cuomo, most of the 2008 bonuses were locked in at 2007 levels last spring, despite AIG’s already declining performance at the time.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says he knew about the bonus payments only last week. In his letter to congressional leaders, he says he, quote, “registered strong objections” with the AIG chair, Liddy, when he found out about the payments. But reporters at the White House press briefing Tuesday asked why Secretary Geithner and President Obama did not have this information earlier or act sooner, considering the company is 80 percent owned by the government.

This is an exchange between Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and Chip Reid of CBS News.

CHIP REID: I think only about half of the AIG bonuses to this, the Financial Products unit, have been paid at this point. I think there’s still about $200 million due. When the next round of AIG bonuses comes due, will the President say no?

ROBERT GIBBS: Well, again, that’s exactly what Secretary Geithner has talked to the CEOs about moving forward to restructure. I think that’s what I alluded to, that Secretary Geithner had taken all humanly possible steps in order to change that.

CHIP REID: But the federal government owns 80 percent of AIG. Can’t the President simply say, “No, we’re not making those payments”?

ROBERT GIBBS: Again, I’d refer you to a contract lawyer, which I’m not one. But obviously, Chip, if it were as easy as all of that, I can assure you we’d be talking about Russia.

CHIP REID: One follow-up. You mentioned that the President and the American people are outraged. There are some on Capitol Hill who have questioned his outrage. They say, “How can he come out and say he’s outraged, when his economic team had just thoroughly looked into these payments and concluded they had to be made?”

ROBERT GIBBS: I suggest that there’s very little basis for any of those—for any of that thought. I don’t think anybody on Capitol Hill should doubt the genuineness of the outrage.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the press secretary, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. He was questioned for more than an hour yesterday on this issue by the White House press corps.

I’m joined now by two guests. Ralph Nader is with us, the longtime consumer activist, corporate critic, former presidential candidate a number of times. He’s on the phone with us. Also, economist and journalist Robert Kuttner, joining us from Boston, he’s the co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect, a distinguished senior fellow at the think tank Demos.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Robert Kuttner, let us start with you. First of all, explain how these bonuses happened. How did the President, the Treasurer Secretary not know about them? What could have been done to prevent them before?

ROBERT KUTTNER: Well, I think you have to look at the bigger picture. Secretary Geithner is in bed with the wrong people in his entire approach to all of the financial rescues. And in this case, there’s a three-member board comprised of financial industry people who are supposedly overseeing AIG as the agents of the US taxpayer, and we own 80 percent of AIG. This crowd is incredibly indulgent of AIG’s behavior; it’s very clubby. And if you had a different Treasury Secretary with a different mentality, they would have said, going in, “We’re the owners. You can’t do this.”

And the rationales that have been put forward are the most appalling thing—number one, the rationale that a contract is a contract. The UAW workers are giving up not just wages in their contracts, but retirees who have contractual guarantees to health insurance and pension benefits. Same thing happened in steel industry. If we go forward with the mortgage restructuring—mortgages are contracts—they’re going to be restructured. The idea that you can’t tell the head of AIG to not pay those bonuses is just preposterous. I mean, you could say to these workers—workers?—executives, “If you want your job, you should voluntarily forfeit these bonuses.” End of conversation.

And I think the political problem here is that Obama has appointed a team that is part of the same club. There’s no distinction between the Geithner plan and the Paulson plan before it, even though these supposedly are very different administrations. Now he’s really behind the curve politically, and the Republicans, of all people—Mitch McConnell and John Boehner—are sounding more populist than the Democrats. So, unless the administration gets out ahead of this, it’s going to be on the wrong side substantively, because there is this popular outrage, and its plan is very likely to fail, and it’s not going to get the cooperation of either party in Congress in solving the larger mess of which AIG is a part. So this is very, very useful as a symbol of the wrongheadedness of the entire approach.

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, your response to the whole thing?

RALPH NADER: Well, what’s going on, obviously, is that the government has put in $170 billion, and another $30 billion on the way, in a giant financial conglomerate globally that has just put out a PowerPoint presentation in twenty-one pages that shows how it’s not only too big to fail, but it says if it fails, it would cause catastrophe of unforeseen consequences all over the world, in the US economy and global markets.

And now, the government really is not in control of AIG. They have several corporate trustees in charge, but they don’t really know what’s going on. And the very idea that these complex derivatives in the trillions of dollars out of AIG’s Financial Products office, where the bonuses were especially concentrated, are too complex to unravel without keeping the culprits in their job illustrates the powerlessness, the indentured powerlessness, of the US government.

I mean, what’s important, Amy, to point out here is that there are very few deterrent policies and preventive policies coming out of the Obama administration. They have very, very few resources for prosecutors and investigators in the Justice Department, number one. Number two, they are not talking about shifting power to the taxpayers and the investors, who would have stopped all the shenanigans if they were at least organized. And above all, they’re not talking how to pay for this by a Wall Street derivative transaction tax, which would raise about $500 billion with a one-tenth of one percent sales tax on $500 trillion or so of derivative transactions last year alone. I mean, people in state after state, as we speak, are going into stores and buying things they need and paying five, six, seven percent sales tax, but today someone can buy $100 billion or $100 million of Exxon derivatives in Wall Street and pay not a dime in sales tax.

So, I want people to read this remarkable document by AIG called “AIG: Is the Risk Systemic?” In other words, “We are too big to fail. We can collapse the global economy.” That is up on the website, And if you want to see a taxpayer movement get underway, go to and join our email list. How many times yesterday did all these politicians talk about taxpayers, taxpayers at risk, taxpayers having to pay, and they won’t give taxpayers any facilities to organize in a political force to take this public fury that they keep talking about and move it from a burst of revulsion by tens of millions of people into a political force in Washington?

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to Robert Kuttner and Ralph Nader. Robert Kuttner, co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect magazine, he’s with Demos. Ralph Nader, longtime consumer advocate and many time presidential candidate. We’ll be back in a minute.

AMY GOODMAN: Our guests, Robert Kuttner, co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect—he’s with Demos—and Ralph Nader, longtime consumer advocate and presidential candidate.

There was the Wyden-Snowe amendment that was killed that would have killed the AIG bills. This is the Democratic senator from Ohio and the Republican Senator Olympia Snowe from Maine. They had proposed an amendment to the stimulus package that would have barred bailout fund recipients from paying huge executive bonuses and taken back the ones paid last year.

From AP: “The $838 billion measure includes an amendment penalizing companies that paid bonuses greater than $100,000 to executives after receiving government rescue funds last year. The amendment would require the companies to repay within four months any portion of the bonus above $100,000 or face an excise tax of 35 percent on the portion of the bonus above $100,000.” While it did pass the US Senate, ultimately it was killed in conference, and no one would say who killed it. Robert Kuttner?

ROBERT KUTTNER: You know, the basic problem here is that Wall Street, despite having been totally disgraced by events, still has an enormous amount of power in the Obama administration, as much as in the Bush administration before it. If you look at the fine details of the latest Geithner scheme for trying to rescue the banks, it gives a tremendous amount of power to the least regulated, least transparent financial institutions in the whole system: private equity and hedge funds. It tries to bribe them to make another round of speculative bets on underwater assets. This is exactly backwards.

And I’m going to make a couple of predictions here. I think Geithner is probably gone within sixty days, because he has become a liability to the administration. And I think the real question is whether Obama and his political advisers are going to have the wit to realize that they hired the wrong team. There’s a whole other cast of people who are every bit as technically competent and brilliant as Larry Summers or Tim Geithner who believe that you need a Reconstruction Finance Corporation that would take control of these entities and put auditors who work for the US government inside them and sort out what’s really going on on their balance sheets, break them into manageable pieces, figure out how much of the loss the taxpayer takes, how much of the loss the bondholder takes, and get the financial system up and running again.

And what’s really interesting is that the people who have espoused this view run the gamut from Paul Krugman and Joe Stiglitz and Nouriel Roubini—that’s predictable, although Roubini is not particularly a progressive, he’s just very knowledgeable—but then you’ve got Republican conservatives, you’ve got the American Enterprise Institute. Alex Pollock, their expert on this, testified the other day that the TARP is completely flawed as a strategy for fixing this; you need a Reconstruction Finance Corporation. The conservative president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Thomas Hoenig, gave a terrific speech on why an RFC is the only way to go. A guy named Rodgin Cohen, who was a lawyer for the very Wall Street investment banks that are negotiating with Geithner, whose name was briefly floated as Deputy Treasury Secretary, he’s in favor of an RFC.

So I think you’re going to see this view crystallizing, that TARP is a completely flawed approach. And don’t forget that the money that is being used to bail out AIG is TARP money. The whole approach of letting the same culprits who created this mess keep their jobs and throw money at them and use speculators to bet on the distressed securities is just catastrophic. And the only good thing about the AIG mess is it’s shedding a spotlight on the fact that this is a political failure, and maybe now some people will start understanding that it’s a substantive failure, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, what about this issue of saying, “Contracts cannot be broken; these were contracts”? First of all, we haven’t seen these contracts and actually what they say. But what about, for example, the UAW? When GM is in trouble, they say the UAW has to break their contract and come up with a new one.

RALPH NADER: Well, first of all, you’re right. These contracts should immediately be disclosed. You know, if the government owns 80 percent of AIG, why doesn’t the government control AIG? It has refused to control—go on the board of directors. It’s refused to exercise their shareholder rights as owners. They can get these contracts.

And second, contracts that reflect unjust enrichment or fraudulent conveyance can be set aside. I mean, that’s established US law. And Andrew Cuomo, Attorney General of New York, has alluded to that.

Thirdly, what’s going on here is the collapse of a model of corporate capitalism that has destabilized the world and damaged workers, peasants, people, pension funds, people’s savings all over the world. And the Congress is not looking, as Bob said, at the bigger picture. For example, there are 8,000 credit unions in this country. They’re financial organizations, not for profit. Not one of them has failed. None of the assets, which total a trillion dollars in these credit unions all over the country, where 85 million Americans do business—85 million Americans—none of the assets have been depleted. Instead of looking at the model of the credit union as a financial institution or other models, all they’re doing is throwing hundreds of billions of dollars down rat holes with ill-conceived, rapid, weekend bailouts of outfits like Citigroup and Bank of America and urging more and more mergers, more and more concentration of power in fewer corporate hands, not even using the words “antitrust.” This is really an anarcho sprawl of people in Washington who are overwhelmed, overworked—

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, we’re going to have to leave it there.

RALPH NADER: —and don’t know what’s going on.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us, Ralph Nader and Robert Kuttner, with The American Prospect and with Demos organization, with Demos in New York.
"Let me issue and control a nation's money and I care not who writes the laws. - Mayer Rothschild
"Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience! People are obedient in the face of poverty, starvation, stupidity, war, and cruelty. Our problem is that grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem!" - Howard Zinn
"If there is no struggle there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and never will" - Frederick Douglass
Very good list of articles, etc. on bailout (sic) here. A good resource.
"Let me issue and control a nation's money and I care not who writes the laws. - Mayer Rothschild
"Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience! People are obedient in the face of poverty, starvation, stupidity, war, and cruelty. Our problem is that grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem!" - Howard Zinn
"If there is no struggle there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and never will" - Frederick Douglass
Thanks Pete, a good resource.
The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge.
Carl Jung - Aion (1951). CW 9, Part II: P.14
JUAN GONZALEZ: The CEO of AIG, Edward Liddy, testified on Capitol Hill Wednesday and was repeatedly questioned over why the failed insurance giant is paying out over $165 million in bonuses after it received a $170 billion taxpayer bailout. While President Obama and other officials are expressing outrage over the bonuses, more details have come to light indicating that some officials have known about the bonuses for months.

During an exchange with Congressman Paul Kanjorski of Pennsylvania, Liddy revealed the Federal Reserve had directly approved the AIG bonuses.

EDWARD LIDDY: The decision we made was that we could preserve that unit and continue to wind it down in a very orderly fashion and not expose the taxpayer and the company to the risks that heretofore they’ve been exposed to. I know $165 million is a very large number. It’s a very large number. In the context of $1.6 trillion and the money that’s already been invested in us, we thought that was a good trade.

REP. PAUL KANJORSKI: Am I to understand that you’re saying that Chairman Bernanke or his designated person at the Federal Reserve was under the—was informed that you were going to make these payments and acquiesced in that decision?

EDWARD LIDDY: Yes. Everything we do, we do in partnership with the Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve is at our board meetings, at our compensation committee meetings, at our various meetings on strategy, and they have the ability to weigh in, either yea or nay, on anything that we decide.

I would just like to make the point that there’s no attempt to do anything under the stealth of darkness or undercover. We wanted to do what was right in these contracts. The contracts called for a payment on March 15th, and we’ve done that. We’ve been talking about this within the board and within the—with our representatives of the Federal Reserve literally for three months.

REP. PAUL KANJORSKI: And with the Secretary of Treasury?

EDWARD LIDDY: No. The way our relationship generally works is we review things with the Federal Reserve, and the Federal Reserve, as they think is appropriate, discusses it with the Secretary of the Treasury or with representatives of Treasury.

AMY GOODMAN: During the hearing, AIG CEO Edward Liddy said he had already asked a few hundred AIG executives and employees to give back at least half the extra pay, but he refused to give details on who was keeping their bonuses. More than seventy AIG employees are receiving bonuses worth a million dollars or more.

This is Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts questioning Edward Liddy.

REP. BARNEY FRANK: I ask you to submit the names of the people who’ve received the bonuses, noting that they paid them back or not, and I won’t accept them under a confidentiality, personally. In fact, you submitted some confidential information, and I, frankly, threw it away after reading it, because I was afraid I would inadvertently breach the confidentiality. But I do ask that you submit those names without restriction. And if you feel unable to do that, then I will ask the committee to subpoena them.

EDWARD LIDDY: Congressman, if you’ll let me explain, I very much want to comply with your request. I would hope it doesn’t take a subpoena. If it does, then we will obviously comply with the law.

I’m just really concerned about the safety of our people. So let me just read two things to you. “All the executives and their families should be executed with piano wire around their necks. My greatest hope.” “If the government can’t do this properly, we the people will take it in our own hands and see that justice is done. I’m looking for all the CEOs’ names, kids, where they live, etc.”

You have a legitimate request. I want to protect the well-being of our employees.

REP. BARNEY FRANK: Well, I have to say that that is—if we give into these kind of threats, we would never get information made public about a lot of things. And I would certainly ask that the state and local and federal law enforcement officials give full cooperation, and I would urge that any threat that anybody even comes close to carrying out or even threats, which themselves can violate the law, be prosecuted.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Lawmakers grilled AIG’s Edward Liddy about the bonuses, but little attention was paid to what might be a bigger scandal. Earlier this week, AIG revealed it had funneled tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer bailout money to other banks facing huge losses AIG had insured. Goldman Sachs received nearly $13 billion in what has been described as a backdoor bailout. Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley also received billions. So did several foreign banks, including Société Générale of France, Deutsche Bank of Germany, Barclays of Britain and UBS of Switzerland.

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Scheer is with us now, longtime journalist, editor of the political website Truthdig. He’s author of a number of books; his forthcoming one is called The Great American Stickup: Greedy Bankers and the Politicians Who Love Them. His latest article on Truthdig is “Perp Walks Instead of Bonuses.” He joins us from San Francisco.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Robert.


AMY GOODMAN: Perp walks?

ROBERT SCHEER: Yes. I mean, first of all, let me say, the bonuses—I think it’s an important glimpse into the cesspool that is Wall Street, but it’s a side show, you know, and I know it’s confusing—millions, billions, trillions. But the real scandal is—the money—AIG is basically a shell game at this point, and they’re passing the money through AIG to the big banks, the former stockbrokers and so forth. Goldman Sachs got the biggest amount, $12.5 billion. The head of AIG was on the board of directors and the head of the audit committee for Goldman Sachs for five years. The Treasury Secretary that put this deal together, Paulson, under Bush was the head, was the CEO of Goldman Sachs. The guy who administered the TARP fund was a vice president at Goldman Sachs. The Democrat who made all of this deregulation possible, Robert Rubin, when he was Secretary of Treasury, and then Lawrence Summers who followed him, Rubin had been the head of Goldman Sachs. And they pushed through the basic deregulation that allowed these banks to become too big to allow to fail.

So while I think it’s a terrific teaching moment to see how excessive the pay is for people who basically brought the world economy to its knees, which are these so-called executives, and I think there is a real phony in that they had to be given these bonuses for retention—Andrew Cuomo, in his letter to Barney Frank, pointed out that the eleven of the top people who got these bonuses have already left the firm, so that really doesn’t hold water. But I think the real scandal here is that we’re supposed to own 80 percent of AIG, and maybe the Fed and the Treasury are in on it, but basically it’s being used as a shell to pass on money to these banks, Goldman Sachs being the leading one, and that should be examined, because I think that is really a criminal waste of our money.

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Scheer, we’re going to break, then come back to you, veteran journalist, syndicated columnist. His latest piece, “Perp Walks Instead of Bonuses.” After we speak with Robert Scheer, we’ll be joined by Tariq Ali on the sixth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq and ground zero increasingly Pakistan. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Our guest in San Francisco, Robert Scheer, veteran journalist, has written a number of books, and his latest article is “Perp Walks Instead of Bonuses.” But, Juan, I wanted to ask you something: in your latest column in the New York Daily News, you were specifically writing about UBS, the Swiss bank, that got, what, $5 billion bailout from AIG?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Right, yeah. I think in the same vein as Bob Scheer is talking about, yes, UBS got $5 billion last fall from AIG. And interestingly, Bob, I’m sure you’re aware, UBS was at that very moment involved in a federal case in Florida, charges that it was—had conspired with Americans who held secret accounts at UBS in Switzerland to evade federal taxes. Just a month ago, it paid—it agreed to pay $780 million in fines to the US government, but is still resisting releasing the names of these 50,000 Americans who were evading taxes with the help of UBS. So now you have UBS getting bailout money, $5 billion, through AIG and then paying the federal government $780 million in fines for tax evasion. It’s astounding that this continues to happen. And I think you’ve correctly pointed out that the big scandal here is the amount of money that AIG is basically being used as a pass-through for all of these other banks.

ROBERT SCHEER: Oh, there’s no question about it. And you should point out that UBS—that one of the officers of UBS is Phil Gramm, who was the Republican head of the Senate Finance Committee who pushed through the deregulation legislation, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, the Financial Services Modernization Act, which made—allowed this to happen, which made these crimes legal. And, I mean, these people have no shame. This guy is an officer of a foreign company that we American taxpayers are paying for having caused all of this suffering. That is what I find astounding about this.

First of all, I think that the whole argument that they’re too big to fail is utter nonsense. That’s why we have bankruptcy courts. If you can’t pay your bill, you go through bankruptcy court, there’s a resolution of it. There’s absolutely no reason why AIG couldn’t have gone the way of Lehman. It didn’t go the way of Lehman because the head of Goldman Sachs was in on the meeting with Timothy Geithner, who was then head of the New York Federal Reserve, when they decided to save AIG hours after Lehman was allowed to go down the tubes. Why? Because Goldman Sachs had $20 billion insured by AIG. And the CEO of Goldman Sachs was in on that meeting—the only CEO. This is one of the great financial scandals of American history. I don’t know why that’s not being investigated. I think Timothy Geithner should be asked a lot of tough questions. I think he should be asked to resign, frankly, by the President, because he’s up to his eyeballs in this.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Bob, one of the other points that Liddy made in the congressional hearings yesterday was that the reason they had to pay these retention bonuses is because the derivatives deals that the bankers at—that the insurers at AIG were involved in were so complex that if these people left, it would be very difficult to be able to unravel them. And part of the problem—isn’t it?—that these derivative deals, precisely because they are so opaque and so complex and nobody knows what they are, create enormous risk for not only the banks involved, but obviously, it turns out, for the taxpayers in general. Wouldn’t some kind of way to actually publicize what the deals that were paid off were be one way of being—getting to the bottom of how this crisis occurred?

ROBERT SCHEER: Of course. But first of all, you don’t have to have the cooperation of criminals, you know, or potential criminals, if that’s—Bernie Madoff, you know, is going to cooperate, and other top officers of his operation. The argument that somehow we have to give these people millions of dollars in order to get them to unravel a crime is utter nonsense.

The other thing is, there was nothing really very complex about the insurance deal. It was a scam. What was happening is that we were doing these credit swaps, which grew because of deregulation. They packaged all these things together that shouldn’t have been packaged together. And the way to sell them for a high price was to get a respected insurance company, AIG, which had been a traditional regulated insurance business—“Let’s use the AAA rating. Let’s use their great reputation.” These shysters in London, who are getting most of these bonuses, were the ones who came up with this scam. “And we’ll put the sticker of approval of AIG insurance,” even though it’s not backed by any money, even though they’re allowed to leverage up the gazoos, again because of deregulation. But that’s really what AIG had to do with it. You have this toxic bundle of securities that you’re trying to sell. You say, “Oh, don’t worry about it. We’ve got AIG backing it.” And in back of their mind is, the government won’t let AIG go down the tubes.

And I don’t have any compunction at all about saying let Goldman Sachs, let Citi, let Bank of America go down the tubes, because that’s what bankruptcy court is about. And you can take the different pieces, you can save the depositors, you can save the homeowners. They’ve not been wanting to do that anyway. We should have started the whole resolution of this crisis by saying, “Let’s have a freeze on foreclosures. Let’s save the people who are being thrown out of their homes.” That’s the way to put stability. There’s $75 billion for the whole mortgage program to save all of these tens of millions of people who are at risk, and yet we have a number twice—more than twice as much going to AIG to help out these bankers.

So I think there’s tough questions to be asked. I know the Obama administration is only less than two months old, but Timothy Geithner was head of the Federal Reserve in New York. He should not have been given the Treasury Secretary position. And he is the one that really should be on the spot at this time.

AMY GOODMAN: And Larry Summers, Bob Scheer?

ROBERT SCHEER: Oh, Larry Summers should not be in government at all. Larry Summers was the guy who pushed through—he was, as was Timothy Geithner, Robert Rubin’s protégé, but he took over at Treasury after Rubin, and he’s the one who pushed through and got Clinton to sign the Financial Services Modernization Act and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act.

The language of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act—you can download it from Truthdig or other places on the internet—says very clearly in Titles III and IV that none of these new derivatives, which is the toxic stuff now, would be subject to any preexisting regulation or government agency. That’s the specific language of Title III and IV, which Lawrence Summers pushed through, along with Phil Gramm, who’s now an officer of UBS. That’s what opened the gates for this corruption. That’s what has caused people to lose the value of their 401(k)s and to lose their home.

So, yes, Summers shouldn’t—Summers should be being questioned. He shouldn’t be in the government. And I think Timothy Geithner, it’s time for him to leave, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Robert Scheer. His latest piece, “Perp Walks Instead of Bonuses.” The Wyden-Snowe amendment that got taken out in conference committee—Ron Wyden, the Democrat from Oregon, and Olympia Snowe, the Republican from Maine, wanted to put a cap on any bonuses, at something like $100,000, and they would be taxed 35 percent on anything over that. Now Christopher Dodd is saying that he was responsible for taking that out, but at the behest of the Obama administration. I mean, all of this money, the taxpayer bailout money, could certainly have been conditioned, couldn’t it have?

ROBERT SCHEER: Oh, and it should have. The whole problem again is Obama has followed the advise of Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers, and these people who, you know, are saying, basically, “You must trust the banks. You must trust AIG. You must trust the people behind AIG.” And, you know, that’s not governance. That’s not due diligence. That’s not what we’re asking.

If we own 80 percent of that company, it is outrageous to say that we have to trust them. And, you know, that—as I say, I think Lawrence Summers and Timothy Geithner should be asked to leave. Barack Obama should start with a clean slate. He should bring in people who have unquestioned integrity on this. And they should be asking the tough questions.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Bob Scheer, obviously the issue of—that’s been raised repeatedly of the need to respect contracts and not breaking of contracts, obviously labor unions—several of the congressmen in the hearing yesterday made the point that the auto unions are being asked to break their contracts, in essence, in order to be able to save General Motors, but here, in this situation, Mr. Liddy, who, by the way, was a former director of Goldman Sachs, is saying that these contracts were in place before he came in at AIG, and they can’t be violated.

ROBERT SCHEER: Yeah, well, I couldn’t agree more. You know, I worked for the Los Angeles Times in one capacity or another for almost thirty years, and a few months ago we were told that we no longer have retiree medical. Period. Goodbye. It’s gone. You know, I had been paying for it for years. Suddenly I don’t have retiree medical. They broke that contract, that agreement, because they’re in bankruptcy now, the Tribune Company. Workers all over the country are experiencing that.

These contracts, by the way, were drawn up a year ago, and what is ugly about them is they were guaranteed 100 percent of their 2007 bonus, even though the people running AIG at that time knew darn well that they were going to have a disastrous year, losing hundreds of billions of dollars. Yet they wrote in a 100 percent guarantee.

What we’re seeing is how this financial market works: they take care of each other. They feather their nests. And the amount of money they take is obscene. Obscene. You know, hundreds of millions of dollars—for failing! You know, the head of AIG, when he was on the board of directors, according to Forbes, was paid $650,000 for being a director of that company, a company that was engaged in these toxic investments. So these guys—this whole notion of a bonus as something you get for doing well is—they don’t respect that. They reward people for failing. That’s the key to the system, evidently.

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Scheer, finally, the journalist’s role in all of this? Every week, it seems, we’re talking about the folding of another newspaper. We just saw the closing of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer Now it will just be online. Tucson Citizen, the bankruptcy of the Philadelphia papers, the Daily News and the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle in big trouble, even the New York Times, also the Washington Post. What about the role of not only the newspapers, but also the networks in this?

ROBERT SCHEER: Well, you know, the good old days were not so good for mainstream journalism, and certainly not when it came to covering business stories. At your traditional newspaper, you had, you know, maybe fifty—a big newspaper like the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, fifty, a hundred, people covering business. Maybe you had one consumer writer, one labor writer, one writer covering these things from the interests of ordinary people. Much of the reporting was done by press releases.

I covered the Financial Services Modernization Act, Commodity Futures Modernization Act, when I was working as their columnist at the Los Angeles Times. I saw very few mainstream reporters there. There was no critical reporting of those stories. They basically went along with what the lobbyists want. Bank of America and the other banks spent $300 million that year getting the legislation—their license to steal, in effect—and it was not covered. The Telecommunications Act was not covered.

So, yes, I hate to see journalists, good journalists, losing their jobs. I wonder who’s going to pay for the reporting and do the really good reporting that has been done in many areas? But business reporting has been a scandal. Why? Because the same people who own the newspapers benefit from the tax breaks, benefit from the loopholes. They’re on the other side. I mean, General Electric, which is in trouble, after all, owns NBC. So these are not pristine owners. There are some exceptions of some families that have tried to do a good job, but in the main, the people running media in America, who own it, benefit and want the kind of deregulation of the whole business community that has brought us to our knees.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring into this discussion Tariq Ali. We actually called you here, Tariq, to talk about Pakistan and Iraq, to talk about Afghanistan, but you had a very interesting piece called “Capitalism’s Deadly Logic: Reimagining Socialism.” Even when you say that now, when we see all that—what capitalism has wrought, people go nuts over, for example, socialized healthcare. What do you mean by “reimagining socialism”?

TARIQ ALI: Well, I think, given the scale of the crisis in the United States, you need very firm, carefully thought-out structural reforms to the system, what Robert Scheer has been talking about. In order to do this, you have to break down certain prejudices. For instance, if people think that free healthcare for every citizen of the United States is socialism, well, let them think it. I mean, what’s the big deal? I think the overwhelming majority of people in the United States, especially the poor segments, want free healthcare. Billions are being spent on bailing out these fat cats, as we’ve heard. Why can’t this money be spent to create a nationalized health service for the United States of America? The fact that a tiny little island, which has been under siege for the last forty, fifty years, Cuba, can have a national health service with cheap medicines, free for the poor, but the United States can’t, it’s quite shocking. So I’m just saying that we have to completely rethink the way in which these societies function.

Look, lots of people on the right called the New Deal socialist. It was essentially a form of social democracy. Pretty good measures were put through. And it was the deregulations pushed through by the Clinton administration which ended elements of the New Deal program. What we are saying now is, bailing out, spending money, helping Wall Street or its equivalents in the city of London, is not going to do the trick. Some serious thought is needed. This doesn’t mean that the capitalist system is totally on the verge of collapse, but, by God, it needs heavy surgery. And if you have a president not capable of doing that in times of crisis, he will not be reelected. I think the economy is going to determine the fate of the Obama administration, not foreign policy.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I think you make the point in one of your latest articles that those who think that capitalism is in collapse underestimate the resiliency of the system itself to rectify its excesses and then to usher in a new age of exploitation. Can you talk about that?

TARIQ ALI: Well, I think, you know, since the nineteenth century, there have been dozens of business cycles very similar to the one we are seeing now, not exactly the same, not analogous, but not that dissimilar: recessions, depressions, massive state intervention, recovery of economy, handing over of that economy back to the rich, recessions, depressions. So, one has to break the cycle.

And I think the cycle can only be broken by teaching. This whole notion that the market knows all, that the market is the best—I mean, people are suffering in the United States and elsewhere in the world because of that particular dogma. And I think we need to say very clearly, no, the market does not know. There’s nothing mystical about it. The market consists of human beings, and these human beings are the people who make the decisions, and they’ve made wrong decisions now for the last twenty-five years.

And the one part of the world where this particular consensus was challenged, South America, they’re doing reasonably well. More and more radical governments are being elected in South America. The latest example is El Salvador. Why? Because they challenged the Washington Consensus ten, fifteen years ago and said this system is not working for us.

Now we know it’s not working for the United States, either. I mean, I’ve just been in the Midwest. I mean, walking through Detroit and Flynt is like walking through ghost towns. I mean, you know, you can compare parts of Detroit to anywhere in the third world: you know, burnt mansions, boarded-up buildings, a dead downtown, just casinos in the center of the town. It’s quite shocking, actually, and upsetting to see this.

AMY GOODMAN: And the difference between how developing countries were forced to deal with their economic crises versus how the West is dealing with theirs?

TARIQ ALI: Well, look, I mean, what happened, when the Washington Consensus wrecked South America over the last twenty-five years, you had giant social movements. That’s the big difference with the United States. In Bolivia, in Ecuador, in Venezuela, in Argentina, in Paraguay, you had giant social movements from below, in many cases fighting the IMF, fighting the privatization proposals. And these social movements produced politicians, political leaders and political parties, which then linked to the movements and said, “Right, we’re going to change the system.”

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to come back to our discussion with you. I want to thank Robert Scheer, veteran journalist. “Perp Walks Instead of Bonuses,” his latest piece, also writing a new book on this issue. Thanks so much for being with us from San Francisco.
"Let me issue and control a nation's money and I care not who writes the laws. - Mayer Rothschild
"Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience! People are obedient in the face of poverty, starvation, stupidity, war, and cruelty. Our problem is that grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem!" - Howard Zinn
"If there is no struggle there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and never will" - Frederick Douglass
Perp Walks Instead of Bonuses
Posted on Mar 17, 2009

By Robert Scheer

There must be a criminal investigation of the AIG debacle, and it looks as if New York’s top lawman is on the case. The collusion to save this toxic company in order to salvage the rogue financiers who conspired to enrich themselves by impoverishing millions is being revealed as the greatest financial scandal in U.S. history. Instead of taking bonuses, the culprits should be taking perp walks.

I’m not just referring to the swindlers in the Financial Products Subsidiary of AIG who devised and sold those insurance policies on derivatives that brought the world economy to its knees. They do seem deserving of a special place in hell, and presumably the same divine power that according to Scripture labeled usury a high moral crime and threw the money-changers out of the temple will consider that outcome.

However, the enablers are the AIG leaders who, as New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo revealed Tuesday, signed those bonus contracts a year ago to reward the very people “principally responsible for the firm’s meltdown.” That’s a cool $44 million divided among the top 10 shysters, even though the depth of their chicanery was well known to top management.

As Cuomo noted in a letter to Rep. Barney Frank: “The contracts shockingly contain a provision that required most individuals’ bonuses to be 100% of their 2007 bonuses. Thus, in the spring of last year, AIG chose to lock in bonuses for 2008 at 2007 levels despite obvious signs that 2008 performance would be disastrous in comparison to the year before.”

The lame argument that those bonus-baby employees needed to be retained in order to sort out the mess they had created was also shot down by Cuomo, who revealed after his office’s initial investigation had pierced AIG’s veil of secrecy that “[e]leven of the individuals who received `retention’ bonuses of $1 million or more are no longer working at AIG, including one who received $4.6 million.”

But the $165 million in taxpayer funds used to reward them is but a sideshow in a far larger drama of moral decay swirling around the banking bailout. It should not distract from the many billions, not paltry millions, of our dollars being diverted to reward the very folks who brought us such misery. Consider the $12.8 billion of the $170 billion that taxpayers gave AIG in bailout funds that AIG then secretly diverted to Goldman Sachs, a company that evidently has a lock on both the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve no matter which political party is in power. It was the biggest payoff among those that AIG made to a score of foreign and domestic financial giants.

The bailout is a response to a banking crisis that resulted from the radical deregulation pushed by former Goldman Sachs honcho Robert Rubin when he was President Clinton’s treasury secretary. Another Goldman Sachs chairman-turned-treasury-secretary, Henry Paulson, in the Bush administration designed the trillion-dollar bank bailout that will go down as the greatest swindle in U.S. history.

It was because of Paulson that AIG was saved from bankruptcy hours after Goldman rival Lehman Brothers was allowed to go down the drain. Why that reversal of strategy in a top-secret meeting called by then New York Fed Chair Timothy Geithner, a Rubin protégé and now Barack Obama’s treasury secretary? Why was Goldman’s Lloyd Blankfein the only financial industry CEO in attendance? When that news leaked out, his role was defended as that of a noninvolved concerned citizen with expert knowledge, and whose firm had no direct monetary stake in the outcome.

That was a lie.

Goldman Sachs was into AIG insurance policies for at least $20 billion, which is why the firm got that $12.8 billion while Paulson was in charge. It took six months for the embarrassing facts to finally come out. The bailout program was administered by Neel Kashkari, a former Goldman Sachs VP; why are we not surprised at that?

Another pretend innocent in all this is AIG’s CEO Edward M. Liddy, famed defender of the $440,000 AIG executive retreat in Monarch Beach, Calif., held on the heels of the taxpayer bailout. His actions now are defended as mistakes made by a well-intentioned outsider who decided to work for a dollar a year after Paulson appointed him head of AIG. That is just garbage.

Liddy was complicit in Goldman Sachs’ role in creating this mess. As a director of Goldman Sachs, he was paid $685,770 in 2007 and would have come in for some questioning if the firm had gone down. Liddy even headed its audit committee during the five years before he resigned that seat to take over AIG in September 2008. As for his salary sacrifice, not to worry; in 2005, when he was still CEO of Allstate Insurance, he received $26.7 million in compensation.

What we have here is a rare glimpse into the workings of the billionaires’ club, that elite gang of perfectly legal loan sharks who, in only the most egregious cases, will be judged as criminals—Bernard Madoff, former chairman of NASDAQ, comes to mind. These other amoral sharks, who confiscated billions from shareholders and the 401(k) accounts of innocent victims, were rewarded handsomely, rarely needing to break the laws their lobbyists had purchased.
"Let me issue and control a nation's money and I care not who writes the laws. - Mayer Rothschild
"Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience! People are obedient in the face of poverty, starvation, stupidity, war, and cruelty. Our problem is that grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem!" - Howard Zinn
"If there is no struggle there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and never will" - Frederick Douglass
The banker's coup d'etat continues full steam ahead.

Porkers chowing in the trough. :eating:
"It means this War was never political at all, the politics was all theatre, all just to keep the people distracted...."
"Proverbs for Paranoids 4: You hide, They seek."
"They are in Love. Fuck the War."

Gravity's Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon

"Ccollanan Pachacamac ricuy auccacunac yahuarniy hichascancuta."
The last words of the last Inka, Tupac Amaru, led to the gallows by men of god & dogs of war
There aren't even going to be crumbs on the floor for the rest of us in just weeks. And most people still don't 'get it' and are allowing THEIR money to be given to the very people who stole them blind in the first place - I'm just incredulous. It is like giving an ordinary bank robber a few billion to fix the bank so it can't be robbed again and in no way punishing him, only because he or his friends are in the prosecutors office. This is crime in control, not crime control! And Obama has two of the biggest 'perps' in his Cabinet - and no one blinks an eye. That the MSM is being dismantled [poor as it was!] at this moment is no coincidence - they don't want any coverage of this. The MSM is controlled anyway, as pointed out above and on this Forum more times than one can count. They all had Business Pages - None had Workers Pages. Its been a coup of the Capitalist Class for as long as one can remember and before that - but now it has gone to warp speed!
"Let me issue and control a nation's money and I care not who writes the laws. - Mayer Rothschild
"Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience! People are obedient in the face of poverty, starvation, stupidity, war, and cruelty. Our problem is that grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem!" - Howard Zinn
"If there is no struggle there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and never will" - Frederick Douglass

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