Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Make AIG Pay it Back

The politicians are now posturing when they shouldn't have been giving out bailouts without strings attached in the first place. But the Senator is expressing the sentiment of the American people.

Sen. Charles Grassley is so angry over AIG bonuses that he says the executives should resign or kill themselves.

In a comment aired this afternoon on WMT, an Iowa radio station, Grassley (R-Iowa) said: “The first thing that would make me feel a little bit better towards them if they’d follow the Japanese model and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say I’m sorry, and then either do one of two things — resign, or go commit suicide.”

The radio clip was also aired on WTOP, a news radio station in Washington.

In response to a POLITICO inquiry, Grassley spokeswoman Jill Gerber clarified Grassley’s comments, saying “clearly he was speaking rhetorically – he meant there’s no culture of shame and acceptance of responsibility for driving a company into the dirt in this country. If you asked him whether he really wants AIG executives to commit suicide, he’d say of course not.”

“Point being, U.S. corporate executives are unapologetic about running their companies adrift, accepting billions of tax dollars to help, and then spending those tax dollars on travel, huge bonuses, etc,” Gerber said.

Grassley’s statement was the most over the top among the many expressions of outrage Monday, as the White House and Congress struggle to figure out how to recoup $165 million in bonuses from AIG, which has received more than $170 billion in federal bailout funds.

“With millions of Americans out of work, staying up nights trying to figure out how to make this week’s paycheck last until the next, wondering how they’ll make the next mortgage payment or pay the overdue tuition bill, these executive bonuses are beyond outrageous,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Monday.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell joined the chorus, saying the bonuses were “appalling.”

Even FOX hosts are chiming in:
VAN SUSTEREN: [...]when Congress handed over this dough, they should have looked into it. You know, they do these things. They rush this stuff through, and they never take a look at it. I mean, they should have looked to see what the bonus payments were going to be.

WOLOSKY: Absolutely. You know, there are executive compensation limits and clawback provisions in the TARP bill that was passed, but we just don't see them being applied in this situation. And I think the president was right today to call for these payments to cease. You know, as you know, AIG is trying to get even more executive compensation, bonus compensation, from our client, Star (ph) International. It's really a situation, which as the president said and Larry Summers said, is outrageous.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, this wasn't -- this wasn't even done under President Obama's watch. This was done under Congress. And Congress was just plain stupid. They never -- or sloppy, one or the other. That's my term, not yours.

This Bloomberg columnist gets it right:
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is unhappy that American International Group Inc. is paying tens of millions in bonus payments to some of its traders.

So why doesn’t he forbid them?

The company says it’s afraid of being sued. But contrary to what lawyers and legalistic bureaucrats will tell you, there are worse things than lawsuits. Stiffing taxpayers to pay gluttonous derivatives traders -- and in the midst of an economic crisis -- is among them. To judge by his recent comments, even President Barack Obama is looking for a way to cancel the bonuses. Besides, this is a lawsuit the government just might win.

AIG is doling out $165 million to traders in the very group that caused the company to fail. The payments are part of a $450 million bonus pool that AIG agreed to early last year, when it was beginning to take on water, and when it feared that high- flying traders would jump ship.

Since then, AIG has been bailed out four times by the federal government. The taxpayers have provided AIG with $173 billion in investment and loans. That’s enough money to run the entire state of New Jersey for six years.

Although other companies have gone on the federal dole, of all the government’s corporate stepchildren, AIG is making the least progress.

Citigroup Inc., which got three bailouts, at least operated at a profit during January and February, according to its chief executive officer, Vikram Pandit. Morgan Stanley, which got a bank charter last September, is off the critical list. But the news at AIG keeps getting worse.

Worst Outrage

Ben Bernanke, the normally even-tempered Federal Reserve chairman, has said he is fuming over the way the regulated insurer used its high-rated balance sheet to run a hedge fund- type operation that helped to derail Wall Street. Lawrence Summers, the president’s top economic aide, says of all the outrages, AIG is the worst.

So why is the government allowing AIG to use its taxpayer lifeline to pay seven-figure bonuses? Seven employees will get at least $3 million and one will get $6.5 million. What kind of company pays such bonuses for a year in which it lost $99 billion -- the biggest loss ever by a U.S. corporation?

Just as outrageous is the fact that some foreign banks are getting some of that AIG bailout money:
I added up the various lists provided by AIG by country (see below), and the results were quite revealing. About $44 billion went to counterparties headquartered in the U.S., such as Goldman Sachs and states such as California and Virginia.

But as I expected, the majority of the funds—$58 billion—went to banks headquartered outside the U.S. The big winners were French and German banks, which pulled in $19 billion and $17 billion respectively.

To put these numbers in perspective, remember that the U.S. fiscal stimulus bill passed in February provided only $27.5 billion for highway and bridge construction.

In effect, the U.S. Treasury and Fed have been bailing out the rest of the world, to a massive degree. Is this a good thing? Perhaps.

But the U.S. cannot be the banker for the entire world. Now that the list are public knowledge, Congress is going to balk at providing any more open-ended financing for foreign counterparties. We are faced a global crisis, and it can only be solved through global action.