I watched the President's press conference last night. And two things occurred to me, one of which matters, the other really doesn't. The one that does, is: Why didn't Helen Thomas get to ask a question? Isn't that like a tradition or something? Did someone pay her off? She's got a front row seat, she's the only person in the White House Press Corps (or perhaps in Washington as a whole) who's got more longevity than most (and that includes Jesse Helms - we miss you old sod). What? Hearst Newspapers is not an important enough outlet to call on her? I suppose The Washington Times is that much more important! C'mon Mr. President! What are you afraid of? A REAL question by a real journalist? She's not as pretty as that AP reporter, but I bet her question would have been harder to answer.
That little rant done with, there's the other matter, which is the damn bonus thing at AIG. The President said he was mad. Everyone's mad. Everyone should be. AIG should never have gotten as bad as it is. But I'm honestly of two (and maybe even three) minds about it.
Here's the popular mindset:
AIG has been bailed out by public money. They have no right to then take that money and give bonuses to those people who work there. Especially not bonuses of such outlandish and grandiose proportion that it defies understanding to anyone not in the financial industry. The recipients were asked and rightly should give the money back and it shouldn't even be a discussion. And yes, my friends, I feel this way too.
And here's the popular mindset with the financial industry:
The guys who got bonuses had it in their contracts. No one renegotiated the contracts when the bailout happened. They should be paid. That's why people take these jobs, to get those big payoffs, which, in turn, are responsible for the folks in those jobs to stay in those jobs. And yes, my friends, I can see the value of this one too. To paraphrase Dr. Seuss (who is useful in settling all disputes - we can experiment on that one later): "a contract's a contract no matter how small."
But there's one in the middle that bugs me too. That's very simply that some of the folks who received these bonuses have done their part to try to help AIG recover. The downfall of AIG was engineered by a gaggle of people who probably aren't with the company anymore (they took their bonuses from last year and took off!). So that left the rubble that was left of the company for everyone else to try to manage. And those who have worked hard to try to save the company, and earn more so that the bailout can be paid back feel they have some entitlement to what they were promised.
They were called retention bonuses, and I can understand why the talented people at AIG who were asked to return their bonuses may feel pretty screwed and may not feel like sticking around anymore to help the company back on its feet. They may have a hard time getting another job right now, but I have a feeling that retention bonuses from years past will keep the home fires burning for the foreseeable future.
So I appreciate everyone's outrage. Mine is very simple. That once the bailout was accepted, that AIG didn't put into place any provision regarding these retention bonuses from the outset. It's called planning, gentlemen. And it's a necessity when you are dealing with a disaster, natural or otherwise. Just ask FEMA about that (oops!).
So the question I leave you with is: what are you mad about here? That AIG fell at all? That they needed to be bailed out? That the bonuses were given? That the bonuses had to be ASKED to be given back? Or that there was no planning around the bonuses in the first place in anticipation of the coming backlash? What were YOU mad about Mr. President?
So until next time, when I'm likely to dance and lip sync to "Twist and Shout" during a parade down Michigan Avenue, just do as I say and not as I do and everything will be alright.