Robert Scheer is the editor of Truthdig, where this article originally appeared. His latest book is The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America(Twelve).
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 US 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 ten 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.