AIG and Goldman Sachs – How We Got Here from There

How screwed are we? It’s worse than you think…

Commentary By: Richard Blair

Following my long week of dogging the AIG executive bonus issues, I had planned to spend this day unwinding a little bit. Those plans were made before I spent the morning reading (and digesting) Matt Taibbi’s latest Rolling Stone piece, The Big Takeover.

It’ll take you awhile to read through the article, but after you’re finished, I promise you that you’ll have a better handle on the depth of the financial crisis this country is facing, why Fed chief Ben Bernanke is full of shit when he says “we’ll see the recession coming to an end probably this year”, and who the major players were that got us into this mess.

Here’s your “Marie Antoinette moment” from Taibbi’s investigation:

“We, uh, needed to keep these highly expert people in their seats,” AIG spokeswoman Christina Pretto says to me in early February.

“But didn’t these –highly expert people’ basically destroy your company?” I ask.

Pretto protests, says this isn’t fair. The employees at AIGFP have already taken pay cuts, she says. Not retaining them would dilute the value of the company even further, make it harder to wrap up the unit’s operations in an orderly fashion.

The bonuses are a nice comic touch highlighting one of the more outrageous tangents of the bailout age, namely the fact that, even with the planet in flames, some members of the Wall Street class can’t even get used to the tragedy of having to fly coach. “These people need their trips to Baja, their spa treatments, their hand jobs,” says an official involved in the AIG bailout, a serious look on his face, apparently not even half-kidding. “They don’t function well without them.” [emphasis mine]

Basically, Taibbi says, we’re screwed.

The financial future of this country rests in the hands of a very few people who, ultimately, were at least partly responsible for getting us into this mess in the first place: Bernanke and Geithner, along with their ex-Goldman Sachs minions.

After reading Taibbi’s lengthy piece, it’s clear that there is absolutely no accountability for the strategies that have been put in place to solve the problems. Congress can hold all of the hearings that it desires, but neither Geithner nor Bernanke (or the unilateral policies of Treasury or the Fed) are answerable to congressional oversight.

If, as AIG CEO Edward Liddy claimed on Wednesday, AIG execs who received bonuses are really paying them back, it’s not necessarily because they’re trying to stave off the Marie Antoinette moment that’s at hand (although that could certainly be a motivator), but because whatever bonus money they’re now receiving is literally WAM – walking around money – for these execs. Their bank accounts are already fat from spending your money at the Wall Street casino, and $2 or $3 or $6 million extra dollars just doesn’t mean that much to them.

And no, there aren’t going to be any scraps left at the table for you at the end of the day.

Update: Greenwald puts some wood on this one and hits it out of the park. And confidential to Joe Nocera: your douchebaggery is showing.

Saturday, March 21st, 2009 by Richard Blair |

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