Gee. It seems like just a week ago that Ed Liddy was sitting in the congressional dock, facing the full fury of the Beltway Blowhards. Seems as though the enthusiasm for recovering the AIG bonus money has waned somewhat since then. Obama and team helped to unleash the mob last week, but he pretty much folded last night during his press conference. Much like my brackets in the NCAA pool. I digress.
Reports the New York Times:
At a time of anger and anxiety in the country, Mr. Obama showed little emotion. He rarely cracked a joke or raised his voice. Even when he declared himself upset over the $165 million in bonuses paid this month by the American International Group despite its taxpayer bailout, his voice sounded calm and unbothered. “I’m as angry as anybody about those bonuses,” he said, adding that executives needed to learn that “enriching themselves on the taxpayers’ dime is inexcusable.”
To a certain extent, Mr. Obama’s demeanor could have been calculated — an effort, aides said, to lower the temperature after a supercharged week and nudge the country toward what Mr. Obama considers the more pressing issues of fixing the banking system and reviving the economy. Even after excoriating the A.I.G. executives, he cautioned that “the rest of us can’t afford to demonize every investor or entrepreneur who seeks to make a profit.”
And don’t expect the Senate to follow the lead in the House to tax the AIG bonuses. Politco reports:
Financial Services Chairman Max Baucus of Montana, says he can’t even speculate on the prospects of the Senate passing legislation taxing bailout company bonuses.
“It’s kind of a big jar of marbles right now. You gotta shake it up and see what the patterns are,” Baucus told reporters Tuesday.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is promising action – some day.
“This issue is not going to go away,” Reid said Tuesday. “That’s why I say, if we don’t finish it today or tomorrow, it doesn’t mean we can’t finish it some other time.”
A jar of marbles? Well, OK. We’ll see. I’m sure there is no easy answer here — as for most of the mess we are in these days. And Andrew Cuomo, the New York State AG, played at least some modest role in getting back $50 million of the bonus bucks voluntarily. All he had to do was hint that he would post the names and addresses of the recipients in places where a lot of unhappy could see them. Wow. The power of personal, direct communication.
This whole debacle with AIG and executive compensation in general was never solely about the money. It was about fairness. And about honest, truthful communication — and restoring trust and credibility. If Obama and team and members of Congress — along with the Wall Street Wizards — have learned anything about the importance of those points, then maybe the taxpayer loss of this bonus money hasn’t been a total loss.
And I don’t think it was ever realistic to believe that public opinion fueled by an angry populist mob would ever amount to anything here anyway. Here’s why. There ain’t enough pitchforks — or bullwhips, for that matter — in New York City to get the job done.
Clyde Haberman wrote in The New York Times yesterday, “Where Are the Pitchforks and Torches When You Need Them?”
But you try finding pitchforks in New York City. It can be done, but it isn’t easy. A Home Depot outlet on DeKalb Avenue in Brooklyn said that it carried them. A gardening store in the Bronx said that it usually had a supply in stock but happened to be out.
No doubt, other businesses also have them. But those places are few and very far between. Manhattan, as might be expected, is a vast wasteland in this regard, as we learned from going to one hardware store after another and trying shops that sell gardening supplies. “This isn’t big pitchfork country,” a man behind the counter at one store said in a masterly display of understatement.
At least torches are easier to get hold of. Most people can make their own.
And Haberman continues:
Politicians can thank the stars that pitchforks are in short supply. Horse whips, too, as we said. Tack shops carry them, but their numbers are few in this city. As with pitchforks, there’s never a crop around when you need one.
Hmm. This is just a thought. If we let GM and Chrysler go bankrupt next week, I wonder if they could retool and begin producing pitchforks and horse whips? Something tells me those products will be in demand in this country and around the world for years to come.