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This is What Happens When You Don’t Kick the Tires

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There’s been much hoopla made over the fact that AIG has decided to disburse bonuses to the executives who many allege were in the division of the company that caused the insurance giant to fail. Even the President has his panties in a twist. The public uproar is fierce, but no worse than when the company and the rest of Wall Street went south (literally) to go begging from the US government back in September.

I’m not a fan of bailouts, and even less of paying CEOs and other top executives extravagant amounts of money for salaries or bonuses. To me, this smacks of offering a king’s ransom to anyone with the kahonnies to take the position, not someone who has a vested interest. Unlike small business owners like me who live and breathe what we do, many corporate execs are/were far removed from general operations, have little personal stake in the enterprise and are only there for the bucks.

I’ve often dreamed myself in this position, but I can’t see myself becoming mildly interested in something that doesn’t move me. Besides, I’ve never been one to be content with make-work. After a checkered career of doing just about everything you can think of from gas station attendant to concession girl at the Saint Paul Civic Center, including enduring twelve years of federal government experience (not counting the Census job), I can tell you that everywhere you go there are plenty of people simply marking time for paychecks.

The hue and cry over the “unfairness” of the bonuses is rather amusing. I believe that this so-called populist emotional reaction is cleverly timed to throw everyone off the target, which is how our economy is teetering on the verge of collapse. The problems are rooted in bad decisions, not only of the last eight years, but of a decade or two before that. If a few Congressmen can lead the charge over Wall Street excess, it diverts attention to the fact that our representatives have voted themselves a pay increase. (And yes, I believe in a Roswell cover-up and that there was a gunman on the grassy knoll as well.)

It was bureaucrats on a Sunday afternoon who decided AIG was too big to fail, and without their divine intervention would have disintegrated into a pile of dust in a matter of moments, bringing all of use down in a cloud of ash. As I recall, none of those AIG bigwigs were called to Congress to explain away their predicament or their extravagance in the middle of a week and on national TV, unlike a few auto making CEOs I know. So on first blush our government bought the place (and others) lock, stock and barrel, seemingly without a second thought.

These are the simple facts: AIG asked the government for money. It was an exorbitant amount, one that is unfathomable to most people, and we the people (or our people in power) threw it at them. And now we the people are angry because AIG is fulfilling past contracts that they made with their execs?

This, my friends, is what happens when you don’t kick the tires. Or turn on the radio. Or start the engine, for Pete’s sake.

I’m not privy to what goes on in the smoky back rooms of our nation’s capital, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the major props include mahogany walls, cigars, scotch and plenty of expletives. Still, with all the giddiness involved in a transfer of more money than the country owns outright, it would have been nice had someone the common sense to investigate the background of the place.

People (well, the ones I know) buy houses and cars with more knowledge in their hip pockets. Let’s see if I can put it in an easily understandable but true scenario. My husband and I were approached to buy a business in Detroit from a woman who wanted to move to Chicago. She spent a year glad-handing us and pumping up figures. “This is a gold mine.” “This is a sweetheart deal.” Yeah, right. I'm a cynic. No one "gives away" a “sweetheart” deal. Although the promised dollar signs were enticing, I dragged our collective feet, investigating past contracts, the city, tax liabilities, the city, crime statistics, resale in Detroit, costs… well, you get the picture. If there was a stone, I turned it over, and then dug a few inches down under the flat spot left in the grass.

Washington DC is a city chock full of attorneys. The halls of Congress are littered with them. Couldn’t they find a few to at least go over the terms of such an agreement?

Oh, I forgot. Our elected officials don’t read legislation, so researching a huge conglomerate like AIG would be totally out of the question. (A ridiculous notion is to believe their lackeys read for them. If I’m going to sign my name on anything, I’ll not have my Number Two Girl – or Three or Four – advise me with their opinion. I’ll read it myself.) Silly me, why would I expect a bureaucrat like the Chairman of the Federal Reserve or the Treasury Secretary to read anything? He (and others) were too quick to act, because the sky was falling down that Monday.

If the contracts are legally binding, then the bonuses should go out. The alternative is to have the government break legal contracts willy nilly, and I don’t want to go there. This is what we (the people) must suffer through for making such a hasty decision in the first place.

Let’s hope next time someone at least kicks the tires first.

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About Joanne Huspek

I write. I read. I garden. I cook. I eat. And I love to talk about all of the above.
  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Joanne, I dig you and all, but you’re just not nearly cynical enough. Democrats in Congress (and especially Chris Dodd) specifically authorized using bailout money for paying previously agreed corporate bonuses. This was in the original Obama “stimulus” bill, and pushed through despite repeated and specific Republican protests.

    Rand knows that I don’t mean to let Republicans off the hook for their part in current FUBAR conditions, but Obama and the Congress knew what they were doing. It’s just that when the blowback came, they went pretending that they didn’t know what they were getting into.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    It’s a mess, Joanne – damn if you do, damn if you don’t.

    One thing’s for certain. They certainly should have been aware how the bailout money was going to be spent. So this may well be a delayed reaction on the part of the administration, made possible and “justifiable” by pubic furor.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    “public”

  • http://blogcritics.org Clarence Yu

    Very well writing, very valid points, very informative. Thank you for this!

  • The Obnoxious American

    “I wouldn’t be surprised if the major props include mahogany walls, cigars, scotch and plenty of expletives.”

    Don’t forget wagu beef. Lots and lots of wagu beef.

  • The Obnoxious American

    One last thought: I would argue that this is what happens when you don’t kick the tires on your presidential candidates.

  • http://www.joannehuspek.wordpress.com Joanne Huspek

    You know and I know they knew what they were doing. To have people in a huff yesterday was quite comical. I flipped on the “news” to see what the going excuses were. Please… I’m sure they all knew, even back in September.

    I would love to kick the tires on a few politicians, but if you dare to do that, the Secret Service will be all over you like white on rice.

  • The Obnoxious American

    Joanne,

    White on rice? Are you being racist? Just kidding. You need lots of rice to go with the wagu beef :>

  • Dr. Juliann Mitchell, PhD

    Joanne,

    I think YOU should run for a Congressional seat. If you move to NJ you will most certainly get my vote. Because one can’t ever kick the tires enough especially for billions and billions of our taxpayer dollars.

    PS They don’t know how to kick the tires in Trenton either.

  • http://www.joannehuspek.wordpress.com/ Joanne Huspek

    I think not, Dr. Juliann. I worked for the federal government, and that was enough for me. I don’t think I could stand the stench in Congress long enough to get anything done.

  • bliffle

    Wagu beef? Is that like the Kobi beef of my early business meal years?

  • STM

    Bliff: “Wagu beef? Is that like the Kobi beef of my early business meal years?”

    Way nicer … melts in your mouth.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    What, like emu? As in ‘call it wagu beef, not emu, because those Seppos won’t eat it if it doesn’t go moo‘?