Wednesday, March 18, 2009

'Cool' Obama lost control of AIG bonus flap


By PAT MURPHY

Impatient Americans want a quick fix to the economic catastrophe. However, mismanagement that took Bush-Cheney wizards eight years to engineer can't be remedied overnight.

Even so, American impatience is justified when their president seems slow to act. They want a president who's in command of his ship of state and a president who isn't weak or wavering.

White House weakness and disarray came together on the AIG bonus wildfire.

Taxpayers across the country erupted in rage after realizing that giant insurer AIG would pay $165 million in bonuses to employees, whose voodoo credit swaps brought the firm down, after receiving $170 billion in federal bailouts.

Rather than put up a fuss, Treasury Timothy Geithner, whose weak-sister persona and mumbo-jumbo explanations of the crisis don't inspire much confidence, threw up his hands and told President Obama he couldn't do anything about the bonuses, even though taxpayers own 80 percent of AIG.

Then AIG's new government-appointed CEO, Edward Liddy, former CEO of the "You're in good hands" Allstate Corp., shored up Geithner's capitulation: Because of contractual promises, bonuses can't be denied, and besides, he needs to reward these "best and brightest" (?) AIG boondogglers so they won't quit.

Finally a light bulb clicked on at the Obama brain trust days after taxpayers exploded: If the president caves on these bonuses and is too "cool" to fight, why should Congress or taxpayers have any confidence in how he's managing the economy or anything else after all his campaign bravado promising to end greed? Obama finally got around to expressing "outrage" and ordered Geithner to find legal recourse. Pretty tame, pretty tardy.

The most stirring rejoinder came from New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. He didn't hem and haw like the Obama crew. He ordered AIG to fork over information on the bonuses and the recipients or face subpoenas. Cuomo did quickly what the sluggish Obama & Co. didn't.

Maybe taxpayers are legally stuck with contract bonuses. Maybe we're held hostage by AIG workers who know the secrets to destructive deals they made.

Obama has come up short too many times lately, however—appointees owing back taxes, his overdone hand of friendship to congressional Republicans who slap him down, waffling on whether lawless Bush-Cheney aides should be investigated. And other than making headlines by calling Americans "cowards" on race, is Obama Attorney General Eric Holder doing anything about the nest of corrupt Justice lawyers appointed by President Bush?

If he doesn't want to be a one-term wonder, President Obama must forget "cool," think tough and act quick.




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