Going Without Day
0 comment Saturday, June 14, 2014 |
When Mr. M was little, he'd try out new words, counting on me to correct him if he was wrong. He looked at an empty green olive one day and said, "Gee, Mom. It's too bad they removed the placenta."
He knows I'll correct him because he also knows a particular peeve of mine is using a word or expression when I don't know what it means. In law school, for example, people would say, "oh, you've got to have a hornbook for that class!" A hornbook is nothing more than a treatise that hopefully explains -- better than your professor -- a particular area of the law. But why not just say "treatise"?
Where the hell did hornbook come from, I asked everyone in my first week of law school, including several professors. No one knew. Finally I stumbled across the explanation: back in the old days, children would write important things -- like the alphabet, the Lord's prayer -- on parchment paper. To protect the paper, they would cover it with a thin sheet of tortoise shell, or horn. Ah. Hornbook.
A partner at the firm where I worked told me, "See if there's a white horse case out there." Huh? "Oh, I mean a case that has the same facts as ours does," he explained. Great. But where did "white horse" case come from?
Let me relieve you of your suspense. Here's the shorthand version of the "white horse" legend: a widow sued a taxi company. The white horse drawing the taxi carriage reared up and injured her. The taxi company's young lawyer researched its liability for hours. Finally he found a case just like the widow's and presented it to his senior partner. "Uh, thanks, but the horse in this case you found me is black. Our horse is white! Find me a white horse case." Amusing, eh?
And how many times did I hear, "We need a case on all fours!" WTF? This conjured an awkward yoga position, and err, other positions. I was too afraid to ask, certainly too afraid to repeat it. But it was all boringly innocent; it means the case in the books is similar to yours, derived from a latin maxim which translates to "No similar thing is the same unless it runs on all four feet."
Legal jargon is just not steamy. Although there is the tired old saying, "Comes now, Plaintiff So and So . . . " Legend has it that a senior partner at my old firm loathed this arcane expression and once told an associate, "Young man, delete that phrase from the pleading at once. Coming in court, I assure you, is most unbecoming."
See? Lawyers can be witty . . . on occasion.
Of course you know where I'm headed after this lengthy introduction. I'm lead inexorably to AIG. Just as it seems foolish -- at least in my view -- to blindly repeat words and phrases because everyone else does, it is equally foolish for us to serve as Obama's or Congress's chorus, repeating their refrains without questioning their words.
Across the country the scorn for the employees of AIG spread like wildfire. For all of last week, legislators kept one-upping each other. Who could spew the most venomous vitriol about AIG? "They're criminals! No, they're reprobate! They should kill themselves! Resign and die!"
This bawdy peacock display was preposterous and not a little embarrassing. They sure showed us, didn't they. The House of Representatives even passed a punitive tax on their "bonuses." No more booty for those bad boys, no more birthday parties either.
Obama, for his part, seemed uncharacteristically eager to feed the populist rage: "Under these circumstances it's hard to understand how derivative traders at AIG warranted any bonuses, much less 165 million dollars in extra pay. I mean, how do they justify this outrage to the taxpayers who are keeping the company afloat?"
Just using the word "bonus" is inflammatory. Put "165 million" next to it and people became rabid. It takes some work to understand what is a "counterparty" or a credit default swap contract, where the bail-out money is going, and certainly the Geithner plan. But what everyone could understand, instantly, is "GREEDY EMPLOYEES GETTING BONUSES = TERRIBLE" and the goons in DC happily capitalized on it.
No one in Congress or the Administration bothered to accurately explain the AIG bonuses. Perhaps, although doubtful, they never even bothered to get the facts. And shame on Edward Liddy, AIG's CEO, who unquestionably knew the truth yet stood silently by while the rest of the country threw his employees under the bus.
Oh, I was tempted to get on the bus, too. After all, Obama himself told us these bonuses went to derivatives traders, that the bonuses were outrageous. Except, umm, I didn't think there were any derivatives traders left, Mr. O. For all of these bald assertions I could not find the facts to back them up.
Things didn't add up. Geithner and Obama said they were "shocked" to learn of the bonuses, yet Senator Dodd was careful to include an amendment to the bail-out legislation that specifically protected these bonuses. Moreover, he said it was the Obama Administration that had asked him for this protective language.
So what was Obama's, Congress's, or the media's basis for saying the bad guys at AIG were still there, swooping in for bonuses like vultures?
Well, guess what? Most of the employees now working in AIG's Financial Products Group who were due these "bonuses" had nothing to do with leading AIG into the quicksand.
Indeed, at least one AIG employee (besides Liddy) drew a salary of $1.00. The "bonus" was to be his real compensation. Here are some excerpts of his resignation letter to AIG:
I am proud of everything I have done for the commodity and equity divisions of A.I.G.-F.P. I was in no way involved in � or responsible for � the credit default swap transactions that have hamstrung A.I.G. Nor were more than a handful of the 400 current employees of A.I.G.-F.P. Most of those responsible have left the company and have conspicuously escaped the public outrage.* * *
I take this action after 11 years of dedicated, honorable service to A.I.G. I can no longer effectively perform my duties in this dysfunctional environment, nor am I being paid to do so. Like you, I was asked to work for an annual salary of $1, and I agreed out of a sense of duty to the company and to the public officials who have come to its aid. Having now been let down by both, I can no longer justify spending 10, 12, 14 hours a day away from my family for the benefit of those who have let me down.* * *
I never received any pay resulting from the credit default swaps that are now losing so much money. I did, however, like many others here, lose a significant portion of my life savings in the form of deferred compensation invested in the capital of A.I.G.-F.P. because of those losses. In this way I have personally suffered from this controversial activity � directly as well as indirectly with the rest of the taxpayers.* * *
But you also are aware that most of the employees of your financial products unit had nothing to do with the large losses. And I am disappointed and frustrated over your lack of support for us. I and many others in the unit feel betrayed that you failed to stand up for us in the face of untrue and unfair accusations from certain members of Congress last Wednesday and from the press over our retention payments, and that you didn�t defend us against the baseless and reckless comments made by the attorneys general of New York and Connecticut.* * * At no time during the past six months that you have been leading A.I.G. did you ask us to revise, renegotiate or break these contracts � until several hours before your appearance last week before Congress.
* * *
Many of the employees have, in the past six months, turned down job offers from more stable employers, based on A.I.G.�s assurances that the contracts would be honored. They are now angry about having been misled by A.I.G.�s promises and are not inclined to return the money as a favor to you.
The only real motivation that anyone at A.I.G.-F.P. now has is fear. Mr. Cuomo has threatened to "name and shame," and his counterpart in Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal, has made similar threats � even though attorneys general are supposed to stand for due process, to conduct trials in courts and not the press.
So what am I to do? There�s no easy answer. I know that because of hard work I have benefited more than most during the economic boom and have saved enough that my family is unlikely to suffer devastating losses during the current bust. Some might argue that members of my profession have been overpaid, and I wouldn�t disagree.
That is why I have decided to donate 100 percent of the effective after-tax proceeds of my retention payment directly to organizations that are helping people who are suffering from the global downturn. This is not a tax-deduction gimmick; I simply believe that I at least deserve to dictate how my earnings are spent, and do not want to see them disappear back into the obscurity of A.I.G.�s or the federal government�s budget. Our earnings have caused such a distraction for so many from the more pressing issues our country faces, and I would like to see my share of it benefit those truly in need.
* * *
Jake DeSantisPowerful stuff, pretty damning.
There's one more arcane saying that lawyers use, although few of them know what it means. "Go hence without day." It's another way of saying, "Go away without getting your day in court; you shouldn't get paid."
For the employees of AIG, at least, this kind of thinking needs to stop. We deserve to hear the truth and the employees deserve to be heard.

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