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Sunday, March 22, 2009

‘Idiot Wind’: From Dylan’s Dume Point compound to the Capitol

Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your mouth,

Blowing down the backroads headin' south.
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth,
You're an idiot, babe.

Dylan’s plethora of pun-friendly lyrics were a gold mine for bloggers last week when it was reported Bob’s Malibu neighbors were getting more than a whiff of fresh ocean breezes from his cliff-top seaside retreat.

According to city officials, it seems a certain porta potty used by guards at Dylan’s Dume Point compound needed a changin.’ And when the media got wind of that little stink, it didn’t take much time for the crappy puns to start rolling in like thunder.

There were the obvious: “The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind…’ The odorous: “We just saw it from a different point of view / Tangled up in poo…” And the outright hysterical, like this lyrical embellishment of Dylan’s 1967 song, “All Along the Watchtower”:

“Businessmen piss out your wine, bodyguards dump their turds,
All of us along the property line know it reeks beyond words."

And as fun as it was for the press to take pot shots at Dylan’s unfortunate twist of fate, it never got beyond the week’s number two story.

As it turns out the real shitstorm was brewing up on Capitol Hill when the revealed that the idiots at AIG responsible for the global financial meltdown were getting $165 million in bonuses for the privilege of nearly running the nation’s economy off the cliff.

We all know the argument. AIG was “too big to fail.” If it hadn’t been propped up by over $170 billion in taxpayers’ money, the American banking system would have fallen like a house of cards. Wall Street refers to it as ‘systemic risk.’ ‘Systemic racketeering’ is more like it.

So last Friday, $165 million was doled out under the guise of ‘retention bonuses,’ a form of passive payment put in place to guarantee the employees at AIG wouldn’t heave ho should a better ship come in. The problem is that when these deals were made back in 2007, the AIG ship was already sinking. Of course, when AIG was pissing away their money it was one thing. But now that it’s our money, a lot of people are getting pissed off. And rightfully so.

Nicholas J. Ashooh, head of communications for AIG, says the bonuses were part of a plan put in place to retain key employees after Joseph Cassano, the former head of the financial products division, left the company in February 2008. Hmmm….an insurance company hedging their bets? Why would we expect anything less?

To hear Ashooh spin it, you’d think AIG is actually doing us a favor. Sure, the people who received the payouts are the very people who came up with the bright idea of leveraging their entire company (and in doing so leveraged the world economy) against a batch of toxic credit derivatives—the very thing that got us into the jam we’re in now.

But that’s the point, says Ashooh. The economy could spiral out of control if the only people who understand the company's convoluted dealings aren't around to "unwind" the damage they’ve caused.

I’m sorry, but am I the only one who can’t seem to strike the image of Don Carleone calmly stoking a Siamese cat as he makes me an offer I can’t refuse.

What AIG has done to this country is criminal. And the gall of them standing on principle, as if they are going to come in like Errol Flynn in one of his swashbuckling roles from the 1930s films, and save the world in one fell swoop is patently offensive.

And what about the notion that if you pay those AIG officials who can get us out of this mess, they’ll go down with the ship? Well, it didn’t seem to go down quite that way.

Of the $165 million in bonuses, $1 million or more went to 73 employees. And of those 73 who were supposed to “unwind” what amounts to the biggest financial clusterf*%k in history, 11 took their bailout and, well…bailed. So much for the ‘retention’ argument when your key talent is allowed to take their booty and still gets to jump ship.

Frankly, I’m ready to see these AIG pirates walk the plank. If we are contractually obligated to pay them off before their take the plunge, then so be it. Truth be told, it’s just a drop in the sea of debt this country is now awash in. But since the debt we are now burdened with is in large part due to the scurrilous activities of AIG, here’s a thought…

Since these guys are the only ones who understand the complex derivatives that have derailed the global economy, why don’t we pay them their bonuses with the same products that were sold by their Financial Products division? Maybe toss in a little AIG stock just for good measure? On second thought throw in as much stock as you want—the shit’s worthless, anyway.

But whatever the ultimate resolution is, let’s hope Washington cuts these guys off at the knees now before they come back for more, which is precisely what they plan to do. According to a letter from Federal Reserve Bank of New York President William Dudley that surfaced last Friday, incredible as it seems, AIG is scheduled to pay another $230 million in bonuses to employees in March 2010. That is if there even is an AIG in 2010…

From the outhouse to the poorhouse. Forget Dylan’s defecation row— this story stinks to high heaven.

Now everything's a little upside down,
as a matter of fact the wheels have stopped,
What's good is bad, what's bad is good,
you'll find out when you reach the top
You're on the bottom.

Listen to the NPR Bob Dylan porta potty story here.
Or read some of the pithy, porta potty headlines here.
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