March 23, 2009 at 3:38 pm (Politics) (, )

Or:  AIG, Bonuses, and Contracts.

The Huffington Post has a piece on this here that covers my thoughts pretty well, but I’ll elaborate anyways.

First off, let me say that I think the bonuses are pretty much bunk – these people should generally (GENERALLY, not necessarily all) have resigned or been fired and, therefore, not received them.

However, thanks to a clause that was put into the bill that gave them that money by Senator Chris Dodd (and then forgotten about, until Dodd could figure out a way to plausibly blame somebody else), AIG was contractually obligated to give these bonuses out.

Indeed, since AIG wasn’t forced into bankruptcy, the government’s bailout has contractually obligated the company to pay all of its liabilities at full value.  Bonuses, credit default swaps, everything.  Had the government let them go into bankruptcy protection, they could have had a judge help them renegotiate these debts at pennies on the dollar – happens all the time, though not to a company that large.

But, as stated, since it wasn’t, they had no choice.  You see, you can’t just casually ignore your contractual obligations.  If you do, the people you owe money to will sue you – and, legally, you will be obligated to pay.  Indeed, if the folks who got these bonuses – and the hundreds or thousands of other people about to be punished with a 90% marginal tax rate in order to satisfy the public’s thirst for blood from 73 individuals – sue to challenge the law as being unconstitutional (which it 100% is – ex post facto laws aren’t even forbidden by the Bill of Rights, but by Article I itself,) it’ll add millions in legal fees to the government and AIG both… *and* they’ll still have to fork over the money.

The Dealbook Blog covers a lot of other reasons for not doing this in a post of its own, here.  But I want to point out another letter of the alphabet here… D.

Or, Death Threats.

Folks, garroting the executives at AIG – and their families – won’t do a damn thing.

Mr. Barney Frank might not think the threats are serious, but that doesn’t matter.  The fact that they’ve been made – that people have said that all the exec’s and their families should be strung up with piano wire – is more despicable than any amount of bonus you accepted from the company.  And it terrifies me.  Why?  After all, I certainly didn’t accept any money from AIG.

It terrifies me because it’s straight out of the populist dictator’s playbook.  Consider this – Frank gets the list (which he has, I believe).  They decide to publicize the list, in the interest of “the people’s right to know.”  Hell, let’s have some real fun – they don’t publicize it intentionally, but it instead “leaks” to a news source that goes out to scoop the rest of the media by publishing.

Now… if nothing happens, then no harm is done (aside from social/psychological harm), so nobody really complains about it… or, if they do, they paint themselves as an enemy of the people.

If anything *does* happen, the government is horribly shocked and dismayed at the violence out there… but, after all, it’s their own fault for doing something so despicable.  In the interests of healing these sort of rifts, their estates could be confiscated and auctioned off, just like the property of a drug kingpin.

And the message is sent.  Don’t screw with us, and make sure you toe the populist line, or your name might be on the next list.

Now, do I think this will happen?  God I hope not.  I’m a writer in my spare time, folks, which means I tend to think in terms of overly dramatic events that could happen.  This is the sort of thing you expect to happen on a show like 24, not in reality, and I believe it will remain in the realm of fiction.

But the possibility that it won’t – and that it could so very easily cross the border from fiction to reality – is perhaps the biggest reason that we need to stop, back up, and think.

There is no freakin’ reason that people should be this pissed off.  So back off, and save your ire for the people who’ve deserved it.  I’ve seen less anger in response to serial killers, for Gods’ sake.  At least as far as I know, nobody suggested that BTK’s wife and daughter should be strung up with piano wire….


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Split Government

October 17, 2008 at 3:33 pm (Politics) (, , )

A few brief words on the virtues of a split government.

The Constitution of the United States is set up with three branches of government for a reason.  It’s set up with an Executive branch to enforce the laws and to have the right to veto them.  It’s got a Legislative branch to research and decide that a law should be created or repealed.  And it’s got a Judicial branch as a brake on the other two, able to pass down rulings that overturn the decisions of either.  Why do we have three branches?

Because the Founding Fathers realized that any less than that put too much power in the hands of too few people.  No two of those three functions can be put into the hands of the same people without the risk of creating a dictatorship.  However, it is most crucial that the power to create the laws and the power to enforce them is not put into the hands of the same people.

Why?  Because, sadly, the Constitution’s weakest point is the judiciary… if the powers of Congress and the POTUS are combined.  The number of justices who sit on the Supreme Court are limited only by the will of Congress.  If they wanted, they could declare that the next eight justices to retire can’t be replaced.  They could declare that there should be 19 Justices, not 9.  Doing so wouldn’t necessarily be popular, but it’s in their power.  The only thing keeping them from doing so at whim (aside from political impracticality) is the POTUS’ power to veto legislation making such a change.  Then it takes a 2/3’s vote to override the veto.

However, if any particular party in Congress has a 2/3’s majority in both houses, they could override such a veto.  That would allow them to go ahead and alter the number of justices any time they wanted… but they’d have to let the President nominate the justices.  Let’s just say that a Democratic Congress isn’t likely to require McCain to nominate a dozen or so justices and then approve them.  Similarly, a Republican one isn’t likely to let Obama do so.

However… if the President has a 2/3’s majority of the Congress, in particular the Senate, he can go ahead and add however many justices he might want.  Which means that if the Supreme Court disagrees with him (or Congress), he could just add enough justices to change their minds.  Don’t think it could happen?

FDR almost did just that to get the New Deal passed.  It was largely a doomed measure, but the fact that the Courts backed down from their stance against the New Deal laws raises the question of if they did so because they agreed they’d been wrong… or because they realized that he *could* pack the courts?

Once you have an overwhelming majority of the Congress and the President in agreement, the Judicial branch becomes alarmingly weak.  That is why Congress and the POTUS should, ideally, each want to keep the reins of power out of the hands of the other.

The separation of powers is much of what means the people don’t need to be absolutely terrified of the government, ready to rise up against them at the slightest provocation.  When the three branches disagree, they are forced to work together.  Even at this point in history, the Democrats can’t afford to completely ostracise the Republicans – if they do, they can’t get laws passed without them being vetoed constantly.  Similarly, the Republicans have to struggle to get anything through that both sides can’t agree on.

The idea that the people can select their government is the basis of any Republic. 

The idea that even the political (or ethnic, or whatever) minority get a say in the way their government operates is the basis of any just government.

The idea that either side deserves to have the power to do whatever they want is the basis of a consensual dictatorship. 

No matter how much you trust the people who are currently in power, you have to acknowledge that they won’t be in power forever, and what can you do if the people who replace them aren’t so trustworthy?

I’ve heard some people say that voting for one candidate or another to maintain the balance of power is ridiculous.  The thing is, those same people scream when the other side is in a position to upset that balance.  Before you go and do something – before you back a government that is overwhelmingly to the left or to the right – ask yourself if you’d want the government to be the other way around.  A government at war with itself finds it needs a cease-fire in order to exist.  A government ideologically united creates things like the PATRIOT Act.

A little conflict is a good thing.

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