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Argument: Bonuses controversy wrongly scapegoats AIG employees

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Wayne Outten, Managing Partner Outten & Golden LLP. "Opinion: In Defense Of The AIG Bonuses". MSNBC. March 23, 2009 - employees who are being vilified by Congress and others should not be scapegoated. Congress is considering laws aimed specifically at revoking or recouping the retention payments. Federal and state officials have threatened to publicize their names. Some have received death threats. Their homes have been monitored. Their children are afraid to go to school.

Most of the AIG employees did not receive the million-dollar payments featured in news coverage. Most are hard-working middle-income employees who undertook—on the terms set before the bailouts—to help AIG survive through 2008. And most of them were not personally responsible for taking unreasonable risks, making bad deals, or causing huge losses; they were not the decision-makers. Yet, they are all being painted with the same brush. And even those who might bear responsibility for AIG’s problems or who received huge payments should not be subjected to vilification, invasions of privacy, confiscatory taxation, and threats of violence.

[...]No one disputes that AIG and other Wall Street companies deserve intense scrutiny and criticism for taking unreasonable risks and losing many billions of dollars. Nearly everyone concedes that the risks these companies took could have been mitigated with better regulations, which our government should have strengthened but instead weakened.

We should ask more of our elected officials who passed laws deregulating financial institutions and of the regulators who let those institutions run amok. We should ask more of those who failed to do their homework before investing taxpayers’ money in AIG and other failing companies. And we still have tremendous challenges ahead in figuring out how to get out of this mess. But we should not allow legitimate anger over these past blunders and present challenges to be misdirected—perhaps intentionally by some in the government and the news media—by making scapegoats of the AIG employees who received retention payments to which they were entitled under arrangements entered into before the tumult of the past six months. They kept their end of the bargain.

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