Thursday, March 19, 2009

No Shortage of Blame for the Bail-Out Mess

With fingers pointing in all directions, the nation's press and politicians are scrambling to assess blame for the lastest in an unending chain of blunders relating to the country's financial mess. Typical is a recent article in the Washington Post, in which the White House is determined to throw Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner under the bus.

This action comes as the Obama Administration seeks to avoid taking the blame for the failure of Congress to anticipate the level of irresponsibility that bailed-out financial giants like AIG would show, by using bailout funds to provide performance and retention bonuses to the executives and other geniuses who caused the mess in the first place.

In point of fact, it appears that the bonuses were specifically exempted from Federal limitations through an amendment crafted and sponsored by Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut...who was among the vocal critics of the practice until he was reminded that it was the "Dodd Amendment" which allowed the bonuses. And, of course, the amount of money spent---roughly $150 million...or about 0.1% of the amount Congress approved for the hastily-crafted, unread, and essentially undebated bailout package---was too small for them to bother with. Chump change...or so it seemed to them at the time.

Of course, that was before everything hit the fan. Now, our elected leaders are trying to outdo each other in their expressions of outraged incredulity. Simply put, now that they are feeling the heat of an outraged country, Congress is pretending to be shocked---shocked!!---that companies would actually do what Congress permitted them to do. And to prove their outrage, there is talk afoot to impose a confiscatory tax to recoup any bonuses that the executives---some of whom no longer work for the firm that was giving them a "retention" bonus, and many of whom, being foreign nationals, are beyond the range of Congressional sputtering---are too unpatriotic to return.

Of course, changing the law after the fact is unconstitutional: the "Ex Post Facto" clause prohibits Congress from taking action to punish people after the fact. And the "Bill of Attainder" Clause forbids them from passing laws directed against specific people who have roused their ire.

Not that such legal limits will constrain anyone---the Constitution seems to be resemble a giant imaginary sieve these days, and is hardly a thing that politicians bother with when their own self-interest is on the line. But unless people wake up, all the fuss and feathers may very well succeed in distracting enough people to serve politicians' main aim: to divert attention away from themselves---all of whom share a significant share of the blame for our current troubles---and onto the shoulders of a convenient scapegoat du jour.

Of course, some of us keep hoping that the country will wake up and start paying attention to the fools and scoundrels we have in charge of things these days. But then again, some of us are just hopeless idealists...still struggling to hold on to a dream of what this country could be if its people were only wise enough to choose their leaders with the same care they use to pick their breakfast cereal.

JEFFREY CAMINSKY, a veteran public prosecutor in Detroit, Michigan, specializes in the appellate practice of criminal law and writes on a wide range of topics. His books include the science fiction adventure novel The Star Dancers, the exciting second volume in the Guardians of Peace-tm series, The Sonnets of William Shakespeare, and the acclaimed Referee’s Survival Guide, a book on soccer officiating. All are published by New Alexandria Press, and are available on Amazon, as well as directly from the publisher.

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