Raw, nasty power

This week we have seen raw, nasty power. We have seen the very reason why we have a constitution for you. Yes, you. We have seen what it is that separates us from the likes of Russia and Vladimir Putin.

What we saw was our president attack individuals who had received bonuses from AIG. He rebuked them on national television. Then he ordered his treasury secretary to try to take the money back from the bonus babies. We saw senators and representatives attack those private citizens. The political leaders threatened to write laws to tax away the bonuses. They tarred the already tattered reputation of a huge company. That put the jobs of thousands under threat.

Meanwhile New York’s Attorney General demanded the names of the citizens who received the bonuses. As if they were criminals. Barney Frank demanded the same from the boss of AIG. If the company did not give up the names he would ask Congress to subpoena them. Again, as if these individuals were criminals.

The AIG boss said the company may give up the names. But he would want a guarantee they would be held confidential. Because the employees had already received threats of violence. Barney Frank was not much interested.

These bonuses were paid under contracts. Contracts are protected by law. Beyond that they were doubly protected. The President’s stimulus package specifically protected them.

Mobs do not care about laws. Autocrats like Putin and Venezuela’s Chavez do not care about laws. And some of our leaders do not care about laws. What do you suppose these leaders of ours would do to these individuals if laws did not stand in their way? What would they do to satisfy the mobs they have incited?

Did they engage in this demagoguing to distract you? From some of their mistakes in our economic mess? Perhaps. Were they embarrassed over how bad they looked? Did they point the finger at people receiving a million bucks because they goofed over a hundred billion bucks? Perhaps.

They threatened to use their power to break contracts these individuals had with their employers.

Suppose you work for a company. The company contracts with you for a bonus. Achieve this this year and we pay you this bonus. So you achieve it. But now the company says it had a really bad year. So it will not pay the bonus. It does not matter whether you did what was called for. No bonus - because the company lost money.

That is a violation of law. It does not matter whether the company was stupid to make the contract. It is a contract and it is protected by law.

Suppose you fulfill the terms of your contract. You await your bonus. But the government has to bail out your company. Politicians rip up your contract. They deny you your bonus. Or they snatch the money from you after you receive it.

That is against the law too. A company that would break such a contract is crooked. A government that would break your contract is an evil power. Your Constitution was written to protect you from such power.

Here is a simple analogy to reveal the hypocrisy of these politicians.

A Hollywood star contracts to make a movie for $20 million. Movie studios recently begged California government for quarter of a billion dollars in tax goodies. To keep making movies in Hollywood. Would that state government demand the star return the $20 million? Because the studio lost money after collecting government handouts? Or because the movie bombed? Not too likely is it?

City and state governments grant many millions to baseball clubs in tax breaks and stadiums. Would Andrew Cuomo demand Alex Rodriguez hand his bonus back because the Yanks did poorly last year? Of course not.

Imagine you do your job. You fulfill your contract. Politicians suggest you are a thief. They whip up public anger toward you. And the President of the United States comes after you. An attorney general demands your name. A member of Congress threatens to subpoena your name. He does not give a damn that animals have threatened you and your family.

Pretty chilling stuff. In Russia or China you might get tossed in jail, secret rigged trial to follow. In America the same could happen, absent your Constitution.

From Tom ... as in Morgan.

For more columns and for Tom’s radio shows (and to write to Tom): tomasinmorgan.com.

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