Minneapolis, Minnesota

Outrageous and unbelievable!

In the last week: I visited with an agent of a for-profit enterprise that just laid off more than five dozen people and is evaluating whether to renew its sponsoring relationship with one of our major sports facilities. I spoke with an arts community leader who is concerned about losing the community’s production infrastructure that provides employment to thousands of on-stage and off-stage people. I took coffee with a writer who is trying to piece together rent and grocery money in a fragmenting publishing milieu. I caught up with a publicist who is working seven days a week to fill 75% of available seats in an ongoing business that requires more than that to break even. On Friday, I dropped in on six organizations to cheer their morale as they deal with budgetary turmoil.

Yesterday: The American International Group (aka A.I.G., the insurance giant termed “too big to fail”) announced that it is awarding $165 million in performance-related bonuses for 2008 to some of its employees. This is after the collective we, the citizens of the United States (not all of us are taxpayers) bailed out this firm with infusions of public cash, borrowed from China, to the tune of $170 billion. In a letter to A.I.G.’s chairman, the secretary of the treasury, Timothy Geithner, urged that the bonuses be scrapped.

Today: Larry Summers, chair of the White House National Economic Council, said he is outraged by the news, but because of contracts that pre-date the public bailout there is nothing that can be done to stop the bonuses (although, apparently, effective curbs are in process of implementation going forward). Further, the chairman of A.I.G. says that subjecting the compensation policies of his organization to the dictates of the government (aka the public – you and me – the owners – the people who have guaranteed that they still have jobs) will risk a talent drain to the competition.

Wall Street is separated from Main Street not just by a yawning gap. Wall Street is its own surreal, parallel universe.

Note to Summers and others who say “No we can’t” stop these bonuses: You owe your own jobs to our belief and desire that “Yes we can!”

We don’t care how you do it. Shut down this outrage!

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