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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 3/19/09

Retention Attention

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Message Stephen Pizzo
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I watched the entire Senate/AIG hearings yesterday on C-Span, where I learned that retention bonuses are a good thing, not a bad thing.

I learned that, even if someone creates a gargantuan mess, he/she needs to be encouraged to stick around because, how can a failed company get back on its feet without the help of the people who mugged it in the first place. Duh.

The other thing I learned yesterday was to not even try to reconcile the contradictions raised by paying the perps to stick around the scene of their crimes to clean up after themselves. Several senators raised those issues yesterday only to assured that, while those who got giant bonuses may have caused the problem in the first place, they are so “talented” and so “smart” that if they did not give them millions in retention bonuses they'd leave their failed Wall Street companies and go to work for other failed Wall Street companies.

So, after being schooled in the mysteries of retention bonuses I've started to wonder if we didn't make some big mistakes in the past by letting other "talented" and "smart" Disaster Dans leave our employ, simply because we were too small or too cheap to cough up a few million bucks to keep them around.

I made a list of all this lost talent.  So, in no particular order of retention-bonus-worthiness:

Michael Brown – Former Job: Federal Emergency Management Agency
By some accounts Brownie did a “a heck-of-a-job.” And the public would not have lost this highly experienced disaster manager if only we'd paid him a large retention bonus. After all, without Brown how else would New Orleans have become less brown? Which is why a lot of white folk in the south, not the least of which, former First Lady, Barbara Bush, still say, "heck of job, Brownie."

Bernie Madoff – Former employer: Suckers
Instead of pulling Bernie out of the game, US prosecutors should have paid him a retention bonus. Because, if as has been verified time and time again that, “a sucker is born every minute and two to take him,” by convincing Bernie to stay in business the DOJ would have only TWO Wall Street  crooks to keep track of; Bernie and the other one. Now that Bernie's out of circulation every sociopath on Wall Street will be prowling for suckers.

Charles Keating-- Former Job: CEO, American Continental Corp./Lincoln Savings and Loan
Charlie is the rule that proves the exception.  By paying Charlie a retention bonus, instead of jailing him for looting his S&L, we could have retained him. Because Charlie is a walking, talking bank fraud early warning system. You can bet your last dollar -- literally -- that Charlie would have discovered – and fully exploited – every regulatory weakness and loophole years before CitiBank or AIG even knew they existed.

Angelo Mozzillo – Former Job: CEO, Countrywide Mortgage Co.
Of course, Angelo paid himself a giant severance bonus when he left the mortgage company he'd run into the ground by making loans to people who couldn't afford pet food much less a half million dollar house. But, had we sweetened the pot for him with a fat retention bonus Angelo could, right now, be helping federal regulators unwind the junk mortgages he made and sold to Wall Street which resold them to the suckers who are now trying to unwind themselves from Angelo's handiwork.

Donald Rumsfeld: Former Job: Secretary of Defense, USA
If only we'd paid Rumsfeld a retention bonus he'd be around to calm a nervous nation with his famously glib insights on his own failures. For example, wouldn't it be reassuring if Rumsfeld, as Treasury Dept spokesman, were serving up such observations as, “You run the country with the economy you have, rather than the economy you wish you had.” And, “When it comes the regulatory failure of the SEC and FDIC to catch all these scams before they triggered a depression, well, we can't know what they don't know, you know,” quickly adding to reporters, “and any story you write to the contrary will be a real thumb-sucker.”

Richard Cheney: Former Job: Vice President of the USA
The severance bonus Dick got from Halliburton when he became VP must be running low by now. So a well-timed retention bonus could have convinced him to stick around to assure the new administration that "deficits don't matter." Cheney would also have been uniquely useful in locating the large number of i ndividuals who went missing around the world in recent years.

Karl Rove: Former Employer: The White House, USA
What the America people need right now is something to distract them, to keep them from obsessing over their lost dreams and savings. And who's better at the art of distraction than Karl Rove. If we'd only paid him a retention bonus he would already have hundreds of middle aged Americans in hunting gear, patrolling the Mexican border with guns and baseball bats. And, instead of being angry that Wall Street crooks had redistributed our life savings to themselves, Rove would have them fretting over the threat of “creeping socialism.”

Alberto "Fredo" Gonzales: Former Job: Attorney General, USA
Poor Al could really have used a fat retention bonus since no one seems to want to hire him now that's he's available. At least in that regard he has plenty in common with alll those AIG Financial Products Division wizards who are about as much in demand as anthrax. But if we had had the foresight to entice him to stay with a fat bonus, Fredo could be lending a hand right now. For example he could be helping Sen. Chris Dodd explain why he was for bonuses for executives of failed financial firms before he was against it. And, when pressed by reporters about the changes Dodd made in the bailout bill that allowed those bonuses, Fredo could have schooled Dodd in “not remembering” anything that might be personally incriminating.

And now... the exception that proves the rule;

Osama bin Laden – Employer: al Qaida
Osama is living proof that retention bonuses work. Osama was got his retention bonus directly from President George W. Bush. Bin Laden's was structured as a two-tier retention bonus. The first installment came when Bush let him escape capture in Tora Bora, Afghanistan.  The second “tranch” came when Bush diverted resources to invade Iraq. And that's  why Osama is still with us eight years after 9/11.

See how it works?
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Stephen Pizzo has been published everywhere from The New York Times to Mother Jones magazine. His book, Inside Job: The Looting of America's Savings and Loans, was nominated for a Pulitzer.

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