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AIG CEO: Bonus Uproar 'Just As Bad' As Racist Lynch Mob

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Maybe you got angry about AIG paying huge bonuses just months after it nearly brought down the financial system and took a $182 billion bailout.

Well, then, you are exactly the same as a racist lynch mob in the Deep South in the Civil Rights era, according to AIG CEO Robert Benmosche.

He told The Wall Street Journal that the outcry over AIG's bonuses “was intended to stir public anger, to get everybody out there with their pitch forks and their hangman nooses, and all that -- sort of like what we did in the Deep South [decades ago]. And I think it was just as bad and just as wrong."

"It is a shame we put them through that,” he added, referring to those poor employees who got huge bonuses.

An AIG spokesman declined to offer further comment to The Huffington Post.

Update: In an emailed statement after this article was published, Benmosche wrote: "It was a poor choice of words. I never meant to offend anyone by it.”

Update II: A few hours later, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, called for Benmosche's resignation because of the remarks.

“As the leading critic of AIG’s lavish spending before and after its taxpayer funded bailout -- and as the son of sharecroppers who actually experienced lynchings in their communities -- I find it unbelievably appalling that Mr. Benmosche equates the violent repression of the African American people with congressional efforts to prevent the waste of taxpayer dollars," Cummings said in an emailed statement.

"I believe he has demonstrated a fundamental inability to lead this modern global company in a responsible manner -- a company that exists today only because it was rescued by the American taxpayers -- and that he should resign his position as CEO immediately," Cummings added.

In case you were busy washing your Klan robes and missed the lynching party, here's a refresher: AIG in March 2009 paid $165 million in bonuses to employees of its "financial products" division. This was the division that loaded the insurance giant with credit derivatives that blew up after the Lehman Brothers collapse. The government bailed out AIG to keep its bets from taking down the whole financial system.

News that AIG was paying huge bonuses, at a time when the economy was still in recession and the banking system was still in peril, was jeered by President Obama and others on the left. It was also jeered by many on the right, including Fox News' Charles Krauthammer -- who, to be fair to Benmosche, did in fact call for "an exemplary hanging or two," and/or the use of a guillotine in Times Square.

That is some harsh rhetoric right there, no doubt. AIG argues that the bad eggs who caused all the trouble at AIG were long gone by the time the financial-products division got its bonuses. AIG claims it needed to pay bonuses to keep smart people around, to help unwind its stupid derivatives bets so taxpayers could get paid back. Employees eventually agreed to give up a small percentage of their bonuses. And taxpayers have been paid back, and even turned a profit. As Benmosche told the WSJ:

Now you have these bright young people [in the financial-products unit] who had nothing to do with [the bad bets that hurt the company.] … They understand the derivatives very well; they understand the complexity. … They’re all scared. They [had made] good livings. They probably lived beyond their means. …They aren’t going to stay there for nothing.

So, to sum up: Not allowing financial alchemists who had "probably lived beyond their means" to carry on in the style to which they had become accustomed is exactly the same as lynching African-Americans in the Deep South.

Of course, thank goodness, no one was hanged as a result of AIG's bonuses. In fact, AIG survived to give out even more bonuses the following year.

That is just one of the ways the AIG situation differs somewhat from the whole Civil-Rights-era situation, in which many people, including men, women and children, were hanged, shot, stabbed, burned, tortured, blown up and beaten over the course of less than two decades. Not to mention the hundreds of years prior to that era in which an entire race was enslaved, hanged, tortured, et cetera.

Can you see the difference? Because Robert Benmosche apparently cannot.

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