When I try thinking about myself in relation to executives at AIG who received taxpayer bonus money, I see a little kid kicking the dirt and telling the schoolyard bully she can keep my lunch money because I wasn’t hungry anyway.


Sure, we’re mad but what are we going to do?


Our elected representatives (you know, the people who make laws and spend tax dollars on our behalf) handed over the lunch money last September with a kind of reckless surrender we now find utterly irresponsible. That headlock the bully had us all in seemed inescapable at the time, so we quickly handed over the cash.


$173 billion to AIG, with very few questions asked.


The move was dubbed TARP (Troubled Asset Recovery Program), also known as the bailout. We now know it might more appropriately have been named TRELOU, or The Rich Eat Lunch On Us. Who knows, really, where all the money went?


Your congressman or senator?


Um, well, try writing those people today to ask them that question.


Here’s what we do know. Of the $173 billion AIG received, $164 million to $215 million went to AIG executives in the form of bonuses. Retention bonuses. Like we need to make sure all the bullies stay in school so the rest of us don’t get fat eating lunch with our own lunch money.


The House recently passed legislation that would send the bullies to the principal’s office. The bill imposes a 90 percent tax on bonuses paid with TARP funds. At companies that received more than $5 billion in tax dollars. For individuals whose income tops $250,000 a year.


Whew. Making sure bullies are dealt with fairly is a bit complicated.


The legislation has been declared unconstitutional by many – a bill of attainder, an ex post facto law, not to mention a simple violation of a contractual agreement to pay bonuses.


Others say the moving around of bailout funds in this way constitutes illegal fraudulent conveyances, which crop up from time to time in bankruptcy maneuvers. What happens in these cases is debtors hide assets from creditors so they don’t have to use the assets the way creditors expect them to.


Ugh. I’m telling you unless you have a Ph.D. in economics, a juris doctorate in law, and a red phone linked to the U.S. Treasury Secretary, I think you can count yourself out on really knowing what happened to your lunch money.


At one point, nine of 10 top executives at AIG have returned their bonuses, totaling $50 million. You realize that means nine people took home $5.5 million each in bonus money, don’t you?


Do you also know that according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 135 million Americans work for pay with a mean annual income of $40,690?


These were the lunch boxes raided for bonus money.


I’m anxious to see what happens next. Will we applaud the benevolence and right-thinking of executives who gave back their $5.5 million in bonuses, then step away and declare the playground safe again for pockets that jingle when we run? What about the rest of the money – the $115 million to $165 million in bonuses – at AIG? Will it show up on the teacher’s desk before the bell rings, too?


Does anyone ever sit down with the money-grabbers to say, “Hey, kid, you have plenty of money. Stop taking change from the poor kids.”?


Ah, whatever. We weren’t hungry anyway. Right?


Jan Chapman is a former broadcast journalist, a story teller and a blogger. She is a member of Church of the Savior, a UCC congregation with Baptist roots in Austin, Texas. She blogs at Thinking in Peaces.

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