AIG


It pays to be a top Bensenville administrator. And to be the village president’s son.

The Chicago Tribune reported Monday that nine employees of the Chicago suburb received pay raises of 10 percent or more from 2007 to 2008. The largest percentage increase went to Ryan Geils, son of Bensenville Village President John Geils. Ryan Geils, a director of the village-owned and operated Edge Ice Arena, received a salary bump of 21 percent, from $49,500 to $60,000.

Additionally, Vincent English, supervisor of streets, received a 20.7 percent increase, from $65,986.96 to $79,647.87; Gary Thorsen, director of community events and special facilities, got a 19.86 percent raise, from $71,749.98 to $86,000; Village Manager Jim Johnson’s pay went up 14 percent, from $106,510.97 to $121,510.97; Assistant Village Manager Steve Marshall’s salary increased 12 percent, from $103,558 to $116,058; William Moreth, an Edge Ice Arena employee, received an 11 percent increase, from $45,000 to $50,000; Police Chief Frank Kosman’s pay went up 10.17 percent, from $98,324.93 to $108,324.93; former administrative employee Anna Hendry’s pay increased 10 percent, from $50,000 t0 $55,000; and Public Works Director Paul Quinn got a 10 percent raise, from $99,079.55 to $109,079.55.

The Tribune noted that most non-union village employees received far more modest cost-of-living increases.

Perhaps Bensenville will ask for bailout funds next, because it is spending money like a drunken sailor, despite a sour economy that helped put Illinois’ unemployment rate at 8.6 percent, a half-percentage point higher than the national rate. Sounds like something AIG would do, and Bensenville officials know it, judging by the way they tried to hide the pay raises from the public:

The raises were awarded in December and made retroactive to May 1, which meant employees received lump sum payments for about seven months’ worth of raises. [Village Manager Jim] Johnson said the practice is common for the village and that employees like it because it seems like a holiday bonus.

The raises came to light recently when an anonymous source leaked a confidential memo detailing them to the Chicago Tribune and to Bensenville attorney Frank Soto, who is running for village president in the April 7 election against six-term incumbent John Geils.

Naturally, Soto made the pay increases a campaign issue — and rightfully so.

His campaign blanketed the community last weekend with fliers that said, among other things, “When was the last time you got a raise? Was it 21%?” and “Who’s in charge here? Bernie Madoff?”

“In a situation where the village has the amount of debt it does, the property tax increases that we have seen, the extra fees and the water fee increases we have received, I do think it is inappropriate that certain people close to the administration seem to be getting these rewards,” Soto said. “I think that is inappropriate in this economy.”

Darn right those excessive pay increases are inappropriate. Instead of a retroactive pay increase in the middle of a recession, I got laid off. And so did thousands of other Illinoisans.

But Bensenville apparently has plenty of money to spread around among its top-tier employees. I hope the Chicago Tribune is checking into whether Bensenville applied for stimulus funds. I suspect that extra money didn’t stop village officials from asking for a government handout.

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A day after suggesting AIG executives “follow the Japanese example” and “resign or go commit suicide,” U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley clarified his criticism.

“What I’m expressing here obviously is not that I want people to commit suicide. That’s not my notion,” Grassley said Tuesday. “But I do feel very strongly that we have not had statements of apology, statements of remorse, statements of contrition on the part of CEOs of manufacturing companies or banks or financial services or insurance companies that are asking for bailouts.”

Grassley made his “suicide” comment after learning AIG is distributing $165 million in executive bonuses after collecting $170 billion in bailout money from the federal government. Many AIG executives receiving bonuses helped run their company into the ground.

While Grassley made clear he doesn’t want AIG executives to kill themselves, he further criticized the insurance company for awarding large bonuses after taking billions of taxpayer dollars to keep the business solvent.

“From my standpoint, it’s irresponsible for corporations to give bonuses at this time when they’re sucking the tit of the taxpayer,” Grassley said.

Keep the criticism coming, Sen. Grassley. AIG deserves every bit of it. But feel free to spread it out among the other bailed-out businesses who refuse to make changes even though they needed taxpayer money to keep them out of bankruptcy.

A lot of angry people weighed in today about AIG awarding $165 million in bonuses to executives who helped put the large insurance company in the position of needing $170 billion in bailout money from the federal government. U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, may have made the most outrageous comment about the situation.

“I suggest, you know, obviously, maybe they ought to be removed,” Grassley said. “But I would suggest the first thing that would make me feel a little bit better toward them if they’d follow the Japanese example and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say, I’m sorry, and then either do one of two things: resign or go commit suicide. And in the case of the Japanese, they usually commit suicide before they make any apology.”

Now I’m sure Grassley was speaking rhetorically and doesn’t actually want AIG executives to kill themselves, but surely there was a less inflammatory way to say what he meant. At the same time, Grassley’s comment seems to neatly summarize how the average taxpayer feels about the greedy executives who eagerly took bailout money from the government while continuing to run their failing businesses as if nothing had changed.

The root of what Grassley said holds true: these executives need to show remorse for screwing up so badly that generations of Americans will literally be paying for their mistakes. If they think they didn’t do anything wrong and insist on continuing business as usual, those people need to be fired or, at the very least, demoted in pay or position.

Approximately 4.4 million Americans have lost their jobs since the recession began in December 2007. Many of them are unemployed despite their job performances having nothing to do with why they were laid off. Yet AIG executives played a hand in causing their company’s near-collapse and they get bonuses. That doesn’t seem right, does it?

Perhaps President Obama will succeed in his attempt to block payment of the AIG bonuses. But I’m not holding my breath waiting for that to happen. After all, this is just another example of the great divide between the upper class and everyone else. Bernie Madoff, Enron executives and a few others notwithstanding, rich people who mess up don’t tend to be held accountable for their actions. The AIG bonus scandal likely will end up being just one more example of that.

In an interview that aired Sunday on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said the recession “probably” will end this year if the government is successful in its efforts to bolster the banking system. This includes getting banks to lend more freely (and responsibly) again and stabilizing the financial markets, he said.

Bernanke also believes the U.S. economy is no longer in danger of sinking into a depression. (To read the interview, click here.)

This is great news if Bernanke is right. But I don’t think we’re out of the economically depressed woods yet. I’m sure it won’t be easy to convince banks to lend more freely, considering how tone deaf the heads of bailed-out banks and insurance companies have been to the situation thus far. The latest example of this is American International Group (AIG) paying $165 million in bonuses to executives after losing $61.7 billion in the fourth quarter of last year — the largest corporate loss in history. Yet AIG still gives all that bonus money — money it has only because the insurance giant took more than $170 billion in bailout money from the federal government — to people who helped put our country in this economic mess. AIG says it was contractually obligated to pay out those bonuses, but I’m sure the company would have found a way out of parting with that money if it hadn’t gotten billions of dollars in bailout funds.

Even if the banks and financial markets start acting the way Bernanke hopes, unemployment figures still will rise, probably into double digits. I’m hopeful that economic recovery will begin by next year as Bernanke suggests, but if it doesn’t, things are going to get ugly for a lot more Americans.

While this is all going on, former Vice President Dick Cheney is busy saying the Bush administration is not to blame for the economic crisis. He told CNN’s John King that America got swept up in a global financial crisis. That may be partly true, but the state of America’s economy plays a large part in determining the state of the world economy. Cheney ought to go back to an undisclosed location and stop reminding us about the Bush administration.