“First in war, first in peace and last in the American League,” was the battle cry for the Washington Senators, the capital’s long-defunct Major League representative and an amusing yet historic study in baseball futility.

That haplessness in and around the diamond appears to have been dutifully passed on to D.C.’s newer franchise the Nationals. As a result, the current populist bashing of AIG in our nation’s capital has instantly become the city’s most popular spectator sport – and admittedly, far more entertaining than watching the bumbling Nationals, who chalked up a 59-102 slate in 2008.

The backlash over the giant insurer’s $165 million in contracted bonuses after it had collected more than $170 billion in federal bailout proceeds, has predictably, and rightfully, sparked visceral outrage from K Street to Main Street.

Why should the folks who had a hand in nearly destroying the insurance giant, get rewarded for the equivalent of going 0-for-4 with three errors?

But what’s really going on here?

Although the checks were sent out last week, the administration knew about them as far back as December. That was about, oh, two bailouts ago, the first two under the Bush administration for $85 billion and $38 billion, respectively (both of which incidentally were approved by the current president), then an additional $30 billion under the current crew.

By the way the $30 billion was distributed after the company posted a fourth-quarter loss of nearly $62 billion. I have full confidence that my 13-year-old could be installed as chairman and lose less than that.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who is quickly morphing into a Cabinet version of a Nationals/Senators utility infielder, has come under fire for his failure to stop the bonuses from being handed out as well as being given marching orders by his boss to find a way – any way – to retrieve the monies.

But he’s not alone in this mission.

Predictably, the usual suspects have come out in full dress indignation including Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, D-Conn., who was basically exposed as having inserted an amendment in the recent “spendulus” bill to honor contractually obligated bonuses before Feb. 11, 2009. Dodd now claims that it was put in there at the insistence of the Treasury.

Then Sen. Charles Schumer D-N.Y. issued a warning to those compensated executives, to the tune of “If you don’t return it on your own, we will do it for you.”

Apparently, his ignoring the massive financial tsunami in waiting at Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, or his careless solvency-in-doubt statements that caused a run on the Indy Mac Bank last year, won’t affect his raise.

Ditto for former Freddy and Fannie cheerleader Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., who told a cadre of reporters, “We [the government] are the effective owners of this company,” and proceeded to intimate that a lawsuit may be filed to retrieve the money.

I could proceed to point out the danger of government determining the sanctity of contracts but the AIG issue has sparked such an outrage, I dare venture I’ll not generate much agreement. Nor am I happy that yet again, we have a yet another textbook example of how gross incompetence is handsomely rewarded.
AIG chairman Edward Liddy has asked those receiving bonuses to at least give half of them back and Congress last week rushed through legislation calling for a 90 percent tax on the money.

But to hear the ripple of indignation from folks who one could argue are nearly as complicit in this financial debacle, is a bit like the Senators or the Nationals conducting a skills clinic.

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