It is a classic case of megalomaniac superciliousness and brazen hypocrisy. Hank “the snake” Greenberg is suing the U.S. Government for $40 billion. His claim? The government was “unfair” to him and other shareholders when it pumped $184 billion of taxpayer funds into AIG to rescue it from certain bankruptcy.
It may seem like only yesterday when the U.S. was hammered with the worst economic decline since the Great Depression but if you had any delusions that the kind of economic insanity exhibited by bankers, financial gurus and insurance execs who pushed us to the brink of economic annihilation has disappeared, that notion was just shattered by Hank R. Greenberg who has filed a new complaint against Uncle Sam. More about that in a minute.
Greenberg, of course, is the former head of AIG Insurance, and if you don’t remember Hank’s role in this monumental financial firestorm, you’ve probably also forgotten that, not only did Nero play music while his people suffered and Rome burned, but he was a greedy and ineffectual leader in a time of crisis.
The apparent psychotic delusions of Greenberg are so grandiose and in such conflict with the reality of what happened, it is difficult to apply any form of logical sanity to his repugnant action, a fiddling Nero notwithstanding. It is impossible, one could argue, to underestimate the craftiness, deceitfulness and guile of Greenberg and those of his ilk. “Doing the right thing” is the first victim of those like Greenberg who are driven by the testosterone of greed, arrogance and lack of any level of shame or accountability for their actions, no matter how egregious they might be, or how well defined.
gall 1 |gôl|
1 a: brazen boldness coupled with impudent assurance and insolence
1 b: see temerity or alternately, “Hank Greenberg.”
Greenberg should be in court all right, but he should be the defendant, not a plaintiff. If it were not for the lessons to be learned by dissecting the abhorrent attitude that gives Greenberg the unmitigated gall to take legal action against the government over the AIG bailout, the best thing would be to simply mock him for being so blatantly unscrupulous. But in this latter day immorality play it’s futile to rely on reality and logic when dealing with someone who is so wholly deranged by deep-seated greed and personal hubris.
The Greenberg Lawsuit: a model of fallacious reasoning
The mistakes of history are often repeated when those who made the mistakes are allowed to rewrite the history of those mistakes or when the lessons learned from those mistakes are forgotten by those who were victimized and are allowed to be repeated. It appears that Greenberg is relying on both these factors in his effort to extract more money for himself from the government.
The basis of Greenberg’s litigation is that (1) the government exceeded its constitutional authority by forcing AIG shareholders (of which Greenberg was the largest) to sell 92 percent of their stock to the government for $184 billion. And (2) the terms of loans made to AIG by the government at 14 percent interest were tantamount to “extortion.” By reason of the latter, Greenberg now claims the government (i.e., we taxpayers) owes him $40 billion.
His logic is utter nonsense. As one pundit discussing the lawsuit put it, this is akin to a house fire caused by your own negligence and then, after the fire department saves your home, you sue them for getting your furniture wet. Greenberg’s only hope to be victorious in this lawsuit is that there will be mass amnesia as to the reasons why the government was forced to bail out AIG and its shareholders in the first place.
In September of 2008, AIG, then the largest insurance organization in the world, was on the precipice of bankruptcy. AIG had been pushed to the edge of implosion, because of irrational decisions motivated by the seemingly boundless greed of Hank Greenberg and others at the company. This stupendous lack of good judgment prompted AIG to insure hundreds of billions of dollars in potential losses from toxic mortgage securities sold by virtually every major financial institution in the world. In doing do, Greenberg drove AIG to violate every fundamental insurance law of risk management, all in a self-serving determination to maximize short-term profits and bonuses.
When this mine field of poisonous mortgages began to explode and rip through the economy, AIG found itself saddled with hundreds of billions of dollars in claims that dwarfed the total assets of the company. Not only was AIG insolvent – some say within hours of running out of money and being forced to close its doors – but the companies that had purchased AIG’s “mortgage guarantee insurance” would also face failure. This could have quickly caused the entire American economic structure – if not the global economy –to collapse in panic.
So here’s the sticker: If Greenberg’s AIG had been isolated in this financial quagmire, the government would probably have kept hands off and allowed it go bankrupt; just as it had in the case of the Lehman Bros. bankruptcy a few months earlier. But Greenberg had allowed AIG to assume so much risky liability from so many companies, that the government arguably had no choice – specific power or not – but to intercede. The potential economic catastrophe of failing to act as AIG collapsed was just too frightening to risk. It is not hyperbole to suggest that such a result could have challenged the very concept of capitalism.
Keep in mind that had the government allowed AIG to fall into bankruptcy and be dissolved (as happened with Lehman Bros. and numerous other companies) then Hank “the snake” Greenberg and every other shareholder would have found their stock to be totally worthless. As it was, in 2010 Greenberg sold his remaining stock of AIG for $278 million; not a bad “reward” for a guy whose greed helped trigger one of the largest and most painful economic declines in American history.
So what is the basis for the Greenberg suit against the government – really all of us as taxpayers?
Greenberg wants to rewrite history. He wants us to forget the chaos and panic that would have been exacerbated by the failure of AIG. With a straight face and feigned indignation, he argues that the government had no legal authority to “seize” his property by forcing him to sell his stock to the government. If anything, this argument just validates what a total sleaze Greenberg really is. He has no concern for the country or anyone but himself.
This snake Greenberg then compounds what should be our utter revulsion of him by claiming that, even if the government did have the power to force the sale of his stock, the price the government paid — $184 billion – was a rip-off and he should have been paid a lot more. When the government stepped in, the market value of AIG was $15 billion; and yet the government paid $184 billion. Just who got ripped-off here? And again, let’s not forget that if AIG had been allowed to fail, Greenberg’s stock would have been worthless!
There is a touch of ironic humor in Greenberg’s suit. (Actually, more than a touch if you follow the likes of political satirist Jon Stewart). Initially the government made an emergency loan to AIG of $40 billion dollars. This quick-shot of capital was critical to keeping AIG functioning while a long-term rescue plan was developed. The government charged AIG 14 percent interest on the loan. Now, in his perverted sense of reality, Greenberg is claiming that the loan terms imposed by the government amounted to “extortion.” This jerk has no shame!
The irony here is that AIG was a subprime borrower. The company was insolvent, unable to pay its bills and about to go out of business. With no other option for capital sufficient to save the company – 14 percent was a cheap rate! Can you imagine what a “private equity” firm would have charged AIG if one had the willingness and capital to bail out AIG? And, just for good measure, remember that even with a good credit record, banks charge individuals 18 percent on credit card debt. Yet, Greenberg has the gall to claim that the government ripped off AIG!
But Here is the Worst Part
It would be one thing if Greenberg were an aberration when it comes to the type of mentality and attitude he brazenly exhibits. He could be dismissed as simply a delusional, demented kook. But unfortunately, when it comes to big banks and corporate tycoons, Greenberg is more the norm than the exception. Remember that Greenberg was just a player, albeit a major player, in the economic meltdown.
Believe it or not, there are a number of investment firms and corporations that are supportive of the Greenberg lawsuit. They seem to feel that if they also get “to big to fail” and are about to, that the government will step in and do to them what it did to AIG. They should be so lucky! And the banks – the incompetent herd of complicit conspirators whose actions triggered the financial meltdown in the first place, are now chafing under the new rules (the old ones that had worked so well for 70 years were repealed) designed to keep them away from sharp knives so they can’t hurt themselves or us again. It is mind-boggling how irrational some can be when they rewrite history in their own minds and have self-imposed amnesia when it comes to their mistakes of the past.
And the Moral of the Story …
In the end, I have only one thing to say to Hank “the snake” Greenberg: Go “#@*&” yourself! And while you are at it, all those you rode in with. Take the hundreds of millions you sucked out of the government (taxpayers) and AIG and go crawl back in your hole. You should be the one sued, not the American people.