My Side of the Fencepost

By Jim Dickerson

Giant steps backward

It makes you just want to throw up your hands in disgust and say: “What’s the use?”

American International Group, the worldwide insurer of financial companies, has received four bailouts from the U.S. government in the past 18 months. They’ve gotten $173 billion in bailouts over the past six months.

And Sunday . . . the company said it was giving $165 million in bonuses to executives who are under contract in its financial products division! That’s the division that helped create the complex deals that eventually shook the foundation of the world economy.

And they’re getting bonuses!

This is the same company that threw a big party for its executives shortly after receiving the first round of bailout funds.


I don’t claim to understand big business or big government, but I do understand why the American people have lost considerable faith in their government and in “too big to fail” businesses during the past 18 months — and it doesn’t much matter which political party occupies the White House or holds the majority in Congress.

We ordinary citizens are being told we are in for some tough economic times and we’ll likely have to make do with less. At the same time, our government is in such a hurry to rescue the financial sector that it hands out billions with few if any requirements on how the funds must be spent.

Then, the “too big to fail” business is free to hand out bonuses to people who — in the real world — would be more deserving of a pay cut or firing. And it appears the bonuses were pre-arranged, with no basis on performance, which indicates the “too big to fail” company already knew it was too big to fail.

The absolute unfairness of this latest event makes our blood boil.

If trust in our government and trust in big business are keys to economic recovery, then we just took a couple of giant steps backward.


Time for wishful thinking: There is a moral high ground that could be taken by AIG executives. Even though their contracts apparently stipulate they’ll receive bonuses, they could refuse them. They could say: “Look, it’s obvious that the nation and the company could make better use of this money than giving us these bonuses. Here — take the money back and use it as it was intended.”

I know that probably won’t happen, but it would go a long way toward restoring faith in AIG and big business in general.


Far reaching impact

Water regulation will continue to be a big issue in Nebraska’s future, but access to water may change considerably.

The series of four public hearings have been completed, and it’s up to one man, Brian Dunnigan, director of the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources (DNR), to determine whether or not the preliminary “fully appropriated” designation will become permanent for the Lower Platte River and its tributaries.

At the final hearing last Thursday, a group of Natural Resources Districts issued the findings of their own review of the Lower Platte. Simply stated, the NRD study findings are contrary to those of the DNR. The NRDs say the finding of “fully appropriated” is not supported by the science used in its study.

This has been an interesting debate so far, and it could get even more interesting. A crossroads has been reached, and we’ll know in the next 30 days which road the state is taking.

On the one hand, a major decision rests with one man, Mr. Dunnigan. It is a tremendous amount of power and pressure to place on one person. Although Dunnigan appears to be well qualified as a professional engineer and manager with DNR over the past 23 years, he has only had this job on a permanent basis since December of 2008.

On the other hand, the NRDs have been attempting to deal with all the various water conservation issues within their own river basins for many years. Some, like the Lower Loup NRD, have taken a proactive approach and have already limited water appropriations. It is understandable that they would be very disappointed if the job of setting limits is taken entirely out of their hands. That would appear to be the case if the fully appropriated designation is made permanent.

No one wants to give politics too much play in this debate, but there are always political considerations about who stands to benefit and who will be forced to sacrifice.

In their statement concerning the designation, the NRDs have tried to take emotion and conflict out of the discussion. They have cited several differences of opinion on the science and methodology used. It will be up to Mr. Dunnigan to decide which study carries the most weight.

Much is riding on this decision.