I learned a new term yesterday: Bill of Attainder, “an act of legislature declaring a person or group of persons guilty of some crime and punishing them without benefit of a trial.” I’m embarrassed to say I can’t recall hearing the term before, even though it’s right there in the Constitution in Article I, section 9, clause 3, the section that puts certain limits on Congress. It appears right after clause 2, the one preventing the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus except in the case of rebellion or invasion.
I ran across the term because of the outrage we’re all sharing that large bonuses were doled out to AIG executives after they ran the company into the ground so badly that U.S. taxpayers had to bail them out to the tune of $180 billion and rising. Like most people, I think such executives should be arrested, not rewarded. Earlier this month, in a post about things I no longer believe in, #1 was “Anything to big to fail,” and I was specifically referring to AIG and the financial institutions created by hyper merging during the past twenty years and now are hiding behind their heft to protect their ass. Apparently, AIG is one of those too big to fail things and so, therefore, they run by separate rules than the rest of us. And so, I am already on record as being against everything that went into making them big and am repulsed by the type of hubris and greed that such companies have apparently bred among their top executive.
But still, I get a little nervous when I see something other than the Redskins uniting everyone in Washington. And when the thing that unites everyone is directed at less than 500 people, I really start getting concerned. And when I see lawmakers who have made careers out of terms like “no new taxes,” get in a race to see how fast they can take credit for passing a 90% tax on 500 people, I start concerning myself with what exactly is taking place.
Yesterday, I saw a member of Congress suggest he was going to make public the names of the 448 or so executives who had received bonuses. The implication — whether intended explicitly or not — was that if these people knew that 300 million mad-as-hell U.S. citizens knew their names and addresses, then perhaps the price they would be paying for that bonus would seem too high.
Frankly, as outrageous as I find the bonuses to be, I’m frightened to think that Congress can rush through a tax that targets 500 people.
So that’s when I discovered the term “bill of attainder,” in a Wall Street Journal article about how legislation to “claw back” (another great new term) the bonuses would have to be written to make it constitutional, in light of the provision that prevents a “bill of attainder.” And “the experts” think a bill can, indeed, be written to skirt the Constitutional limitations.
I’m mad as anyone at AIG and am outraged at all those who are tone-deaf to the anger the rest of the country would have towards them if they handed out “retention bonuses.” I, if truth be told, could crank up some comments about AIG executives that would make Chuck Grassley seem like their Welcome Wagon representative.
But I just get a little nervous when, in the time-frame of a couple of news-cycles, I see a mob grab their pitch forks and head off into the direction of the Bastille.