Does this mean we have government-owned health insurance?

I’m flummoxed.

The New York Times is reporting that the Federal Reserve is loaning AIG $85 billion and, in return, will own an 80% stake in the company. Huh? How can the Federal Reserve own 80% of an insurance company? Does this mean that all U.S. tax payers will get invited to the shareholder’s meeting? Have we just “nationalized” a giant company? Does this mean we have “nationalized health insurance”?

More mysterious, how in the world can anything that’s part of the federal government make a decision that fast?

No President can make a decision that fast. And the nation’s founders worked overtime to ensure that anything decided on by Congress would take decades. And if you’ve ever been the part of any legal action, you know that decisions are now being made on court cases that began when Earl Warren was in law school.

I guess when it comes to something really important like, say, our money, we don’t have time for the typical Washington theater.

At times like these, even politicians know they need to turn things over to people who have at least thought about this stuff before — who aren’t working off 3×5 cards of talking-points. We’re at a place where no one knows what’s going on — so Ben Bernake can make any decision he wants — as if he were running China, or something.

But I’ll confess. All things being equal, I think I’d rather have him handling things right now than any politician I can think of.

Update: The story is evolving from the first report. The Fed loan is now being characterized as a “bridge loan” and the 80% of the AIG is being characterized as “collateral.”

Update II: After hearing the official announcement, I think the first characterization was more correct. I also think it sounds like it’s possible the U.S. taxpayer may get a profit from this deal. If it plays out that way, I think Bernake is qualified to run H-P.

Bonus link: Sometime during the night, Gawker posted a collection of items that will be making some magazine editors wince, including:

Forbes: “Merrill is in dame good shape.” (April)
BusinessWeek: “Don’t be leery of Lehman” (April)
Fortune: Merrill – Best stocks for 2008