The Editor's Take: Cathartic Moments
We'll be publishing today's news soon, but first let me get something off my chest.
Everyone's looking for signs these days: signs of the bottom, signs of recovery, signs of a job opportunity. Some people count the number of people on the train, others measure the indicator of the moment - home sales, new unemployment applications, whatever. A year ago, Jon Jacobs and I debated whether the collapse of Bear Stearns was the "cathartic moment" the market needed to halt its gathering momentum downward. Today, that discussion seems quaint, if not naïve. At best, Bear's demise was a benchmark.
This morning I wonder whether we're witnessing another such moment. Two events in the past 24 hours, though much less dramatic than events at Bear, lead me to think that.
First: In today's New York Times, Jake DeSantis, formerly an executive vice president at AIG's financial products unit, publishes the letter of resignation he sent to CEO Edward M. Liddy. An 11-year veteran of the firm, he wasn't involved in credit default swaps and notes most of those who were are already gone from the company. For the last 12 months, DeSantis has worked for the whopping fee of a dollar, plus the "bonus" he was promised this month. We all know what happened with that.
So he's leaving. DeSantis quite sensibly decided it's not worth being away from his family 12 hours a day to clean up someone else's mess, for free. He notes many in AIG have turned down job offers at more stable companies in order to continue the work of dismantling the firm, and now they may not even be paid for it. He's not going to return his bonus, but he will donate all of its after-tax remains "directly to organizations that are helping people who are suffering from the global downturn."
Second: During the president's press conference last night, CNN's Ed Henry asked why Barack Obama had taken so long to express his outrage at the AIG payments. The president's response: "It took us a couple of days because I like to know what I'm talking about before I speak." You can imagine the huffing we'll see from the media over the next couple of days.
Why do I think these are noteworthy?
Because DeSantis put a human face on the AIG compensation being railed about at dinner tables, bars and committee hearings around the country. Jake DeSantis doesn't sound like an example of Wall Street "greed" to me - he sounds like a disappointed professional who tried to help out his company, and his country, when he could have done other things, and now has been ridiculed for it. And, because a political leader in Washington actually acted like it's crazy to be pressed on why he didn't rush to judgment on something everyone else was ready to spill blood over. (Andrew Cuomo threatened to publish the names of those who received compensation from AIG if they didn't give it back. Please.)
Maybe I'm just tired, but it was nice to see two such public displays of sanity.