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Home visits to protest huge AIG exec bonuses

A busload of activists representing working and middle-class families paid visits on Saturday to the lavish homes of American International Group executives to protest the tens of millions of dollars in bonuses awarded by the struggling insurance company after it received a massive federal bailout.

About 40 protesters sought to urge AIG executives who received a portion of the US$165 million in bonuses to do more to help families.

News of the bonuses ignited a firestorm of controversy and even death threats against AIG employees. The company, which is based in New York, has received US$182.5 billion in federal aid and now is about 80 percent government-owned, while the national housing and job markets have collapsed as the country spirals into a crippling recession.

AIG has said it was contractually obligated to give the retention bonuses, payments meant to keep valued employees from quitting, to people in its financial products unit. Congress began action on a bill that would tax 90 percent of the bonuses, and the company's chief executive urged anyone who received more than US$100,000 to return at least half.

AIG has argued that retention bonuses are crucial to pulling the company out of its crisis. Without the bonuses, it says, top employees who best understand AIG's business would leave.

"We think US$165 million could be used in a more appropriate way to keep people in their homes, create more jobs and health care," said protester Emeline Bravo-Blackport, a gardener.

She marveled at AIG executive James Haas' colonial house, which has stunning views of a golf course and the Long Island Sound. Another protester, Claire Jeffery, said she's on the verge of foreclosure.


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