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May 4, 2009

Local activist links peace, bailout

When Edward Liddy, AIG's chief executive officer, walked into a congressional hearing room in March, a local activist says she had him in the palm of her hand.

``I was there to hear him try to justify giving millions in bonuses to the very people who'd mismanaged the company,'' said Code Pink member Cynthia Benjamin, of New Lisbon.

``Before the hearing started, it was pretty informal, people were talking, sitting down and I saw him walk in.''

Liddy was about to sit in front of her, when Benjamin, a registered nurse and veteran peace activist, called out his name.

``He turned to me and shook my hand,'' she said. ``And when he did, I wouldn't let go. I just held onto his hand while we had some words about those obscene bonuses paid out to wealthy executives, while middle-class families lose their homes.

``By now, the room was filling up, and there was no graceful way to get out of that handshake,'' said Benjamin, whose 31-year-old son, Capt. Jesse Greaves, is an Army captain in Iraq.

``I asked him how he felt about the economic draft of our middle class, where young people can't find jobs so they're forced into the military,'' she said. ``And about people losing their pensions, their health care, while his executives get millions of our tax dollars.''

While the gallery watched, Liddy and Benjamin, who was with Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin (no relation), were captured in photographs that would appear in Newsweek, The London Times and the New York Times. Code Pink is a women's peace group.

``It was an incredible situation, and I have to say he was very nice to me,'' said Benjamin. ``He told he understood how the American people felt.''

Then the gavel came down and Benjamin let Liddy go so he could be questioned by the House Financial Services Subcommittee. Committee members wanted to know why American International Group, which received more than $170 billion in bailout money, should be allowed to pay bonuses of about $165 million to 73 executives.

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