Wall Street blackmail: It's not just for satire anymore

Everybody got a good laugh recently over this article by uber-satirist Andy Borowitz:

American intelligence experts are analyzing a new terror video from the American International Group (AIG) in which the leader of the shadowy organization demands billions of dollars from the United States.

In the four-minute tape, which surfaced over the weekend and caused deep concern among U.S. officials, a man believed to be the chairman of AIG says that if his organization is not paid its ransom, "chaos and destruction will rain down on the American economy."

"If we are not paid billions more in bonuses and corporate golf retreats, America will be made to suffer," the man threatens.

Ha ha. Except that it's essentially true. Wall Street is essentially blackmailing the U.S. government, and thus the American people, but threatening to rain down fiscal ruin on everyone if the current monied class is not allowed to retain their jobs and, more importantly, their wealth. Think I'm exaggerating? Read this story from today's Wall Street Journal (h/t Talking Points Memo):

Bankers were shell-shocked, especially when Congress moved to heavily tax bonuses. When administration officials began calling them to talk about the next phase of the bailout, the bankers turned the tables. They used the calls to lobby against the antibonus legislation, Wall Street executives say. Several big firms called Treasury and White House officials to urge a more reasonable approach, both sides say. The banks' message: If you want our help to get credit flowing again to consumers and businesses, stop the rush to penalize our bonuses.

This is a complicated issue -- like a lot of people, I'm not convinced that a special tax on these bonues is legal. But the broader message is clear: Wall Street -- and not the American people or our elected representatives -- are calling the shots here. And it's disappointing that the Obama administration is fairly inclined to bend over backwards whenever the bankers call.

FDR's New Deal wasn't a slam dunk, either. Bankers and various millionaires were appalled at some of the steps that Roosevelt took in an effort to end the Great Depression, to the point where a few of them talked about staging a coup (True story.) But FDR proved it's possible to stand tall in the face of this kind of pressure when the public is on your side. Maybe the president should put down his Abe Lincoln books and concentrate his history studies on the 1930s.