A declaration of good intent is simply a license to steal; at least in this hyper-charged political environment. Someone tell me where in the Constitution it says government has the right to arbitrarily decide private company pay, and to take it away if deemed excessive (16th Amendment doesn’t cut it, so don’t even try). Bank executives were told — ? la Luca Brasi and Vito Corleone — it will be their brains or their signature on the bailout paperwork. Didn’t matter if they didn’t want it. If the execs didn’t sign, their banks would have been fully nationalized anyway. But their bonuses were still based on performance, according to the contract that Treasury drew up, a contract Treasury now says it didn’t understand (even though it was their own contract — can’t make this stuff up).

We’re a nation of laws, not feelings. Just because we feel it’s wrong bonuses were paid doesn’t make it so. As Leona Helmsley’s lawyer correctly noted, “I don’t believe Mrs. Helmsley is charged in the indictment with being a bitch.” Meaning something more tangible — like a charge of tax evasion — was needed to slake the public’s thirst for her blood. Ditto with bank execs. If you don’t like the manner in which a company is managed, don’t invest. If you don’t like bureaucratic appointees shamelessly pandering to populist outrage fueled largely by ignorance of the actual facts of the case, don’t vote for the politicians who put them there.