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How Can We Stop Banksters From Robbing Us?

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How Can We Stop Banksters From Robbing Us?


Reprinted with permission from Creators.

In an insightful song about outlaws, Woody Guthrie wrote this verse: “As through this world I travel/ I see lots of funny men/ Some’ll rob you with a 6-gun/ Some with a fountain pen.”

The fountain pens are doing the serious stealing these days. For example, while you would get hard time in prison for robbing a bank at gunpoint, bankers who rob customers with a flick of their fountain pens (or a click of their computer mouse) get multimillion-dollar payouts, and they usually escape their crimes unpunished. After all, it’s their constant, egregious, gluttonous thievery that has made “banker” a four-letter word in America, synonymous with immoral, self-serving behavior.

Take John Stumpf, for example. The preening, silver-haired, exquisitely-tailored CEO of Wells Fargo was positioned on the top roost of the financial establishment and hailed as a paragon of big-banker virtue… until he suddenly fell off his lofty perch.

It turns out that being “a paragon of big-banker virtue” is not at all the same as being a virtuous human being. Banker elites don’t get paid the big bucks by “doing what’s right,” but by doing what’s most profitable — and that means cutting corners on ethics, common decency and the golden rule. Stumpf didn’t just cut corners, he crashed through them, driving his big banking machine into the dark realm of immoral profitability by devising a business plan that effectively encouraged Wells Fargo branches to steal from millions of their poorest and most easily deceived customers.

The courtly chief executive coldly fostered a high-pressure sales culture throughout the Wells Fargo hierarchy, pushing elderly pensioners, non-English-speaking workers and other vulnerable depositors into accounts they didn’t understand or need, extracting high fees for the bank. Among the shameful (and illegal) profit-boosting ploys developed on Stumpf’s watch was having bank supervisors and tellers secretly set up fake, high-fee accounts for some two million customers without their knowledge, much less their consent.

Running those soft-hands criminal rackets for more than a decade, Wells Fargo prospered and the chief amassed a fabulous personal fortune. Then, as the scandal exploded throughout the media last year, the “paragon of virtue” tried to save himself by feigning ignorance of the robberies, publicly expressing outrage at them, and firing 5,300 lower-level employees. But, it wasn’t enough — Stumpf was shoved out and forced to surrender $69 million in compensation he had stashed away.

But don’t weep for Poor John — it’s now been revealed that he grabbed $83 million in stock payments on his way out last year, and he still holds $147 million in Wells Fargo stock that he was awarded by the board. It’s said that virtue is its own reward, but big banker virtue is rewarded in cash.

While our country’s biggest consumer bank has gotten away with paying some fines for stealing millions of dollars from customers in its notorious “fake accounts” scheme, Wells Fargo has not escaped the wrath of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. This feisty order of nuns, which holds a block of Wells Fargo stock, has been embarrassed and they are infuriated by the rank immorality of their bank’s executives. They are pushing a shareholders’ proposal demanding a full accounting of the “root causes” of the malicious fraud perpetuated on vulnerable depositors. Unsurprisingly, the bank’s aloof and arrogant board of directors, which had silently presided over the fraud for years, opposes any such meaningful probe.

Such recalcitrance only intensifies the public’s outrage and cynicism toward out-of-control banksters. But the giant worries less about its public image than it does about the reality an in-depth investigation would expose — namely that our nation’s dominant banks have not only become too big to fail and too big to jail, but too big to manage and control. To stop that thievery, they must be broken up.

To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.


Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower is a nationally syndicated columnist and one of America's most prominent progressive voices. His column carried by more than 75 publications across the country. Prior to becoming a writer, Hightower served as Texas Agricultural Commission from 1982 to 1991.

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  1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth April 12, 2017

    Capitalism without moral restraints has become the prime example of what can go terribly wrong in a non-communist/non-socialist society driven foremost by profit.

    What began as a noble experiment, American Democracy, had by the latter half of the 20th Century become any would-be bank robber’s dream vocation. By the time the GOP under Reagan and Nixon took control, the descent into corruption and uncontrolled avarice accelerated into overdrive. The likes of Jesse James, Bonnie and Clyde, Lucky Luciano, and Frank Nitti would have gladly given up holding up banks, running shady gambling casinos, loan-sharking, murder, and extortion, for a desk job and cozy office in fancy marble and glass edifices, losing their hearing from the sounds of clanging of cash drawers opening and closing non-stop everyday, and constant phone calls signaling money taken(stolen) from ordinary citizens. Many of the same citizens who regularly get fleeced are more than happy to make sure the banksters’ enablers, Congressmen, are perennially elected in order to shoo away those nasty bank and ethical regulations.

    “Make America Great Again”? Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, etc. must have chuckled at this quaint slogan, because they had long ago experienced the greatness of America, first hand—by virtue of the GOP and Reagan’s foresight to eliminate banking regulations, and the GOP’s vigilance in seeing that no new bothersome regulations be imposed.

    How thoughtful, and with such compassion and consideration, has the GOP been on behalf of Wells Fargo, and other ethically “upstanding”, (ig)noble of character, and (ir)responsible in behavior, in order that those “banksters” and their share-holders continue to benefit in such a systematic and well-planned heist.

    What wonderful opportunities America presents for those who value deceit, graft, and uncontrollable avarice.

    And yes—Democrats have benefited greatly by the largess of a capitalism run amok, but at least they generally make the effort to show concern, try to push forward regulations, and don’t talk about good behavior as being “politically correct”.

    1. I of John April 13, 2017

      spot on

    2. dbtheonly April 13, 2017

      GM Aaron,

      I’m still trying to work out the incongruity of using Guthrie’s, “The Ballad of Pretty Boy Floyd” . It was part of that gangster-glorifying meme in the 1930s.

      I think your ire is rightly placed. Government regulation exists to keep each of us from ripping off the rest. Assuming that any industry can “self-regulate” is as demonstrably false as it is short-sighted.

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      2. Aaron_of_Portsmouth April 13, 2017

        Good morning, the visceral discomfort with “regulation” with the GOP is unique and an extremely interesting topic in general.

        We in the West have culturally conditioned ourselves to recoil at the very notion of restraining bad habits. Maybe this is a gradual evolution of hating the autocratic authority of kings over their subjects, first seen among our human brothers and sisters who migrated into Europe.
        Resistance against kingship grew to a fever-pitch during the Amer. Revolution, with King George representing all that was “evil” about Monarchy in the eyes of settlers here.

        We’re still having a problem, this time with anyone saying what NOT to do.

        Many years ago, some other Baha’is and I gathered to discuss some topics in the Baha’i Writings, and we came upon a passage regarding “Liberty” and “True Liberty/Freedom”. On the surface this may seem to be a tautology, but Baha’u’llah explained the term in two ways, in addressing someone in Persia who asked about the social trends being felt in Europe, with the Reformation and other thoughts and ideas swirling around, and various philosophers touting the advantages of freedom. To which, and this is a partial encapsulation from a translation of the Tablet, He wrote the following:
        Consider the pettiness of men’s minds. They ask for that which injureth them, and cast away the thing that profiteth them. They are, indeed, of those that are far astray. We find some men desiring liberty, and priding themselves therein. Such men are in the depths of ignorance.

        Liberty must, in the end, lead to sedition, whose flames none can quench. Thus warneth you He Who is the Reckoner, the All-Knowing. Know ye that the embodiment of liberty and its symbol is the animal. That which beseemeth man is submission unto such restraints as will protect him from his own ignorance, and guard him against the harm of the mischief-maker. Liberty causeth man to overstep the bounds of propriety, and to infringe on the dignity of his station. It debaseth him to the level of extreme depravity and wickedness.

        Regard men as a flock of sheep that need a shepherd for their protection. This, verily, is the truth, the certain truth. We approve of liberty in certain circumstances, and refuse to sanction it in others. We, verily, are the All-Knowing.

        Say: True liberty consisteth in man’s submission unto My commandments, little as ye know it. Were men to observe that which We have sent down unto them from the Heaven of Revelation, they would, of a certainty, attain unto perfect liberty. Happy is the man that hath apprehended the Purpose of God in whatever He hath revealed from the Heaven of His Will, that pervadeth all created things. Say: The liberty that profiteth you is to be found nowhere except in complete servitude unto God, the Eternal Truth. Whoso hath tasted of its sweetness will refuse to barter it for all the dominion of earth and heaven.

        (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, pgs 335-336)

        I’ve been intrigued by this distinction, and in today’s social climate it seems to accurately describe the GOP’s inability to apprehend the importance of restraint and control.

        1. dbtheonly April 13, 2017

          The Christian equivalent is “the fallen nature of man”. Man is inherently sinful. Needless to say, this opinion is frowned upon in liberal circles. Do they no longer teach “Lord of the Flies” in school? Is Thomas Hobbs ignored?

          I will point out that monarchy is not strictly a European phenomenon. China has its Emperors. Japan ditto. India its Sultans, Nabobs, Princes, and Rajas. Africa its chieftains.

          American Indian tribes and pre-Christian Norse are the only non-hierarchical societies I can think of, off the top of my head.

          Governments exist then to restrain the inherent greed and acquisitiveness of men. Because Governments are composed of greedy and acquisitive men, the powers of the Governments need to be restrained.

          1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth April 13, 2017

            t of that region, etc., etc.

          2. dbtheonly April 14, 2017

            I don’t buy that either East or West has an inherent superiority in culture or ethics. Materialism runs through all societies, though I’ll certainly give you that Africa had less opportunity to revel in wealth in its agrarian phase. China has stories of wealthy men causing trouble going back way before Western contact.

            Materialism is inherent to all. It’s a function of the human condition. It’s not a disease of East or West.

            We can discuss why participatory democracy tends to flourish in European countries at a later time. I’ll start off though by pointing out that India, South Korea, and Japan seem to have developed thriving democracies within the past ~75 years.

          3. Aaron_of_Portsmouth April 15, 2017

            I never meant to imply that one hemisphere is superior to another. All humans are endowed with the same human qualities—some of us have bigger capacities than others, as indicated in the parable about 3 individuals with 3 sizes of vessels in the Bible. All humans have the same frailties, and materialism is one of them.
            The point is that each group of peoples who migrated from Africa to different regions of the world evolved different cultures, different societies, different values, etc.
            A brief review of history and schools of philosophy will show that those humans who settled in Europe would evolve a system of interactions and a certain slant on the nature of humanity—from that perspective, numerous schools of philosophies came about. Most significantly were the schools of thought associated with the Reformation and Renaissance. Most influential in terms of impact on “European” thinking were “Existentialism”, which essentially posits that God is irrelevant, that each human is capable of determining for himself or herself what is good and what is evil—in other words, that Religion is irrelevant and a crutch.

            Baha’u’llah categorically refutes this, defines the origin of “Materialism” as a train of thought a product of philosophers of this school of thought—in essence, materialist go so far as to deny the existence of the soul as an entity emanating from an Unknowable Essence, that material existence is an analogue of the Spiritual World—I’m not referring to pantheism, by the way.

            So, when Baha’u’llah speaks of materialism, He means materialism as it relates to the waning of Religion’s influence in society. It just so happens that Europe’s influence on the cultures it encountered, by virtue of superior capabilities in developing skills in sailing and technological innovations in weaponry and other feats, was like an outlier compared to the combined impact of all other nations on the planet insofar as affecting patterns of thought.

            Materialism leads to the attitude of over-emphasis on accruing things, as clearly evident in the imbalance of wealth in the world, when looking at the distribution of wealth and power economic.

          4. dbtheonly April 16, 2017

            There have been several books written on cultural differences among societies. “Why the West is Ahead, For Now.” Sticks in my memory but I’m not recalling any specifics, sorry.

            The Western monotheism vs. the Eastern poly or pantheism is certainly a major influence. I might suggest that the Hindu idea that the material world is a hinderance to enlightenment parallels the Gnostic idea that the material world is of the Devil.

            Though I must question whether the religion is a cause or an effect of the societal norms.

            More books to read. Currently 1/3 of the way through Remini’s 3 vol. biography of Andrew Jackson.

  2. Dominick Vila April 13, 2017

    With Republicans busy removing every regulation designed to protect consumers, and holding the keys to the chicken coop, it is only a matter of time before the Wells Fargo fiasco extends to other banks. What we are seeing is a return of the Bernie Maddoff, AIG, and Goldman Sachs days, when fraud and abuse was rampant…and eventually contributed to the near collapse of the U.S. economy.

  3. greenlantern1 April 13, 2017

    What did President Andrew Jackson, OLD HICKORY, say about banker Nicholas Biddle?
    Doesn’t Trump PRETEND to be an admirer of his??

    1. dbtheonly April 14, 2017

      Trump also has spoken highly of Henry Clay, which is funny, given that Jackson & Clay hated each other with a passion.

  4. idamag April 15, 2017

    After what those bankers did to people during the bush years, safeguards for depositors and borrowers were put in place. trump immediately attacked those safeguards. The American people are their own worst enemy by letting this happen and by overlooking what the war monger is up to. North Korea says to trump, “We are ready for war with you.” However, you know that daddy’s little darling and his son will never be called on to fight in the wars he is starting. There are still years left on paying for Iraq. How long do you think it will take to pay off John McCain’s wet dream?


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