Welcome to another edition of “Homeowner Hunger Games.” Step right up ladies and gentlemen! Try to beat the house if you dare! Keep your eye on the queen and show me the green – put up your money, you’ve got this! You may already be a winner. Fill in that paper work. We’re here to help!
The first time I went to New York city was in the early 1980s with my parents. We made the most gullible “mistakes” in choices of things to do: we went to see “Cats” (which I hated) and Times Square on New Year’s Eve. The crowd was so dense I was literally lifted off the pavement and swept away by a river of shoulders, wild eyed and claustrophobic, yelling “Dad!!!” This was before cell phones. If you screamed, no one heard you. Tourists with new wonder, sparkling with untarnished openness to adventure in the Big Apple, were easy targets for the hustle and show of the concrete carnival madness.
I stopped to watch a guy outside Macy’s with a TV tray and a deck of cards. He was shuffling the deck and throwing out three cards as two other men stood by like hungry shoppers at Costco waiting for samples. The three cards were rapidly moved in swift motion circles, sleight of hand magician-style movements. You had to keep your eye on the card you spotted when it was face up and follow it with your eyes intent on calling it as it was flipped over, mixed, moved and palmed. The con, unbeknownst to me at the ripe old age of 21, was called “Three Card Monte.” In England it’s known as “Find The Lady.” The Urban Dictionary’s definition calls it “a con game, frequent in the New York subways, involving playing cards. Never play Three Card Monte; you can’t win.”
I think I know that now. I was taken for all my spending money and, to make matters worse, my dad tried to win it back for me, losing his money as well. He didn’t realize the guys around the box were shills for the trick to lure in innocent curious tourists. No cops came on the beat in time. After my dad lost his money, the crooks ran and disappeared into Macy’s. I had no desire to return to New York City for many years after that. I often think of that famously ironic Far Side comic with two moose talking and one of them says to the other, which has a huge target on his back, “Bummer of a birthmark, Hal.” That was me in the big city. Sometimes that feels like me in life.
As tourists through the psychological jungle of life, we often get swept away, bamboozled, lured in and taken by magic trick hustlers, lovers, business deals, modification scams, men in suits. As life unfolds and we age, hopefully we get a bit wiser to the ways of the world, a little less impulsive and a little more sophisticated. But when we find ourselves in foreign lands from our experience or expertise, literally or metaphorically, we don’t have that kind of hindsight or awareness. Sometimes we oh so foolishly think others have integrity or professional ethics in business at least, or will give us the opportunity to win it back.
While the world holds it’s breath watching the political side show filled with Russian spies, saboteurs, hijinks, espionage, men falling from tall buildings and the fleecing of consumer protections, we find that this particular game of Three Card Monte has higher than ever stakes, with more peripheral distractions including post-its on our backs that say “Kick me hard!” The current occupiers of the White House seem to have a yen to abolish anything with the word “protection” in it. Environmental Protection? Consumer Fi-nancial Protection Bureau? Gotta go!
By higher stakes card tricks, I’m talking about millions and billions paid out just this month by Wells Fargo and Bank of America as if it were Monopoly money, doled out for fraud, consumer abuses, wrongful foreclosures, whistle blower violations and suppression, wrongful termination of employees, defective mortgages, fraudulent accounts, executive heads rolling, fines, forgery and criminal bankster mardi gras games. Keep your eye on the cards, winner takes all.
Dear Main Street, how do I scam thee? Let me count the ways. Or should I say, “Together we’ll go far.” It’s as if the bank CEOs have regular committee meetings to dis-cuss the protocol of the Three Card Monte trick. Keep it fresh, keep the suckers coming, pay the shills, hell, put them in Congress and disappear into the crowd. Maybe Devin Nunez is free to oversee the investigation. Insert canned laughter.
Hmmm… but what have we here? Wells Fargo executives are having millions “clawed back” from their executive looting? Seventy five million. Really? Each? How many millions per executive with insider trading, stock options, bonuses and prior years of Three Card Monte? Millions of consumers played the game, most unknowingly with their credit being harmed, their accounts being forged, their credit cards they never knew they had racking up fees – did I mention the gullible tourists that played, too?
The underling peasants, I mean employee shills, were the ones who kept the casino going to keep their jobs and meet the “Eight is great” impossible quotas for how many accounts a Wells Fargo customer should have, all so that John Stumpf and Carrie Tolstedt, the card trick “shill” in charge of “Community Banking Outreach,” could loot consumers. (Insert the laugh track here from the canned studio audience.) Perhaps they should check John Stumpf’s back for Carrie’s claw marks. Keep your eye on the queen. It’s all in the game.
When the fraud accusations and “Stumpf the panel” episodes appeared before Congress, Ms. Tolstedt was already hoarding executive payouts like the Lucy episode in the chocolate factory, metaphorically stuffing millions of dollars in her mouth, her hat, her bra and mattress – $124.6 million that we actually know of, in the hypothetical hem of her skirt as she packed her bags for her “early retirement” in the Bahamas. Oh, but even though she flew off theoretically with her golden parachute, she was actually still working at Wells Fargo. Probably had the shredder on over time.I kid the greedy.
The sales quota madness actually bumped up the stock value, which CEO John Stumpf cashed in on just before the scandal broke and the Wells Fargo Three Card Monte scam unfolded. As professor William Black says in his TED talk, “The best way to rob a bank is to own one.”
Dear John made approximately $19.3 million a year and annual bonuses of approximately $12.5 million. The cards were shuffled fast and Mr. Magic Hands palmed the queen to secure an additional $200 million after the stock puffed up like a guy with low T that just scored big on that little blue pill skipping through Vegas. Remember when Martha Stewart went to prison for insider trading, all over $45,000 in losses? How dare she act like a good old boy.
Wells Fargo is a huge investor in the prison industry, not that the bank executives will ever see jail time. But perhaps the best way to go to jail is to own one as well. Soon investigations will lead to the fact that millions of fraudulent foreclosures and predatory practices by banks like Wells Fargo continue to this day, in the very same way we have seen the accounts scandal exposed. Right?
The parallels of these banks that scam consumers on the mortgage side is far more egregious and devastating to consumers than bogus accounts and credit cards. The gluttony in CEO pay and rewards are equivalent to a whale at a pie eating contest. There is never enough pie. There will never ever be enough pie. Now in place of the great white whale, simply insert the image with the great white male.
We haven’t even scratched the surface of the many many years and billions if not trillions of dollars scammed, tricked, kicked (hard) and stolen, and the harm done to the middle and working class by Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Chase, US Bank and all the other bankster shills who lured consumers into thinking they could actually win at the table, modify their mortgage, cure the induced default, keep their eye on the queen, let alone their retirement funds. Winner take all.
I say “soon,” but perhaps it is just the tiny shiny traces of naivete that remain in my open-faced desire for justice, reparation, accountability. To look at the tall buildings and fearlessly make eye contact in the big city where the game is played best.