Jim Hightower

Bank Theft, Fascist Food & Job Futures


Al Newman of Olympia, Washington, was startled to come across evidence of a major crime: Bank robbery. But the robbers weren’t stealing from the bank — they were the bank. And the theft was not of money, but of Al Newman’s personal financial data.

Al had received a solicitation in the mail from a Connecticut insurance company, and the mailing included a reference number that struck Al as familiar. Then it hit him — it was the number of his bank account! His own bank had sold his most private financial information to another corporation without even notifying him, much less getting his permission.

The crime here is that corporate trafficking in our personal data is not a crime! Indeed, it has become a big business for banks, which make millions of dollars by peddling your account numbers, your bank balance, your loan history, your address, your birthday, your social security number, your credit card numbers, and other sensitive information — all sold to other firms. Most people are unaware that this back door business is being conducted by their bank, which most of us assume is the guardian of our financial privacy. Far from protecting us though, bank lobbyists and

Congress just teamed up to pass a new financial conglomeration bill that specifically legalizes this marketing of your personal records among banks, insurance companies and stock brokerages that merge. So your banker will have your health records and your insurance company will get your mortgage information — plus your tax return that’s filed with your mortgage. They’ll share all this, like winos sharing a bottle of Ripple, without having to get your consent. They should have to have our written permission to use any of our private information. To battle the bankers on financial privacy, contact U.S. Public Interest Research Group at (202) 546-9707.


You’ve got your milk cows (moo), your sacred cows (moo-mooooo) … and then you’ve got your cash cows (ca-ching!). The cash cows that keep on delivering for today’s banking world are those beeping, glowing, computerized critters called A.T.M.s. For the privilege of using another bank’s A.T.M., a big bank will typically charge its own customers up to $2.50 to withdraw money from their account. In addition, though, the bank owning the A.T.M. will hit you with a surcharge of another buck-fifty or so for simply using the machine. So you’re out four dollars to withdraw maybe twenty dollars — a 20 percent hit to have access to your own money! This is why there’s a national rebellion against this electronic gouging, including a recent voter initiative in San Francisco to outlaw the outrageous surcharges. Despite a media blitz by the banks, the initiative passed by almost a two-to-one margin. Immediately after the voters spoke, however, Bank of America and Wells Fargo, the area’s largest banks, filed suit to overturn the democratic process, claiming that local people should have no say over the fees charged by nationally-chartered banks. In their court filings, however, the two giant banks revealed what a ripoff these surcharges really are. Bank of America is hauling off some $250,000 a month just for the surcharges in San Francisco, and Wells Fargo is taking in $210,000 a month. In the pleadings, the bankers whine that they could not possibly keep the A.T.M.s on the streets without charging this $1.50 add-on per transaction. But Newsweek magazine reports that the actual cost to the banks for handling an A.T.M. transaction is about a quarter. In other words, the banks are making a 500-percent profit every time you pay their surcharge to draw money from your own bank account. A.T.M.s are supposed to be convenient cash machines for bank customers … not cash cows for bankers.


“Hey,” said the customer to the coffee shop waitress, “it says here that Bill Clinton claims he’s created 23 million new jobs since he’s been in office.” “I know,” said the waitress, “I’ve got three of them.” Not to worry, say the Powers That Be to the job seekers of the future, all you’ve got to do is to wire your future into the information age, get high-tech skills, cross that bridge to the twenty-first century, and there’ll be jobs aplenty begging for you to take them. Al Gore, George W. Bush, Bill Bradley — among other presidential candidates — flatly assert that to get a job in the “new economy’ of the next decade will require you to have advanced technological skills.

Problem is, it ain’t so, Joe. In fact, the hordes of people they’re herding into engineering and computer classes will have no where to go when they come out. Education analyst Richard Rothstein, writing in The New York Times, reports that in the next decade, “employers will hire more than three times as many cashiers as engineers. They will need more than twice as many food-counter workers, waiters, and waitresses than all the systems analysts, computer engineers, mathematicians, and database administrators combined.” Already, America has millions of people who are overeducated for the jobs they have. Chances are, for example, that waitress who has three of Bill Clinton’s new jobs also has a college degree. The Labor Department projects an increase of less than one percent in jobs requiring a college degree, yet the high-tech industry and their politicians are pushing more and more people into college. As Rothstein writes, “we already enroll enough college students to fill foreseeable vacancies in professional fields.” So what they are doing is deliberately flooding the market with too many people chasing too few jobs, which will bust the pay level for everyone. It’s a cynical ploy by the Powers That Be to turn the middle-class’s high-tech future into low-wage work.

Jim Hightower’s radio talk show broadcasts nationwide daily from Austin. Find him at www.jimhightower.com, or e-mail: [email protected].