Graves Registry: The big banker meets Mrs. Warren


For every life of an American citizen that terrorism claims all over the world, more than 1,000 die as a result of gun violence in the United States alone.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, voter fraud is virtually nonexistent in the United States.

Those two facts tend to severely compromise the underpinnings — not to mention the future — of today's Republican Party. GOP leadership has determined that their clearest path to victory lies in fear mongering and voter suppression, so they have chosen to simply ignore both of them.

They may find Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren a little more difficult to ignore. If you want a fresh infusion of hope into your no doubt wavering opinion of what smart capable people can accomplish in government, I suggest that you Google the clip of Sen. Warren's fearless grilling of the CEO of the Wells Fargo banking empire.

Wells Fargo, one of those too-big-to-fail monstrosities, evidently learned nothing from the catastrophic financial meltdown in 2008 that severely undermined the stability of the nation. It was caused by the same kind of underhanded, corrupt practices (in this case, larding up unsuspecting customers with superfluous accounts) that found Wells Fargo's CEO John Stumpf sitting in what must have been a very hot seat at yet another congressional hearing involving out-of-contol banks.

Mr. Stumpf maintained a deer-in-the-headlights expression throughout Sen. Warren's questioning, as if no one had ever had the audacity to ask anyone with a net worth comparable to his those highly impertinent questions. I kept waiting for the perfectly coiffed, white hair to wilt like a snowdrift in July. He looked so wounded, especially after having taken "full responsibility" for what Ms. Warren constantly and correctly referred to as a gigantic "scam."

Full responsibility. You hear those words a lot these days from the lips of chastened CEO's in their thousand dollar threads, who have finally been backed into a corner from which battalions of expensive lawyers cannot extricate them. The words are corporate America's version of "bibbidi-boppidi-boo," and, after saying them, corporate royalty fully expect to go the shareholder's ball after all.

Sen. Warren seemed quite skeptical of Mr. Stumpf's rather loose interpretation of the concept of full responsibility. When pressed as to whether he has resigned for his major role in perpetuating a scam on Wells Fargo customers, he said he had not. Had he given any of the money he personally had accrued from cheating customers? No, he hadn't done that either.

Did he know how much money he personally had raked in while the scam was going on? Mr. Stumpf declined to disclose a lump sum, but he was sure the amount was recorded somewhere. Sen. Warren, as it turned out, had the figure close at hand. (It always amazes me how these arrogant titans of finance constantly underestimate their powers of intimidation when it comes to Elizabeth Warren.) Mr. Stumpf had come away $200 million richer.

Had Mr. Stumpf fired any high level employees at Wells Fargo? No, he hadn't done that either. As a matter of fact, Carrie Tolstedt, the woman who headed the now-infamous community banking unit that oversaw the day to day scam operation, is all set to receive around $125 million in retirement benefits.

Quick action by the federal government is hampered by banking regulations that require potential customers to sign agreements that, in effect, protect banks from being pursued for the criminal prosecution most of them warrant, consigning complaints to something called private arbitration, where dirty little secrets are more easily kept secret.

Wells Fargo was fined $185 million for their massive scam. You will note that the figure is $15 million less than what Mr. Strumpf alone waltzed off with. It is surprising how net worth seems to expand proportionately as integrity factors diminish. Who says crime doesn't pay.

Sen. Warren concluded, "You squeezed your employees to the breaking point, so they would cheat customers and you could drive up the value of your stock and put hundreds of millions of dollars in your own pocket. And when it all blew up, you kept your job, you kept your multimillion-dollar bonuses, and you went on television to blame thousands of $12-an-hour employees who were just trying to meet cross-sell quotas that made you rich. This is about accountability. You should resign. You should give back the money that you took while this scam was going on. And you should be criminally investigated by both the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission."

Yes, indeed, an attitude like that is another big threat to fundamental Republican values.

— Alden Graves is a regular Banner columnist.

The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Bennington Banner.


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