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SHARKS IN THE WATER: How America Is Being Eaten Alive by the Commercial Banking Industry (PART I)

By Cheryl Seal

Back when the US government had a real check and balance system in place - before the NeoCon takeover of Congress in 1994-1996, the banking industry gave roughly equal contributions to the Democratic and Republican parties. But then came the NeoCon takeover of Congress (1994-96), a methodical corporate scheme spearheaded by Newt Gingrich. After 1994, banking industry political donations became increasingly skewed to the GOP. And why not? Their "reps" in Congress gave them everything they wanted and blocked any effort to regulate their practices. By 2000 the banking industry was showering nearly twice as much money overall on the GOP as the Democrats. Bush himself raked in FOUR TIMES more cash from the banking barons than Gore ( $1, 327,131 to $287,600).

Now, today, in 2004, the pattern continues - the banking barons can't do enough to keep their man in power.

So far, Bush has received more than twice as much money from the banking industry this campaign as he did in 2000 - $2,913,317 - nearly three times as much as Kerry ($1, 104,396). MBNA, the biggest credit card bank in the country, is the Bush's largest lifetime contributor. The corporation's CEO, in fact, is a Bush "pioneer." while nine of Bush's ten largest donors were financial service companies, including Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs.

Amusingly, the Bush Campaign, knowing just what a sore point the banking issue is with the overwhelming majority of Americans, has tried to spin off the industry's support for Bush by floating the "rumor" that Kerry "has received more donations from bank employees than any other senator." But this accusation is actually very much a tribute, not a slam! As any teller, transit room worker, and all ofther non-management bank employees will readily tell you - there is a HUGE difference between bank executives and bank employees! Non-management bank employees are among the most underpaid white collar workers in America with the weakest job security! That they support Kerry while their fat cat bosses support Bush says it all about the two candidates!

The Bush Campaign people also point to donations Kerry received from CitiGroup and Fleet Boston Financial group, claiming these two "bankrolled" his political career. But how does $182,387 (Fleet) and, $111,356 (Citigroup), spread out over a career of 20 years amount to bankrolling! Compare $300,000 spread out over 20 years to Bush's "career bankrolling": in a political career of just 8 years in Texas, Bush raked in over $3 MILLION from his top five patrons - number one being ENRON (over $500,000).

In any case, there is no doubt that the banking industry does not want Kerry in the White House: In November 2003, Kerry helped introduce legislation to combat predatory lending practices, expand consumer protections and strengthen enforcement of existing protections. Kerry also wants to create a new Director of Family Economic Security to review fair lending practices and make recommendations directly to the President.

Any changes to the current system couldn't come too soon. Thanks to unbridled NeoCon power in Congress, since 1994, the banking industry has become little more than a glorified loan shark network, preying the most relentlessly on the poorest Americans. In 1993, no one would have dreamed that the cost for an overdraft would hit $35.00 that the federal government would ever allow credit card companies to charge 23% or more in interest, or that interest on a savings account would drop to BELOW 1%! Today, Americans are being eaten alive by fees and a credit system that can only be described as an extortion racket. It should come as no surprise that the Bush administration and its Congressional minions have worked hand in glove with the industry to keep it that way

Jim HighTower summed the new "NeoCon Banking" system up nicely in April, 2000, after nearly a decade of the industry's uncontrolled greed.:

"According to a national survey by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, your jolly banker has shifted from being just a slight-of-hand finagler of interest rates...to an outright hold-up artist. Their new hold-up weapon: fees.

Standard bank fees have inflated bigger and more-quickly than Newt Gingrich's ego.... Want to close your account? Pay a fee. Use the ATM? Pay a fee, even though ATM-use saves money for banks. Someone give you a hot check? Bankers now charge you a fee for getting stung! In 1990, there were 96 different types of bank fees. Last year, there were 250 different fees. And that doesn't count this year's hot newcomer in the banker's arsenal: a fee to transact your bank business with a human teller, instead of using the ATM. All of this adds up to big-time loot for bankers, who have seen their annual take on consumer fees rise to more than $15 billion a year, way more than all the bank robbers combined would dare dream of. Shouldn't these guys have to wear ski masks when they go to the office?"

And, of course, since Bush hit the White House, it has gone from unbelievably bad to worse. Electronic transaction fees charged to all retailers for accepting debit cards increased 11 times in 2003-2004 alone, while debit fees have climbed nearly 300% percent since 1999.. In 2003 ALONE, ATM card associations raked in $29.2 billion in electronic transaction fees. Obscene! And while other countries, including the UK and Australian have tkane steps to regulate these out-of-control bank barons, the Bush administration continues to turn a blind eye in exchange for those piles and piles of campaign cash.

Stay Tuned for Parts 2-5, each a real life horror story by Americans who have been chewed up and spit out by the US banking system.
PART II: Ron's Story: How a $31 Overdraft Snowballed into Disaster for a 19-Year-Old Computer Desk Helper


Banking Industry Donations from Open Secrets:

The Bush Files (from the Texas Observer)

Debit Cards Eat at Grocers