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by Robert Sheer


Some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen.” That image from “The Ballad of Pretty Boy Floyd” is out of date these days, since bankers and other thieves who foreclosed on the bereaved widow’s home in Woody Guthrie’s old folk song don’t use fountain pens anymore. Instead, they rely on computerized transactions, online solicitations, international money swaps and all sorts of other secret shenanigans that leave the robbed consumers blindly unaware of who actually assaulted them.

First, a bank hustles them into deceptively low-cost introductory loans, which are then sold in a Ponzi scheme of speculation. When the homeowner’s interest rate inevitably balloons, it’s some other bank the consumer never heard of that lowers the foreclosure ax.

The other thing Guthrie’s tune missed is that only a fool of a stickup man would use a gun, because the criminal penalties are super-high and the loot paltry by comparison. Not so the money to be ripped off from home mortgage foreclosures and credit card hustles— and those robberies are not even classified as punishable crimes.

Sure, loansharking is a crime—a hoodlum loans you money at an exorbitant interest and then busts your kneecaps when you can’t pay up—but that’s because ordinary thugs don’t have a license to steal; banks do. And any time the government makes the slightest move in the direction of cracking down on the banks or stockbrokers who operate these officially sanctioned swindles, their lobbyists go to town and win. Individual states once had reasonable caps on interest rates and sound lending practice standards, but all of that got swept away by a federal government that the financial giants own.

Don’t believe for a minute that the long election campaign we just suffered through is going to change any of this. Lending-industry bandits lavishly bankroll both major political parties, and neither is about to punish them for their excesses. Quite the opposite: The only serious regulation of the financial world was wisely enacted in the 1930s during the Great Depression to prevent another meltdown and was repealed with solid bipartisan support during the Clinton Presidency. The banks bought that legislation with more than $300 million in lobbying costs, thus reversing the 60-year-old ban on mergers between banks, insurance companies and stockbrokers.

The first major beneficiary of the new deregulation legislation was Citigroup, which had been attempting an illegal merger with the Travelers Group insurance company. Once the banking giant got the law changed, the merger went through, and Robert Rubin, Clinton’s Secretary of the Treasury, then resigned to head up—yes, you guessed right—Citigroup.

These guys have no shame. Before he went into the government, Rubin made hundreds of millions running Goldman Sachs, which played the mortgage market for all it was worth before sticking others with the cost. Henry Paulson, Rubin’s predecessor at Goldman Sachs, also occupied that position of Secretary of the Treasury, in George W. Bush’s administration. See how nonpartisan these con artists are?

You might be thinking, What, me worry? —that is, if you don’t happen to be one of the tens of millions stuck in foreclosure on their interest-only adjustable mortgage loan or bearing the burden of credit card debt, suckered in by low introductory rates that later expand astronomically. But it will also cost you big-time even if you never took out a lousy loan. That’s because the taxpayers— yeah, you—are left holding the bag, buying out the banks and bailing out their top executives so that they can continue the hustle.

These are the thieves that Scripture warned us against. One of the clearest moral injunctions of the Bible is that usury—which is what these guys routinely practice—is a sin. As is stated in Ezekiel 22:12: “…thou hast taken usury and increase, and thou hast greedily gained of thy neighbors by extortion, and hast forgotten me, saith the Lord God.”

Funny how Christian moralizers pilfer from the Bible to find quotes that confirm their repressive views, but manage to miss anything in that same hallowed tome which smacks of social justice. But according to Ezekiel 22:12, the Lord God will not be as forgiving of our bankers as the politicians who constantly invoke His name.

Before serving 30 years as a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, Robert Scheer spent the late 1960s as Vietnam correspondent, managing editor and editor in chief of Ramparts magazine. Now editor of, Scheer has written such hard-hitting books as Thinking Tuna Fish, Playing President: My Close Encounters With Nixon, Carter, Bush I, Reagan and Clinton—And How They Did Not Prepare Me for George W. Bush and his latest, The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America.

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