By now almost everyone has heard about Bank of America's new five dollar charge for using a debit card. It should come as no surprise that the banks would spin it as the fault of the Durbin rule that regulates excessive charges, but make no mistake those charges were always there - we just couldn't see them before.
As Kevin Drum from Mother Jones points out, "So yes: the new fees are annoying. But that's a feature, not a bug, because now they're right up front in black and white, which means that consumers will see them and can be properly outraged (or not) by them."
Citibank has also joined the party by charging $20 for checking if your balance falls below $15,000.
An amount obviously calculated as unattainable by most families, allowing the bank to maximize the amount junk fees they can collect.
While most people in this country are struggling with unemployment, foreclosure, and the choice of paying a bill or putting food on the table Wall Street continues to harvest what is left of the rotting fruit. The other 99 percent of us have become the peasant class.
The peasants, in the meantime, have taken to the streets to show their displeasure with, among a litany of other causes, the pillaging of the middle and lower classes in what has been described as economic terrorism.
According to an AP article the movement is not only growing, it's not going away anytime soon.
"The Occupy Wall Street demonstration started out last month with fewer than a dozen college students spending days and nights in Zuccotti Park. It has grown significantly, both in New York City and elsewhere as people across the country, from Boston to Los Angeles, display their solidarity in similar protests."
Of course, the response, as always, is to throw money at the annoyance.
Take JPMorgan Chase's recent donation of an unprecedented $4.6 million to the NYPD.
It's not only the largest donation in history to the foundation; it actually makes up about 4 percent of the total donations the foundation has collected in its entire 40 years.
Chase Bank's $4.6 million is certainly more than any donation to the police or fire department during the Wall Street cleanup after 9/11 or during the recent hurricane and it's come ironically close in time to when 700 protester were arrested in Brooklyn on their way to Chase Manhattan Plaza. At the very least they've identified which debris needs to be cleaned up.
Incidentally, Chase has also recently invested $400 million in Twitter - the protester's preferred means of communication.
But why throw money at the annoyance when you can more easily throw contempt and arrogance around?
The reaction by Wall Street' aristocracy to the protest is not surprising - at least not historically.
Disdain, contempt, ridicule, and the basic "let them eat cake" attitude towards the protests and outrage seems to be pretty typical and historically accurate. Gawker reported this quote from our aristocracy:
"These guys are so pathetic and it was awesome watching them get dragged around and whooped by cops. Hey dumb non tax paying hippies.. You are costing people who actually have jobs more money by making 400 extra police occupy lower manhattan (sic) for two weeks ... Can't wait to see you Guys tomorrow - I'll be the guy handing out hippie muffins for free with laxatives baked in so after you shit yourselves uncontrollably we will spray you with champagne like we won a championship game. Only if you haven't been arrested for being a duche(sic) before that"
All this while sipping "Good Riddence" champagne, snapping pictures, and pointing at laughing at the protesters from their balconies.
Read the whole piece, it really is inspiring.
What seems to be lost on the partiers however, is that historically this attitude ended with a few aristocratic beheadings.
As one protester, Alexander Holmes, told HuffPo after being arrested, that if anyone thought "15 hours of no food, no water and a jail experience that is not enjoyable would deter us," they were "completely mistaken."
The contempt, hubris and disdain for the average working stiff has become all too common among the rich and powerful. The overall consensus seems to be that the rest of us are going to have to accept that this is the way it is and we should just shut up and take it.
In the piece I speculated that Eastern bank was delaying my funds in order to "play the float"-- where a bank holds your money, watches the ever fluctuating exchange rate, dumps it into your account at the lowest possible time and pockets the difference.
As I suspected, when I finally receive my money I lost a considerable amount of it to them. The exchange rate, after holding my check for five weeks, was considerably lower than any exchange rate posted during the dates they had my check.
I filed complaints with Attorney General's office, the Fed, the FDIC, the OCC, and the Division.
I questioned why a bank (in the 21st century) would need to hold a check for 6-8 weeks - particularly a check written directly from a bank as large as Credit Lyonnais in France (the second largest bank in the French system and the 16th largest in the world). I also questioned what exchange rate I could expect.
Rather than address my concerns, Eastern Bank's response to the FDIC was instead to complain about me. In a three page letter, on behalf of the CEO Richard Holbrook, Vice President Joseph Riley, whom I never dealt with, essentially whines about my attitude and how difficult I was with all my pesky questions. You'd think that I had violated some customer agreement by having the audacity to ask what they were doing with my money.
Not once in the three pages do they address why it took them so long or why no one I spoke to could give me the exchange rate I could expect. To date I have no legitimate response as to how they came to the ridiculously low and apparently arbitrary exchange rate.
Mr. Riley writes in his letter to the FDIC:
During the timeframe defined as from Eastern bank's receipt of the check until July 25th, Mr. Zombeck was also calling Eastern bank's Customer Service Center inquiring into the status of his check collection. Specifically, he called on June 27th and 28th and July 11, 13th and 25th. All of those interactions involve the same line of questioning that is summarized above and to which he received the same answers.
The answer Mr. Riley refers to however, over and over again was: "We don't have an answer."
Mr. Riley and Mr. Holbrook apparently see this as perfectly acceptable response. Basically their way of saying to a customer, "Screw you. You'll take what we give you. What we do with your money is none of your business."
The reaction and hubris are consistent with the rest of the larger banks and the contempt is palpable.
I read an article on Yahoo news shortly after the incident while I was shopping for a new bank:
Dissatisfied customers will be able to switch banks more easily by signing just one form under an initiative announced by the federal government. [C]ustomers would sign one form that authorizes their new financial institution to do all the work for them. The new institution would transfer all automatic transactions and inform associated creditors and debtors about the new account details.
"This initiative will give consumers the power to easily switch to another bank, building society or credit union if their existing institution isn't providing good value and service," Mr. Swan said in a statement.
Unfortunately it's about a new service that Australia's Treasury is providing. That's right; a country essentially started by criminals looks out for its consumers while this country helps its criminals screw consumers.
I may be little more than annoyance to Eastern Bank - not even worth a phone call or an explanation. The protests across the country are, it would appear, also an annoyance. Some have made the point that the protests have no direction, no defined goal, and no clear list of demands. I would submit that there is too much at stake to take aim at one issue. The frustration and helplessness that comes from being told time and time again that this is the way it is and we should just accept has come to a boiling point.
I moved my money out of Eastern Bank to a credit union. And so far it's been a painless and, for the most part, pleasurable experience. The bank's manger answers my calls, they reimburse me for foreign ATM fees, and I don't' have a bunch of weird inexplicable charges randomly appearing on my statement.
I suggest you do the same and stop being harvested one $20 charge at a time. Start there and then lend your support to the people camping out on your behalf demanding change. Any change. I'm with #occupywallstreet here. Any change would be better than the status quo.
Follow Richard Zombeck on Twitter: www.twitter.com/zombeck