If You Are Going to Steal, Try to Steal at Least a Billion Dollars
In the midst of the recent government shutdown, a story emerged that a group of people receiving welfare through the "EBT" program unexpectedly found that their
EBT debit cards suddenly had no limit
. The computer glitch allowed these individuals, who are dependent on food stamps to live, to go to Wal-Mart and fill up carts full of groceries to take home. A commentator, titling his article "The Louisiana Heist
" described the scene this way:
There was no food left on any of the shelves, and no meat left. The grocery part of Walmart was totally decimated." One man even managed to spend $700.
This was certainly a windfall for these individuals, as food stamps ordinarily provide just a modest allowance of $100.00-200.00 dollars per month per person, and are available only to Americans with incomes below $20,000.00 for a family of four. The author of one editorial angrily demanded the arrest and prosecution of these scoundrels with their full grocery carts, saying: "This was theft, pure and simple, and its perpetrators should be treated as any other thief would be."
Many news outlets presented this situation as an incident worthy of national attention and anger. The New York Daily News, more than a thousand miles away, called it "chaos
." Another outlet called it an "outrage
." The editorialist quoted above called it a "serious moral issue." And our society agrees. Welfare fraud is prosecuted aggressively in the United States, often resulting in prison sentences and fines in the tens of thousands of dollars for perpetrators. To take one example, an impoverished woman who qualified for the benefits because of her low income, but failed to disclose prior drug charges, earned a three-year prison sentence for receiving food stamps unlawfully
An unfortunate woman with two disabled children who had an on-and-off father received a felony conviction and prison time for claiming extra money
. Another man received a one year sentence based on his failure to disclose
that his wife lived with him.
Even if the perpetrators of the Wal-Mart EBT shopping spree are able to avoid lengthy prison sentences, they doubtless face fines for the value of what they received, a criminal record and the loss of benefits and concomitant difficulty surviving. Those who called for their prosecution are sure to get their wish, in other words.
Of course, there are other "outrages" in the United States these days. For example, a few years ago, through gross mismanagement and stunning avarice, the corporate leadership of a dozen or so large banks nearly destroyed the United
States economy. Lehman Brothers
, although certainly not the only offender
, was among the worst
. Some of the top bankers were drawing salaries in the tens of millions of dollars
while they lead their banks into bankruptcies and bailouts.
The bankruptcies in turn led other banks to the verge of collapse or collapse itself and taxpayers were compelled to bail these institutions out with billions and even trillions of dollars. As a PBS investigation soberly put it: "According to a team at Bloomberg News, at one point last year the U.S. had lent, spent or guaranteed as much as $12.8 trillion to rescue the economy."
Thinking back to the poor fellow with the $700.00, grocery-laden carts at Wal-Mart, these bankers cost us enough to pull that "Louisiana Heist" eighteen billion times
. In other words, these bankers took enough cash off the U.S. taxpayer to buy a truckload of groceries for every human being on earth and enough more to do it over and over again.
Mortgage lenders, likewise earning hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars, entered into fraudulent loans by violating well-established laws and responsible practices in order to line their pockets with money that working people had earned and entrusted with them when they realized their loan products were "toxic assets." They sold them off to unsuspecting pension groups and various government agencies, infesting the modest retirement accounts of our nation's working people and elderly with worthless securities. One of the worst malefactors was Goldman Sachs who deliberately led their own clients to purchase assets they knew to be worthless so that they could make even larger profits betting the other side of the market to enrich themselves.
These people are responsible, not only for the theft of the billions and trillions of dollars they paid themselves to do this to the United States of America, but also for five years of recession and sluggish economic growth, including the most massive unemployment the United States has seen since the 1930s. The total loss to the people of the United States of America as a result of these actions of perhaps a few hundred, or at the most a thousand elite bankers, hedge fund managers, and their accomplices in the Treasury Department, is many trillions of dollars
In contrast to the "EBT shopping spree" perpetrators, the people who stole billions and trillions
from America are not going to jail. Few if any of them have been criminally prosecuted, and likely no more of them ever will be. Moreover, only one or two of them have been made to give back any of the money they stole from coal miners, fireman, police officers, secretaries, school teachers, waitresses, and every other American who has suffered as a result of their astonishing greed
. Fines have been a few millions of dollars, a tiny fraction of what was taken. But that's not all. Not only have these individuals escaped any criminal prosecution, and not only have they been allowed to keep all the money they stole, they've all kept their jobs or been shuffled around to different ones in substantially the same positions. And they are all doing it again
That's right. The same people who led the entire economy to its biggest defeat in a century are still in command. It's as though General Custer was promoted after leading his troops to the massacre at Little Big Horn. And if you think they might be doing a better job this time because they've learned their lesson, watch out. They've learned their lesson, but it's not the lesson you think they've learned.
They haven't learned to avoid taking spectacular risks with other people's money. They got paid for that
. They haven't learned to stop defrauding their customers and investors and regular Americans because they got paid for that too
, and they haven't learned that their actions which brought the economy to the brink of utter disaster need to be avoided at all costs in the future. They got paid for that, and paid well.
The last few weeks, while the government was shut down, regular people suffered, veterans lost benefits, children with diseases lost chances to get treatment, medical research was delayed. That didn't stop the shutdown. When the debt limit deadline was approaching, rich Wall Street bankers felt threatened
. And they got what they wanted, unlimited access to taxpayer money to fund their lifestyles.
What this cadre of corporate criminals have learned, first and foremost, is that their wealth, and their influence in our political system allows them to get away with anything. That's the lesson we taught them. But those poor food stamp recipients with their "six to eight carts full of groceries," that's a real outrage - that's a "serious moral issue." Let's get right on top of those poor people walking out the front door with food to eat, while we ignore the bankers walking out the back door with all the money in the world.
Meanwhile, in Ohio, the government is prosecuting a woman with mental health issues who took $2.87 from a fountain that people throw coins into. The prison taxpayers will pay to keep her locked up has been privatized
. Thousands more of your dollars shipped to Wall Street over the moral issue of this woman taking three coins from the fountain.
The moral: If you steal, be sure to steal at least a billion dollars.