Can we throw the bums out?

Imagine if a couple of national leaders dared to stand up to the corporate powers that have taken control of government. Imagine if one of them came right out and said, “I [am] fed up of living in a country ruled by lies, cynicism and greed.” And imagine if these leaders arranged for the people of the country to be able to throw out all political parties that “represent oligarch interests or vote in the interests of oligarchs.”

Impossible, you say? Not so—in fact, it just happened. Not here, unfortunately, but in Latvia. Located on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea, the people of Latvia broke away from the Soviet Union in 1991, but a handful of powerful insiders formed corporations that grabbed oligarchic control of public assets, making them billionaires. Using their corrupt fortunes, they literally “privatized democracy,” buying political parties and control of parliament. The oligarchs then pushed through laws that further enriched themselves, while knocking down the incomes of regular people and ruining the Latvian economy.

Sound familiar?

What’s not familiar to us is that a former president and the current prime minister of Latvia decided they’d had enough of corporate rule. This spring, they launched a public campaign to break the culture of graft between politics and the corporate powers, and in May they called for a national referendum to dismiss all 100 members of the corrupt parliament. The vote on that proposition is now in, and the result is stunning, revolutionary and historic: 95 percent of Latvians voted to throw the bums out! New parliamentary elections are set for Sept. 17.

America could use a dose of this cleansing tonic, and I have no doubt that Americans would throw out all of our corporate-controlled politicians—if only that possibility was put to a vote.

•••

Stealing is wrong, right? “If you do the crime,” the old slogan says, “you do the time.” But—does everyone?

Let’s suppose that you robbed a Wells Fargo branch bank and scooted away with $5,000. Alas, you get caught, but you cut a deal with prosecutors. Naturally, you’d make restitution, paying back the 5K, plus you agree to a $500 fine. In return, you don’t have to go to jail or even admit guilt, plus you’re allowed to issue a press release blaming the wrongdoing, not on you, but on a “relatively small group” of rogue cells in your brain.

What are the chances of a prosecutor—or Wells Fargo—letting you get away with such a “punishment?”

Zero. But, if it’s Wells Fargo doing the crime, such coddling is the norm in our so-called “justice system.”

Indeed, the financial giant was caught illegally tricking thousands of lower-income families into taking out predatory home loans with exploding interest rates that eventually would cost the families thousands of dollars and their homes. The bankers merrily falsified mortgage documents, and the bank raked in billions of dollars. It was a widespread illegality fostered by Wells Fargo’s top executives.

So, on July 21, Federal Reserve prosecutors handed down justice to these miscreant bankers. Their punishment? An $85 million fine and a $20 million restitution payment—or .001 percent of this behemoth’s annual revenues of $80 billion. Far from jail time, no Wells Fargo banker was even charged, nor did the giant have to admit its guilt—a corporate press release blamed the unpleasantness on a “relatively small group” of low-level employees.

Do the bankers and prosecutors think we don’t see this gross injustice? Banker thievery by Wells Fargo and its aloof peers will not stop until top bankers are made to do the time.