Sunday, October 02, 2016

John Stumpf, Henry Miller, hapless Wells Fargo employees, and a filthy Cockney music hall song

More than 50 years ago, a ballad in
this book taught a lesson that the
John Stumpf scandal teaches us today.
In 1959, certain books were forbidden in the United States, among them Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. Little wonder. They contained graphic descriptions of S-you-know-what-X.

Given that the authorities took to jailing Lennie Bruce just a few years later for uttering language that Donald Trump uses regularly on television today, you can understand why you didn’t want to be caught selling a copy of either of Miller’s Tropic books.You could get busted by the same police squad that otherwise spent its time busting hookers and comedians, find yourself publicly shamed as a “pornographer” in the newspapers, and then get sent to prison.

Which is not to say that Americans couldn’t find and read Miller’s books. All you had to do was go to Paris, where, it was said, the booksellers at the stalls along the Seine, over on the left bank, would peddle you a copy, published locally by an outfit called the Olympia Press.

Unfortunately the word got around too quickly, and by the time I arrived in Paris, a college student in the summer of 1959, the bookstalls and some of the bookshops along the Boulevard St. Michel were flat sold out of Henry Miller, drained dry by eager and porn-starved American tourists.

But I did find a consolation prize. It was an English language volume called Count Palmiro Vicarion’s Book of Bawdy Ballads. Some of the ballads, I later learned at the University of Leeds, where I landed for the fall and winter, were reputed to have been written by some of Britain’s most honored poets in their student days.

I wouldn’t know about the veracity of that, one way or another. What attracted me most about the bawdy ballad book was a song that seems to have had its origin in English music halls, circa World War I. Originally a publicly-performable song, its verses had been altered over time by numerous mischief-makers who frittered away their time trying to figure out what rhymes best with various four-letter words.

I was enchanted by this particular ballad because it was a dirty song with a social conscience. I’ll share a few of the more printable lyrics a bit further on, but first a reminder about John Stumpf and Wells Fargo Employees.

By now you’ve likely heard scores of times about John Stumpf’s appearance before Congress, giving testimony concerning the huge scam that occured as employees struggled to satisfy Stumpf’s demands that they cross-sell the living crap out of the bank’s various products.

If you haven’t, and you have the time to spare, watch Stumpf try to verbally wiggle out from under from the righteous lash of Senator Elizabeth Warren before you resume reading:

Now, let us resume so that we can get to those 100-year old filthy lyrics.

In a desperate attempt to meet their quotas and keep the top echelons happy, more than 5,300 employees opened false accounts in the names of their customers and depositors, and charged them fees for the pleasure of being defrauded.

When the scandal finally came out, the 5,300 employees were fired. Even though they would have been fired if they hadn’t defrauded the customers and thus were unable to make their quotas.

And then it came out that scrupulously honest employees who either refused to defraud bank customers or who tried to blow the whistle in The Great Stumpf Swindle were also fired for doing so.
Wells Fargo employees claim they were retaliated against for reporting unethical demands to meet the company's sales goals. 
Wells Fargo paid $185 million in fines and fired 5,300 employees for creating millions of fake accounts, but a half dozen workers who spoke to CNN say they were fired for speaking up! 
One banker said he refused to open up phony accounts and was fired 8 days after calling an ethics line to report the requests. 
A former Wells Fargo Human Resources official said the bank conspired to fire employees for minimal offenses after they made calls to the ethics hotline. He said:"If this person was supposed to be at the branch at 8:30 a.m. and they showed up at 8:32 a.m, they would fire them,"
Most of these employees were making $12 an hour. Poor schlemiels. And what of John Stumpf, who demanded all the cross-selling? CNN money reports:
Stumpf will leave with about $200 million -- made up of cash, Wells Fargo stock and options, a CNNMoney analysis has found. 
Even if Stumpf is fired "for cause," such as violating company policy, he would have to forfeit only a portion of that sum.
Which brings me, finally, to a century-old, much filthified music hall song, which demonstrates that nothing, absolutely nothing has changed over the years.

For reasons pertaining to more-or-less sanitary language and brevity, I’ll only quote a couple of excerpted verses here, but they’ll give you the idea. And I think you'll quickly see how all the song relates, a century or so later, to Stumpf firing not only the $12-an-hour employees who knuckled under his demands and cheated bank customers, but also those who refused. 

She was poor but she was honest,though she came from 'umble stock,And her honest heart was beatingUnderneath her tattered frock.

But the rich man saw her beauty,She knew not his base design,And he took her to a hotelAnd bought her a small port wine.

Chorus: It's the same the whole world over,
It's the poor wot gets the blame,
It's the rich wot gets all the pleasure,
Isn't it a blooming shame?

See him riding in a carriage 
Past the gutter where she stands.
He has made a stylish marriage,
While she wrings her ringless hand
See him in the 'ouse of Commons
Making laws for all mankind
While the victim of his pleasure
Lives by selling her behind

Chorus: It's the same the whole world over,
It's the poor wot gets the blame,
It's the rich wot gets the pleasure,
Isn't it a blooming shame?

1 comment:

Li'l Innocent said...

Believe it or don't, around 1965 the witty young English pianist/pop singer/songwriter Ian Whitcomb had a respectable hit single of which the B side was "Poor But Honest" -- with suitable updating thus (after the unfortunate lass has "lost 'er perfect name" to a "naughty squire"):

So she went away to London
Just to 'ide 'er guilty shame.
Til she met a Labour leader,
And again she lost 'er name.

See 'im in the 'Ouse of Commons
Making laws to put down crime.
While the victim of his passions
Walks the streets from time to time.

Looking back on it, I imagine it was the B-sideness, the Cockney accent, and general cheeriness of the music that shielded this little foray into social commentary from US guardians of public morality. The following year they would all be kept busy burning Beatle albums, so it's probably just as well.