NPR, Wells Fargo, and the uncanny valley of ethics

Scott Simon had this dipshit named Dov Seidman over to his studio this morning to discuss the Wells Fargo bogus accounts scandal from the perspective of corporate reputation management in times of crisis. For someone claiming to be interested in ways for companies to make amends to customers they’ve wronged, Seidman had surprisingly nothing to say about the moral imperative to fire Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf. Wells Fargo has thrown over five thousand regional and branch-level employees under the bus for having had the combination of desperation and bad judgment not to challenge the sleazy boiler room scam that the company had made of their careers, a moral courage that surely would have gotten them fired in retaliation for breaking grander rice bowls. In day-to-day operations, of course, banks are brutally merciless to lower-level employees who are caught so much as pocketing a penny from the till. Sometimes they even fire stable, trustworthy employees upon discovering some one-off petty fraud or theft from their briefly misspent teens. It’s damning, then, that Stumpf has not stepped down and the board of directors has not summarily fired him, even in the face of withering public criticism in the press and open Congressional hearings. Throwing petty frauds and intimidated provincials onto their swords for impulsive or reluctant misconduct is a prevailing community standard, but honorable seppuku on the part of the bosses who allowed (or, worse, ordered) deliberate, systemic fraud against customers is not.

But how can Dov Seidman be explained, and why the hell did Chicago Senpai invite him over to run cover for an extremely scandal-plagued bank? Did (((back-of-the-house operators))) make this decision for him? Seidman seemed so calm, so reasonable, so quietly thoughtful, so serene, so genteel, and yet what he actually said was the craziest fucking bullshit. Listening to him, I felt a gut sympathy for his position, because he just seemed to have such an understated good repute, but intellectually I immediately knew that he was trafficking sleazy elisions and utterly bogus corporate talking points. That is, dude’s dangerous. Some frothing hothead like Jim Cramer or Rick Santelli is easy to dismiss as a cheap special ops mercenary when he spouts talking points on behalf of fraudulent banks. Seidman is smooth without even looking smooth. That’s about as slick as it gets.

To my own annoyance, I know his type from back east. Years before I found myself homeless in the aftermath of a dispute with some of the family white trash on the left coast, I ran in scholastic (sic, mostly) circles that included a number of lower to middling old money scions from a wide, long swath of the Eastern Seaboard, running from at least North Carolina to the cool change parts of Rhode Island and hundreds of miles inland, into the fringes of the Midwest. Oleander growing outside that duplicitous bitch’s door, that kind of thing. Many of these people were visibly off in a borderline or narcissistic/antisocial way, but there were others who had the same understated confidence of entrenched family affluence and socioeconomic clout that Seidman seems to have, along with–this is the bad part–that ability and willingness to competently articulate whatever needed to be articulated for them to get suitably upper-middle-class jobs. The latter are normally much less objectionable in social settings than the former; if anything, they’re often quite pleasant. But at more structural iterations of the fractal they’re as destructive as their bosses and benefactors need them to be.

Seidman is an extreme example. It’s unusual even for dutiful scions of the class I’ve described to get opportunities to air Wells Fargo talking points on a flagship NPR News program. Few of them even aspire to such high mercenary sleaze, although many will go along to get along, usually at lower stakes, because that’s what’s available to workaday lesser old money. To my way of thinking, if I may be so parochial, this crowd, in its ongoing confidence and trust in institutions, looks like one that has never in its aggregate life been afraid of homelessness. Keep in mind, I’m not referring to the sort of shit tickets that beclown themselves on LinkedIn with assertions that they are professional optimists. The psychosociosexual outbursts from the socioeconomically insecure-feeling scions of affluent families with new money worldviews are fucking horrific. It’s run-for-the-hills stuff. Household income is a poor correlate for socioeconomic security in this crowd. Household net worth (an indication of wasting money and credit lines on stupid shit, or not) and generational affluence (an indication of socioeconomic backstops available from relatives, friends, and peers) are more instructive. There are plenty of college boys and girls at “reach” and “safety” schools whose parents make strong six figures but can’t imbue any feeling of socioeconomic security in themselves or their children, probably because they’re being alarmingly frivolous with their credit lines and spending unjustifiable amounts of money on over-the-top Veblen Goods. Using “reach” and “safety” in a context other than “Robert Sanchez should have reached for the brake in the interest of crew and passenger safety” is consistent with digging one’s family into a hole in spite of a household income in the high top decile. (Substitute Casey Jones to taste. I’m a Californian, so Speedy Sanchez was my people.)

This is an important context, I suspect, for understanding why Dov Seidman is such a slippery ass clown. If he weren’t so amoral and self-serious on behalf of scandalously criminal multinational corporations, he might be equally amoral and self-serious on behalf of Yale or Harvard in his capacity as one of its admissions officers. (The better classes of elite failspawn are legion in college administration. The worse classes are disproportionately represented, too.) It’s that overproduction of elites again. They can’t all be Peter Turchin. They were brought up in this deceptively toxic milieu of compulsory respect for all institutions with which they might have contact: their public high schools, or else their prep schools, all universities suitable to their perceived class and accomplishment, any corporation that is selling their families crap they don’t need or might give them a job not requiring them to bodily dirty their hands. Allowing some lesser wannabe elites to successfully demand “safe spaces” for the alleviation of the psychosomatic traumas they claim from rogue individual actors (serial rapists who are also downlow Klan wizards, probably) is safer than defending claims that their cherished institutions are somehow inherently illegitimate. Diversity liaisons can be handed rice bowls of their own to keep the rabble from breaking more important rice bowls. Bet you’ve never sucked white dick before, but it’s safer, much safer in fact, for a sleazy institution with the existential ethics of a cancerous tumor to encourage its students to assert that Haven Monahan is literally Daniel Holtzclaw than to allow memes of across-the-board institutional illegitimacy to take hold.

God. I just discovered through the barest of Google-fu that Haven Monahan is also a Dawson’s Creek character. I don’t wanna wait, for our lives to be over, to make fun of this steaming pile of crazy shit. Or, to quote the spazz case who spent the whole flight from Philadelphia to Heathrow and the connecting flight to Orly listening to the Dawson’s Creek theme song on his Walkman, “I think I’ll take a picture of this plane. No, actually, on second thought, I won’t. I don’t wanna take a picture of this British Airways fag airline thing that screwed us so royally!” (We had almost missed the connection due to a booking glitch until our group leader barked the Irish gate agent into compliance.) On another occasion, dude threw a textbook into the wire-reinforced window of the guidance counselor’s office, stimulating the Lancaster County economy with demand for glass repairs, but the RCMP was otherwise occupied, so he didn’t get tased to death.

As I said, I used to run with this crowd. Robert Dziekanski, pray for us to anyone who’s possibly listening.

Seidman surely doesn’t rely on mere coach like a poor. Wells Fargo must pay him better than that. We don’t need pay invoices to know that he didn’t go on NPR for free, although we probably will need FOIA requests to suss out NPR’s cut of that fat, fat pork. It takes a profound lack of self-respect to whore oneself out to Wells Fargo on the radio, but it takes an even deeper, less fathomable lack of self-respect to do so without demanding what the fulleted lady on the OCTA 43 bus through Anaheim called “Money! Moolah! Mucho dinero! Fly like a G6!” That’s all kinds of wrong, so let’s channel our most Tom Lehrer voice instead and remember not to solicit for our sister. That’s not nice–unless you get a good percentage of her price! Believe me, he was charitable in the midcentury to the Boy Scouts of America of today. And Seidman is no mere town whore. I don’t mean to smear good women, or doofuses who have nothing better to do than offer $20 gay-for-pay behind the bleachers at the Lebanon High School. The old man is closer to Dubai Porta Potty than a quickie in the porta potty. The difference, I assume, is that he’s too amoral to realize that he’s agreed to let psychopaths cover himself in their shit. Coming away from such an experience with a feeling of trauma is a sign of life.

So what did FIRE Sector Radio Faust do instead? He asserted that Wells Fargo is “venerated.” Who, exactly, in heaven, on earth, or under the earth, venerates that piece-of-shit too-big-to-fail bank? Seidman didn’t say. There was no need. It is venerated, you see. It just is. This is why the passive voice is sermonized against by Karl Qualls, among others. Dov Charney’s fellow Dov, Seidman, elided all venerating agency because no one actually venerates that notorious den of crooks. Homeboy just made some shit up. His language was profane, but there is no other way for a gentleman who has chosen to serve mammon, not God. Besides, I frankly have a better sense than he has of where his language falls between temporal dishonesty, blasphemy, idolatry, willful foolishness, and any number of minor and major vices of word that he cannot identify, let alone distinguish from one another.

If I may appropriately use the passive voice, Wells Fargo has been hated and distrusted by its own customers for years, and now it’s assumed a place as the leading national byword for systemic retail fraud against its own customers. I maintain a Wells Fargo account mainly to keep my free access to its ATM network, without which I’d be forced to parse the deliberately opaque fee schedules that interbank ATM networks publish to confuse customers into falling for junk fees. I put up with modest exposure to one kind of fraud to protect myself from inevitable exposure to a different kind of fraud under the auspices of other banks.

Wells Fargo is one of the most hated companies in America today. No one venerates it. Hell, no one venerated it in the first place, not in the Gold Rush, not in the Gilded Age, absolutely not in the Depression, and not in the second Gilded Age and Great Depression today. How pitiful does a person have to be to venerate a bank? A handful of sorry weirdos might, because in any large population its possible to search out and find a vibrant diversity of freaks lurking in the margins, and of course corporate mercenaries can be paid to participate in ritual shows of corporate fealty (but not so much at Walmarts in Germany, where the group cheers evoked the Nuremberg Rallies and sent employees running into the restrooms for shelter). But nobody who hasn’t drunk the company Kool Aid for profit venerates a fucking bank. Even for the truest believers in house veneration is an overwrought description of corporate loyalty. Hardly anyone even venerated Pan Am in its Draperesque heyday for flying dem shine plane, and Pan Am was the epitome of elegance in US commercial aviation that every other mainline legacy carrier aspired to rival.

I guess “venerated” sounds cooler than “respected,” which Wells Fargo also is not. It’s always nice to have some grossly overpaid fuckhead who is too educated to properly use common religious terms in a sentence come in on Saturday morning and steal time from Jewish humor, universal basic income in the time of the robotic onslaught, and #SPORTS. What an ass.

Seidman is clearly trying to brainwash the country into asserting that WE ARE–WELLS FARGO! He wants us all to go full Pedo Bear Penn State.

The Roman Catholic Church’s apologists have nothing on the Nittany Lions for cult creepiness. The vast majority of the faithful who continued to venerate the Catholic Church through the thick of the pedophile priest scandal, and for that matter those of other religious worldviews who saw some irresistible majesty or mystery in the Church, did so in spite of the ruinously scandalous behavior of so many priests and bishops. Other than the minority of perverted or corrupt priests and lay officials who were directly involved in the scandal, I can think of very few defenders of the Church who did not passionately want this tumor of corruption excised from the Church to restore it to full health. The consensus at Voice of the Faithful, the lay organization set up in Boston after the pedophilia scandal broke to fund upstanding parishes and lay services directly and bypass the archdiocesan fundraising structure, seemed to be that perverted priests and those harboring them were fit to be strung up across the Charles River.

What’s happened at Penn State since the Sandusky scandal broke? Pissed off, piss-drunk students had a raging white riot in downtown State College to protest the official erasure of Joe Paterno’s status as the winningest college football coach. Nittany Lion Nation continues to venerate, and I mean truly venerate, JoePa in the face of newly disclosed documents showing that he was aware of Jerry Sandusky’s commission of child rape as early as the mid 1970’s. Fans have been walking around Happy Valley proudly holding placards declaring Sandusky’s innocence and JoePa’s total and eternal awesomeness, among other vile sentiments that a decent person not acting as defense counsel for Paterno or Sandusky would be ashamed to express without cover of anonymity.

It’s some of the sickest shit ever. My own experiences on the weekend sports and drinking circuit at Penn State don’t mitigate this sickness. I kind of made out with some hot chicks on campus a few times, but most of the people I knew there lived in piles of filth. One of the hot chicks who went off the leash to get modestly frisky with me lived in an apartment where she and her boyfriend failed to keep toilet paper in stock during a Saturday night party. When I pointed this out to them, they confirmed that there wasn’t any toilet paper in the entire apartment, but they said it was all cool and they’d get some the next day, maybe. These two were pleasant and mellow as fuck, and I appreciated that, but I wished to hell they’d do better than to make it health-endangering for someone to take a shit in their bathroom. This must be why there are pictures on the internet of partygoers wiping their asses with bath towels. It’s definitely one of the reasons why I’ve got a lead with a soi-disant college girl who’s down to fuck for a fee this weekend. Most whores would be like, for God’s sake we can’t live like this. Working girls keep their toiletries in stock.

I ain’t Captain Save-a-Civvy. I can’t save a civvy.

The public orgy of denial and excuse-peddling that has been consuming Penn State is genuine veneration. That much is legit, although not in any moral sense. It stands to reason that it took hold under the auspices of a football program. #FOOTBALL is pretty much amoral in the best of circumstances. Nice head you got there; shame if it got concussed repeatedly and you ended up donating it to science in your suicide note. We pay professionals to play a gladiatorial game and refuse to play cryptoprofessional amateurs to play the same gladiatorial game on the promise that they’ll make the cut in the pro leagues unless something happens and they don’t. Meanwhile a scandalous number of the latter students (sic) get loose on their campuses and go on rape sprees at drinking parties, usually to have their criminal sexual deviance covered up by craven coaches and administrators after the fact. Penn State distills this combination of amorality and immorality into one sloppy supersized turducken. WE ARE–THE APOTHEOSIS OF THIS SICKNESS!

Wells Fargo, though? Nobody fucking worships a bank. Wells Fargo is a part of this nation’s glorious frontier stagecoach history and shit like that, but few Wild West history buffs are immoral or stupid enough to use its history as a leading financial institution on the frontier (itself more scandalous than is generally discussed in polite company) as an excuse for its systemic fraud today. Again, only a handful of marginal weird people give a shit. The Pinkertons were a part of late nineteenth century US history, too. The NKVD was a part of Soviet history. Slave patrols were a part of Tidewater history. We do not preserve these vicious institutions just because they made the history books by being depraved decades or centuries ago. Well, okay, in the last case, it took a cell phone video to get Ben “Officer Slam” Fields fired as a school resource officer in South Carolina, so there’s that.

Everybody hates Wells Fargo. That’s good enough for government work. Its customers hate it. Its employees, increasingly disgruntled, hate it. Congress hates it, or at least keeps up appearances to that effect in the interest of staying employed. The general public, informed of its descent into ever deeper circles of fraud hell, hates it. If anyone can afford to lose a job without suffering extreme financial hardship, it’s someone like John Stumpf. Unless he’s gone full Stage Five Michael Jackson, he has hella money. He has connections to land new jobs, maybe even ones that will not put him in a position to orchestrate systemic fraud. He’ll be set up with $50,000 speaking gigs. I’d buy a house if I had that kind of cash on hand. So would many Americans.

Venerating a shitty, bottomfeeding bank that habitually scams its own customers isn’t the done thing. I have truly never heard of anyone doing such a thing. It’s plausible, but even Dov Seidman pulled it out of his ass, without the least shred of anecdotal evidence, and he’s doing PR for the crooks.

This country continues to have too little Scott Simon and too much NPR.


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