Mac Attack

     I can’t get the lawsuit out of my head.
     It’s a little thing, one of thousands of cases that passed through the Courthouse News system this week. But it seems to personify life in the United States these days – except for one thing. In this case, the Person in a Position of Power suffered too.
     Here’s the lead sentence from our Tuesday story out of Cleveland.
     “A customer who returned an incorrect order and said, ‘How hard is it to make a chicken sandwich?’ claims McDonald’s failed to intervene as the girl to whom she returned the sandwich, and the girl’s mother, punched her, knocked her down and kicked her.”
     Let’s call the customer Diana and let’s call the girl at the counter Natalia and let’s call her mother Nellie – because that’s their names.
     Now, I hardly endorse the concept of people beating up on rude customers. But if I had to pick a pal here, I’d pick Natalia or Nellie. I have no sympathy for Diana.
     People in the United States used to stick up for underdogs. But we’ve become a nation of bullies – not just in our foreign and economic policies, but in our daily life. What passes for news “talk shows” these days consists, by and large, of Rude, Rich People in Positions of Power beating up on the helpless.
     That’s also true of the people who run our banks, credit card, mortgage and insurance companies.
     And the helpless people they beat up on include the U.S. Congress and the president.
     On the same day the rude customer sued McDonalds in Cleveland, a federal judge in New York tore Bank of America, Merrill Lynch and the SEC a new one. Federal judges seem to be the only ones, aside from Natalia and Nellie, who have any guts today.
     U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff refused to accept the SEC’s $33 million settlement with Bank of America, which lied about the $3.6 billion in bonuses it allowed Merrill Lynch to pay its corporate hogs last year, though Merrill had just lost $27 billion.
     Those $3.6 billion in bonuses came from U.S. taxpayers, whether Bank of America admits it or not. “Money is money, the last time I checked,” Rakoff said. He refused to accept the $33 million fine, which is less than 1 percent of the bonuses the corporate swine paid to their piglets.
     Astonishingly, throughout that court hearing, Bank of America’s attorney “periodically whispered what appeared to be suggestions” to the SEC attorney, The New York Times reported.
     The bank’s attorney, Lewis Liman, told Judge Rakoff that 39,000 Merrill employees got average bonuses of “only” $91,000 apiece.
     Liman failed to mention that 696 of those piglets got bonuses of more than $1 million apiece, and that one Big Hog got a bonus of more than $33 million – more than the SEC was ready to accept as a fine for the whole shooting match.
     Bank of America got $20 billion in federal bailout money from you and me, and another $118 billion in loan “guarantees.” As the bank bought Merrill Lynch late last year, the bosses of both companies lied to shareholders by claiming they had made no deals on bonuses, though they had – for $3.6 billion.
     As giant banks and their crooked and abusive credit-card divisions shake down an entire country in plain sight, take their houses and walk off with billions of dollars, what does the federal government do? It sends an attorney to court to listen to “what appeared to be suggestions” from the crooks.
     That’s why I can’t get Natalia and Diana out of my mind.
     Diana, who is savvy enough to get a lawyer to sue McDonald’s, did not have to admit in her lawsuit that she insulted Natalia. But she did admit it. She insulted the intelligence of a young woman who, as anyone who’s been to a fast-food restaurant knows, didn’t even cook the wrong order.
     Why was Natalia’s mom there? Was there trouble in the family? Was Natalia already under pressure, aside from working for minimum wage, when a rude customer called her stupid? We don’t know. All we know is that Natalia couldn’t take it anymore, and she fought back. She knocked down and beat up Person in a Position of Power.
     Now McDonald’s will probably pay a few thousand dollars to Diana, which won’t hurt the corporation one bit.
     Natalia will surely be fired from her minimum-wage job, if she hasn’t lost it already. She’ll have to find a new job, with the unemployment rate at 10 percent.
     I think the SEC should hire her. It needs people like Natalia.

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