If Bonnie and Clyde were alive today, they wouldn't become bank robbers... they'd become bankers.

What a racket! For years, they've been raking-in rip-off profits by continuing to pay us depositors very low interest rates on savings accounts and CD's, while still charging us borrowers high rates on everything from our credit to consumer loans.

But now, according to a national survey by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, your jolly banker has shifted from being just a sleight-of-hand finagler of interest rates...to an outright hold-up artist. Their new hold-up weapon: fees.

Standard bank fees have inflated bigger and more-quickly than Newt Gingrich's ego. For example, while inflation is up by some 5 percent in the past two years, the monthly fee on a plain vanilla, regular checking account it up 22 percent. This despite the fact that the bank's costs to maintain your account have either not risen above inflation -- or actually gone down.

But the real heist is taking place through the creation of new fees. Want to close your account? Pay a fee. Use the ATM? Pay a fee, even though ATM-use saves money for banks. Someone give you a hot check? Bankers now charge you a fee for getting stung! In 1990, there were 96 different types of bank fees. Last year, there were 250 different fees. And that doesn't count this year's hot newcomer in the banker's arsenal: a fee to transact your bank business with a human teller, instead of using the ATM.

All of this adds up to big-time loot for bankers, who have seen their annual take on consumer fees rise to more than $15 billion a year, way more than all the bank robbers combined would dare dream of.

Shouldn't these guys have to wear ski masks when they go to the office? To get a copy of this report on bank fees call U.S. PIRG: 202/546-9707.


Why it's those drug companies, feeding at our expense again: Bristol-Myers, Squibb, Glaxo, Pfizer, Merck, Smith Kline and all the big porkers.

Unbeknownst to you and me, while rushing through last fall's would trade deal -- called GATT -- Congress quietly wrote into the legislation a special prescription for the pharmaceutical companies. It's enough to make you sick!

Their loophole extends the 17-year patents that these giants get on some of their drugs -- to 20 years.

What does this three year extension mean to you? Well, such widely-prescribed drugs as Glaxo's "Zantac" for ulcers, Merck's "Meracor" for cholesterol, Smith-Kline's "Paxil" for depression and Schering-Plough's "Claratin" for allergies -- all were due to have their 17-year patents expire this year or next.

This would have meant that they would have lost their monopoly on marketing these very-high-priced drugs, allowing generic drug makers to enter the market, making much cheaper versions of the same product. Bottom line: big savings for us consumers.

But with their 11th hour GATT-attack on us, suddenly the brand-name giants get an extra three-years of monopoly -- meaning they get to keep charging ripoff prices to you and me -- and reaping windfall profits for themselves.

How big of a windfall? At least two billion dollars.

In last fall's elections, these drug makers fed $3.2 million in campaign contributions to our lawmakers -- and now they're getting a two billion dollar payback directly out of you and my pockets. Every time you buy one of their pills, remember: the proper prescription for this drug-price gouging is campaign finance reform.


Rootie-toot-toot -- here comes "The Newt"!

Our Loudspeaker of the House is at it again, adding more pomp and circumstance to his official position becoming "The Little Potentate of Pomposity."

Maybe Newt Gingrich can't be president, but he can By-Gawd prance around like one. Already he's given his own "State of the Union" address, just as though he was our Chief of State. He's also hired his own full contingent of bodyguards to scamper around him like real Secret-Service agents do, scowling and talking in code into tiny lapel transmitters, just as though he was the president.

But now "His Royal Newtness" has added another pricey ornament to his presidential costume. Are you ready for this? He's hired his own protocol officer! At a time he's slashing everything from school lunches to Medicare, all in the name of eliminating unnecessary federal spending... he's shelling out $62,000 a year for an official "Director of Protocol for the U.S. House of Representatives."

What crying need warrants this new staff position? Well, his spokesman proclaims, so many foreign poobahs now come to the Capitol to pay homage to Newt that he's got have someone to help him perform royally...just as though he was president.

Sure enough, the job description calls for the Protocol director to handle such essential national duties as keeping the titles and correct forms of address for visiting dignitaries straight. No more addressing the Queen of England with "Howdy Ma'am," as a former House doorkeeper once did when Queen Liz come to speak. Now, Newt will known the proper curtsy and be up on all the appropriate diplomatic P's and Q's.

Probably as pleased as you are that our tax dollars are at work for us -- puffing up the ego of "The Little Potentate of Pomposity."


There it is again...Hear it? It's that "Giant Sucking Sound" from Mexico.

Remember how the Big Media, the White House, the Republican leaders in Congress, the Wall Street Elite, and all the other card-carrying members of America's establishment heaped ridicule on those of us who warned that NAFTA -- their North American Free Trade Agreement -- would hurt American working families?

"Oh posh and tish," they said, "Why, NAFTA's going to create at least 100,000 new American jobs in its first year alone."

It's now a year-and-a-half since NAFTA passed. Guess how many jobs we've netted from it? If you guessed zero...you're wrong. It's minus zero. By Washington's own, official count, 60,000 U.S. jobs have gone. And that's only the tip of the iceberg, since most job losses to Mexico aren't reported.

Want some bitter irony? In August '93, Lawrence Bossidy, chief honcho of AlliedSignal corporation, was head cheerleader of Wall Street's push to pass NAFTA. On CNN, he was asked straight out, "Do you think jobs will move to Mexico, would your company put jobs in Mexico?" Bossidy answered, "Quite the contrary, the jobs that were to move to Mexico have already moved there."

Oh? That would be news to the AlliedSignal employees in Illinois, New Jersey, Ohio, South Carolina, and Texas, who've since lost their jobs as a direct result of NAFTA, giving Bossidy the dubious distinction of being the number one shipper-outer of U.S. jobs under his NAFTA trade scam. Indeed, AlliedSignal is now the 12th largest employer in Mexico, paying workers about 80 cents an hour.

Sure, Bossidy lied, but hey...it pays well. For all of his fibbing and firing, Bossidy personally was paid $12.4 million last year.

I'm reminded of Lily Tomlin's observation, "Even if you win the rat race, you're still a rat".


Question: When a handful of huge conglomerates spend about $60 million on lobbyists plus stuffing another $40-million-worth of campaign funds into the pockets of our lawmakers -- all for one single piece of legislation -- do you think this legislation is likely to be a "boon" to us consumers... or a boondoggle for the conglomerates?

Well, the giant phone companies, cable-TV syndicates and broadcasting empires that just conspired to shove something called "Telecommunications Reform Act" through the Congress, want you to believe they did it for you. But don't buy it -- what they're really doing is sticking to us again.

Their bill encourages fewer firms to control more of our media outlets and phone lines, while it also takes the lid off how much they can gouge us for the service. This is reform? Even the industry admits you can expect at least an immediate, 50 percent hike in you cable-TV rates if this monopoly-creating monster becomes law, and a similar jump in you monthly phone bill.

But the most dangerous sting here is not to you and me as consumers, but as citizens. Their "Telecommunications Act" allows -- for the first time ever in America -- a monopoly on your access to news. Under the bill, one corporation can own every radio station in our country, and more than a third of the TV market. Indeed, a single media monolith can buy-up all the media in your city -- every TV and radio station, newspaper, your cable system and your phone lines.

Unfortunately, this isn't some alarmist theory. New amalgamations of phone companies, cable systems and broadcasting giants already are being built, amassing mountains of cash to gobble-up whole markets.

Call the White House and demand that President Clinton veto this ripoff -- it's a sell-out of our democracy: 202-456-2226.

-- Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower is a former editor of The Texas Observer, former Texas Agriculture Commissioner and recently became a former ABC Radio talk show host after the network abruptly cancelled his show following his criticism of the Disney/ABC merger. He still syndicates a daily radio commentary.