A Dolphin Safe Banking System

If you hate dolphins, you need to leave now. This post is for dolphin lovers.

Me? I love dolphins. Or should I say, I heart dolphins? 🙂

My wife? She goes absolutely crazy every time they are in the water (and we live by the beach of the Pacific Ocean– so it’s pretty much a daily occurrence). It doesn’t matter to her, they are magical creatures & she celebrates it with schoolgirl giddiness. Every. Single. Time. I mean, what animal smiles all the time like they do? That’s not human.

Personally, I love watching them surf; definitely a top ten natural phenomenon for me. Real life Flipper, right there. And top to it off, they’re super smart. How smart? ‘Cetacean intelligence‘ has it’s own wikipedia entry, do you? — I don’t. So let’s add it up: they’re cute, funny, smart, sleek, fast, and can surf & flip into the air at-will (and did I mention they’re social too?). So, that’s Awesome with a capital ‘A’. Right?

Now, does anyone here remember 1986? It kind of sucked, lots of bombing & people starving. Top Gun & Crocodile Dundee were the Hollywood chart busters. Need I say any more? But then the worst news started to bubble it’s way to the surface.

The tuna salad sandwiches my mom was packing in my Scooby-Doo lunchbox & the lunches of brown baggers around the country were responsible for killing dolphins. An estimated 7 million dolphins have been killed over the past four decades, the largest marine mammal kill in history.


And we did. There began a movement to right the wrongs done to Flipper. And it came from main street. It actually was as a result of a signature campaign at Earth Island, the brainchild of David Phillips, who had fought for whales & dolphins as a Friends Of Earth staffer since 1977. But then in 1988, biologist Samuel LaBudde signed aboard a Panamanian-flagged tuna fishing vessel in the Eastern Tropical Pacific. Using a video camera, LaBudde recorded the horrifying images of hundreds of dolphins dying in tuna nets. The video shocked the world, and people around the world joined in the tuna boycott. Moms & their little cherubs marched. The nightly news broadcast the boycott relentlessly. PTA meetings were held, this was serious business.

And under public pressure two years later, in 1990, the three largest tuna companies in the world – StarKist, Bumblebee, and Chicken of the Sea – agreed to stop purchasing, processing, and selling tuna caught by intentional chasing and netting of dolphins. And congress actually did something real, they formed legislation to create the standard of “non-encirclement” of dolphins which became the U.S. legal standard for the “Dolphin Safe” tuna label.

So began a textbook example of normal everyday people finding an injustice, boycotting the companies doing wrong, thereby using the market forces of the consumer to force companies & the market to bend to their will. Capitalism, arguably, at its best. Congress then strengthened the voice of the people with mollifying legislation to protect our (and the darling dolphins’) interests. Real change was affected in the world. And we all lived happily ever after; well, except the dolphins in Japan & the ruling that may jeopardize the Dolphin Safe label — but that’s another post.

Now, here we are 21 years later. And this time we have a different animal to save; Us.

See, as it is the banks have always been the sharks in the water. They know our weaknesses. They’re more deadly. We’re little fish swimming in their ocean of money. Oh sure, we’re fast. They’re faster. And stealthy. No one plays the theme to Jaws when they are on the attack. They have access to faculties in their native habitat that we could only dream of. Bankers know really rich powerful people, because they are really rich powerful people. And as the ultimate killing machines, banksters are always supposed to be the adults in the room, responsibly managing their feeding habits, lending OUR money to ventures that will help small businesses (and large corporations) open & expand, and for us little people to borrow money to expand our hopes & dreams– a new t-shirt printing business, a house with a garden, college for the kids, a new Camaro, heck– throw in a ski boat. Of course, they make a little bit money on all of it, but that’s that’s the game & us little people know we have to pay to play to swim in their waters. I think we all agree on that.

But then somewhere around 1999 we let the corporate sharks swim ever closer to our legislated shores & actually craft the law that repealed Glass Steagall, which was the brainchild of the Great Depression, designed to keep us from repeating the mistakes of the 1920’s, namely loose credit. The keystone of the 1933 law was to keep banks & investment banks separate, effectively firewalling the capital structure of our banking system. It was the result of main street voting citizens into office to represent the collective wisdom of the times. But 78 years later, banks were ever hungry for more chum, so they snuggled up to congress and helped craft a new, better law, the Gramm Leach Bliley Act, allowing insurance companies, banks, investment banks, and broker dealers to merge. There was blood in the water.

The collective wisdom of Glass Steagall & the reality of bread lines were washed away like grains of sand in the tide. And in just under ten years later, 2008 happened, bearing our new reality, we’d effectively created a new predator, one that was “too big too fail.”

In the annals of Wall Street folklore it’s said that John Mack, Chairman of Morgan Stanley, used to walk the trading room floor screaming to the rows of people moving millions from behind their dual screen monitors, “THERE’S BLOOD IN THE WATER, LET’S GO KILL SOMEBODY!” And in retrospect, it sounds kind of creepy, but at the end of the day, you can’t fault a shark for being a shark. Sharks serve a necessary function in the ecosystem, they weed out the weak fish, they keep the scales balanced. They’re a vital part of the circle of life. Some people deserve to be cut off, effectively removed from the food chain. Some people deserve to not get capital for an idea. Nope, nothing wrong with that –there never will be. I think we can all agree on that.

So, a couple of weeks ago I was walking on the beach with one of my larger clients (because that’s how I roll). We talked about the markets & the world as we watched the dolphins surfing & diving. Then we touched on the subject of Occupy Wall Street.

I told him I actually support the idea. Wall Street needs to be held accountable for their actions. They got too greedy, they ate too many fish (and people). They need to be taught a lesson. He wholeheartedly agreed. He’s tired of Bank of America, just like you. He’s tired of lines at the counter & waiting on the 800 line operator. He’s tired of the bonuses & the hubris that is Wall Street. He’s tired of having to give the last four digits of his Social Security number to verify who he is, one of the faceless masses. So, he asked me about Occupy Wall Street. What are these hippies & moms actually trying to do? And he’s probably a lot like you, still not sure what marching with a bunch of people banging on tambourines will actually accomplish in the face of an animal so powerful & big. This ain’t a bunch of tuna fishers, this is the Tommy Shark, le Grand Requin Blanc, il Grande Squalo Bianco, Weisshai, Hôjiro.

He asked me what he, a tiny little guppy of a millionaire, could do.

I told him, “Move Your Money.”

See, just like in 1990, it wasn’t until the voice of the people created enough volume, until the boycott had threatened enough of the tuna industry’s livelihood, that real change would be affected. Oh sure, we have Dodd-Frank now, a ‘new, better’ version of Glass Steagall. But the banks helped craft this law too, proactively before people took to the streets. And as a result of the continued corporatism that is now rampant in our tributaries & streams, much of that law actually has yet to be funded or enacted because the banks find it too uncomfortable to change the pollution in the oceans of money as quickly as we might like. The lobbyists are still battling for more time and much less stringent rules as we speak.

His response was chilling, “You know, I’ve thought about that, and I would, but setting up bill pay at a credit union or our local bank will be a pain. And getting all of my old records… It will be a nightmare, once I leave my old bank they won’t help me, I remember the last time I moved 10 years ago. I dunno.”

Then I remembered the incentives we had to get people to start using bill pay when I worked at one of the major firms. ‘The money becomes sticky once they start using bill pay, studies have shown something like 40% of the people will stay just because it’s too uncomfortable to move.’ (I’m paraphrasing) I was floored, 10 years later I am seeing it firsthand; it’s true.

So, I guess threatening to stop buying tuna fish for lunch is easy. I guess having two months of bill pay being transitioned is hard. I guess demanding that the Flippers of the world, in all their majesty, be treated humanely is more of a motivator than your neighbor who watched one too many episodes of “Flip This House“. I guess being comfortable day-to-day financially is easier. But let me tell you, in no uncertain terms, until we demand a “Dolphin Safe” banking system, nothing is ever going to really change. Until we vote with our money, nothing is ever really going to change. Legislators will listen to the biggest fish in the room, and right now, it ain’t us. And when winter comes & the streets empty of people holding signs and banging on those tambourines, the banks will win.

And inevitably, when the stormy waters & the riptide come to shore again, it will be all of us (bankers too), left gasping in the nets. And who will be left to save us then?

Trust me — it won’t be the dolphins, they’ll be too busy surfing.


This is Why They Hate You And Want You To Die – TRB

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