The news last week that independent brokers for Wells Fargo, the nation's largest home mortgage lender, routinely discriminated against black and Hispanic borrowers during the housing boom was not surprising in the least. Show me a banksta and I'll show you a crook.
The bank, which you and I bailed out to the tune of $25 billion when it shat on its wingtips as the housing boom turned to bust, did not even bother to fight Justice Department and agreed to fork over $175 million to settle allegations that the brokers had charged higher fees and rates to more than 30,000 minority borrowers and steered more than other 4,000 minority borrowers into costlier subprime mortgages when white borrowers with similar credit risk profiles had received regular loans.
Meanwhile, JPMorgan, the nation's largest bank, disclosed that loses from a bad credit debt originally reported as amounting to a mere $2 billion or so actually is more than $7 billion. JPMorgan CEO Jaime Dimon had repeatedly reassured investors that the losses would be contained.
Well Fargo, of course, admitted no wrongdoing as is typical in banksta settlements and the $175 million will be written off as the cost of doing business, not a lesson learned. This is because the financial community is incapable of reforming itself and will do things that are detrimental to its customers again and again while further feathering its own platinum-lined nest.
Which begs a question: Why not start jailing bankstas? Or better still, taking them before firing squads? Let's start with the self-righteous Mr. Dimon.
* * * * *The best line of the month goes to political analyst Charlie Cook, who writes: "If President Obama's campaign machine can define Mitt Romney before his own campaign even tries, my bet is Obama wins reelection."
With Election Day now less than four months out, the president and his surrogates have seized the initiative like a hawk seizes a chicken in its talons and they aren't letting go. A few members of a news media that overall has been notably uncurious about how Romney became filthy rich are providing the incumbent with a steady stream of new ammunition about how he got that way, while the presumptive Republican nominee seems incapable of fighting back in a meaningful way.
The Boston Globe reported that Romney was listed as CEO and sole owner and chairman for three years after he says he severed ties with Bain Capital in 1999. A Romney spokesmouth denied the report and provided documentation that seemed to show that it was false, but that ducks a relevant question: Why was Romney listed as holding those positions but it took Bain three freaking years to correct the record and he cited those positions in that time frame when he filed to run for governor of Massachusetts? And why was he paid $100,000 a year over those three years while ostensibly doing nothing? Good work if you can get it.
Oh, wait a minute. The Romney campaign later did one of those course corrections that have branded the candidate as a flip-flopper possibly without peer and explained that he "wasn't involved in any investment decisions. He was on the SEC filings, because he was still technically the owner, but hadn't transferred ownership to other partners."
As Henry Blodget notes, this dog won't hunt: "Sorry, Mitt Romney, You can't be chairman, CEO, and president of a company and not be responsible for what it does."
Or put less artfully, does Romney want to argue that being the CEO of a company doesn't mean you have any actual responsibility for it? Leaving aside the question of whether he committed a felony, let alone perjured himself in SEC filings Andrew Sullivan says that this state of affairs "is a little troubling for a potential president's future accountability."
Sullivan notes that as Bain CEO, Romney once owned Stericycle, a company that disposed of aborted babies."The point is not that Romney actively managed that acquisition; he almost certainly didn't," Sullivan argues. "The point is simply that he was CEO of the company when it did this and was drawing a salary for it. That means he is formally responsible for it. Romney's response could still be that he disagrees with the transaction, didn't choose it, and wishes that Bain had never touched it. But that kind of parsing of responsibility and trashing of his own company comes off as both weasely and disloyal respectively"
There is a simple way to clear up the apparent "confusion" over his tenure at Bain:
Romney should stop giving contradictory answers to reporters, which he did on Friday in the face of withering attacks from the president to the effect that his opponent is not the solution but the problem. He should release his tax returns for the relevant period, which is his only lifeline to credibility. But he shows no sign of doing that because he has something to hide. Or a lot of somethings. Or maybe just something huge.
* * * * *
I suspected reports that former Bush lackey Condoleeza Rice was high on Romney's list for vice president was nothing more a passing fancy, or more likely a curtsey to the NAACP after he was roundly booed last week at their annual convention. Republicans concerned about the direction of his listless campaign certainly were praying that was the case.
Rice was utterly inept as George W. Bush's national security adviser, acknowledging after the 9/11 attacks that she was an old-school Kremlinogist who was not focused on Al Qaeda and other contemporary threats. She was a mediocrity as secretary of state, spending four years telling leaders of states not in sync with the Bush-Cheney axis that if they didn't make nice the U.S. would bomb them.
With Condi on the ticket, Romney would own the Bush record -- the eight darkest years in modern American history -- and he of course wanted to do no such thing. Which is why he did not call attention to a fundraiser for him hosted by Dick Cheney at his Wyoming home last week. After all, the former vice president remains the most loathed man in America.
Oops! It turns out Condi is pro-choice and Romney had vowed to choose an anti-choice running mate. It should be noted that she does, however, play a mean classical piano. By the way, the Condi boomlet last less than 72 hours.
* * * * *
Many prospective voters tell pollsters that they don't give a fig if Romney is a 1 percenter and did some not-so-nice things to mom-and-pop businesses, including outsourcing and, it turns out, offshoring to our dear comrades in China.
But with every passing week Romney's mantra that It's The Economy, Stupid gets trampled he slowly loses ground on the issue while the economy slowly -- okay, painfully slowly -- gains ground.
With every passing week that he refuses to address other issues like health-care reform, deficit reduction and immigration head on, he cedes a little more of an edge to Obama in swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida where those crucial independent voters tell the same pollsters that they aren't buying Romney's embrace of the tired,decades old Republican economic formula of further lowering taxes on the wealthy while emancipating Wells Fargo and other bankstas from onerous regulations designed to try to deep them in line.
Asks the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol puts it: "Is it too much to ask Mitt Romney to get off autopilot and actually think about the race he’s running?"
Photo by Nicholas Kamm/Getty