The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A MODERN FAIRY TALE: [Commercial break fades; dramatic TV news music, the kind of noise that’s supposed to make the usual gruel of crime, traffic accidents, sports, weather, and celebrity gossip sound much more important than they really are, swells up, and the main camera swoops in on the anchor desk. There are two anchors, of course, a middle-aged white male with more than a little gray in his hair, and a young and attractive female from an easily distinguishable ethnic or racial minority. The middle-aged white male is sitting there to lend some gravitas to the journalistic fast food the viewers at home are getting; for reasons best known to clinical psychologists and their Canadian lab rats, a great swath of the American television viewing public finds getting bad news from a middle-aged white guy with a deep voice easier on their collective nerves than getting the same bad news from almost any other flavor of anchorman you care to think of. The female anchor, who smiles a lot and is often anywhere between fifteen to twenty-five years younger than her male counterpart, is there to report the bad news regarding women and children, the happy news, if there is any, and to serve as a lightning rod for the sexual fantasies of the station’s no doubt large viewership of well-informed pervs.] White Guy Anchor: There was dramatic testimony today in front of the Senate Banking Committee, as B.B. Wolfe, president of the locally owned financial giant Acme Consolidated Bank, admitted under oath that the bank has used tough and possibly even illegal methods to collect on delinquent loans and mortgages. Erica. [Cut to female anchor, who makes a quarter turn to face the camera. She is not smiling now, but the quarter turn does subconsciously remind the viewers, especially the male ones, that she has one of the best racks money can buy.] Female Anchor: That’s right, Frank. We should warn parents that the testimony they are about to hear contains some graphic descriptions of financial dealings that might frighten younger children. We go now to our Washington affiliate, WBHO, and reporter George Smith, who is covering the story from the Capitol. George? [Cut to George, who clearly wants to be sitting in a nice air-conditioned studio reading the news than standing in front of the Capitol on a hot and humid summer night sweating like Mrs. Murphy’s prize pig, but he’s still about ten years too young to be the voice of experience that most people crave in an anchorman and so until then he’s got to do these stand-ups in front of places he wouldn’t get caught dead near any other way. Still, the Capitol building makes a nice background visual, no two ways about that, and it’s better than standing outside a kosher soup factory in Brooklyn trying to explain to tens of thousands of goyim who couldn’t care less one way or the other why a crowd of Hasidim torched the place after learning that their fish and tomato soup was, in fact, shrimp cocktail. People can be so strange about some things.] New White Guy Reporter: Thank you, Erica, and yes, today’s testimony was shocking in the extreme. The subprime mortgage meltdown and the subsequent banking crisis have sent shockwaves through the American financial sector, but no one thought that matters would come to this. Let’s take a look at a portion of the relevant testimony. [Cut to a Senate committee room. Sitting in the chairman’s seat is, appropriately enough, the chairman, a man who has sat in this chair for too long for any good he has been doing and whose chair sits directly under a cleverly disguised five ton containment bubble built to prevent the chairman’s ego from spilling over and causing an ecological disaster. Sitting at the witness table is Mr. Benjamin Butler Wolfe, president of Acme Consolidated Bank. A graduate of Phillips Exeter, Harvard, and the Harvard Business School, his friends have called him B.B. since childhood. Mr. Wolfe has been president of Acme Consolidated since 2008. To his left sits Mr. Thomas Nym, of the law firm of Goniff, Ladron, & Snaffler, LLC, and counsel of record for Mr. Wolfe.] The Chairman: Mr. Wolfe, I must turn now to what is, at least to me, the most disturbing part of our investigation. I am referring here to Acme’s use of what I can only describe as pretty strong-arm tactics to collect on loans from people who basically don’t have the money to give you. Mr. Wolfe: Mr. Chairman, I am sure that there might have been a few cases of collections officers going overboard in a few isolated cases, but I feel that if you step back and take a look at Acme’s collection practices as a whole, you will find them in line with what are fairly standard procedures throughout the banking industry. The Chairman: You will understand, I hope, Mr. Wolfe, that I find that statement very hard to believe, especially in light of your personal involvement in the Porco brothers matter. [Wolfe puts hand over microphone and confers with his attorney for a moment.] Mr. Wolfe: Mr. Chairman, my personal involvement in that matter has been greatly exaggerated in the media. The Porco brothers’ dispute was resolved in line with industry standards. As I’ve said here and in several other venues, the media has blown this one case way out of proportion. The Chairman: Well, Mr. Wolfe, this is your chance to set the record straight, if you choose to do so. What was Acme Consolidated’s relationship with the Porco brothers? Mr Wolfe: Mr. Chairman, the Porco brothers are, to me, a classic example of what got our industry into the mess we face today. All three brothers had no jobs, no income, no real assets, and their credit histories were nothing short of poisonous, and just for the record, I want to point out that they got their loans before I became president of the bank. Had I been president of the bank at the time frame, they would not have gotten a loan at all. I don’t have the figures in front of me right now, but if I remember this correctly, the Porco brothers’ combined credit score wouldn’t add up to the IQ of a none too intelligent gnat. The Chairman: I see. If, as you say, Mr. Wolfe, the Porco brothers were such bad risks, how then did they get their mortgages? I’ve seen in the documents we requested from Acme that not only did they get mortgages, but on more than one occasion they managed to get home equity loans from your bank. How was such a thing even possible, given the obvious risks in loaning them money? Mr. Wolfe: It was the bubble, Mr. Chairman. I must say that it affected us all, myself included. We found a way to make a lot of money very quickly and with securitization we believed we found a way of protecting the bank against the risks of default. As we all know now, we were wrong. The Chairman: I must admit, Mr. Wolfe, that it is a bit refreshing for those of us who’ve been on this committee for a while to hear any witness say they were wrong about anything. But let me ask you, sir, why did you go along with the practice of handing out these bad loans, knowing, as you must have deep down, that there was bound to be a down side to it? Mr. Wolfe: Mr. Chairman, I run a bank. Banks are in the business of making money and catching the upside of a bubble is a great time for making a lot of money. I think that too many of us in the industry let the huge sums we were making blind us to the economic reality of what we were doing. The Chairman: Which leads us ineluctably back to the matter of the Porco brothers, Mr. Wolfe. I see in the documents that all three brothers complained that Acme Consolidated used some very high pressure tactics trying to collect on their mortgages and outstanding loans. What do you say to those charges? [Wolfe confers with his lawyer, then shakes his head.] Mr. Nym: Mr. Chairman, I just want to say for the record that my client insists on answering your question against my advice. The Chairman: Duly noted, counselor. Mr. Wolfe, you were saying? Mr. Wolfe: Mr. Chairman, I must disagree with your assessment of Acme Consolidated’s collecting practices as high pressured. We are not loan sharks, sir. The Porco brothers fell into the chasm that separates a robust economy from a struggling one. They received loans they shouldn’t have gotten at all, and then when we asked them to repay at least some of what they owed they laughed at us and told us to sue them. The Chairman: Which you did. Mr. Wolfe: Which we did. We were able to foreclose on two of the brothers and finally managed to get them out of the homes they’d bought with our money. The Chairman: But then you continued to badger them, Mr. Wolfe, even in their new homes, demanding that they repay loans you knew they no way of repaying. Mr. Wolfe: That, Mr. Chairman, is the crux of the matter. The two brothers we are speaking of here, Donny and Lou, used the home equity loans to buy cars, jewelry, flat screen TVs, and other high end consumer goods. In essence, they were using their homes as ATM machines, and as long as times were flush, they were able to get away with it. But the wheel turned, Mr. Chairman, it’s as simple as that. Every party has to end and the Porcos did not want to admit it nor pay the bill that had come due. That attitude was at the heart of their difficulties with Acme Consolidated. The Chairman: Difficulties, sir?! You call what the events of last June difficulties? That is hardly the word I would use, sir. You personally went to Donny Porco’s house with a squad of private detectives and threatened to knock it down if he didn’t start to repay his loans. Do you deny that, sir? Mr. Wolfe: No, Mr. Chairman, I do not. We went to that house, and I should specify that Donny Porco was at that time still living in a house we had foreclosed on, unlike his brother, who had already moved out of his house, and then refused to move when we served him with an eviction order. That’s when I got a more heated than I should have and made that threat. But he was quite emphatic that he was not leaving. I believe the police report will bear me out on his refusing to leave the premises. The Chairman: Yes, it does, Mr. Wolfe. The police report states that Mr. Porco used a Sicilian phrase that translates roughly as “not by the hairs of my chinny chin chin.” At which point, sir, your squad of goons turned on an industrial strength wind machine, the kind used in Hollywood to mimic hurricanes and the like, and then used it to knock down the Porco home. You do not deny any of this, do you? Mr. Wolfe: No sir, I do not, although I do take issue with your characterization of the private detectives as company goons. The Chairman: Duly noted, sir. Now, please bear with me for a moment, Mr. Wolfe, because I do not understand what happened next and I do want to understand it. After successfully knocking down the Porco home, you and your cohort of private detectives then held a luau, a Hawaiian style luau, at which Mr. Porco served as the main course. What do you say to that, sir? Mr. Wolfe: He was delicious, Mr. Chairman. The Chairman: I beg your pardon? Mr. Wolfe: He was delicious. Especially his ribs. The Chairman: Mr. Wolfe, I hardly think the flavor of Mr. Porco’s ribs are the issue here, considering that the next day you went and did the same thing to his brother Lou. Mr. Wolfe: Your pardon, Mr. Chairman, but Mr. Porco’s brother, I’m speaking here of Lou Porco and not Tom Porco; in that instance there was no luau. He was roasted over an open pit fire. We did not do the same thing to him, as you put it. The Chairman: You are failing to see the point here, Mr. Wolfe. Is it the policy of Acme Consolidated Bank to eat customers who cannot meet their obligations? Mr. Wolfe: No sir, only the customers who taste good. And I should point out that Tom Porco immediately paid down a substantial part of his obligation the next day, so the events did have a net positive result for the bank and its shareholders. The Chairman: Mr. Wolfe, the American people could not give a tinker’s damn whether or not eating the Porco brothers had a positive result for your shareholders. They want some reassurance that they are not going to be next. Can you give them that reassurance, sir? Mr. Wolfe: At the moment, Mr. Chairman, no, I cannot. Acme Consolidated is doing what it can to protect honest creditors from dishonest ones, and if the occasional meal is the price that we have to incur to concentrate people’s minds then it is a price we will have to pay. [Cut back to George, who is tired of standing here in front of the Capitol and is wondering if he can get home in time to catch the ball game.] New White Guy Reporter: There you have it, Erica. I think it is safe to say that the banking crisis in this country has just gone into new and uncharted territory. Female Anchor: Yes, it has. Thank you, George. Frank? [Cut to male anchor.] White Guy Anchor: We’ll be right back after these messages.

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