I was on my way home night before last when I heard it on the radio. Mitt Romney was telling a humorous story. It was during a "town hall" meeting by telephone conference. He was speaking with Wisconsin voters.
We all gather stories as we move through life. Most of us hold close our fondest memories. I remember debates with my father about politics, religion, and philosophy. He encouraged debate and he seemed to enjoy the twists of logic he could provoke. And it made us, his kids, feel like grown ups. My most precious memories come from a little later. I remember holding my newborn daughter for the first time. I still smile at incidents from her progress and eventual graduation to adulthood. My store of memories grows each time she and I talk by telephone about our adventures at work or about church or the latest news story. Life is good.
It was good for Mitt Romney as well. He reminisced fondly about the stories of his own youth. "One of the most humorous, I think, relates to my father.
As I listened to the radio and drove, I was in the mood for a fond memory. It had been a sad but hopeful evening. I had attended an informational public meeting hosted by a young woman from the office of Missouri's Attorney General, Chris Koster. Forty nine state attorneys general had joined with the US Department of Justice in a successful negotiation with the 5 largest mortgage lenders in the country.
- Bank of America
- JP Morgan Chase
- Wells Fargo
- Ally Financial (GMAC)
A consent agreement had been signed by the five banks, settling civil claims by the state and federal governments. 155 million dollars would go to Missouri families, victims of unethical behavior.
She gave a hotline number to the Missouri Attorney General's Office that citizens of the state can call to get information, file complaints, or give information:
So it was a joyful meeting, right? Well, not quite. As one participant after another asked whether specific situations would be covered, a dismal picture of corporate bullying, flim flam, and banking arrogance emerged.
The principle owed on a couple's house had just jumped way above what they had agreed to. Not the interest, the principle. They had telephoned a dozen times without getting an answer. Would the settlement cover that? No, but they could file a separate complaint and someone would help them get the accounting they are legally due.
A woman told of how she and her husband had signed an agreement with their bank for a loan modification. They had kept up the payments, diligently paying every month on time. The bank, while processing the paperwork, had put their regular monthly payments into an escrow account pending finalization, delayed processing for several months, then applied penalties and started foreclosure for non-payment. Would the settlement cover that? Same answer. She could file a separate complaint and they would look into it.
One outrageous story after another was delivered with little indignation. Folks were just worn down. Many carried folders and manila envelopes with letters, notices, copies, and documentation. A woman had found out about foreclosure against her almost by accident. Nobody had told her. It was during a loan modification that was supposed to put her in the clear. Weren't they supposed to notify her? A man had gotten a loan modification and later found his interest rate going back up each month. Representatives on the telephone transferred him to one another and said they could not give him his information. A woman whose bank lost her paperwork repeatedly and having her re-fill out the paperwork, finally told her she was disqualified for applying too many times for the same lower interest rate. As far as she knew, she had applied only once. The stories went on and on. The audience dwindled as questions about the settlement were answered and folks left.
The actual list of practices prohibited and other services mandated went to over 300 pages. A hotline phone number was provided and the documents themselves could be viewed on line.
Still, the fact that such practices had gone on for so many years was depressing. Corporations have no heart, no soul. They aren't supposed to have feelings or morals beyond what is required for profitable operation. Doing "the right thing" at the expense of stockholders is a form of corporate theft, unless there is some payoff later on.
That's why laws are necessary, to put limits on behavior that the market does not impose. Lawbreaking is supposed to be beyond the limit. Even at that, heartbreaking decisions are sometimes what is required from corporate executives. That's why factories are closed down.
In the 1950s, the decision was made by American Motors to close down a Michigan auto manufacturing plant. Operations were consolidated in Wisconsin. Workers in Kenosha got new opportunities as the plant there expanded. Thousands in Michigan were thrown out of work as the Hudson plant became an empty shell. In that area, it was human tragedy on a scale that was not seen again until the Bush years half a century later. George Romney was the executive who made the decision.
It is part of the early memory of the then young Mitt, one of the stories he talked about to his Wisconsin audience. "One of the most humorous, I think, relates to my father.
Mitt talked about how his dad later ran for office. A high school band at a parade his candidate father attended had learned the Wisconsin state song. Every time they played it, "my dad's political people would jump up and down and try to get them to stop because they didn't want people in Michigan to be reminded that my dad had moved production to Wisconsin."
On the radio, as I drove home from that sobering meeting, I could hear Mitt pausing to chuckle before he finished his story.
The story of his father throwing thousands out of work, then worrying about the election if constituents were reminded of the human tragedy involved.
"One of the most humorous, I think, relates to my father. He had to pause for a second to finish laughing as he got to the end of the story.
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Still, Romney's story is not in good taste. Much of what the Republican candidates have been saying indicates an inability or unwillingness to think before they speak. There is little to no sense of diplomacy. I suppose it's possible that they just don't care or don't think that their constituents do, but that's not better.
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