Remember Chicken Little and her warning, the sky is falling? I sometimes feel like a Chicken Little, with my repeated warnings that the sky is indeed falling and here’s another example.
Just last week I posted about my fellow Bank Whistlebowers United colleague Michael Winston’s interview with Gretchen Morgenson on the New York Times Facebook venue.
I’m still chilled by Michael’s description of Countrywide’s co-founder, former chairman of the board/CEO Angelo Mozilo’s funding strategy which Michael inadvertently stumbled upon after they had hired him to take their company to new heights. “Fund ‘em” was the policy, regardless of their income (did they have any?), even if they had no assets. “Fund ‘em” if they can fog a mirror.
Countrywide Financial Corp. wanted to be the “Goldman Sachs of the Pacific.” Instead their shoddy practices led to our 2008 financial meltdown and instead they became the face of risky lending practices, with Mozilo becoming the poster child for Wall Street greed.
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (N.Y.-D) said in a Bloomberg interview in May of 2008, that Countrywide came to symbolize what went wrong with housing.
I am incensed by very recent news that after a two-year quest by U. S. prosecutors, to build a civil suit against Mozilo, that it now is not pressing any charges against him. As Bloomberg reporter, Keri Geiger said, after nearly a decade of U. S. scrutiny into the man whose face was synonymous with risky lending practices and later an emblem of the government’s mixed success in holding individuals accountable, they have achieved nothing.
And Michael Winston, who was never contacted by anyone at the DOJ expressing interest in the substantial evidence he possessed, also offers his opinion on the DOJ-no-prosecution announcement, writing in an email…
“So what do you do when every major too-big-to-fail bank commits systemic fraud, breaking the law and taking $25 trillion out of GDP? You change the law to give your campaign donors a loophole and avoid prosecution, escaping scot-free.
… And America takes another step down that slippery slope.
It is revolting… unlawful and unconstitutional!
Crime DOES pay in America!”
Mozilo walks the grounds and stays in his 12,000 plus square foot home in Santa Barbara, concocting a fable on his innocence so his grandchildren get his version of “the true story” and know how he was so misunderstood.
I’m speechless. And yes, the sky is falling.
As Dan Ariely, Duke University Professor and best-selling author, reminded us, the further you are removed from the source of real money, the easier it is to steal. And if your friends and colleagues are fudging, cheating, lying and stealing, that makes it more acceptable for you to do so as well.
So, Mozilo, what precedent are you setting for your grandchildren and mine? That greed is good? That the bigger the theft, the easier to get away with it? That lying, cheating and stealing are the new norms, just don’t get caught, you don’t want to be embarrassed, but don’t worry the government supports your crime?
At one time I believe we had a culture of ethics. People really were concerned with doing the ‘right’ thing. Unfortunately, the principles of this constitutional democracy are steadily dissolving, being eroded by the new norms that folks like Mozilo are putting in place.
The very government our founding fathers fought so hard to establish and which was built on a foundation of doing the right thing is being chipped away by the moral vagrant, whose only creed is more and it matters not at whose expense.
In Stephen Covey’s highly acclaimed bestseller, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People , the author talks about the Character Ethic versus the Personality Ethic. The former, built on the fundamental principles that govern human behavior.
The latter, the personality ethic, is the one with massive appeal. It promises a quick, easy way to achieve a quality of life without going through the natural process of work and growth. It’s about get rich quick schemes that promise wealth without the work. I’ll be saying more about this in upcoming posts.
And so, within two weeks, I’m writing about “Wall Street’s Greatest Enemy,” Michael Winston, who epitomizes the character ethic; and the flip side of the coin, Angelo Mozilo, the Face of Wall Street Greed.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Friends, we can continue to stay silent and sound the death knell for our great country. Or, we can start speaking up, loud and clear. The choice is yours and I hope you choose speaking up.