The Countrywide VIP Scandal:

It's been widely reported that Countrywide Mortgage had a special VIP program that provided various discounts to well-connected elites who could help Countrywide politically, most famously Sen. Christopher Dodd.

Is anyone else reminded of that horrible [IMHO] Sylvester Stallone movie Cop Land, about a town full of corrupt police officers, who were accomplices to all sorts of illegal mayhem? When I saw this movie, my girlfriend and I laughed out loud when it was revealed that the police officers were all bought off with "low interest mortgages" provided by the mob. Maybe the screenwriters had their fingers closer to the pulse of American corruption than I realized!

Curt Fischer:

that horrible Sylvester Stallone movie Cop Land

That was not a horrible movie! Sylvester Stallone actually did a decent job acting, Harvey Keitel was awesome as the Internal Affairs guy, and Janine Gerofalo (in a serious role) as a cop and Stallone's partner.

The shot at the end, where Stallone gazes wistfully at the NYC skyline from the Jersey side of the river, was the best.
11.17.2008 11:48pm
If that's the case, then buying off politicos is a lot cheaper than I thought. For instance, apparently you can buy influence for as little as one shaved point. So even on a huge loan, you are looking at $10k over thirty years. Very economical.

Of course, it's still contemptible no matter what the sum. I'm not pooh-poohing the numbers here to minimize -- I'm just genuinely amazed that our politicians don't drive a harder bargain. Duke at least asked for (and got) a yacht!
11.17.2008 11:55pm
Passing By:
You didn't appreciate any aspect of Copland's slavish devotion to realism? Not even it's lesson that, after a car crashes into a lake, the best way to break a window so that you can save an occupant from drowning is to hit it repeatedly with your ear?
11.17.2008 11:59pm
What was wrong with Cop Land? I'm hardly a Stallone fan, but I liked it. The exact mechanism of the corruption was hardly central to the movie.
11.18.2008 12:03am
Milhouse (www):
Oren, what Duke Cunningham was selling was worth a yacht. It was outright quid pro quo; give me a yacht and I get you the contract. The "Friends of Mario" club wasn't on that level; Countrywide wasn't buying anything specific, just general goodwill. I do you a favour, next time I appear before you you'll remember what I did for you. That sort of quo isn't worth nearly as many quid.
11.18.2008 12:52am
DavidBernstein (mail):
It's been a decade since I saw it on an airplane, but my recollection is implausible plot, terrible dialogue, and a bunch of cops who should be willing to look the other way at criminal activity not short of murder, because "we gave you low-interest mortgages."
11.18.2008 12:53am
Alaska Jack (mail):
Let me put in another vote for Cop Land. Stallone had been campaigning for a "serious" role, and got one. He was terrific as an overweight, aging local cop in over his head.

- Alaska Jack
11.18.2008 1:01am
David Warner:

"The shot at the end, where Stallone gazes wistfully at the NYC skyline from the Jersey side of the river, was the best."

Funny, that shot came to my mind too when I read the post. Memorable movie, evidently. Certainly better than most of the dreck at the 44-plex lately.
11.18.2008 1:14am
CopLand is pretty good, a bit long though, at least to watch in the theater. I think I remember Debbie Harry being in the movie.
11.18.2008 2:30am
buying off politicos is a lot cheaper than I thought

Apparently, a Craftsman 273-piece tool set will buy you a senior senator from Alaska. There might be a discount there from full-on lower 48 senators, though.
11.18.2008 2:33am

You're not crazy. I had been thinking the same thing. Even when I saw the movie, where cops are running around trying to kill some of their own, I kept thinking "All this for a mortgage? In Jersey? I wouldn't cross the street for a lower interest mortgage in New Jersey."
11.18.2008 7:36am
Washington is as much about the power as it is the money. If Countrywide sold the deal with a spiel about admittance to their VIP program being something very, very elite, then it doesn't seem entirely outrageous that it could be used as a tool for purchasing influence.
11.18.2008 8:03am
Even as a conservative who is against graft and corruption, I find the outrage about the mortgage deals that Dodd and others got a bit overblown, based strictly on the dollars involved.

In all societies, those who already have money, power, influence, fame or just plain old celebrity are feted by those who want it too, or who just want to bask in the reflected glow of it. Celebrities and power brokers get meals and rooms comped all the time, discounts on products so the sellers can brag about who bought them, and entire wardrobes are provided free for TV stars for a tiny credit at the end of the show.

I wouldn't doubt that even small community banks have their own "Mario's List", made up of the community leaders. It's likely that these community leaders are better risks anyway, so it's a way to give them a little break over the stated rates that everybody else gets.

At some point the back-scratching becomes outright bribery and influence-peddling, but below that ill-defined, relative point, it's the way societies have always worked. The alpha male gorilla probably gets a little more grooming and attention from the females than the rest of the males get too.
11.18.2008 8:50am
George Lyon (mail):
I loved Cop Land.
11.18.2008 10:56am
Dan Simon (mail) (www):
The thing about a bribe in the form of a low-interest mortgage is that the borrower will tend to think of it (assuming the rate is adjustable) as a gift that can later be partially rescinded. And as we all know, the desire to avoid losing something is much more psychologically powerful than the desire to get something more.

I used to know a group of people who worked for a bank, several of whom had gotten mortgages at the employee rate. They all spoke of the mortgage as a powerful disincentive to change jobs, even though they weren't especially well-paid. It's awfully hard to give up a bird in the hand...
11.18.2008 11:09am
SFC B (mail) (www):
My wife has a similar situation to the group of people Dan Simon knew. She works for a credit union and we bought a car w/ a loan at the employee rate. It's enough of a difference to affect her choices regarding changing jobs.
11.18.2008 12:11pm
Dan Weber (www):
What geokstr said. If I was running a bank and found out that a Senator was applying for a mortgage, I would make sure that said Senator had an absolutely perfect mortgage experience. Especially so if he was the Chair of the Senate Banking Committee.

The fault, if any, lies with the fact that Senators have the power to destroy the bank.

If you are the CEO of a major business that spends millions of dollars a year advertising in the local paper, your morning newspaper is delivered by a person who specializes in dealing with VIP customers. He might have only 10 or 20 deliveries to make each morning (depending on how concentrated the VIPs are), but it's definitely in their interest to keep you completely happy.

This is why Consumer Reports buys their products anonymously.
11.18.2008 12:12pm
Pete Freans (mail):
I recall Stallone being very fat in that movie. That's about it...
11.18.2008 1:56pm
I thought Cop Land was confused. Stallone thought he was there to be a drama actor. Everyone else thought it was the New York version of Ocean's 11 (the good one)
11.18.2008 2:15pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
That was not a horrible movie! Sylvester Stallone actually did a decent job acting, Harvey Keitel was awesome as the Internal Affairs guy, and Janine Gerofalo (in a serious role) as a cop and Stallone's partner.

The shot at the end, where Stallone gazes wistfully at the NYC skyline from the Jersey side of the river, was the best.

I absolutely agree with Curt, Cop Land was a very enjoyable movie and Stallone delivered a solid performance. His character reminds me a little bit of a younger version of the sheriff from "Sons of Anarchy" if he had gone down a different path.
11.18.2008 2:21pm
New Pseudonym:
My late father-in-law owned a business in a large Northeastern city whose business was mostly with various local government agencies. He used to say that the number of officials who could be bribed never surprised him, but he was surprised by how cheaply they could be bought.
11.18.2008 2:28pm
Edward A. Hoffman (mail):
I really like Cop Land. Stallone's performance is pretty good; he even does well in a couple of scenes with Robert DeNiro.
11.18.2008 3:22pm
Thales (mail) (www):
Agree re Stallone in the movie--the second movie in which he has actually acted, the first one being Rocky.

But I agree with David's assessment of the movie as a whole.
11.21.2008 12:05pm