Fehrnstrom Redux

“The Boston Globe’s opinion pages,” the Boston Globe explains to us, “are completely separate from the news operation.”

Indeed, and that’s probably as it should be. But as we learned from last week’s column by frequent contributor and Republican strategist Eric Fehrnstrom, the Globe’s fidelity to this principle extends so far as to allow opinion writers the freedom to contradict facts that were previously established by members of the news staff.

In this column (his fourth effort in the nineteen months he’s been opining for the Globe to harpoon Elizabeth Warren, his personal Leviathan), Fehrnstrom again falsely accuses Warren of helping corporate giant Travelers Insurance to defeat claims brought by victims of asbestos poisoning. But as Globe news staffers reported on multiple occasions when Fehrnstrom was peddling this same story in his capacity as a member of Scott Brown’s campaign staff, it is so misleading as to be untrue. This same campaign lie was also called out on Blue Mass Group (here and here). Nevertheless, the falsehood is back again on today’s opinion page, and Fehrnstrom goes on to use it to attack Warren for hypocrisy:

If Warren engages in the same behaviors that she pretends to find in others, she should at least be reminded of her dishonesty.

On behalf of the Globe news staff, we are happy to do the same for him.

What Drives Us Crazy about Bank of America’s Chad Gifford

Globe business columnist Shirley Leung, on whom we can always rely to be highly attuned to the sensitivities of corporate executives, recently shared with us what drives retiring Bank of America board member Chad Gifford crazy — “big-bank bashing.”

Gifford, who’s stepping down as chairman of Bank of America’s board with an eight-figure retirement package, plans to devote his retirement years countering the impression that some of us (notably Senator Elizabeth Warren) have gotten that big banks bear an enormous amount of responsibility for the currently precarious financial condition of what we once referred to as America’s middle class.

While conceding that in 2008, the banking industry “made some mistakes,” Gifford insists that’s not the whole story. “Bigger isn’t always bad,” he explained.  “Banks need to be well-capitalized to handle the increasingly complex transactions of their clients.”

And, as Bank of America vice chairman Anne Finucane pointed out to Leung in further defense of bigness, Bank of America now gives away $12 million locally — more than its earlier incarnation, FleetBoston, donated. (Which is all very nice, but considering that FleetBoston had $200 billion in assets before merging with Bank of America, and Bank of America now has $2.1 trillion in assets, it’s rather less impressive than it first appears.)

And something the Bank of America folks did not pass on to Leung.  In addition to the $12 million annual local donation, Bank of America is also the source of $5.6 million in one-time funds to be distributed to legal assistance programs in Massachusetts. This extra funding is not a charitable donation, but instead, as Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly (sub. req.) reports, it is part of the settlement between Bank of America and the U.S. Department of Justice under which the bank will pay $17 billion in penalties and partial restitution for the financial fraud it committed in the years leading up to the Great Recession of 2008 (and beyond). The settlement includes the bank’s admissions that it sold billions of dollars of residential mortgage-backed securities without disclosing important facts about the dubious quality of the securitized loans and that it originated risky mortgage loans and made misrepresentations about the quality of those loans to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration.  The additional funding for legal services is welcome, but of course it will not even begin to repair the damage inflicted on homeowners and their tenants, many of whom continue to struggle to put the consequences of the bank’s fraud behind them.

And that’s what drives us crazy about Chad Gifford and Bank of America.

Does Martha Coakley Have an Inner Elizabeth Warren?

Democratic candidate for Governor Martha Coakley came in for some criticism from the Globe’s Scot Lehigh and on BlueMassGroup recently for proposing to pay for the new state programs she favors by offering up that stale GOP talking point — that there’s plenty of savings to be found in eliminating “waste, fraud and abuse.”

Coakley did not elaborate on where she thought the “waste, fraud and abuse” were to be found, but, as the term is generally understood, it involves lazy people lolling in the state’s (presumably overly generous) safety net when they should be out and about applying for those jobs that don’t exist.

Which is too bad, because as the state official responsible for prosecuting public benefits fraud, she, along with the AG’s in other states and the US Attorney’s office, has forced some of the biggest public benefits cheats in the state — drug companies — into settlements in which they have admitted to bribing doctors and pharmacies to promote drugs for uses that have not been approved as safe or effective.

This past November, for example, Johnson & Johnson agreed to repay $62.5 million to the state for improperly encouraging the use of one of its drugs to control agitated nursing home patients, even though the drug increased the risk of stroke. And in 2012, she settled similar charges against two other drug companies, netting $55 million.

These settlements are certainly welcome additions to the state treasury. But if Coakley really wanted to capture the imagination of those Democrats who have come out of hibernation already (to caucus this past weekend, for example), she might make a bigger point of the fact that the biggest savings from eliminating waste, fraud and abuse are to be found in going after corporate providers, not individual consumers — and she’s been on them.

In her remaining months as Attorney General, she might even listen to Elizabeth Warren, who thinks that deterring criminal behavior in our financial system requires not just entering into settlements as a matter of course but actually going to trial sometimes to prosecute culpable executives under criminal laws. Or she might listen to Robert Reich, who made a pretty good showing in his run for Governor 12 years ago and who has said that “the only way to get [the drug companies that make up “Big Pharma”] to change their behavior is to make the individuals responsible feel the heat.”

So, some advice for Candidate Coakley: to make your real point about waste, fraud and abuse — and the one that might cause some Democrats who have had quite enough of the war on the poor to take another look at you — consider adding in a CEO perp walk.