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Payback

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Remember "Hope and Change?"  Remember "a new way of doing things in Washington?"  That was Barack Obama running in 2008.

This was President Obama in 2009:  "Don't think we're not keeping score, brother." That's what Obama said to Rep. Peter DeFazio in a closed-door meeting of the House Democratic Caucus, when DeFazio had gotten out of line on the stimulus vote.

And this is the Obama Administration today:  

The Justice Department is investigating whether the nation's largest credit ratings agency, Standard & Poor's, improperly rated dozens of mortgage securities in the years leading up to the financial crisis, according to two people interviewed by the government and another briefed on such interviews.

You might remember that this is the same Standard & Poor's whose downgrading of U.S. debt infuriated the administration and set off the most recent slide in the President's approval, now down to a dismal 39%.

It's true that the probe is not, for the moment, criminal.  But you can be sure the people at S&P know the Criminal Divsion is just one floor down from the Civil Division in the Main Justice building.

So what's going on?  Is the Hope and Change Adminstration showing S&P that there's a price to be paid for dissin' the Prez?  And that the price is intimidation by our "no-politics-in-these-parts" Justice Department?  


 

It sure smells that way.  It is said that this probe was underway for some good long time, certainly before the downgrade issued in defiance of the Administration's wishes.  Having worked in Main Justice for seven years, I suspect that's right (although I don't know, since it was a long while ago).

But why the revelation today?  Timing is everything.  You have to think that the decision to lift the curtain now was designed to send a message:  Next time Secretary Geithner calls, buddy, you'd best get in line.

If I recall correctly from my days as a prosecutor, that's not how the government is supposed to work.  It is, though, how the mob works.

And yet.........and yet........

On the merits, I have to conclude the Administration is doing the right thing.  Indeed, it may not be doing enough.  S&P was part of a consortium of credit rating agencies that, in the run-up to the banking catastrophe, gave AAA ratings to bundles of sub-prime mortgages that they must have known were closer to junk bond status.  But they gave them the green light anyway, because they's what their clients, the banks, wanted in order to process through  --  and make a boatload from  --  a huge volume of these things.  And the banks paid plenty for the smiley-face ratings.

If the sub-prime mortgages were actually liar loans (the name by which they had been openly known on Wall Street for years), what the heck.  They'll get a triple-A rating anyway.  We'll make a fortune, and by the time the music stops, we'll be in our 9,000 square-foot oceanside mansions in Aruba. 

That is not a "bad business decision," to use the phrase commonly enlisted by white collar crooks who, like other crooks, are looking for someone or something else to blame.  It's fraud.  And it's past time DOJ treated it like fraud.  Thus even if, as I suspect, the timing of today's announcement has a political, or even a thuggish, aroma to it, the probe itself is overdue.

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