Rating Agencies examined, Rick Perry hearts Glenn Beck, and a Pa pol faces a tough day in court

    If you’re steamed that Wall Street rating agencies gave mortgage-backed junk top ratings in the financial crisis, or troubled by the $2 trillion error Standard & Poor’s made in evaluating U.S. credit, you’ll want to listen to my interview on Fresh Air today.

    Back in the 90’s, Frank Partnoy worked in derivatives with Morgan Stanley. Now he’s a professor of law and finance at the University of San Diego Law School, and he’s been railing against rating agencies for years.

    On today’s show, he recalls how back in the day, he and fellow bankers got the agencies to rate a crappy deal they put together as AAA. He’ll also explain the historical origins of the rating agencies and how they came to acquire such power.

    Tomorrow, I’ll be talking to former big league catcher Brad Ausmus about playing a position that’s both physically punishing and cerebral.

    You can hear Fresh Air at 3 and 7 on 91FM. If you’re outside the Philly area, find a station here.

    In other matters, check out this informative piece by my former Philadelphia Daily News colleague Will Bunch. Will writes about the longstanding relationship between Texas Gov. Rick Perry and right wing talk show king Glenn Beck.

    Will is always interesting reading, and his book The Backlash is still one of the best things I’ve read on the origins of the Tea Party movement.

    And I was fascinated to see this item yesterday about John Perzel, the former speaker of the Pennsylvania house who was indicted on public corruption charges and actually lost his legislative seat last year.

    Perzel is accused of spending millions of state dollars on political campaigns. His trial is coming up this fall, and the bad news for Perzel is that three of his co-defendants have pleaded guilty.

    Perzel apparently learned this in a phone call from reporter Chris Brennan, who told him that his brother-in-law was among those copping a plea. I don’t have much sympathy for Perzel, but that had to be a tough moment.

    Perzel has said the charges against him and nine others amount to “criminalizing politics.” He’ll have his chance to make that case to a jury. But from where I sit, Perzel’s perspective is badly warped from spending too much time in Harrisburg’s legislative culture.

    For years, it’s been common practice to budget millions of dollars to partisan legislative caucuses in Pennsylvania. It’s hardly surprising that when you live that way for years, it seems only natural to use public employees and some of that cash on political campaigns. At least that’s the allegation in this case.

    I wrote recently about the views of Penn State policy professor Beverly Cigler who told a legislative committee that separate partisan caucus staffs are huge money-wasters, and pretty uncommon among other state legislatures.

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