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Bailing Out Organized Crime

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By Michael Kinsley
Friday, March 6, 2009

"It's distasteful," the Treasury secretary said, "but it is essential if this country is going to be restored to full economic health. We've bailed out the banks. We've bailed out the auto industry. We're bailing out insurance companies and the housing sector. Now we must take the next step. This organization is part of the very warp and woof of our nation. We literally have a gun to our heads."

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Standing behind the secretary as he spoke at a news conference yesterday was a man later identified as William P. "Billy the Bailout" Baritone. The president has nominated Baritone for the newly created post of assistant secretary of the Treasury for illegal affairs. Baritone has spent his entire career in organized crime and is expected to win easy confirmation in the Senate, where many members credit his organization with being a major job creator in their states.

Baritone concurred with the secretary's analysis of the situation. "A gun to your head," he said with a grin, and a wave of the raincoat draped over his right hand. "I like that. And don' you fugget it." He then moved the raincoat with his left hand, revealing an apple in his right, took a large bite out of it, and burst out laughing.

"What did you think?" he snorted. "You think I would whack the secretary of the Treasury in the middle of a press conference? You been watching too many reruns of 'The Sopranos.' We don't operate like that anymore. We're legitimate businesspeople. And as such we believe that in these difficult times it is our patriotic duty to behave like legitimate businesspeople, and that means demanding the government give us billions of dollars."

Baritone grew expansive. "It's like this, y'see. You gotta change with the times. It used to be that so-called legitimate businesses like the car companies would, you know, like, make cars. And then they would sell the cars at a profit. But that business model doesn't seem to work anymore. You like that term? Business model? I do. Really sounds like you know what you're talkin' about.

"Anyway, my organization had a different business model. We would borrow one of these cars, open the trunk and stuff someone inside. Then we would call his family and demand, say, a million dollars to open the trunk and let him out. A million bucks -- can you imagine? Were we suckers, or what?" Baritone smacked his palm against the side of his head and sighed deeply.

"Still," he shrugged, "it was a nice little business, until these legitimate guys started horning in on our territory. Only instead of a measly million, they demanded billions. Billions! And here's the real beauty part." Baritone leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially. "They didn't even need to stuff anybody in the trunk of a car. They didn't need to grab any hostages. They were their own hostages. 'Give me billions of dollars and I don't get hurt.' Brilliant! I t'ink they call it . . . what?"

"Too big to fail," the Treasury secretary chimed in helpfully.

"Dat's right," said the soon-to-be assistant secretary. "Too big to fail. And then they have the friggin' cojones to accuse us of going legit just because we want a small rescue package of $10 to $15 billion, at least in the first tranche." Baritone grinned. "I just love that word 'tranche.' Kinda sounds like something to whack someone with -- if we did that stuff anymore."

The Treasury secretary also announced yesterday that in addition to the direct payment of up to $15 billion -- in unmarked bills, which National Economic Council Chairman Lawrence Summers will leave in a locker at a D.C. bus station -- a further $30 billion would be set aside in a special Loan Shark Facility, to prevent the credit freeze that has infected banks from spreading to the still-healthy loan-shark sector. The guarantee would also cover payments to registered protection rackets.

"We could all learn a lot from loan sharks," Summers said yesterday in what was widely acclaimed as the eagerly awaited first faux pas of his new job. "While loans by banks and mortgage companies continue to go into default at a high rate, you rarely run into someone who has defaulted on money owed to a loan shark. Further research will be necessary to determine why this is so."

A news release issued yesterday by the American Society of Sub-Sub-Subprime Lenders noted that: "Throughout this crisis, America's loan sharks have kept the lending window open, even as other financial institutions slammed it on people's fingers."

Mr. Baritone amplified: "We only slam a window on people's fingers when they don't pay up."

kinsleym@washpost.com


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