Wednesday’s New York Times featured an excellent and indispensable story on Herbert and Marion Sandler, the owners of Oakland’s World Savings Bank and two of the most improbable figures at the center of the mortgage crisis. Just two years ago, the Sandlers were practically saints. World Savings had a reputation for vetting their would-be borrowers and compiling a uniquely rock-solid portfolio of reliable mortgage assets. They sold the bank to Wachovia for billions, and used the cash to seed such groups at Moveon.org, the Center for Responsible Lending (irony alert!), and Pro Publica. But as the crisis unfolded, people began to notice that World Savings essentially invented the option ARM, a loan with repayment provisions that don’t just leave the borrower paying off the interest alone, but paying off less than the required interest payments, which are added to the principal. In other words, the principal actually goes up over time, despite the borrowers’ attempts to repay it and get out from under such massive debt. It became one of the most onerous, predatory lending schemes around, and today, many critics regard the Sandlers as one of the worst villains in the present meltdown, for all their public spiritedness. Read the whole thing; you’ll be glad, and sad, you did.