Introduction by Matt Taibbi:
By now, most people who have followed the financial crisis
know that the bailout of AIG was actually a bailout of AIG's
"counterparties" -- the big banks like Goldman Sachs to whom the
insurance giant owed billions when it went belly up.
What is less understood is that the bailout of AIG
counter-parties like Goldman and Socie'te' Ge'ne'rale, a French bank, actually
began before the collapse of AIG, before the Federal Reserve paid them so much
as a dollar. Nor is it widely understood
that these counterparties actually accelerated the wreck of AIG in what was,
ironically, something very like the old insurance scam known as "Swoop and
Squat," in which a target car is trapped between two perpetrator vehicles
and wrecked, with the "mark' in the game being the target's insurance company --
in this case, our government.
This may sound far-fetched, but the financial crisis of 2008
was very much caused by a perverse series of (still legal) incentives that
often made failed investments worth more than thriving ones. Our economy was like a town where everyone
has juicy insurance policies on their neighbors' cars and houses. In such a town, the driving will be
suspiciously bad, and there will be a lot of fires.
AIG was the ultimate example of this dynamic. At the height of the housing boom, Goldman
was selling billions in bundled mortgage-backed securities -- often toxic crap
of the no-money-down, no-identification-needed variety of home loan -- to
various institutional suckers like pensions and insurance companies, who
frequently thought they were buying investment-grade instruments. At the same time, in a glaring example of the
perverse incentives that existed and still exist, Goldman was also betting against those same securities -- a
practice that one government investigator compared to "selling a car with
faulty brakes and then buying an insurance policy on the buyer of those cars."
Goldman often 'insured' some of this garbage through AIG,
using a virtually unregulated form of pseudo-insurance called credit-default
swaps. Thanks in large part to
deregulation pushed by Bob Rubin, former chairman of Goldman, and Treasury
secretary under Bill Clinton, AIG wasn't required to actually have the capital
to pay off the claims made against it.
As a result, banks like Goldman bought more than $440 billion worth of
bogus insurance from AIG, a huge blind bet that the taxpayer ended up having to
Overview by former S&L investigator, William Black
While Goldman's CEO, Hank Paulson had his company buy large amounts of collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) backed by largely fraudulent "liar's loans." He then became U.S. Treasury Secretary and launched a successful war against securities and banking regulation. His successors at Goldman saw the looming disaster and began to "short" (bet against) these CDOs. Mr. Blankfein, Goldman's current CEO, recently said Goldman was doing "God's work." If true, then we must wonder what God had against Goldman's customers.
Goldman designed a rigged trifecta:
1)it turned a massive loss into a material profit by selling deeply underwater, toxic CDOs that it owned but desperately wanted to get rid of,
2)it helped make John Paulson (CEO of a huge hedge fund that Goldman wanted as an ally, and no relation to Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson) a massive profit in a business where reciprocal favors are key, and . .
3)it, Goldman, then betrayed its customers that purchased the CDOs. Paulson and Goldman were shorting the CDOs because they knew the liar's loans on which the CDOs were based were greatly overrated by the rating agencies, who, desperate to keep Goldman's business, had given them artificially "good' ratings. Goldman then let John Paulson design an all-encompassing "synthetic' CDO in which he was able to place the nonprime packages that he had picked as being the most overrated (and, therefore, overpriced, and also the most likely to soon go belly up as housing prices stagnated).
In short, John Paulson ordered up a CDO that was "most likely to fail." Goldman constructed, at John Paulson's request, a "synthetic" CDO that had a credit default component (CDS), which simply means that it was insured (by AIG) against failure. This CDS component allowed John Paulson to safely bet that the CDO he had constructed (with Goldman) to be "most likely to fail" would in fact fail in which case John Paulson would become vastly wealthier because of the profit he would make on the CDS insurance policy with AIG. He would simply have to make small insurance policy payments until such time as it failed.
Now, any purchaser of this "most likely to fail" CDO would obviously consider it "material information" that the investment had been secretly structured for the sole purpose of increasing the risk of failure. Goldman therefore defrauded its own customers by telling them that the CDO was "selected by ACA Management" rather than by John Paulson, and this is exactly what the SEC complaint alleges. ACA was represented to the potential investors as an independent group of experts that would "select" nonprime loans "most likely to succeed" rather than "most likely to fail." .
The obvious question are:
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