Webster G. Tarpley
April 27, 2010
Today’s Senate hearings, carried on CNBC, Bloomberg, and C-SPAN, represent the first major exposure of the American people to the scandalous frauds of the derivatives casino, including synthetic collateralized debt obligations (synthetic CDOs or CDO²). These are things most people have heard very little about. They begin to open up the shocking reality behind such shopworn euphemisms like “toxic assets,” “exotic instruments,” and “troubled assets.” Reactionaries in general and Republicans in particular have done everything possible to hide the role of derivatives, which must be considered the main cause of the financial panic of September 2008 which brought down Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, and AIG, after felling Bear Stearns in March of the same year. The reactionary legend, repeated yesterday on the Senate floor by financier minion GOP Sen. Gregg of New Hampshire, is that the crisis was caused by poor people taking out subprime mortgages and then defaulting, bringing down the entire Anglo-American banking system and triggering the bailouts. Either that, or too much government spending was too blame.
A mass of kited derivatives blew up in September 2008
This Big Lie has come from such propaganda sources as the Limbaugh Institute of Retarded Reactionary Ranting. But the $1.5 trillion in subprime mortgages were dwarfed by the $15 trillion US residential real estate market, to say nothing of the $1.5 thousand trillion world derivatives bubble. But, starting with Bush-Goldman Sachs Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, the talk has been of a “housing correction,” not a derivatives panic. It must be pointed out that derivatives are nothing but wagers, bets placed from a distance on securities which themselves are often not mortgages, but rather other derivatives. The bettor buying a synthetic CDO or CDO² does not own the underlying mortgages or mortgage-backed securities, any more than someone who bets on a racehorse owns part of the horse. Blankfein and others tried to portray derivatives as a service to hedgers and end-users, but it’s clear that the vast majority of derivatives involve neither hedgers nor users, but only bettors on both side of the transaction. It is in any case this mass of kited derivatives which blew up in 2008, bringing on the present world economic depression.
Goldman Sachs executives are babbling cretins
The mystique of Goldman Sachs is based in large part on their reputation as the smartest financiers on Wall Street. After today’s hearings, this mystique has permanently dissipated. The Goldman executives babbled. They sounded dumb. They stalled and stammered and went into contortions to avoid giving straight answers to simple questions. They were mendacious and evasive when they did speak. Financial powers around the world will note carefully the refusal of three out of four Goldman executives on one panel to state that they had a duty to defend the interests of their clients. Who will want to do business with such a gang? Goldman Sachs got $10 billion of taxpayer money in low-interest loans under the Bush-Paulson TARP. Part of that money went to pay for obscene bonuses for Goldman executives like the ones on display today. The argument for bonuses is that they must be paid to retain the highly talented personnel, virtual geniuses, who are indispensable for Wall Street speculative success. But these are no geniuses, they are imbeciles. No more bonuses should be paid by banks saved through public money.
Don’t buy any used cars from Lloyd Blankfein
Sleaziest of all was Goldman’s risk-monger in chief, Lloyd Blankfein, who pretended not to know that derivatives are often kept hidden off balance sheet. The morally insane Blankfein testified that his role was to provide the firm’s clients with “the risk they wanted.” Other GS witnesses represented the firm’s role as “distributing risk.” But it turned out that they were manufacturing risk through the very existence and activities of Goldman Sachs, which had the result of pyramiding the total risk of the US financial system into intergalactic space. It is time to regulate much of that unbearable risk out of existence with appropriate regulatory legislation. In the meantime, no sane person would buy a used car from Blankfein. Nor should they believe his assurance that the “recession” has ended.
But when at the end of the day Blankfein finally suggested to Sen. Tester that synthetic CDOs might be outlawed, we should accept his proposal immediately.
Today’s hearings reveal the Goldman Sachs gunslingers and whiz kids as ignorant gangsters and con artists, notable only for their ability to practice massive fraud with impudence. These sleazy mediocrities do not deserve bonuses paid for by taxpayers. Rather, it is time to shut them down and put them in the dock.
If Goldman Sachs had cared about is clients, it would have urgently warned them to unload their subprime risk by late 2006 or thereabouts. Instead, Goldman was busily increasing its clients’ risk by selling them more toxic CDOs out of its own inventory warehouse.
Goldman Sachs: bookies who stack the deck and fix the games
As the philandering Sen. Ensign pointed out, comparing Wall Street to Las Vegas is a slander on the croupiers of Las Vegas, where everyone knows or should know that the game is rigged so that the house always wins. To use the comparison introduced by Sen. McCaskill, Goldman Sachs was operating as the gambling house, or the bookie. At the same time, Goldman was betting for their own account. But much worse was the fact that Goldman was stacking the decks, loading the dice, fixing the games on which the bets were placed, and bribing the umpires.
As Ensign put it in a rare moment of lucidity, the subprime mortgage was bad. But the collapse of subprime would not have had anything like its actual destructive effect on the US economy if it had not been compounded by the mass of synthetic derivatives that were piled on top of subprime.
No national or social purpose served by Goldman Sachs and toxic derivatives bets
The broader issue raised by today’s hearing is: what human purpose is served by the existence of Goldman Sachs, which concocts toxic synthetic CDOs for the purpose of allowing speculators, who are often lied to and duped, to bet for or against them. Goldman Sachs can only be described as a speculative parasite which promotes the activities of other speculative parasites, such as the John Paulson hedge fund at the expense of the public and of its other clients. It was a crime to inject $10 billion of Treasury money into Goldman Sachs. It was another crime for the Fed to lend Goldman untold billions (just how many billions Bernanke still refuses to disclose) to keep them afloat and enable more predatory profits. These crimes must stop, and the public money must be clawed back. Most important, it is time to shut down the derivatives rackets.
Goldman got $12.5 billion from taxpayers for AIG credit default swaps
Useful questions from GOP Sen. Coburn pointed to another kind of derivative: the infamous credit default swap (CDS). These CDS are what brought down AIG, whose London hedge fund had issues $3 trillion in derivatives. When the government bailed out AIG, part of that $180 billion of taxpayer money was used for payouts to the CDS counterparties of AIG, biggest among them Goldman, which got $12.5 billion from the US taxpayer. That was 100 cents on the dollar on a mass of toxic CDS. Coburn wanted to know why Goldman got all their money back, while GM bondholders took a bath as GM went bankrupt. That was, of course, a matter of Goldman’s political clout through GS alum Henry Paulson and Obama Car Czar Steve “The Rat” Rattner, backed up by the historic preponderance of finance capital over industrial capital in this country since Andrew Carnegie sold out to JP Morgan over a century ago.
Derivatives and zombie banks: the toll
Thanks to Goldman Sachs, the other Wall Street zombie banks, and their derivatives, the financial panic of 2008 has turned into a world economic depression of unimaginable proportions. The unemployed and underemployed in the US alone are surely in excess of 20 million. Five to six million home foreclosures are already done or in the pipeline, throwing tens of millions of Americans out of their homes. World trade has been seriously impacted. The budgets of California, New York, Illinois, and many other states are in crisis, with massive layoffs of teachers and other state employees. An entire generation is being destroyed. Now, Greek bonds are trading at junk levels under the attack of speculative predators including Soros, Greenlight Capital, SAC, and the protagonists of today’s hearings – Paulson and Co and Goldman Sachs itself. The attack on Greece and the euro represents the leading edge of the second wave of the depression, which is now arriving in much the same way that the second wave of the 1930s depression was unleashed by the Vienna Kreditanstalt bankruptcy in May of 1931, about 79 years ago and just a year and a half into that depression.
The goal of the Republicans is to portray themselves as stern judges of Wall Street, even as they line up in a unanimous phalanx to protect the finance jackals from any meaningful regulation whatsoever — as seen in yesterday’s vote to block cloture on derivatives re-regulation and reform. The goal of the Democrats is to expose the sociopathic evil of Goldman Sachs and the rest of Wall Street while preening themselves as defenders of the public interest, without however banning credit default swaps, banning synthetic CDOs, and imposing a Wall Street sales tax on all remaining derivatives and asset transactions.
To this degree, today’s hearings are being conducted in bad faith by both major parties. However, the dynamic of the resulting spectacle has the result of educating and mobilizing public opinion against the predatory practices which are the essence of Wall Street, even a year and a half after the banking panic of September 2008 and the monster bailout of zombie banks which soon followed. What is required is a new edition of the anti-banker sentiment set off by the Senate Banking Committee hearings conducted from January 1933 to May 1934 by committee counsel Ferdinand Pecora, which unmasked the corruption of Wall Street. Persons of good will need to get active now to push this process as far as possible while these social dynamics are working. It is time to hit the zombie banks, the hedge funds, and their derivatives as hard as possible, before the second wave of the depression hits. The program necessary to fight the depression and break the strangle-hold of Wall Street on the US economy and political system is given on my web site.
Mitch McConnell on the bailout: “Harry, I think we need to do this, we should try to do this, and we can do this.”
During a break the senators filed out, and the GOP reactionary lockstep once again blocked cloture for a final debate on the Wall Street reform bill, weak as it is. Many activists of the Tea Party naively believe that they have been fighting for a year and a half that they have been fighting to take back the Republican Party. If that is what they believe, today’s second cloture vote proves that they have gotten nowhere in their efforts. Despite their charades, the GOP are the bodyguards of the Wall Street predators. Tea baggers who think they can break the Wall Street grip on the Republicans are pathetic dupes, and they need to wake up, pronto.
When Paulson went to the leaders of Congress to demand a $700 billion bailout for Goldman and his Wall Street cronies, GOP Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell was “deeply frightened” by the apocalyptic briefing delivered by Paulson and Bernanke. When Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid started talking about how difficult it would be to get so much money in a hurry, McConnell urged an immediate bailout, saying: “Harry, I think we need to do this, we should try to do this, and we can do this.” (Andrew Ross Sorkin, Too Big to Fail [New York: Viking, 2009], p. 442) The GOP was the original party of the bailout, and they have not repented, as best seen through the continuance of McConnell, one of the key midwives of the bailout, as Republican Senate Majority Leader. This is the same McConnell who went to Wall Street recently to meet with zombie bankers and hedge fund hyenas, pledging to block derivatives reforms in exchange for big bucks contributed to the GOP’s campaign coffers. Tea baggers who think the GOP has changed or is moving to their side are sadly deluded.
Today, the market fetishism of the crackpot Austrian school has taken a severe blow. Now that Blankfein‘s public image has been soiled by Goldman’s scurrilous and scatological emails, the time is ripe for the radical reform of derivatives and the zombie banks. This is a matter of national survival.
Now that Goldman Sachs is masquerading as a bank holding company, it is subject to FDIC rules. If Goldman’s derivative hoard is marked to market, it is bankrupt. The FDIC should therefore seize Goldman and liquidate it under chapter 7 of the US Code. Sheila Bair should not wait for Friday.