Sometimes when you explain to people that some of the most complicated financial transactions in the country were just side bets, they don’t really believe you. They think it’s an oversimplification. We couldn’t have wrecked the global economy because some people made side bets. These are sophisticated bankers with sophisticated financial instruments, so it must be more complicated than that. It isn’t. They bet one another, whoever lost got paid by the American taxpayer.
To be fair, sometimes they had the money to pay off one another without government bailouts, but not often. That’s because they were largely betting with money they never had. AIG is the perfect example. Their executives made hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses from the early wins in these bets, but then stuck the taxpayers with a $182 billion bill when they lost.
A credit default swap is when you bet that a certain asset is going to default. If you’re wrong, then you have to pay a little bit. If you’re right, you get paid a ton. So, AIG collected a lot of little winnings when they bet that mortgage backed securities would not go into default. But then when they did go into default, they lost big.
So, what does all of this have to do with us? Well, Hank Paulson, Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke in their infinite wisdom decided that we should pay AIG’s bets for them. Did they go back and take the money the AIG executives got for their earlier so-called winnings? No, of course not. Did they even inquire into whether these bets were on actual assets that the other parties were on the hook for? Apparently not.
Let me explain that more. If you bought a package of mortgage backed securities and wanted to insure it in case anything went wrong, that’s a fairly normal derivative. That basically works as insurance for your security. So, if we paid off people who actually owned those securities, it still wouldn’t be right in my opinion but it would be a lot more understandable. The argument would be that it would destabilize the economy too much if all of the people holding the mortgages all of sudden lost most of their value.
But what if they didn’t hold the mortgages, they just bet on them? That’s like the difference between bailing out the Dallas Cowboys to help the local Dallas economy versus bailing out bookies who bet too much on the last Cowboys game. The latter is what we did with AIG. We paid off people’s bets for almost no reason.
I explain all of this because it’s very important that you understand that when we paid $62 billion to AIG "counterparties," we weren’t saving the economy, we were paying off the bookies. The money we gave them didn’t go toward saving one house or one mortgage or even a package of mortgages or even investors who bought the packages of mortgages. It went to paying off people who made side bets on the mortgages (and even sometimes put down bets on a made up collection of mortgages that didn’t even exist in the real world called "synthetic" collateralized debt obligations).
This is insanity. When you understand what really happened, you have one natural reaction – I want my money back. It’s like we paid Donald Trump for a bet he made against Steve Wynn. Why did we do that? I don’t give a damn if The Mirage or Caesar’s Casino won. Why did you pay them with my money?
So, we’re now starting a campaign to get our money back. I’d love to get the whole $62 billion paid out to the AIG counterparties (let alone the whole $182 billion we’ve sunk into AIG all together). But, we’re going to start out nice and modest. We’d like to have Goldman Sachs pay us our $12.9 billion back that they got from AIG.
That’s all taxpayer money. All of it went to Goldman for some silly bet they made with a buffoonish company that never had the money in the first place. As "sophisticated investors" they should have realized that AIG never really had the cash to pay them.
It’s like making a million dollar bet with your deadbeat friend. Do you really expect to get paid when he doesn’t have ten bucks to his name? How sophisticated can you be if you don’t even realize that your counterparties are broke? So, sad day for you, you made a bet with the wrong guy. That’s capitalism, baby. Go home, lick your wounds.
Except as we all know, that’s not how it worked out. Instead the former CEO of Goldman Sachs, Hank Paulson decided to give them the money anyway, from the United States Treasury. Paulson had made $700 million dollars earlier when he made the same kind of deals as the head of Goldman before he became our Treasury Secretary. Not much bias there, right?
So, other than this enormous conflict of interest, why target just Goldman Sachs? Many reasons. They were one of the largest beneficiaries of this "backdoor bailout" from AIG. They were the ones who set up many of the securities in the first place. In fact, they sold $23 billion worth of this junk to AIG (they’re lucky we’re not asking for all of that back).They set them to blow and then bet against them. And they said they didn’t need the money away. Great, then we’ll take it back please.
Yes, they actually said they didn’t need the taxpayers to pay them. They said many times on the record that they were "properly hedged" and that they could have gotten paid off by other companies and didn’t need AIG to pay them. Fantastic! Out with it. We’re going to be generous and not charge much interest, so we’ll take a check for $13 billion made to the United States Treasury.
I’m not kidding. We are going to start applying pressure to both Goldman and the Treasury Department to return that money to its rightful owners, the American taxpayer. Of course, we need your help. We want everyone across the political spectrum to put pressure on the Treasury Department to ask for that money back and for Goldman to give it back.
I invite conservatives, libertarians and tea party activists to join us as well. Don’t you want your money back? Weren’t you angry about the bailouts? Don’t you have a sense that the people in Washington and Wall Street are screwing you? Well, this is how they’re doing it. Time to stand up and fight. Tell Goldman not to tread on you.
To show you how nonpartisan this is, the first protest will be aimed at one of the one guys most responsible for this atrocious decision – Tim Geithner. He is our Treasury Secretary and should be fighting for us and not for the bankers. He can fix his original mistake (he was at the New York Fed when they decided to give these backdoor bailouts at a hundred cents on the dollar when no one thought they were worth anywhere near that much) and get our money back from Goldman.
I have a question for the tea party participants, have you ever wondered why you’ve never protested the one guy in the Obama administration most responsible for the bailouts and the economy? That’s the Treasury Secretary. And the reason you’ve never protested him is because the corporate front groups who organize your protests love Geithner and want to look out for him. Isn’t it time you corrected your mistake, too?
Come join us. Let’s do a real protest of the people who caused this mess in the first place. And let’s get our damn money back.
Join us on Monday, June 7th at noon in front of the Treasury building to demand our $13 billion back from Goldman Sachs. First job is to get Geithner to recognize that he should have never given that particular money to that particular bank for that particular transaction. Or to come out and justify his actions. Let him step out, greet us and tell us why it was such a smart idea to pay off AIG’s side bets with Goldman. I’ll be looking forward to that.
And I’ll be looking forward to seeing you at the protest, no matter what your politics are. You can RSVP by going to the Facebook page for this event. See you there.
UPDATE: Progressive Change Campaign Committee has joined our effort now and we are doing a joint petition to get our money back. Please sign the petition here so your voice can be heard on this even if you can’t make it out to the DC protest.
Everyone in the country should be able to agree to this. I was just on the Dylan Ratigan program on MSNBC and even the conservative on the panel agreed. Sign the petition and help get our money back.
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