Wednesday, July 1, 2009
"It's Time to Enshrine Hank Paulson a National Hero...WTF? By Matt Taibbi
"Hank Paulson is a national hero.
I said it last October and I'm sticking by it. And now, there's actual evidence to back me up. The TARP bailout worked. The Wall Street crisis is over."
-- Evan Newmark, "It's Time to Enshrine Hank Paulson as National Hero," Wall Street Journal.
So here's the letter I wrote to the Wall Street Journal after reading Evan Newmark's paean to Hank Paulson last week:
Just out of curiosity -- did Evan Newmark ever work for Goldman, Sachs? And if the answer to the question is yes, don't you think that might have been a good fact to disclose before he fellated Hank Paulson in his "Mean Street" column?
Can you imagine what a craven, bumlicking ass-goblin you'd have to be to get a job working for the Wall Street Journal, not mention up front that you used to be a Goldman, Sachs managing director, and then write a lengthy article calling your former boss a "national hero" -- in the middle of a sweeping financial crisis, one in which half the world is in a panic and the unemployment rate just hit a 25-year high? Behavior like this, you usually don't see it outside prison trusties who spend their evenings shining the guards' boots. I can't even think of a political press secretary who would sink that low. Hank Paulson, a hero? Are you fucking kidding us?
Exactly what part of Paulson's record is heroic, Evan? The part where he called up SEC director William Donaldson in 2004 and quietly arranged to get the state to drop capital requirements for the country's top five investment banks? You remember that business, right, Evan? Your hero Paulson met with Donaldson and got the rules changed so that Goldman and four other banks no longer had to abide by the old restrictions that forced banks to actually have a dollar or two on hand for every ten or so they lent out. After that, it was party time! Bear Stearns in just a few years had a debt-to-equity ration of 33-1! Lehman's went to 32-1. By an amazing coincidence, both of these companies exploded just a few years after that meeting, and all of the rest of us, Evan, ended up footing the bill, thanks to a state-sponsored rescue of Bear and a much larger massive bailout of Wall Street in general, necessitated in large part by the damage caused by the chaos surrounding Lehman's collapse.
Meanwhile your own Goldman, Sachs ended up with a 22:1 debt-to-equity ratio a few years following that meeting, a number that would have been much higher if one didn't count the hedges Goldman bought through a company called AIG. Thanks in large part to Paulson's leadership in his last years as head of Goldman, the company was so massively over-leveraged that it would have gone under if AIG -- which owed Goldman billions when it went into its death spiral last September -- had been allowed to collapse. But thanks to Hank Paulson, who heroically stepped in and gave AIG $80 billion the same weekend he allowed one of Goldman's last key competitors, Lehman, to collapse, Goldman didn't have to go without that money; $13 billion of the AIG bailout went straight to Goldman. So I guess we have Paulson to thank for the fact that he used about $13 billion of our taxpayer money to essentially bail out his own fuckups. I mean, that's heroism if I've ever seen it. Audie Murphy has nothing on that. Sit your asses back down, Harriet Tubman, Thomas More, Gandhi and Jesus Christ. Hank Paulson is in the house!
Or maybe it was Paulson's foresight in heading off the crisis before it happened that inspired you? Maybe it was the way Paulson pronounced the subprime fallout "contained" in 2007 and called the economy the "strongest in decades?" Or maybe it was the way he remained calm last July, saying that it was a "very manageable situation" and "our regulators are on top of it?" Remember how he said all that shit, Evan, just about six weeks before the world exploded? Remember that Henry Paulson was actually in charge of regulating the financial environment during the last years of the crisis and did nothing as his buddies on Wall Street built one gigantic mountain of leverage after another, gashing underwriting standards across the board, saddling the country with a generation of toxic assets that all of the rest of us will be paying for in taxes (instead of, for instance, a health care program, which we can now no longer afford) for the next fifty fucking years? Do you remember that part?
Or was it his non-intervention last summer when gas prices hit $4.50 a gallon thanks again to his old buddies at Goldman and Morgan Stanley, who juiced the commodities market with so much speculative cash that oil prices soared despite the fact that supply was up and demand was down all year? Do you remember that part? How about the way food prices soared thanks to the same commodities speculators? According to the World Food Program at the UN, about 100 million people joined the ranks of the hungry last year during the commodities spike.
Or maybe it was the way the Treasury Department refused to tell the Congress really anything at all about how it chose whom to give TARP money to; how when the Congressional Oversight Panel asked Paulson what criteria he was using to decide who gets bailout money and who doesn't, he sent Congress back a copy of a TARP application form. Maybe it was that. Or maybe it was the way Paulson got a $200 million tax deferral thanks to an obscure rule that allows executives who join the government to defer taxes on their holdings. That means that not only did Paulson use billions of our money to bail out his own mistakes, he managed to use a loophole to get out of paying his fair share of that same bailout.
Even if it weren't about five years too early to make any kind of judgment at all about whether or not TARP helped, the notion that Henry Paulson is a hero is complete and utter madness because TARP would never have been necessary if someone, anyone who wasn't a greed-addled incompetent like Paulson had actually been regulating the economy in the last years of the Bush adminstration. If anyone besides Paulson had been running Goldman Sachs earlier in this decade -- if a person with a serious brain injury had been in his place, for instance, or a horse, or a head of lettuce -- we'd all be better off today, because there wouldn't be so many toxic Goldman-underwritten mortgage-backed CDOs on the market. We, all of us, are paying the freight for assholes like Paulson, and like you, for that matter. And while we're getting over it, slowly, you're really not helping when you open your mouth and pat yourself on the back for all the good deeds you've done. Spare, us, okay? Just give it up.
I'm a political reporter for Rolling Stone magazine, a sports columnist for Men's Journal, and I also write books for a Random House imprint called Spiegel and Grau. My main ambition in life is to someday strangle that chick in the Progressive Insurance commercials who is always waving her hands back and forth and screaming, "Discount!!!" Anyone who has suggestions for how to dump her body without being caught is welcome to write to me. I already have plenty of plastic and a staple-gun.