"The People Vs. Goldman Sachs" - Taibbi's Magnum Opus

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By Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone Magazine

The People vs. Goldman Sachs

They weren't murderers or anything; they had merely stolen more money
than most people can rationally conceive of, from their own customers,
in a few blinks of an eye. But then they went one step further. They
came to Washington, took an oath before Congress, and lied about it.

Thanks to an extraordinary investigative effort by a Senate
subcommittee that unilaterally decided to take up the burden the
criminal justice system has repeatedly refused to shoulder, we now know
exactly what Goldman Sachs executives like Lloyd Blankfein and Daniel
Sparks lied about. We know exactly how they and other top Goldman
executives, including David Viniar and Thomas Montag, defrauded their
clients. America has been waiting for a case to bring against Wall
Street. Here it is, and the evidence has been gift-wrapped and left at
the doorstep of federal prosecutors, evidence that doesn't leave much
doubt: Goldman Sachs should stand trial.

The great and powerful Oz of Wall Street was not the only target of Wall Street and the Financial Crisis: Anatomy of a Financial Collapse,
the 650-page report just released by the Senate Subcommittee on
Investigations, chaired by Democrat Carl Levin of Michigan, alongside
Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. Their unusually scathing bipartisan
report also includes case studies of Washington Mutual and Deutsche
Bank, providing a panoramic portrait of a bubble era that produced the
most destructive crime spree in our history — "a million fraud cases a
year" is how one former regulator puts it. But the mountain of evidence
collected against Goldman by Levin's small, 15-desk office of
investigators — details of gross, baldfaced fraud delivered up in such
quantities as to almost serve as a kind of sarcastic challenge to the
curiously impassive Justice Department — stands as the most important
symbol of Wall Street's aristocratic impunity and prosecutorial immunity
produced since the crash of 2008.

To date, there has been only one successful prosecution of a financial
big fish from the mortgage bubble, and that was Lee Farkas, a Florida
lender who was just convicted on a smorgasbord of fraud charges and now
faces life in prison. But Farkas, sadly, is just an exception proving
the rule: Like Bernie Madoff, his comically excessive crime spree (which
involved such lunacies as kiting checks to his own bank and selling
loans that didn't exist) was almost completely unconnected to the
systematic corruption that led to the crisis. What's more, many of the
earlier criminals in the chain of corruption — from subprime lenders
like Countrywide, who herded old ladies and ghetto families into bad
loans, to rapacious banks like Washington Mutual, who pawned off
fraudulent mortgages on investors — wound up going belly up, sunk by
their own greed.

But Goldman, as the Levin report makes clear, remains an ascendant
company precisely because it used its canny perception of an upcoming
disaster (one which it helped create, incidentally) as an opportunity to
enrich itself, not only at the expense of clients but ultimately,
through the bailouts and the collateral damage of the wrecked economy,
at the expense of society. The bank seemed to count on the unwillingness
or inability of federal regulators to stop them — and when called to
Washington last year to explain their behavior, Goldman executives
brazenly misled Congress, apparently confident that their perjury would
carry no serious consequences. Thus, while much of the Levin report
describes past history, the Goldman section describes an ongoing?
crime — a powerful, well-connected firm, with the ear of the president
and the Treasury, that appears to have conquered the entire regulatory
structure and stands now on the precipice of officially getting away
with one of the biggest financial crimes in history.

Defenders of Goldman have been quick to insist that while the bank may
have had a few ethical slips here and there, its only real offense was
being too good at making money. We now know, unequivocally, that this is
bullshit. Goldman isn't a pudgy housewife who broke her diet with a few
Nilla Wafers between meals — it's an advanced-stage, 1,100-pound
medical emergency who hasn't left his apartment in six years, and is
found by paramedics buried up to his eyes in cupcake wrappers and pizza
boxes. If the evidence in the Levin report is ignored, then Goldman will
have achieved a kind of corrupt-enterprise nirvana. Caught, but still
free: above the law.


When it came time for Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein to testify, the banker
hedged and stammered like a brain-addled boxer who couldn't quite
follow the questions. When Levin asked how Blankfein felt about the fact
that Goldman collected $13 billion from U.S. taxpayers through the AIG
bailout, the CEO deflected over and over, insisting that Goldman would
somehow have made that money anyway through its private insurance
policies on AIG. When Levin pressed Blankfein, pointing out that he
hadn't answered the question, Blankfein simply peered at Levin like he
didn't understand.


This isn't just a matter of a few seedy guys stealing a few bucks. This
is America: Corporate stealing is practically the national pastime, and
Goldman Sachs is far from the only company to get away with doing it.
But the prominence of this bank and the high-profile nature of its
confrontation with a powerful Senate committee makes this a political
story as well. If the Justice Department fails to give the American
people a chance to judge this case — if Goldman skates without so much
as a trial — it will confirm once and for all the embarrassing truth:
that the law in America is subjective, and crime is defined not by what
you did, but by who you are.

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