If we don’t bust up Big Finance, there soon will be another financial crisis that will destroy what’s left of our middle-class way of life.
By Les Leopold
April 25, 2011
For all the damning evidence you’ll ever need about Wall Street corruption, take a look at the recent report from the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, “Wall Street and the Financial Crisis: An Anatomy of a Financial Collapse” (PDF). The 650-page indictment reveals the myriad of ways Wall Street lies, cheats, steals and defrauds on a routine basis. Arguably the report is as revealing as the Nixon tapes or the Pentagon Papers. Unfortunately, it’s too technical to get widely read. So here are the Cliff Notes.
This study, broken into four case studies, forms a biblical tale of how toxic mortgages were born, nurtured and spread like the plague throughout the land, making money for the financial philistines every step of the way.
The first case study focuses on Washington Mutual (WaMu), the nation’s largest savings bank, and its overt strategic decision to go big into selling high risk, high profit mortgages. Here you will find a detailed description of every type of dangerous mortgage foisted onto the public. Your blood pressure also will climb when you read how the bank used focus groups to help its mortgage brokers find better ways to sucker customers into risky mortgages even though the applicants had qualified for and wanted safer fixed-rate mortgages.
The report also details outright fraud committed by brokers – forging documents, making phony loans, stealing money – who then got rewarded again and again by the bank for their high sales records, even after they were caught! Nobody cared because the loans quickly were sold to Wall Street – the riskier the loan, the higher the interest rates and the more Wall Street would pay.
The second case recounts the pathetic tale of the Office of Thrift Supervision, the regulatory agency that was supposed to halt WaMu’s shoddy and corrupt practices. The report shows that OTS knew of these deceptive practices in great detail for five full years and still failed to stop the pillaging. Why? Because OTS’s top regulators didn’t believe in regulations. Banks should regulate themselves. OTS only wanted to help. And one way it helped was by deliberately impeding other regulators like the FDIC from enforcing stronger regulations on WaMu. The OTS, which mercifully has been eliminated, believed it was partners with the banks it supposedly regulated — a textbook example of regulatory capture combined with financial Stockholm syndrome.
The third case study which focuses on the two largest rating agencies (Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s) is a story of prostitution. Here we learn how the rating agencies turned trick after trick for the big Wall Street banks, doling out favors (AAA ratings) to thousands of “innovative” securities based on the junk mortgages that WaMu and others originated and packaged. Then when it became obvious to everyone that the crap was still crap, the whores went virtuous by drastically downgrading thousands of toxic assets overnight. This forced pension funds and insurance companies, who by law could only hold investment grade securities, to dump their downgraded assets all at once. The result was a rapid and deep collapse of all financial markets. (You read this section of the report and you have to wonder how anyone in their right mind could take seriously S&P’s recent “negative outlook” rating on the U.S. Who are they shilling for now?)
The last case study is the most pornographic as it strips bare two investment banks, Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs. The report accuses them of packaging and selling toxic securities while, at the same time, betting that those securities would fail. Furthermore, the report argues forcefully, that “Investment banks were the driving force behind the structured finance products that provided a steady stream of funding for lenders originating high risk, poor quality loans and that magnified risk throughout the U.S. financial system. The investment banks that engineered, sold, traded, and profited from mortgage related structured finance products were a major cause of the financial crisis.” (pg 19)