These are excerpts from the interview, but the whole thing is worth reading.
MATT TAIBBI: …It was essentially a gigantic criminal fraud scheme where all the banks were taking mismarked mortgage-backed securities, very, very dangerous, toxic subprime loans, they were chopping them up and then packaging them as AAA-rated investments, and then selling them to state pension funds, to insurance companies, to Chinese banks and Dutch banks and Icelandic banks. And, of course, these things were blowing up, and all those funds were going broke. But what they’re doing now is they’re blaming the people who were collecting these pensions—they’re blaming the workers, they’re blaming the firemen, they’re blaming the policemen—whereas, in reality, they were actually the victims of this fraud scheme. And the only reason that people aren’t angrier about this, I think, is because they don’t really understand what happened. If these were car companies that had sold a trillion dollars’ worth of defective cars to the citizens of the United States, there would be riots right now. But these were mortgage-backed securities, it’s complicated, people don’t understand it, and they’re only now, I think, beginning to realize that they were defrauded.
Well, the most important thing to get from the Obama administration is that its economic policy represented absolute continuity with the policy of the previous administration. Timothy Geithner was the principal architect of Bush’s bailouts, and he was retained. Ben Bernanke, who was the head of the Fed under Bush, stayed on under Obama.
And they essentially continued the same bailout policy, which, again, was essentially to tell Wall Street that we’re going to make you whole again. You know, after they flooded the entire international economy with all these toxic debt instruments, their policy was to get Wall Street well again, and ostensibly they were supposed to reinvest in the economy and put people back to work. But instead, they just kept the money. And, I mean, they literally went from being completely insolvent to, you know, making $150 billion bonus pools every year, and that money is all public money. It’s pure bailout gift from the taxpayer.
Nobody gets criminally prosecuted. No individuals ever get fined. They pay these fines, and they almost always have a little section in there that says that they do not admit wrongdoing. So, they don’t even have to say they’re sorry, essentially. These companies go and they pay their fines. No individuals have to suffer at all. And it’s all done in a very collegial way.
Every single former investigator or current investigator that I talked to said the same thing: Madoff went to jail because the wrong people suffered. You know, it was famous actors. It was, you know, the glitterati in New York. If these were teachers and firemen and all the usual suspects—you know, look at the—we have a million people in foreclosure in this country right now, and a lot of them are there because of predatory lending and because of this fraud scheme, but there are no criminal prosecutions. I think that’s the reality now, is that we don’t see anybody being criminally targeted unless their victims were powerful people themselves.
You know, it’s incredible. I mean, there was a case in Ohio that somebody forwarded to me, where a woman, a single—a black single mother of two children, she lied about where she was living so that her two kids could get into a better school system. And the state of Ohio actually prosecuted her for fraud, and the judge in that case insisted—they sentenced her to, actually, I think it was five years in jail, but they insisted that she actually do 15 days. And the judge’s quote in that case was that if she didn’t do real jail time, that would demean the seriousness of the offense. And so, I mean, the case was ultimately commuted because of the public outcry, but this, to me, is symptomatic of what we’re dealing with here.
You have people in this country who—we have two-and-a-half million people in jail this country, you know, more than a million who are in jail for nonviolent crimes. And yet, we couldn’t find a single person on Wall Street to do even a day in jail for losing 40 percent of the world’s wealth in a criminal fraud scheme?
AMY GOODMAN: If you were president, what would you do right now?
MATT TAIBBI: Well, I would certainly get rid of all those guys, you know, from Wall Street. I think there needs to be a freeze on foreclosures. I mean, there’s all kinds of things that need to be done. But the most important thing is we have to, you know, get the right people into bodies like the SEC and the Justice Department. Everybody I talked to said the same thing. The existing laws we have, you know, they’re not perfect, but they’re probably good enough to do some real good. It’s just that we don’t have the right people in the jobs, and the will isn’t there to do these prosecutions. So, I think we’ve just got to get the right people in the right jobs.
UPDATE: Carl Gibson, the founder of US Uncut, points out:
“I have one dollar in my wallet. That’s more than the combined income tax liability of GE, ExxonMobil, Citibank, and the Bank of America. That means somebody is gaming the system.”
Yet the media go on incessantly day after day about how public employees are costing the taxpayers too much!