With AIG “Bailout,” Did the US become a Planned Economy to Fight Off Takeover by One?

In two posts concluding, ” the government might find a victory [in AIG’s lawsuit] to be more costly than it anticipated,” Yves Smith digs out key details from AIG’s claims that in September 2008, the US illegally took it over.

I think Smith is intrigued by the additional evidence provided by the AIG complaint that the government took several actions that ensured it could use AIG as a bailout vehicle, including (in her second post), by not asking whether the counterparties would be willing to take a haircut.

Another stunning new allegation in the “Corrected Proposed Findings of Fact” document is that, in stark contrast with previous claims by the Fed, that only UBS was willing to take a haircut, it turns out the New York Fed only bothered talking to eight of the 16 counterparties (and then as we already know from the SIGTARP report on this issue, using a script that was delivered by junior staffers, as opposed to having Geithner or Paulson call and force them to take a haircut). Moreover, BlackRock, which was advising the Fed, believed that Bank of America and Goldman would be receptive to discounts.

But I’m particularly interested in what Treasury forestalled with its bailout: bailouts from sovereign wealth funds from Singapore, China, and some unnamed Middle Eastern funders. From the first post:

[The AIG complaint] argues that AIG was forced to take a bailout it didn’t need, that all that was required was a bridge loan until it could obtain private financing. That may sound like a howler. AIG was teetering on the verge of failure and needed to get a $14 billion bridge loan on September 16 (a Tuesday, the day after the Lehman bankruptcy) that in a few days rose to $37 billion simply to carry it through the weekend when the terms of the credit facility were finalized.


7.6 Defendant directly discouraged sovereign wealth funds from providing liquidity to AIG.

(a) Sovereign wealth funds, including the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) and the Chinese Investment Corporation (CIC) expressed interest in investing in AIG (Studzinski Dep. 39:4-40:18, 133:11-19).

(b) Defendant discouraged the CIC and representatives of the Chinese Government from assisting AIG. At 12:25 p.m. on September 16, 2008, Taiya Smith, Paulson’s deputy chief of staff and executive secretary, informed Paulson’s chief of staff and Treasury Under Secretary for International Affairs David McCormick that the CIC was “prepared to make a big investment in AIG, but would need Hank to call [Chinese Vice Premier] Wang Qishan” (PTX 89 at 1; see also PTX 423 at 15-18). The Chinese “were actually willing to put up a little bit more than the total amount of money required for AIG” (PTX 423 at 16).

(c) On September 16, 2008, McCormick spoke to Paulson about the Chinese interest in investing AIG (PTX 423 at 16-17). McCormick then told Smith that Treasury “did not want the Chinese coming in at this point in time on AIG” (PTX 423 at 17).

(d) Later that day, Smith met with Chinese Government officials in California during Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade in Yorba Linda, California (PTX 423 at 16). During that meeting, “all [the Chinese officials] wanted to talk about was AIG” (PTX 423 at 17). Smith spent one or two hours explaining what was happening with AIG (PTX 423 at 18). She conveyed the message that Treasury did not want the Chinese to invest in AIG (PTX 423 at 17).

(e) On September 17, 2008, United States Senator Hillary Clinton called Paulson “on behalf of Mickey Kantor, who had served as Commerce secretary in the Clinton administration and now represented a group of Middle Eastern investors. These investors, Hillary said, wanted to buy AIG. ‘Maybe the government doesn’t have to do anything,’ she said” (PTX 706 at 279). Paulson told Senator Clinton, “this was impossible unless the investors had a big balance sheet and the wherewithal to guarantee all of AIG’s liabilities” (PTX 706 at 279). (numbered text page 17, PDF page 21)

The fact that the Singapore and Chinese sovereign wealth funds both were willing to invest in AIG, and that a separate group of Middle Eastern investors was also pressing to buy in, strongly undercuts the official story that the only way out for AIG was into the Fed’s arms. Yes, we don’t know exactly how much they were willing to put in and whether that would have been enough to make up the $85 billion size of the initial credit line.

But the Chinese statement was a clear general indication that “we’re willing and able to go big”.

In this telling, the US government bailed out AIG to prevent China (and Singapore and some of our “allies” in the Middle East) from bailing it out.

As Smith points out, there may well be good national security

Now one can argue there were reasons to turn down these offers. Having the Chinese, or consortium dominated by foreigners, could prove to be ugly. The US, after all, had just put Fannie and Freddie in conservatorship in large measure to reassure the Chinese and Japanese, who were large investors in Freddie and Fannie guaranteed paper, that they would not suffer losses. What if the Chinese government rescued AIG and the black hole turned out to be bigger than anyone though it was?


There is also the not-trivial issue that AIG is widely believed to provide legitimate-looking jobs to CIA assets all over the world. Would letting foreigners obtain control put that sort of information at risk?

While Smith believes these issues could have been addressed by having a consortium of foreigners take over AIG, I suspect Treasury would still regard it as having China take over our critical infrastructure. While I don’t get the finance bit like Smith does, it seems like having the monopoly insurer of excessive “capitalist” gambling in Chinese hands would have been the equivalent of letting them hold one of Wall Streets’ nuts for safe keeping.

Plus, I’ve long argued that the government had to bail out GM (though not Chrysler) for similar reasons. Had GM gone bankrupt, China would have bought up key parts of it, obtaining the key part of American’s manufacturing driver that China hasn’t already stolen by spying on DOD.

In both bailouts, I’d argue, the US had to intervene to prevent our biggest rival from basically taking large bites out of the critical heart to our economy, all operating under sound capitalist principles.

To stave that off, it appears — particularly if AIG’s claims have any basis in fact, which they appear to — the US embraced a command economy.

None of that’s a surprise. We’ve always forsworn capitalism when national interests dictated.

But given the ideology involved — given that this involved holding off a purported command economy threatening to gut our country using the tools of capitalism — it does seem worth noting.

This is one of the reasons I’m so intrigued by the apparent TREASUREMAPPING of JP Morgan Chase. Someone — it may be the Russians, but this kind of thing is easy to project — is treating JPMC as the ripe critical underbelly that it obviously is. The AIG bailout shows just how vulnerable we really are to such acts.

Last Week in Deferred and Non-Prosecution Agreements: Arming China and Stealing Trillions from Municipalities

I’m so old I remember the time, four years ago, when Democrats hated Deferred Prosecution Agreements.

Back in the days when Chris Christie, former US Attorney, was challenging Jon Corzine, once and future bankster, to be governor of New Jersey, Democrats made hay of the significant numbers of DPAs Christie signed, mostly with a series of medical device companies busted for kickbacks. After it was revealed Christie had picked his former boss, John Ashcroft, to make $52 million monitoring one of those medical device companies, it became a convenient way to show the corporatist corruption of Christie.

There was even a bit of discussion, in early 2009, about whether DPAs made banks more likely to engage in fraud because they assumed they’d get a DPA rather than a prosecution. Those discussions largely centered on the two DPAs AIG got in the mid-00s for fraudulently hiding its risk, which nevertheless didn’t prevent AIG from taking on so much risk it blew up the entire financial system. One of the monitors of those DPAs–who arguably should have but didn’t see AIG’s ongoing fraud–was a guy by the name of James Cole. He’s now the Deputy Attorney General.

And as recently as 2010, NJ Congressman Bill Pascrell had this to say, in response to the publication of a GAO report showing some improvement but greater need for oversight over DPAs.

One cannot ignore the spike of 38 deferred prosecution agreements in 2007, up from a mere four agreements in 2003. That proves that what was supposed to be an option to be used in rare circumstances had become the norm at the Department of Justice.


It is imperative that the Congress reign in the unmitigated power that federal prosecutors hold to serve as judge, jury and sentencer in the deferred prosecution process.

And yet I have heard very little about the two DPAs signed last week–perhaps because big corporate impunity has become such a common occurrence in the post-crash era.

First, there’s the deal Pratt & Whitney and two subsidiaries signed for evading export restrictions to help China build an attack helicopter. Effectively Pratt & Whitney laundered their production of some development helicopters–plus the military grade engine control module software to go with them–through a Canadian subsidiary. And when they finally admitted they had deliberately avoided US export restrictions on military equipment, they lied to DOJ about doing so. While they have to pay a $75 million fine, some of the charges are being deferred. And no individual has been charged with helping China get a helicopter designed to attack tanks.

So DOJ’s punishment for a defense contractor to put Chinese civil contracts ahead of US national security is a big fine, deferred prosecution, but no jail time.

Even more troubling is the Non-Prosecution Agreement signed with Barclays over its manipulation of the LIBOR rate. Effectively, during the heady bubble days, Barclays colluded to lie about the interbank lending rate to maximize its own trades; as finance was crashing and Barclays itself had to pay higher rates for credit, it lied about that to imply the bank was healthier than it was. And while between DOJ, Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and Britain’s Financial Services Authority, Barclays will have to pay around $475 million in fines, and while CFTC imposed the kind of mandated fixes that DOJ normally would under a DPA, Barclays is basically scot-free for colluding to lie about a rate that affects people throughout the financial system.

Matt Taibbi explains why this is so important: because when the banks said the LIBOR rate was lower than it really was, a lot of investors got a smaller return on their LIBOR-tracked investments than they otherwise would have.

A sizable chunk of the world’s adjustable-rate investment vehicles are pegged to Libor, and here we have evidence that banks were tweaking the rate downward to massage their own derivatives positions. The consequences for this boggle the mind. For instance, almost every city and town in America has investment holdings tied to Libor. If banks were artificially lowering the rates to beef up their trading profiles, that means communities all over the world were cheated out of ungodly amounts of money.

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Is Obama Fixing to Own Some Banks?

The other day, I suggested that Obama’s principles of government ownership sounded like they were designed for more than just GM.

There’s evidence to support that suggestion in this reasonably good David Sanger article on the GM bankruptcy.

In interviews in recent days, Mr. Obama’s economic team said it anticipated [political pressues regarding business decisions related to companies the government owns], and had moved to cut them off early.

It started right around the time of the bank stress tests,” said Rahm Emanuel, Mr. Obama’s chief of staff, in an interview on Monday. During one of the president’s daily economic briefings, Mr. Emanuel added, “he said that taking over companies like this is a big deal, and that no president has ever faced anything like this before. And he said he wanted to see some rules of the road about how the government should act” when it suddenly becomes the biggest shareholder in the market.

Mr. Obama clearly wanted protection: a set of principles he could hand to angry members of Congress, campaign contributors or executives to explain why he would not call Fritz Henderson, G.M.’s chief executive, to discuss whether an engine should be made in Saginaw or Shanghai.

The result was an interagency task force informally called “The Government as Shareholder,” headed by Diana Farrell, the deputy director of the National Economic Council and formerly the head of the McKinsey Global Institute, the research arm of McKinsey & Company.

It was Ms. Farrell’s report, delivered to the Oval Office fewer than 10 days ago, that laid out the principles that Mr. Obama described on Monday.

The White House insists the principles will apply equally to the government’s investment in the American International Group, the fallen insurer, or in Citigroup and other banks that the government has rescued. [my emphasis]

Sanger doesn’t seem to get the implication of Rahm’s comment. Rahm tells us these principles–principles the government will use with companies it owns–came up not during auto task force discussions, but during the bank stress tests.  That means the conversation about socialism how big a deal it is for the government to own companies came up in the context of owning banks, not owning car companies.

Sure, we already own an insurance company and Freddie and Fannie. Sure, maybe the reference to Citi is a very pointed reference. 

But it sure seems like these principles suggest we’re going to be owning a bank in the near future, to go along with GM and AIG.  Read more

Does This Explain DOJ Reluctance to Turn Over AIG Monitoring Documents?

TPMM has two posts noting that DOJ has been reluctant to turn over to the Oversight Committee the documents pertaining to its Delayed Prosecution Agreement with AIG, whereas SEC has been more forthcoming.

Last month, as we noted at the time, House Oversight committee chair Ed Towns formally asked the Justice Department for records kept by a government monitor, who since 2004 has had access to high-level internal deliberations at AIG.

But DOJ seems to be dragging its heels.

Today — 15 days after Towns made his legally binding request, and 13 days after the deadline he set for Justice to respond — department spokesman Ian McCaleb told TPMmuckraker: "We’re working on submitting a response." Asked what was causing the hold up, McCaleb declined to elaborate.

At issue is information compiled by James Cole, a lawyer with Bryan Cave, who was placed as a government monitor inside AIG, as part of a 2004 deferred prosecution agreement after AIG had been charged with helping clients avoid taxes. As Towns put it in his letter, Cole "had a seat at the table" for the string of cataclysmic developments at AIG over the last few years. Whatever reports or other information he compiled could therefore be of great value to investigators, like Towns, who are probing the causes of last fall’s financial collapse, which was triggered by the failure of AIG’s Financial Products unit.

There are a couple of data points that might begin to explain DOJ’s reluctance to turn over what it has received from Cole.

First, DOJ signed not one, but two deferred prosecution agreements with AIG. The first, in 2004, pertained to a scheme AIG-FP engaged in with PNC to shift assets off its books. The second, in 2006, pertained to a deal with Gen Re, again to shift assets around to hide risk. Now, both these schemes go back to 2000 and 2001; the actions AIG took did not take place while Cole was monitoring it. Nevertheless, AIG got two bites at the Delayed Prosecution Agreement, which does not appear to be true for any other corporations as of May of last year.  And, as this article on these early scams make clear, the intent was largely the same with both: to hide risk. So you might think AIG’s failure to admit to the second scheme until 2005 would undermine its claim to be cooperating in good faith with the DPA in 2004.

More interesting, though, is the squabble that the Fraud section at DOJ had with the US Attorney’s office in CT a few weeks back.  Read more

Hank’s Dog and Pony Show

Hank Greenberg will testify before the House Oversight Committee about the AIG collapse today at 10 AM.

I’m uncertain that it’ll be useful in unpacking what happened with AIG at all. If Greenberg’s planned testimony from last fall is any indication (he called in sick for an October 7 AIG hearing, but had already submitted his testimony), he will say that the CDS before he left were hedged properly, not in subprime mortgages, and watched closely by management (that is, by him); but all that changed after he was forced out.  

AIG’s strategy, accordingly, was to look for opportunities in businesses that benefitted from its AAA rating, strong capital base, risk management skills, as well as the intellectual capital needed to manage such diversification.

That led to the creation of AIGFP in 1987. At that time, the derivative market was small and growing. From the beginning, AIG’s policy was that AIGFP conduct its business on a "hedged" basis – that is, its net profit should stem from the differences between the profit earned from the client and the cost of offsetting or hedging the risk in the market. AIGFP would therefore not be exposed to directional changes in the fixed income, foreign exchange or equity markets.

AIGFP, at that time, reported directly to me and Ed Matthews, Senior Vice Chairman, and later to William Dooley, Senior Vice President, supported by AIG’s credit risk and market risk departments. When I was AIG’s CEO, AIG management closely monitored AIGFP and its risk portfolio. AIGFP was subject to numerous internal risk controls, including credit risk monitoring by several independent units of AIG, review of AIGFP transactions by outside auditors and consultants, and scrutiny by AIGFP’s and AIG’s Boards of Directors. Every new type of transaction or any transaction of size, including most credit default swaps, had to pass review by AIG’s Chief Credit Officer.


AIGFP reportedly wrote as many credit default swaps on collateralized debt obligations, or CDOs, in the nine months following my departure as it had written in the entire previous seven years combined.

Moreover, unlike what had been true during my tenure, the majority of the credit default swaps that AIGFP wrote in the nine months after I retired were reportedly exposed to sub-prime mortgages. By contrast, only a handful of the credit default swaps written over the entire prior seven years had any sub-prime exposure at all.

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They’re Not Tax Havens … They’re Secrecy Havens

Citing a GAO report I linked to in January, Joe Conason had a much noted article on "tax shelters" this week. He argues we should focus on finding all the unpaid taxes in the tax shelters these companies are using, rather than focusing on AIG’s measly bonuses.

In the article, Conason asks "what other reason" businesses would have for using the tax shelters, concluding that it must be the taxes.

According to the Government Accountability Office, nearly all of America’s top 100 corporations maintain subsidiaries in countries identified as tax havens. As the GAO notes, there could be reasons other than avoiding the IRS to set up branches in places such as Singapore, Luxembourg and Switzerland, where taxes are light or nonexistent and keeping clients’ illicit secrets is considered a matter of national pride.

But what reason other than evasion could there be for Goldman Sachs Group to set up three subsidiaries in Bermuda, five in Mauritius, and 15 in the Cayman Islands? Why did Countrywide Financial need two subsidiaries in Guernsey? Why did Wachovia need 18 subsidiaries in Bermuda, three in the British Virgin Islands, and 16 in the Caymans? Why did Lehman Brothers need 31 subsidiaries in the Caymans? What do Bank of America’s 59 subsidiaries in the Caymans actually do? Why does Citigroup need 427 separate subsidiaries in tax havens, including 12 in the Channel Islands, 21 in Jersey, 91 in Luxembourg, 19 in Bermuda and 90 in the Caymans? What exactly is going on at Morgan Stanley’s 19 subs in Jersey, 29 subs in Luxembourg, 14 subs in the Marshall Islands, and its amazing 158 subs in the Caymans? And speaking of AIG, why does it have 18 subs in tax-haven countries? (Don’t expect to find out from Fox News Channel or the New York Post, because News Corp. has its own constellation of strange subsidiaries, including 33 in the Caymans alone.)

I pointed out in my January post the other point of these tax havens:

What Levin didn’t say, of course, is that these tax havens allow them to avoid financial oversight, too.

And wrote another post giving a scary example of what those other reasons might include.

Masaccio pointed me to these two passages in AIG’s 10K, which sound like they may describe what Gober is talking about:

Various AIG profit centers, including DBG, AIU, AIG Reinsurance Advisors, Inc. and AIG Risk Finance, as well as certain Foreign Life subsidiaries, Read more

Citi and AIG Didn’t Still Don’t Get It

Fox Business News has an article describing what it got in response to a FOIA request for Treasury documents on the bailout. While most of the interesting details were redacted because of attorney-client privilege, the documents do reveal the extent to which Citi and AIG were as arrogant when Treasury was negotiating this stuff as they have been in recent weeks.

While the documents lack many specifics, the broad tone conveys a sense of urgency. For instance, though the details of what specifically held up an agreement with Citigroup at the end of last year are muddy, it’s clear from the documents it dealt with compensation. What’s also clear is that government officials were amazed that, even at the eleventh hour, Citi officials still didn’t seem to understand that they would have to make concessions.

“Unbelievable,” wrote Stephen Albrecht, the counselor to the general counsel at Treasury, summing up the situation.

There was also obvious tension between AIG and the government — at least from Treasury’s standpoint. For example, an outside counsel, Marshall Huebner, an attorney at Davis Polk representing the government, was trying to clarify a meeting time for a conference call on Nov. 9. But AIG “rudely never replied to last night’s timing question,” the lawyer wrote. Another lawyer that same day said “I agree and I note that some of them do not have a sense of timeline.”

AIG’s tone appeared to be casual, even cavalier. Anastasia Kelly, executive vice president and general counsel at AIG, responding on behalf of herself and Paula Reynolds, AIG’s chief restructuring officer, told Huebner later that day: “Paula and I love you (in the most appropriate way).”

The volume of emails that cover compensation issues shows that from the very beginning, Treasury wanted to clamp down on executive pay and bonuses for workers at AIG and Citigroup. But in the end, Treasury bent (one email shows officials saying they are “trying to leave open as much flexibility as possible”), a decision that ultimately seems to have led to last week’s controversy over bonuses paid to AIG executive. [my empahsis]

Meanwhile, Obama’s still trying to get the bankers to get it. 

Deferred Prosecution Agreements and AIG

Remember the flap in the last few years about deferred prosecution agreements? The flap started when it was reported that John Ashcroft’s firm had gotten a $52 million deal from his former colleague, NJ US Attorney Chris Christie, to monitor an out-of-court settlement with medical device company Zimmer Holdings. Bush’s DOJ loved the deferred prosecution agreements because they provided a way to "crack down" on corporate crime without dismantling the company. But there were problems with the agreements. Cronies were secretly getting the deals to serve as monitors. And–as Eric Lichtblau reported last year–people wondered whether the agreements served as "get out of jail free" cards for big corporations to elude punishment for accounting fraud.

Deferred prosecutions have become a favorite tool of the Bush administration. But some legal experts now wonder if the policy shift has led companies, in particular financial institutions now under investigation for their roles in the subprime mortgage debacle, to test the limits of corporate anti-fraud laws.

Firms have readily agreed to the deferred prosecutions, said Vikramaditya S. Khanna, a law professor at the University of Michigan who has studied their use, because “clearly it avoids a bigger headache for them.”

Some lawyers suggest that companies may be willing to take more risks because they know that, if they are caught, the chances of getting a deferred prosecution are good. “Some companies may bear the risk” of legally questionable business practices if they believe they can cut a deal to defer their prosecution indefinitely, Mr. Khanna said.

Legal experts say the tactic may have sent the wrong signal to corporations — the promise, in effect, of a get-out-of-jail-free card. The growing use of deferred prosecutions also suggests one road map the Justice Department might follow in the subprime mortgage investigations.

Well, as the WSJ reminds us today, AIG entered two deferred prosecution agreements in the last several years and there was a monitor actively involved as AIG engaged in the practices that brought down our financial system.

AIG has paid lawyer James Cole and his firm, Bryan Cave LLP, about $20 million to oversee business practices at the insurer, according to people familiar with the matter. His reports on the company’s progress, periodically delivered to federal regulators since 2005, aren’t public.

Mr. Cole was installed inside AIG as a monitor, or independent consultant, as part of a $126 million settlement struck in November 2004 between AIG and the Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission.

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French Execs Shoot Their Gun; Our AIG Employees Accuse US of Extortion

Remember the passage of the white paper threatening to blow up the global economy if AIGFP’s masters of the universe didn’t get their bonuses? It claimed that if top execs at France’s AIG Bancaire quit, then the French could appoint their own person, which would count as a default.

Departures also have regulatory ramifications. As an example, the resignation of the senior managers of AIGFP’s Banque AIG subsidiary would allow the Commission Bancaire, the French banking regulator, to appoint its own designee to step in and manage Banque AIG. Such an appointment would constitute an event of default under Banque AIG’s derivative and structured transactions, including the regulatory capital CDS book ($234 billion notional amount as of December 31, 2008), and potentially cost tens of billions of dollars in unwind costs. Although it is difficult to assess the likelihood of such regulatory action, at a minimum the disruption associated with significant departures related to a failure to honor contractual obligations would require intensive interactions with regulators and other constituents (rating agencies, counterparties, etc.) to assure them of the ongoing viability of AIGFP as well its commitment to honoring counterparty contracts and claims.

Well, those top execs just shot their gun at the global economy. (h/t masaccio)

Amid the flap over bonuses at American International Group Inc. two of the company’s top managers in Paris have resigned. Their moves have left the giant insurer and officials scrambling to replace them to avoid an unlikely but expensive situation in which billions in AIG trading contracts could default.

Representatives of the Federal Reserve, AIG’s lead U.S. overseer, are talking with French regulators and AIG officials to deal with the consequences of a complicated legal scenario in which the departures of the managers in Banque AIG, a subsidiary of AIG’s Financial Products unit, could trigger defaults in $234 billion of derivative transactions, according to people familiar with the situation and a document AIG provided to the U.S. Treasury.

Meanwhile, other European AIGFP MOTUs are accusing us–their bosses–of the same crimes they’re committing. (h/t Americablog)

AIG Financial Products unit head Gerald Pasciucco told a staff meeting for UK and Paris employees on Monday that he thought a demand for repayments was to a certain extent "blackmail," said a London-based recipient of one of the retention bonuses from the bailed-out insurer.

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Joe Baca: When Was It Broken?

Joe Baca (D-CA) asked Ben Bernanke a very simple question in today’s House Financial Services hearing on AIG: When was AIG broken? When did it get so screwed up that we would have to bail it out.

Bernanke, however, didn’t give Baca a clear answer. He did say this:

The Office of Thrift Supervision is a small agency that specializes in addressing the problems of thrifts. It was, in this case, involved only because AIG owned a small thrift. It’s main concern is the protection of the thrift. It’s true, as [Polakoff] said, that he looked at some of these elements in the AIGFP division. But I do think that, given the size of the company and the risks being taken, a larger, more effective, stronger, better funded regulatory effort would have been needed in order to identify these problems.

What Bernanke didn’t want to say was:

1999. When Congress dismantled the regulation on this kind of gambling.

Matt Taibbi explained it in more depth. First, he talked about Glass-Steagall (passed killed with Gramm-Leach in 1999 [oops, gotta pay attention when I try to clarify]), that made it possible for insurance companies to dress up as trading firms. Then, he explained that Gramm pushed through the Commodity Futures Modernization Act (in 2000), which made it impossible to regulate CDS.

The blanket exemption meant that Joe Cassano could now sell as many CDS contracts as he wanted, building up as huge a position as he wanted, without anyone in government saying a word. "You have to remember, investment banks aren’t in the business of making huge directional bets," says the government source involved in the AIG bailout. When investment banks write CDS deals, they hedge them. But insurance companies don’t have to hedge. And that’s what AIG did. "They just bet massively long on the housing market," says the source. "Billions and billions."

Then, another bit of 1999 deregulation made it easy for huge companies like AIG to select to be regulated by the undermanned Office of Thrift Supervision (the one that Bernanke talks about above). 

In the biggest joke of all, Cassano’s wheeling and dealing was regulated by the Office of Thrift Supervision, an agency that would prove to be defiantly uninterested in keeping watch over his operations. How a behemoth like AIG came to be regulated by the little-known and relatively small OTS is yet another triumph of the deregulatory instinct. Under another law passed in 1999, certain kinds of holding companies could choose the OTS as their regulator, provided they owned one or more thrifts (better known as savings-and-loans). Because the OTS was viewed as more compliant than the Fed or the Securities and Exchange Commission, companies rushed to reclassify themselves as thrifts. Read more