US Government as "Santa Claus" to Wall Street (December 2010)
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It's rather ironic that as we prepare holiday gifts to our loved ones and strangers in need, this year has revealed more clearly than ever how the American government gives huge gifts to a few of our citizens in contrast to the 98 to 99 percent. While a few thousand dollars from public coffers go to some individuals in need of health care, or in the form of food stamps for the hungry, or small checks to the unemployed, it is astounding how a few individuals over the past three years have received multi-mullion-dollar USG gifts of taxpayer money transferred to cover their losses in ill-founded plundering of our financial systems.
A new movie, Inside Job, reveals just how the system has been manipulated to provide ill-gotten gains to people whose organizations have enjoyed the support and protection of our Republic's democratic institutions. Instead of biting the hand that feeds them, they depend on handouts to keep their rich lifestyles going.
Below is a review of Inside Job by good friends of mine: a couple of avid movie-goers who are highly educated, experienced American professionals. Given their multi-sector careers, they already had good insight into the Wall Street/Washington axis, but learned mush more about how it actually works to America's detriment. I have omitted their names because they are nationally know experts in their fields and must deal with agencies of the U.S. Government. (Intro by Paul Von Ward)
Inside Job (2010) Directed by Charles Ferguson Written by Charles Ferguson, Chad Beck and Adam Bolt
SYNOPSIS: From Academy Award nominated filmmaker, Charles Ferguson, comes Inside Job, the first film to expose the shocking truth behind the economic crisis of 2008. The global financial meltdown, at a cost of over $20 trillion, resulted in millions of people losing their homes and jobs. Through extensive research and interviews with major financial insiders, politicians and journalists, "Inside Job" traces the rise of a rogue industry and unveils the corrosive relationships that have corrupted politics, regulation and academe. Narrated by Matt Damon
A Review by Two of Paul's Dear Friends
Inside Job is the newest documentary from Charles Ferguson, the Oscar-nominated filmmaker behind No End in Sight, a documentary that pondered the long-term impact of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. With Inside Job, Ferguson once again performs a much needed public service, piercing the veils of mass media and politics in order to offer a comprehensive and accessible look at the root causes of the 2008 global economic crisis.
Partisan politics were raging back in 2008, but no matter what side of that line you stood on, all Americans (and many citizens of the world beyond our borders) were gripped by fear as the American economy (and then the global economy) ground to a halt with the collapse of AIG, one the largest insurance corporations in America.
The crisis began when (and I’m delivering a very simplified version of this) AIG’s credit ratings were discovered to be worth far less than many within the financial services industry had speculated and traded on. All of a sudden, the largest insurance corporation in America was being called on to cover the cost of loans and debts it had no money to pay for. This led to one of the cornerstones of the American economy being crippled, trillions in investment losses, and a mystery that no one in a position of power (including America’s new president) seemed able to answer -- specifically, why did this happen?
Well, some two years later, as the world is still trying to climb its way out of this latest Wall Street blunder, Charles Ferguson is doing what so many world leaders and economists could not -- explaining how Wall Street caused global economic near-collapse, in clear, concise terms that any layperson can understand.
With methodical precision, Ferguson presents American investment policies of the past decades and illustrates how those policies were deregulated over time, giving rise to an age of speculative investment banking, high-stakes trading, and the mad-dash for big fortunes, which fuel it all.
There are two aspects of Inside Job that truly distinguish it as a great documentary: the organized manner in which Ferguson presents his information and the cast of “characters” he interviewed.
As for the organization: Ferguson wisely uses time as his guide, looking at the history and progression of the U.S. financial sector – from a highly regulated system of simple borrow/lender relations, to the complicated system of high-risk loans and derivatives it is today. Here are the epochs of history that serve as the documentary’s “chapters”:
Ø 1930s – 1979 – Post-Depression era of “Traditional American finance.” A look at all the safeguards put in place in wake of the 1929 Depression that kept financial services limited to a simple system of borrowers and lenders (banks) who actually had the money to lend. Bankers and traders earned income that matched that of most working Americans. Ø 1980s – Reagan era of laissez-faire business and trickle-down economics. The deregulation of Wall Street and the savings and loan industry led to less oversight, and soon after, multiple cases of fraud, insider trading and bad loans/investments that led to massive losses. Ø 1990s – Clinton era and the bridge between Washington and Wall Street. More and more Wall Street CEOs infiltrated the government, taking administrative positions. The Depression era safeguards were repealed, allowing for huge Wall Street mergers and new laws favoring the financial services industry. The derivatives industry was created, which Wall Street/government administrators refused to regulate. Bankers/traders made huge commissions off “junk deals” that led to the burst of the Dot-com bubble. The financial sector ultimately was given a slap on the wrist. Ø 2000s – The Bush era of further deregulation and relaxed enforcement of what laws were left. With negligible laws on regulation and oversight, more and more cases of heavy lobbying, fraud, inflated speculation and unethical practices arose. Complex systems of investment were created, which tied everything from mortgages to credit cards – into the risky practices of the financial services industry. The result: inflated speculation and unethical practices by the nation’s leading finance, insurance and credit rating agencies, leading to the 2008 economic collapse. Ø 2008 – The Great New Recession. A look at the fall of dominoes that brought down America’s biggest financial, insurance and credit rating agencies. Corrupt CEOs and their cohorts still walked away with massive fortunes, and more than a few of them still hold government positions. Ø 2010 – The Obama era: Business as usual. A look at how – despite all the campaign promises of “Change we can believe in” – the Obama administration is in fact employing the very same Wall Street execs-turned-government administrators who have plunged the U.S. into multiple financial crises over multiple decades of unethical practices. This documentary doesn’t get bogged down in the illusions of politics, but rather pierces that veil to reveal the truth -- that there is very specific sector of American industry that has repeatedly proved toxic when left unregulated and unattended. Politics be damned.
The “characters” that Ferguson features in his documentary are by far the most interesting and engaging aspect of the film. That “cast” includes:
• Many economists including those who have been warning for years about the dangerous practices of Wall Street, as well as those who have been downplaying that danger. • Bankers/Traders -- both the moral and immoral types. • Government officials who have direct ties to the financial sector. • Educators from top universities who are involved (often unethically) with the financial sector. • Advocates of social reform and justice. • Foreign economists/government officials who have mapped the ripple effect of Wall Street malpractice. • A psychotherapist who treats Wall Street execs and the escorts who service them. • A madam whose primary clientele were Wall Street execs. Truly, some of Inside Job‘s best moments come from the unexpected detours Ferguson takes into the psychology and seedy private behavior of high-ranking Wall Street types. A definite pattern quickly emerges in which the same people who are thrilled by high-stakes investing and ludicrous greed are equally thrilled by money, drugs and prostitutes, often at taxpayer expense. The two worlds -- financial services and illicit vice -- seemingly go hand-in-hand.
Another big revelation of this film: some of the people responsible for the “academic stamp of approval” that legitimizes many fraudulent reports published by Wall Street are the same people heading up America’s leading business schools today (Yale, Harvard, Columbia, etc…in the interest of full disclosure, Paul has a degree from Harvard). In fact, Ferguson’s interviews with two of these esteemed academic names about their obvious unethical behavior are so damning that I’m not sure the two men will keep their jobs should this film gain notoriety. It’s a clear case of journalistic victory, captured on camera.
Ferguson deftly unfurls his argument with mounting evidence of the slick collaboration and inter-connectivity between academics, government and investment banks. Even more interesting than the cooperative witnesses who illuminate the case (and the numerous CEO’s and government officials who refuse to be filmed) are those who realize mid-interview that they've just put both feet in their mouths.
Inside Job is an accomplishment that does what a great documentary should: present an important societal topic in a way that is accessible and comprehensive to a mainstream audience. And, as the film states in its final moments, the continuing malpractices of Wall Street are a crime for which few have been punished, but damage from which continues to threaten our very way of life.
"We’ve been officially warned. Or at least that’s how it seemed from where I sat." By the reviewer known as Coach."
Additional Insights from the Coach's partner: "Good job on the film, Coach. I would add a couple of things."
Despite my following the causes of the financial crisis in the pages of the NY Times, there were aspects that I had not understood until I saw the film, such as AIG’s role in all of this and the relationships between credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations, about which we have heard so much and understood so little.
As far as holding people who caused the crisis accountable, Elliot Spitzer, who knows the corruption and criminality of the country’s financial “system” probably better than anyone, said it should be easy to get underlings to reveal who knew what and when they knew it. Where drugs and prostitution are involved, and Wall Street underlings are so involved in them, he said it should be easy to get them to give evidence against the big guys, who have so far not been held accountable for their sins against our country.
But we all know how Spitzer let his own personal needs derail his career (BTW prosecutors went after him like they never went after even bigger fish). So he said, humbly (for him), he’s not the one to push for such action. But no one in the Obama Administration is pushing for it, to its shame. Too much campaign finance money to be raised on Wall Street, too many future jobs for members of the Administration, many of whom came from Wall Street in the first place – Robert Rubin, Lawrence Summers, Rahm Emanuel, Henry Paulson, Timothy Geithner, Laura D’Andrea Tyson, et al.
I knew of course about the tight relationship between Washington and Wall Street and how Obama’s financial advisors, even since his campaign for the presidency, have been the same corrupt, selfish, and enormously wealthy (and growing wealthier) Wall Street guys (especially from Goldman Sachs), but what I didn’t know about was how complicit are economists from top Ivy League universities. Seduced by power and money, their conflicts of interest and their enabling of the crisis and its makers are inexcusable – an outrage, in fact. Interviewed on camera, they look like shifty-eyed, evasive, blithering idiots. Forget the danger of the Military-Industrial Complex: the greater danger today is the Harvard/Princeton/Columbia-Wall Street-White House Complex.
Key top guys from Wall Street and the current Administration declined to be interviewed for the film. The academics were probably reluctant or too stupid to decline because they are in “higher education,” supposedly a public service. Now we see what a joke that is. Such a tragic one.
It’s the little people worldwide who are the victims of these evil people who are laughing all the way to the (their) banks. Comments by the Coach's Partner.
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