3 August 2010: Plunder: The Crime of Our Time
("Never before have so few done so much to so many")
As an economically challenged but concerned activist, I have learned most of what I understand about today's economic morass from my good friend Danny Schechter, producer and director of the films In Debt We Trust and Plunder: The Crime of Our Time.
In Debt We Trustpredicted the financial recession plaguing not only our economy but the entire world. Plunder dissects the disaster that realized IDWT's predictions, step by step, communicating well with the average viewer.
The film begins and ends with protests by enraged foreclosure victims, members of the middle class whom the film describes as financially desiccated by the upper class in this country. Basically, they were manipulated into signing adjustable-rate mortgage agreements that they could not afford, seduced by the American dream of the possibility of occupying a home more luxurious that their realities. The interests associated with such mortgages could start out at one percent and quickly skyrocket to 7 and then 9 percent interest rates, devouring the victims' entire monthly wages and then some, plunging them into bankruptcy as well as foreclosure or ruining their pursuit of happiness by the threat of both disasters from this "financial Katrina."
But before that happened, such subprime loans would be bundled by the banks and sold to investors, who would package them with other instruments and resell them to higher-level financeers. These moguls would flood giants like AIG with insurance premiums.
As a result, there was a real estate boom followed by a real estate bust as higher institutions like Bear Sternes and Lehman collapsed, passing on their diseases to most smaller banks, with behemoths like World Bank devouring the small and medium-sized fish (this happened to my DC-area bank, recently purchased by Capital One).
Meanwhile, decisions from U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and the "head of the Fed," Ben Bernanke, dictated a way out: financial bailouts to save our economy and ward off a massive recession that would reverberate worldwide.
Who would be bailed out? We were all in distress. The taxpayers, source of the funds that would save the world, or those who so abused the funds and forced so many of us out onto the streets?
The starched suits won, even up against opposition from the House of Representatives. The ayes had it in the Senate, within which the source of perhaps the most lavish wedding in history thrived.
So there were three levels involved in this disgrace: the fall guys (we the people), the banks and corporations, holders of our money and payroll checks, and then the Lehmans and Madoffs and AIGs and Morgan Stanleys. Twice at least Madoff's confession is repeated, a no-drama monotone that sounds more like a charismatic and sympathetic business offer to an unsuspecting victim than an arch-criminal who has victimized his financial peers by stealing billions from them.
The upper two echelons were rescued to the tune of seven hundred billion dollars of our tax money. Now how does that compare with our military expenditures? I don't want to know. (Wikipedia says $663 billion.)
Life savings, retirement pensions and 401k's, and benefit packages became history, or close to it, in addition to the shelters of so many dreamers and realists alike. The unemployment rate soared to two figures as businesses buckled, from small to two of the three automobile behemoths, Chrysler and General Motors.
So the auto giants, AIG, and financial institutions whose stocks had plummeted to below the ground--the originators of the deceptive subprime mortgages--were paid to return to their old ways, though President Obama has successfully overseen "the most ambitious overhaul of financial regulation in generations" to avoid future economic meltdowns and other forms of severe corruption.
A complete restructuring of the economy is needed rather than some poking and prodding and hand-slapping of arch criminals. An investigation should be conducted just as it was after the Great Depression, undoubtedly resulting in another necessary cure, a "jail-out." If Obama accomplishes this, rest assured that he will be as vilified as Madoff by the diluted posterity of poor Bill Buckley--is he resting at all, let alone in peace?
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