Watch American Casino (2009-10-18) Online

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They join us today in our firehouse studio. But we first will turn to an excerpt of the film, which begins by looking at how deregulation of the financial sector laid the groundwork for the economic meltdown. This is American Casino. On a December evening, December 15th, , around 7: And he announced at the time that this measure would be a boon to the American economy and be a boon to Wall Street, because they would be freed of any supervision in this regard.

And that lack of supervision freed Wall Street to essentially shoot itself in both feet. I worked for four companies on Wall Street. I mean, sure, my grandfather worked for the same company for, you know, twenty-some-odd years in the steel mills of Pittsburgh, maybe thirty years.

But he worked for the same company his whole life. The stock market goes south, the banks going out of business. It really started getting heated in , Mortgage rates kept dropping for prime mortgages, you know, the ones that most people get, and that made the others much more valuable, because they offered much more yield. Your fees on that might be four percent. And it could be a billion to two billion to five billion, you know, to ten billion a month.

This is a Lehman Brothers bond done in early As you can see, you know, this is not going well. Greenspan, you had an ideology, you had a belief, that free, competitive — and this is your statement: My judgment is that free, competitive markets are by far the unrivaled way to organize economies.

You had the authority to prevent irresponsible lending practices that led to the subprime mortgage crisis. You were advised to do so by many others. And now our whole economy is paying its price. Do you feel that your ideology pushed you to make decisions that you wish you had not made?

Well, remember that what an ideology is is a conceptual framework with the way people deal with reality. To exist, you need an ideology. The question is whether it is accurate or not. But if I may, may I just finish an answer to the question previously posed? Flaw in the model that I perceived as the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works, so to speak. In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right.

It was not working. That it had a -— precisely. I want to thank you on behalf of the committee. Alan Greenspan was the foremost proponent of these derivative products, credit derivatives, which are now at the heart of the meltdown, of them not being subject to regulation.

And his theory was as follows, that he believed these instruments afforded banks the ability to move risk out to the economy — in other words, to exchange their risk of making mortgages and having to worry whether people would pay the mortgages and creating financial products that would invite the rest of the financial world to participate in that risk.

Unfortunately, what we have seen in our most recent history of this credit crisis is, yes, it spread the risk through the economy and made everybody subject to that risk, not just the banks. The banks got so cocky, because they thought they were passing the risk off, that the discipline of being worried about whether somebody could pay their mortgage disappeared, and they made as many mortgages as they could make.

They just wanted to do the transactions, make as many of these mortgages as they could. That was Michael Greenberger, the former director for trading and markets at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, in an excerpt from the film American Casino.

The film, directed by Leslie Cockburn, who co-produced it with her husband Andrew Cockburn. Well, when people hear it, they just find it extraordinary that this man could reduce the collapse of several American cities, in terms of, you know, the millions of foreclosures, that he could reduce it to saying that it was a flaw in the model.

That he had believed in for forty years. And Alan Greenspan thought that was a great idea. Talk about deregulation, Andrew Cockburn. Well, deregulation — we start the film, I mean, with sort of the final descent into disaster from December , when Phil Gramm, acting on behalf of — it was basically a bill written by a bunch of Wall Street lawyers — smuggled a bill into the appropriations bill at 7: To regulate them, not just keeping them deregulated, but making it illegal.

So, that was the crucial act of deregulation. Leslie Cockburn, you began making this film in January of This is before all of the economic meltdown, the obvious effects of it.

What made you start American Casino? Well, there were a lot of things going on at that time. One, there had been a mini crash in in August of financials, and that tipped us off that there was something very serious going on. Also, two hedge funds of Bear Stearns collapsed in Leverage — if you looked at the market leverage, which means borrowing, was completely out of control by the banks, the investment banks.

At the other end of the scale, already there were foreclosures on every courthouse steps in America. You could go and find that houses were on the block. We went over from — we live in Washington. We went to Baltimore and found that houses were being sold every three minutes on the courthouse steps.

So it was time to do something. Your scenes of the auctions on the courthouse steps in Baltimore are amazing. All those properties were going back to the banks. So, you see the auctioneer and his sidekick. And you see one guy in jeans and sneakers. And he was making decisions, and he would respond to the auctioneer on the steps.

Buying up the houses. But most of them go back to the banks. He is the author of the book Rumsfeld: This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute. Andrew, talk about these musicians. Well, Baltimore is a great musical city, and when we started to cover what was going on there in terms of foreclosures and the whole crisis, we figured that people were probably doing music about this.

So we looked and, sure enough — I mean, actually, I think we collected sixty tracks of people talking from the inner city about various aspects of it. And, you know, they made this, came up with this heartbreaking track. Well, I want to turn to another excerpt of American Casino that deals with the targeting of minority communities in Baltimore.

There seems to be enough evidence to suggest that minorities were put into these loans and deceived and misled into unsuitable loan products. And on the flip side of that, we also have people who were being told when they refinanced their loans that we could get them a lower payment. So it was and twenty-seven. The large loan is 6. And then, on this one, this is a smaller loan, the second one. You could do a real estate closing by meeting this notary in the parking lot of a shopping center and do it on the hood of your car.

They have to pick up their children at daycare. These loans are incredibly complex. Adjustable-rate mortgages that only adjust one way, upward. And how much is the payment on the first?

And, you know, they were being told lots of different things to entice them into the mortgage. That was Cara Stretch, a housing counselor at St. Well, I think that, overall, The New Yorker was very, very kind to us. You know, you had to pick up your kids at daycare.

And in fact, none of us read that document. People are not given the opportunity.

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