BY ROBERT HAMMERLE, special guest contributor to Hammervision
While I usually truly dislike movie critics who engage in this type of hyperbole, sometimes you simply can't dodge the obvious truth. In this case, let me just say that if you want to see the documentary which WILL WIN the Oscar in this category for 2010, then go see Charles Ferguson's tantalizing "Inside Job." It is as intelligent as it is informative, provocative as it is profoundly entertaining.
"Inside Job" is a razor sharp cinematic essay on how Wall Street took America to the cleaners, single handedly causing what is known as the Great Recession solely because of its unbridled greed. Taking advantage of the deregulation mania that began with the Reagan Administration, the Robber Barons ensconced on Wall Street were able to recreate the worst excesses of the Gilded Age of the late 19th Century.
We were all played for patsies, and we have no one to blame but ourselves. Democrats and Republicans alike sold out to Big Business, allowing the Titans of Commerce to literally police themselves. And they did so with predictable results.
Charles Ferguson has followed up his Oscar nominated documentary "No End in Sight" (2007), a piercing examination of how our country stumbled into our war with Iraq, with this astounding political gem that places him firmly at the forefront of documentary film-makers. Unlike the pompous Michael Moore, he does not mar his films with a personal need to be seen. He is content to hide behind the camera's lens, and his films are all the better for it.
The genius of "Inside Job" is that it allows the very people who were responsible for our latest economic disaster to hang themselves by their own hand. Ferguson somehow entices corporate executives and their paid academic whores to be interviewed on screen, which allows them to dangle in the wind as they make a mockery of themselves.
As an aside, I am convinced that much of the anger in this country as reflected by the recent national elections flows from the fact that our Government has never held anyone on Wall Street accountable. Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Countrywide and their brethren literally operated a ponzi scheme where they walked away with untold riches while Middle America fell down a financial rat-hole.
Even assuming that these big firms had to be bailed out at taxpayers' expense to prevent an even worse catastrophe, it is unconscionable that these fat cats were allowed to walk away with their multi-million dollar bonuses. No one has ever been significantly investigated, much less prosecuted, and they continue to this day to laugh all the way to the bank. Hell, no wonder Americans are pissed off.
To be quite frank, "Inside Job" would equally serve as material for an honors graduate course as a film that you pay to see for purposes of being entertained. As Ferguson lucidly demonstrates, the recent recession was made possible only because our Government abdicated its role of regulating the most powerful capitalistic influences in this country.
In truth, Washington was bought and sold, pure and simple. Both Republican and Democratic Administrations continually allowed Wall Street figures like Alan Greenspan, Henry Paulson, Larry Summers et.al to jump from Wall Street to Government positions and back again as they served their business masters while grotesquely enriching themselves.
While the blame basically begins with President Reagan, it is profoundly disappointing to see President Obama acquiesce in this charade. Big Business ran wild as it took full advantage of Government deregulation that its well paid lobbyists helped engineer as it developed toxic securities that formed the basis of our recent economic crisis.
What was worse, rating agencies like Standard and Poor's, Moody's and Fitch were literally bought off to give ratings to these poisonous securities that induced many of the States' retirement funds to heavenly invest in them. In the process, millions of average Americans took a complete bath while the bloated boys of Big Business got incredibly rich.
Ferguson lays this out in a manner that causes you to laugh as you simultaneously cry. While the middle class in our country has seen its earning power reduced over the last 20 years to a level unseen in our history, the top 1% of America now takes in an equally unprecedented 24% of our national income. This is not only economically unhealthy, but functionally makes it impossible for our country to fight itself out of our economic malaise.
One of the endearing qualities of "Inside Job" is that it finally holds people accountable for our economic disaster, people who, as noted above, have otherwise escaped public attention. It is not only that Wall Street powerbrokers jump back and forth from companies like Goldman Sachs to
important positions of Government, but that significant members of academia have literally been bought off with sweetheart deals masked as consulting agreements.
As an aside, think of our own retired Indiana Senator, Evan Bayh. While no one would question his positive impact concerning important issues like federal judicial appointments, the fact is that he used his 12 years in Washington as a United States Senator to amass a personal fortune. Without any apparent shame or embarrassment, he allowed the powerful financial interests in this country to tie him to their bosom by putting his otherwise clearly unqualified wife on at least 10 Board of Directors of national companies like Anthem, Lilly etc. Put another way, if you take the King's shillings, can you really expect that you are not doing the King's bidding?
But while "Inside Job" lays out a thoroughly depressing examination of how our Government has prostituted itself at the feet of Wall Street, it still ends with a ray of hope. As any student of history knows, the excesses of the Gilded Age ended with the Progressive Era under President Theodore Roosevelt. This resulted in profound reforms such as the Security and Exchange Commission as well as vigorous anti-trust actions that forced the break-up of Standard Oil and other national monopolies.
"Inside Job" is a clarion call for national action today. Nothing is really at stake, other than the possible exception of our nation's future.