Sunday, April 10, 2011 | Categories: Michael's Essays
Barack Obama has officially kicked off his 2012 re-election campaign by opening his headquarters and war room in that well-spring of American democracy, Chicago.
Over the next 12 months, Mr. Obama and his presidency will be examined microscopically by chattering classes both friendly and hostile.
Every element will be weighed and assayed and recorded as success or failure.
And none more so than his efforts to restore the economy and lost jobs after the catastrophe of 2008.
Are things better or worse or pretty much the same since his election in 2008? And has he delivered on his promise of financial reform and the end of the greed era?
Has he cleaned up Wall Street and the banks or are the people who brought us to the very edge of world-wide economic disaster still running things?
Some of the answers, chilling in the extreme are to be found in the Academy Award winning documentary Inside Job which I saw this past week.
Inside Job is, in turn, hilarious, frightening, frustrating, challenging, infuriating and sad.
It leaves you with the feeling that nothing has really changed, will change or get any better.
It lays out in meticulous detail how banks and brokerage institutions invented a host of financial instruments that were not only worthless but the sale of which to a gullible public was out and out fraud - a crime.
The lenders, mortgage brokers, fund managers, all conspired in a vast web of corruption to bilk their clients of as much money as possible.
The result of course we now know: the loss of tens of thousands of jobs worldwide, the collapse of American industries, the loss of life savings on millions, the foreclosures of hundreds of thousands of homes.
The film also documents how Wall Street money managers used prostitutes, bought cocaine and other drugs and wrote off the costs on their healthy expense accounts.
They were not only thieves and crooks but sleazy thieves and crooks.
The main players in the drama come across as wither thugs or idiots. Alan Greenspan, for example, the Randist head of the Federal Reserve, clearly had no idea what he was doing from one moment to the next.
The one heroic figure in the whole sordid mess is a woman named Brooksley Born. She ran an obscure office called the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. She was the one who blew and nobody listened to her.
Toward the end of the film, the director Charles Ferguson points out that nobody went to jail and most of the original crooks are still in place, that profits and bonuses have never been higher and the work of the markets carry on as before.
The idea of financial reform, fought at every turn by the Republicans, has become a grotesque joke.
It was the American playwright Wilson Mizner who said financiers are so crooked they have linoleum pockets so they can steal soup.
I wouldn't go that far but given the financial news these days you have to wonder. Canada, because of our regulatory system, has been protected from most of these depredations, thank God.
A few days after watching Inside Job, I read a report out of London that the government had watered down a law that would prosecute British businessmen who bribed foreign officials in return for favorable concessions.
Maybe the problem is not with a few bad apples.
Maybe it's time to start looking at the barrel.