Films: The Warning plus Inside the Meltdown – Fellowship of Humanity    

Films: The Warning plus Inside the Meltdown

Posted by Humanist Hall on January 1, 2011as , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, January 26 at 7:30 pm

Double Feature

The Warning

by Michael Kirk

This Frontline documentary portrays the hidden history of the nation’s worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. At the center of it all is Brooksley Born, who tells about her failed campaign to regulate the secretive, multitrillion-dollar derivatives market whose crash helped trigger the financial collapse of 2008. “It’ll happen again if we don’t take the appropriate steps,” Born warns. “We didn’t truly know the dangers of the market, because it was a dark market …. They were totally opposed to regulation …. That puzzled me. What was it that was in this market that had to be hidden?” Born’s battle behind closed doors was epic. The members of the President’s Working Group, Alan Greenspan, Robert Rubin, and Larry Summers, vehemently opposed regulation — especially when proposed by a Washington outsider like Born. They ultimately prevailed on Congress to stop Born and limit future regulation of derivatives. Born faced a formidable struggle pushing for regulation when the stock market was booming. Alan Greenspan was king, and both parties in Washington were united in a belief that the markets would take care of themselves. Today, many of the same men who shut down Born are in key positions in the Obama administration. This film reveals the complicated politics that led to this crisis and what it may say about current attempts to prevent the next one.

Inside the Meltdown

by Michael Kirk

This Frontline documentary portrays what it was like inside the financial meltdown of 2008. As the housing bubble burst and trillions of dollars’ worth of toxic mortgages began to go bad in 2007, fear spread through the massive firms that form the heart of Wall Street. By the spring of 2008, burdened by billions of dollars of bad mortgages, the investment bank Bear Stearns was the subject of rumors that it would soon fail. To stabilize the markets, Ben Bernanke engineered a shotgun marriage between Bear Sterns and the commercial bank JPMorgan, with a promise that the federal government would use $30 billion to cover Bear Stearns’ questionable assets tied to toxic mortgages. It was an unprecedented effort to stop the contagion of fear that seemed to be threatening the rest of Wall Street. Within months, however, Hank Paulson, a conservative and Republican, would witness the virtual collapse of the giant mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and preside over their takeover by the federal government. This calamity sent shockwaves through the economy as confidence in Wall Street began to evaporate. Within days, in September 2008, another investment bank, Lehman Brothers, was on the brink of collapse. Once again, there were calls for Bernanke and Paulson to bail out the Wall Street giant. But Paulson was under intense political pressure from conservative Republicans to invoke moral hazard and let the company fail. Paulson pushed Lehman’s CEO to find a buyer for his ailing company. But no company would buy Lehman unless the government offered a deal similar to the one Bear Stearns had received. Paulson refused, and Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy.

A financial disaster of epic proportions followed. Within 24 hours, the stock market crashed, and credit markets around the world froze. “We’re no longer talking about mortgages,” said economist Mark Gertler. “We’re talking about car loans, loans to small businesses, commercial paper borrowing by large banks. This is like a disease spreading.” Paulson was thunderstruck. In response, he and Bernanke would propose — and Congress would eventually pass — a $700 billion bailout plan. “Many Americans still don’t understand what has happened to the economy,” Frontline’s Michael Kirk says. “How did it all go so bad so quickly? Who is responsible? How effective has the response from Washington and Wall Street been? Those are the questions at the heart of this film .”

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