By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: January 14, 2016
As Presidential candidate and Senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, stumps around the country telling tens of thousands of plundered Americans that Wall Street’s business model is fraud, Hollywood is amplifying that message to millions of moviegoers this year with a series of films that roll back the curtain on how Wall Street has morphed into a crime syndicate.
Wall Street is accustomed to having its legions of high-paid lobbyists and sycophants at the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal doing the heavy lifting in its serial campaign to recast the financial crash in 2008 and its attendant economic implosion as something other than outright fraud. Even when new, serial, diabolical frauds sprang up post-crisis, like JPMorgan’s London Whale, or the cartel rigging of the interest rate benchmark Libor, and the multi-bank foreign currency conspiracy, the lie repeated a thousand times was that it was just a handful of miscreants sprinkled about Wall Street causing the problems.
Indicative of the boys’ club attitude was the outrageous editorial that ran at the Wall Street Journal on October 20, 2013 titled “The Morgan Shakedown.” The unsigned editorial stated that “The tentative $13 billion settlement that the Justice Department appears to be extracting from J.P. Morgan Chase needs to be understood as a watershed moment in American capitalism. Federal law enforcers are confiscating roughly half of a company’s annual earnings for no other reason than because they can and because they want to appease their left-wing populist allies.”
The watershed moment was actually this: JPMorgan’s insured bank had used its depositors’ money to make wild gambles in derivatives in London and lost at least $6.2 billion on those gambles. Subsequent events proceeded to make this Wall Street Journal editorial even further dislodged from rational thought. JPMorgan was subsequently given a deferred prosecution agreement for facilitating the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme (it was his banker for his business account where billions of dollars were laundered as it looked the other way) and, as of May 20, 2015, it is now an admitted felon for engaging in foreign currency rigging. Those charges came on the heels of three solid years of charges against the bank and settlements for everything from rigging electric markets to fleecing veterans.
And JPMorgan had plenty of company with other mega banks on Wall Street joining the crime spree.
Just as The Big Short movie, based on the Michael Lewis book by the same name, is drawing crowds at theatres and explaining in layman’s terms how the subprime mortgage fraud was perpetrated on Wall Street, a movie trailer for a new film, Money Monster, coming in the first half of this year, has been released. Money Monster stars George Clooney and Julia Roberts and is directed by Jodie Foster. The official summary describes the plot as follows:
“In the taut and tense thriller Money Monster, Lee Gates (George Clooney) is a bombastic TV personality whose popular financial network show has made him the money wiz of Wall Street. But after he hawks a high tech stock that mysteriously crashes, an irate investor (Jack O’Connell) takes Gates, his crew, and his ace producer Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) hostage live on air. Unfolding in real time, Gates and Fenn must find a way to keep themselves alive while simultaneously uncovering the truth behind a tangle of big money lies.”
In the trailer below, you’ll notice a distinct similarity to the character played by Clooney and the real-life Jim Cramer, host of “Mad Money” on CNBC. (They’re probably beefing up security on Cramer’s set as we write this.)
According to Variety, also to be released this year is the movie “Equity,” starring Anna Gunn. The movie is officially billed as “the first female-driven Wall Street film” which “follows a senior investment banker who is threatened by a financial scandal and must untangle a web of corruption.”
As it happens, untangling a web of corruption is the underlying theme of The Big Short, Money Monster, and Equity – all further buttressing the fact that when Senator Bernie Sanders says the business model of Wall Street is fraud, he ain’t just whistling Dixie.
Of course, some of the most alarming and more recent charges of rigging on Wall Street came in 2014 in another Michael Lewis bestseller, Flash Boys. There seems to be some confusion as to whether that movie will, or will not, get made. Clearly, Wall Street would prefer that it doesn’t. As Lewis explained to Steve Kroft in a detailed interview on 60 Minutes on March 30, 2014:
Steve Kroft: What’s the headline here?
Michael Lewis: Stock market’s rigged. The United States stock market, the most iconic market in global capitalism is rigged.
Steve Kroft: By whom?
Michael Lewis: By a combination of these stock exchanges, the big Wall Street banks and high-frequency traders.
Steve Kroft: Who are the victims?
Michael Lewis: Everybody who has an investment in the stock market.
If scriptwriters are having trouble trying to get their heads around the message in Flash Boys and how to present the maniacal rigging of the U.S. stock exchanges by high frequency traders to a movie-going audience without inducing loud snoring in the theater, they might want to take a look at how brilliantly Senator Elizabeth Warren zeroed in on the story line.
In a June 18, 2014 hearing of the Senate Banking Subcommittee on Securities, Insurance and Investment, Senator Warren gave this spot-on analogy:
“For me the term high frequency trading seems wrong. You know this isn’t trading. Traders have good days and bad days. Some days they make good trades and they make lots of money and some days they have bad trades and they lose a lot of money. But high frequency traders have only good days.
“In its recent IPO filing, the high frequency trading firm, Virtu, reported that it had been trading for 1,238 days and it had made money on 1,237 of those days…The question is that high frequency trading firms aren’t making money by taking on risks. They’re making money by charging a very small fee to investors. And the question is whether they’re charging that fee in return for providing a valuable service or they’re charging that fee by just skimming a little money off the top of every trade…
“High frequency trading reminds me a little of the scam in Office Space. You know, you take just a little bit of money from every trade in the hope that no one will complain. But taking a little bit of money from zillions of trades adds up to billions of dollars in profits for these high frequency traders and billions of dollars in losses for our retirement funds and our mutual funds and everybody else in the market place. It also means a tilt in the playing field for those who don’t have the information or have the access to the speed or big enough to play in this game.”
Congress and regulators have done nothing meaningful to stop this scam since the book was released and Lewis appeared on 60 Minutes. It’s time for the Hollywood cameras to roll.