By Dennis Rodkin
December 1, 2010
When will the “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore” moment come in the housing crisis? In his new documentary, Plunder: The Crime of Our Time, the New York journalist Danny Schechter makes it clear that he believes that moment is long overdue—and he does his best in the film to birth it.
Schechter’s documentary, which links the housing crisis to Wall Street greed and chicanery, will be screened at a Thursday event in the South Loop hosted by the Woodstock Institute. Illinois attorney general Lisa Madigan will make the opening remarks, and Schechter will be part of a postfilm panel discussion.
The movie opens with picketers in front of a bank executive’s home in Rye, New York, and goes on to trace the collapse of the mortgage and housing markets, whose multitrillion-dollar scope the documentary calls “the greatest nonviolent crime against humanity in history.” Over 100 minutes, Schechter looks at predatory lending, mortgage securitization, and the banking collapse of 2008, emphasizing the (not entirely new) idea that banks and financial kingpins knowingly foisted unsustainable loans on a credulous population and then pulled whatever strings they could to get bailed out—at the expense of U.S. taxpayers. In his quietly angry conclusion, he nudges viewers to get mad at last. “Will an age of plunder,” he asks, “lead to an age of protest and pitchforks?”
By that time, Schechter has primed the pump of populist anger, with the help of such sources as Nomi Prins, the former Goldman Sachs and Bear Stearns executive who wrote It Takes a Pillage: Behind the Bailouts, Bonuses and Backroom Deals From Washington to Wall Street. In the movie, Prins says that “the biggest crime is not at the homeowner layer, but higher up the pyramid,” where banks were packaging and reselling mortgages in almost incomprehensible new ways.
“There’s a lot to be angry about in what was a systemic raping of the system,” says Terry Finnegan, a former Park National Bank executive and a leader of the Coalition for Community Banking who will be part of the postfilm panel discussion. “The people who took the big risks and made the big money—at the end of the day they didn’t pay the price, and that’s what people should be angry about.” But unlike Schechter, he isn’t issuing a call to mount the barricades yet. “I don’t want to let anybody off the hook,” Finnegan says. “The fingers can be pointed in lots of directions. There’s collective guilt.”