Washington can do little to stop the money-making, money-losing, risk-embracing world of Wall Street. So America just called in its big gun to battle the masters of the stock market universe.
Hollywood. New shame-on-you movies will fix those me-first, bonus-addicted SOBs, right?
If only pop culture had such clout. Odds are good Wall Street's already packaging future ticket sales from Wall Street-themed movies into securitized bundles and selling them to the Chinese.
Oliver Stone, 22 years after directing the iconic Wall Street, is now filming a sequel, Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps, in Manhattan's financial district. Aging Michael Douglas again plays '80s corporate raider Gordon Gekko whose utterance of "Greed ... is good" still ranks among moviedom's top one-liners.
The new Gekko is just out of prison for insider trading and warning a runaway Wall Street, circa real life 2008, that a financial meltdown is coming. He's ignored by new hotshots probably thinking Gekko's just some lizard selling car insurance. The film hits theaters next spring.
To get a taste of insider trading, Douglas and Stone dined with Sam Waksal, founder of ImClone Systems. Waksal sold company stock before bad news went public, earning five years in prison. He also snared homemaker diva Martha Stewart, who spent five months behind bars for the tip to follow Waksal's trades.
Not to be outdone, documentary satirist Michael Moore's got a new film, Capitalism: A Love Story, which opens in three weeks. Critics say he tries to cover too much, but I hear the portion devoted to lampooning Wall Street antics is on target.
Three scenes stand out in the movie trailer. "This is Michael Moore," he bellows into a bullhorn outside AIG headquarters. "I am here to make a citizen's arrest of the board of directors of AIG." The insurance giant nearly collapsed taking big risks and to this day survives via massive gulps of U.S. taxpayer money.
Moore's also in a scene with Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren, who now chairs a congressional oversight panel charged with tracking taxpayer funds committed to the federal Troubled Assets Relief Program known as TARP.
Moore: Where's our money?
Warren: (long pause) I don't know.
Even Peter Zalewski of Miami Beach's perfectly named Condo Vultures firm, gets screen time.
Moore's best in man-on-the-street scenes asking passing Wall Street bankers for definitions of credit default swaps and derivatives. Those are financial instruments few Wall Streeters understand but are only too happy to peddle. The bankers on film avoid Moore, but one implores: "Don't make any more movies!"
Well, the joke's on us, not Wall Street. Despite unflattering films, federal saber rattling and calls to crack down on 8-, 9- and even 10-figure pay packages, Wall Street's not worried. It's busy conjuring up a next generation of financial instruments to pitch.
Among the new alchemy: buying up thousands of life insurance policies that hard-pressed sick and old people in need of cash must sell at a discount. Wall Street plans to bundle these policies into bonds and sell them to investors. The payoffs come when the insured people die.
Not exactly the quality of innovation we need these days. But greed's still good, right?
Robert Trigaux can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.