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FDL Movie Night: American Casino

American Casino delves into the mortgage meltdown mess and subsequent  downward spiral on Wall Street, exposing the deregulation, greed and heartless manipulation of home-ownership hopes that fueled the real estate bubble. The documentary explains plenty about the risky selling of mortgages by banks and other lenders and investors–among them, a mortgage loan salesman discusses how borrowers’ incomes were inflated to justify a loan and a banker explains these loans were sold to idiots, while Bloomberg reporter Mark Pittman translates the economic evil.

That’s the financial side, this gambling with people’s live via reselling mortgages based on false data has led to our economic downturn–with losses in the trillions of dollars–requiring bailouts and stimulus packages. And it’s the same gamble that allowed a billionaire to describe in American Casino how he bet that people would lose their homes and has won $500 million so far. Utterly reprehensible.

Leslie and Andrew Cockburn also show the human cost of gambling on people’s ability to repay loans made on falsified documentation provided by the mortgage broker to close a deal or paperwork didn’t complete disclose to buyers the terms of the loans. The Cockburns concentrate on Baltimore, where Wells Fargo’s deceptive lending practices targeting African-Americans have led to a class-action lawsuit. A high school teacher specializing in social justice issues finds his dream home with a vegetable garden and room for his kids to play auctioned off on the courthouse steps because he couldn’t make the additional $300 a month payment that no one told him about until the first payment stub arrived.

A reverend is forced to sleep in her friend’s car after her childhood home is foreclosed on in hinky re-fi, costing her the dream of opening a care facility and making her question her faith and identity; she too was pressured into a loan and says she didn’t have all the terms revealed to her. A clinical psychologist who treats clients devastated by the mortgage fallout is herself driven to tears when her mortgage agent refuses to take a check.

Whole neighborhoods are destroyed by foreclosed homes; the abandoned row houses in Baltimore become squats, while Southern California tract houses with there once shimmering swimming pools promised the oasis of home ownership are now breeding grounds for rats and swarms of mosquitoes which potentially harbor West Nile virus. Behind the walls are meth labs and pot farms, illicit and dangerous economies where families once flourished.

In 2002 George Bush made a rousing patriotic speech about wanting to put home ownership in reach of everyone, especially minorities. Instead, so so many-especially minorities-were ripped off by unscrupulous lenders and had their families, lives, hopes and trust destroyed, while a wealthy few profited from this misshapen scheme, fueled by greed and deregulation. It’s a deep moral crime and those who committed it should be sleeping with the rats and mosquitoes in the homes they sold under false pretences, haunted by the dreams they crushed.

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Lisa Derrick

Lisa Derrick

Los Angeles native, attended UC Berkeley and Loyola Marymount University before punk rock and logophilia overtook her life. Worked as nightclub columnist, pop culture journalist and was a Hollywood housewife before writing for and editing Sacred History Magazine. Then she discovered the thrill of politics. She also appears frequently on the Dave Fanning Show, one of Ireland's most popular radio broadcasts.