Margin call

I feel like someone has mentioned this before in the comments or front page, but this movie sounds very interesting (though what doesn’t when James Wolcott is writing about it?):

Some have said that Margin Call is the movie Wall Streeters need to see to understand why the Occupy Wall Street movement has taken hold, to understand the damage they’ve done. It’s a noble sentiment, but pointless. Wall Streeters at the apex understand what’s happened since 2008, even if they haven’t personally suffered; it’s not that they can’t see, but that they don’t care. And it’s quixotic to expect them to. It’s like expecting those at a high-stakes poker game to care about the poor schmuck losing everything at roulette or the one-armed bandits somewhere else in the casino. Guys (and occasionally gals) like these only care about the others at the table; those are the stakes and the opponents that matter to them. The Average Person doesn’t register. That’s why reform has to come through rules, regulation, and reform rather than appeals to conscience, civic duty, economic justice. Crash after crash after avaricious crash is built into the binge-and-purge organism of investment capitalism, as Jeremy Irons points out while having a lordly breakfast at his little table with the panoramic skyline view of morning Manhattan lying before him. He isn’t engaging in Gordon Gekko grandstanding. The mood of Margin Call is too melancholy for that. From its opening frame, it has the gravity of a funeral for a death that hasn’t yet happened, the suspended pause before the long drop down.

Also too, open thread.

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37 replies
  1. 1
    Jim, Foolish Literalist says:

    since it’s open…. noted journalist Luke Russert just explained (from my memory) that Republicans will never agree to a “big, grandiose stimulus” and Democrats will never agree to “get the regulatory hand of government off the back of business because they imagine all these terrible things will happen”, all delivered with a fratboy smirk. The good news is, Martin Bashir seems to take Lukey about as seriously as he deserves.

  2. 2
    Cat says:

    Since you mentioned wall street and an actual game of skill like p0ker in the same sentence.

    Did some [wealth generation] advisers consistently display more skill than others?

    To find the answer, I computed the correlations between the rankings of advisers in different years, comparing Year 1 with Year 2, Year 1 with Year 3 and so on up through Year 7 with Year 8. That yielded 28 correlations, one for each pair of years. While I was prepared to find little year-to-year consistency, I was still surprised to find that the average of the 28 correlations was .01. In other words, zero. The stability that would indicate differences in skill was not to be found. The results resembled what you would expect from a dice-rolling contest, not a game of skill.

    emphasis mine.

  3. 3
    Poopyman says:

    Hey, anybody remember that Rahm Emmanuel guy?

    Registered nurses from across the U.S. today condemned Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel for his decision to arrest nurse volunteers, as well as peaceful protesters, in a late night crackdown, Oct. 22 at the Occupy Chicago protest.
    National Nurses United is asking supporters to call Mayor Emmanuel’s office at 312-744-5000 and demand they immediately drop all charges against the nurses and other protesters and stop the harassment and arrests of the nurses and others peacefully exercising their free speech rights.

  4. 4
    Cat says:

    And I’m in moderation for mentioning p0ker? gamb00l?

  5. 5
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    That’s why reform has to come through rules, regulation, and reform car bombs, IEDs, and suicide bombers on Wall St rather than appeals to conscience, civic duty, economic justice.

    Fixt that for you. Reform will never happen until the Galtians fear for their personal safety, with good reason. The rules, regulation and whatnot are what come after that, when we get down to negotiating the details.

    Folks, we are back to the 1890s. I wish OWS and anybody else who is protesting peacefully and nonviolently all the luck in the world, but my prediction is that there’s going to be blood in the streets before anything changes.

  6. 6
    Villago Delenda Est says:


    Heads on pikes will get results.

    Make some examples of the more egregious offenders, and then these pathetic self absorbed fucktards might get the fucking message.

    More heads on pikes until it finally sinks in. None of them have the foresight of a Bismarck to realize where this is headed. They’re destabilizing society through their actions. They’re basically asking for it.

    Because appealing to their better natures is futile. They have no better natures to appeal to.

  7. 7
    Cat Lady says:

    Screw the Wall Streeters who need to see this – the average Joe needs to see this, because I believe that only Hollywood is able to portray how the whole 2008 Wall Street debacle was perpetrated by the Galtian geniuses who refuse to take any responsibility. There are enough bad guys to populate years’ worth of movies – lord knows Hollywood could use some fresh material now that every superhero, toy, TV show and comic book has been played out, and once the average Joe starts to understand how they’ve been played like a fiddle, the tumbrels will roll.

  8. 8
    boss bitch says:

    Has there been a post about MTV’s Real World Occupy Wall Street and also an episode of MTV’s True Life – Occupy Wall Street?

    Are there going to be franchises now like “Real Housewives of _______”?

  9. 9
    boss bitch says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    Unless there are literally heads on pikes they will only find new ways to cover their tracks and they will always find new tricks.

  10. 10
    cleek says:

    “The warrant is coming out of my balls.”

  11. 11
    Judas Escargot says:


    Folks, we are back to the 1890s. I wish OWS and anybody else who is protesting peacefully and nonviolently all the luck in the world, but my prediction is that there’s going to be blood in the streets before anything changes.

    Big big talk. Bad bad move.

    How does violent revolution work in the age of Predator drones, GPS tracking of every citizen (via cellphone) and microwave ‘pacification devices’, exactly?

    The so-called Galtians dream of the day OWS turns violent… because then they finally get the Tiananmen-on-the-Hudson they’ve been dreaming of for decades.

  12. 12
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Judas Escargot:

    The so-called Galtians dream of the day OWS turns violent… because then they finally get the Tiananmen-on-the-Hudson they’ve been dreaming of for decades.

    They’d then be making the same mistake that Mubarak made.

  13. 13
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    Heads on pikes will get results.

    But there aren’t any heads on pikes, or even much in the way of anybody in the soft bigotry of white collar criminal detention. And there aren’t going to be, because our political system is deadlocked and the looters have too much control over it and they see no mileage in giving any of it back. A legitmate govt is one that possesses a monopoly on the dispension of justice and the use of socially approved violence to achieve that dispensation. Our govt here in the US has not always possessed both of those attributes, but the last time it didn’t on a large scale was so long ago that nobody is alive who still remembers what it was like. I’m afraid that we are going to keep going down our present path until we bring back the violent anarchism of the 1890s, only this time they will also have access to 21st Century weapons. This is going to get very, very ugly before it gets better, and a lot of people, both innocent and guilty, are going to die, because we can’t make peaceful reform work in this country anymore.

  14. 14
    Mike E says:

    The idea of Joe Lieberman working for Fox News was mentioned before and I had a revelation about what his title would be:
    Special Rapture Correspondent tm

  15. 15
    Judas Escargot says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    They’d then be making the same mistake that Mubarak made.

    Mubarak was undercut by pressure from the greater world powers, including the US.

    Who comes in and saves the kids in NYC if it comes down to drones and tanks against flesh and blood? Canada?

  16. 16
    Villago Delenda Est says:


    I share your concern, but I think that the OWS movement (and its counterparts across the nation, and indeed, the planet) is going to move a few key people in key positions to realize that they’ve got a choice: peaceful change, or violent revolution.

    Violent revolution is the last resort, for several reasons. Violence, for one thing. Total uncertainty of outcome is the other. Ask the French about this in 1789 or the Russians in 1917. We need an England in 1689 solution…one that addresses the injustices and brings about change peacefully.

    Our problem is we don’t have a Cromwell to look back on to give us a powerful motivation for the 1689 scenario. Which pushes us more in the direction of 1789.

    1789 did work. Eventually. It took a lot of blood, suffering, grief, and time for it to come about, though…

  17. 17
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Judas Escargot:

    Mubarak had the problem of his own military making a choice not to fire on the protesters.

    Mubarak imagined he had them at his beck and call. He was mistaken.

  18. 18
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    @Judas Escargot:

    I’m not advocating tactics. My statement is descriptive (based on an analogy with our past), not normative. The future I’m predicting is one I’d love to avoid, but can’t see a likely pathway to detour around. If you’ve got counter-examples to cite of the sort of entrenched power we are dealing with today voluntarily giving up their wealth and power, dish em so we can go over those past cases and figure out what to learn from them and use in the present. I’ve been racking my brains for a year trying to come up with good examples of such and every single one of them contained some element of present or implied latent violence directed against the powers that be, either internally or externally or both.

  19. 19
    drkrick says:

    @Cat Lady:

    … I believe that only Hollywood is able to portray how the whole 2008 Wall Street debacle was perpetrated by the Galtian geniuses who refuse to take any responsibility.

    You are aware that Hollywood depends on Wall Street to retain control of their publicly held studios, aren’t you?

  20. 20
    wrb says:

    Perhaps the most significant accomplishment of GWB will turn out to be teaching the world how a violent insurgency can successfully take on even the US military in today’s world.

  21. 21
    Ruckus says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:
    Not saying things won’t at some time get bloody but if they do I’ll bet it will be very messy. There is a lot of hardware out there for putting down riots and demonstrations, the only way to make it less messy would be for cops to go on strike and I don’t see that happening here.

  22. 22
    SensesFail says:

    That’s why reform has to come through rules, regulation, and reform rather than appeals to conscience, civic duty, economic justice.

    This. We need to view corporations abstractly, as amoral agents with one goal: to optimize profits.

  23. 23
    Judas Escargot says:

    If you’ve got counter-examples to cite of the sort of entrenched power we are dealing with today voluntarily giving up their wealth and power, dish em so we can go over those past cases and figure out what to learn from them and use in the present.

    I can think of two generalizable cases. The “FDR Scenario”, where some honorable scion comes in and turns on his own class to lead the people against them. And the “Gandhi Scenario”, where the sheer bulk of the oppressed masses makes it clear to the powers-that-be that the cost of oppression is no longer worth whatever profit was obtained by oppressing them.

    Our culture no longer seems capable of generating an honorable, patriotic ruling class, so it’s option 2. And with modern communications tools, we don’t even need a Gandhi or an MLK to drive the movement.

    “We” outnumber “them” 99 to 1. All we have to do is out-spend, out-reason, out-talk, and out-vote them. But we will never out-gun them.

    BTW sorry to snap at you… IMO the main threat to OWS right now is false-flag infiltration. You know damned well the MSM would just love to have some video of rioting OWS protestors destroying property or drawing blood to run on their networks 100 times a day. Such a riot is so easy and inexpensive to start, I’m surprised it hasn’t happened yet.

  24. 24
    Poopyman says:

    I am reminded of this from 2008:

    … In the meantime, they’ll learn new skills, use some of the ones they acquired in the war zone and more than likely will not be shot at while doing any of it.
    They may be called upon to help with civil unrest and crowd control or to deal with potentially horrific scenarios such as massive poisoning and chaos in response to a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive, or CBRNE, attack.
    Training for homeland scenarios has already begun at Fort Stewart and includes specialty tasks such as knowing how to use the “jaws of life” to extract a person from a mangled vehicle; extra medical training for a CBRNE incident; and working with U.S. Forestry Service experts on how to go in with chainsaws and cut and clear trees to clear a road or area.
    The 1st BCT’s soldiers also will learn how to use “the first ever nonlethal package that the Army has fielded,” 1st BCT commander Col. Roger Cloutier said, referring to crowd and traffic control equipment and nonlethal weapons designed to subdue unruly or dangerous individuals without killing them.

    I read ThatLeftTurnInABQ to mean the blood in the streets will be ours, not the Galtians. I’d prefer it the other way around, myself.

  25. 25
    Judas Escargot says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    The strong Evangelical bent of certain branches of certain services worries me. That’s all I’ll say.

    May your hopes and my fears never be tested.

  26. 26
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    @Judas Escargot:

    I can think of two generalizable cases.

    Not bad cases, and I’ve thought of both of them too. Here’s the problems I see with both of them.

    (1) FDR didn’t succeed because he was a patrician, he succeeded because he marshalled larger social and economic forces to push thru reforms which he, with his patrician background, saw as both necessary and beneficial to our society. And looming large amongst those forces were the violent threat of both communism and fascism, not only from outside but domestically as well. What do we have today like that?

    (2) The Gandhi and MLK examples. First Gandhi; the British Empire faced large external pressures as well as dissent and rebellion from below inside India, including a broad movement towards decolonization in the wake of WW2 which was aided and encouraged by the United States, as well as a domestic consensus in Britain itself that it was time to let India go, a consensus against which Winston Churchill was one of the few politically influential opponents. Second MLK: the Cold War between the US and Soviet Union, and the return of African American service veterans from WW2, provided crucial context in which the Civil Rights movement unfolded during the 1950s and 1960s. Hard to see parallels today.

    BTW sorry to snap at you… IMO the main threat to OWS right now is false-flag infiltration.

    No need to apologise for this. It worries me too. I’m sure that somewhere somebody is dusting off the documents from COINTELPRO as we speak. For what it’s worth, I expect the authorities will be the ones to initiate violence, not the protesters, and then a tit-for-tat spiral of recrimination, alienation and escalation that will take something like 20-50 years to unfold. My bad for not making clear that I was speculating about what is going to happen on a multi-generational time scale.

  27. 27
    piratedan says:

    well if we’re talking historical patterns here in the US….

    Just going on past the obvious Civil War in the 1860’s and the two world wars, plus that Spanish American thingy.
    We’ve had bloody conflicts ongoing ever since. The wars of indian pacification (or manifest destiny or the disenfranchisement of the red man) raging all throughout the west until the 1900s. Plus border incursions into and from Mexico.

    Then you had the worker’s strikes and rebellion ranging from the Molly Maguires up through the Ludlow massacre and Matewan taking us into the 1920s. Workers in Wisconsin really did die for those rights that we take for granted today. That’s roughly 45 years of labor strife involving death (usually those of the protestors) until national labor laws were fully realized under FDR to combat the Great Depression.

    I’m pretty sure that most of us remember the 60’s and the 70’s and how many view Kent State as a turning point how public sentiment was finally turned when Nixon escalated instead of extricated us from SE Asia.

    Can you imagine, in this day and age of instant technology available in camera phones, what an armed conflict could do or would do to the current status quo should some ill advised person fire on any OWS event?

  28. 28
    El Cid says:

    I shudder to think of how many jobs will fail to be created due to the negative attitude and lack of respect in this blog post shown to the most ingenious and successful among us.

  29. 29
    The Populist says:

    Good cast, great reviews…

  30. 30
    handsmile says:

    One essential reason for the popular success of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement (as measured by its expansion to other cities and polling results) has been its non-violent nature.

    It is law enforcement personnel that has repeatedly acted in a disproportionately aggressive, even unlawful, manner towards the protesters, e.g., New York, Boston, Denver, San Francisco, Chicago. And thank god for the citizens’ media (individual videographers, social networks, web resources) that has captured and distributed footage of these actions.

    Each day that protests remain non-violent, even if civilly disobedient, more and more people will feel comfortable supporting the mission of OWS and will begin to recognize that they too are among the 99%.

    That support will evaporate should even a tiny fraction of OWS protesters adopt violent methods of demonstration and resistance.

    Far greater economic pain and breakdown of civic services must be endured by a far greater number of Americans before we will witness uprisings in this country as have occurred this year alone in Greece, England, Spain, and Chile.

  31. 31
    srv says:

    Michael Lewis says he wrote Liar’s Poker in 1989 as a warning. His mailbox has been full from business students ever since, asking for more ideas to make it big.

    Greed isn’t good, greed is god.

  32. 32
    TG Chicago says:

    I found this bit from Sullivan rather amusingly hypocritical:

    As a post-boomer, I’ve been trained to giggle at [hippies] my whole life. […] The crustier edges of the fringe can be as smug as they are alienating…

    Giggling at hippies because they’re too smug. Got it.

  33. 33
    bottyguy says:

    If you need to understand how Wall Street feels about almost destroying the world and getting bailed out by the U.S. Taxpayer there is not better place to start than this Planet Money/This American Life story Crybabies

  34. 34
    MCA says:

    I tend to take the more optimistic view that handsmile does – we’ve probably still got it too good to be on a sure road to pitchfork parades in Greenwich anytime soon. I am concerned about the intransigence of the vast minority, but I’m more concerned that 50% + 1 of the population still apparently thinks any questioning of how we got to this point is tantamount to giving up on capitalism entirely.

    I actually think Wolcott’s sort of missing the point, or at least a part of it. It’s not that the hotshots simply can’t be made to care about anyone other than their competitors, or are all just irredeemible assholes. It’s too easy, and a mistake, to demonize the entire money class as sociopathic boors with no redeeming humanity, the same way their politicians attempt to demonize OWS as hippie trust fund anarcho commie whiner entitled slacker orgies. I know, associate with and live near many a bank/private equity/hedge/money management professional, and most of them are decent people who just go to work and would like to make a lot of money. By and large, they’re better educated than the average person and, yes, they do (or did at one point) work an awful lot, temporarily forego income to get another degree, and acrifice time/preferred living location/relationships, etc. to get to where they are. And a lot of them are aware of the facts that (i) they don’t really create anything, and (ii) all of the above is probably not important or impressive enough to justify their earning 20 times what the average Joe does. They could be reached, but it has to be about how the system of which they’ve been a part is screwing everyone but themselves. Not about how they’re amoral leaches. That’s never worked, has it?

    The problem is we’ve allowed a system of shorthand mythology to create an entire bubble of conscience-free discussion for these people. Republicans have successfully created a fantasy world, where 47% of the population doesn’t pay taxes, they and the entire “free enterprise system” are under seige by Obama, where they’re in the category of the “job creators” and supply side and trickle down aren’t complete failures but rather the only sensible way to grow the economy, that the federal government not only can’t create jobs but employs way too many people, and the entire Democratic Party is complete loons. It’s a sort of context-free, fact-free rationalization fantasy world to retreat to, where they’re under constant unfair attack. It’s just psychically a hell of a lot easier for all of them to feel put upon and beseiged by everyone telling them they’re evil. It’s too easy to avoid having that dark moment alone at night where they realize that, yes, other talented, good people work hard and have graduate degrees and don’t make seven digits and own two enormous houses. And, no, that’s not terribly fair. And, no, we’ve not created a terribly just society. And they’ve been the lucky ones to end up on the right end of that equation and it’s not all their inherent virtue that got them there.

    That’s what we need to break down. Less movies about the financial industry, and more movies about dual-income couples with good-natured but struggling kids who never see their parents, scraping by, foregoing birthday parties and deferring a simple night out at the movies because, despite the fact that they’ve got two college degrees and both work office jobs, they’re barely making it and under a mountain of bills, debt and stress with no savings and no prospect of paying for college or retiring in comfort one day because one of them lost their job and they had to sell their house at a $100k loss because of the mortgage crisis. The Grapes of Wrath worked because it showed the plight of the hard-working, virtuous, worthwhile people who didn’t win the lottery.

  35. 35
    MCA says:

    @myself – wow, that was really verbose of me, now that I see it posted. Sorry. Should have edited.

  36. 36
    PIGL says:

    @Cat: But this is even more perfect. Since nobody is better than anybody else, they each get to be the best some years or other, and collect preposterous rewards accordingly.

  37. 37
    Paul in KY says:

    @Cat: You can say baccarat all day, because it is high class gaming!

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