Film Review: In Debt We Trust, by Danny Schechter (UPDATE 1)

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(APN) ATLANTA — “The new economic conflict in our society is between creditors and debtors,” Michael Hudson, economic historian, says, in a new documentary film, In Debt We Trust, by Danny Schechter.

“There’s still a tendency of many of the left-wingers to think in terms of the class war as the war between employers and employees. But the real economic war–where all the money is being made–is between creditors and debtors because that’s a free lunch.”

This film seeks to foster a national discussion about the debt which is holding back so many working and middle class families and perpetuating a massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich, every year.

In doing this, Schechter says he is exploring a “hidden financial complex… this nation within a nation.”

The film is currently playing through a number of independent venues and private screenings across the country. Atlanta Progressive News is currently working on sponsoring a screening, so stay tuned for details.

Schechter used to work for several television stations, including as a producer for ABC’s 20/20, and he has produced copious documentaries. He also runs the website, MediaChannel.

Former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes (D) and State Senator Vincent Fort (D) are both featured in the film.

“Credit card debt has taken the greatest asset that middle class America had… that was equity in their home. We have this really, threat, to the way we are as a people and nobody seems to be concerned about it,” Gov. Barnes says in the film.

Barnes says he believes credit card debt and fees can be a catalyzing issue to bring many Americans together.

Americans owe $2 trillion in debt, according to the film, in credit cards and car debt, and that’s $9 trillion when including mortgages.

Credit card companies earn $30 billion annually, according to the film.

Moreover, the movie reveals the credit card industry and financial institutions are the largest campaign contributors to US Congress. $154 million was spent on lobbying for the recent bankruptcy bill alone.

Our review of the roll call vote shows these lobbying efforts bought the support of many Democratic US Senators and even Independent Sen. Jeffords.

US Sens. Baucus (D-MT), Bayh (D-IN), Biden (D-DE), Bingaman (D-NM), Byrd (D-WV), Carper (D-DE), Conrad (D-ND), Inouye (D-HI), Jeffords (I-VT), Johnson (D-SD), Kohl (D-WI), Landrieu (D-LA), Lincoln (D-AR), Nelson (D-FL), Nelson (D-NE), Pryor (D-AR), Reid (D-NV), Salazar (D-CO), and Stabenow (D-MI) all supported the 2005 bill.

The 2005 bankruptcy bill, one of the biggest changes to national bankruptcy law in decades, made it more difficult for middle class Americans to declare bankruptcy and particularly to erase their debts.

Notably, Presidential candidates US Sen. Dodd (D-CT) and Obama (D-IL) voted no, while US Sen. Hillary Clinton did not vote. Presidential candidate US Rep. Kucinich (D-OH) voted no. As noted above, US Sen. Biden voted yes, a move probably related to the proliferation of big banks which are headquartered in Delaware.

All Republicans Senators supported the bill.

Georgia’s US Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) sponsored the bill which provided for consideration of the US House version of the bill, with the State’s other Republicans joining him in supporting the bill.

Notably, Georgia’s US Reps. Barrow (D-GA), Bishop (D-GA), Lewis (D-GA), McKinney (D-GA), and Scott (D-GA) all voted no.

MARKETING

The credit card companies spend billions of dollars on marketing to Americans.

Schechter found one former marketing executive for Citibank, Steve Barnett, willing to talk on film.

Barnett talked about the MasterCard “Priceless” campaign, which he called brilliant. One “Priceless” commercial features a family enjoying a “priceless” baseball game where they paid for their tickets and drinks with MasterCard.

“What it’s saying is… this credit card, is not a way to get you in debt. This is a way to reinforce your values, your deepest beliefs. This is an advertisement urging spending and the trick is… to say the point of this all, is priceless. It’s really not concerned about money; it’s concerned with you as an intact wonderful, caring family,” Barnett said.

SYSTEMIC CAUSES

The systemic causes of increasing consumer debt in America include a decline in wages, a skyrocketing in costs, and a retrenchment in the safety net for households, according to an advocate with Demos, who speaks in the film.

“We’re not going to educate our way out of this problem,” Tarama Draut says. Often, credit literacy is cited as the answer.

DEBT REVIVALS

One Church featured in the film has come with their own unique solution, Debt Revivals.

Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, in Norfolk, Virginia, selects one member of its congregation and everyone comes together to pay off their debts, amidst prayer, singing, and dancing.

“It’s kind of hard to serve the master and MasterCard. We’ve chosen to get rid of those cards to line our lives up with the Bible,” the pastor tells Mr. Schechter in an interview.

“We are desperately hurting because we have established a level of success that says the more credit cards you have, the more you’re worth,” the pastor says.

BANKRUPTCY

The film talks some about bankruptcy, providing examples of people who filed for bankruptcy, including one 21 year old college student.

Lorraine Bracco, who plays the therapist on the TV show, The Sopranos, talks about her filing, and says the Judge advised her that she had used bankruptcy in the right way and that she hoped for a better future for her.

Two million Americans went bankrupt in 2005 according to the film.

One bankruptcy attorney in the film testifies that most of his clients come in shaking because of the stigmatism that has become associated with bankruptcy.

AN IMPENDING ECONOMIC PROBLEM

Mr. Schechter also uses the movie as a opportunity to look at the US federal debt and the underlying national economic problems related to consumer debt.

Gov. Barnes says he believes a day of economic reckoning is coming, and even compares it to the Great Depression of the 1930’s. He says while the Great Depression was caused by the Stock Market crash, the impending crash will come as the result of debt when the US runs out of “credit.”

Barnett concurs. “Two thirds of our economy is based on consumption, which leads to a rather petrifying paradox. If we cut back on consumption, which is obviously good for the environment, is good for a number of things, the US economy collapses. In a sense, we’ve built an economy that needs rampant consumerism as a fuel just to keep the engine going,” Barnett tells Schechter.

Barnett says if foreclosures keep happening, then the banks will end up with a lot of houses they don’t want and can’t sell. He also says if Americans lower consumption as a result of this, then this could lead to an economic collapse, presumably involving layoffs.

HIDDEN EFFECTS

The film also introduces the idea of hidden effects of credit cards on our lives.

Dr. Charles Manning, a sociological expert on the credit industry, featured in the film, says credit card debt effects the life choices people make, including their choices of whether to be politically active.

“This level of debt is really going to define [a college student’s] future and is going to have a significant long-term impact on American society where students can’t go into the streets. They’re not going to be able to demand social change because not only do they have a student loan debt to pay, but they have credit card debt before 22 years old,” Manning says in the film.

“They can’t possibly pursue the kinds of careers they anticipated,” he says.

WEBSITES

Readers can find out more about the film at www.indebtwetrust.com

Schechter has also created an advocacy-related website at www.stopthesqueeze.org

CORRECTION: The story originally stated that US Rep. Gingrey (R-GA) had sponsored the bankruptcy bill in the US House. His Office requested a correction. Our subsequent review shows that he instead actually sponsored the bill which provided for consideration of the bankruptcy bill, rather than the bankruptcy bill itself. The distinction should make little substantive difference.

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor of Atlanta Progressive News. He may be reached at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com

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This article may be reprinted in full at no cost where Atlanta Progressive News is credited.

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