Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Big Short: The Movie

I enjoyed reading Michael Lewis's The Big Short and Moneyball. The latter was made into a really good movie even if you had no interest in baseball.

Hard to see how The Big Short could be made into a good movie. Michael Lewis writes about it in Vanity Fair:

...One problem I distinctly did NOT worry about when I wrote The Big Short was how to write it so that it would become a movie. Who’d make a movie about credit-default swaps? Who for that matter would make a movie of any book of mine? By 2008, when I started gathering string for The Big Short, I had come to think of the movie business as a place that spent huge sums of money with incredible enthusiasm to ensure the movies of books were never made...

Moneyball was hard to imagine as a movie, but at least it was about baseball and thus organically linked to popular culture. Wall Street, even in the aftermath of a financial crisis that has cost so many so much, is not. The behavior of our money people is still treated as a subject for specialists. This is a huge cultural mistake. High finance touches—ruins—the lives of ordinary people in a way that, say, baseball does not, unless you are a Cubs fan. And yet, ordinary people, even those who have been most violated, are never left with a clear sense of how they’ve been touched or by whom. Wall Street, like a clever pervert, is often suspected but seldom understood and never convicted.

It is my hope that Adam McKay’s The Big Short might actually help change this situation. The very material I would have thought would frighten away a movie director McKay embraces. He lucidly explains credit-default swaps and collateralized debt obligations! He captures the essence of the behavior that led to the recent financial catastrophe, and of the main characters of my book—in ways that I suspect will haunt their real-life loved ones. The Big Short is just a movie, but it’s also an invitation, to a huge popular audience, to have a smart and interesting discussion about the place of money and finance in all our lives...

Later: My favorite economist, Paul Krugman, likes the movie: Bubbles and Lies.


Democrats turning against high-speed rail

The rock-solid Democratic support in Sacramento for the bullet train, which has endured despite legal and financial setbacks in recent years, has developed a political fissure.

Assemblywoman Patty Lopez (D-San Fernando) says she is withdrawing her support for the project, and she says five other Democrats in the Legislature are reviewing their positions.

Lopez said in an interview that the project would damage her mostly Latino, working-class district, which includes Pacoima, San Fernando and Sylmar. The rail route would cut through the district.

"I don't see any benefit," said Lopez, who said it would drive up crime and eliminate businesses in her district. "People are really upset."

Lopez said the matter should go back to voters, who approved $9 billion in funding for the project in 2008. Lopez said the state has higher priorities, including water, jobs and homelessness, that outweigh the high-speed rail system.

"The money we are going to spend on it is crazy," she said. Public opinion polls have found that support for the project has eroded as costs have risen...

For Lopez, the primary issue is the effect on her low-income community, which has been hurt historically by the construction of three freeways, garbage dumps and other decisions by political power brokers in the state.

This summer, hundreds of protesters from her district showed up at a rail authority board meeting in downtown Los Angeles. And only weeks earlier, protesters brought in their own sound system and took control of a rail authority open house in San Fernando that was supposed to highlight the project's benefits.

Lopez showed up at a meeting of community groups known as Save Angeles Forest for Everyone, which drew about 100 residents. She wore a vest bearing patches that depicted the four proposed routes in her district, all of them with red slashes through them.

Unless the rail authority can find a politically acceptable route through the Tehachapi and San Gabriel mountains, the line might never get south of the Central Valley.

The routes have produced growing opposition, not only in the smaller working-class areas but between Palmdale and Burbank. Critics say the line could harm wildlife sanctuaries, aquifers, horse ranches, schools, homes, businesses, movie lots and much else. Residents along the route say it is already causing a drop in property value.

The route would pass through one of the largest equestrian communities in Southern California. An estimated 25,000 horses are kept in the area, which includes parts of Lopez's district, according to Dale Gibson, a rodeo cowboy who serves on the Los Angeles Equine Advisory Board...

Also: no money for high-speed rail in the transportation bill.


Standing strong against terrorism

"This is why I love Obama"

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