Dirty Money on Netflix exposes global corporate corruption

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Our civilization is tainted. Every night on the news, a new politician is charged with taking bribes, or a new business crime is revealed. Do you recall when HSBC was busted laundering money for homicidal drug cartels? Or how about when Volkswagen was caught manipulating its “clean” diesel automobiles to mask their harmful emissions? These days, scandals happen at such a breakneck speed that it’s hard to keep up. 

Learn more about Dirty Money

Dirty Money, a new Netflix documentary series, takes a hard look at corporate fraud and greed by slowing down and looking at a few scandals you’ve undoubtedly heard of but may have forgotten about.

The six episodes of Dirty Money each examine a distinct element of greed and corruption, and each serves as a stand-alone documentary. You may pick and choose whatever topics pique your interest. Alex Gibney, an Emmy and Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker, begins with the Volkswagen emissions crisis of 2015. Other episodes look at HSBC’s cartel ties, pharmaceutical price gouging, racing car driver Scott Tucker’s payday lending scheme, Donald Trump’s shady financial practices, and—in a bit of an outlier—a bizarre maple syrup controversy in Canada.

Erin Lee Carr’s insightful study of pharmaceutical price gouging is a must-read if you only have time for one. Martin Shkreli, America’s most reviled pharmaceutical tycoon, is sentenced to prison in the first scene of “Drug Short.” Isn’t justice done? “If Martin [Shkreli] was the minnow in all of this,” the video points out, “Valeant CEO Mike Pearson was the whale.” 

Valeant Pharmaceuticals cut its research budget under Pearson’s leadership and instead concentrated on buying other firms’ products and then jacking up the pricing

 A critical medicine for those with a rare copper allergy, for example, jumped from $30 per month to $20,000 per month. Valeant’s stock price surged as consumers gave up their life savings to remain alive.

Valeant Pharmaceuticals’ unethical methods finally catch up with them, yet nothing truly changes. Pearson is exposed, but he remains a multibillionaire, and prescription costs remain unreasonably high since the corporation cannot reduce them due to its massive debt. Senator Claire McCaskill states, “We didn’t uncover anything they were doing that was criminal.” “And that’s what’s so surprising about this.”

Fisher Stevens’ “The Confidence Man,” about, you guessed it, Donald Trump is arguably the most amusing episode. Trump’s history of bankruptcy and failing enterprises, his phony university, and his overall penchant for lying and cheating his way to the top are likely topics for the episode. There’s nothing new here, but “The Confidence Man” is an excellent refresher on Trump’s hucksterism and includes entertaining interviews with celebrities like Russell Simmons and ex-business acquaintances. 

When Stevens interviews a producer and editor from The Apprentice, they talk about how they first believed it would be a joke: “How hilarious is it to have this washed-up, five-time bankruptcy man” as the show’s principal executive? (They also detail how they had to create a false office for the TV program since Trump’s actual offices were too tiny and run-down.) “We simply didn’t realize how many people would remark, ‘Wow, that’s great.'” Jonathon Braun says, “That’s genuine.”

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