13 Bankers: Lehrer Newshour Edition – And Another Connection

By Simon Johnson

On Thursday evening, the Lehrer Newshour ran my discussion with Paul Solman on American financial history and previous attempts to constrain the power of big banks – covering the main points in chapter 1 of 13 Bankers.  On Paul’s part of the Newshour website, we also talk about “astroturf” organizations that pretend to be reformist but are really just stalking horses for corporate interests opposed to reform.

We covered a lot of ground (and much of Manhattan) in 8 minutes, but we missed one potential irony.  At the American Museum of Natural History, above the Teddy Roosevelt statue (and not readable, it turns out afterwards, in any of the shots) there was a huge banner celebrating an exhibit made possible in part by David Koch (a trustee and major funder of their dinosaur wing).

Teddy Roosevelt would have loved the irony of appearing under a banner with Mr. Koch’s name.

Among many other activities, Mr. Koch chairs the trustees of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFP Foundation).  The foundation is related to but seaprate from Americans for Prosperity (AFP) – an organization with a broad political agenda, including support for “tea parties” (more on that here). 

The Foundation helps RightOnline – which runs opposite NetRoots every year.  It also supports “Patients United Now“, which may or may not be regarded as a genuine grassroots organization. – their website does disclose that this is a “project” for the AFP Foundation

But there are also alleged instances where crowd appearances have been funded in a nondisclosed manner by AFP and its allies.

AFP’s official list of issues does not include financial sector reform – either for or against – and this is also not in the Foundation’s highlighted research.  However, at least according to some researchers, AFP is very much involved in financial sector lobbying – along with payday lenders and other special interests (for more detail, see the online version).  Given the high level of disclosure and clear publicity around AFP’s other activities, the alleged clandestine nature of the activities here is interesting.

Rachel Maddow previously established that DCI helps the phony “Stop Too Big To Fail” (STBTF) group – a point confirmed to me by the main STBTF organizer himself (more on DCI Group).  Whether or not there is a link here to AFP and related structures remains to be seen.

These are issues and personalities that Teddy Roosevelt would have relished confronting.  Unfortunately, it’s not yet clear if any modern politicians feel similarly inclined.

41 thoughts on “13 Bankers: Lehrer Newshour Edition – And Another Connection

  1. Unfortunately, it’s not yet clear if any modern politicians feel similarly inclined.

    Oh, I would say it’s pretty clear.

  2. Speaking of TR, the following is from a letter written by George Baer, one of the key operators of the coal companies TR tangled with early in his presidency during the strike with the United Mine Workers.
    “The rights and interests of the laboring man will be protected and cared for – not by the labor agitators, but by the Christian men to whom God in His infinite wisdom has given the control of the property interests of the country, and upon the successful Management of which so much depends. Do not be discouraged. Pray earnesly that right may truimph, always remembering that the Lord God Omnipotent still reigns, and that His reign is one of law and order, and not of violence and crime.”
    When the press got a hold of this letter, one editorial response from a Boston journal was, “The doctrine of the divine right of kings was bad enough, but not so intolerable as the doctrine of the divine right of plutocrats to administer things in general with the presumption that what it pleases them to do is the will of God.” (Brands, HW. TR, The Last Romantic. Basic Books. 1997.)
    This was over a hundred years ago. Nothing seems to change as Blankfein has demonstrated with is own pronouncement that he too is doing Gods work.
    I was fooled into voting for Obama thinking he was on our side. I won’t make that mistake again.

  3. Americans do not learn to be critical at school, so they are highly gullible (I went through the French school system in Africa; twice a week, in PRIMARY school, we were confronted, in class, with a text, from a famous writer, sometimes even from a contemporary writer, which we had to explain and criticize, in writing, for two hours. Whereas young Americans are taught to do like their peers, namely engage in groupthink, and to follow, respect and love the leader; they do not seem to ever have had to explain a text critically, before law school).

    One meta principle in the USA, is that “conspiracy theorists” are mentally imbalanced; thus, there are no conspiracy in the USA, and all Americans know that respecting loudly this principle is a major indicator of good mental health.

    But the truth is the exact opposite: the USA’s social fabric is nearly completely made of conspiracies that constitute most of its mental skeleton. Plutocrats finance this system, and that is much cheaper than paying European style high taxes.

    This sort of organization whose message is not what they claim to be, are everywhere, Beyond Petroleum (BP’s slogan, aimed at replacing its former British Petroleum name). This contamination by noxious propaganda outfits is augmented by a mental pollution which affects everyone, as I indicated. For example, how can an American be really critical, when he/she is persuaded that believing in conspiracies is an indicator of a mental disease?

    The entire financial sector has become a conspiracy. Even the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico turns out to have been the result of a conspiracy between agents and agencies of the government, and private companies, among the richest in the world (con-spirare = together-breathing).

    The revolving door between government of the USA and for-immense-personal-profit is itself a conspiracy generating mechanism. And so on.


  4. I like the history references, it’s one of the reasons “13 Bankers” was so much fun to read.

    Rachel Maddow had our boy Bernie Sanders (who strikes me as an “old school” politician like Theodore Roosevelt or say a Carl Albert for instance) on her show Friday night, and it was quite enjoyable and recommend all who have an I-pod and I-tunes to download Rachel Maddow’s show and watch it if you have some free time. I don’t have cable but I download the video in Itunes, and I really am grateful for that. I get it about 10 hours later than the broadcast, but it’s still relevant and I can rewind to any part and even save shows to watch weeks later if I want. Rachel is one of the best in the “MSM” if you consider her as such because she doesn’t let these SOBs like Cheney and Jim DeMint off the hook.

    For those of you not familiar with Carl Albert, if you’re a history buff, you better read up on it here:

  5. Patrice, you make some great points. Our unquestioning, group-think nature in this country sets the stage for crooks to dodge the law by simply using the media to spread false “truth by repeated assertion.” For example, Lloyd Blankfein keeps diverting questions about unethical behavior to Goldman’s role as a market maker, wherein there is no fiduciary responsibility, but no one circles him back to how Goldman leverages the knowledge it acquires through its dealings with customers to have a leg up in its own proprietary hedge fund and high frequency trading operations. We should be saying, “no, Mr. Blankfein, you are not just a market maker,” but people let him get away with it, because, as you say, they lack critical thinking skills. Furthermore, look at how Timothy Geithner got away with paying off AIG’s credit default swaps for 100 cents on the dollar, simply by repeating over and over that we had no choice. Baloney! He could have easily negotiated haircuts with the counterparties. Instead, he hung the taxpayer out to dry. This kind of stuff just goes on and on.

  6. All that great French education and we still have to bail the snobby French butts out of the frying pan. America giving the French their country back with zero “thank you” after World War 2 wasn’t enough eh?? Now you want $9.2 billion ’cause French bankers aren’t smart enough to figure out Greece wasn’t going to pay their loans back??? Don’t worry, we’re not expecting a “thank you” this time either.

    Seems French education is lacking in some areas.

  7. Re: @ Ted K____The French helped the United States win its Independence – The French helped Lincoln win the “Civil War”, and as unbelievable it may sound, those nasty Russians (the English were helping the South, and the Russian Fleets kept them from the coast) also helped – The French were willing to end WW11 early without the United States having gooten involved ,but? Yea,..it’s a big but,…the British had to bring us into every World (so far theirs only been two,but who knows what those slimy limies have up their sleeves for us?) War! They unsucessfully tried to destroy our country several times in its infancy, and we still side with the Bloody British. They even married us off to Israel, which too this very day is/was, a modern day “Immaculate Conception of the Third Kind” . France has always been our best ally,…just look up at the Lady in our Habour as a reminder!

  8. It’s hard to know where to begin…. As a regular reader, I find this digression into David Koch’s politics, ah, well, inappropriate. Nor do I believe you understand the “tea parties.” If you believe they advocate more and bigger banks, well…. more money for GS in bonuses…? Say what?

    There are two options: you need to read more broadly than you do; or, you need to stay away from such topics.

    I have lamented that you have not advocated simple reforms – ten pages, perhaps, like the Arizona illegal immagration law…? – for the banking world. What good is a 1K plus bill to anyone, under any circumstances…? Fodder for the lawyers and wiggle room for the banks….

    From today’s UK Independent there is this about Nouriel Roubini (which I, as a sometimes “tea party” supporter and strong advocate of lesser, simpler government support wholeheartedly):

    “Working out what our bank system should look like, and whether it should be split between narrow and casino banks, is so complex that we need brains like Roubini’s to help see more clearly. Reformers will also need to have pretty robust arguments because any attempts here and in the US to break up the banks will bring down the wrath of the most powerful vested interests in the world, who will fight tooth and nail to defend their privileges and their bonuses.
    As his book warns, a return to some sort of Glass-Steagall structure doesn’t go far enough. He’s right when he recommends breaking up the Too Big To Fail banks – Bank of America, UBS, RBS, JP Morgan, Barclays, Goldman Sachs and BNP Paribas for starters – with antitrust laws, just as the US did with the oil titans and AT&T. That’s why our new commission must look at whether the big investment banks are an oligopoly. We need to know how the banks make so much money – whether from cartels that set underwriting fees or from colluding on advisory charges. Indeed some critics even ask whether many trading profits are fictitious. …”
    Gosh! Didn’t take 1K pages and a bevy of new bureaucrats to say that. You will find, whatever their differences, there are no “tea party” supporters standing behind Goldman Sachs et al in defense of their rape of America.

    Now, back to life…. ….Lady in Red

    PS: You owe David Koch an apology, maybe a phone call to discuss his views – not about “tea parties” – but about banking reform. After all, he is an important MIT alum…. and you would not wish to misrepresent him on this important matter, I am sure. (Actually, I have enough faith in your pursuit of honest truth I sincerely believe that…)

  9. Wow, thank you Lady in Red, you are the walking, talking, thinking example of how the Tea Party is being used by the very people that created and control the problems you aspire to fix.

    Good luck with that!

  10. Using the context of Patrice’s recollections of his primary school education, I think your treatise on the subject matter is overly brief and superficial.

    I suspect your efforts would garner an “F” in Patrice’s world.

    With that grade in mind, you may submit a special project (of your choosing) to move your grade upwards and outwards, along the bell curve.

  11. So… we’ll all be voting for Ralph Nader next time? Short of the Second Coming… when have we ever had a choice? I mean, imagine what John “Keating Five” McCain would have done with this mess…

  12. Tea Party=Stockholm Syndrome. Patty Hearst redux.

    The fact is the partiers are working to elect the very people and the very ideology that’s been plundering labor and the middle class for 30 plus years.

    Their flag should be someone reaching down and grabbing their ankles.

  13. The only difference between the two legacy parties is that the Rs outright want to kill the weak, the old, and the working people, and the Ds, while they want to cherish the same policy outcomes, wish to attribute them to impersonal forces that are beyond their control.

    I mean, imagine! If McCain were president, he might have outsourced the staffing of a commission to gut Medicare and Social Security to Pete Peterson! Oh, wait..

  14. Oh yes, the lesser of two evils argument. Well, after this brush with disaster last year where half the company I work for is gone (about 7000 people), and the constant warnings from Simon and James, among many others, that the legislation supported by Obama will not stop the boom-bust-bailout loop, I have little patience with the lesser of two evils argument.
    Besides, I like Ralph Nader, and believe him to be an honorable man who has done a great service to our country. That’s more than can be said for the vast majority of our elected weasels today.
    Politics has always been a dirty business, and for all the maneuvering politicians do for their own self interest, I used to believe that when it really counted, they would, in the end, do the right thing.
    We now all realize what a rigged game the Wall St. casino has become. If the cuts at my company went any deeper, I was next. We lost about 30% of our life savings, and if Simon and James are right, we will never recover, and will continue to lose every time the loop comes around to “bust”. In other words, this was the time when it really counted, and so far, we see Obama unwilling to even fight for doing the right thing. Right out of the gate he went for the politically expedient course. To me that is a complete failure on his part at a time when we can no longer afford it.
    We get the government we deserve, and if we take your position, we will continue to get screwed.
    If we go into the 2012 elections and Obama hasn’t gained the needed reforms, what good is he? We might as well have McCain, or even Palin (I can’t believe I said that).

  15. Wow, “anonymous,” I guess I must have hit a nerve with Bob Somerby at the Howler. No doubt, since Somerby critiques both parties without fear or favor, the nerve was a tribal one. Unless you’re a Maddow staffer, of course.

    “Dishonest rag” my sweet Aunt Fanny.

  16. Ted, you apparently disagree with Patrice that US education doesn’t encourage critical thinking at a young enough age…fine. Why don’t you just say so, give your reasons, and leave the invective aside?
    I for one think Patrice offers a very valid critique. For example, the textbooks we use are so rife with error or cant (at the behest of our larger school districts that control the profit margins of the publishers) that it’s nearly impossible to obtain the raw materials to practice critical thinking. Such training can be begun at a very young age, and it would have helped the current electorate discharge their responsibility as citizens to involve themselves in civic life, make informed choices, hold their representatives accountable, and develop a finer appreciation of the finer gradations of reality than our monochromatic national myths support.

  17. There is an incredible amount of information manipulation out there. Zero Hedge may have fallen for such a scheme by recommending a must-see “viral video”.

    The so-called National Inflation Association that produced this video — could be a pump and dump scheme for precious metals. — Ie, the video is actually a marketing tool disguised as a documentary video, playing on fears of hyperinflation and economic collapse, to pump and dump precious metals stocks.

    The video mixes in a TV interview clips of prominent people (eg, Michael Lewis) to give it credibility.

    See: http://www.zerohedge.com/article/meltup-beginning-us-currency-crisis-and-hyperinflation-viral-video#comment-355414

  18. Tippy, stick with pottery.

    If you don’t understand the message presented by the NIA video, get an education.

  19. So, the anti-reformists are sneaky, snivelling, disingenuous, and a pack of liars. Well, after all, they do support the oligarchs because they are a part of the oligarchy. This is America. And, you rightly cited your time in Russia and the understanding of just how disinformation was used to support the Soviet regime. That disinformation was used both internally and externally. We now know all about this, and its negative effects and consequences for the average citizen. When will real journalists start reporting on this. We pride ourselves on being an “open” society with “freedom of the press,” but my impression is that large parts of the fourth estate are now dead to being useful to the populace. They are either in cahoots with the oligarchs, don’t want to lose advertising dollars, or just too lazy to actually investigate connections and dig deeply (ala Woodward and Bernstein) to uncover the truth. If we can’t count on the press, much of our potential defence against corporate rape is dead.

  20. Michael Hudson writes:

    “what is unfolding is a Social War on a global scale – not the class war envisioned in the 19th century, but a war of finance against entire economies, against industry, real estate and governments as well as against labor


    Canucklehead, excercise your superior intelligence here, by showing us how Michael Hudson errs in his analysis of the global financial crisis.

  21. I read Simon’s post and checked out the links. Glad to see this astroturfing and lunacy exposed. GRRRRRrrrrr

  22. The Lady in Red doth protest too much:

    “The Kochs don’t discuss their ideological giving too often or too deeply in public. In discussing how Koch philanthropy has jumped in and pulled out from various institutions and projects over the years, David Koch told me that, ‘If we’re going to give a lot of money, we’ll make darn sure they spend it in a way that goes along with our interests. And if they make a wrong turn and start doing things that we don’t agree with, we withdraw funding. We do exert that kind of control.”

    Brian Doherty (Senior Editor of Reason Magazine), writing in Radicals for Capitalism (2007), his overwhelmingly sympathetic insider’s history of the Libertarian movement.

  23. Canucklehead,

    It appears the man behind the National Inflation Association video (recommended by ZeroHedge) is described in Wikipedia as “an American notorious for using internet technology to hype stocks,” and in 2001 was fined $281,000 by SEC. In other words, he may be playing on the political sentiments and fears of people like you to pump and dump precious metal stocks.


  24. ZeroHedge has a lot of great information, but they also like to stir the pot quite a bit. And frankly I trust Tyler Durden as much as I trust Jim Rogers, and George Soros to give their sincere, honest views to the public (that is to say, not much). Durden may give some real valuable gems of information and sometimes he may be dead on accurate. But many times he his throwing out views which may not reflect the big picture and are very self-serving. I read Zerohedge, and even have it on my blogroll. But you have to use your judgement and mental filtering process quite a bit and cast aside some things when reading Zerohedge.

    My guess is the inflation thing and some of Durden’s thoughts on currencies are nice things which encourage more trading and more commissions for the industry. I think he is much more pro-trading, pro-speculation, and pro finance industry than he likes to “let on”. Bear it in mind. At least for the rest of 2010 I don’t see inflation taking off myself.

  25. Isn’t Simon being Darwinistic in his review? Not the Messianic Darwinism of the coal baron but not exactly its antithesis. Simon’s point seems to be that Wall St. only became dangerous when the smart guys moved in. Only they had the brain power to use the computer models and the imagination to create financial weapons of mass destruction. That’s the natural selection process of Darwin. Simon might assert that he isn’t Darwinistic because after all the smart guys failed. But the broader assertion that the success of the most intelligent species will lead to catastrophe seems tenable, given things like environmental disaster in the Gulf. In other words Simon’s thesis that the natural selection process leading to failure squares with Darwin, doesn’t it? By refusing the class analysis Simon outs himself ultimately as a defender of capital, as the current system’s devil’s advocate. I prefer the idea that capital left unchallenged in the west after the collapse of the USSR allowed itself to mutate into the gigantic leech that is now attached to our body politic. Halberstam missed it in “The Best and the Brightest” too. The generals were’t the superbrains, nor was Rusk or Johnson. It wasn’t a catastrophe caused by character flaws – it was the predatory capital unleashed.

  26. I suspect that Roubini’s thinking is most characteristic of the tea parties, as well as David Koch’s. Here is more from Roubini from a recent interview with Tunku Varadrajan in the Daily Beast:

    Here, our conversation turns to Goldman Sachs, currently the focus of an SEC complaint and criminal investigations. “I think the substantial issue with Goldman,” Roubini observes, “is one of perception—not necessarily of illegality, but of conflicts. In any one of these large financial conglomerates where you have commercial banking, investment banking, ‘prop’ trading, private equity, hedge funds, insurance, underwriting of securities, and asset management, you have massive conflicts of interest. And these conflicts imply that you are on all sides of every trade. You have the incentive to ‘front-run’ your clients. Chinese Walls don’t mean anything… those Chinese Walls at financial institutions are just a joke!”

    So how would reform, or regulation, deal with these conflicts? I ask. “I’m a radical on that,” Roubini says, pausing for effect. “There are no real economies of scale and scope from having, within the same firm, all these different activities. These institutions become large—not too big to fail, but just too complex to manage. There’s no way in which even the most brilliant CEO or board of directors can monitor thousands of ‘P&Ls’ [profit-and-loss centers], and every single trader and banker within a financial institution is a separate ‘P&L.’ Therefore, I’m of the view that those financial services should be done by separate types of institutions.”

    Roubini, here, picks up a head of steam: “Look, I’ve nothing against Goldman Sachs. But Goldman Sachs isn’t an investment bank. Goldman Sachs is a hedge fund. It’s bigger than any hedge fund. It’s more leveraged, to the power of three or five, than any hedge fund. And unlike other hedge funds, it has access to zero-interest loans from the Fed, and to implicit and explicit guarantees of the government. So if Goldman thinks they are so good at ‘prop’ trading that they can make a profit every day—as they did in the last quarter… there was not a single day on which they lost money—fine, let them be a ‘prop’ trading firm, be a hedge fund. But don’t use the taxpayers’ money to do stuff that’s very risky and highly leveraged. But not only do they do that, but they ‘front-run,’ in 10 different ways, their own clients.”

    From Friday’s WSJ is this:

    “Whatever your views on financial reform—whether you want the government to crack down on bankers or to disentangle itself from financial markets—you should fear Sen. Chris Dodd’s financial reform bill. In 1,300-some pages, all it really does is legislate power to the government for fixes to be named later. It does this by using terms that are either totally undefined or defined in breathtaking generality. “

    I hope, I hope Simon has not been duped, drunk the Cambridge Massachusetts Kool-aid, moved afield from the brilliant Atlantic Monthly article, The Quiet Coup. The Democrats are not about financial reform and the HCR bill has nothing to do with medical care, either.

    David Koch is not a defender of Goldman Sachs et al, nor is the tea party movement. (Nor are the tea party folk racist, although MSM is working hard at that one.) They are about genuine reform, not Dodd’s faux reform – which keeps the lid on the garbage can that is Freddie and Fannie, as well as doing nothing to reform the system. (Detroit is being leveled now, as is my hometown of Flint, Michigan thanks to Barney Frank, Chris Dodd et al and the Community Reinvestment Act.)

    It is important to move beyond labels, look for real motives and thinking behind the spin. Although I agree with Simon’s interview about the potential destruction of democracy, he seems to have fallen victim himself. I can not make anything of the silly Koch screed, except the obvious left wing ridicule, plus “wink, wink.” The condescendingt we-need-say-no-more-to-those-who-understand… Does it even make any sense that there is a massive grassroots movement afoot in America to protect and preserve the right of Goldman Sachs to pillage? Chew on that.

    And what, Max, would you have David Koch do with his charity funds? Give them to organizations with which he disagreed? There are “genius” grants for no-strings giving, but giving to an orphanage that morphed to a cesspool of pedophiles, or to a family homeless shelter that began consuming greater and greater share of budget to overhead is dumb. You don’t do that, either. You give to organizations you believe are worthy; if they stop being worthy in your estimation – for whatever reason – you stop giving. Don’t be naïve. ……..Lady in Red

  27. Furthermore,

    “Is this where Western civilization really is supposed to be leading? Confronted by parliaments controlled by aristocracies, the 19th-century reformers sought to take them over on behalf of democracy. Classical political economy was a reform program to tax away the “free lunch” of land rents, monopoly rents and financial interest extraction. John Maynard Keynes celebrated this program in his gentle term, “euthanasia of the rentiers.”

    But the vested interests have fought back. Calling social democracy and public regulation “the road to serfdom,” They are trying to set Europe’s economies on the road to debt peonage. Making an end-run around national elected governments to impose the Washington Consensus, IMF and EU institutions have gained fiscal and economic control over governments and their tax policies to cut taxes on wealth – and borrow from it to finance the resulting fiscal deficits.

    America’s Tea Partiers and anti-tax rebels have given up the fight to reform governments. Squeezed by debt from which they see no escape, they demand lower taxes – and are willing to see the highest brackets become the major beneficiaries in an even more regressive tax shift. Faced with the corruption of Congress by lobbyists acting on behalf of the vested interests, they reject government itself and seek safety in local gated communities. They see Congress and parliaments throughout the world losing autonomy to the IMF, the EU and other Washington Consensus organizations seeking to impose austerity and shift the tax burden onto labor and industry, off property and off predatory finance.”

  28. It was a guy named Spencer who coined the phrase “survival of the fittest” which was a misinterpretation of the scientific theory and its application to human interaction was deliberately misleading. It had nothing to do with what is actually regarded as natural selection.
    Aside from that detail, I disagree with your premise. The “quants” merely took exploited an opportunity provided be years of deregulation in perfect agreement with basic human nature. The root cause was the “government is the problem” BS that started with Reagan.

  29. Kock is worth about $17B.

    He recently stated that if taxes were raised on him he would be less philanthropic.

    A walking, talking example of why we don’t want so much wealth in a Democracy tied up in single/few hands.

  30. I take your point and will back off on Darwin. My premise then is that the instinct for self-preservation and self-enrichment found in individuals, and implied by Simon as the root-cause of the Hiest of the Ages, had little to do with. It was not merely quants exploiting an opportunity. The Heist was the coup de grace, the final act in the long march of Capital undermining labor and labor’s last line of defense, the democractic process.

  31. No, I think pottery. You can see things in wet clay that others can’t.

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