Wall St. Boiling Point?

Friday, May 13, 2011

William Cohan, writer for the New York Times, Fortune, and Vanity Fair, former Wall Street banker,  and author of the book House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street, to talk about the state of popular anger with Wall St, and whether Goldman Sachs will suffer as a result.


William Cohan

Comments [44]

Matt S from NYC

I think one reason that protests are not prevalant in the present is that they don't appear to have worked. I look back at a 60s protest generation and ask, what did they accomplish? They didn't end war. They didn't bring about equality. They didn't spread a culture of mutual love. It appears at times that we are more bellicose and selfish than ever before.

I think the current generation acts not by standing outside of these organizations and shouting at them, but by being a part of the world and looking for ways to change it. Or, we simply accept that things will not change by our hands, and we keep our heads down and hope to survive.

May. 17 2011 11:43 AM
Matt S from NYC

I was surprised to hear Mr. Cohen apparently baffled as to why Goldman Sachs would act dumb before the Congressional panel. Perhaps his head is still stuck in that Wall Street world where the only morality is money, where what you do doesn't matter as long as you turn a profit.
Near the end, Mr. Cohen said, "Goldman saw what was coming and did something about it." If you see that your neighbor's house in on fire, what do you "do about it?" A good person calls 911. Goldman Sachs called an insurance broker and took out a policy on the neighbor's house, then sat back and watched it burn. And they don't want that information going out, because even though it was legal, it shows the grievous lack of ethics. In addition, if they knew this and didn't advise their clients, "Hey, you can bet on housing if you want. We're betting against it," then they may be in more serious legal trouble, if not tarnished with their clients.
Wall Street might once have been the heart of the economy, picking up value (oxygen) in the labor of the common worker (the lungs) and transporting it to the limb, brain, and rest of the body through blood (money). But now, the heart has gone selfish, bathing it's own tissue in rich blood and leaving the body anemic. It is short-sighted and selfish, for what will happen to the blood once the lungs die?

May. 17 2011 11:18 AM
jeff from not wall street

Maybe the first step in self empowerment some
for regular folk is to stop referring to Wall
Street types as "the smartest men(sic) in the
room". This is demonstrably, from Mr. Greenspan
on down, a ruse meant to immobilize
people in the face of the self described "complexity" of the financial world. Spend some
time with these guys(sic) and spend some
time with someone like say, Brian Greene and
tell me who is the smarter.

May. 14 2011 12:48 AM

In response to the wall street trader that was quoted on the show yelling back at protesters: Of course Wall Street needs to gain back its credibility, but like people who break trust in relationships, Wall Street needs to EARN back that credibility. Just as it would be naive to repeatedly put faith in a friend who consistently violates your trust, it would be naive to blinding restore credibility to an institution or system that consistently not been operating in the best interest of the majority of US citizens. WE DON'T owe Wall Street an automatic restoration of credibility just because they say it will trickle down to the little man. I think they need to be able to delineate EXACTLY why they deserve our trust and restored credibility again!

May. 13 2011 08:02 PM

Since Mr. Lehrer has the unmitigated gall to ask why more people aren't protesting when Lehrer himself contributes to the media obfuscation by giving proven liars such as Andrew Breitbart a platform, I challenge him to give hardworking organizers a platform. We may be small, unpaid, burnt-out and ignored, but we're honest. Brian has my email and knows where to reach me, and I can also connect him to other ex organizers for interviews.

May. 13 2011 03:05 PM

As someone who once worked for some of the elite firms for which Mr. Cohan once worked, let me say that I busted my derriere protesting the banks, and organizing sizable protests... at considerable expense to my time, pocketbook, and "corporate profile".
For organizing a peaceful protest of approx 300-500 (?) aged hippies outside the Federal Reserve Bank in California, I am no doubt on someone's list of naughty people. Don't ask how much time I wasted supporting Obama's "health care reform", including organizing a seminar that featured a former Bush Admin Senior Economic Advisor plugging the public option.
But there's no support. And I'm working in an environment where even Breitbart gets on WNYC. (Et tu, Brian? And "never again" will I give to WNYC post-Breitbart.)
We live in a system designed to crush the organizers, even polished ex-corporate organizers like myself.

Becoming politically involved was terrifying, rarely gratifying, and unbelievably frustrating.

May. 13 2011 02:42 PM
Eugenia Renskoff from Brooklyn, NY

Hi, Brian, I think it is very disrespectful of anybody in the banking business not to think of the people who, one way or another, give them money. It is a vicious circle that has no apparent end. Maybe we, the borrowers who got scammed and lost our homes, should make time and take to the streets. In the long run, it’ll be worth it. Before it happened to me, I had never heard of subprime mortgages. Now I know only too well what that means. Eugenia Renskoff

May. 13 2011 12:36 PM

Our small family has been trying to cut deeply back on our expenses---including moving away from New York. Yet just since our move a couple of years ago, our expenses have increased WAY faster than our incomes can do; our rent has gone up $150/month, our health insurance premium went up $150/month (for very real, tangible reasons), and those are just the biggest bills. Regular people can't keep up with this!!! My fantasy of ever owning a home is slipping further and further away. And I am over 40 already.

At the same time: I have a tiny amount of money invested in an IRA (from back when I could afford to contribute to it), and I DO want this to grow! So even I am stuck between a rock and a hard place, wanting Wall Street to do well so I am not completely destitute in old age. This in turn just encourages the persistent greed that comes back and stabs me in the back. It's a terrible, mind-boggling Catch-22.

May. 13 2011 12:36 PM
Dr.Saul Moskowitz from Woodbury NY.

Why isn't there more protest?Good question but in my opinion,you overlooked all the important reasons!The public has always needed strong leadership and information.Unions have been diminished in membership and power.The media has been corrupted and taken over by the corporations.(even now,pbs and npr are under attack).Newspapers are going bankrupt daily because of lack of corporate advertising.Rich-poor divide creates economic conditions that prevent protest.Dysfunctional government promotes dismay and apathy.Racism and propaganda is used daily to keep the public confused and disunited.Public education under attack to enable further control of the public!Why no protest has got to be a joke on all of us!One more suggestion,read the "SHOCK DOCTRINE" by Naomi Klein.

May. 13 2011 11:35 AM

Another reason: Look at who the Hope and Change candidate put in charge of the financial area of his administration. The Wall Street fluffers and protectors. The candidate who quietly, behind the scenes whipped very, very hard for Bush's TARP.

The one who says next to nothing about the probably $12-13 Trillion which went out the Fed back door to the Big Banksters to keep them afloat and to try reinflate theri bubble. Seems to have worked.

Why, according to Taibbe and others, they borrow at hear zero and make a bundle by lending it back to government for a bit more, but on a huge scale that makes Big Money.

So, the people stuggling with mortgages under water, etc., look to the same Hope and Change president and get...bupkus.

The little people got HAMPED, which for many just trying to apply for cost them their houses, or got a big, big nothing.

Soon, they finally begin to realize that Warren Buffett was correct when he said, "There is class warfare, and the rich have won. My class has won." They may never have heard about Buffett saying that, as he walked it back a bit, but they know it from their own life experiences.

May. 13 2011 10:53 AM
robert from nyc

Could the problem be shaped by the TRICKLEDOWN narrative that we have been sold? Where is the emprical evidence that allowing wealthy indivduals to have massive tax advantages benefits the majority of individuals? We appear to have bought into this myth which is a akin to buying a lotterey ticket (All you need is a Trickle and a scheme)

May. 13 2011 10:52 AM
gary from queens


The reason Goldman will not tout it's success is because doing so would invite government regulation and descriminatory taxation.

Exhibit A: The oil companies, duhhh.

This is not a defense of Goldman. There SHOULD be regulations against what they did. Yet "Dodd - Franks" doesn't provide regulations that addresses what caused the recession.

Need I say duhhh once more? They and their Dem colleagues were mostly responsible for the recession.

May. 13 2011 10:49 AM
Adam from Brooklyn

I do believe that the crux of it is that as Americans we've been conditioned to believe that this is the American way, that greed, if you can get away with it, is ok. And these guys, i.e. wall street et all, got away with it! What it will take to start seriously protesting is a drastic change in our perception of what is right and wrong.

May. 13 2011 10:45 AM

I have the time -- I do not have the money to travel into NYC to protest. Simple as that.

I have written to my elected officials, to this president and to the previous president. I get form letters which don't even accurately reference any issue raised.

The people in power in Washington DO NOT LISTEN TO THE non-wealthy PEOPLE.

Both parties now depend on the Uberwealthy and Big Corporations for the massive amounts of money required to win elections on a national, even state and sometimes House district basis. The DC politicians do not work for us; they work for the wealthy and powerful.

He who pays the piper calls the tune, and the Big Corporations called the tunes our current president danced to in undertaking what he rightfully and honestly called "health INSURANCE reformj." He called it health CARE reform when trying to fool the voters, the rubes out there not on the insdie.

This president who took single payer, even as a bargaining chip, OFF THE TABLE while over 60% of the people wanted "something like Medicare for All."

Right down the list of almost any domestic issues, that happens. (Note: If gays had not been big donors, they would not have what they have achieved recently in gaining rights for themselves. And more power to them; I am so happy for their successes.. BUT, damn the politicians who listen only to those who can donate large amounts.)

And the MCM (Mainstream Corporate Media)??? Wow, a small group of Tea Party protesters gets huge coverage. And those hundreds of thousands who protested the planned Iraq War? Some local media, a few mentions in the national MCM, but nothing like the loving coverage by the MCM of a "party" which supports the Big Money Powers That Be.

I can't tell the number of people I know who feel they simply have no political party which represents their needs and interests.

May. 13 2011 10:38 AM
Rick from Manhattan

NY state and city have a corporate income tax system that is absolutely unique in the country. It is designed to give investment companies, banks or otherwise, the ability to control and perhaps eliminate their tax by allocating income not by where the taxpayer is but where the taxpayer's investments are. This is clearly designed to keep the investment industry here but it is actually detrimental in one respect - the investment companies pay more tax if they invest in New York companies.

Also, I don't think there is any connection, as someone said, between investment industry compensation and tax revenues in NYC. There is no commuter tax, and many professionals in the investment industry live outside NYC.

May. 13 2011 10:38 AM

The caller who wants to blame those who bought houses they couldn't really afford is forgetting Bush and GOP's "ownership society" meme that was so popular during the early '00's. It was a complete scam and it helped get us where we are today:

May. 13 2011 10:33 AM
Fuva from Harlemworld

Mobilization bias; hard for working people to take time to do what rich folks can do by writing a check.
Distractions: TV, Cable, iPhone, iPad, Twitter, Spacebook, Playstation, Wii, Internet....
Ineffective grassroots promotion and engagement.
Cluelessness: I.e., most of us have no answer for the weak defenses of Wall Street made by the current guest, that guy in the clip, millionaire politicians, etc. because we don't adequately understand underlying issues...

May. 13 2011 10:32 AM
Brian from Brooklyn

Many of the callers are right. People are trying to survive, raise their kids, and keep their jobs.

Politically you've got 4 groups...
progressives protest when they can (move-on, unions, etc)
dem moderates favor wall street somewhat and have other priorities such as their kids etc Some of these do participate, though, in the form of unions.
tea partiers blame the gov't for what happened or the people that were tricked into taking out the mortgages rather than the fraudsters
the rest of the republicans favor wall street and corporations as their base and money contributors.

The unions are the only counterbalance to wall street and corporations. Corporations have lobbyed the gov't to the point that they nearly own it. Our society is breaking down as a result.

May. 13 2011 10:30 AM

what class warfare. the rich take the middle class just bents over and says more.
just listen to the drones, "i'm too busy to protest."
the pro wall st caller has every right to take and take, as long as u keep giving

May. 13 2011 10:30 AM
Henry from Katonah

Phil in Queens is blaming the victim.
The dems were (too cautiously) starting to resolve the situation but the loudest voters (esp the tea party ) voted them out of the House.
I have no sympathy for the people who say they are working too hard to bother - - they don't have time to have an opinion ?

May. 13 2011 10:30 AM
Carlos Rey from NYC

America is sadly now a kleptocracy. Business wants a strong religious right-wing spreading the message 'Blessed are the meek....' keep everyone quiet and off the streets.

May. 13 2011 10:30 AM
Andy from Manhattan

I think the reason that more people are not up in arms is the fact we all desire the ability to make money doing nothing but putting money in funds/stocks/etc. Instead of seeing the value in work and creativity, we want a magic way to make our money grow without sweat or our own innovations. Thus Wall St/corporations/unethical businesses etc. will always have investors- our own greed is complicit.

May. 13 2011 10:29 AM
Robert from NYC

I'm up in arms about it and nothing has happened! I'm ineffective. lol. No, really, I'm pissed off real bad.
These financial people have to be made scared. We must torment them into submission. I don't promote violence but I do promote tormenting them by picketing them constantly and never stop. Follow them everywhere and picket them with signs and loud voices.

May. 13 2011 10:26 AM
Chris from Brooklyn

The people work 8-10 hours a day to keep their heads above water and then come home exhausted, but still having to fight off the weight of bills. Also, most of us are pretty certain that our representatives couldn't care less what we have to say.

May. 13 2011 10:26 AM
Ed Neff from Oak Ridge, NJ

Why are we not protesting? Are you kidding? BECAUSE THE FIX IS IN. We know it won't do any good.

I went to jail for protesting against the war in 1971. Back then, we believed we could change things. It's different now.

May. 13 2011 10:25 AM

how did investment banks going public affect these events?

May. 13 2011 10:24 AM
ml from inwood

If people were out protesting, how would we know? I've been to protests that got little to no coverage in the press. I only heard lots of coverage on the Wisconsin protests on progressive radio.

May. 13 2011 10:24 AM
Bob from Queens

As Ralph Nader says: We have the best government money can buy.

May. 13 2011 10:24 AM
Cory from Planet Earth

The public is passive because Fox News and its Republican Party subsidiary have done an excellent job of convincing the public that government is bad, incompetent and useless, so there is no remedy for Wall Street wrongdoing. In addition, the public is so beaten down by hard times that individuals have given up looking for jobs or caring about anything beyond getting by.

May. 13 2011 10:23 AM

People are passive about Wall Street wrongs because they don't understand it. They believe it is complicated. It isn't really that complicated.

When I worked on Wall Street Jimmy Carter got the public outraged over what he called the "two martinini lunch" that business took as a tax write off.

If the public only knew the real extent of write offs, subsidies and white collar welfare, there would have been a revolution!

Wall Street maintains an aura of mystery and complication, hiding the outright, bald-faced legalized theft -- exploiting loopholes made legal by the politicians they have put in office.

May. 13 2011 10:23 AM
Nadia from East Village

I dsiagree. A company can make a bet one way and provide opportunities for their clinets to bet with or agasinst them. There is NOTHING wrong with this. A stamp store buys and sells too.

This is a silly argument against Goldman.

The more important argument is why GM and Goldman and AIG got bailed out and others like the American citizens, Lehman & Bear Stearns and many smnall banks didnt.

May. 13 2011 10:21 AM


May. 13 2011 10:19 AM
Fuva from Harlemworld

Emily and Nancy are on point too.

May. 13 2011 10:18 AM
JUlian Hatton

If the media compared the current economic health of countries who had adequate financial sector supervision, such as Israel and France, the rage might just grow, as the astonishing vitality of these countries is undernoted...

May. 13 2011 10:17 AM
Fuva from Harlemworld

Marc hits it on the head.

May. 13 2011 10:16 AM
Hugh Sansom

As a growing number realize, the US is now an oligarchy. Those recognizing this include Nobel laureates Krugman, Stiglitz, Akerlof. Many other economists agree -- Simon Johnson, Daron Acemoglu. Political scientists also -- Larry Bartels, Robert Dahl. And not one of the aforementioned are anywhere nearly as progressive or left as Chomsky or Zinn or Klein or Goodman.

Americans know this. Why divert attention and effort to an activity that will have NO consequence. Congress and President Zero will go through the motions of raising some questions, then they will let it drop. Goldman and Wall Street's 500 or so top execs have more power than the poorest 100 MILLION voters combined.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of the media abet this with malicious, slavish silence.

May. 13 2011 10:16 AM

Seeking site of demonstration mentioned on your show yesterday hit the Rolling Stone site and was hit my malicious anti-virus attack. Took hours to resolve. So, did not go to demonstration. We rarely know where these demonstrations are until after the event.

May. 13 2011 10:16 AM
Robert from NYC

My question is the same as yours Brian, why haven't we seen bigger and angrier protests! Americans ARE passive as you just mentioned because they have been trained that way. We are constantly being told that government is bad and corporations are good. Well there's a little bit of truth in both but I'd say that government can be tamed more than corporations can because "we the people" (sorry about that) can more or less "adjust" government which we can't do with corporations. Corporations are controlled by BoT and corporate officers for whom we don't vote. We have more control over government, and rightfully so. We don't have any control, ever as shareholders, over corporations.

May. 13 2011 10:14 AM
Nick from UWS

Why have people been so passive about this?

Because, short of murdering these people, people just don't feel there is anything they can do about this. The American Average Guy now feels so numb, so impotent, so thoroughly screwed in every direction by corporate America, the legal system, Wall Street, and the US Government that many people have just given themselves up to fate. A sad state for anyone, to allow themselves to be devoured by a pack of wolves.

May. 13 2011 10:14 AM
emily eder

Why are we so passive? Why are we not taking our anger to the streets? Because we're all too busy trying to make a living. Tired and discouraged at 25.

May. 13 2011 10:13 AM
mitch from tuckahoe ny

the reason wall street isn't getting torched is people don't appreciate how many trillions of support it got from the Fed. The Fed ate buckets of garbage securities and gives free money for daily business, but we talk about the TARP. If more people knew there would be blood.

May. 13 2011 10:12 AM

Why not broader protests? The citizenry is drunk on cable tv, iphone apps, listening to ipods, following celebrity tweets. They are all in debt and are happy to tune out anything of substance and like to remain pleasantly ignorant. WNYC listeners not included.

May. 13 2011 10:11 AM
whoindatgarden from Brooklyn

You need a critical mass of people to bring about real change. In America we are not going to have that critical mass for a while as lot of people even the poorest of poor has still got a lot to loose.
The cases being laid out are not even a rounding of error.
Everyday on Wall street crime is being committed, just that nobody ever gets caught and when they do it is because they made a mistake.
The financial services firms have no moral compass and have found ways to pay their way out of trouble always.

May. 13 2011 10:10 AM

Let's not leave out Matt Taibbi's amazing new piece in Rolling Stone:

"If the Justice Department fails to give the American people a chance to judge this case — if Goldman skates without so much as a trial — it will confirm once and for all the embarrassing truth: that the law in America is subjective, and crime is defined not by what you did, but by who you are."

May. 13 2011 10:10 AM

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