Alumnus Shares Insight into How Titanic Corporations Sank the U.S. Economy

TheAquisitorsBookCover-1A book about the Great Meltdown written before the Great Meltdown, “The Acquisitors: Too Titanic to Let Sink” (BookSurge Publishing, Jan. 2010) offers a jarring account of the negligence and greed that pushed the country into a financial crisis.

Drawing from his experiences as a counsel to the House Antitrust Subcommittee, Winslow (B.A. History ‘56/JD Law ’60) based the book upon the findings of the committee’s investigation of unbridled corporate takeovers. And, in the wake of the Meltdown of 2008-09, he decided to revise the book and give it a new title to show exactly how and when corporations become so big that the meltdown became unavoidable.

“[I wanted] to show that it and our committee findings clearly forecast the Great Meltdown: if its warnings against inordinate corporate amalgamation are ignored again, the Meltdown is certain to recur,” says Winslow, a former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission attorney who has served on Congressional and regulatory legal staffs and has written on economic regulation for The Nation and The Washington Monthly.

We spoke with Winslow about “The Acquisitors” and his conviction that “we threw away antitrust protection that would have prevented the Great Meltdown.”

You inveigh against giant corporate takeovers in your book. What’s wrong with them?

If we had restrained giant corporations’ takeovers of other corporations we’d have no companies too big to fail. Hence, no Great Meltdown.

After you left the University of Texas, how did you end up in Washington, writing about the evils—as you say—of corporate takeovers?

No entertainment was better than my history courses in Garrison Hall. Lectures on

John Winslow

John Winslow

late 19th-century robber barons especially intrigued me. When I graduated from the University of Texas Law School, Chairman Emanuel Celler, of the House Judiciary Committee, was about to subpoena documents to see whether Congress should expand the Celler-Kefauver Act—forbidding mergers of competing companies—so that it would outlaw mergers of any two major corporations even if not competitors. The soaring merger rate alarmed the committee.

So you joined the Judiciary Committee staff?

Eagerly, as a legal counsel. But the giants weren’t eager to open up their takeover files to us. They weren’t always glad to see the co-counsel and me. But when we’d find a document that raised eyebrows, we’d know what other documents to search for. Then we’d have more threads to pull to unravel the flimflam.

Flimflam?

International Telephone & Telegraph Co. (ITT), for one, claimed that it strengthened the hundreds of companies it acquired by infusing them with ITT management ability. But its documents showed plots to shift its debts incurred from prior takeovers to its future takeovers – thus to gain money from them for more takeovers. You hardly strengthen a company by loading it with needless debt. The book seeks to explain those parasitical gimmicks. After you scrape off the camouflage, the gimmicks appear easy and simple. They have to be simple to work.

We don’t hear much about ITT now. Is your book still relevant?

Do you ask if your medical history is relevant? We do hear about JP Morgan Chase and Citigroup, each bailed out with $45 billion, only because they made themselves too titanic to let sink through takeovers—by employing other camouflaged gimmicks our investigation uncovered. Now we read that both banks, thanks to anticompetitive mergers, sold their customers grossly over-valued securities so that the banks could sell them short and cheat those customers out of hundreds of millions.

Your book’s back cover cites a comment from Peter F. Ward, assistant director of the Federal Trade Commission: “With all the corporate and regulatory horrors dredged up in this book, and no effort by Congress to remedy them, perhaps Mr. Winslow will consider a sequel.” Are you writing a sequel?

“The Acquisitors” is the sequel. The original book published by Indiana University Press, “Conglomerates Unlimited: Failure of Regulation” predates the Great Meltdown, and “The Acquisitors” revises that book to show that other companies, such as Bank of America, grew too big to fail (i.e., exempt from bankruptcy) by employing the parasitical gimmicks our investigation uncovered years before. Bank of America took over a thousand banks then ruined them by forcing them to underwrite subprime mortgages. AIG ballooned into a trillion-dollar megalith requiring a $175 billion bailout.

Why didn’t your investigation prevent the Great Meltdown?

The Judiciary Committee was ready to act upon our revelations and prepare legislation to halt mergers between giant corporations even though they weren’t competitors (thus not threatening to monopolize any industry). But at that moment the Justice Department announced it would create that very prohibition with judicial precedent – by suing to prevent ITT from taking over Hartford Fire Insurance Co. It would be the largest merger then of all time. ITT plotted to create such a mass of employees from acquired companies (Sheraton Hotels among them). It would use them as its own customers, insulating itself from the rigors of a free market.

Did the Justice Department win the case and establish that precedent?

It never even tried. Though sure of victory in the Supreme Court, it settled the case. It announced it couldn’t penalize ITT by prohibiting the Hartford merger because that would send its stock down and ITT was so big American investors would suffer massive losses. The government said in effect, “ITT is so titanic any penalty against the acquisitor is a penalty against America.” Thus was born the syndrome of too-titanic-to-let sink or penalize, that plagues us now.

What legislation did Congress enact based on your investigation?

None. The Justice Department had pulled the rug out from under the Judiciary Committee by promising that, thanks to its suit against ITT to create legal precedent, new legislation to curb corporate bigness wouldn’t be needed.

Have you published any other book on corporate or government misdeeds?

I have published “The Accurst Tower,” a novel based on my work with regulatory agencies, hoping to show that government regulation of industry is no substitute for natural regulation by free competition among companies not too big to fail.

Do you side with the Marchers Against Wall Street?

They’re not marching far enough. They rail against corporations too big, but never think to ask how they got that way. They’re demanding only monetary penalties against megabanks and reduction of giant bank accounts. But we know too well the government will protect those banks because they’re too big. So what’s the point of monetary penalties? The answer is to break them back into their premerger parts. Then competition would control them. That’s the message of “The Acquisitors.” I first heard it in Garrison Hall.

American Studies Alumnus Tunes In to Early 70s Radio

276868_276530712369652_702603388_nDo you ever wonder why radio stations play the same tired songs over and over again? Or why we’re forced to listen to talk shows while we’re stuck in rush-hour traffic? In “Early ‘70s Radio: The American Format Revolution” (Continuum, July 2011), University of Texas at Austin alumnus Kim Simpson (Ph.D. American Studies, ‘05) shares insight into how commercial music radio evolved into what it is today.

Providing a comprehensive analysis of a transformative era in pop music, Simpson describes how radio stations began to develop “formats” in order to cater to their target audiences. As industry professionals worked overtime to understand audiences and to generate formats, they also laid the groundwork for market segmentation. Audiences, meanwhile, approached these formats as safe havens where they could reimagine and redefine key issues of identity.

In his book, Simpson describes the era’s five prominent formats and analyzes each of these in relation to their targeted demographics, including Top 40, “soft rock,” album-oriented rock, soul and country. The book closes by making a case for the significance of early ’70s formatting in light of commercial radio today.

Simpson recently sat down with ShelfLife@Texas to talk about this time of transformation in commercial radio, his fascination with Billboard’s top music charts – and what’s next.

What motivated you to write Early ‘70s Radio?

First of all, I’ve been a pop music junkie as long as I can remember and keep updated Billboard chart reference books at my bedside. My wife can verify this. When my idea hatched sometime in the late 90s to explore this subject, I’d been keeping “factoid” notes on various hit songs – even the ones I hated. Once I’d gathered up notes about every Top 40 song in 1972, I realized there was much more going on during the much-maligned pop music era of the early 70s than mere silliness.

I had also made the discovery around the time that the radio pages of Billboard during the early ‘70s crackled with commentary and general unrest in a way you didn’t see in other eras. Researching Record World and Cash Box, the other two big music biz trades of the day, bore me out. I’d discovered that the early ‘70s represented a very distinct “moment” in both radio history and American culture that certainly deserved its own book.

How did you conduct the research for Early ‘70s Radio?

Because Billboard had such an impact on how I was now hearing the music of the era, I felt it was a good time for someone to incorporate the trades a bit more aggressively into pop music historiography. Their absence probably has to do with factors like their glaring business orientation, mistrust in the chart ranking process, and their unfashionable “top down” aura in a field more geared toward social history. Another definite factor is that they’re a real pain to find. I had to go to the Library of Congress to leaf through an uninterrupted early ‘70s run of Record World, and luckily the Dallas Public Library was one of few places that held Cash Box.

The ephemerality of so much music business source material can really be maddening, so I’m hoping that this book can demonstrate its usefulness, to some extent.

What’s next?

Something that requires more record listening, which is where the energy is for me. An encyclopedia-type companion guide to the hit songs of the early ‘70s would be the logical next step. This would allow me to take full advantage of all of my notes and geek out in a way I couldn’t really with “Early ‘70s Radio.” I could shine the spotlight on songs I love but didn’t talk about, like Liz Damon and the Orient Express’s “1900 Yesterday” and Sailcat’s “Motorcycle Mama.” Think anyone would buy it?

(From left)  KUT's Rebecca McInroy, Jay Trachtenberg, and Kim Simpson at the Early '70s Radio "Views and Brews" event at the Cactus Cafe on October 24.

(From left) KUT's Rebecca McInroy, Jay Trachtenberg, and Kim Simpson at the Early '70s Radio "Views and Brews" event at the Cactus Cafe on October 24.

About the author: Kim Simpson is a radio show host for KUT’s Sunday Folkways. A critically acclaimed singer-songwriter and guitarist, Simpson taught university courses in pop music and published articles in American Music and Pop Matters. In 2007, he served as a consultant for the Peabody Award-winning rockabilly radio documentary “Whole Lotta Shakin’”. His 2009 CD Mystery Lights: Solo Guitar has appeared in national TV shows and commercials, and his song “Looking for That Girl” (credited to The Mad Dukes) charted in a number of radio trade papers in 2006. Simpson also works in the administration department in The University of Texas at Austin’s School of Law. For more about his work, read his blog Boneyard Media.

University of Texas at Austin Faculty Authors Discuss their Books on C-SPAN2 Book TV

This weekend, be sure to tune in to C-SPAN2 Book TV to watch two University of Texas at Austin professors discuss their books.

American Studies Professor Julia Mickenberg will discuss her book “Tales for Little Rebels” on Sunday, Nov. 13 at 12:45 p.m., and on Monday, Nov. 14 at 12:45 p.m.

Little_Rebel_webSynopsis: Rather than teaching children to obey authority, to conform, or to seek redemption through prayer, 20th century leftists encouraged children to question the authority of those in power. “Tales for Little Rebels” collects 43 mostly out-of-print stories, poems, comic strips, primers, and other texts for children that embody this radical tradition. These pieces reflect the concerns of  20th century leftist movements, like peace, civil rights, gender equality, environmental responsibility, and the dignity of labor. They also address the means of achieving these ideals, including taking collective action, developing critical thinking skills, and harnessing the liberating power of the imagination.

Sanford Levinson, professor of law, will discuss his book “Constitutional Faith” on Sunday, Nov. 18 at noon and 7:15 p.m., and on Monday, Nov. 19 at 12 p.m.

Constitutional_Faith_cover

Synopsis: In this intriguing book, Levinson examines the history and the substance of our ‘civil religion’ of the Constitution. Echoes of this tradition are still heard in debates over whether the constitutional holy writ includes custom, secondary texts and history or is restricted to scriptural fundamentalism. Of equal age and intensity is the battle over the proper role of the priests. Is the Constitution what the Justices say it is or does it have a life of its own?

Interviews scheduled for broadcast the following weekend include:

· Steven Weinberg, professor in the departments of physics and astronomy, will discuss “Lake Views” on Sunday, Nov. 20 at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., and on Nov. 21 at 12 p.m.

· Lewis Gould, professor emeritus of history, will discuss “My Dearest Nellie” and “Theodore Roosevelt” on Sunday, Nov. 20 at 10:30 a.m., and on Nov. 21 at 12:30 p.m.

· Robert Auerbach, professor of public affairs, will discuss “Deception and Abuse at the Fed” on Nov. 20 at 10:40 a.m., and on Nov. 21 at 12:40 p.m.

A C-SPAN film crew interviewed the faculty members in the university’s Main Building on Oct. 24 following a weekend of covering the annual Texas Book Festival in Austin. Broadcast dates and times for the other faculty members interviewed for the C-SPAN2 Book TV program will be announced later.

The other faculty members are:

Martha Menchaca, professor  in the Department of anthropology, discussing “Naturalizing Mexican Immigrants”
James Galbraith, professor in the Department of Government and the LBJ School of Public Affairs, discussing “The Predator State”
Jeremi Suri, professor in the Department of History and the LBJ School of Public Affairs, discussing “Liberty’s Surest Guardian”
Ami Pedahzur, professor in the Departments of Government and Middle Eastern Studies, discussing “The Israeli Secret Services and the Struggle Toward Terrorism”
Neil Foley, professor in the Departments of History and American Studies, discussing “Quest for Equality”


Michener Center Hosts New York Times Book Review Editor

SamheadshotSamT Tanenhaus has the dream job of many bibliophiles:  editing the New York Times Book Review. He not only gets access to all the latest, he’s in a position to influence what may become the greatest books of his time.

Luckily, the job has fallen to man of voracious intellectual curiosity, who has written widely on politics, literature and culture.  His 1997 biography of Whittaker Chambers was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, and a new volume, The Death of Conservatism, is winning great acclaim.  UT Michener Center for Writers’ Director James Magnuson, who has invited Tanenhaus to campus to work with writers in the MFA program, calls him simply, “a person who knows everything about everything.”

That Tanenhaus produces remarkable prose and brilliant criticism of his own is even more impressive in light of the fact that the NYTBR receives as many as 1000 new books each week,  20 to 30 of which will get reviewed.  Deciding just who gets that coveted coverage involves a massive and highly subjective winnowing which he has overseen since 2004, when he took over as editor-in-chief after having been on its staff for several years, a former editor at Vanity Fair, and a long-time freelance journalist and author. Eight to ten pre-reviewers, each working in an area of specialization — literary or experimental fiction, poetry, economics, geopolitics, children’s literature, etc. — cull the hundreds down to perhaps a few dozen which are assigned to on-staff and outside reviewers who write what eventually appears in the Sunday section each week.

The Times has run a book review section since 1896, and while there are dozens of equally prestigious reviews in the United States alone today, it remains the gold standard. A bad review in its pages can be, for an emerging author especially, as useful as a rave:  It at least brings a book into the public eye, not an easy feat in an industry that cranks out millions of titles each year, 1 percent of which are ever reviewed anywhere.  The power of any criticism to make or break an author’s fortunes and to influence what the reading public buys means that Tanenhaus’s tastes and predilections are parsed endlessly for clues to a marketplace that has always been chimerical, but is now shape-shifting as quickly as the technology and socioeconomic forces that fuel it.

Sam Tanenhaus will share his unique perspective on the book world in a lecture, “Does the Novel Still Matter?” at 7:30 pm on Thursday, November 3, 2011 at Avaya Auditorium, ACE 2.302.  He’ll discuss the state of the novel today and the authority of the novelist in what he calls a “post-literary” culture. The lecture is sponsored by the Michener Center for Writers, where Tanenhaus is in residence to work with students in Stephen Harrigans “Long-Form Journalism” seminar, co-taught by Texas Monthly editor Jake Silverstein.  While on campus, he’ll also hold a seminar with Plan II Honors students, “Recognizing Good Writing:  A Critic’s Criteria.”

The auditorium is located on the southeast corner of 24th and Speedway on campus.  Parking is available in the nearby San Jacinto Garage and the event is free to students and the public.