The Yes Men and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Some of us are going to the Yes Men’s new movie, The Yes Men Change the World, tomorrow night. The Yes Men themselves will be there, as will our pal Marilyn Frankenstein, radical math professor, who wrote a study guide for the movie. You can watch the official trailer for the movie here.

If you haven’t heard of the Yes Men, they are anti-corporate pranksters who have been described as “Borat meets Michael Moore.” One of their more recent pranks involved a press release claiming to be from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce announcing that the business-friendly group had reversed its position on tough climate-change legislation. In his column in Sunday’s New York Times, Frank Rich compared the prank favorably to the “balloon boy” prank that got so much media attention.

Find the fake Chamber of Commerce press release here; here’s Politico’s report on the hoax:

In a dramatic shift, the Chamber of Commerce announced Monday that it is throwing its support behind climate change legislation making its way through the U.S. Senate.

Only it didn’t.

An email press release announcing the change is a hoax, say Chamber officials.

Several media organizations fell for it.

A CNBC anchor interrupted herself mid-sentence Monday morning to announce that the network had “breaking news,” then cut away to reporter Hampton Pearson, who read from the fake press release.

Pearson quickly followed up with a second report saying the “so-called bulletin” was an “absolute hoax.” Smelling a rat, CNBC’s Larry Kudlow demanded to know whether the White House had been involved.

In a story posted Monday morning, Reuters declared: “The Chamber of Commerce said on Monday it will no longer opposes climate change legislation, but wants the bill to include a carbon tax.”

Reuters updated the story to acknowledge the hoax, but it was too late: The Washington Post and the New York Times had already posted the fake story on their Web sites.

“Reuters has an obligation to its clients to publish news and information that could move financial markets, and this story had the potential to do that,” said a Thomson Reuters spokesperson. “Once we had confirmed the release was a hoax, we immediately issued a correction, and in keeping with Reuters policy, the story was subsequently withdrawn and an advisory sent to readers.”

The Yes Men, a left-leaning activist group that often impersonates officials from organizations they oppose, took responsibility for the hoax.

Andy Bichlbaum–an alias the activist uses for Yes Men demonstrations–told POLITICO that his group is targeting the Chamber for what he considers “retrograde” positions on climate change.

“Clearly, there is a question of who is hoaxing who,” Bichlbaum said. “I think the Chamber is hoaxing the American public at this point.”

Bichlbaum said that activists will continue targeting the organization. Bichlbaum said the Yes Men got help with their prank from members of the AVAAZ Action Factory, an activist group, and, an environmental website.

AVAAZ has not returned calls for comment. But a post on the group’s Web site said it had plans to “make this the worst Monday ever for the anti-climate PR machine at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “

Inequality Helps All

Goldman Sachs’s Griffiths Says Inequality Helps All

By Caroline Binham | October 21, 2009 | Bloomberg

A Goldman Sachs International adviser defended compensation in the finance industry as his company plans a near-record year for pay, saying the spending will help boost the economy.

“We have to tolerate the inequality as a way to achieve greater prosperity and opportunity for all,” Brian Griffiths, who was a special adviser to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, said yesterday at a panel discussion at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. The panel’s discussion topic was, “What is the place of morality in the marketplace?”

Goldman Sachs Group Inc., based in New York, set aside $16.7 billion for compensation and benefits in the first nine months of 2009, up 46 percent from a year earlier and enough to pay each worker $527,192 for the period. The amount set aside this year is just shy of the all-time high $16.9 billion allocated in the first three quarters of 2007. Goldman Sachs spokesman Michael DuVally in New York declined to comment.

Banks in the U.K. and U.S. have been pressured by lawmakers to contain compensation after bailouts of financial firms by national governments. Goldman Sachs repaid $10 billion plus dividends to the U.S. government this year, and resumed allocating billions of dollars for year-end bonuses after slashing compensation last year when the firm reported its first quarterly loss.

Griffiths, 67, called on bankers to boost their charitable giving to help improve the financial industry’s reputation following a worldwide crisis.

‘Much Is Expected’

“To whom much is given much is expected,” he said. “There is a sense that if you make money you are expected to give.”

Griffiths said that banks should hire and promote people based on criteria beyond how much money they could or did make.

“It was the failed moral compass of bankers which was primarily responsible for why we had this crisis,” he said. “The question is: what can we do in the culture of institutions to make them behave in a more socially responsible way?”

Financial Services Authority Chairman Adair Turner, speaking at the same event, repeated his call for a global tax on financial transactions, a so-called Tobin Tax. He said in August a tax could redistribute bank profits to the world’s poor and to causes like fighting climate change.

“The role of regulation is to bring a concordance between private actions and beneficial results,” Turner, 54, said yesterday. Central bankers, lawmakers and regulators bear the greatest blame for the seeds of the financial crisis, not traders or their senior executives, he said.

Tobin Tax

James Tobin proposed a tax in 1971 on currency trading to deter speculation in the wake of the collapse of the Bretton Woods system of pegging currencies. Tobin, who died in 2002, won the 1981 Nobel Prize for his work on financial markets.

Turner told U.K. banks last month that they should place “social usefulness” above profit. Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the leader of the Anglican Church, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, have previously warned against banks returning to “business as usual” amid concerns that momentum for policy changes in the wake of the financial crisis will subside.

Turner and Griffiths spoke at London’s 300-year-old landmark church where Winston Churchill’s funeral was held. The event was organized by the St Paul’s Institute, a group that “seeks to recapture the cathedral’s ancient role as a center of education or public debate.”

Read the original article.