Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 31, 2018

The New York City real estate/housing crisis, part 2

Filed under: housing,real estate — louisproyect @ 8:32 pm

Commercial real estate: a soul-destroying monster

I got my first inkling of how escalating real estate prices were degrading Manhattan culture when the Brecht Forum was forced to close shop as the N.Y. Times reported on April 13, 2014:

For nearly 40 years the Brecht Forum has held classes, lectures, symposiums, musical performances and art exhibitions, all organized around the aim of examining the role of the political left in American society.

But in a twist of irony, the institution, long a center of skepticism against capitalism, is closing, apparently felled by market forces, its board of directors announced Saturday in an email.

“The economic climate, combined with the realities of real estate in New York City, have simply made the provision of space impossible for an organization of our means,” the message said, adding, “It has become clear that in a rapidly gentrifying city, we have been living on borrowed time.”

Traditionally, left groups always had an office in Manhattan but I was surprised to learn from Socialist Alternative member James Hoff about 4 years ago that they simply couldn’t afford one. This meant that it would prevent them from having forums in the way that the SWP used to when I was a member 40 years ago. Like Brecht School forums, it gave people on the left an opportunity to meet each other in flesh and blood, a far cry from the disembodied social media universe.

Around the same time, there was a Turkish-owned grocery store on 91st Street and First Avenue, just two blocks east of my high-rise. Not only did it stock Turkish food, you felt transported by the Turkish pop music that was always playing in the store. You could have been in Istanbul for all practical purposes. In addition to this really wonderful store, there was another Turkish-owned store that only sold turşu (pronounced turshu), or pickled vegetables and various cheeses and meze (appetizers) such as humus and eggplant. Both are gone, victims of soaring real estate prices. So did a high-end Turkish take-out specialty store on 3rd Avenue and 80th street bite the dust. The owner, a wild man named Orhan Yegen, couldn’t afford the $20,000 per month rent for a store that had less square footage than my apartment, had to shut down last year. I am told that the rent went way up after he left.

Years ago, pharmacies were owned by the men and women who staffed them and who often functioned like medical advisers. They are all gone for the most part, replaced by CVS and Walgreens that are taking over the city as voraciously as lampreys have taken over the Great Lakes. They have everything you need but they make you feel as alienated as the clerks who work in them. Besides these chains, you have banks on every block with Chase, HSBC, Santander and Citibank multiplying like the tribbles in Star Trek.

Plus the Banana Republics, Gaps, Starbucks, Pret a Mangers, Dunkin Donuts, Au Bon Pains, and every other franchise that has some private capital group behind it. As rents increase, the chance of an outlier to get off the ground gets more and more difficult.

If it is bad enough to have to deal with a monotonous diet of fast food chains and pretentious wannabe “continental” offerings like Au Bon Pain or Le Pain Quotidien, the number of art cinema houses continues to decrease, the most notable example lately being the loss of Lincoln Plaza Cinema that couldn’t afford the new lease at 61st and Broadway where it has been since 1965. Or jazz clubs. In the 1960s, they were all over lower Manhattan from the Five Spot near Cooper Union to Slugs on East 3rd Street. They have all disappeared, partly because jazz lacks the kind of charismatic figures it once had but much more because they have been priced out of the real estate market. Or book stores. Barnes and Noble have become as ubiquitous as CVS’s but they are in danger of being made obsolete by Amazon.com. Back in the 60s you could go to a place like the St. Marks Bookstore and feel connected in a way you’ll never feel in Barnes and Noble even if the clerks were surly.

Chances are when a cool little Turkish grocery store or a restaurant offering authentic Moroccan food disappears, nothing will fill the gap on a timely basis. Another phenomenon relating to exorbitant rental costs are the willingness of landlords to let something remain empty until they can find a tenant who is willing to come up with the money.

On April 16th, author Susan Shapiro wrote about all this in the Daily News. Basically, the landlords can benefit from a scam that you might expect in a city they dominate. Her accountant told her: “These big real estate companies hold out for higher rents to increase the worth of their properties because value is based on future income stream. They can afford to forego current rental income, waiting for higher-paying tenants because they claim big business losses. Landlords get a tax loss from negative rental income when no rent comes in, which cushions their lack of cash flow.”

When a Barnes and Noble closed down at 396 Avenue of the Americas, she was pained by the loss of a place she used to do readings at. Following up on the insights provided by her accountant, she did some research that revealed the following:

An online search showed that building, 396 Avenue of the Americas, is owned by Friedland Properties, valued at $3 billion dollars. They are leasing the space monthly for $139,533 which, if accurate, means the next tenant would have to pay $1,674,396 a year. No wonder it’s still empty.

“A Retail Space for Lease” sign says the managing agent is Cushman & Wakefield, one of America’s largest commercial real-estate conglomerates, with annual revenues of $6 billion. On their website they claim to be “a leading global real estate services firm that helps clients transform the way people work, shop and live.” These real estate companies should be ashamed of the negative transformation their greed has caused.

Last July, Jeremiah Moss’s “Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost Its Soul” was published. Moss has been observing and photographing the transformation of New York for a number of years now on his blog Vanishing New York, aptly subtitled The book of lamentations: A bitterly nostalgic look at a city in the process of going extinct.

He mourns the passing of porn shops, mom-and-pop restaurants, bookstores, and even an legendary hotel like the St. Denis in which both Alexander Graham Bell and W.E.B DuBois had rooms at one point or another. Politically, Moss understands the forces that are reshaping the city into a sterile playground for financial analysts, web developers, lawyers, and anybody else who can pay the exorbitant residential rental fees that go hand in hand with the commercial real estate inflationary tsunami. The following is from his blog post prompted by the 1985 documentary Empire City that can be rented on Vimeo for $5.99. A trailer appears above.

In the 1980s, under Koch, City Hall’s goal became to re-create New York, making it friendly to big business, tourists, real estate developers, and upscale professionals. In the process, City Hall turned away from its citizens. CUNY professor and urbanist David Harvey has called this the shift from managerialism to entrepreneurialism, meaning that the city government changed its main priority from providing services and benefits for its own people to competing with other cities for outside human resources and capital. In the new competitive city, attracting tourists, newcomers, and corporations was (and still is) more important than taking care of New Yorkers.

Koch discusses this shift in Empire City, saying that New York is now for “banks, insurance companies, white-collar jobs,” and not manufacturing. During his tenure he gifted developers and corporations with the expansion of three kinds of tax abatement: J-51, giving subsidies to landlords to renovate apartments and increase gentrification; 421a, reducing taxes on luxury buildings to induce their construction in “underused” areas; and individual incentives that gave hundreds of millions to corporations like AT&T to bribe them into doing business in New York. It was an expensive smorgasbord. According to urban anthropologist Roger Sanjek, “Between 1984 and 1989, J-51 and 421a tax losses together cost the city $1.4 billion.”

(In 2016, the Times reported that, over the course of his career, Trump “reaped at least $885 million in tax breaks, grants, and other subsidies for luxury apartments, hotels, and office buildings in New York.”)

For the rest of the city, it was austerity — disinvestment, cut-backs, and layoffs.

Part one: How the poor get screwed.


May 29, 2018

The Fate Of Millions – Unequal Trade, Debt, Poverty, Starvation and Death

Filed under: Brian A. Mitchell,imperialism/globalization,poverty — louisproyect @ 8:36 pm

Käthe Kollwitz, “Poverty” (1897)

(A guest post by Brian A. Mitchell)

The power and importance of original quotes cannot be stressed enough. It is most revealing and undeniable, especially to the incredulous, to let Presidents, Prime Ministers and military leaders speak for themselves. If enough people in power say much the same thing, you can be sure that there is a policy in there somewhare. Through tutoring, speaking, articles, debates and general argument, I have always found that original quoted statements have the most powerful impact; far more than any dialogue from me or any journalist or academic could ever have; and were an integral part of my political education. Some of these quotes are chosen not necessarily because of who said them but how true and educating they are. Although some of the quotes may be dated, the ideology of capitalism remains more inhuman, predatory, warlike, not only murderous but more genocidal every day. Many of these quotes are not widely known, some not at all. So spread them as widely as possible so that many more people can know what really goes on in this troubled world in our name.

Ever wondered how is it that after more than some 200 years of modern capitalism, the vast majority of humanity in this overwhelmingly rich and abundant world is still in massive poverty and debt of some hundreds of billions of dollars to the rich world? This “debt” is absolutely unpayable. It is such that the rich world owns the national wealth of these countries in perpetuum. Otherwise how is it that they are still so poor after so long? They are only so poor because we are so rich. There is no other way of looking at it. Especially for us British, who have plundered the world’s raw materials and cheap labour for centuries. And under imperialism, the rich capitalist world of the US, Britain, and the rest of the wealthy world still take everything from them every day.

“Don’t forget, there are two hundred million of us in a world of three billion. They want what we’ve got, and we’re not going to give it to them!”

(US President Johnson.)

“Before people can do anything they have got to eat. And if you are looking for a way to get people to lean on you and to be dependent on you, in terms of their cooperation with you, it seems to me that food dependence would be terrific.”

(US Senator Hubert Humphrey.)

“There are two ways to conquer and enslave a nation. One is by the sword and the other is by debt.”

(US President John Adams, in the 1800s.)

“There are two ways of conquering a foreign nation. One is to gain control of its people by force of arms; the other is to gain control of its economy by financial means.”

(US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, in the 1950s.)

“We get a five to one return on investment in Africa, through our trade, investment, finance and aid. … We’re not aiding Africa by sending them aid. Africa’s aiding us.”

(US Representative to the United Nations Andrew Young, February 1995.)

“American capitalism, based as it is on exploitation of the poor, with its fundamental motivation in personal greed, simply cannot survive without force, without a secret police force. Now, more than ever, each of us is forced to make a conscious choice whether to support the system of minority comfort and privilege with all its security apparatus and repression, or whether to struggle for real equality of opportunity and fair distribution of benefits for all of society, in the domestic as well as the international order. … A considerable proportion of the developed world’s prosperity rests on paying the lowest possible prices for the poor countries’ primary products and on exporting high-cost capital and finished goods to those countries. Continuation of this kind of prosperity requires continuation of the relative gap between developed and underdeveloped countries – it means keeping poor people poor. Increasingly, the impoverished masses are understanding that the prosperity of the developed countries and of the privileged minorities in their own countries is founded on their poverty.”

(Former CIA officer Philip Agee, in his book CIA Diary.)

“The per capita income gap between the developed and the developing countries is increasing, in large part the result of higher birth rates in the poorer countries… how should we tackle these problems?… It is quite clear that one of the major challenges of the 1970s … will be to curb the world’s fertility.”

(US President George Bush.)

“Depopulation should be the highest priority of foreign policy towards the Third World.”

(US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.)

“Our responsibility as Christians makes us tremble. The northern hemisphere, the developed area of the world, the 20% who possess 80% of the world’s resources, are of Christian origin. What impression can our African and Asian brethren and the masses in Latin America have of Christianity, if the tree is to be judged by its fruits? For we Christians are largely responsible for the unjust world in which we live.”

(Brazilian Archbishop Helder Camara.)

“The ever more sophisticated weapons piling up in the arsenals of the wealthiest and the mightiest can kill the illiterate, the ill, the poor and the hungry, but they cannot kill ignorance, illness, poverty or hunger…”

(Cuban leader 1959-2008 Fidel Castro.)

“I believe that if we had and would keep our dirty, bloody, dollar-crooked fingers out of the business of these nations so full of depressed, exploited people, they will arrive at a solution of their own. That they design and want. That they fight and work for. And if unfortunately their revolution must be of the violent type because the ‘haves’ refuse to share with the ‘have-nots’ by any peaceful method, at least what they get will be their own, and not the American style, which they don’t want…”

(General David Shoup, Commander of the US Marine Corps, 1966.)

“These capitalists generally act harmoniously and in concert, to fleece the people.”

(A Marxist? No; US President Abraham Lincoln.)

“Our so-called foreign aid program, which is not really foreign aid because it isn’t to foreigners but aid to us, is an indispensable factor in carrying out our foreign policy.”

(US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, in a rare moment of honesty, October 25 1956.)

“The forces in a capitalist society, if left unchecked, tend to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.”

(First Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru.)

“In its 46 years of existence the UN has been used more often than not as a tool for Western – shall we say US – foreign policy goals. UN ineffectiveness over the years cannot be blamed entirely on Cold War divisions. An overwhelming majority of the US Security Council resolutions were vetoed by the US and Britain. Most had little or nothing to do with the Cold War, but were supporting anti colonial struggles in the Third World.”

(India Quarterly, Delhi, October 1992. [Note: The use of the word “western” or the “west,” almost always means the capitalist and imperialist world.])

“Food aid is a fertiliser which grows a rich crop called hunger. It is a contradiction in terms.”

(African leader Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia.)

“This is a huge, colossal battle against imperialism, because what we are proposing is that the enormous, unpayable debt of the Third World be repudiated… it isn’t $700 billion; it’s more like $900 billion, and, in 20 years we’ll have to pay $3 trillion, that is, $3 million million. They want to take $3 trillion from this hungry, starving to death world in 20 years, gentlemen! It’s impossible, of course; the first thing we should realise is that it is quite impossible. This is the battle for all of the Third World countries, for more than 100 countries. It is enormously important. This is the battle for this hemisphere’s independence… This is the battle for the lives and future of 4 billion poor and hungry people. … That’s why we say that payment of that debt is an economic impossibility, a political impossibility. You practically have to kill the people to force them to make the sacrifices required to pay that debt.”

(Fidel Castro, to Latin American Federation of Journalists, July 6 1985.)

“We hold that man cannot exercise his right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness without the ownership of the land and the tools with which to work. Deprived of these, his life, his liberty and his fate fall into the hands of the class that owns those essentials for work and production. This ownership is today held by the minority in society, the capitalist class, exercising through this ownership and control an economic despotism without parallel in history.”

(US Socialist Labour Party.)

“The top 400 people own more wealth now than the bottom 185 million Americans taken together. That is a medieval structure.”

(US political economist Gar Alperovitz.)

“Three-fourths (one may say nine-tenths) of the people of the world are poor… but the miserably poor want to turn the world upside down … They regard the United States as basically in favour of the status quo. All rich people are supposed to be that way. More significant, perhaps, is the fact that Moscow [Soviet Union] is regarded by most of the poor people around the world as the friend of the poor and of the rebel… In a nation motivated by revolutionary fervour, including countries which have recently become independent and those undergoing rapid social change, there is great enthusiasm for planning for the future. Five, seven, and even ten-year plans are popular. People are told to sacrifice present living for future benefits to the nation and to their children. Emphasis on consumer goods for the present generation seems disloyal, unpatriotic, and even immoral… Russians, who are pictured as sacrificing themselves today for the benefit of their children of tomorrow, are somehow regarded as more admirable than profligate Americans.”

(US Information Agency Director George Allen.)

“A modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”

(Canadian economist John Galbraith.)

“The question to be asked is not what we should give to the poor but when will we stop taking from the poor.”

(Jim Wallace, Sojourners, USA.)

“Indeed, there is freedom in the capitalist countries, but for whom? Of course not for the working people, who are forced to hire themselves out to the capitalists on any conditions just to avoid finding themselves in the ranks of the huge army of people who are “free from work”. …”Freedom” in capitalist countries exists only for those who possess money and who consequently hold power.”

(Soviet President Nikita Kruschev.)

“In proportion as the exploitation of one individual by another is put an end to, the exploitation of one nation by another will also be put an end to. In proportion as the antagonism between classes within the nation vanishes, the hostility of one nation to another will come to an end.”

(Karl Marx and Frederick Engels”The Communist Manifesto.”)

“…the 200 richest people have more assets than the 2 billion poorest.”

(US economist and internationalist David Korten,)

“A criminal is a person with predatory instincts who has not sufficient capital to form a corporation.”

(Howard Scott.)

“The foreign policy that monopolistic capital imposes is a ruinous one for the people of the United States. The United States had some thirty billion dollars in gold in its reserves at the end of the Second World War; in twenty years it had used up more than half of these reserves. What has it been used for? With what benefit to the people of the United States? Does the United States perhaps have more friends now than before?

In the United States many people proclaim that they are defending liberty in other countries. But what kind of liberty is it that they are defending, that nobody is grateful to them, that nobody appreciates this alleged defence of their liberties? What has happened in Korea, in Formosa [Taiwan], in Vietnam? What country has prospered and has achieved peace and political stability under that protection from the United States? What solutions has it found for the great problems of the world? The United States has spent fabulous resources pursuing that policy; it will be able to spend less and less, because its gold reserves are being exhausted.

Perhaps the influence of the United States is greater now than it was twenty years ago when the war ended? Nobody could say so. It is a certainty that for twenty years, under the pretext of the struggle against Communism, the United States has been carrying out a repressive and reactionary policy in the international field, without having solved the problems of a single underdeveloped country in the world… The United States wants to “liberate” Cuba from Communism, but in reality Cuba doesn’t want to be “liberated” from Communism.”

(Fidel Castro, quoted by US journalist Lee Lockwood, May 1965.)

“The world can support its population and more. You have to think of who owns the means of production of life’s means of subsistence. When you understand that you will know the one true reason for poverty and starvation in this very rich and abundant world; where some 40,000 children below the age of one will die tonight from lack of the simple basic things like food, clean water, education, doctors and medicines to make them well when they become ill – things that we in the rich neo-colonial or imperialist world not only take for granted, but take from them every day of our rich lives without even thinking about it. It is as if we rip open the stomach of an already starving child and consume the contents. All because we in the imperialist world have historically grabbed most of the production of humanity’s very means of subsistence of life itself. Isn’t that how we got so rich and they are still so poor?”

(Respondent to British TV discussion program The Wright Stuff.)

“Those who know the normal life of the poor… will realise well enough that, without economic security, liberty is not worth having.”

(British economist and politician Harold Laski.)

“The IMF consistently demands that its pupils make drastic reductions in civil spending, but arms budgets remain untouched. When asked about this anomaly, Fund personnel recoil and explain in pained tones that such measures would be ‘interfering in the internal affairs of sovereign nations’ (which is exactly what the Fund does every working day).”

(Susan George, in her excellent book on the world debt crisis, “A Fate Worse Than Debt.”)

“Either we free ourselves of the foreign debt burden, acquired without benefit to us or solution to our problems, or we doom three-quarters of humankind to a future without hope… millions of human beings who, along with a right to be born, have an obligation to pay… This means the debt is devouring humankind, devouring peoples and nation states that no matter what they do… find the debt grows and is, therefore, absolutely unpayable.”

(Carlos Serrate, Bolivian delegate, Latin American and Caribbean foreign debt conference, Havana, Cuba, 1985)

“The huge effort of the past two years resulted in an export surplus of a billion dollars a month. Yet this money served only to pay the interest on the debt. It’s impossible to go on this way; we have already taken everything the people had to eat, even though two thirds of them are already going hungry. When we borrowed, interest rates were 4 per cent; they’re 8 per cent now and at one point they even went as high as 21 per cent. Even worse, these loans were contracted by the military, mostly for military ends – $40 billion were swallowed by six nuclear plants, none of which is working today. The people are now expected to pay off these debts in low salaries and hunger. But we have already reimbursed the debt, considering the interest paid. We must stop giving the blood and the misery of our people to pay the First World.”

(Archbishop of Sao Paulo Brazil, Cardinal Paulo Arns, 1985.)

“When we are shown scenes of starving children in Africa, with a call for us to do something to help them, the underlying ideological message is something like: “Don’t think, don’t politicise, forget about the true causes of their poverty, just act, contribute money, so that you will not have to think!””

(Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek.)

“Capitalism has neither the capacity, nor the morality, nor the ethics to solve the problems of poverty.”

(Cuban leader 1959-2008 Fidel Castro.)

“Capital eschews no profit… just as Nature was formally said to abhor a vacuum… A certain ten percent will ensure its employment anywhere; 20% will produce eagerness; 50%, positive audacity; 100% will make it ready to trample on all human laws; 300% and there is not a crime it will scruple, nor a risk it will not run, even the chance of its owner being hanged.”

(British economist T.J.Dunning, quoted by Karl Marx.)

“We in the West must bear in mind that the poor countries are poor primarily because we have exploited them through political or economic colonialism.”

(Martin Luther King.)

“Why should the labour of the many become the capital of the few?”

(English economist and historian Michael Briant.)

“The meek may inherit the earth, but not its mineral rights.”

(US billionaire industrialist John Paul Getty.)

“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”

(Brazilian Archbishop Helder Camara.)

“Does it sound outrageous to you that military spending for fiscal year 2000 will be almost $290 billion and all other domestic discretionary spending, such as education, job training, housing, Amtrak, medical research, environment, Head Start and many other worthwhile programs will total $246 billion, the biggest disparity in modern times?”

(US Senator Dale Bumpers.)

“What sort of world will we hand over to our children? What sort of life lies ahead for those five billion mouths that we will have to feed in our underdeveloped world, those five billion bodies that have to be clothed, shod and sheltered, those five billion minds that will strive for knowledge, those five billion human beings that will struggle for a decent life, worthy of the human condition. What will their quality of life be like?

The Executive Director of UNICEF has said that in 1981 the life of a child would be worth less than $100. If such a sum were judiciously spent on every one of the five hundred million poorest children of the world, it would cover basic health assistance, elementary education, care during pregnancy and dietary improvement, and would ensure hygienic conditions and a water supply. In practice it has turned out too high a price for the world community. That is why, in 1981, every two seconds a child paid that price with its life.

…In the face of nuclear war threatening us, the drama of underdevelopment and exploitation that oppresses us, and the economic and social crisis that plagues us, there is no place for resignation of accommodation. The only solutiomn in keeping with man’s stature is to struggle.

And this is the message I bring in my capacity as Chairman of the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries. To struggle tirelessly for peace, improved international relations, a halt to the arms race and a drastic reduction in military spending and that a considerable part of those funds be dedicated to developing the Third World.”

(Fidel Castro, Speech at the 7th Non Aligned Summit.)

“How far, O rich, do you extend your senseless avarice? Do you intend to be the sole inhabitants of the earth? Why do you drive out the fellow sharers of nature, and claim it all for yourselves. The earth was made for all, rich and poor, in common. Why do you rich claim it as your exclusive right?”

(St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan.)

“Weary men, what reap ye? Golden corn for the stranger. What sow ye? Human corpses that await for the avenger. Fainting forms, all hunger-stricken, what see you in the offing? Stately ships to bear our food away amid the stranger’s scoffing. There’s a proud array of soldiers what do they round your door? They guard our master’s granaries from the thin hands of the poor.”

(English poet Jane Francesca Wilde.)

“Capital has one sole driving force, the drive to valorise itself [maximise profits for its owner], to create surplus-value [profits], to make its constant part, the means of production, absorb the greatest possible amount of surplus-labour. Capital is dead labour which, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks.”

(Karl Marx, Capital Vol 1.)

“What is a bank robbery compared to the setting up of a bank?”

(Gernam playwright, author and activist Berthold Brecht.)

“the United States is slipping into a category of countries – among them Brazil, Britain, and Guatemala – where the gap [between rich and poor] is the worst around the globe.”

(United Nations Human Development Report, 1966.)

“We need a Nuremberg to put on trial the economic order that they have imposed on us, that every three years kills more men, women and children by hunger and preventable or curable diseases than the death toll in six years of the second world war.”

(Cuban leader 1959-2008 Fidel Castro.)

“I am a servant of the hungry, the exploited and the oppressed. Before giving them – if I can do this – the treasures of my spirit, I am obliged to give them bread, justice and freedom. Precisely by participating in the privileges of the intelligentsia, I acquire the means and, consequently, the obligations to actively support society, illuminating its political and social road, stigmatizing those who deceive it and indicating it, as far as possible, the true road and cautioning it against perils.”

(French writer Romain Rolland.)

“Famine and hunger are not inevitable, but are caused by identifiable forces within the province of rational human control. I have tried to identify some of the forces. You are part of humanity; you can be part of that control.”

(Susan George in her excellent book “How the Other Half Die.”)

“How noble the law, in its majestic equality, that both rich and poor are equally prohibited from peeing in the streets, sleeping under bridges, and stealing bread!”

(French philosopher, author, poet and journalist Anatole France.)

“The social system in which a man, willing to work, is compelled to starve, is a blasphemy, an anarchy, and no system.”

(Irish writer Thomas Devin Reilly.)

“The law doth punish man or woman That steals the goose from off the common, But lets the greater felon loose, That steals the common from the goose.”

(Anonymous 1764, during the English land enclosures, where land in common was privatised.)

“Our trade with the Western world is insignificant; 85% of our trade is with the other socialist countries. This crisis affects only 15% of our trade; we’re the ones least affected. This is why we can be the standard-bearers of this cause and speak with complete freedom. …we can feel secure because, fortunately, we depend very little on the Western world, and we don’t depend at all on economic relations with the United States. I wonder how many other countries in the world can say the same.”

(Cuban leader 1959-2008 Fidel Castro.)

“Was the earth made to preserve a few covetous, proud men to live at ease, and for them to bag and barn up the treasures of the Earth from others, that these may beg or starve in a fruitful land; or was it made to preserve all her children?”

(Gerrard Winstanley, The New Law of Righteousness, 1649, some 200 years before Marx.)

“We have a single system, and in that system the only question is the price at which the proletariat is to be bought and sold, the bread and circuses… From top to bottom the whole system is a fraud, all of us know it… all of us are consenting parties to it.”

(US historian and journalist Henry Brooks Adams.)

“The dirty truth is that the rich are the great cause of poverty.”

(US political economist, social scientist and author Michael Parenti.)

“If Latin America were to abstain from borrowing any further money and would pay these ten percent of export earnings for twenty years – at stable world market prices – toward foreign interest charges of 6 percent, these interest payments would amount to almost 430 billion dollars by the year 2005 while total debt would increase to about 445 billion dollars.”

(Philippine Currents, Aug 1987.)

“Countries such as the U.S. and Britain have taken it upon themselves to decide for us in the developing world, even to interfere in our domestic affairs and to bring about what they call regime change.”

(Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe.)

“Esteemed Chairman; Distinguished Representatives of the World Community. I have not come here to talk about Cuba. I have not come to denounce in this Assembly the attacks to which our small but worthy country has been subjected for twenty years. Nor have I come to use unnecessary adjectives to wound a powerful neighbour in his own house…
The first fundamental objective in our struggle consists in reducing and finally eliminating the unequal exchange that prevails today and that makes international trade a vehicle for the further plundering of our wealth. Today, the product of one hour’s work in the developed countries is exchanged for the product of ten hour’s work in the underdeveloped countries… …a historic and moral obligation of those who benefited from the plunder of our wealth and the exploitation of our men and women for decades and for centuries…

Mr Chairman and distinguished representatives, frequent mention is made of human rights, but mention should be made of the rights of mankind. Why should some people go barefoot so that others may ride in expensive cars? Why should some live only 35 years so that others may live to 70? Why should some be miserably poor so that others may be exaggeratedly rich?

I speak on behalf of the World’s children who do not even have a piece of bread (Applause); I speak on behalf of the sick who have no medicine; I speak on behalf of those who have been denied the right to life and human dignity… (Applause)

You cannot speak of peace on behalf of the tens of millions of human beings all over the world who are starving to death or dying of curable diseases. You cannot speak of peace on behalf of nine hundred million illiterates…

Enough of words! We need deeds. (Applause.) Enough of abstraction! We need concrete action. Enough of speaking a speculative new international economic order which nobody understands! (Laughter and applause). We must speak about a real, objective order which everybody understands.”

(Fidel Castro, speech to United Nations, Oct 12 1979.)

“Wherever possible we should try to shape our aid programme to fit more appropriately the pattern of our trade and investment interests in different countries.”

(British Foreign Office, January 26 1968. By the 1990s, for every £1 of this “aid” to poor countries, more than £4.60 came back in profits from those same poor countries. How else could it be that we are so enormously rich and these peoples remain so devastatingly poor?)

“Of what use is political liberty to those who have no bread? It is of value only to ambitious theorists and politicians.”

(French revolutionary leader Jean Paul Marat, 1790.)

“And so, what did the Director of UNICEF say? That if the countries of Latin America had the health levels of Cuba, the lives of 800,000 children would be saved every year. Eight hundred thousand! And if the Director of UNICEF, an agency of United Nations, says that, I ask: Who is it that kills those 800,000 children under one year of age every year? Who is it that kills countless other millions of children between one and fifteen years? Who is it that reduces life expectancy to 40, 45, 50 years in so many places, throughout the centuries? This has happened and goes on happening, to the shame of all of us. The answer is exploitation, colonialism yesterday, imperialism now. And what about those lives, don’t they count? And as to the millions who are growing up mentally retarded or physically disabled, who is causing all of that, who is the guilty party, who is responsible for it?”

(Fidel Castro, at the Meeting on the Foreign Debt of Latin America and the Caribbean, Havana, Aug 3 1985.)

“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. You can be that great generation.”

(Nelson Mandela.)

“All I wanna say is that they don’t really care about us.”

(Michael Jackson, singing about the poor in Brazil.)

May 28, 2018

Memorial Day 2018

Filed under: WWII — louisproyect @ 7:39 pm

I usually don’t pay much attention to Memorial Day but when I came across a film in progress on the Turner Classic Movie channel titled “Battleground”, I took notice because it was about the Battle of the Bulge that my father served in. As part of its holiday programming, TCM was featuring war movies. That included John Wayne in “They Were Expendable” earlier in the day, a 1945 film about PT boats defending the Philippines from an invasion. Needless to say, the movie did not take into account that the country had been occupied by the USA since 1898.

Wayne appeared in 8 other WWII movies over the years, all of them prefiguring the super-hero films that featured Sylvester Stallone and Chuck Norris, ones in which they would charge headlong into machine gun fire and always ending up victorious. Despite the image, Wayne did not serve during WWII. With his four kids, he was eligible for a deferment. His frequent director John Ford, a WWI veteran, had big problems with that as PBS reported:

Throughout the war, Ford urged the young actor “to get in it,” and each time Wayne would beg off until he finished “just one more picture.” Ford was disappointed to say the least, and he let Wayne know it. Wayne was growing richer as other men died. As the war continued, Ford’s strong disappointment fueled a growing conflict between the men and fostered a sense of guilt within Wayne. Wayne’s decision to stay out of the service would haunt him for the rest of his life.

By contrast, the men in “Battleground” want nothing more than to go home in one piece and continuously plea with officers to be spared from the almost certain death that awaited them in Nazi Germany’s last offensive. Whether it is high fever or frost bite, they soldier on. (The film can be rented on Youtube or Amazon for $2.99)

While the film is not cliché-free, it is certainly a lot more realistic than any WWII movie I have ever seen. There is very little hand-to-hand combat of the sort you find in “Saving Private Ryan”. Rather men hunker down in foxholes firing away at Wehrmacht soldiers about a 100 feet away, whose presence is marked only by the flashes from their muzzles.

This no doubt is a function of having a screenplay written by Robert Pirosh who served in World War II as a Master Sergeant with the 320th Regiment, 35th Infantry Division. During the Battle of the Bulge, he led a patrol into Bastogne to support the surrounded American forces there. Like Pirosh, my father supported the 101st Airborne Division that was under siege in Bastogne.

Going through my father’s WWII memorabilia for the first time in 11 years when I wrote “Ruminations on WWII” triggered by the Ken Burns PBS documentary, I reread the commendation that went along with the Bronze Star he received:

It stated:

For Heroic Achievement

Bronze Star Medal

is awarded to

Staff Sergeant Jacob Proyect, 32 048 069

S/Sgt Jacob Proyect, 32 048 069, Hq Co 3d Tank Bn, U.S. Army. For heroic achievement against an enemy of the United States in Belgium on December 19th, 1944.

During the siege of Bastogne, Belgium S/Sgt Proyect, a mess sergeant, traveled several miles of infested enemy territory over a route being fired on by heavy artillery, mortar and automatic-weapons to deliver water to a unit that was surrounded. After distributing the water he volunteered to evacuate a wounded officer over the same route to Monte, Belgium. Both missions were successfully completed. The outstanding courage and personal concern for the comfort of his comrades in arms reflects great credit upon himself and the military forces of the United States.

My father was in the 10th Armored Division that was part of the Third Army led by General George Patton. Just 38 days after my father got his medal, I was born in Kansas City. I am not sure when he came back to the USA but he probably had difficulty bonding with me as was often the case when servicemen are not present at the birth of a child. My only connection with him is through the box of memorabilia that he painstakingly put together when he was in the army—perhaps a way of marking his trail in the same way that I blog.

One of the things I came across today that was new to me was a letter he wrote to my mother on November 5th from France, just 11 days before the Germans would launch their offensive. I am struck by both the beauty of his script—a dying art—as well as the tenderness he showed to my mother. After I reached the age of 10 or so, it became obvious to me that he didn’t like me very much and as such became a sticking point with my mother to whom nothing like the sentiments expressed in the letter would ever be offered again. (The missing snippet in the letter was no doubt the censors removing something that might have breached security. The image beneath it is some French mud my dad sent on the back of the letter.)

I am not into putting wreaths on a gravestone but this post is my way of memorializing a courageous and distant figure on Memorial Day.

Dearest wife,

I just got another V-mail tonite. It’s latest so far, written on the 17th. Only eighteen days late. Glad everything is fine with you. Hope you stay that way and that nothing ever happens to hurt you in any way. Honey, I keep worrying about you all the time. I know what a hard time you’re going thru and I feel a little guilty about not being there to help you to the end [ie., my birth]. Next time will be peace time and I’ll be there with you from start to finish.

I’ve seen Paris—its quite a town. And the people are quite a … [couldn’t quite this make out because of the censor a bit of a let-down in my dad’s script.]

Guess they were sick and tired of the Boschies [Nazis]. But not all Frenchmen are friendly. I’ve come across batches of them that I’d hate to trust as a friend of the Allies—They look hate and distrust at us.

Have you received that fifty I sent from France? Are you receiving all the allotments you’re supposed to? How is the money holding out? We got enough saved yet to send the baby through college?

I’m okay—never better—not a thing to worry about—bye.

I love you, Jack

May 27, 2018

Why Gaddafi contributed 50 million euros to Sarkozy’s 2007 election campaign

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 10:30 pm

Nicolas Sarkozy and Moammar Gaddafi

For supporters of the late Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi, the news that he had made illegal donations to Nicolas Sarkozy in the 2007 elections to the tune of fifty million euros has yet to lead any to examine how Africa’s leading anti-imperialist figure could have partnered with a man who was commonly regarded as stealing Marine Le Pen’s thunder by running a campaign filled with racist and xenophobic themes. He told prospective voters in 2007 that “We have too many foreigners on our territory” and that “[new arrivals] are not welcome if they’re only coming to receive welfare benefits”.

Surely Gaddafi was aware that when Sarkozy was the Minister of the Interior he visited Benin in 2006, where students protested him as a racist. But Gaddafi didn’t particularly care what radical African students thought. He was far more interested in connecting with a powerful French politician who was seen as a friend of Washington and Tel Aviv during a 4-day trip to the USA in September, 2006. Sarkozy met with President Bush, and Senators McCain and Obama. Also meeting with members of the Israel lobby, he denounced Hezbollah as a “terrorist” organization. Sizing him up correctly, the Times wrote: “Mr. Sarkozy is calculating that his courtship of America, and his affinity with some policies of the United States, may win him votes on the French right.” Wasn’t Gaddafi reading the NY Times? Probably not but maybe some of his anti-imperialist cohorts could have tugged his lapels.

In a speech following his nomination in November, 2007, he continued with his nationalist rhetoric. As the Times put it, “He evoked the classic images of French history, including the Crusades, the Enlightenment, the cathedrals and Joan of Arc, but said little that would appeal to France’s millions of Muslims.” In a dig obviously targeting Muslims, he said that it was unacceptable to “want to live in France without respecting and loving France” and learning the French language. One of his main campaign issues was the need to tighten immigration laws. He bragged that when he was Minister of the Interior,  tens of thousands of illegal immigrants were expelled. He also reminded voters of his 2005 pledge to rid France’s ethnic Arab and Muslim suburbs of “scum” after the banlieues erupted.

In other words, he was France’s Donald Trump.

On March 28, 2018 an article appeared in the ardently pro-Gaddafi Black Agenda Report titled “Another Reason Why Imperialism Wanted Libya Overthrown”. It was an attempt by Abayomi Azikiwe, a Workers World member in Detroit, to make sense of the revelations about Gaddafi’s campaign contributions. Only a year earlier, another Black Agenda Report article had Sarkozy pegged in an article about the French elections that Macron would win:

Even though Sarkozy belongs to the so-called establishment right, his thinking on Africa (see, for instance, his infamous Dakar, Sénégal, address at the Cheikh Anta Diop University, 2007) is more gratuitously racist and dehumanizing than anything Le Pen or, indeed, Jean-Marie Le Pen, her father, founder of front national, both members of the “non-establishment right”, have said or written on this very subject.

Yes, that 2007 speech was a humdinger:

The coloniser came, he took, he helped himself, he exploited. He pillaged resources and wealth that did not belong to him. He stripped the colonised of his personality, of his liberty, of his land, of the fruit of his labour.

The coloniser took, but I want to say with respect, that he also gave. He built bridges, roads, hospitals, dispensaries and schools. He turned virgin soil fertile. He gave of his effort, his work, his know-how. I want to say it here, not all the colonialists were thieves or exploiters.

Ah, the white man’s burden.

This fucking Sarkozy had the nerve to make this speech in Senegal, a country that was colonized by France in 1659 and that was drained of its wealth for the better part of 300 years and for what? That France could build a railroad to transport the plantation crops to a ship that would carry them back to France?

None of this mattered to Gaddafi. His sole interest in seeing Sarkozy elected was to get his hands on weapons, planes and other manufactured goods that were being blockaded. This included 21 Airbus planes and a memorandum of co-operation that Libya would negotiate exclusively with France for all future military purchases.

In fact, despite his reputation as being the fearless anti-imperialist, there is every indication that Gaddafi was considered someone you could do business with:

NY Times, November 21, 2008
The Libyan-American Thaw Gathers Pace
By Graham Bowley

Relations are improving between the United States and Libya.

President Bush telephoned the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, on Monday, after Libya had paid about $1.5 billion to the State Department to clear up terrorism-related claims from bombings and hijackings during the 1980s.

And Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice this week met with Colonel Qaddafi’s son, Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, who was also in New York for private meetings.

Ms. Rice visited Colonel Qaddafi in Libya in September, the first time in more than half a century that a sitting American secretary of state had gone to Libya. It was a visit that marked, from the American perspective, the rehabilitation of a man whom Ronald Reagan once famously called the “mad dog of the Middle East.”

But it doesn’t end there. Late Thursday, the Senate confirmed a new United States Ambassador to Libya, Gene Cretz, who will be the first American ambassador to the country in 36 years, according to The Associated Press.

The nomination of Ambassador Cretz had been held up over questions about the compensation payment, but those questions were answered when Libya paid the money, which will be divided up among hundreds of victims of Libya’s actions. Libya has also renounced its stockpiles of chemical weapons and its secret nuclear weapons program.

“We’re very pleased,” Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman, told The Associated Press on Friday, referring to the confirmation of the new ambassador. “We’re anxious to get him out there.”

As one of The New York Times’s Moscow correspondents, Andrew Kramer, reported, Colonel Qaddafi’s visits were seen as a sign that despite the conciliatory steps he has taken toward Washington, the onetime pariah was still maneuvering to pit Russia and the United States against one another in offering commercial and political favors.

After he courted the Kremlin, it remains to be seen what form his diplomacy will take if or when he turns up in Turtle Bay. But Colonel Qaddafi is not known for underplaying his advances: After all, the Libyan leader once professed his “love” for Ms. Rice, whom he called “my darling black African woman.’’

Speaking to the network Al Jazeera last year, he continued: “Yes, Leezza, Leezza, Leezza — I love her very much.’’

As the article should make clear, Gaddafi was not forced to do business with a scumbag racist like Sarkozy. He could have bought planes and weapons from Russia if his overarching purpose was to advance the interests of the anti-imperialist bloc.

Returning to the Black Agenda Article by the Workers World member, he only offers up the boilerplate analysis of such groups: “This crisis extends beyond the legal issues facing Sarkozy. Moreover, it is a problem of modern-day imperialism which is seeking new avenues of conquest for purposes of exploitation and profit-making.” Yes, we understand that but where’s the explanation of why Gaddafi helped to get France’s Donald Trump elected?

This has been a problem with the Gaddafist left from the beginning. It has failed to see that he was a typical North African strong man, having the same narrow class interests as every other dictator in the region, including Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. People like Abayomi Azikiwe are not very deep thinkers. They see the world as divided between the Evil West and the Good East and South. It is devoid of contradictions. My suggestions to such simple-minded people is stop calling themselves Marxists unless they are able to understand that the class struggle is primary, not geopolitical rivalries. Anybody who took the trouble to look closely at Libya and Syria prior to 2011 would have seen that these were not the countries they fantasized about. The epoch of the Tricontinental and Baathist radicalism was long gone. I invite you to read a New Yorker article on Libya published in 2006. It would make it crystal-clear how Sarkozy and the Libyan bourgeoisie saw things eye to eye that year. No wonder Gaddafi paid him off:

[Prime Minister Ghanem] Dr. Shukri, as he is called by those close to him and by those who pretend to be close to him–he has a Ph.D. in international relations from the Fletcher School, at Tufts–has a certain portly grandeur. With a neat mustache and a well-tailored suit, he exuded an effortless cosmopolitanism that seemed more conducive to facilitating Libya’s reentry into the world than to winning over the hard-line elements at home. When I arrived, he was sitting on a gilded sofa in a room furnished with Arabic reimaginings of Louis XVI furniture, before many trays of pastries and glasses of the inevitable mint tea. In the Libyan empire of obliquity, his clarity was refreshing, and his teasing irony seemed to acknowledge the absurdity of Libyan doubletalk.

I mentioned that many of his colleagues saw no need to hasten the pace of reform. This was clearly not his view. “Sometimes you have to be hard on those you love,” he said. “You wake your sleeping child so that he can get to school. Being a little harsh, not seeking too much popularity, is a better way.” He spoke of the need for pro-business measures that would reduce bureaucratic impediments and rampant corruption. “The corruption is tied to shortages, inefficiency, and unemployment,” the Prime Minister said. “Cutting red tape–there is resistance to it. There is some resistance in good faith and some in bad faith.”

Nor was he inclined to defer to the regime’s egalitarian rhetoric. “Those who can excel should get more–having a few rich people can build a whole country,” he said. Qaddafi’s “Green Book” decreed that people should be “partners, not wage workers,” but it is not easy to make everyone a partner, the Prime Minister observed. “People don’t want to find jobs. They want the government to find them jobs. It’s not viable.”

May 25, 2018

Requiem for a mountain lion

Filed under: Counterpunch,Ecology,indigenous — louisproyect @ 12:57 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, May 25, 2018

Last Saturday, an emaciated mountain lion (50 pounds underweight) killed a mountain biker on the foothills of the Cascade Range near North Bend, Washington, a small town not far from Seattle. The city’s name is an anglicization of Chief Si’ahl, a Suquamish leader best known for what was likely an apocryphal speech addressed to the territory’s governor Isaac Stevens that warned about the threats to mother nature and native peoples posed by capitalist development. It was occasioned by the 1855 Treaty of Port Elliot that Stevens forced on them at the point of a gun:

Your dead cease to love you and the homes of their nativity as soon as they pass the portals of the tomb. They wander far off beyond the stars, are soon forgotten, and never return. Our dead never forget the beautiful world that gave them being. They still love its winding rivers, its great mountains and its sequestered vales, and they ever yearn in tenderest affection over the lonely hearted living and often return to visit and comfort them.

Day and night cannot dwell together. The red man has ever fled the approach of the white man, as the changing mists on the mountain side flee before the blazing morning sun.

American history is replete with stories of Indian removal and species extinction. After all, they go hand in hand. Perhaps the first occurrence was in upstate New York in the Catskill Mountains, an area I am intimately familiar with. I grew up in Sullivan County, the home of the Borscht Belt in the southern Catskills. While I loved the countryside growing up, there were hardly any Catskill mountains to speak of. We were blessed by the presence of the Shawangunk Mountains that I could see from our living room window. After graduating high school, I entered Bard College and eventually lived in a dorm that overlooked the Catskill Mountains proper just across the Hudson River.

Continue reading

Diana Johnstone versus CounterPunch

Filed under: Counterpunch,Red-Brown alliance — louisproyect @ 12:10 am

Diana Johnstone

Following her Consortium News attack on Tony McKenna, Diana Johnstone now directs her polemical pea-shooter at CounterPunch (CP) and once again the article was published by Consortium News. Since she has written about a hundred articles for CP over the years, I wondered what might have ticked her off.

I subsequently learned from CP co-editor Joshua Frank that after he and Jeff St. Clair decided to publish an article that took exception to her kind words on behalf of Marine Le Pen’s brand of nativism, she saw them as the enemy. Among other things, the article stated:

Johnstone’s torrent of unsupported claims takes a dark turn when she focuses her attention against immigration. In effect, she calls for the left to reconsider its pro-immigrant stance, because “a left whose principal cause is open borders will become increasingly unpopular.” This is a nationalist argument, suggesting that political opportunism is of more importance than the lives of refugees and immigrants.

What could make Johnstone think that her opposition to immigration will resonate with the left? It reeks of the xenophobia that we are dealing with in the USA and that most people have taken a firm stand against, whatever their differences on other questions.

She says that in the current fund-drive, CP has teamed up with Russia-bashers like Rachel Maddow, Max Boot, et al because their slogan for the fund-drive is “We Have All the Right Enemies”, which supposedly means that they are on the Kremlin’s shit-list. But there is no indication that the “right enemies” is a reference to Russia. Go to https://store.counterpunch.org/ and try to find something to that effect. And, while you are there, make a donation to the best magazine on the left.

In her blinkered vision, Jeff St. Clair wasn’t like Rachel Maddow and Max Boot back in the day. He was just as much of a Putin-booster as Diana Johnstone, even though Jeff wrote one of the most vicious take-downs of Putin you’ll find anywhere. She refers to an attack on CP that was written by a German blogger that tried to demonstrate that published articles were stacked in favor of the rightwing and white supremacists. Jeff St. Clair answered the blogger effectively but perhaps Johnstone was miffed that he did not come out and say that he was in favor of the red-brown alliance she has been advocating for years.

At the time, I was amused to see that Franklin Lamb was included in the German blogger’s group of rightists in light of the fact that for the past year or so he has written some of the most hard-hitting critiques of the Assad dictatorship found anywhere. Lamb’s ability to change his views based on new information should be lauded. It is too bad that writers like Johnstone remain evidence-averse.

According to the German blogger, the bad guys wrote 674 articles while those penned by the good guys only numbered 245, with me accounting for 59 of them. At the time, I scoffed at the blogger’s bogus statistics:

This is really quite pathetic, a classic example of “lies, damned lies, and statistics”. If you really want to characterize CounterPunch, it would be necessary to conduct an analysis of all of the articles that appear there, not just a sampling. How do I and the other “left/progressives” (god, what an awful term) exhaust the inventory of all those on the left who write for CounterPunch? All you need to do is look at a typical weekend edition, like the one that came out today, to get a handle on what it stands for. There are 40 articles and not a single one has even the slightest whiff of rightwing politics. Speaking of which, one has to wonder what criteria Hendricks used to categorize some of the people as rightwingers. She includes Franklin Lamb and Paul Larudee. Unless I am missing something, they have never written anything I would associate with the Republican Party. For that matter, mostly what they do is circulate pro-Baathist propaganda after the fashion of Tony Greenstein.

The reference to Greenstein was prompted by his own attack on CP that along with Jews Sans Frontieres made the case for it being anti-Semitic. Trust me. If I ever saw evidence on CP of the kind of Jew-baiting that goes on at Russia-Insider, where Johnstone’s article was crossposted, I would stop writing for CP. On January 15th, Russia-Insider’s editor wrote that “hostility to Putin’s Russia is largely a Jewish phenomenon.” Despite this David Duke-type rhetoric, Consortium News accepts tax-deductible donations for Russia-Insider as a fiscal sponsor. Go figure.

Make no mistake about it. Johnstone had high hopes for CP being much more like Consortium News, Russia-Insider, The Saker, The Duran, 21st Century Wire, Global Research or any of the fifty other websites that pass along RT.com talking points to the conspiracy-minded pinheads who lap this stuff up.

She was particularly upset that CP ripped alt-right fan Caitlin Johnstone a new asshole (no, the two are not related except ideologically.) After Green Party misleader David Cobb advocated following Caitlin Johnstone’s advice to bloc with people like Mike Cernovich, CP co-editor Joshua Frank blasted Cobb and Caitlin Johnstone:

Back to the disgusting Mike Cernovich, who hates gender equality and believes that white men are oppressed by big bad feminism. He’s tweeted that, “Not being a slut is the only proven way to avoid AIDS. If you love black women, slut shame them.” Fuck him. He doesn’t give a shit about women, class issues, climate change or the ugly side of capitalism.  Cernovich even told Andrew Marantz of the The New Yorker, “I believe in strong borders, including keeping out Islamic terrorists. If people think that’s inherently racist, fine—but I’m an American nationalist, not a white nationalist.”

Diana Johnstone didn’t think that this sort of thing should get in the way of a “single-issue antiwar movement” like the one we had in the 1960s. Of course, back then this meant uniting pacifists, CP’ers and Trotskyists on the need to get out of Vietnam. Nobody in their right mind would have asked someone like Cernovich to speak at an antiwar rally. What Johnstone means by “antiwar” is much different than what we were involved with back then. Instead, she wants everybody to get behind Assad’s war on the Syrian population marching along with her, Caitlin Johnstone and Mike Cernovich.

One of the other CP critiques of Caitlin Johnstone was written by Yoal Litvin, who served in the Israeli military before relocating to the USA. If that is a litmus test, what do we make of long-time CP contributor Uri Avnery who during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War fought on the southern front in the Givati Brigade as a squad commander, and later in the Samson’s Foxes commando unit (and also wrote its anthem)? Maybe Litvin and Avnery, like Lamb, changed their views. Too bad that, unlike them, Johnstone’s thinking is so calcified.

Reading Johnstone, you’d think that Alexander Reid Ross sets the tone for CP. She can’t stand that he wrote an article that denounced the red-brown alliances that she and Caitlin Johnstone advocate. To show how off-base Ross is, she refers to how an article he wrote for the Southern Poverty Law Center making such points was subsequently deleted. She does not mention, however, that it was only deleted after Max Blumenthal threatened legal action. Back in the 60s, the left understood that it should settle its differences through debate and not through the bourgeois courts. Maybe Johnstone forgot about this or maybe she never viewed this as a principle. That’s another difference between us.

It is worth noting that Ross has written 11 articles for CP but only a single one was in the vein that Johnstone objected to. Meanwhile she has written 100 articles all saying just about the same kinds of things, namely that Putin is a great guy, that Marine Le Pen is part of the left and that Assad is leading a war on terror. There was a time before her brain became so calcified that Johnstone could write some interesting stuff, even if it was wrong. I can’t stand Seymour Hersh’s politics but I would never dream of ignoring something he wrote. As for Johnstone, I tuned her out about a decade ago unless it was something as egregiously wrong-headed as this that deserved a reply.

The last couple of paragraphs sound like the sort of thing that Stephen F. Cohen tells ultrarightist John Batchelor every time he makes an appearance on his WABC radio show:

Vladimir Putin is clearly in the Westernizing tradition. Not an ignorant buffoon like Yeltsin, ready to give away the shop to get a pat on the back from Bill. But rather someone who, as an intelligence agent (yes, KGB people learn a lot) lived in the West, spoke fluent German, and wanted Russia to have a dignified place in Europe – which was the dream of Gorbachev.

But this aspiration has been rudely rebuffed by the United States. Russians who yearned to be part of Europe have been disappointed, humiliated, and finally, angered. All their efforts at friendship have been met with increasingly outlandish portrayals of Russia as “the enemy”.

What the hell does this pop psychology have to do with radical politics? It almost makes you think that Johnstone was getting paid by the Kremlin to write such drivel. If so, they better ask for their money back since it has about as much impact as a wet noodle.

May 23, 2018

The New York City real estate/housing crisis, part 1

Filed under: housing,real estate — louisproyect @ 7:30 pm

How poor people get screwed

This week the NY Times published two articles, each in excess of 7,000 words, about the class war being waged on the working poor. While anybody who has lived in NY for a number of years will be familiar with tales of greedy landlords, the revelations are genuinely horrific.

In the one titled “Behind New York’s Housing Crisis: Weakened Laws and Fragmented Regulation”, we learn about the dirty tricks landlords use to drive weak and easily intimidated Black or Latino tenants from rent-controlled (virtually extinct) or rent-regulated buildings in order to transform them into condos or high-rent buildings for the mostly white college graduates working in high tech, finance or other lucrative fields.

Once such a building gets into the hands of an unscrupulous landlord, the first step is to bribe some tenants to move out with an amount that might seem generous to the recipient but pocket change to the typically secretive real estate firm hiding behind a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC). Once the apartments are vacant, the construction crews flout regulations and make the building unlivable through noise that continues through the night, dust, and odors.

Crown Heights, a Brooklyn neighborhood with a mixture of Black and Hasidic residents, has now become a hotbed of gentrification where thuggish building owners see buildings like the one on 632 Sterling in the same way a shark sees a seal (I suppose that this does not do justice to sharks that are only killing to survive instead of accumulating capital.)

Cynthia Wilkie, right, and her daughter, Wendy, temporarily rented an apartment for $2,110 a month — almost triple what they paid for the Sterling Place apartment they had to leave. Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

A 62-year old African-American tenant named Cynthia Wilkie sized up Asher Sussman, the new owner: “All he was seeing was dollar signs.” Housing regulations stipulated that  construction would not “create dust, dirt, or other inconveniences.” Sussman started off by paying off a couple of tenants to move but Wilkie was determined to stay. She had lived there for 22 years and paid about $850 a month for a three-bedroom apartment she shared with her brother, daughter and two grandchildren. She had diabetes and had undergone double-bypass heart surgery. Her 33-year old daughter Wendy was blind and wheelchair-bound as a result of childhood brain cancer, while her brother had lost his right leg to diabetes.

By early 2016, the regulation-defying construction kicked in, as well as the elimination of basic provisions such as heating. The Times stated: “The second and third floors were gutted. A staircase was removed. A hole was cut into the roof. Debris was piled in corners, against walls. Dust was everywhere.”

Deemed unsafe, the city moved the Wilkies and other tenants to a Days Inn motel. After about a year, the authorities told her fragile family to move to a homeless shelter, something that was obviously unacceptable to Cynthia Wilkie. They eventually moved to an apartment in Brownsville, a neighborhood still relatively untouched by the gentrification bulldozer. It had a bathroom too small for Wendy’s wheelchair and cost $2,110 per month, almost three times the old rent.

The follow-up article titled “The Eviction Machine Churning Through New York City” reveals how the housing court that was originally intended to defend people like the Wilkies has turned into the landlord’s weapon. Not only do they have to contend with scumbag landlords, they must fend off the shysters they hire to harass them with eviction notices over various infractions that the Times characterizes as baseless in most cases.

After living for more than a half-century in a rent-regulated apartment on West 109th Street, Neri Carranza was targeted for eviction. Ángel Franco for The New York Times

Like the focus on Cynthia Wilkie in the first article, this one chronicles the horrors that a 94-year Puerto Rican woman named Neri Carranza had to put up with when her building on West 109th St. caught in the gentrification net.

After getting a job in a glass factory in 1956, Carranza found a small two-bedroom apartment to her liking on W. 109. Fifty-four years later when she was 87, she learned that the building had been sold to the Orbach Group that promptly served her with an eviction notice. Why? Because it claimed that she was not living there. This was obvious nonsense but since the Orbach Group had paid $76 million for her building and 21 others nearby, they were wealthy and powerful enough to hire lawyers who could overpower any housing attorney working for peanuts.

The Orbach Group was founded by Meyer Orbach, who is a part owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves basketball team. In addition to the usual tactics of illegal construction and baseless eviction notices, he came up with a novel idea of how to make the mostly Latino residents on W. 109 feel unwelcome. He put gates in front of each building that made traditional social interaction by sitting on the stoop more difficult.

People being served with eviction notices like Ms. Carranza face a double jeopardy. If the Kafkaesque Housing Court that is stacked in favor of the landlord rules in his favor, it may be impossible to find a new apartment because your name goes into a black list. Even if evictions are relatively rare, many tenants grown weary of legal battles just throw in the towel and move.

One of her neighbors demonstrates how these buyouts end up to the tenant’s disadvantage:

Fallou Diop, whose family lived a few doors down from Ms. Carranza on 109th Street, was sued twice by Orbach: in 2009 for falling behind on his $1,144-a-month rent, and in 2011 for allegedly subletting rooms in his apartment. He paid his back rent. The “subletters” were relatives who had lived with him for 19 years. But about two years after winning the second case, Mr. Diop agreed to leave.

“I was sick of fighting with them and sick of the harassment,” said Mr. Diop, a retired baker who said he took a $50,000 buyout, a seeming fortune at the time. He then rented an apartment in the Bronx for $2,700 a month.

In June 2016, Orbach advertised Mr. Diop’s old apartment, urging prospective tenants, in capital letters, to “call today to view this beauty.” The monthly rent would be $4,200.

The deal did not work out so well for Mr. Diop. The buyout money ran out. At 65, he sleeps on his ex-girlfriend’s couch.

Grown weary of court battles like Mr. Diop, Carranza finally took a $100,000 buyout and moved to her niece’s house in rural Pennsylvania. The 94-year old woman, who does not speak English, has no church with services in Spanish to go to. Nor is there a grocery catering to Latinos. Nor friends to visit, nor stoops to sit on even behind a gate. There are not even sidewalks.

The Orbach Group saw W. 109th as the ideal location for Columbia students to rent an apartment. A 2015 NY Times article titled “Longtime Tenants in Manhattan See an Effort to Push Them Out” identified my old employer and Meyer Orbach as co-conspirators in a gentrification move against the working class and the poor.

Calling its new properties Columbia South, the Orbach Group began using a logo on its buildings and website that mimicked Columbia’s and offered tenants a free shuttle bus to the campus, only 9 fucking blocks away. Orbach sees the Columbia tie-in as a win-win situation. Not only are students able to pay higher rents, they are transient and thus enable him to raise the rent for the next student. After graduating, the student might get a high-paying job that will make living in an Upper East Side condo possible. In fact, there are buildings all around me that probably house many Columbia graduates now working as lawyers, doctors or investment bankers.

Ms. Carranza, who was energetic in her younger years, even earning a black belt in karate, made a visit to her old neighborhood as the NY Times describes poignantly:

Last fall, Ms. Carranza returned to close her bank account. She stood in front of her building, surrounded by friends, telling them that there were no Latinos in all of Pennsylvania.

“There’s no one to talk to,” she said. “You can talk to the trees.”

Her name was still on the buzzer at 247 West 109th Street. After a tenant invited her inside, Ms. Carranza ran her hand along the hallway as she walked, pointing out her apartment — No. 2 — and her mailbox.

After years of failed requests for the most basic repairs, her apartment had been completely remodeled — illegally, as no building permit was ever filed, buildings department records show. Two Columbia students paid about $3,500 a month to live there.

Ms. Carranza walked through the home she could no longer recognize, running her hand along the new kitchen counter, touching the new sink, remembering where she used to keep her French dining set, where she used to sleep. A stairway had been added, leading to new basement rooms. She gave one tenant a sideways glance.

“Do you think he’ll leave?” Ms. Carranza asked her niece. She paused, thinking. “What if they’d give me my apartment back?”

She would sit on the stoop again, and she would invite people over for dinner again, and she would fry chicken again. What happiness she would have, she said, if only she again had her home.

In my next post in this series, I will take up the CVS-ization of Manhattan.

May 22, 2018

An extraordinary meeting on Syria

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 7:30 pm

Anand Gopal

Last night I attended a meeting on “From Syria to Palestine: The Fight for Justice” in Brooklyn that was extraordinary on a number of levels. To start with, it was attended by at least 80 people, standing room only. It was also marked by a high degree of unity with groups focused on Syria or Palestine endorsing the event alongside those on the left like the ISO and the Green Party’s Howie Hawkins. Finally, there was a talk by Anand Gopal on the people of Saraqib, a town that epitomizes the 7 year resistance to Assad. My impression is that Stanley Heller of the Connecticut-based Promoting Enduring Peace played a major role in pulling this together. For this, we are in his debt.

Since the chairperson, a Palestinian woman who did a great job of keeping things in order and whose name I unfortunately did not record, instructed the audience that recording the talks was strictly forbidden for security reasons, I will try to summarize the proceedings since they should be of great interest to those of us who are in solidarity with the Syrian people.

Before the first speaker, Emerson College professor Yasser Munif, arose to took the mike, I sat next to him and told him that it was a shame that meetings like this were not being held in 2011. Almost as if to be answering me, when he took the mike he pointed out that Syria is going to be a long, epochal struggle and that until the conditions that created the uprising are overcome, it will continue. Although he was as eloquent as usual, he spent no longer than about 5 minutes making his presentation.

He was followed by Ramah Kudaimi, a Syrian-American like Munif, who works for the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights. As such, she was the ideal person to speak about the connections between the slaughter taking place on the border between Gaza and Israel and the destruction of Yarmouk, a home to over 100,000 Palestinian refugees when the war started. She insisted that unless you understood how Netanyahu, al-Sisis and Assad were motivated by the same hatred of the Palestinians, you’ll never understand the dynamics of the struggle in the Middle East.

The final speaker was Anand Gopal, who is as gifted as a speaker as he is a writer. I have known Anand as a cyber-friend since 2012 but this was the first opportunity to meet him in person.

With telling photos and video clips, he described the resistance to Assad in Saraqib, a place he has traveled to a number of times since 2012. In addition to his reporting on Syria, Anand is the author of “No Good Men Among the Living” that consists of profiles of a broad cross-section of the Afghan people, including a former Taliban fighter. The book was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2015 and deservedly so.

In contrast to Robert Fisk and Patrick Cockburn, who have never spent time in a place like Saraqib, Anand was determined to find out what made such people begin protesting in 2011 and to endure horrible onslaughts from the regime ever since. This was not something easily done since unlike Fisk and Cockburn, he could not get a visa to travel to Syria. So instead, he used to go to Turkey and get rides to the border with Syria to gain access to the Idlib region where many of the small and medium sized farming cities and towns rose up. Once he arrived at the border, he’d climb beneath a chain-link fence and follow a trail of white stones that led to Saraqib. Those stones had been painted by activists in Saraqib to make sure that he would not step on a landmine.

Saraqib is a town of about 35,000 people. When news of the protests in Tunisia and Egypt reached this farming community in the boondocks, people began protesting every Friday. Like other ordinary citizens becoming active politically for the first time, their demands were rudimentary: democracy and the removal of Bashar al-Assad.

Before 2011, Saraqib did not have a single newspaper but afterwards at least 5 newspapers took off, as well as a radio station. They were used to exchange ideas in a kind of grass roots democracy that not only threatened Assad but every dictator in the region. That is why someone like General al-Sisi is an ally of both Assad and Netanyahu against the Syrian and Palestinian masses.

When the protests came under attack from Assad’s snipers, local activists had an intense debate over whether to arm themselves or not. Many had bad memories of the murderous assault on Hama in 1982 that left at least 20,000 dead over less than a month. But when the sniper attacks escalated, they were left with no other choice except to form six brigades led by six of the key activists in Saraqib, including people who had argued against armed self-defense.

The regime went after Saraqib with a fury, sending in tanks that destroyed many homes. Anand reports that the Baathist troops went from door to door, killing anybody who had not fled to safety. Many were set on fire, including a man whose charred corpse was shown in one of Anand’s photos.

Despite the ferocity of the attacks, the town managed to run its own affairs. Like other such towns and cities, a local council was formed that took care of what might sound like mundane affairs, such as garbage collection and the distribution of bread that was a staple of the Syrian diet and made in a state-controlled bakery. Once the town was liberated, the workers at the bakery continued running it in close coordination with the local council.

This reminded me of a discussion taking place on FB between me and a number of FB friends who likened the formation of food co-ops, etc. in the USA as a form of incipient dual power. This is an idea that has some currency on the left, especially as part of nominally Marxist theories advanced by Richard Wolff, Peter Marcuse, Eric Olin Wright, et al. In my view, dual power arises in a revolutionary situation when an armed working class, farmers and small proprietors have assumed the social and economic leadership of a city or town after the old order has been sent packing. This occurred during the Paris Commune, the Bolshevik revolution, the Spanish Civil War and even in Syria despite the absence of a socialist leadership. In order for such people to live, they need water, food, medical care, and policing against counter-revolution. You cannot suck the institutions of dual power out of your thumb. They are linked to revolutionary struggles and have nothing to do with blueprints for a socialist future.

Into this liberated but chaotic community, the Islamists finally made their entry in early 2013, four of whose leaders Anand interviewed. Their most senior organizer was a man who had devoted himself to teaching prisoners like himself to reject both democracy and socialism. There was not much in the way of socialism in Saraqib but there was plenty of democracy.

The Islamists very quickly became a counter-force to those in Saraqib who had zero interest in a caliphate. The only way they gained a foothold was through their organizational cohesion that had been developing for decades. Unlike the locals, these were men who were organized as the Muslim Brotherhood or even as al-Qaeda. They had the inside track to arms and money from wealthy private citizens in Qatar, Kuwait and Turkey. As such, they were a powerful seductive force even if the people of Saraqib valued their new-found freedoms.

Eventually, al-Nusra (the affiliate of al-Qaeda in Syria) became the most powerful Islamist group in the region. When someone made the idiotic comment during the Q&A that the USA funded al-Nusra, Anand explained that they consciously rejected foreign assistance since that would make them dependent on sources that could easily change their mind. Like ISIS, they relied on taxation to finance their operations.

In one of the more dramatic video clips shown by Anand, we see two groups in the middle of a street arrayed against each other, one chanting in favor of a non-sectarian state and the other calling for a caliphate. Eventually, al-Nusra tired of those in the town unwilling to bow down before them and surrounded the house of the FSA commander in order to arrest him. When word went out about what was going on, a march on the house to defend the commander began only to be dispersed by al-Nusra’s machine gun fire. This too is revealed in a video clip shown by Anand that gives the lie to the Assad versus al-Qaeda version of what has been taking place over the past seven years.

In his concluding remarks, Anand stressed the tripartite political division in Syria that is denied by Max Blumenthal, Vanessa Beeley, et al. You have 1) Assad; 2) the Islamists and 3) the people. Our job is to find ways to solidarize with the people that includes reviving an antiwar movement based on the need to concentrate on who is responsible for most of the killing: the regime and the foreign entities intervening against the people. Stopping the violence has always allowed civil society to emerge and thus reconstitute itself as the legitimate voice of a people with the same goals they have had for the past 7 years: to live in freedom and dignity, enjoying the country’s wealth on an egalitarian basis.

During the Q&A, someone asked what we can do concretely to help the Syrian people. Someone in the audience replied that this meant opening the door to Syrian refugees, most of whom were like the people of Saraqib. When Donald Trump cut off support for the Syrian rebels, which was being dispensed with an eyedropper under Obama, and then of the White Helmets, he demonstrated his affinity with all of the tyrants in power in the Middle East.

I am not sure what will happen next with the Syrian Solidarity Movement but this meeting was an auspicious first step.



May 21, 2018

Old Bardians

Filed under: bard college — louisproyect @ 4:59 pm

Dalt Wonk

Jeffrey Marlin (on the right)

Richard Allen

When I entered Bard College in 1961, I soon heard the term “old Bard”, which was a reference to the halcyon days before it became just like every other college. If you were blessed enough to have attended the old Bard, you were called an “old Bardian”. As a freshman, I sought out the companionship of old Bardians because they were the enlightened ones.

If you weren’t sold on the old Bardians legend, you might regard them as the mental patients running the institution just the Alan Bates movie “Queen of Hearts”. That good old Bard was what Walter Winchell called the “little red whorehouse on the Hudson”. I can tell you that despite being defiantly opposed to the status quo, there was very little red about it unless you considered Max Lerner to be a Communist (not an uncommon perception in 1961).

Bard was part of a collection of private colleges that incorporated “experimental” educational theories. This included Black Mountain, Goddard, Antioch, Bennington, and Franconia as well. To escape inevitable financial collapse, all of these schools were forced to become more conventional. In an obvious nepotistic maneuver (he married the chairman of the board of trustee’s daughter), Leon Botstein—then only 23—became President of Franconia in 1970 in order to turn the place around. The ultrarightist William Loeb published an article in his Manchester Guardian with the headline: “Bare Debauchery at Franconia College: Sex, Liquor, Drugs Rampant on Campus” that made it sound even cooler than Bard. Apparently Leon was in over his head since the school went broke on his watch. He has been much more successful in turning Bard around even though the school might have been renamed Botstein College in light of his now 43-year tenure.

As you probably already know if you are a regular reader of this blog, I have been feuding with Leon since 1987 when Martin Peretz became a board of trustee member. At the time I was very involved with Sandinista Nicaragua and was shocked to see someone who supported Reagan’s war that included destroying schoolhouses put in such a position.

Somewhere along the line Leon must have decided to keep me out of the loop because about 4 years ago I noticed that I was no longer receiving communications from the school. It was one thing to be spared requests for donations to the endowment fund that was flush from the millions that George Soros had poured into it but I missed getting the print edition of the alumni magazine. I could read it online but it was probably designed by someone who felt the need to torment people with poor vision such as me. It could not be downloaded into a pdf and if you magnified a page, it would only be readable for that page. Every time you turned a page, you had to remagnify it once again. Since the alumni magazine was typically 100 pages or so, that was a pain in the ass.

I finally complained to the alumni office and they told me that they would put my name in the alumni database (how it got dropped was another question.) About a year ago I stopped getting communications once again. Was it my open letter to a Bard professor who had appeared in Leo DeCaprio’s movie on climate change? Maybe he and Leon didn’t like being reminded that board of trustee member Stewart Resnick had a long and sordid anti-environmental rap sheet, from stealing water in Fiji to using his political clout to do just about the same thing in California. To keep his pistachio nut plantation going, poor people in the area had to cross their fingers when it came to being able to flush their toilets.

So I called the alumni office again and left a message about not getting mailings. Since nobody called back, I guess I am still on Leon’s shit-list. A fair trade-off, I suppose

Today, my only connection to the school is to the old Bardians that I have stayed in contact with over the years or reconnected with over the net.

For me, old Bardians are the kind of people that Jack Kerouac described in “On the Road”:

[…]the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!

But they are also literally old like me and still going strong. Like me, they will probably die working on a film or a novel and take their last breath as believers in the need to live a bold and creative life—just the kind of life that Socrates led in ancient Greece. If there was thing our guru Heinrich Blucher (Hannah Arendt’s husband) made clear in his Common Course, it was the need to fight to the death for truth and for beauty.

With that as background let me refer you to some works by old Bardians that have come my way recently.

In March, 2011 an article appeared in the N.Y. Times titled “Life and Art, Side by Side in the French Quarter” that profiled a married couple that go by the name Dalt Wonk and Josephine Sacabo. I knew them as Richard Cohen and Mary Alice Martin and there were no two more beautiful people at Bard both on the surface and in their soul. Dalt became a writer and Josephine a photographer, using their base in the French Quarter of New Orleans as an ongoing inspiration.

Referring to her provenance, a New Orleans reporter noted that “Josephine’s influences are the French Symbolist poets. But being a Latina, she has that sort of magic realist DNA in her blood.” (You can see her work at: http://josephinesacabo.com/).

Recently Dalt sent me a copy of a 2002 collection of short stories based on his plays titled “Spiritual Gifts” that is redolent of Tennessee Williams. Set in the French Quarter, his mostly Black and poor characters are struggling to assert their dignity against crushing poverty, including a once-famous rhythm and blues singer named Grace who now in her old age stays afloat by working as a cleaning lady in a nightclub. An elderly Black man named Emile passes out flyers on the street but insists on wearing a suit and tie, even in the baking heat.

These are the kinds of people who have become victims of Hurricane Katrina as the city’s elite chose to ethnically cleanse exactly the people who made it a gumbo of distinct ethnicities and cultural backgrounds.

While “Spiritual Gifts” is out of print, I can recommend a more recent work from Luna Press that serves as a reminder of the old New Orleans just as the life that Dalt and Josephine live is a reminder of the old Bard. The 2014 French Quarter Fables is based on Dalt’s Aesop-like tales and is described on the publisher’s page as:

Little animals wearing clothes. Hard to resist in their bittersweet comic struggles.

These fables are, in a sense, Dalt Wonk’s love letter to the French Quarter — his home for over 40 years. The animals, flowers, and insects are almost all Quarter denizens: a frog in his courtyard lily pond, a rat in the stone riprap on the levee and a roach in the kitchen of a restaurant. They call to mind people you know. Difficulties you’ve faced.

A sample page:

As the French Quarter is to Dalt Wonk, so is Far Rockaway to Jeffrey Marlin, my friend of 57 years and long-time chess partner. A recent fairly serious illness led him to consider the problem faced by older married couples when the death of one will leave the survivor in what might be a lonely and untenable position.

This led him to write a novel titled “A Wolf Behind Every Tree” that can be purchased from Amazon.com. Written in the voice of a young Jamaican handyman named Felix, it shares the identification with the underdog found in Dalt’s “Spiritual Gifts”.

While the Rockaways are not specifically mentioned in Jeffrey’s novel, it is clear to me that the narrative is as much about life in this peninsula that was ravaged by a hurricane just like New Orleans. In fact, the handyman Felix is based on a Caribbean native who helped make Jeffrey’s house livable in the months following superstorm Sandy.

The plot centers on Felix’s role in cleaning out the garage of a despairing and elderly man who has chosen to kill himself after his wife’s death has made his own life not worth living. Cleaning out the garage is a prerequisite for being able to drive the old man’s car inside where it can become an instrument for suicide via carbon monoxide poisoning, just like “Death of a Salesman”. While Felix might subconsciously be aware of enabling a suicide to take place, he also held out the possibility that the man’s recent visit to see his son and grandchildren in Colorado might have given him reason to go on. As so often happens with Tolstoy’s unhappy families, including his own, suicide is the only rational choice even if an irrational state power in thrall to organized religion robs you of that choice.

The novel is very timely given the likelihood that a Trump presidency and successive reactionary presidencies will only deepen such tendencies. “A Wolf Behind Every Tree” is a welcome contribution to the ongoing debate.

Last month my old friend Richard Allen, who was a couple of years behind me at Bard, dropped me a line to let me know that his “One-Armed Bandit” had received the Sony Classics Short Film Prize at the 2018 Asbury Park and Music Festival.

This is a 12-minue 1971 Max Sennett-style silent comedy (sans subtitles since none are really needed) that features Paul B. Price as a bandit with one arm in a sling who accosts a well-dressed man walking through what looks like the ruins around Avenue D on the Lower East Side that evoke the New York City of the late Tom Wolfe’s “The Bonfire of the Vanities”. The moral of the story is that you need two arms to do a proper stick-up.

This is a New York that Richard was intimately familiar with as a denizen of a long lost bohemia in the 70s that like the rest of the city has become gentrified. Like Josephine Sacabo’s homage to the French Quarter, Richard paid his own homage to this world in a photography book titled “Street Shots / Hooky: New York City Photographs 1970” that can be purchased here. Like “One-Armed Bandit”, it is a comedy of errors as the blurb indicates: “Photographs and story about a New York City bike messenger who begins filming a movie called Hooky using kids on East 3rd St. It turns into a turf war with the Hells Angels who live across the street. Someone is knifed to death and a great fire guts the building. The author escapes, barely.”

“One-Armed Bandit” grew out of a skit that Richard worked on with Ken Shapiro and Chevy Chase, another couple of old Bardians, on Channel One—the off-off-Broadway revue that was turned into “Groove Tube”. You can’t see his face but the cop who pursues the one-armed bandit is Chevy.

Like every other old Bardian, Richard is still going strong as he wrote me: “My new Movie HOME COOKIN – Over 100 Years in the Making – 87 Min. – you’ve seen unfinished pieces -should be back from color correction in Toronto in a week or so and that will be done after 5 years almost.

It seems funny to say, but I feel my best years and most success is still in front of me. I attribute this to a good sense of imagination. Want to read the new script SMALL POTATOES?

I wrote Richard back telling him to send it along.

May 18, 2018

First Reformed

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 2:36 pm

For most film buffs, the movie “Taxi Driver” and the name Martin Scorsese are inextricably linked. But for me, the essence of a film is the screenplay. It all goes back to Aristotle who in defining tragedy in “Poetics” placed plot and character at the top of the six necessary ingredients (the other four are diction, thought, spectacle, and melody). Martin Scorsese did not write the screenplay for “Taxi Driver”. It was written by Paul Schrader, who also wrote “Raging Bull”. If there is anything that defines these masterpieces, it is the brilliant storytelling (plot) and character development of the screenplay (think Travis Bickle and Jake LaMotta). Scorsese deserves credit for helping Robert De Niro fully realize two memorable characters and creating the spellbinding background against which they stand (think of spectacle as cinematography and melody as film score) but without Schrader’s screenplay, it would have been all for naught.

In addition to being a screenwriter, Schrader was also a director—sometimes with mixed results. I am pleased to report that his latest film that opens nationwide today is not only his greatest achievement but one of the great American films of the decade. “First Reformed” tells the story of Toller (Ethan Hawke), the grief-stricken pastor of the eponymous upstate N.Y. Protestant church who delivers sermons to less than ten people on an average Sunday. The drawing card for the church is not spirituality, but its status as a landmark building that draws tourists, including some that can be persuaded to buy a coffee cup, baseball cap or t-shirt from the church’s tiny souvenir shop.

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