Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 17, 2014

Out of the bowels of the slave and opium trade sprang Bard College

Filed under: bard college — louisproyect @ 5:26 pm

From pages 228-229:

The transition to a more focused scientific racism required not a leap but a casual step. The institutionalization of medicine—the organization of science faculties and medical colleges in the colonies—happened as slave owners, planters, land speculators, and Atlantic merchants began sponsoring scientific research. The families who paid for the establishment of medical schools and science faculties also oversaw those developments. The founding of medical colleges on American campuses brought science, particularly the human sciences, under the political and financial dominion of slave traders, slave owners, and their surrogates. The class influences upon science were apparent during the Whistelo trial. The court invited experts whose educational credentials, professional titles and appointments, and institutional affiliations mapped the half-century rise of academic science in North America. That deference was, in fact, a fair reflection of how fully science had been tamed. As slaveholders and slave traders paid for medical colleges and science faculties, they also imposed subtle and severe controls on science.

As Atlantic slavery underwrote the production of knowledge, it distorted the knowable. “When a governing board sat down to consider the affairs of the colonial college,” the historian Richard Hofstadter observed, “there was usually assembled at the table a group of men who were accustomed to seeing each other frequently at the counting houses, in each other’s homes, and in the vestries of churches.” As noted earlier, John Morgan, a founder of the medical school at Philadelphia, traveled to the West Indies to make connections and raise money. The cofounder of the medical college, William Shippen Jr., had extensive land interests in Pennsylvania, and was tied through marriage to regional dynasties including the Livingstons of New York and New Jersey. On April 3, 1762, Shippen had wed Alice Lee of the prominent Virginia plantation family.”

The New York surgeon John Bard, president of the local medical society, secured his family’s economic position by investing in land and slaves. His son Samuel’s education at King’s College (Columbia) and Edinburgh was a departure from his career path. Surgeons traditionally received their training as apprentices, while physicians studied the arts and sciences at universities. The two professions were also divided by specialty: surgeons performing external and mechanical treatments, such as bleedings and amputations, and physicians focusing on internal medicine. Dr. Bard fully supported his son’s professionalization, offering suggestions for scientific and medical reading, and lovingly supervising Samuel’s study habits, dress and manners, social activities, and courses. He gave Samuel detailed advice on courting a wife. He sent money for his expenses, encouraged him to seize every educational opportunity while abroad, and, self-conscious about their colonial status, reminded him of the importance of “appearing like a Gentleman.”

While Samuel Bard was studying in Scotland, his father invested in Hyde Park, a 3,600-acre plantation along more than three miles of the Hudson River in Dutchess County, New York, with a resident overseer “to support his the said John Bard’s slaves in good and sufficient Cloathing and Bedding.” When Samuel Bard returned to New York City to establish its first medical college, he turned to merchants for support. His son William eventually married Catherine Cruger, the daughter of the St. Croix slave trader Nicholas Cruger, and his daughter Eliza married John McVickar, professor of political economy at Columbia and heir of a West Indies and China trader whose ships carried the products of slavery and opium. William Bard became a founder of the New York Life Insurance and Trust Company. In 1860 William and Catherine’s son John Bard founded St. Stephen’s College (Bard) as a preparatory school for General Theological Seminary in New York City. Bard donated a chapel and land for the campus. Columbia eventually honored John McVickar and Samuel Bard with the memorial McVickar Professorship of Political Economy and the Bard Professorship of the Practice of Medicine.

February 14, 2014

How a Bard trustee and billionaire agribusinessman corrupts higher education

Filed under: bard college,Ecology,Education — louisproyect @ 7:26 pm

Stewart Resnick

The deep-going drought in California presents a fundamental challenge to the ecological status quo in which agribusiness trumps the needs of ordinary people relying on water for their dietary and sanitary needs. Does the right of a billionaire farmer to have his pomegranate or pistachio plantations irrigated trump that of a working person having a glass of water or being able to flush his or her toilet? It so happens that Stewart Resnick–the billionaire in question–is on the board of Bard College, an institution with enormous pretensions to social responsibility and Green values.

But his ties to Bard are small potatoes compared to UCLA, where he is a member of the executive board of the UCLA Medical Sciences, the advisory board of the UCLA Anderson School of Management and the advisory board of the Lowell Milken Institute for Business Law and Policy at UCLA School of Law. The name Lowell Milken might ring a bell. He was the younger brother of securities crook Michael Milken with whom he worked at Drexel-Burnham and like his brother was charged with racketeering. Michael cut a deal with the prosecutors. He’d plead guilty if they let his kid brother go free—just the sort of person you’d want a business law department to be named after.

Stewart Resnick is a latter-day Noah Cross. If you’ve seen “Chinatown”—for my money, one of the 10 greatest movies ever made in the USA—you’ll remember that character as a water utility CEO who conspired to divert precious water resources to agribusiness. Resnick has made huge donations to the Democratic Party in California to make sure that the tap is never turned off for his irrigation pumps. And all the while Resnick and his wife Linda unleash a steady barrage of advertising and PR trying to make the case that their agribusinesses ranging from pomegranates to Fiji bottled water are good for the planet.

In doing some research for this piece, I stumbled across an article in the August 8, 2009 Financial Times that is mind-boggling in its failure to acknowledge the double-dealing of people like Resnick. Interestingly enough, it is a profile on UCLA’s most famous professor: Jared Diamond. Diamond wrote a book called “Collapse” that warned about the looming environmental crisis. His solution called for developing partnerships with companies like Chevron. In a December 5, 2009 op-ed piece in the NY Times, Diamond wrote: “Not even in any national park have I seen such rigorous environmental protection as I encountered in five visits to new Chevron-managed oil fields in Papua New Guinea.” Chevron, of course, is the same oil company that is fighting tooth and nail to prevent Ecuador from collecting on damages to farmland and water supplies from Texaco’s drilling (Chevron took over Texaco some years ago and is unwilling to be responsible for its liabilities.)

The Financial Times reports:

As he moves between fridge and table, he [Diamond] launches into his pomegranate story. “Pomegranate was one of the first fruits domesticated in the world. It was domesticated in the Fertile Crescent around 4000 BC,” he says. “A friend of mine, a very successful businessman, bought farm acreage in the central valley of California, which is the most productive agricultural area in the US. And there happened to be 100 acres of pomegranates, about which he knew very little. So he started learning about them and discovered how healthy they are, that they are full of vitamins and full of antioxidants and that they may be a treatment for prostate cancer.”

The friend, Stewart Resnick, had the capital and commercial acumen to spread the message to the US consumer. Thus did the pomegranate boom begin, and the fruit make its way to the refrigerators of 21st-century America. The story somehow captures Diamond. We have the awe of ancient civilisations, the physical explanation of the fertile soil of ancient Mesopotamia and modern California, and the accident of his friend’s financial resources and ingenuity. In this way, all things, big and small, come to pass.

I suppose if you are going to promote Chevron, the logical next step is to promote Stewart Resnick’s POM juice, an ubiquitous product on grocery store shelves. I wonder if Diamond got paid for making this commercial or whether he did it out of gratitude for all the millions that the Resnicks have lavished on UCLA. You’ll note that Diamond qualifies POM as a cure for prostate cancer with the careful “may be”. He probably knew that the authorities were about to shut down the Resnick’s bullshit advertising campaigns that centered on its “miracle” cancer-curing powers, a claim that has about as much scientific value as copper bracelets relieving the pains of arthritis, etc.

Seven days ago San Francisco CBS News reported on a major lawsuit that challenged agribusiness’s right to divert water for pistachios, pomegranates, etc. while ordinary people go thirsty.

But there is one place where there’s no shortage of water. The bountiful pomegranate, almond and pistachio fields of Paramount Farms are as green as ever.

You wouldn’t know it because you can’t see it. But there is a huge underground water reservoir on the south end of the Central valley, near Bakersfield. It’s four times as big as Hetch Hetchy reservoir.

It’s called the Kern Water Bank. And it’s majority controlled by two of the state’s biggest agribusinesses: Paramount Farms, a division of Roll International, and Tejon Ranch Company.

So guess who owns Roll International? Bingo. You got it. The fucking Resnicks. That’s the holding company for their agribusiness empire. An alliance of environmentalists is suing to break the stranglehold of Roll and Tejon on the water supplies while the Resnicks can be expected to use their influence on the courts and the politicians to maintain the status quo.

It is also of strategic importance for the Resnicks to have UCLA on their side. Just as the Koch brothers spread their millions around to get economics departments to preach the values of deregulation and a balanced budget, so do the Resnicks effectively bribe one of the country’s most prestigious universities (big-time Marxists Robert Brenner and Perry Anderson teach there) to get them on Roll International’s side.

Yesterday I got the latest news on the Resnick shenanigans from Chronicle of Higher Education, a trade paper that I have been reading ever since I went to work for Columbia University in 1991. I started reading it to keep track of IT developments but soon learned that it was a good source for news on how academia is exploited by the rich and the powerful to suit their needs. Every so often it reports on Leon Botstein’s dodgy deals, like hosting a seminar on the advanced philosophical theories of a nitwit jeweler in New York who must have donated a small fortune for that privilege.

Unfortunately, the article “For UCLA, Pomegranate Research Is Sweet and Sour” is behind a paywall but I would be happy to send a copy to anybody who requests one. The Chronicle reports:

“Drink to Prostate Health.” “The Antioxidant Superpill.” “Take Out a Life Insurance Supplement.” Pomegranates are a superfood, or at least that’s what ads told us for years in newspapers and magazines.

Those ads have now vanished. They were banned as part of a lengthy battle between the couple behind Pom Wonderful, the company responsible for the ads and the federal government. Tangled up in that dispute, in more ways than one, is the University of California at Los Angeles.

In an opinion issued last year, the Federal Trade Commission found that 36 ads and other promotional materials for Pom Wonderful products, many of which cited UCLA studies and quoted UCLA experts, were false or deceptive. An order now prohibits Lynda and Stewart Resnick, Pom’s owners, from making any disease-related claims about Pom or any product of their holding company, Roll Global, during the next 20 years unless they have substantiated those claims through at least two well-controlled, randomized clinical trials. The Resnicks appealed the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit last August.

The continuing legal battle has highlighted the complications that can arise when people have multiple relationships with a university, as the Resnicks do with UCLA.

The couple has given generously to various parts of the university. They’ve provided money to UCLA scientists to do research. They have engaged some of those same researchers to act as advisers. They paid the chief of the UCLA Health System more than $120,000 from 2010 to 2012. Two of the Resnicks’ expert witnesses at the FTC trial were from UCLA.

Last summer the university created the Resnick Program for Food Law and Policy in the university’s School of Law, through a $4-million gift from the couple. The program’s founding executive director, Michael T. Roberts, worked as special counsel at Roll Law Group, part of Roll Global, for five years.

It is not uncommon for industry donors and university researchers to have more than one connection. But, says Josephine Johnston, a research scholar at the Hastings Center, an independent institution that studies bioethics, she cannot recall hearing of a relationship as multilayered as the one between the Resnicks and UCLA. Such relationships “could actually create some kind of bias or impaired judgment” in researchers, she says, but even if they don’t, “they raise this question about how independent and trustworthy the institution is.”

Well, obviously the institution is neither independent nor trustworthy. As is the case with all other sectors of the economy, the modern university is very much a corporate entity with tentacles from the Resnick’s or the Koch’s reaching into ever pore of its body.

The article continues:

Another UCLA scientist who has played more than one role with the Resnicks’ companies is David Heber, an emeritus professor of medicine and public health, and founding director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition. He is on the Pistachio Health Scientific Advisory Board for Paramount Farms, a Roll Global company. He said in an email message that he is paid an annual honorarium of $2,500 for that role.

Dr. Heber also participated in studies on Pom products and pistachios, was quoted in promotional materials for Pom, and served as one of the Resnicks’ expert witnesses.

No one at UCLA Health Sciences agreed to be interviewed for this article, although a few researchers and Ms. Tate responded to questions by email.

Gosh, only $2500 to promote the Resnicks’ snake oil. I know call girls who would be insulted by such a low-ball offer.

Then there is David T. Feinberg, who is president of the UCLA Health System and chief executive of the UCLA Hospital System. The Chronicle report states:

Last May in Maryland, several students from the organization [Students Against Sweatshops] confronted Dr. Feinberg as he stood on stage to give a speech at the national conference of the Society of Hospital Medicine. One of them read a letter objecting to his and UCLA’s financial relationship with Pom.

In state disclosure forms, Dr. Feinberg, a psychiatrist, indicated that he received between $10,001 and $100,000 from the Stewart & Lynda Resnick Revocable Trust in 2010 and again in 2012, and more than $100,000 in 2011, for his role as a “consultant/adviser.”

Government is for sale. The media is for sale. Higher education is for sale. All these bastards are no different then the Chinese or Bangladeshi officials getting pay-offs from American corporations to look the other way when a sweatshop is a firetrap or workers are getting paid for 8 hours work when they are putting in 12. But at least you understand that a Bangladeshi or a Chinese bureaucrat is taking bribes on a straightforward basis. The dollars that Nike or Walmart lays on him is meant to pay for a BMW and a country house. But in the case of these UCLA professors and administrators lining up at the Resnick trough, there is the claim that they are fighting prostate cancer or saving the planet. Dante should have created a 10th circle in Hell just for them.

January 5, 2014

“Academic Freedom” at American Universities: The ASA Boycott and Bard College

Filed under: bard college,BDS — louisproyect @ 5:48 pm

Academic Freedom” at American Universities: The ASA Boycott and Bard College

By Amith Gupta

(Amith Gupta graduated from Bard College in 2012, and currently works as the Communications Officer for the Tadamon Council in Egypt.)

This is the second piece about the American Studies Association’s academic boycott of Israeli institutions which I have had the displeasure of writing. My previous piece, submitted as a rebuttal to American Interest in response to a Bard College professor’s fairly slipshod commentary about the boycott, has not yet been published anywhere official. You can find a copy of it here.

I feel compelled to write this second piece based on my experiences at Bard College, which I believe to be a fairly typical small liberal arts college. I found out earlier today that Bard College President Leon Botstein, closing ranks with other college presidents, has condemned the ASA boycott of Israeli institutions.

When I arrived as a student at Bard College in the fall of 2009, I had just finished a nearly month-long visit to occupied Palestine as an International Solidarity Movement volunteer. I remembered quite vividly that the ISM organizers in Palestine did not consider visiting Palestine briefly to be a successful form of solidarity activism. Hisham Jamjoum, the ISM trainer in Ramallah, commented, “this is only 20% of the work. 80% is when you go back to your home countries.” I interpreted this as a call to found an ISM chapter at Bard College, both to do Palestine solidarity-oriented student activism and as a means of training any locals who had any intention of going to Palestine to participate in non-violent activism.

The latter portion of this organizational mission was completed within a few months of my time at Bard College, when Bard ISM trained about fifteen locals who were headed to Palestine to take part in the Gaza Freedom March. For the following four years, ISM would exist on campus primarily as a traditional student activist group – bringing speakers, including former US ambassador Edward Peck, renowned journalist Glenn Greenwald, and author Max Blumenthal, among others; fund raising for initiatives like the US Boat to Gaza; informational campaigns; and attending demonstration summits like Occupy AIPAC! Last time I checked, the student activists involved in the ISM project believed the organization had successfully served its purposes and had either graduated like myself or decided to pursue other projects.

But to many people both on and off campus, Bard ISM’s significance came in late 2010, when a group of angry, right-wing misfits linked to the right-wing extremist and anti-intellectual David Horowitz elevated their campaign against the ISM into a campaign against Bard College. A fairly insignificant internet propagandist who had previously called for ISM activists in Gaza to be targeted and killed by the Israeli army contacted various Bard College officials (skipping over us entirely) and told them that Bard College was hosting an organization that was providing support for terrorists. Bard could be held liable for violating counter-terror laws, they falsely claimed. In addition to internet propagandists making these absurd claims, Israeli-government linked NGOs like the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre issued delusional reports about how international activist organizations like ISM were part of some sort of pro-terrorist campaign, and specifically listed me by name as some kind of serious contender in this international movement. I was, at this time, the leader of an organization of approximately six students that split my time between studying for finals, organizing speaking events for ISM, and drinking with my friends on the weekends.

In January of 2011, after completing an “investigation,” Bard College President Leon Botstein issued a fairly strong statement ridiculing the accusers and defending our rights as student organizers. He pointed out, correctly, that the International Solidarity Movement is a completely legal organization both in the United States and Israel. In the case of the latter, the Israeli government has simply engaged in extralegal killings of ISM volunteers without embarrassing itself and risking diplomatic issues by banning the leftist organization outright. This follows two decades of Israeli crackdowns on Palestinian civil society; as a means of releasing some pressure, Israel has granted some leniency on paper (if not in practice) to international organizations to observe its abuses and engage in nominal civil society activism without an outright ban.

Many, including I, saw President Botstein’s defense of the ISM’s right to exist as a student organization as a fairly important statement. In addition to a prominent college president – and Israeli government employee – making it clear that there is no case to suggest that ISM is illegal, it also set an important standard in a college environment that has become toxic for Palestine solidarity organizers. Furthermore, Cindy Corrie, the mother of slain ISM activist Rachel Corrie, told me personally during the Occupy AIPAC! Summit that she and her lawyers had considered using President Botstein’s letter in their failed* legal case against the State of Israel over her daughter’s death.

President Botstein’s personal views about ISM were not as clear as his statement suggested. At one point, school officials asked me to consider changing the ISM student chapter’s name from Bard ISM to “Hudson Valley ISM,” although to their credit, they did not force the change. Likewise, in private e-mails, President Botstein sometimes encouraged me tone down the nature of our organizing and engage in “dialog” with the myriad of racist and intolerant campus voices that believed Palestinian rights were negotiable. Again, to his credit, he did not force this change on us.

The Dark Side of Bard’s Conception of “Academic Freedom”

But there is a dark side to President Botstein’s ideas of academic freedom – which are in turn replicated at other universities like Bard College. Although President Botstein is ardently defensive of the right of his students to voice virtually any viewpoint without outside interference of attacks, this same power game results in skewing Bard College’s funding, faculty, and communal consciousness on Palestine in the direction that President Botstein and the college’s financiers demand.

Stifling Faculty Dissent. In 2008, before I had the opportunity to study with him, politics professor Joel Kovel, an outspoken critic of Zionism and Israel, was fired in a murky episode that was likely influenced by Kovel’s opinions on Zionism. The following year, radical politics professor Pierre Ostiguy was also fired despite significant student opposition in what began to look like a purge of leftists from Bard College’s politics department. Although a number of faculty in the politics department continue to provide the opportunity to study fairly critical and radical ideas of politics, the department was significantly re-shaped. After firing Ostiguy, President Botstein welcomed Walter Russell Mead, who brags of a lengthy career teaching and supporting American and British imperial expansion and is a fairly strong supporter of Israel and a critic of the ASA boycott.

Furthermore, the process through which tenure was granted to Bard faculty was and remains strongly controlled by a few senior faculty and President Botstein himself. Without naming names, it is clear that this level of authoritarianism has already scared away some of the campus’ most intelligent faculty members. Others told me informally that they simply could not engage in dissent on campus because they would risk losing tenure. This is not a slight against President Botstein as an individual; this same problem exists at virtually every American university, because campuses and their tenure processes do not exist outside the political matrix that professors study and teach about.

Institutional Support for Normalization with Israel: The Students. Among Bard’s strange mix of service initiatives (and circus initiative) was the Bard Palestinian Youth Initiative. This Initiative, founded by Bard alumnus and career opportunist Mujahid Sarsur, from the West Bank village of Mas’Ha, received institutional aid and support from Bard College, Mujahid Sarsur’s family, the Palestinian Authority, the Israeli government, British pro-Israel lobbyist Poju Zabludowicz (whose son Roy was another classmate of mine), and others. The Initiative sent Bard students to Palestine to build playgrounds, libraries, and community centers in Mas’Ha. In addition, the Initiative finangled Jerusalem day-passes for various Mas’Ha youths so long as they visit the Israeli government’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. That is, in order to visit their own city for one day, which Israel illegally prevents them from entering under normal circumstances, they were required to consume Eurocentric propaganda suggesting that Israel’s ongoing colonization of their land was justified due to historical atrocities committed against Jews in Europe.

In the United States, BPYI would introduce Bard students to pro-Israel lobbyists where they would receive a warm reception, being told that NGO aid and charity was the way forward rather than boycotts, Gaza flotillas, and other forms of political pressure. In addition, BPYI founder Mujahid Sarsur would approach various publications discussing what he views as the benefits of Israel’s settlement campaigns.

In private, Mujahid would often tell me about how he believed Palestinian refugees did not deserve the right to return to their homeland because the unelected Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas had reneged on this right. He would tell me how, despite everything, he believed Zionism made sense and that the Holocaust justified the expulsion of his own grandparents. Perhaps more worrying, he once suggested calling the Department of Homeland Security (where his now-deceased uncle worked) when a Palestinian-American student at Bard made an innocent comment about supporting Ghana in the 2010 world cup out of Third World solidarity. Finally, before graduating, Mujahid authored a seventy-page screed suggesting that Israel could remain both a Jewish ethnocracy and democratic country. This thesis essay is not available in Bard College’s library (where all other Bard college graduates’ senior theses sit) because it was so treasonous that his academic advisors (including Mead) believed it could ruin his future chances in Palestinian politics or even provoke violence against him. Bizarrely enough, this same Mujahid told me he was happy to see Hamas rockets terrorizing Israelis during Israel’s 2012 bombardment of Gaza, and that he is supporter of both Hamas and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Like so many others being groomed to represent the betrayal of Palestine, he seemed to espouse conflicting views depending on whom he was addressing. I am not sure if he was trying to get on my good side, mistakenly believing that I support Hamas’ rocket attacks, or if he was trying to prompt me to say something incriminating that he could hand over to the DHS.

Mujahid’s co-founder, Aaron Dean, made similar nasty comments, trying to purge Bard’s activist scene of what he viewed as “anti-Semitism” (namely, opposition to Israel which he didn’t understand); maligning Palestinian resistance icon Leila Khaled while cheering for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit’s release; and telling me that he wanted to see Palestinian women on the ground in front of Israeli soldiers rather than strong Palestinian women bearing arms (like Leila Khaled). He also believes that problematic videos like this one suggest a positive trend among Muslims, which he explicitly contrasts with Muslim theocracy and violence – as though Muslims are threatening unless they culturally integrate.

BPYI is funded and supported by pro-Israel lobbyists for an obvious reason. Extensive studies have already established that donor projects, charity, and development aid have been an effective means of not only pacifying Palestinian opposition to Israeli encroachment, but have been effective in re-orienting western and civil society criticism to Israel**. While many Palestinian villages engage in domestic, grassroots dissent against the State of Israel’s ongoing land encroachment, channeling attention and volunteers toward smaller and smaller Palestinian Bantustans is an effective means of pulling the carpet out from under the feet of Palestinian civil society. It could also accomplish the feel-good task of settling potential guilt among some of Bard’s conflicted students, some of whom have familial, political, or corporate ties to Israel, such as the Zabludowicz family and this descendent of the founders of Egged.

While it is not worthwhile to condemn the concept of charity as a whole, it is important to recognize that the charity provided by BPYI and other NGOs is not free; it is performed in exchange for political submission to Israel’s destructive colonization efforts. This is made explicit through the BPYI leadership’s statements, the trips to the Holocaust museum, and the press releases that BPYI has sent out to its list-serv establishing itself as an alternative to dissent.

The level of support this Initiative received from Bard College was astonishing. Not only did BPYI receive public endorsements from the College President, it also received the institution’s label and active support of one of its scholarship departments. Students involved in the Initiative, including Mujahid, were given privileged campus opportunities by faculty – which the administration once invoked against him when he objected to a botched student body election – and fairly significant campus internship opportunities by Bard’s financial manager Dimitri Papadimitriou.

If this sort of pampering was not enough, BPYI volunteers once approached me, asking that I shut down or curtail Bard ISM because it might hurt BPYI’s relations with Israel. Not only did this confirm the legitimacy of the ISM in my eyes, it also showed one of the blatant pitfalls of collaboration. On a similar note, BPYI students expressed significant confusion to me when they volunteered for an ISM training in 2010. They did not understand the point of civil disobedience, and constantly asked why it was necessary to dissent against the government that is colonizing Palestine.

Institutional Support for Normalization with Israel: Dual Degree Programs. Bard College has maintained an extensive dual-degree and sister-school program with Al Quds University in Abu Dis in the West Bank. Al Quds University President and Palestinian Authority figure Sari Nusseibeh ran into hot water recently after he made an offensive and conspiratorial remark about Jewish influence and power. Following an admittedly vulgar Islamic Jihad protest on his campus, Mr. Nusseibeh attempted to allay concern from US universities with whom Al Quds University has ties by condemning the demonstration. Ironically, his condemnation was even more offensive to these US universities, which responded by breaking off institutional ties. As usual, Palestinian Authority careerists are often unable to address Palestinian dissenters with national legitimacy while pandering to pro-Israel influences at the same time. The same problem was provoked by the recent ASA boycott. While Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned they boycott, the PLO bewilderingly alleged that an Israeli conspiracy had mistranslated the remarks and that the PLO does in fact support the boycott.

Though Bard College did not respond like other universities by cutting ties with Al Quds University, it is worth noting that the College’s institutional ties are yet another token of its institutional position on Palestine. Collaboration and support for Palestine and Palestinians is only acceptable when it is depoliticized or traded as a cover for ongoing Israeli oppression by going through collaborators like Sari Nusseibeh.

Al Quds University has been subject to land confiscation by the Israeli government, and Israeli forces have recently raided the college and fired indiscriminately at students, amidst other attacks on Palestinian students historically. Nonetheless, Bard College has refused to voice any condemnation and has undermined attempts to do so, such as the ASA boycott. This is the contradiction of pretending to be apolitical in relations with those under occupation. While Bard officially maintains its ties with the corrupt Al Quds University administration, it is unable to condemn violence against its own students when those students are Palestinians in the West Bank.

“We Don’t Divest.” In 2012, during my final semester at Bard College, I joined a meeting of the Student Responsible Investing Committee (SRIC) with Bard College’s financial head Dimitri Papadimitriou. Joining me were environmental activists and others. We had combed through Bard College’s stock investments and chose to approach Bard College officials about divestment over human rights concerns. While it is expected that Bard’s financiers would never consent to divestment outright, it was still fairly strange to hear it from them directly. Divestment was simply off the table. “We don’t divest,” remarked Papadimitriou.

In addition to investing much of its endowment in irresponsible corporations that had manufactured and sold weaponry to states that have used that weaponry illegally, including Israel, many of the companies on the biannual list published by the College were environmentally irresponsible and had horrible records on workers’ rights. Furthermore, Bard College uses TIAA-CREF to provide pensions for faculty. TIAA-CREF is a financial services company that in turn invests in a number of corporations engaged in abuses of human rights, such as Caterpillar, Motorola, Northrop Grumman, G4S and others.

Bard College also previously contracted much of its custodial work out to Aramark, which paid the campus’ custodial workers remarkably low wages. A successful student and union campaign by Bard’s Student Labor Dialog forced the College to reluctantly bring these workers in-house, although problems persist. A similar campaign by the student group – one of few remarkably successful student activist groups on campus – forced Bard to end its contract with Coca-Cola in 2006.

The refusal to boycott Israel and/or institutions and corporations that enable its crimes against Palestinians is an established Bard College policy, accompanying a myriad of irresponsible investments. As such, it is unsurprising that President Botstein would condemn the ASA boycott while citing the influence of “Jewish” [sic] (read: pro-Israel) donors.

Bard’s Conundrum is the University System’s Conundrum.

I do not regret my time at Bard College. As far as educational environments go, the education I received at Bard College was truly top-notch; I know this first-hand as a transfer student who misguidedly declined his initial Bard College acceptance and attended a terrible school for two years. Furthermore, despite my disagreements with President Botstein and other Bard College faculty, I consider him and the rest to be likeable individuals.

But the College’s conundrum on Israel and academic freedom is typical. While the college has taken admirable stands on academic freedom, the basic principle is the same as it is at any university. Outside attacks on student organizing are to be resisted, but the will of the college’s administration and the donors and financial ties that embellish its endowment are ultimately supreme.

Through this system of undemocratic and authoritarian university administration, even the most “liberal” and avant-garde institutions can undermine academic freedom by systematically imbalancing the orientation of the campus through moves like the ones described above. Pro-normalization initiatives, anti-boycott statements and policies, and subservient faculty can dominate campus life while the same iron-clad authority of the administration can allow nominal dissent among accepted students.

So while Bard College is definitely more accepting of dissent than other colleges (which may have simply banned ISM at the first sign of controversy), the same adamant refusal of the College to pander to the right-wing mob also enabled the College to undercut dissent more generally.

Perhaps this explains the delusional comments that some, both inside and outside the university system, have made about the ASA boycott. They believe, misguidedly, that the ASA’s boycott of Israeli institutions – as opposed to Israeli students and faculty – is an attack on “academic freedom”. In their view, then, academic freedom is measured by the independence of the administration to do what it pleases without any sort of outside pressure – as opposed to the ability of students and faculty to do what they please without pressure from the outside or the administrators who hire faculty and select students.

In a way, this is a reminder of a more general contradiction of capitalism. Many right-wing propagandists (and misguided others) believe that freedom in general is measured by the inability of of the public or the state to infringe upon the supreme property rights of an individual, even when those “property rights” include the creation of completely tyrannical social spheres – like privately run factories in which workers have no rights at all, much less the right to dissent. In their view, a “free society” means the right of a business-owner to dominate his workers, rather than the right of his workers to act and work without compulsion, including the threat of being fired.

This bizarre and capitalistic notion of freedom is implied both in the content of these criticisms of the ASA boycott and the financial incentives (i.e. donors) that are pushing the criticisms. So long as universities remain spaces without any sort of democratic control, dissent will be an uphill battle. Consequently, it is even more admirable that the ASA boycott, despite the vicious backlash to their decision, was able to mobilize support for the boycott nonetheless.


*Because the State of Israel has sanctified its own military policies in Gaza, where Rachel was killed during an Israeli home demolition in 2003, the Corrie family was not able to argue that Israel’s deadly house demolition operation and occupation of Gaza were illegal as the international community claims, and the court simply blamed Rachel for her own death when the bulldozer ran her over. Other lawsuits have had rare successes; the courts jailed an Israeli soldier when he shot ISM activist Tom Hurndall in the head as the latter escorted kindergarten children to school. Regarding killings, slayings, and torture of Palestinians, the successes are nearly non-existent barring extenuating circumstances.


**See also this extensive report on how billionaire Poju Zabludowicz, one of BPYI’s funders, used the “peace process” as a means of undercutting international pressure that had undermined some Israeli business sectors in which he has invested. Initiatives like BPYI essentially function as part of the “peace process” infrastructure of normalization with Israel even while its abuses and occupation continue.

January 2, 2014

Bard College and the American Studies Association vote

Filed under: bard college,BDS — louisproyect @ 6:24 pm

Bard College president-for-life Leon Botstein

Today the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that Bard College’s President-for-life Leon Botstein has closed ranks with other university presidents in opposing the American Studies Association (ASA) vote to boycott Israeli institutions:

Leon Botstein, president of Bard College and a boycott opponent, said calls from alumni to take a stand against the boycott had also played a role. “As an active member of the Jewish community, I recognize that the American Jewish community is disproportionately generous to American higher education,” he said. “For the president of an institution to express his or her solidarity with Israel is welcomed by a very important part of their support base.”

In other words, people like Leon Botstein worry about the “support base” because it is what fills their coffers. How can you fund an endowment if wealthy Jewish alumni threaten to boycott their alma mater?

In an apparent breach with two other prestigious universities, Botstein has refused to break ties with Al Quds University in occupied Palestinian territory. Although Syracuse University and Brandeis University are both opposed to boycotting Israeli institutions, they had no problem breaking ties with Al Quds on grounds far less substantial than those that are fueling the BDS movement. Supposedly, a rally by Islamic Jihad on the East Jerusalem campus of Al Quds was punctuated by Nuremberg type Nazi salutes. Without conducting any serious investigation into the matter, Syracuse and Brandeis abandoned Al Quds. Why would Leon Botstein, an ardent supporter of the state of Israel that now puts forward the demand that the Palestinians recognize it as a “Jewish state”, not follow suit? The explanation for that requires understanding the particular place that Bard occupies in the American academy and the pressure that Botstein would be under to maintain the illusion that he is committed to free speech.

Carolyn Karcher, a Jewish member of the ASA, wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times defending the vote:

On our first day in Bethlehem, my husband and I met a young man who had received a scholarship from George Mason University in Virginia but was not granted an exit visa by the Israeli authorities. Instead of embarking on a promising journey in academia, this young Palestinian had to resign himself to a job selling souvenirs to tourists. We learned that Palestinian students of all ages endure harassment at military checkpoints, frequent school closures, unprovoked arrests, imprisonment and sometimes death at the hands of trigger-happy soldiers.

Within Israel proper, schools are segregated and, following the model of the Jim Crow South, the government allocates significantly less funding to Palestinian schools, which are often overcrowded and understaffed. Palestinian university professors in Gaza rarely receive permission to travel abroad for conferences, those in the West Bank also face difficulties, and international faculty have been prevented from visiting Palestinian universities. These are the true assaults on academic freedom that the ASA resolution addresses.

Here in the U.S., students and faculty who challenge the dominant view of Israel risk baseless accusations of anti-Semitism, arrest, blacklisting or denial of tenure, promotion or academic positions. There are dozens of known incidents and likely hundreds that go unreported.

This is not to speak of far more damaging attacks on Palestinian academic institutions:

Israeli warplanes bombed the Islamic University in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, a significant Hamas cultural symbol, in the latest of a series of aerial attacks in the coastal territory, the Islamist group said.

An Israeli army spokeswoman had no immediate comment on the strike. Witnesses said a series of explosions rocked the Gaza city campus. Israel has killed 298 Palestinians in an aerial offensive since Saturday in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

–Reuters, December 28, 2008

Apparently Botstein considers the ASA policies to be “clumsy and offensive”. I can’t imagine them being more clumsy and offensive than an IDF missile.

One can certainly understand why powerful figures such as university professors would feel threatened by the ASA vote. With perceptions of Israel changing from a beacon of democracy to a brutal apartheid state, every effort must be bent to salvage the nation’s reputation. It has reached the point where Hillel, a campus organization of Jewish students, is slowly waking up to Israeli’s ugly realities even as they still remain wedded to a fading Zionist mythos. The N.Y. Times reported on December 29:

At Harvard, the Jewish student group Hillel was barred from co-sponsoring a discussion with a Palestinian student group. At Binghamton University, a Hillel student leader was forced to resign his position after showing a film about Palestinians and inviting the filmmaker’s brother to speak. And on many other campuses, Hillel chapters have been instructed to reject collaboration with left-leaning Jewish groups.

Alan M. Dershowitz, a professor at Harvard Law School who was once a faculty adviser for the Harvard Hillel, said in an interview: “I don’t think this is a free-speech issue. The people who want divestment and boycotts have plenty of opportunity to speak on campus. The question is a branding one. You can see why Hillel does not want its brand to be diluted.”

Basically, there is a class dynamic at work here. A Harvard undergraduate has not yet entered the ranks of the bourgeoisie, a goal of course of such an education. The Leon Botsteins, Alan Dershowitzes, and Martin Peretzes travel in different circles. They hobnob with hedge fund billionaires who throw fancy dinners and cocktail parties where funds are raised for their institutions. How, after all, can you keep a university going in the U.S.A. unless you cater to the whims of the one percent?

To this day, I don’t think anybody has ever summed up the role of college presidents better than Upton Sinclair:

Thus the college president spends his time running back and forth between Mammon and God, known in the academic vocabulary as Business and Learning. He pleads with the business man to make a little more allowance for the eccentricities of the scholar; explaining the absurd notion which men of learning have that they owe loyalty to truth and public welfare. He points out that if the college comes to be known as a mere tool of special privilege it loses all its dignity and authority; it is absolutely necessary that it should maintain a pretense of disinterestedness, it should appear to the public as a shrine of wisdom and piety. He points out that Professor So-and-So has managed to secure great prestige throughout the state, and if he is unceremoniously fired it will make a terrific scandal, and perhaps cause other faculty members to resign, and other famous scientists to stay away from the institution.

The president says this at a dinner-party in the home of his grand duke; and next morning he hurries off to argue with the recalcitrant professor. He points out the humiliating need of funds-just now when the professor’s own salary is so entirely inadequate. He begs the professor to realize the president’s own position, the crudity of business men who hold the purse-strings, and have no understanding of academic dignity. He pleads for just a little discretion, just a little time-just a little anything that will moderate the clash between greed and service, the incompatibility of hate and love.

To understand Leon Botstein’s stance in the Al Quds controversy, you have to start with his need to go one step further in reconciling Mammon and God. Bard College has a reputation as being some kind of “progressive” liberal arts institution and cutting ties to Al Quds would be counter-productive from a marketing standpoint. Let’s say you are some successful professional in New York who voted for DiBlasio and subscribes to the Nation Magazine and NPR. Would you want to send your kid to a school that broke with a Palestinian university on the basis of a witch-hunt organized by the Israeli right and its friends in the U.S. like Pamela Geller?

The best commentator on the Al Quds incident is Richard Silverstein who attended Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia University, earning a BA and Bachelor of Hebrew Literature. Like Carolyn Karcher, he is just another Jew who is sick and tired of the hypocrisy of the Israel lobby. On Christmas day, he had this to say:

I wrote several posts a few weeks ago about Brandeis University’s abrupt severing of all ties with the Palestinian Al Quds University and its remarkable president, Sari Nusseibeh.  In those posts I rebutted false claims suggested by Brandeis President Frederick Lawrence that there had been a “Nazi-like” rally on the Palestinian campus which extolled terrorists and suicide bombers.  What was astonishing to me was that Lawrence, the leader of a major liberal arts university would accept as prima facie evidence, information proffered by the right-wing pro-Israel bloggers Pam Geller, Tom Gross and Israel Matzav, who led the ‘jihad’ against Al Quds.  Since then even the NY Times has falsely called the same campus rally “Nazi-like,” though it had absolutely no association with Nazism.  By the way, I wrote an e-mail to the reporter and the Times’ public editor complaining of the false charge.  I received no reply.

I’ve been able to trace the Israeli origin of the charges against Al Quds to a November 11th article in Maariv.  The article deals in general with the theme of so-called Palestinian incitement against Israel.  In its litany of “sins,” it lists the Al Quds rally and a separate incident in which residents of the South Hebron Hills village of Beit Ummar purportedly hung a Nazi flag.

If you read the translation, you’ll see how a sloppy reading by someone looking to sensationalize the facts would allow all the blame to fall on Al Quds:

Documented: Nazi Salutes and Flags in the Palestinian Authority

At Al Quds University, students were photographed with arms raised, while a Nazi flag was flown over a Palestinian village.

Photographs taken at Al Quds University in East Jerusalem feature masked men affiliated with Islamic Jihad as they march with arms raised in salute.  In other pictures, students may be seen also raising their own arms in a Nazi salute.

The article links to a November 6th blog post by UK Jewish, anti-Palestinian blogger, Tom Gross, who calls the salutes “fascist-style.”  He added:

Students were encouraged to give what other students at Al Quds described as Hitler-style salutes…

All this raises the question: who took these photos?  Gross refuses to acknowledge who took them or how he received them.  Curiously, the photos displayed at his site are hot-linked from Pam Geller’s blog, Atlas Shrugged.  The date of her post is also November 6th.  So they both, almost simultaneously, published their information on the Al Quds rally.  Geller does link back to Gross but the latter makes no mention of his collusion with Geller in this smear campaign.

I’d hazard a guess that Gross, who prides himself as being an “independent” Middle East analyst, preferred not being associated with Geller’s bellicose reputation.  In a related matter, Geller’s Islamophobic American Freedom Defense Initiative suffered a legal defeat as a federal judge found its Boston MTA ads which called Muslims “savages” to be offensive. He found that the discriminatory nature of her message trumped her so called free speech rights.

Coincidentally, Gross also omits from his website biography that he’s a member of the international advisory board of the far-right NGO Monitor and a founding member of the pro-Israel, neoncon Henry Jackson Society based in the UK.  Not as “independent” as he makes out to be.

Robert Spencer and Pam Geller have in the past paid anti-Muslim activists to spy on pro-Palestine rallies by videotaping them.  My guess is that she and Gross secured the photos either directly or indirectly from the Shabak or its Palestinian informants.  They, in turn, likely passed them on to the government hasbara apparatus.  From there it was but a hop, skip and jump to Geller, Gross and Fred Lawrence.

One thing that otherwise reputable people like Fred Lawrence may want to consider is whether they want to make decisions based on material proffered to them by ideologues like Gross and especially Geller.

What Leon Botstein understands better than the presidents of Syracuse University and Brandeis is the special role of Al Quds. Despite the impression that its enemies on the ultraright try to create, its real role in Palestinian society is to create a layer of educated elites who are committed to “Western values”. One of the primary funders of the school is George Soros who has used his billions to create a receptive environment for his “open society” values. It is doubtful that he would have been happy with Leon Botstein cutting ties to Al Quds in light of statements he has made about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Here’s Soros from the April 12, 2007 New York Review of Books:

The pro-Israel lobby has been remarkably successful in suppressing criticism.4 Politicians challenge it at their peril because of the lobby’s ability to influence political contributions. When Howard Dean called for an evenhanded policy toward Israel in 2004, his chances of getting the nomination were badly damaged (although it was his attempt, after his defeat in Iowa, to shout above the crowd that sealed his fate). Academics had their advancement blocked and think-tank experts their funding withdrawn when they stepped too far out of line. Following his criticism of repressive Israeli policy on the West Bank, former president Jimmy Carter has suffered the loss of some of the financial backers of his center.

Anybody who dares to dissent may be subjected to a campaign of personal vilification. I speak from personal experience. Ever since I participated in a meeting discussing the need for voicing alternative views, a torrent of slanders has been released including the false accusation in The New Republic that I was a “young cog in the Hitlerite wheel” at the age of thirteen when my father arranged a false identity to save my life and I accompanied an official of the Ministry of Agriculture, posing as his godson, when he was taking the inventory of a Jewish estate.5

That footnote number five, by the way, is to this: Martin Peretz, “Tyran-a-Soros,” The New Republic, February 12, 2007. Peretz is a member of the Bard College board of trustees since the mid-1980s. Leon Botstein accosted me at the last reunion I attended in 2010, for the class of ’65, and demanded an explanation why I wrote such hurtful things about him on my blog—even his children read it.

Well, as Arnold Schwarzenegger said in “The Terminator”, “I’ll be back” in 2015 for my 50th. Assuming that Leon will still be ensconced as president-for-life, I’ll be awaiting his bared fangs with my usual aplomb and a video camera set to record.

May 21, 2013

Hannah Arendt

Filed under: bard college,Fascism,Film,philosophy — louisproyect @ 5:53 pm

Arguably Hannah Arendt was the first target of an organized campaign by the Israeli lobby. As was the case with the late Tony Judt, it did not matter that she was pro-Israel. By stepping outside the bounds of the ideological consensus, she became guilty of Orwellian thoughtcrimes. If for no other reason, this conflict is reason enough to see Margerethe von Trotta’s “Hannah Arendt” that opens on May 29th at the Film Forum in New York. As a film that takes politics and morality seriously, it is like nothing I have seen in a very long time and that makes Spielberg’s film on Lincoln look shallow by comparison. Essentially von Trotta’s film consists of people in their sixties and seventies arguing about Nazism and the right of the Jews to mount a show trial. But what people they were.

As Hannah Arendt, Barbara Sukowa is phenomenal. (It should be stated that her attempt to affect a Hollywood version of a German accent despite being German was a directorial miscue by von Trotta. It was a bit like Marlon Brando’s German accent in “The Young Lions”. Once you get used to it, however, it hardly matters.) This is the kind of role that Sukowa has long experience with. She played Rosa Luxemburg in another von Trotta biopic as well as Mieze in Fassbinder’s masterpiece “Berlin Alexanderplatz”, based on the novel by the leftist Alfred Döblin who also wrote “Karl and Rosa”, about Liebknecht and Luxemburg.

The film begins with Arendt finding out about the Eichmann trial from an article in the NY Times. She then approaches William Shawn, the editor of the New Yorker magazine, with a proposal. She would go to Jerusalem and cover the trial.

A salon at her Riverside Drive apartment just before her trip leads to a quarrel between her and her husband Heinrich Blücher on one side and New School philosophy professor Hans Jonas on the other. The Blüchers worry that the Israelis are using the trial for propaganda purposes while Jonas is loath to find fault with Israel on any score. Of course, his decades long Zionist past would explain this.

This salon would have taken place in 1961, at exactly the same time I was enrolled in Hans Blücher’s Common Course at Bard College. This was a required “great books” survey that allowed Blücher—a high school dropout and former member of the German Communist Party—to philosophize about politics and morality. His defense of Socrates galvanized me in a way as nothing had ever before. From the minute I heard his defense of the need to put truth above the exigencies of citizenship, it made it a lot easier for me to become a socialist six years later at the very moment I was a student of Hans Jonas at the New School. Oddly enough, despite Blücher’s anti-Communism, he paved the way for me to become a communist.

When taking a seminar on Kant with Jonas in 1967, I came up with the idea of writing a term paper on Kant’s categorical imperative as an extension of his subject driven epistemology. After getting an A in the course, I was approached by Jonas at a gathering at his home in New Rochelle on a Sunday afternoon and encouraged to continue with my PhD studies. But a few months later I would drop out of the New School in order to focus on my activism in the Trotskyist movement after the spirit of Blücher in the 1920s—an avid reader of Leon Trotsky. I saw my categorical imperative as one of making the socialist revolution. Anything else was an escape from duty.

The film takes up Arendt’s affair with Martin Heidegger who comes across more as an absent-minded professor than a mouth-breathing Nazi ideologue. In one of the film’s more dramatic moments, you see her and Heidegger strolling through a German forest after WWII where she urges him to beg forgiveness from the world for his evil past.

Although it would be impossible for the film to deal with all of the tangled philosophical connections between the principals, it should be mentioned that Hans Jonas was a student of Heidegger’s as well. Furthermore his critique of technology owes much to Heidegger. With respect to Heidegger’s reputation as an anti-Semite and avid National Socialist, Hans Jonas paints an entirely different picture in his memoir and one that is consistent with the somewhat bumbling and pathetic characterization in von Trotta’s film.

Still, I was the only Zionist among his students. At least to my knowledge no one else among the Jewish Heidegger disciples was a supporter of Zionism—on the contrary. I did run into some of them later in Palestine, but they didn’t choose to go at a time when you still had a choice. Probably Heidegger thought there just happened to be such dreamers among the Jews, and his student Hans, on whose dissertation he’d conferred the highest praise teacher could give a student, namely summa cum laude, was one of those dreamers and would eventually go off to Palestine. So a Heidegger student would establish himself in Palestine and perhaps spread his teachings there, The thought that his standing in Germany might suffer as a result of many Jews leaving or being forced to leave apparently didn’t occur to him, Heidegger was in no way prepared for such a thing. I should mention, too, that here and there he even helped Jewish students of his. For instance, Paul Oskar Kristellar later said in New York that he had nothing against Heidegger because when he emigrated to Italy, Heidegger sent letters of recommendation that helped him find a position there.’ No — Heidegger wasn’t personal antisemite. Presumably it felt a little uncanny to him that so many of his students were Jewish, but more in the sense that it was somewhat one sided, that there weren’t enough others who were more like him. The only discussion of antisemitism in his immediate surroundings came up when word got out that his wife had belonged to the nationalist youth movement. Perhaps she nagged him occasionally, saying, “Martin, why do you act deaf and dumb? Why are you constantly surrounded by young Jews?”

After her articles begin appearing in the New Yorker, Arendt becomes a lightning rod. A neighbor in her Riverside Drive high-rise sticks a letter under her door accusing her of being a Nazi. The administration at the New School demands that she stop giving her courses. In defiance she goes ahead with the class. She goes to a meeting about her book where a young Norman Podhoretz denounces her. Her best friend Mary McCarthy makes her entrance just as Podhoretz is at his most venomous and twists him into a knot. Although the characterization of McCarthy veers too far in the direction of comic relief and paints her too much as a gum-chewing, wisecracking Eve Arden type (my younger readers will have to google this for more information), her presence is essential since it is a reminder that there were some intellectuals who had the guts to stand up to the Israel lobby at the time.

Back in 1961 I had no idea that Hans Blücher was married to Hannah Arendt and even less of an idea that she was covering the Eichmann trial. I can’t remember if I was reading the N.Y. Times back then but even if I had I would be far more interested in reviews of jazz musicians or movies than current events.

A few years later as the “sixties” began to erupt, young radicals embraced Arendt’s theory of the “banality of evil” even if they may have not been fully engaged with her wariness over the project of revolution. This excerpt from Elizabeth Young-Bruehl’s biography gives you a flavor for the mood at the time.

The young Jew who sent Arendt a report on this meeting [about her book] commented that Eichmann in Jerusalem seemed to have stirred up a generational conflict within the Jewish community. This conflict was made public when Norman Fruchter published a piece called “Arendt’s Eichmann and Jewish Identity” in Studies on the Left. Fruchter’s was the voice of the young Jewish radicals who found in Arendt’s work both a rebellion against “the myth of the victim which Jews tend to substitute for their history” and an analysis of what “citizen responsibility [is] necessary in every modern state to prevent the reemergence of the totalitarian movement which ravaged Germany.” He wrote at the moment when comparisons between Germany of the 1930s and America of the 1960s were becoming common among the New Left—to the consternation of the Old Left. A year earlier, James Weinstein had published a piece called “Nach Goldwasser Uns?” [After Goldwaer, us?] in which the comparison was made explicit: “There are, indeed, many similarities between American society today and that of Germany in the years before and during Nazi rule.” Eichmann became a symbol: “Like so many American bureaucrats and military men, Eichmann emerges from Miss Arendt’s account as a man of very limited ideological commitment.” Over such speeches as the one Carl Oglesby delivered at the 1965 SANE march on Washington, the New and the Old Left parted company: “Think of all the men who now engineer that war [in Vietnam],” said Oglesby, “those who study the maps, give the commands, push the buttons, and tally the dead: Bundy, McNamara, Rusk, Lodge, Goldberg, the President [Johnson] himself. They are not moral monsters. They are all honorable men. They are all liberals. “

Finally, the film should encourage those with a critical bent to look deeper into the arrest of Eichmann itself, something that would be beyond the scope of von Trotta’s film. The Mossad’s abrogation of international law through its kidnapping of Eichmann is certainly a precedent for actions that have become synonymous with the “war on terror”, including Obama’s kill-list.

What is of particular interest was the behind-the-scenes arrangement between Israel and West Germany that made David Ben-Gurion’s moral posturing look as hypocritical as any of the words coming out of LBJ’s mouth.

In 2011 secret documents revealed that the German government and the CIA knew the whereabouts of many former Nazis including Hans Globke, who was the Chancellery Chief of Staff and a close advisor to Chancellor Adenauer at the time of the trial. In a quid pro quo deal, the West Germans promised weapons if Globke’s name was not brought up in the Eichmann trial.

Der Spiegel reported:

But Israel needed the financial aid, the submarines and the tanks, and German Defense Minister Franz Josef Strauss, who had also negotiated the arms shipments directly with Ben-Gurion, left no doubt that the Israelis were to protect Bonn’s reputation if they wanted weapons: “I have told my contacts that it is a matter of course that if the Federal Republic supports the security of Israel, it will not be held collectively liable, morally, politically or journalistically, for the crimes of a past generation in connection with the Eichmann trial.”

The Israelis had shown “understanding and responsiveness” for this position, Strauss reported. And so it happened that the question of how the Nazis had managed to involve significant portions of German society in the Holocaust was largely ignored.

“We only introduced information into the trial that was relevant for Eichmann,” says Gabriel Bach, the last remaining member of prosecution team still alive today. The Globke issue, he adds, simply wasn’t relevant.

December 17, 2012

Bard College and the real world

Filed under: art,bard college,literature — louisproyect @ 6:18 pm

I have been reminded over the past few months why Bard College was such a special place for me. While I tend to avoid alumni cocktail parties, it has been a kind of virtual reunion as I connect to old friends and classmates through their art. When we were all in our late teens and early twenties, we had dreams of being poets and artists—including me. I took a detour in 1967 that led to little more than a 250 page FBI file but for the others—Richard Allen, Josephine Sacabo, Dalt Wonk, and Paul Pines—who stayed true to their artistic vision, the fruits have been sweeter. I suppose the one thing we all had in common was a willingness to stay true to our youthful dreams even as we confront the American Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks—as Allen Ginsberg put it in “Howl”.

Richard Allen

The first paragraph of Richard Allen’s introduction to “Street Shots/Hooky: New York City Photographs 1970s” certainly puts us in a Moloch frame of mind:

I woke up, New Year’s Day 1970, in a straitjacket. I had no memory, of anything, at least not at first. I was in an asylum on Long Island after taking an overdose of some pills a shrink gave me. Slowly awareness arose. First, I realized had to protect myself. Await… I asked to have the jacket removed and they did. Bit by bit memories came back. I could recall details of my childhood. I remembered I’d married my girlfriend Cathy, months ago, when she turned eighteen. Cathy and I had Peter, a son, now 6 months. In a few days I felt normal. Still, I had no job. But this is not my concern. No, it’s to finish editing a short comedy, completing a film I shot while on TV men landed on the moon. The film hung in hundreds of carefully cut strips an inch to many feet long, like drying fish, unique species, needing me. I had read a book on film editing and had just started when this came along.

I suppose that despite all his flaws, R.D. Laing was on to something when he described insanity as “a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world.” The war in Vietnam, ghetto rebellions, psychedelics, the breakdown of the nuclear family, all worked together to make the case that we were living in an insane world, particularly those among us who were more open to such a perception—in other words, Bard College students.

If the world was going nuts, then Manhattan was the epicenter. Ironically it was also the epicenter of sanity since many of its denizens were striving to lead a life devoted to the arts and to peace. Richard Allen’s book brings back that 70s world to life. Despite all the horrors of the time, New York was a place of astonishing visual poetry. Using mostly black-and-white film and a Leica camera, Richard captured a moment in time. With the city now being taken over by hedge fund employees living in condominiums with Duane Reade pharmacies and nail parlors on the ground floor, you can get a good idea of what things were like 40 years or so from Richard’s collection. Nearly all of the photos are of people, and what’s more interesting than the characters of Manhattan? This is especially true when the photos are accompanied by the subjects’ words. After taking their photo, Richard invited them to identify themselves and offer up their impromptu thoughts. Ivan Bankoff tells Richard that he was once “the world’s greatest ballet dancer.” John Richardson, an African-American huddled against the wind, says, “If this is for posterity, tell them I’ve read Thoreau. And I know that love is the greatest thing.”

Here are some of my favorites:




“Street Shots/Hooky: New York City Photographs 1970s” can be purchased from the Book Culture stores near Columbia University and from BookCourt in Brooklyn. (Plans are afoot to make the book purchasable from amazon.com. I will announce that when it happens.) For those who lived through the 70s and those with a curiosity about a period that still lingers on in many ways, this is a perfect Christmas gift or a gift for all seasons, for that matter.

Josephine Sacabo

Dalt Wonk

On October 26th I attended an opening for Nocturnes, the first book to be published by Josephine Sacabo and Dalt Wonk’s new venture Luna Press. If you go to the Luna Press website, you can see an intriguing video of a hand thumbing its way through the book.

Here is a photograph titled “Moon” taken by Sacabo:

Dalt wrote poems to accompany the photos. Here is the one he wrote to accompany “Moon”:

Would it be a stretch to say that the city of New Orleans, where they have lived for decades, is a primary influence on their esthetic? Although I have never been to the city myself, it seems that if any city in the U.S. could have inspired a hauntingly beautiful combination of word and image as “Nocturnes”, it is New Orleans.

Back in 1965, Bob Dylan was spending a fair amount of time at Bard. I am not sure if Dalt and Josephine ever ran into him there, but I am sure that they would feel some kinship with his take on their city found in volume one of his memoirs:

Right now, I strolled into the dusk. The air was murky and intoxicating. At the corner of the block, a giant, gaunt cat crouched on a concrete ledge. I got up close to it and stopped and the cat didn’t move. I wished I had a jug of milk. My eyes and ears were open, my consciousness fully alive. The first thing you notice about New Orleans are the burying grounds-the cemeteries-and they’re a cold proposition, one of the best things there are here. Going by, you try to be as quiet as possible, better to let them sleep. Greek, Roman, sepulchres-palatial mausoleums made to order, phantomesque, signs and symbols of hidden decay-ghosts of women and men who have sinned and who’ve died and are now living in tombs. The past doesn’t pass away so quickly here. You could be dead for a long time. The ghosts race towards the light, you can almost hear the heavy breathing- spirits, all determined to get somewhere. New Orleans, unlike a lot of those places you go back to and that don’t have the magic anymore, still has got it.

Nocturnes can be ordered from the Luna Press website.

Paul Pines

I found out about the opening for Nocturnes from Paul Pines, the poet who has kept in touch with Sacabo and Wonk over the years. A month or so before the opening, I attended a reading for Paul’s latest book titled “Divine Madness”, words that evoke both the opening paragraph of Richard Allen’s photography book as well as Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”, a poem that served as the anthem for our generation in many ways.

The epigraph to Book Three of Paul’s collection comes from Carl Jung’s “The Red Book”: “…there is a divine madness which is nothing other than the overpowering of the spirit of the time through the spirit of the depths.”

This is an appropriate quote for a book of poems that owes much to mythology, both from the Mayan Indians to the ancient Greeks and Babylonians. Paul spent a fair amount of time in Guatemala, the experience of which helped him to craft his second novel “Redemption” that deals with the genocide against the Mayan peasantry.

Every one of the poems in “Divine Madness” is a jewel but I treasure this one especially:

December sun seeps into the woods orange yolk over bare limbs drips into a grove where woodpeckers tap tiny solos

a net cast

in the wake of the day

Chinese monarch King Wen

tells us the wanderer can progress in little things

when the source of light is farthest from the earth

and bends the prism

like a bow

and he finds himself surrounded by woodpeckers tapping out their eternal question

how to hold

interwoven rhythms

in a net of changing light

“Divine Madness” can be ordered from Marsh Hawk Press.

Some closing thoughts. All of us are now in our sixties and above but it seems like only yesterday when we would be drinking “down the road” at a college pub called “Adolph’s” (named after the owner, born obviously before Hitler made the name taboo). The subject came up all the time about how Bard was totally unlike “the real world”, which for us could have been reduced to the one depicted in AMC’s “Mad Men”.

There’s always a tension between our ideals and the “real world” that in some ways is analogous to Plato’s story of the cave. It is a struggle to hew to our youthful ideals in a world that is fundamentally aligned with the insides of a cave, as testified by news reports that come our way on  a daily basis, the latest of which is the kindergarten massacre in Connecticut.

Of all my  Bertolt Brecht quotes, this is my favorite:

There are men who struggle for a day, and they are good. There are others who struggle for a year, and they are better. There are some who struggle many years, and they are better still. But there are those who struggle all their lives, and these are the indispensable ones.

Whether you struggle with a camera or a poet’s pen, or most quixotically with a propagandist’s, it is a Sisyphean task. Here’s my salute to those who never give up. Keep on keeping on.

November 21, 2012

Bard College, Israel and the Palestinians

Filed under: bard college,middle east — louisproyect @ 12:12 am

Peter Beinart

Walter Russell Mead

The Fall issue of the Bard College alumni magazine came with its regular New Republic type propaganda, this time taking the form of an article by Peter Beinart titled “Israel’s Challenge: Can Democracy and Zionism Coexist?” Sigh, all I ever wanted to find out from an alumni magazine is whatever happened to Shoshana Rosenberg, the art major who liked to listen to Olatunji records when we were having sex. Why do I have to put up with sermons from the right wing of the Democratic Party? I want my tuition money back, all $8000 of it.

Beinart’s article was actually a speech he delivered at Bard last spring on his new book “The Crisis of Zionism” at the invitation of the campus chapter of J Street, a liberal Zionist group that is viewed in AIPAC circles as little different from Hizbollah. To show you how unhinged groups like AIPAC are, J Street is a group that now states:

Israel’s current military operation is a response to the hundreds of rockets that have rained down on Israel from the Gaza Strip over the past year. Every day, Israel’s southern residents carry with them the fear that a sudden Qassam rocket could change their world forever.

It should be said that Beinart has been the target of the American Likudniks as well. When he was invited to speak at the annual Jewish Book Fair in Atlanta, the powers-that-be disinvited him. In my view, this is not so much a sign that Beinart’s views are progressive but that official Judaism is veering ever more sharply to the right. Given time, they will be ostracizing Alan Dershowitz. (Well, maybe not.)

The talk was sponsored by the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities, one in a host of liberal think-tanks largely paid for by George Soros. It is useful to remember what Hannah Arendt once said about the kind of people who run Israel today and the well-funded lobby that speaks on its behalf. This was an open letter to the N.Y. Times on December 4th, 1948 signed by her, Albert Einstein, and other Jewish notables:


Among the most disturbing political phenomena of our times is the emergence in the newly created state of Israel of the “Freedom Party” (Tnuat Haherut), a political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties. It was formed out of the membership and following of the former Irgun Zvai Leumi, a terrorist, right-wing, chauvinist organization in Palestine.

The current visit of Menachem Begin, leader of this party, to the United States is obviously calculated to give the impression of American support for his party in the coming Israeli elections, and to cement political ties with conservative Zionist elements in the United States. Several Americans of national repute have lent their names to welcome his visit. It is inconceivable that those who oppose fascism throughout the world, if correctly informed as to Mr. Begin”s political record and perspectives, could add their names and support to the movement he represents.

Read in full

Breinart’s speech was filled with all the old bromides. I found this one particularly nauseating:

Most of Zionism’s founders were people who originally wanted to live in the countries of their birth in Europe, and who desperately hoped that Europe would live up to the Enlightenment liberal ideals that they believed in fervently. They reluctantly came to the conclusion that they could not live safe, full lives in Europe, and that the Jewish state could be more true to Enlightenment principles than the countries they came from.

Talk about denial. Let’s look at one of these champions of “liberal ideals”, a fellow named Israel Zangwill who was born in London in 1864. At one time he was an advocate of colonizing Palestine but later on favored settling in any territory deemed ripe for a takeover. This was a guy who championed Jewish emancipation, woman’s suffrage, and peace among nations—just the sort of high-minded person Beinart was referring to.

But from Wikipedia we learn:

In 1901 in the New Liberal Review, Israel Zangwill wrote that “Palestine is a country without a people; the Jews are a people without a country”.

In a debate at the Article Club in November of that year, Zangwill said, “Palestine has but a small population of Arabs and fellahin and wandering, lawless, blackmailing Bedouin tribes.” Then, in the dramatic voice of the Wandering Jew, “restore the country without a people to the people without a country. (Hear, hear.) For we have something to give as well as to get. We can sweep away the blackmailer—be he Pasha or Bedouin—we can make the wilderness blossom as the rose, and build up in the heart of the world a civilisation that may be a mediator and interpreter between the East and the West.”

In other words, the “democracy” that Beinart blathers on about was democracy for the Chosen People, not the dirty fellahin. If there is any real difference between the original aspirations of the Zionist movement and that of the French in Algeria, it is lost on me. At least the pied-noir spared us liberal, democratic pretensions.

Apparently some students at Bard were not taken in by Beinart’s nonsense. In a profile on Peter Beinart that appeared in New York Magazine a couple of months after his appearance there, we learn:

In late April, Beinart takes an Amtrak train out of Penn Station and heads two hours north, up the Hudson Valley. Like any author flogging a book, Beinart has become a familiar presence on the speaking circuit—although, given his book’s subject, his particular circuit largely consists of synagogues, Jewish community centers, and Hillel houses. Oftentimes, he faces a hostile audience. At the Columbia Hillel, he debated Daniel Gordis—the event was promoted as a “Heavyweight Fight on Zionism”—and was heckled. “I feel like from the clapping I have about a quarter of the room,” Beinart said during a rare moment of applause, “which is better than I expected.”

On this April evening, Beinart’s schedule calls for him to be at Bard College. It is Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, and he has been invited by the school’s J Street student chapter. The mood, however, is anything but festive—although this time he is facing anger from his left. As he walks into the lecture hall, he is handed a flyer by a student protester that reads celebrate ­israeli ethnic cleansing “independence.” He then spends most of his 90 minutes insisting to those in attendance that Zionism is not racism and that Tel Aviv is not the center of all the evil on Earth. When it is over, Beinart looks whipped. “I wish Jeff could have seen that,” he says.

(The “Jeff” referred to immediately above is Jeff Goldberg, another “liberal Zionist” who shares Beinart’s early support for the war in Iraq and tepid criticisms of Israeli policies.)

My guess is that Leon Botstein has probably evolved toward a J Street type of Zionism. He is smart enough to show his new clothing by advising (I’m sure) the alumni magazine to include Beinart’s speech. He has also attempted to burnish his reputation among progressive Jews by defending the right of the International Solidarity Movement to have official status on campus.

Over the past several weeks, Bard College and I as its President have been the object of unsubstantiated, exaggerated, and often vitriolic accusations regarding a student group on campus that has chosen to affiliate itself with an organization called the International Solidarity Movement. Some of those who have posted on blogs and written emails claim that ISM is a “terrorist” organization committed to the destruction of the State of Israel and its people. The information on the Bard ISM student website is being misrepresented to suggest that the college and its students are involved with illicit activities, encouraging and training terrorism.


One can only welcome the president’s stance on this issue. Anything else of course would have been a sign of gross capitulation to the Israel lobby and clearly an unwise course of action.

The latest IDF blitzkrieg on Gaza has elicited a “think piece” by Bard professor Walter Russell Mead, who I have described once as the school’s Thomas Friedman. Titled “America, Israel, Gaza, and the World”, the article attempts to answer the question “Why aren’t the Americans hating on Israel more?”

Mead cleverly tries to make his position more tenable by reducing ostensibly radical positions to a caricature: “Others allege that a sinister Jewish lobby controls the media and the political system through vast power of Jewish money; the poor ignorant Americans are the helpless pawns of clever Jews.” Well, the fact is that the major media is careful to omit any analysis that is to the left of Peter Beinart, but few of us blame this on “Jewish money”—starting with me. Israel gets kid gloves treatment because it is a reliable protector of American imperialist interests in the Middle East. Once upon a time Walter Russell Mead, before he became fat and sloppy at the trough of academic privilege, understood how this worked—at least to some degree.

This is the Publishers Weekly blurb on Mead’s “Mortal Splendor: The American Empire in Transition”, written in 1988, when Mead apparently still had some dim memory of a leaflet he wrote 20 years earlier:

Since the end of World War II, Mead asserts, the United States has maintained the largest empire in history. This neoimperialism, he argues, is built on intervention in the domestic affairs of Third World countries and coercive political efforts to block those countries’ sustained economic growth. Both Nixon and Carter tried to regulate change in underdeveloped nations in ways that would be acceptable to U.S. corporate interests.

Nowadays, Mead enjoys a perch at the American Interest, a magazine with an editorial board including the likes of Zbigniew Brzezinski, Niall Ferguson, Bernard-Henri Levy. What the hell. If you are going to sell out your youthful beliefs, you might as well do it in grand style.

Assuming a kind of professorial neutrality, Mead draws a contrast between most people on earth who are appalled by Israeli barbarism and the “Jacksonian” American people who do not believe in proportionality. This is a reference to Andrew Jackson who did not believe in fighting by the rules. I would say that the fate of the Palestinians and the Cherokees—seen side-by-side—gives some credence to that.

Mead tries to explain the average American’s response:

Thus when television cameras show the bodies of children killed in an Israeli air raid, Jacksonian Americans are sorry about the loss of life, but it inspires them to hate and loathe Hamas more, rather than to be mad at Israel. They blame the irresponsible dolts who started the war for all the consequences of the war and they admire Israel’s strength and its resolve for dealing with the appalling blood lust of the unhinged loons who start a war they can’t win, and then cower behind the corpses of the children their foolishness has killed.

Key to Mead’s presentation of the American mindset is this analogy:

Certainly if some kind of terrorist organization were to set up missile factories across the frontier in Canada and Mexico and start attacking targets in the United States, the American people would demand that their President use all necessary force without stint or limit until the resistance had been completely, utterly and pitilessly crushed.

But that’s where Mead drops all pretensions of being a James Chase Professor entrusted with the hard-earned $50,000 dollar a year education of Bard students and becomes what he really is beneath the pretensions: a crude propagandist of the sort that pops up regularly in the op-ed pages of the N.Y. Post.

While Mexicans certainly had grievances against American imperialism (the reference to Canada of course was absurd–almost as absurd as Ali G. advising  Brent Scowcroft to bomb Canada), imagine if the American Southern slavocracy had defeated the North and colonized Mexico in order to reproduce the plantation system. To make it work, it would find it necessary to expel the native peasant population into El Salvador and Honduras. At that point, it would be logical for the expelled Mexicans to fight for the right to return to their homeland.

Once upon a time Mead might have understood this. Nowadays he is an addled old sot drunk on his own propaganda.

September 18, 2012

A conversation with Jeffrey Marlin and Richard Greener

Filed under: bard college,television — louisproyect @ 5:44 pm

Now into the middle of the third season of “Mad Men” on Netflix, I continue to be bemused by the lofty critiques of the show in places like the London Review of Books and the journal that inspired it, the New York Review of Books. In the October 2008 LRB, Mark Greif complained:

Mad Men flatters us where we deserve to be scourged. As I see it, the whole spectacle has the bad faith of, say, an 18th-century American slaveholding society happily ridiculing a 17th-century Puritan society – ‘Look, they used to burn their witches!’ – while secretly envying the ease of a time when you could still tie uppity women to the stake. If we’ve managed to become less credulous about advertising, to make it more normal and the bearer of more reasonable expectations, perhaps in 50 years’ time viewers will look back on the silly self-congratulatory subtexts of Mad Men, shake their heads, and be grateful that gender and sexual tolerance have likewise been normalised.

In February 2011, Daniel Mendelsohn told NYR readers that the show was pretty much a load of crap:

The writing is extremely weak, the plotting haphazard and often preposterous, the characterizations shallow and sometimes incoherent; its attitude toward the past is glib and its self-positioning in the present is unattractively smug; the acting is, almost without exception, bland and sometimes amateurish.

He also repeats Greif’s charge that the show maintains an ill-deserved superiority complex:

To my mind, the picture is too crude and the artist too pleased with himself. In Mad Men, everyone chain-smokes, every executive starts drinking before lunch, every man is a chauvinist pig, every male employee viciously competitive and jealous of his colleagues, every white person a reflexive racist (when not irritatingly patronizing). It’s not that you don’t know that, say, sexism was rampant in the workplace before the feminist movement; it’s just that, on the screen, the endless succession of leering junior execs and crude jokes and abusive behavior all meant to signal “sexism” doesn’t work—it’s wearying rather than illuminating.

When I first posted about Mad Men, after viewing the entire first season, I defended it against such charges, drawing upon my experiences at Metropolitan Life in 1968, on the very floor that served as a backdrop for Billy Wilder’s “The Apartment”. If you’ve seen “The Apartment”, you’ll recognize the similarities between it and “Mad Men” right off the bat. This is no accident since Matthew Weiner, the show’s creator, counts this movie as one of his prime influences:

Billy Wilder wrote it with I. L. Diamond – this is like one of the great writing teams of all time, and just the cinema in it, the stuff that’s done…I’d like to claim a relationship to ‘Mad Men’ for that, too. Spoiler alert: Things like the champagne cork going off and you think it’s a suicide. The tennis racket. The compact with the crack in it. The restaurant with the drinks in it. How things are shaping up ‘cookie-wise.’ That’s a contemporary movie. People were seeing people that they knew. It was done in a very sort of classic kind of way. It’s masterful storytelling.

That’s my relationship to it: that it’s one of my favorite movies. I saw it and realized that it was the apex of a period that I had already been fascinated with. I loved the characters, and just writing-wise I always try and emulate that kind of storytelling, where the payoffs are visual and there’s a lot of misunderstanding, but they’re believable. And the bad guys have a reason for what they do. And casting. Do not forget who Fred MacMurray was when they put in that part. The grimiest guy that he had ever been was in ‘Double Indemnity.’ He was the schmuck in that. In this thing he was really a dark character.

If I was really a bit young to be a character in “Mad Men”, that can’t be said about my two old friends from Bard College I interviewed above. A good five years older than me, they are exactly the same age as the junior copywriters who would have worked under the lead character Don Draper.

Both of them had a connection to advertising, one brief and one fairly long term. Jeffrey Marlin’s first job was as a copywriter for a direct mail outfit. Trudging off to work in an office each day (one likely much smaller than Met Life) persuaded him to look for a gig that he could do at home. This led to a very long career with Xerox Learning Systems that ended a few years ago. I understand what went into this decision psychologically since I used to return home from Met Life each day wondering whether I would be able to do this for the rest of my life. Fortunately I found computer programming less of a drag, if not something akin to playing games, than just about any other corporate job.

Richard Greener’s long career in radio started off selling advertising but evolved into a management position, including serving as president of WAOK in Atlanta, a Black radio station that he helped to push in a progressive direction—including sympathetic reporting on Sandinista Nicaragua.

But a good friend of Richard and Jeffrey probably epitomized the “Mad Men” ethos a lot more than either of them. Leonard Leokum, who died about five years ago, was the son of acclaimed author Arkady Leokum and a figure without about the same clout in the advertising business as Don Draper. Although I never really knew Leonard, I used to get a chuckle out of Richard and Jeffrey referring to him as the brains behind the Juan Valdez coffee commercials. We differed on the “political correctness” of the ad, with my friends making the case that Juan Valdez was a subtle symbol of Latin American national aspirations.

In my interview with Jeffrey and Richard, they told me that they had no interest in the show with Richard adding that it would probably make him sick to watch it. After doing the interview, I reflected a bit on the show and what is probably its greatest failing, something not truly addressed in the LRB and the NYRB articles—namely the absence of any character working in the industry who saw through its bullshit.

“Mad Men” has a character or two who spout Marxish comments about advertising but are mainly portrayed as hypocrites whose leftist politics are disjoined from ethical lapses of one sort or another. There are also some characters who seem aware of the beat generation but again don’t truly “get it”. In Bob Dylan’s words:

Something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones

Well, there were people who knew what was happening, especially Jeffrey and Richard (and Leonard as well, I’m sure). At some point during my retirement, I plan to do a series of interviews with ex-SWP members who will be willing to share their experiences with the young activists of today, just as I benefited from conversations with George Novack back in 1967.

But I doubt that any conversation I have with them will be half as stimulating and as eye opening as that I had with Jeffrey and Richard.

By Jeffrey Marlin:



Jeffrey Marlin has also just released a 1300-page opus on Amazon Kindle. It’s entitled Tales of the Great Moral Symmetry, by J. Marlin, and includes five complete verse-novels: The Three Wicked Pigs; Jack and the Time Stalk; Boots: By Puss Possessed; The Outlaw Rumplestiltskin; and Snow White and the 7 Deadly Sins. You’ll find some more-or-less progressive social commentary around the edges, and whether or not it’s your idea of great literature, I can guarantee you’ve never read anything like it. Comrades with Kindles may want to have a look.

My review of Richard Greener’s “The Knowland Retribution: the Locator”:


June 17, 2012

Walter Russell Mead: Bard’s Thomas Friedman

Filed under: bard college — louisproyect @ 9:45 pm

Walter Russell Mead

Receiving the Bard College alumni magazine is a mixed blessing. I do get to find out that Shoshana Goldstein, class of ’68 and an old flame, has just retired from teaching yoga at an Arizona dude ranch after 30 years. (We used to make love in my dorm room listening to Ralph Kirkpatrick playing Scarlatti sonatas.) But I also have to put up with at least one article that reads like it was written for the New Republic magazine, something to be expected from an institution foolish and funding-hungry enough to put Martin Peretz on the board of trustees.

Bard has mutated under Leon Botstein’s presidency-for-life from a relatively honorable left-of-center and underfunded bohemia to what it is today, a citadel of center-right ideology that is crowned by the Bard Globalization and International Affairs Program (BGIA). Unlike the protestors driven into a Starbucks window-breaking frenzy by big money’s control over the planet, Bard higher-ups have global ambitions second to none. My guess is that when Leon Botstein dreams at night, it is most often about putting an outpost of Bard College on the moon.

And to protect the campus from our enemies on the moon, who better to call upon for advice than the speaker from the James Chace Memorial Lecture series at BGIA headquarters on Thursday, March 15. The topic was “Counter Insurgency Operations as Applied in Central Afghanistan – 2002-2011” and the invited guest was James Creighton, who the BGIA website described as having “a wide variety of positions in the US Army for more than two decades including: Commander, Combined Team Uruzgan, Afghanistan; Strategic Planner, ISAF Joint Command Afghanistan; and Deputy Commander, Second Infantry Division.”

I almost decided to show up at this talk to ask GI James what he thought about the massacre that happened the preceding Sunday, when a 38 year old soldier named Robert Bales left his base in the middle of the night and murdered 17 Afghans while they were sleeping in their mud hut. Among them were four women, two boys, and seven girls. That’s basically what globalization is about, after all. As Thomas Friedman once put it:

The hidden hand of the market will never work without the hidden fist—McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies is called the United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

Apropos of Thomas Friedman, Bard has its own minor-league version, a character named Walter Russell Mead who is James Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs and Humanities at Bard College and Editor-at-Large of The American Interest magazine, a center-right magazine chaired by Francis Fukuyama and a board that includes Niall Ferguson and Bernard-Henri Levy. Their names speak for themselves.

Mead’s article, titled “American Grand Strategy in the 21st Century”, attempts to educate his alumni readers about the need for Friedman’s hidden fist but without using those exact words. Besides the imperialist ideology, what it has in common with Friedman’s op-ed pieces in the NYT is some of the worst prose imaginable.

Gawker.com sums up Friedman’s style nicely:

Mustachioed soothsaying simpleton Thomas Friedman long ago mastered a formula for justifying business trips all over the world by writing columns about them—columns that, while not genuinely insightful or even pleasant to read, contain a sufficient number of plausible-sounding platitudes to enable your average Xerox Corporation regional manager to sound informed during his morning meeting with underlings and sycophants.

Mead’s specialty is using lead-footed metaphors such as these:

When I was growing up, the world was filled with escalators. You got on the right escalator and you would automatically ride up to another floor. You went to a good college, you got in to a good law school, then you stepped on the escalator, and if you didn’t do something stupid like jump off or fall, the escalator would carry you up. These days there’s a bunch of rope ladders. They drop down and if you’re quick you can scramble up, but then the ladder is pulled back up. It’s a much more chaotic economy, with big booms and busts.

The “chaotic economy” is the real subject of interest in Mead’s sorry article but if his solutions are meant to speak for the big bourgeoisie whose lap he sits on, then that class is in big trouble.

The article starts with Mead posing the question “What does America want the world to be like?” His answer is “like Europe”, which means “prosperous”, “peaceful”, and “open to our commerce, investment, and trade.” Mead’s Europe is the idealized version of cold war mythology. He writes:

In 1945, we had all the power that anybody could want in Europe. If they wanted to eat, we had to give them food. The immediate response of Americans was not, “How do we keep this?” We thought, “This won’t last; this will be terrible for our economy.” We immediately set about trying to change what looked like the ultimate accomplishment of the traditional idea of one country’s power over others. I don’t see a hunger for war in either the American government or the American people.

Being more like Europe is a goal that other people like as well. This is not the United States imposing some sort of hegemony on people. It’s not an American Dream for the world; it’s a pretty widespread human dream. Putting it in that form helps crystallize an aspiration. The Europeans, by the way, love this idea. We can go to Europeans and say, “This is what we’re trying to do; how can we do it together?” Rather than trying to impose some American vision on other people, we can enlist partners all over the world who will like our grand strategy and, for reasons of their own, want it to work. I think this is a goal that has tremendous appeal.

The interesting question for me is whether Mead is lying or simply uninformed when he writes, “This is not the United States imposing some sort of hegemony on people.”

Paul Ginsborg’s magisterial “A History of Contemporary Italy” delivers the goods on the lack of respect that America had for Italy’s right to decide its own future after 1945:

The first months of 1948 were entirely dedicated to the election campaign. Never again, in the whole history of the Republic, was a campaign to be fought so bitterly by both sides, or to be influenced so heavily by international events. American intervention was breath-taking in its size, its ingenuity and flagrant contempt for any principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of another country. The US administration designated $176m of ‘Interim Aid’ to Italy in the first three months of 1948. After that, the Marshall Plan entered into full operation. James Dunn, the American ambassador at Rome, made sure that this massive injection of aid did not go unobserved by the Italian general public. The arrival of every hundredth ship bearing food, medicines, etc., was turned into a special celebration. Every time the port of arrival was a different one – Civitavecchia, Bari, Genoa, Naples — and every time Dunn’s speech became more overtly political. Whenever a new bridge or school or hospital was constructed with American help, there was the indefatigable ambassador travelling the length of the peninsula to speak in the name of America, the Free World and, by implication, the Christian Democrats. Often the goods unloaded from the ports would be put on a special ‘friendship train’ (the idea was the American journalist Drew Pearson’s) and then distributed with due ceremonial at the stations along the line. And just in case the message was not clear enough, on 20 March 1948 George Marshall warned that all help to Italy would immediately cease in the event of a Communist victory.

Of course, people like Walter Russell Mead and all his cohorts at American Interest would smile beneficently on all this. Why should Italian elections be any different than America’s? Shouldn’t higher office go to those with the deepest pockets? If George Soros spends millions to put Obama in power, the best friend hedge fund managers ever had, why shouldn’t George Marshall use America’s great fortunes to make sure that people were elected in Italy who were “open to our commerce, investment, and trade?”

Mead is quite clear on this. Communists and any other enemies of “our commerce” have to be marginalized for the good of society. He writes:

But there are two kinds of obstacles. How we deal with them is going to shape how our policy works out. First, there’s a problem of will: a lot of people either don’t like the idea of Europe as the goal for their societies, or they don’t like the particular way this might conflict with some other ambition that they have. Here are three examples of people who reject the idea that a bourgeois, liberal, free society is where the human race ought to go: terror groups, like Al-Qaeda; religious extremists; and political extremists of different kinds. Maybe they see this goal as the enemy of the visionary, religious order they would like to see. They may be anarchists or communists who have a principled objection to this kind of society, or think that liberal capitalist development needs to be opposed. The way for the United States to deal with these groups is with intelligence and cooperation with other countries. We’ve done a good job of limiting the damage from some of these groups in the last 10 years, and I think we’ll continue to get better results with less policing.

I really get a chuckle out of Mead’s open approval of the need for “intelligence and cooperation with other countries” to keep Al-Qaeda and us commies down. Of course, there was a time when the U.S. relied heavily on Islamic radicals to overthrow a forward-looking Afghan government that favored land reform and women’s rights, but that’s a story for another article. In 1968, shortly after I joined the Trotskyist movement, I got an unsigned postcard at work “reminding” me of the next SWP branch meeting. Years later I discovered through FOIA that the FBI sent the card in order to “embarrass” me and drive me away from radical politics. Is this the kind of “intelligence” that Walter Russell Mead hopes will “deal with these groups”, as if handing out a leaflet opposing the war in Vietnam and flying jets into the World Trade Center were equivalent?

I also see that he is in favor of “less policing” although I doubt that this would apply to President Obama who coordinated police attacks on the dirty anarchists and communists of the Occupy movement last year. Obama was supposed to speak at a Bard Commencement in 2010 but decided against it at the last minute.

Since I was at that commencement, I was disappointed not to see Obama and Botstein on the same dais since they were such a perfect match, like Damon and Pythias or Laurel and Hardy. Both employed a liberal facade in order to foster a center-right agenda in Washington and in Annandale-on-Hudson, NY. Both were educated at Harvard University, the quintessential finishing school for those who would deny us our democratic rights in the name of democracy.

I understand why people like Mead are fearful of communists and anarchists. With the class divide deepening and more and more young people s facing diminished career prospects—those “rope ladders”—there is a need to keep things quiet. On one hand you get more and more nonsense from people like Thomas Friedman and Walter Russell Mead telling us that prosperity is just around the corner if only we study hard and pick the right major. And on the other you get beefed up police forces that pepper spray peaceful students on a California campus and entrap activists in Chicago.

Mead’s article concludes with a nod to Mitt Romney/Joseph Schumpeter style “creative destruction”:

Thanks to technology, 2 to 3 percent of the population now feeds all of us much better than 150 years ago. In the same way as agriculture, the proportion of the population working in manufacturing is falling. Americans are reaching postindustrial society early, just as we got to some of these other things early, but we don’t have a model for it. We have to invent it, which is what we did in past generations.

All of these hucksters for the capitalist system assure us that it will provide new jobs down the road to replace the ones being destroyed by automation. So far that hasn’t panned out very well in places like Cleveland, Detroit, or Pittsburgh but perhaps the unemployed should just exercise a little patience. Maybe by the 22nd century things will be booming again in the rust belt.

Thomas Friedman peddles the same line in “The Lexus and the Olive Tree”:

If the defining economists of the Cold War system were Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes, who each in his own way wanted to tame capitalism, the defining economists of the globalization system are Joseph Schumpeter and former Intel CEO Andy Grove, who prefer to unleash capitalism. Schumpeter, a former Austrian Minister of Finance and Harvard Business School professor, expressed the view in his classic work, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, that the essence of capitalism is the process of “creative destruction” – the perpetual cycle of destroying the old and less efficient product or service and replacing it with new, more efficient ones.

What Friedman and Mead do not get is that normal people, as opposed to those who make a good living justifying the status quo in the pages of the NY Times or American Interest, are not going to wait around for the Messiah bearing new jobs. We have bills to pay and families to take care of. According to the Federal Reserve, the financial crisis wiped out 18 years of gains for the median U.S. household. There was a 38.8 percent plunge from 2007 to 2010, led by the collapse in home prices. Given this reality, it will be harder and harder for hucksters like Friedman and Mead to convince people that the system works. Time to sharpen the old pitchforks…

April 11, 2012

Erectile dysfunction and a Bard College honorary doctorate

Filed under: bard college — louisproyect @ 4:15 pm

Most people realize that there are two types of honorary doctorates handed out at college commencements each year. The first goes to people who really deserve them, like a Dizzy Gillespie or an Allen Ginsberg. Then you have recipients whose being honored has more to do with the amount of money they lavish on the institutions than anything else. It is a charade that has much in common with the awarding of ambassadorships to major donors of either party. For example, the bootlegger Joseph P. Kennedy was FDR’s man in London and Mel Sembler, a Republican appointee, held posts in Italy and Australia under Bush ’41 and Bush ’43 respectively. Sembler is a shopping mall developer who also ran a drug treatment center that was convicted of the false imprisonment of a 20 year old patient. Nice, very nice.

Since Lynda Resnick is a major donor to the Democratic Party who enjoys throwing lavish parties, I wouldn’t be surprised to see her become ambassador to Liechtenstein or Monaco someday. In the meantime, she is picking up a Doctor of Humane Letters from Bard College, my alma mater, on May 26th. I wish I could be there to hear the bullshit put forward to justify this award since she is certainly one of the more reprehensible people connected to the school, mostly through her husband Stuart who sits on the board of trustees with other knaves like Bruce Ratner, the real estate developer responsible for foisting an ugly and wasteful megaproject on downtown Brooklyn.

Even though I have supplied dossiers on the Resnicks before (Stuart Resnick as Noah Cross; Bard’s Lumpen Bourgeoisie), I can’t resist drawing from the well of resentment once again. If Colonel Kilgore of “Apocalypse Now” got the juices flowing after smelling napalm in the morning, all it takes for me is an alumni newsletter with the latest outrage from a once-proud institution that Walter Winchell—perhaps apocryphally–called “the little red whorehouse on the Hudson.”

It must be understood above all that when the Resnicks give money to a college or to a hospital, it is in effect a PR exercise. These pay-offs are meant to compensate for their diverting precious water resources in California from working class households into their pomegranate and almond plantations, and from Fiji into their disgusting mineral water business. To paraphrase Marie Antoinette, let them drink piss. All billionaires who fund libraries, hospitals, colleges, operas, et al do it to improve their bottom line in the same way as campaign contributions. They amount to bribes. Shower enough money on the masses and maybe they’ll put down their pitchforks. The robber barons of the 19th century paved the way for this, with the marauding railroad tycoon and nativist Governor of California Leland Stanford founding Stanford University.

In perhaps a sign that some institutions have higher standards than those prevailing under Bard College’s sleazy President-for-Life Leon Botstein, the UCLA Law School struggled with the ethics of receiving major donations from Lowell Milken and the Resnicks last year. An August 22, 2011 article by Julie Creswell and Peter Lattman titled Milken’s Gift Stirs Dispute at U.C.L.A. Law School  describes the dilemma facing the institution’s legal minds: should they take money from law-breakers? Or, in the case of the Resnicks, law-benders.

In a controversial deal with the government, Michael pleaded guilty to securities law violations after the government agreed to drop criminal charges against Lowell. Michael served a 22-month prison term and paid $600 million in fines and restitution.

As part of a settlement in a related civil matter, the Securities and Exchange Commission permanently barred the two brothers from the securities industry.

Lowell Milken did not admit to any wrongdoing.

Kenneth W. Graham Jr., a retired U.C.L.A. law professor, said it was a mistake to take the gift from Mr. Milken, a 1973 graduate of the school and longtime donor to it. “To say that I was outraged would be something of an understatement,” wrote Mr. Graham in an e-mail.

The Resnicks are described in the article as being little better than the snake-oil salesmen who used to go from town to town back in Leland Stanford’s day:

Mr. Milken is not the only leading donor in the current campaign that has tussled with regulatory authorities. The capital drive also led to the creation of the Stewart and Lynda Resnick Endowed Fund in Support of Public Interest Law. The Resnicks are the Beverly Hills beverage industry entrepreneurs who own Fiji Water and Pom Wonderful.

Last fall, the Federal Trade Commission filed a civil lawsuit against the Resnicks, accusing them and their company, Pom Wonderful, of making “false and unsubstantiated claims” that their pomegranate juice product helped reduce the risk of heart disease and erectile dysfunction.

Don’t you love the business about erectile dysfunction? Who needs Viagra when you can suck down a bottle of Pom juice?

You can read the proceedings of the Federal Trade Commission’s lawsuit here. It is a reminder of how sordid the capitalist system is, with hucksters trying to sell fruit juice on the basis that it can make your dick hard. That’s not the worst of it. The document refers to a youtube clip where Lynda Resnick claims that it can cure Alzheimer’s as well. Naturally, she is the guest of another crook, Martha Stewart.

Listening to WFAN, a sports talk radio station in New York,  through much of the day I get a little nuts having to put up with all the commercials—a good half of which fall into the same category as what got the Resnicks into hot water with the FTC. The Boston Medical Group with its erectile dysfunction cure that paid a $8.5 million fine for making the same kind of bogus claims. That’s not the end of it. There are ads for magic potions that can pump up your testosterone level. I put up with the ads because I want to hear other fans like me putting in their two cents about the NY Knicks.

Lynda Resnick got started as a 19 year old running an advertising agency. Ever watch “Mad Men”? That’s a pretty good take on the role of advertising in the U.S. As products continue to go downhill, from automobiles to the canned goods on your supermarket shelves, you need advertising agencies to con the consumer.

That’s essentially what Lynda Resnick should be honored for, her remarkable ability to con the American consumer. As should be obvious at this point in his illustrious career, Leon Botstein has a remarkable ability for lining up such people to fund Bard College. If he had only half as great an ability to see himself as he really is, and not the idealized portrait that this academic version of Dorian Gray imagines.

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