Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 15, 2015

Behind every great fortune there is a crime

Filed under: capitalist pig,crime,literature,Russia — louisproyect @ 10:37 pm

The title of this article stems from Honoré de Balzac’s “Père Goriot”. Often seen erroneously (including by me) as the novel’s epigraph, it is actually words spoken by a scheming, malevolent character named Vautrin: “The secret of a great success for which you are at a loss to account is a crime that has never been discovered, because it was properly executed.”

Whatever the exact words, the Balzacian worldview came to mind after reading the NY Times series of articles on the filthy rich and mostly criminal owners of the city’s most expensive condos. They sank in further after watching an episode on “Sixty Minutes” about HSBC, a Swiss bank that facilitated tax evasion and worse.

I suppose that I should have long been inured to the criminality of the super-rich but for some reason I always stop dead in my tracks when I encounter it anew on such a grand scale. I end up feeling like Joe Buck, the Texas hustler who has come to NY to make it as a professional gigolo in “Midnight Cowboy”, standing over a man sprawled out unconscious on the sidewalk as people pass him by with barely a glance. Unlike the rest of humanity, Buck tells himself that something is wrong.

Karl Marx was a big fan of Balzac and even intended to write a study of “The Human Comedy”, a massive collection of novels, short stories and articles about the greed, corruption and power of the bourgeoisie but hardly a paean to the common man. Keep in mind that Balzac was a royalist and hardly a purveyor of “socialist realism”. Engels, another fan of Balzac, told London radical Margaret Harkness in 1888 that his politics were less important than his ability to tell the truth about bourgeois society:

The more the opinions of the author remain hidden, the better for the work of art. The realism I allude to may crop out even in spite of the author’s opinions. Let me refer to an example. Balzac, whom I consider a far greater master of realism than all the Zolas passés, présents et a venir [past, present and future], in “La Comédie humaine” gives us a most wonderfully realistic history of French ‘Society’, especially of le monde parisien [the Parisian social world], describing, chronicle-fashion, almost year by year from 1816 to 1848 the progressive inroads of the rising bourgeoisie upon the society of nobles, that reconstituted itself after 1815 and that set up again, as far as it could, the standard of la viellie politesse française [French refinement]. He describes how the last remnants of this, to him, model society gradually succumbed before the intrusion of the vulgar monied upstart, or were corrupted by him; how the grand dame whose conjugal infidelities were but a mode of asserting herself in perfect accordance with the way she had been disposed of in marriage, gave way to the bourgeoisie, who horned her husband for cash or cashmere; and around this central picture he groups a complete history of French Society from which, even in economic details (for instance the rearrangement of real and personal property after the Revolution) I have learned more than from all the professed historians, economists, and statisticians of the period together.

Monied upstarts pretty much describes the billionaires who bought Manhattan apartments through shell corporations that concealed their identities. The article that introduces the series describes the affinity between NY’s one percent and the human detritus that is artificially inflating an already out-of-reach real estate market:

The high-end real estate market has become less and less transparent — and more alluring for those abroad with assets they wish to keep anonymous — even as the United States pushes other nations to help stanch the flow of American money leaving the country to avoid taxes. Yet for all the concerns of law enforcement officials that shell companies can hide illicit gains, regulatory efforts to require more openness from these companies have failed.

“We like the money,” said Raymond Baker, the president of Global Financial Integrity, a Washington nonprofit that tracks the illicit flow of money. “It’s that simple. We like the money that comes into our accounts, and we are not nearly as judgmental about it as we should be.”

In some ways, officials are clamoring for the foreign wealthy. In New York, tax breaks for condominium developments benefit owners looking for a second, or third, residence in one of Manhattan’s premier buildings. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said on his weekly radio program in 2013, shortly before leaving office: “If we could get every billionaire around the world to move here, it would be a godsend.”

In fact the invasion of oligarchs and crooks has been the opposite of a godsend. These condominiums enjoy tax breaks originally intended to stimulate the construction of middle-class housing but real estate developers obviously find it more profitable to build high-rises like the Time-Warner Center that is profiled in the articles. Built shortly after September 11, 2001, the ultra-luxury building was advertised as a fortress for the super-rich that had more to fear from the workers and peasants they were screwing than Islamic radicals.

 

Here is an idea of the kind of scum that inhabits the Time-Warner Center:

Units 72B and 51E are owned by the Amantea Corporation, which The Times traced to a mining magnate named Anil Agarwal. His company was fined for polluting a major river near a copper mine in Zambia, which sickened nearby residents. And judicial committees in his native India determined that his company had violated the land rights of an indigenous tribe near a proposed mine.

Perhaps the most eye-opening example of how larceny and power politics commingle is found in part five in the series titled “At the Time Warner Center, an Enclave of Powerful Russians”. If you, like me, place little credence in the notion of the Kremlin and its retinue of connected oligarchs as some kind of anti-imperialist vanguard, this profile of Andrey Vavilov is a must read.

Vavilov was Boris Yeltsin’s deputy finance minister and like many of his top officials cultivated ties with American inside-the-beltway policy wonks and power brokers at places like the Brookings Institution. Vavilov was one of the key architects who advised Yeltsin on turning state-owned industry, particularly in the energy sphere, into get-rich-quick bonanzas for the managers benefiting from privatization including himself. Cashing in on a sale of a oil company being sold back to the state under Putin to the tune of $600 million, he was not put off by the price tag of $37.5 million for an 8,275 square foot penthouse in the Time Warner Center. In addition to this penthouse, Vavilov owns an Airbus jet, apartments in Monaco and Beverly Hills, and recently purchased two diamonds for his wife (55 and 59.5 carats) worth a cool $60 million.

He is also a visiting professor of economics at Penn State, where he must be educating a new generation of economists on how to game the system for Wall Street hedge funds and the like.

Like many on Wall Street, Vavilov has managed to avoid a prison cell despite the serious allegations made against him over the years, including the mishandling of nearly a quarter-billion dollars in proceeds from the sale of MIG’s to India. Just around the time the law was breathing down his neck in 2007, he was elected senator to the Russian parliament, which gave him immunity. The case was dropped a year later because the statue of limitations had expired.

Most interestingly, despite Vavilov’s close association to Yeltsin and Putin’s reputation for cleaning up Yeltsin’s privatization mess, he managed to endear himself to the fearless anti-imperialist leader:

Despite Mr. Vavilov’s close association with the Yeltsin administration, much of his wealth was acquired later, as Mr. Putin’s government was consolidating the nation’s oil industry in one state-affiliated super company, Rosneft.

In 2000, Mr. Vavilov had acquired a small oil company, Severnaya Neft, or Northern Oil, for $25 million. When Rosneft purchased Severnaya Neft in 2003 for $600 million, the deal was widely criticized as having been larded with kickbacks for Kremlin insiders.

In a now-legendary confrontation at the Kremlin, Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, chairman of the oil giant Yukos, challenged Mr. Putin about the purchase. Many people believed that it was Mr. Putin’s anger over the very public encounter that sparked his campaign against Mr. Khodorkovsky, who would be stripped of his company, prosecuted and imprisoned.

For most of the left, particularly those people who remain impressed by NYU professor emeritus Stephen F. Cohen who has the same relationship to Putin that Anna Louise Strong had to Mao Zedong, there’s very little understanding of how Putin continues Yeltsin’s policies rather than breaks with them. In fact, there is an analogy with how Cohen’s wife’s vanity publication, ie. The Nation Magazine, fails to appreciate how much Obama is a continuation of George W. Bush.

For the best analysis of the Yeltsin-Putin continuity, I recommend a Tony Wood review of three recent books on Putin that is unfortunately behind a paywall (contact me if you’d like a copy) but this is the takeaway:

New Year’s Eve 1999 – when Yeltsin appeared on Russian TV screens to announce his resignation as president in favour of Putin – is often taken to mark a major turning point, from the ‘fevered 1990s’ to the stability of the ‘Zero Years’, as the 2000s are known, the moment when Yeltsin’s erratic improvisation gave way to the cold calculation personified in Putin. Economically, the prolonged post-Soviet collapse was followed by recovery after the 1998 ruble crash and then an oil-fuelled boom, while in the media a boisterous incoherent pluralism was replaced by deadening consensus. But there were deeper continuities in the system both men commanded.

Politically, the ‘managed democracy’ of the 2000s was not a perversion of Yeltsinism but its maturation. Faced with a fractious legislature – the Congress of People’s Deputies elected in 1990 – Yeltsin bombed it into submission in October 1993 and then rewrote the constitution along hyper-presidential lines, getting it approved by a rigged referendum that December. Even before that, he had sidestepped democratic accountability by implementing much of the key legislation that shaped the post-Soviet economy through a series of decrees – some of them, notably on privatisation, drafted by Western advisers. Thanks to the notorious ‘loans for shares’ deals of 1995-96, a handful of oligarchs obtained vast holdings in oil and metals companies in exchange for flooding the media outlets they owned with anti-Communist propaganda – a vital contribution to prolonging Yeltsin’s grip on power, though generous financial assistance from the West and electoral violations also played their part. In Chechnya, Yeltsin moved to crush local aspirations to sovereignty, unleashing total war against the civilian population in 1994, though the Russian army had been fought to a standstill by 1996.

On each of these fronts, Putin continued what Yeltsin began, starting in the North Caucasus in September 1999, when he launched a vicious counterinsurgency – officially labelled an ‘anti-terrorist operation’ – to destroy any idea of Chechen independence, eventually imposing a tyrant of his own choosing. Once installed as president, he made use of the autocratic set-up he inherited to reassert central authority, reining in regional elites by appointing plenipotentiaries to head seven new federal superdistricts, okruga; five of the first levy were former military men, underlining their disciplinary function (his first envoy to the Southern Federal District, Viktor Kazantsev, had commanded Russian forces in the North Caucasus). Fiscal reforms increased the federal centre’s tax take at the expense of the regions, with Moscow’s share rising from 50 per cent in 2001 to 70 per cent in 2008. In 2004 Putin further restricted their autonomy, abolishing elections for governors and mayors (though these were partially reintroduced in 2012). The national legislature had been put in its place by Yeltsin, though it showed signs of rebellion in 1998, in the wake of the ruble crisis; Putin brought it firmly to heel, streamlining the party system so that by 2007 there were only four to manage, two of them, United Russia and A Just Russia, the Kremlin’s own creations, while the Communist Party and LDPR (the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) hardly constituted an opposition. In December 2003, Boris Gryzlov, the Duma chairman, summed up its negligible role by declaring that ‘parliament is no place for political battles.’

I suppose there is very little expectation that Swiss Banks are up to anything except abetting criminals but the segment on Sixty Minutes last Sunday about HSBC was enough to bring out the Joe Buck in me. You can watch the entire thing here.

Bill Whitaker interviews attorney Jack Blum, who was graduating the year I entered Bard College. Blum is a capable investigator whose best-known efforts on behalf of the public interest was an aide to John Kerry in his investigation of the Nicaraguan contra-cocaine connection back in 1986 when he still had a shred of integrity. I never had any contact with Blum but he was a fairly typical young Democrat type of student who at least had the good sense to stay clear of electoral politics.

Jack Blum

Here’s the beginning of the transcript from the “Sixty Minutes” piece:

HIGHLIGHT: The largest and most damaging Swiss bank heist in history doesn`t involve stolen money but stolen computer files with more than one hundred thousand names tied to Swiss bank accounts at HSBC, the second largest commercial bank in the world. A thirty-seven-year-old computer security specialist named Herve Falciani stole the huge cache of data in 2007 and gave it to the French government.

BILL WHITAKER: The largest and most damaging Swiss bank heist in history doesn`t involve stolen money but stolen computer files with more than one hundred thousand names tied to Swiss bank accounts at HSBC, the second largest commercial bank in the world. A thirty-seven-year-old computer security specialist named Herve Falciani stole the huge cache of data in 2007 and gave it to the French government. It`s now being used to go after tax cheats all over the world. 60 MINUTES, working with a group called the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, obtained the leaked files. They show the bank did business with a collection of international outlaws: Tax dodgers, arms dealers and drug smugglers–offering a rare glimpse into the highly secretive world of Swiss banking.

BILL WHITAKER (voiceover): This is the stolen data that`s shaking the Swiss banking world to its core. It contains names, nationalities, account information, deposit amounts–but most remarkable are these detailed notes revealing the private dealings between HSBC and its clients.

JACK BLUM: Well, the amount of information here that has come public is extraordinary. Absolutely extraordinary.

BILL WHITAKER (voiceover): Few people know more about money laundering and tax evasion by banks than Jack Blum.

JACK BLUM: You have a very serious problem.

BILL WHITAKER (voiceover): He`s a former U.S. Senate staff investigator. We asked him to analyze the files for us.

JACK BLUM: If you read these notes, what you understand is the bank is trying to accommodate the secrecy needs of the client. And that`s the first concern.

BILL WHITAKER (voiceover): Take the case of British citizen Emmanuel Shallop. He was convicted for selling blood diamonds, those illegal gems used to finance conflicts in Africa. The documents show in 2005 HSBC knew Shallop was under investigation, yet helped hide his assets. “We have opened a company account for him based in Dubai…” one entry read, “The client is very cautious currently, because he is under pressure from Belgian tax authorities, who are investigating his activities in the area of diamond tax fraud.”

JACK BLUM: You get into the notes and you find that they offer various products: shell corporations, trusts, various ways of concealing the ownership of the account. They offer products that they`re going to give to the customer that will help with a concealment.

BILL WHITAKER (voiceover): Concealment is what Irish businessman John Cashell got from HSBC. His file contained these notes by a bank employee: Cashell`s “…pre-occupation is with the risk of disclosure to the Irish authorities.” The employee went on, “…I endeavored to reassure him that there is no risk of that happening.” Cashell was later convicted of tax evasion.

The bank files we examined contained more than four thousand names of people with connections to the U.S., holding more than thirteen billion in HSBC accounts. One was a New Jersey realtor. The notes in her file reveal that she and her family wanted assurance that her assets would be well hidden from U.S. tax collectors.

JACK BLUM: And she expresses concerns to the bank, which in turn reassure her that they will find ways to keep her name out of the sights of IRS.

BILL WHITAKER: There seems to be evidence of the bank actively helping clients evade, if not cheat.

JACK BLUM: Of course.

It has been at least 35 years since I read “Père Goriot”. I barely have time nowadays to read the political stuff that is my daily bread but I would like to find the time to read it again before I die since it was a book that gave me deep pleasure. Balzac was a master of rendering character, particularly in the depths of their depravity. His introduction to the novel’s main character will give you an idea of the moral rot that underpins bourgeois society. From the sound of this, Père Goriot would have found the road to riches in Yeltsin and Putin’s Russia or a job with HSBC:

In the days before the Revolution, Jean-Joachim Goriot was simply a workman in the employ of a vermicelli maker. He was a skilful, thrifty workman, sufficiently enterprising to buy his master’s business when the latter fell a chance victim to the disturbances of 1789. Goriot established himself in the Rue de la Jussienne, close to the Corn Exchange. His plain good sense led him to accept the position of President of the Section, so as to secure for his business the protection of those in power at that dangerous epoch. This prudent step had led to success; the foundations of his fortune were laid in the time of the Scarcity (real or artificial), when the price of grain of all kinds rose enormously in Paris. People used to fight for bread at the bakers’ doors; while other persons went to the grocers’ shops and bought Italian paste foods without brawling over it. It was during this year that Goriot made the money, which, at a later time, was to give him all the advantage of the great capitalist over the small buyer; he had, moreover, the usual luck of average ability; his mediocrity was the salvation of him. He excited no one’s envy, it was not even suspected that he was rich till the peril of being rich was over, and all his intelligence was concentrated, not on political, but on commercial speculations. Goriot was an authority second to none on all questions relating to corn, flour, and “middlings”; and the production, storage, and quality of grain. He could estimate the yield of the harvest, and foresee market prices; he bought his cereals in Sicily, and imported Russian wheat. Any one who had heard him hold forth on the regulations that control the importation and exportation of grain, who had seen his grasp of the subject, his clear insight into the principles involved, his appreciation of weak points in the way that the system worked, would have thought that here was the stuff of which a minister is made. Patient, active, and persevering, energetic and prompt in action, he surveyed his business horizon with an eagle eye. Nothing there took him by surprise; he foresaw all things, knew all that was happening, and kept his own counsel; he was a diplomatist in his quick comprehension of a situation; and in the routine of business he was as patient and plodding as a soldier on the march. But beyond this business horizon he could not see. He used to spend his hours of leisure on the threshold of his shop, leaning against the framework of the door. Take him from his dark little counting-house, and he became once more the rough, slow-witted workman, a man who cannot understand a piece of reasoning, who is indifferent to all intellectual pleasures, and falls asleep at the play, a Parisian Dolibom in short, against whose stupidity other minds are powerless.

February 3, 2015

The divine right of the bourgeoisie

Filed under: capitalist pig — louisproyect @ 8:48 pm

It seems that Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the disgraced former head of the IMF who was charged but ultimately cleared of raping a maid in a Washington hotel, is in the news again. This time it looks like the charges might stick as the Washington Post reported yesterday:

On Monday, the man many thought would one day be president of France will stand trial in the city of Lille in northern France. He’s faced with charges he helped procure sex workers for sex parties from Paris to Brussels to Washington. Dubbed the Carlton affair because it involves the Hotel Carlton in Lille, the case stars luxury hotel managers, Freemasons, Viagra, purple carpet and even a brothel owner called “Dodo the Pimp” (Dodo la Saumure). In a charging document that runs 240 pages, French authorities said Strauss-Kahn may have helped organize the affairs, during which female attendants were allegedly paid to have sex with businessmen.

This juicy tidbit reminded me that I had intended to write something about Jeffrey Epstein, the superrich American financier who spent time in prison seven years ago for soliciting prostitutes. The charge hardly does justice to the actual crime, which involved lavishing large amounts of money on impressionable teenage girls, one only fourteen years old, to tempt them into what first looked like a glamorous world. Needless to say, the prospects of giving Alan Dershowitz a blow job must have disabused them of that notion rather quickly.

This year Epstein is in the news again because one of the women who have launched a civil suit seeking damages has identified Prince Andrew and Alan Dershowitz as two of the men that were serviced by Epstein’s harem. I will have something to say about Prince Andrew and Dershowitz after putting Epstein under a microscope. He, like Dominique Strauss-Kahn, symbolizes the affinity between economic power and sexual domination that rarely gets discussed in a mainstream media, which sees such scandals as the failings of an individual rather than an economic system.

The best all-round article on Epstein can be found in New York Magazine, a weekly geared to the lifestyles of the middle class and that is ubiquitous to the waiting rooms of doctors and dentists. On December 8, 2007 Philip Weiss’s “The Fantasist” appeared. It was subtitled: “Accused of paying underage girls for sex, superrich money manager Jeffrey Epstein is finding that living in a dream world is dangerous—even if you can pay for it.” Does the name Philip Weiss ring a bell? It should. He is our estimable comrade from Mondoweiss who made his living as a journalist for glossy magazines before taking on the Israeli lobby.

Epstein had a mansion on 71st street between Fifth and Madison of gargantuan proportions. At one time it was a private school but after Epstein took it over, its 9 stories and 51,000 square feet became devoted to his vulgar Playboy tastes. In addition to Weiss, I recommend Vicky Ward’s March 2003 profile on Epstein in Vanity Fair, a magazine with the same sort of gossipy fare as New York, where she revealed a nouveau riche middle-aged man whose tastes would remind you of MTV Cribs, the show in which rock stars or professional athletes walk you through their garish McMansions.

Her article was shrewdly titled “The Talented Mr. Epstein”, a nod to Patricia Highsmith’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley” that took aim at a lower middle-class youth’s homicidal ambitions to break into the world of the superrich. Like Ripley, Epstein came from a humble background in Brooklyn and became consumed with the desire to live like royalty. As we shall see, a crime far less serious than murder allowed him to break into the bourgeoisie.

Ward might not have Epstein’s wealth when she was his guest on 71st street but her tastes were far more refined. She notices that the entrance hall was decorated with rows of individually framed prosthetic eyeballs originally intended for wounded British soldiers. Next came an immense foyer where a twice-life-size sculpture of an African warrior was on display. Epstein fielded her questions in the “Leather Room”, where she saw a painting of “a huge, Oriental fantasy of a woman holding an opium pipe and caressing a snarling lionskin”. Later on, Epstein took her on a tour of the mansion that included a look at the “Computer Room”. There she was stunned to see a stuffed black poodle atop a Steinway grand piano. He told her “No decorator would ever tell you to do that. But I want people to think what it means to stuff a dog.”

I imagine that Epstein barely made a distinction between stuffing a poodle and his dick into a fourteen-year-old girl. At the time Ward was doing her research, she got word about his turning teenage girls into his sex slaves and submitted an article that exposed his crimes. But editor Graydon Carter decided to exclude the passages that dealt with that. In a January 6, 2015 article in “The Daily Beast” tilted “I tried to warn you about sleazy billionaire Jeffrey Epstein” in 2003”, she assesses the consequences of Carter’s failure of nerve:

Today, my editor at The Daily Beast emailed Graydon to ask why he had excised the women’s stories from my article. A Vanity Fair spokeswoman responded: “Epstein denied the charges at the time and since the claims were unsubstantiated and no criminal investigation had been initiated, we decided not to include them in what was a financial story.”

But this wasn’t a financial story, it was a classic Vanity Fair profile of a society figure. I don’t know—because I never asked him—if Graydon still believed Epstein when in 2007 Epstein was sentenced to jail time for soliciting underage prostitutes. But it has often struck me that if my piece had named the women, the FBI might have come after Epstein sooner and perhaps some of his victims, now, in the latest spate of allegations, allegedly either paid off or too fearful of retribution to speak up, would have been saved.

Honoré de Balzac, Karl Marx’s favorite novelist, introduced “Le Pére Goriot” with this epigraph: “Behind every great fortune there is a crime”. That was apparently the case with Epstein, who was fired from his first job at Bear Stearns in 1981 after he was discovered making “illegal operations”. Like so many others on Wall Street, he used insider information to make trades on St. Joe Mineral Corporation, a Canadian firm. Getting fired from Bear Stearns for improprieties is quite an accomplishment given this firm’s history. Along with Lehman Brothers, its heavy investment in collateralized mortgage securities brought it down. In a Vanity Fair article on Bear-Stearns, a Wall Street executive said, “If I had to pick the biggest financial crime ever perpetuated, I would say, ‘Bear Stearns.’ ”

Eventually Epstein started his own firm that was confident enough in its own abilities to stipulate that the only customers would be those worth more than a billion dollars. Only $750 million? Sorry, you need to go to Goldman Sachs.

According to Kay, lining up Leslie Wexner as his first account was critical. Wexner was the CEO of a garment conglomerate called the Limited. Among its most profitable companies was Victoria’s Secret, a woman’s underwear manufacturer that is notorious for its televised fashion shows in which models traipse down the runway with wings on their back. Apparently Epstein enjoyed sitting in the front row at these events, where he could pick out models young enough for his tastes.

Epstein and Wexner shared a passion besides making money. They were both rightwing Zionists. In another important article titled “How Alan Dershowitz bullied rape victims to protect a serial child molester”, written for Electronic Intifada on January 10, 2015, Rania Khalek makes it clear how big-time Jewish money works on behalf of Palestinian oppression:

The Wexner Foundation is deeply involved in Israel advocacy mostly through its Israel Fellowship Program, which brings ten Israeli public officials to Harvard for a fully funded Master’s degree program in public administration at the Kennedy School of Government.

With the participation of The Wexner Foundation, Republican pollster and rightwing propaganda consultant Frank Luntz produced the “Wexner Analysis: Israeli Communications Priorities 2003,” a “road map” for linking the US’ so-called war on terror in Iraq to Israel’s war on Palestinians.

The foundation also funds a number of pro-Israel organizations, including Birthright Israel, a sectarian indoctrination program that sends young American Jews on a free ten-day trip to Israel to lure them into immigrating to bolster a Jewish majority and participate in the dispossession and ethnic cleansing of indigenous Palestinians.

Wexner himself is a key supporter and sits on the board of governors of Hillel International, the national network of campus organizations devoted to policing criticism of Israel and attacking the increasingly popular boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement under the guise of “enriching the lives of Jewish students.” In 2008, Hillel awarded its annual Renaissance Award to Wexner for giving “critical support and counsel to Hillel.”

After Epstein was arrested in 2006, a number of charities and institutions returned the money he had donated but not Harvard University where his $30 million had been used to create a department for Martin Nowak, a scientist whose research in genetics and society impressed Epstein, who has cultivated the support of big-time researchers and politicians alike.

When Nowak invited evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers to speak at a symposium, Epstein intervened to get the invitation revoked as the Harvard Crimson reported:

Some have opined that, with the passing of the Summers administration in 2006, these threats to free speech about Israel have ended. However, in 2007, long after Summers’ departure, Martin A. Nowak—Professor of Mathematics and Biology and Director of Harvard’s Program for Evolutionary Dynamics (PED) —invited Rutgers biologist Robert L. Trivers to speak on the occasion of his receipt of the prestigious Crafoord Prize in biosciences from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Hours before the scheduled speech and party, according to Trivers, Nowak abruptly rescinded the invitation and said that he was doing so under the orders of someone he would not identify. Also according to Trivers, Jeffrey Epstein later admitted ordering the cancellation and said that he had done so under pressure from Dershowitz. Epstein, a legal client of Dershowitz, had donated the funds used to establish PED, which, according to other sources, depends for its future effectiveness on further funding from him.

Dershowitz, who is also a Faculty Affiliate of PED, had complained of a letter to the Wall Street Journal in which Trivers described Israel’s attacks on Lebanese civilians during the 2006 invasion as “butchery.” He also called Dershowitz a “Nazi-like apologist” for justifying it, and told Dershowitz to “look forward to a visit” from him if his public justifications continued. Trivers denied any intent to threaten or harm Dershowitz physically. In 2008, it was a professor from outside of PED who ultimately invited Trivers anew. Notwithstanding Dershowitz’ dramatic claim to have posted his karate-expert secretary at his office door to protect him, Trivers delivered a brilliant and well-attended speech, which took him nowhere near Dershowitz or his office. That Trivers was disinvited in the first place remains an unwashed disgrace to Harvard, unprecedented since the McCarthy era with regard to any issue other than Israel-Palestine.

Prince Andrew, like Alan Dershowitz, was a bosom buddy of Jeffrey Epstein and a man not inclined to question his obvious predilection for underage prostitutes. Both men vigorously deny having had sex with the women although Prince Andrew has more of a job explaining away the photo that shows him with his arm wrapped around a “Jane Doe” in the civil suit.

I had never paid much attention to the royal family but Andrew is a remarkably sleazy character, not just when it comes to preying on young women. Known as the Duke of York, he was a good pal of Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saif. British tabloid The Mirror reported:

In November 2007 Andrew had the first of several meetings with Libyan dictator Colonel Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam, later indicted on charges including torture. And in 2008 he enjoyed a four-day holiday in Tunisia paid for by Tarek Kaituni (a convicted Libyan gun smuggler) before going to Libya and visiting Colonel Gaddafi himself, known as a murderous tyrant and rapist during his 42-year reign of terror.

Of course, this might not have raised eyebrows in Great Britain since the Libyan dictatorship had endeared itself to other powerful figures, including Tony Blair who hailed Gaddafi as an ally in the “war on terror” and gave his blessings to joint exploration deals between Shell and the Libyan state-owned oil company.

As the UK’s Special Trade Representative, the Duke had a way of sniffing out lucrative trade deals with oil-rich dictatorships including Kazakhstan. As a wedding gift from Queen Elizabeth, the Duke received a 12-bedroom mansion in Sunninghill Park in 1986. After his divorce with Sarah Ferguson, the Duke moved out and put the property up for sale. Something of a white elephant that architecture critics likened to a Tesco-style supermarket, it languished on the real estate market for five years until Timur Kulibayev picked it up for £15m, £3m more than the asking price.

Timur Kulibayev is the son-in-law of Kazakhstan’s president and reputed to control 90 percent of the country’s economy. A leading Kazakh banker has alleged that the mansion was bought with money laundered from the proceeds of the sale of a Kazakh oil company to the Chinese. There is little doubt that the Duke has been acting as a middleman between British oil companies and Kazakhstan. The shady purchase of his mansion was surely meant to serve as a lubricant.

When he is not brokering oil deals, the Duke is making connections on behalf of British arms manufacturers. One of the more lucrative deals he has overseen is with the Bahrain dictatorship that has tortured men and women who protested in the streets during the nation’s participation in the Arab Spring.

As mentioned above, Prince Andrew will need a good lawyer in the upcoming civil suit based on the testimony that has already been presented under oath. The Mirror reported on January 3, 2015:

Prince Andrew holidayed with Epstein in Thailand in 2001 and was snapped surrounded by topless women on a yacht.

A handyman who spent 11 years working for the tycoon claimed Prince Andrew often had massages when he was a guest at his Palm Beach mansion.

Juan Alessi said the Prince enjoyed daily massages from young women and often emerged “smiling” after rub-downs.

He said the massages were carried out in a private part of the mansion only Epstein and selected guests could access.

Alessi also told how he witnessed parties at the ­waterfront mansion at which the Prince was present while young girls frolicked in the nude.

One can easily imagine Epstein selling the prince on the healthful benefits of massage, considering what it did for him:

Screen shot 2015-02-03 at 3.08.47 PM

Philip Weiss quotes Epstein’s friend Peggy Siegal, a publicist:

“He lives in a different environment,” says Siegal. “He’s of this world. But he creates this different environment. He lives like a pasha. The most magnificent townhouse I’ve ever been in, and I’ve been in everything. I’ve seen a model of the house in Santa Fe … a stone fortress. A model of the house in the Caribbean—it is not to be believed. I’ve seen photographs of the apartment in Paris … How did he get himself into that pickle? That’s the mystery of Jeffrey Epstein. He’s very mysterious. Not that many people get close to him. Not that many people know him.”

Indeed, he does live like a pasha although I doubt that Siegal knew enough about Ottoman history to understand how much her words revealed. According to Wikipedia, a pasha is similar to the rank of Duke in British aristocracy. It makes perfect sense that Epstein and the Duke saw the right to buy women for their sexual pleasure as a God-given right. The entire basis of feudalism, after all, is the right of the aristocrat to enjoy a privileged status protected by the Church and the hereditary feudal class system.

“The Marriage of Figaro”, one of my favorite Mozart operas, involves Count Almaviva’s intention to reinstate the feudal right of an aristocrat to sleep with the bride of a servant. This was a world in which the aristocracy still wielded great power in Europe and as such Mozart’s opera was part and parcel of the emerging bourgeois revolution that would abolish such privileges.

In my own view of this hotly contested matter in Marxist theory, I view the bourgeois revolution as one that preserves elements of feudal property relations, particularly in the countryside. The modern two-party system, in my view, is rooted in the compromise between urban manufacturer and rural gentry that was necessary for them to withstand the combined power of worker and peasant. It is the persistence of Labour and Tory in Britain and two-party systems everywhere in the world that demonstrates how bourgeois revolutions are not exactly democratic.

The behavior of a Dominique Strauss-Kahn or a Jeffrey Epstein is just a reminder that men at the top of the capitalist food chain tend to behave like Count Almaviva. The only difference between hereditary rule and bourgeois rule is that in the first case de jure allows what de facto in the second does not. In other words, you better not get caught with your pants down.

April 27, 2014

Donald Sterling: racist and sexist pig extraordinaire

Filed under: capitalist pig,racism,real estate,sexism,sports — louisproyect @ 8:45 pm

This week there were blatant signs that America was not yet a “postracial” society. First we were treated to the spectacle of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, hailed by the libertarian right for his stand against a federal government he deemed non-existent, telling a NY Times reporter that Blacks abort their young children and put their young men in jail “because they never learned how to pick cotton.”

Fast on his heels, Donald Sterling, the 81 year old owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, a basketball team with a Black coach and star guard who also happens to be the president of the players’ union, was caught saying over the phone to his 38 year old girlfriend—of mixed Latino and Black ancestry—that she should stop showing up at his arena with so many Blacks. Quoting Sterling:

It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?

You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that … and not to bring them to my games.

I’m just saying, in your lousy fucking Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with, walking with black people.

…Don’t put him [Magic Johnson] on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don’t bring him to my games.

This was all on a tape that his girlfriend released to TMZ, a gossip website.

This story has burst through the seams of sports and become a hot topic on television news and the newspapers. In today’s NY Times, William C. Rhoden, a Black sports reporter, wrote:

The more compelling question for the league’s players is whether they will speak out — or act out — against Sterling. And what about the league’s other owners? How will they respond? Will they remain silent? Will they issue a collective statement? Or will individual owners like the usually vocal Mark Cuban, who declined to address the Sterling issue, send their own messages?

Mark Cuban has a reputation for being one of the more progressive-minded owners (his Dallas team, like Sterling’s, is in the playoffs). He also owns Magnolia Pictures, a prime distributor of hard-hitting documentaries including one based on the the March 2006 rape, murder, and burning of 14-year-old Iraqi girl and the murder of her parents and younger sister by U.S. soldiers.

But I am not that surprised he declined to comment on the Sterling affair. Cuban is a diehard libertarian and as such views property rights as sacrosanct, just like the Nevada rancher.

In digging into Sterling’s past, I made the discovery that he was born to Jewish immigrants surnamed Tokowitz. Like many men getting off the boat, his father made a living as a peddler just like my grandmother. Sterling’s father peddled fruit while my grandmother pushed clothing.

Sterling started off in Los Angeles as a divorce lawyer but soon switched to real estate cases. That led in turn to a full-time real estate business that included properties in Black and Latino neighborhoods. This is where his racism first reared its ugly head. Dave Zirin, a radical sportswriter for the Nation Magazine, details his sordid past:

Sterling is also the Slumlord Billionaire, a man who made his fortune by building low-income housing, and then, according to a Justice Department lawsuit, developing his own racial quota system to decide who gets the privilege of renting his properties. In November of 2009, Sterling settled the suit with the US Department of Justice for $2.73 million, the largest ever obtained by the government in a discrimination case involving apartment rentals. Reading the content of the suit makes you want to shower with steel wool. Sterling just said no to rent to non-Koreans in Koreatown and just said hell-no to African-Americans looking for property in plush Beverly Hills. Sterling, who has a Blagojevichian flair for the language, says he did not like to rent to “Hispanics” because “Hispanics smoke, drink and just hang around the building.” He also stated that “black tenants smell and attract vermin.”

One of my earliest memories was visiting “Tante Leya” in New York with my mother—I must have been 10 years old or so. This was most likely my grandmother’s cousin who spoke no English. After spending two of the longest hours in my life as Leya and my mother chatted in Yiddish over tea and cookies, we finally left to go downtown—probably to see the Radio City Christmas show or something like that. In the elevator, my mother turned to me and said,”Leya is a slumlord. She buys buildings and rents the apartments to Negros who complain about rats and broken boilers.” That was the first time in my life I heard the term slumlord.

At 81, Sterling’s values were a lot closer to Tante Leya’s than mine. This was a man who worshipped money not “Jewish values”. When a Satmar Hasidic slumlord was killed a few months ago, I was reminded of Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express”, a case in which Inspector Poirot was stymied by the fact that a multitude of people had motives to kill the victim. The Satmar was such a crook and so callous in his dealings with Black tenants that it was impossible to figure out who killed him. If Donald Sterling ever ends up with a knife in the back, the cops will have the same problem.

A Sports Illustrated profile on Sterling from 2000 analyzes his cheapskate behavior as a reaction to childhood poverty. Michael Selsman, his former publicist, told SI: “As a kid, Donald never had enough of anything. With him, acquiring great wealth is a crusade. He’s psychologically predisposed to hoarding.” Not every Jew who lived through the Great Depression ended up in quite that manner. My mother complained bitterly about my father’s reluctance to buy a house in the roaring 1950s but understood it as a reaction to childhood poverty. That being said, my father—like most Depression era men—had no ambition to build an economic empire over hapless victims, particularly Black people.

Perhaps taking the advice of another publicist concerned about his shitty reputation, Sterling got involved in a project to benefit Los Angeles’s enormous homeless population but like everything else the billionaire gets involved with, it was nothing but a scam. The Los Angeles Weekly reported in 2008:

These days, though, Sterling’s vow to help the homeless is looking more like a troubling, ego-inflating gimmick dreamed up by a very rich man with a peculiar public-relations sense: Witness his regular advertisements proclaiming another “humanitarian of the year” award — for himself. From homeless-services operators to local politicians, no one has received specifics for the proposed Sterling Homeless Center. They aren’t the least bit convinced that the project exists.

“He uses every opportunity to have it announced somewhere,” says Alice Callaghan, an Episcopal priest who runs the Skid Row day-care and education center Las Familias del Pueblo. “But it sounds like a phantom project to me.”

Like many other scumbags who made a fortune (George Steinbrenner, Fred Wilpon, James Dolan) in some other type of business, Sterling decided to buy a professional sports team at the top of his game. In 1981, he bought the Los Angeles Clippers, a franchise that was nowhere near as prestigious as the Los Angeles Lakers (Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s team) but a bargain at twice the price. His initial 12.5 million dollar investment is now worth a half-billion.

The SI profile captures a man who would make Scrooge McDuck look like Lucky Jim Fitzsimmons. He suggested to coach Paul Silas that they could save money if he taped the players’ ankles.

Nobody ever bothered to challenge Sterling until the superstar Elgin Baylor became general manager. Baylor was committed to making the team competitive even if it meant demanding that his boss open up his wallet. After 22 years of fighting a losing battle, Baylor was probably relieved to be fired in 2008 but not so much so to prevent him from filing a racial discrimination case against Sterling. The LA Times reported:

In the original lawsuit, Baylor said that Sterling had a “vision of a Southern plantation-type structure” for the Clippers and accused the owner of a “pervasive and ongoing racist attitude” during long-ago contract negotiations with Danny Manning. The lawsuit also quoted Sterling as telling Manning’s agent, “I’m offering you a lot of money for a poor black kid.”

Baylor alleged Sterling said he wanted the Clippers to be “composed of ‘poor black boys from the South’ and a white head coach.”

It should of course come as no surprise that Sterling was a sexist pig as well as a racist. ESPN, a sports magazine similar to Sports Illustrated, Jason Easly recounts his scandalous abuse of women. Christine Jaksy, a former employee, sued Sterling for sexual harassment in 1996. ESPN states:

Jaksy first worked for Sterling in 1993, as a hostess at one of his “white parties,” where guests dressed Gatsby style at his Malibu beach house; she eventually went into property management. Jaksy testified that Sterling offered her clothes and an expense account in return for sexual favors. She also testified that he told her, “You don’t need your lupus support groups I’m your psychiatrist.” Jaksy left her job in December 1995, handing Sterling a memo that read in part, “The reason I have to write this to you is because in a conversation with you I feel pressured against a wall and bullied in an attempt to be overpowered. I’m not about to do battle with you.” She carried a gun because, according to her testimony, she feared retribution.

One of the most shocking revelations about Donald Sterling was the NAACP’s decision to present him with a Lifetime Achievement award this year. (Of course, they also decided to give a Man of the Year award to the snitch Al Sharpton.) Even though they made the decision to present the award before the phone call tape was released to TMZ, they must have been aware of all his other anti-Black words and actions. What prompted them to overlook this was his handing out of from 2 to 3 thousand tickets to Black youth for home games of the LA Clippers. They have since rescinded the award.

Professional sports fascinates me both as a fan and as a critic of American society. What makes it unique is the tension between private ownership and the public’s sense that it is “their team”. Toward the end of the NBA season, New Yorkers planned to stage a protest against owner Jim Dolan in front of Madison Square Garden. They were sick and tired of his meddling in the team’s business, making decisions that undercut the team’s fortunes. Apparently nervous that the protest might lead to more escalated forms of action such as a boycott, Dolan hired Phil Jackson, a basketball legend like Elgin Baylor, to run the team and promised to not interfere.

When you listen to sports fans calling in to WFAN or the ESPN station in New York, they sound more informed about the team than Jim Dolan. Unlike their generally passive acceptance of whatever Chase Manhattan Bank has up its sleeves to screw the working person, the sports fan is ready to take to the barricades in order to win a championship. In the documentary “Manufacturing Consent”, Noam Chomsky states:

Take, say, sports — that’s another crucial example of the indoctrination system, in my view. For one thing because it — you know, it offers people something to pay attention to that’s of no importance. That keeps them from worrying about — keeps them from worrying about things that matter to their lives that they might have some idea of doing something about. And in fact it’s striking to see the intelligence that’s used by ordinary people in (discussions of) sports (as opposed to political and social issues). I mean, you listen to radio stations where people call in — they have the most exotic information and understanding about all kind of arcane issues. And the press undoubtedly does a lot with this.

If and when that passion becomes devoted to challenging the corporate system as a whole, we might finally see the possibility of realizing that old-time vision of a Socialist America.

 

April 26, 2014

Boycott Lawrence and Wishart

Filed under: capitalist pig,intellectual property,Internet — louisproyect @ 1:32 pm

Screen shot 2014-04-26 at 9.30.07 AM

* * * * *

Lawrence and Wishart have just proved themselves to be opportunist bourgeois profiteers pimping of the workers movement by denying people access to works from a century and a half ago so they can extort money from, in the last analysis, college students or taxpayers.

A comrade hints that he might be OK with it because they co-published some book about a strike a hundred years ago.

Oh! I almost forgot. Eleanor Marx was involved. In the strike, not the book, but –perhaps– that makes L&W A-OK.

Information wants to be free, especially if it can help working people understand the nature of the system so we can smash it.

David Walters and the MIA have NO CHOICE but to respect this bourgeois “intellectual property,” or the MIA would be shut down. So I totally understand and support them in their stance of respecting bourgeois “intellectual property,” including making nice-sounding diplomatic noises about copyrights, the DMCA, and so on.

But the rest of us are not under those constraints. People should download the material to be censored and share it as widely as possible, especially through torrents, which are a very efficient means of distribution, and through “darknet” sites, though that is quite a bit more complicated.

*  *  *

I’m not just  being ornery or ultraleft. This is the right policy, the right response, to a bourgeois publisher who PRETENDS to be an ally to the socialist movement, but instead seeks to EXPLOIT working people when the opportunity arises.

The argument is that the translations are “new,” even if the works are old, and copyright fees are just because the people who made these new translations have to be paid royalties is 1,000% bogus.

Find me the translator who says they’re getting royalties from sales of Marx and Engels translations and I’ll show you a liar. Or any translator of ANY work. Apart from Gregory Rabassa, the translator of Gabo’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, and one or two others, any translator who claims he or she has received one cent from royalties AFTER the initial fee is lying.

I’ve been translating “professionally” (i.e., for money) for more than four decades, and Rabassa is the only one of our tribe that I’ve ever met who got post-publication royalties. And as someone who has been and continues to be a “content creator,” I totally support writers, actors, and everyone else like that who is involved in actually creating “works of authorship” getting paid.

But PUBLISHERS (whether known by that name or others, like Hollywood studios, record labels, TV networks, web sites, content aggregators, or whatever), are parasites. They are the ENEMIES of content creators (authors, translators, editors, film makers, etc.). In the real world, the monopoly that copyright law grants benefits THEM much much more than it does US, and is even a weapon used against us. The media monopoly mafia use their hoards of “copyrights” to tell us we either sell to them cheap, or we won’t sell at all. They have tons of content that they already own and they don’t needs ours.

And because they own the distribution channels, the threat is quite credible.

In practice, this works out to the overwhelming majority of content creators being forced to work under conditions where their EMPLOYER, a corporation, is the “author,” and the actual creative human beings have no rights, none whatsoever, under copyright law.

This corporate monopoly has been based on the capitalist’s control of the means of producing and reproducing works and distributing them.

What gave rise to this sort of copyright law is the printing press. You need to be a capitalist to have one.

We journalists know that “freedom of the press belongs to those that own one,” but the same is true of copyright. Copyright belongs to the capitalists, to the bourgeoisie.

Digital technology and especially the Internet has given regular people –us– tools to begin shattering that monopoly. David Walters and his friends in the MIA deserve credit for using those tools to give untold millions of people access to something that belongs to everyone.

Now, some will say that a publisher, even in this day and age, needs to recoup their investment in these “new” translations, otherwise there will be no more.

But in the REAL world, a publisher pays for a translation on the basis of the expected sales of a book over at most 2-3 years. The reason for that is simple, and mathematical. The money paid out for a translation is an investment, and the value of that investment compounds over time. Because it is a risky investment, it needs to have a high rate of return. Either you make back the money very quickly, or after a few years a $10,000 investment needs to yield double, triple or quadruple that figure (or even more).

Why? To compensate for inflation, pay for the publisher’s bets that didn’t work, provide the “normal” rate of return for a “safe” long-term investment and provide a hefty premium on top of that since this isn’t a safe investment.

But these MECW works aren’t five or ten years old, they were done DECADES ago. And they were not done as a profit-making capitalist venture. The technology available in those days did not allow massive free distribution, but the intent was clear from pricing that was a small fraction of comparable academic editions of other works from previous centuries.

Claiming bourgeois “intellectual property” rights on these works to put them behind a pay wall after they have been freely available for many years is obscene. L&W’s suggestion that this will somehow preserve or guarantee the access to these works is ridiculous. There would be countless academic institutions quite willing to host the entire corpus for free, if given the chance.

What L&W are doing is pure and simple rapacious corporate profiteering by executives who had NOTHING to do with these editions, who contributed absolutely NOTHING, but now want to put them behind a pay wall, to pocket the profits.

So fuck them.

Let’s pirate, not just the M&E collected works, but EVERYTHING under the imprint of these profiteering scumbags.

BOYCOTT anything you have to pay L&W for, unless you’re accessing it to pirate it.

Joaquín Bustelo, Marxmail subscriber

February 18, 2014

One rich guy

Filed under: capitalist pig,comedy — louisproyect @ 11:22 pm

December 21, 2013

Duck Dynasty is a fake

Filed under: capitalist pig,homophobia,humor,racism — louisproyect @ 1:07 pm

November 8, 2013

Kanye West — what a schmuck

Filed under: african-american,capitalist pig — louisproyect @ 3:26 pm

Kanye West leaves Barneys wearing a jacket with a rebel flag. Here is the explanation.

August 16, 2013

How Commerce Trumped Art at Miramax

Filed under: capitalist pig,Film — louisproyect @ 5:31 pm

Harvey Weinstein, Miramax mogul

Some months ago I was approached by Ronald Cox and David Gibbs, a couple of radical professors, about contributing to a new journal they were involved with named “Class, Race, and Corporate Power”. The journal will be premiering its first print issue in March 2014 but an accompanying website is up and running with an article by me titled “How Art Trumped Commerce at Miramax”, an analysis of the “indie” film revolution of the 1990s led by Harvey Weinstein that was fueled by Quentin Tarantino’s spectacular success as a Miramax director.

I am generally modest about my writing and even openly admit to being a “prolific buffoon” as Marc Cooper once put it. I love writing in the same way that a shock jock loves the microphone and am constantly planning out my next article. As far as being a buffoon is concerned, that’s a very perceptive comment given the fact that I try to include at least 3 or 4 jokes in everything I write. Of course, Cooper meant buffoon in an unflattering manner but let’s not worry about that.

In any case, the Miramax article contains some ideas that have been percolating in the old noggin for decades now. Anybody who cares about film will certainly find them interesting and even if you haven’t been to a movie in decades you still might read it for the jokes:

How Commerce Trumped Art at Miramax

By Louis Proyect

In 1960 Ingmar Bergman introduced his collected screenplays with an analogy to medieval Christendom.

People ask what are my intentions with my films — my aims. It is a difficult and dangerous question, and I usually give an evasive answer: I try to tell the truth about the human condition, the truth as I see it. This answer seems to satisfy everyone, but it is not quite correct. I prefer to describe what I would like my aim to be. There is an old story of how the cathedral of Chartres was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. Then thousands of people came from all points of the compass, like a giant procession of ants, and together they began to rebuild the cathedral on its old site. They worked until the building was completed — master builders, artists, labourers, clowns, noblemen, priests, burghers. But they all remained anonymous, and no one knows to this day who built the cathedral of Chartres.

Profound as this insight was, Bergman did not draw out other affinities between constructing cathedrals and filmmaking–the most obvious of which is that the movie theater functions as a secular church. People who are complete strangers to each other sit side by side in total darkness to achieve a kind of spiritual uplift, with the film constituting the service. In some ways this harkens back to the original intention of drama in Greece, which was to produce catharsis. Despite being dismissed by most critics as junk, “The Exorcist” struck a nerve in 1973 for its ability to summon up atavistic memories of demons and sacrifice for its largely secular audiences.

Since Ingmar Bergman was apolitical, it was not surprising that he missed the most important connection, namely the reliance of both Gothic cathedral and the modern motion picture on ruling class institutional support. To build a church or to make a film costing $100 million requires enormous outlays of capital. Under feudalism, only the church and the king had such sums at its disposals. Under capitalism, where there are no kings, the filmmaker has to rely on the Disney or the Sony Corporation instead. In the German Ideology, Marx stated: “the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas.” In bourgeois society, the artist has much more license than those who supervised the construction of Chartres but there are limits to what can be said in a film. Hollywood had no problems hiring Communist directors or screenwriters, but it was only after they were blacklisted that Paul Jarrico, Michael Wilson and Harold Biberman could make “Salt of the Earth”.

Unlike cathedral building, film studios operate under the iron laws of competition. The bottom line is paramount, no pun intended. A publishing house will not go broke as a result of an unreadable novel but there are significant risks involved in making costly failures like Heaven’s Gate or Bonfire of the Vanities. In 1999 Steven Bach published Final Cut: Art, Money, and Ego in the Making of Heaven’s Gate, the Film That Sank United Artists. Eighty years earlier Charlie Chaplin launched United Artists in order to wrest control of film production from cigar-smoking, mammon-worshipping studio bosses. It was supremely ironical that Michael Cimino’s fiercely anti-capitalist Western brought down United Artists, a function of the critical establishment’s outrage over the film’s admittedly overblown affinities with “Salt of the Earth” rather than its value as cinema.

Continue reading

August 9, 2013

Bezos, Tina Brown and the Looting of the Washington Post

Filed under: capitalist pig,media — louisproyect @ 1:03 pm

Tina Brown

Jeff Bezos

Counterpunch Weekend Edition August 9-11, 2013

Follow the Money
Bezos, Tina Brown and the Looting of the Washington Post
by LOUIS PROYECT

Recently two major media sales transactions involved properties associated with the Washington Post. The first was the sale of the Post itself to Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon.com; the other was the sale of Newsweek/Daily Beast to IBT Media. Until its sale in 2010 to high-fidelity magnate Sidney Harman, Newsweek was part of the Washington Post’s media empire. Tina Brown launched the Daily Beast, a center-right version of the Huffington Post, in October 2008, which merged with Newsweek two years later. In a bid to capitalize on the Internet revolution, the print edition of Newsweek was terminated in December 2012 and all efforts were directed toward making the website a success. No doubt its failure had more to do with the stale content that Tina Brown was proffering, something no amount of new media gold sequins could rescue.

full: http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/08/09/bezos-tina-brown-and-the-future-of-the-washington-post/

August 2, 2013

The Fall of a Predator

Filed under: capitalist pig — louisproyect @ 12:37 pm

Steven A. Cohen

Counterpunch Weekend Edition August 2-4, 2013
Steven A. Cohen and the Perks of Being Rich and Connected

The Fall of a Predator

by LOUIS PROYECT

On July 25th SAC Capital, a hedge fund founded and run by Steven A. Cohen, was indicted for insider trading. Up until now, Cohen has managed to avoid being hauled off perp-style with his jacket over his head. Even after a number of his underlings began serving time, Cohen continued to enjoy the benefits of what is obviously a criminal enterprise. With all proportions guarded, his status reminds me of how holocaust deniers can make the case for Hitler even to this day. Where is there a document with Der Fuhrer ordering the gassing of Jews? By the same token, where is there an email indicating Cohen’s part in what by all admissions is standard operating practice in the financial industry? What do you think all those country clubs are for? To improve Joe Moneybags’s golf game? Don’t be silly. It is to pick up inside information through small talk that is never transcribed.

SAC Capital first came under investigation ten years ago when Holly B. Becker, a Lehman Brothers stock analyst, tipped off her husband Michael J. Zimmerman, who worked for Cohen, about Amazon. What? You expected them to not discuss such matters under the sheets? If you can’t tell your significant other about some hot tip during late night pillow talk, what good is a marriage that was reported on in the Sunday NY Times Style section? Ironically Holly told Michael that SAC should short Amazon Inc. because it was not a viable corporation and had no future. She should have gotten a refund from Wharton, or wherever she got an MBA from, for not knowing which way the wind was blowing.

full: http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/08/02/the-fall-of-a-predator/

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