Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

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.

April 1, 2013

Nunavut

Filed under: Education,indigenous — louisproyect @ 4:19 pm

I am working on a piece for Counterpunch on Robert Flaherty’s “Nanook of the North” that was made in 1921 and generally considered the first documentary ever. I saw it for the first time at the Smithsonian American Indian Museum downtown a couple of weeks ago, with musical accompaniment by Tanya Tagaq, an Inuit throat singer from Nunavut, the newest Canadian province and home to both Nanook (not his real name) and Tagaq.

While getting up to speed on the background to this movie, I remembered that we had a Marxmail subscriber early on who was working on a computer science curriculum for Nunavut’s first university. I was pleased to discover that his messages to the list from 13 years ago were archived. Here’s one of some import:

Nunavut: A permanent land for nomadic people

Nunavut Arctic College is not a single campus. It is a series of Learning  Centres in 20+ communities serving a population of about 29,000 in the new  territory. There has been tremendous growth here since the Territory became  independent on April 1, 1999. The influx of people represent government people,  diamond and gold mine managers and workers, and criminals from the Vancouver  area who want to establish a claim to organising an exchange of diamonds for  drugs with those who will be hired to work in the new mines.

I’ve been in Kugluktuk aka Coppermine since August last year. The community is  situated on the edge of Coronation Bay that flows into the Arctic Ocean some  distance north. There are islands in sight, and people drive out on their snow  machines to hunt caribou or check their fishing nets for Arctic Char or other  fish. For reasons that I don’t understand I learned that the Char in this area  are the ‘biggest’ in the north. I’m not certain if that is a northern ‘fishing  yarn, or if there is any truth to the story.

Becoming the stewards of a huge chunk of ice and tundra means that culturally  there will be the political assertions of being able to ‘go back to the old  ways’ but what does that mean? Arctic communities are not so different from  other communities overseas that have been ‘left behind’ as the rest of the  country moved on and so we might begin with the question, “What language should  we use”?

In Nunavut there are two ‘principle’ languages Innuktituk and Innuinaqtun. The  minister for education visited my class and began speaking in dialect and nobody  in the class understood a word he said and asked him to use English. In the  government offices the principle language is English but the country is  bilingual and so business also has to be done in French, which only a relatively  few people speak. The outcome for the new territory is that all official  documents have to be prepared in English, French, and the Inuit dialect of  choice.

The Territory is divided into three regions: Baffin Region in the East,  Kitikmeot (meaning Central), and Keewatin, which is to the south of us.  Kugluktuk is in the Kitikmeot Region and we are the most western point on the  Nunavut map, next door, so to speak, to Northwest Territories (NWT) and for  administrative purposes the government is already going through a  ‘decentralisation process’

Just to complete the identification of the land to the west, on the other side  of NWT is Yukon Territory, while beyond that again is Alaska. In the northern  strip of Canada to the east Nunavut has territory close to Quebec but no  territory was ceded to Nunavut from that province.

As you know the land mass of the north is massive and sparsely populated. For  example, we in Canada are just about 10% of the US population at approximately  30-35 million people. Indigenous groups exist in all parts of Canada except  Newfoundland where they were exterminated some years ago. Except for Quebec  which has its own northern and aboriginal programme other native groups are  ‘looked after’ by the federal government Department of Indian and Northern  Development. When I worked in the northern part of Quebec 30+ years ago the  government person was called an Indian Agent. Names change but the history of  the years of exploitation remains.

There is a lot going on socially, politically, and economically but the ordinary  Inuit sees very little of the benefits. I’ve mentioned other aboriginal groups  deliberately because the lives of all of them are intertwined, if by nothing  else then by the forms of exploitation and history of oppression. Among these  number members of the invading, trading and praying brigade who moved like  locusts across the land sucking the living spirit out of those it exploited and  leaving the debris of abused people in their wake.

The Hudson Bay Company from the UK was concerned with furs and instant wealth.  The original banalities of the original investors (aristocracy) couldn’t see the  usefulness of Canada as a land, what they wanted was trading posts to supply the  wealth from the north. The different clergy came along too, hanging on the  coat-tails of mighty in order to establish their own bridghead. There have been  many stories told of sexual abuse of aboriginal kids who were forced away to  residential schools by the clergy. They were forbidden to use their own  languages and mistreated in different ways. Much the same as ‘disowned’ children  from England who were cleared out of the orphanages and shipped overseas to  ‘colonise’ different countries at the age of five years and up. The Christian  Brothers in Australia were the same Catholic group who did a great deal of  damage to the kids here in Canada. Quebecers suffered until the late 1960′s with  the domination of the church because the church dictated all aspect of life in  the province.

The Inuit here were nomads and they still went out ‘On the Land’ until about  fifty years ago when the federal government ordered them to be in one place. For  the people here Kugluktuk used to be a summer meeting place for a few weeks of  the year. Scattered communities, family groups lived along the coast for many  miles but the Inuit had no sense of everybody living together. They had hunting and survival skills a-plenty but they had no written language. Although they  stopped moving around, and I don’t yet know how the government compelled them to  stop their migratory traditions, people still go away for extended periods of  time. As a result of the continued extended trips on the land I’ve had men and  women in my courses that have only been to school for a few weeks when they were  very young. One 24-year-old man, a hunter, could read but he could not write and  like two or three others in the class he had no idea how to approach math.  Putting numbers down in order to perform addition of tens, or hundreds proved to  be a complex operation.

Although I was here in the north 27 years ago I was moving around more working  with people who wanted to establish retail co-operative stores. This time, being  in the classroom I have learned a little more about the impact of education on  particular individuals. The white mans education doesn’t serve too many white  people very well and yet governments impose a lousy system on people of totally  different cultures. Certainly Inuit people within their own community boundaries  have not fared too well. I am informed that the successful people who are  currently in government, or who are in business were sent ‘out’ for their  education. That does not necessarily mean to the Residential schools, but to  say, Yellowknife, NWT to stay in a hostel for a number of years before returning  home or going on to university. For the people I’ve had in my class there is the  difficulty of ‘thinking things through’. I’m a supporter of the concept of  critical theory and I like to bring to different learning groups a critical  approach to whatever we are doing. For my students here thinking in the abstract  was foreign. The stock answer to me requesting ‘some idea’ of the problem was  universally ‘I dunno…’ This was not an adult student recalling the practice of  avoidance of his or her school days. This was an honest answer; there was no  sense of connecting two separate things to create a third. Let me give a very  simple every day example. I didn’t know where we could begin because I have  learned that when a person tells me they have completed grade nine I wait to  make my own assessment because they do not have the associated thinking or  problem solving skills that should accompany that level of accomplishment.

I soon learned that three or four people had difficulty with their  multiplication tables. I had prepared a block chart, do you remember the kind of  thing, from 1 to 12 along the top and from 1 to 12 down the side and in each  square intersecting two numbers (top and bottom) the appropriate result of multiplying both those numbers. Yes, they said they understood. We were talking  later about a math problem that required multiplication. Instead of using their  new chart, they were trying to determine the answer by scratching in their  notebook the ‘many different’ possibilities to find the correct answer. Not a  single person had thought to use the multiplication chart and did not understand  me when I told them that it was a tool to assist in solving other problems. The  difficulties are many. And there is the need for employment.

I’ll write again.  Peter

March 10, 2013

A reading guide for students of Marxism

Filed under: Education — louisproyect @ 8:49 pm

A Marxist education

In early February I received this email from a Marxmail subscriber:

If I am not imposing on you —could you recommend some items to read to get some concise (assuming that is the right word to use) and basic understandings of marxism in its pure form and then the debates that either honed it or distorted it. I am new to this other than having some info from high school and reading the communist manifesto. I can follow some of the items sent to the list but the background to some of them is way above my level. Thanks for any recommendation you can make.

It has taken me a while to get around to responding to this but this does not reflect a lack of interest on my part. To the contrary, this is one of the main reasons I launched Marxmail—to help people new to Marxism get a better handle on the main concepts without enduring the sectarian nonsense I had to put up with as a recruit to the Trotskyist movement in 1967.

Despite my regrets about the 11 years I spent in the movement, I can say that I received a very good education from some very capable teachers, including old-timers who were closely connected to Leon Trotsky, like George Novack, Farrell Dobbs, and Joseph Hansen. I always had the hope that the participation of veteran Marxists on Marxmail would help new comrades get up to speed, especially since many of the discussions take the form of sharp debates. Some of the best lessons I received in Marxism were not part of an organized lecture series but debates at a branch meeting with people like Peter Camejo on the other side of a question from Larry Trainor, an older trade union veteran of the party.

Before recommending a reading guide, I want to refer you to a Yahoo mailing list I initiated in January 2008 to meet a similar request. The archives are here: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/marxism_class/. Basically the format was a post from me followed up by discussion. As it turned out, there wasn’t much discussion. Looking back in retrospect, I think the attempt at an online class had mixed results. I tended to write about topics that probably reflected a bit too much of my own concerns that were often a bit abstruse. Also, the mailing list medium does not lend itself to the kind of give-and-take that you would get in a physical as opposed to a virtual classroom.

There is a very good chance that I will return to this at some point in the future but in a different format. It will probably be based on videos of me lecturing on basic concepts on a blog with people asking questions or making comments. There’s also a good chance that I will try to use Skype for online discussion, keeping in mind that you are limited to 8 people communicating at once. I really have to look into different options, including the possibility that some leftwing institution would donate the resources for an electronic classroom like the kind that MIT and Columbia University are using. In general I am skeptical about electronic classrooms but for people like us spread across 5 continents there’s probably no alternative.

Okay, without further ado, here is a reading guide for learning Marxism divided to online texts and those only available in dead trees format. I should add that Les Evans, a leader of the SWP who has since evolved into a Christopher Hitchens figure politically but without his overweening ambitions, recommended a number of the online texts to me back in the late 60s.

Online

1. Karl Marx, “Wage Labor and Capital”. Although this is an unfinished work, it is an excellent introduction to Marx’s basic economic theories written in a straightforward manner geared to the audience: the German Workingmen’s Club of Brussels.

2. Ernest Mandel, “An Introduction to Marxist Economic Theory”. Like the work above, it was written as a kind of introductory text.

3. Frederick Engels, “The Part played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man”. This is actually an excerpt from a larger work, “The Dialectics of Nature”, that is not nearly as important as this part that is generally read on its own. It anticipates much of modern ecological thought.

4. Abram Leon, “The Jewish Question”.  I joined the SWP just around the time of the Six Day War in 1967 when there will still lots of illusions about Israel on the liberal left. As someone raised in a kosher home with mom a Zionist zealot one of the first questions I had for Les Evans is what was the Marxist position on anti-Semitism. He proceeded to give me an impromptu 30-minute one-on-one lecture drawn from Leon’s book. Leon, I should add, was a Belgian Trotskyist who died in a Nazi concentration camp during WWII.

5, Leon Trotsky, “Their Morals and Ours”. I have always regarded Trotsky as the finest writer of the Marxist movement. In this brilliant polemic, he answers liberals who have accused Marxists of believing that the ends justify the means. Here is a sample: “Whoever does not care to return to Moses, Christ or Mohammed; whoever is not satisfied with eclectic hodge-podges must acknowledge that morality is a product of social development; that there is nothing invariable about it; that it serves social interests; that these interests are contradictory; that morality more than any other form of ideology has a class character.”

6. V.I. Lenin, “Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism”. Some believe that this work is obsolete since it addresses inter-imperialist rivalries of the sort we haven’t seen since WWII. I would reply that the greater value of the work is its ability to unmask the connections between big banks and the state, of obvious relevance to the contemporary scene.

7. Evelyn Reed, “Is Biology Women’s Destiny?”. A good introduction to the themes Reed dealt with in a large book titled “Woman’s Evolution” that is only available in print from Pathfinder Press, the SWP publishing wing. I think the book is very much worth reading but only if you get it second hand from Amazon or from the library.

8. CLR James, “The Historical Development of the Negro in the United States”. Using his party name JR Johnson, James demonstrates the kind of analysis that made him such a strong influence on the Marxist wing of the Black Nationalist movement of the 1960s and 70s.

9. Jim Blaut, Lenin’s evolution on the National Question. This and two other chapters from Blaut’s book on the national question can be read here. Blaut was a member of Marxmail until his untimely death in 2000. I plan to scan and upload the remainder of his book over the next few months.

10. Felix Morrow, “Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain”. This book shows the remarkable ability of a Trotskyist to expose class-collaborationism. When I first read it, I assumed that all that was necessary in politics was to make such points. Alas, I did not understand at the time that revolutions are not made on the basis of telling workers about colossal failures but leading them in struggle to a successful conclusion. That being said, Morrow is a terrific writer.

I could obviously cite another 50 books and articles but this should be a good start.

Print only

1. Leo Huberman, “Man’s Worldly Goods”. I can’t recommend this highly enough. Huberman was with Monthly Review when he wrote this, a primer on Marxist economics geared to workers.

2. A.L. Morton, “A People’s History of England”. As you can figure out from the title, this is the British counterpart of what Zinn wrote for the U.S. but frankly more engaged with the Marxist method. Morton is great.

3. Robert G. Williams, “Export Agriculture and the Crisis in Central America”. This is an excellent explanation of how “primitive accumulation” in Central America (driving small peasants off their land and turning it into cattle ranches to supply fast food restaurants) led to the revolutionary struggles of the 1970s and 80s.

4. Michal Perelman, “The Invention of Capitalism”. Michael has written many very good books but this is my favorite. It deals with the primitive accumulation phase of capitalism and the ideology put forward to defend it.

5. Michael Yates, “Naming the System: Inequality and Work in the Global Economy”. This is a critique of neoliberalism written in a super-clear fashion. Since Michael has taught workers (and prisoners) over the years, he was obviously channeling Karl Marx’s “Wage Labor and Capital”.

6. Doug Henwood, “Wall Street”. The best-selling Verso book of all time will tell you how the stock market works to the disadvantage of working people.

7. Michael Lebowitz, “Beyond Capital”. Michael has lived in Venezuela for more than a decade and provides insights into 21st century socialism based on a classical Marxist erudition.

8. John Bellamy Foster, “The Vulnerable Planet”. Although I have grown disgusted with Foster ever since he gave MR’s imprimatur to Yoshie Furuhashi’s demented blog aka MRZine, I can strongly recommend this book as about the best introduction to the environmental crisis that I can think of.

9. Mike Davis, “City of Quartz”. A dystopian take on Los Angeles by a preeminent scholar who drove a truck once upon a time.

10. Walter Rodney, “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa”. A brilliant and angry study of colonialism.

October 18, 2012

Death by Degrees

Filed under: Education — louisproyect @ 3:25 pm

N+1 No. 14

Death by Degrees
by the Editors

[T]he AMA owes its authority to America’s most notorious robber barons, who invented philanthropy as we know it by establishing foundations capable of long-term, organized interventions in the country’s political and cultural life. The first foundations poured money into medical schools — but only if those schools followed the example set by Johns Hopkins, which in 1893 had introduced what’s now the standard formula: students attend four years of college, then four years of medical school. Institutions that didn’t follow this model did not get donations, and they also got denounced in a 1910 report sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation. After the Carnegie survey published its “findings,” scores of medical schools — schools whose students could not afford the additional years of study now required, and nearly all of the schools that admitted blacks and women — closed.

Today, we take it for granted that practicing medicine or law requires years of costly credentialing in unrelated fields. In the law, the impact of all this “training” is clear: it supports a legal system that is overly complicated and outrageously expensive, both for high-flying corporate clients who routinely overpay and for small-time criminal defendants who, in the overwhelming majority of cases, can’t afford to secure representation at all (and must surrender their fate to local prosecutors, who often send them to prison). But just as a million-dollar medical training isn’t necessary to perform an abortion, routine legal matters could easily, and cheaply, be handled by noninitiates.

The standardization of these professional guilds benefited undergraduate institutions immensely, a fact that was not lost on university administrators. College presidents endorsed the Hopkins model and the AMA’s consolidation of medical authority for good reason: in the mid-19th century, bachelor’s degrees in the United States were viewed with skepticism by the private sector, and colleges had a hard time finding enough students. The corporate-sponsored consolidation of the medical establishment changed undergraduate education from a choice to a necessity. Where once there was indifference, now there was demand: “I want to be a doctor when I grow up,” the child in the PSA says. “I want to go to college.”

full: http://nplusonemag.com/death-by-degrees

The Baffler No. 20

Adam Wheeler Went to Harvard
by Jim Newell

Wheeler came to Harvard to study English and left as a bit player in a twisted Dreiserian tragedy, exaggerated to hammy effect by a humiliated university covering its ass. He bought into Harvard’s great enabling social myth at face value: the notion that twenty-first-century meritocratic advancement is available to all through the procurement of a college diploma. Like any rational economic actor, he sought to procure a diploma from the finest college, with maximum efficiency. Wheeler’s crime, in the institution’s eyes, was that he saw Harvard degrees for what they are—items for purchase that cloak the owner with a manufactured prestige that, in our pretend meritocracy, automatically raises one’s market value upon the deal’s closing. The only thing propping up that value is the admissions office’s carefully maintained scarcity of supply—a luxury good ostensibly awarded to society’s most able. So Wheeler once more called the bluff of the Harvard admissions crew: he gave them whatever song-and-dance they were looking for, and, shockingly, came close to completing the purchase.

It’s quite apparent that Harvard administrators couldn’t merely expel Wheeler and demand he return the money when they finally noticed the obvious lies on his academic résumé. There was an urgent example to be set here, after all: enterprising young minds watching the news coverage might have reasoned that the people who run Harvard are utter morons who caught Wheeler only after a final fabrication so flamboyant that he must have wanted to get caught. With the great meritocratic ruse at last exposed in the light of day, young strivers might well give it a go themselves. Even better, forget going to Harvard—why not simply throw “BA, Harvard” on the ol’ résumé right now and start making tons of money playing financial computer games tomorrow? All Wheeler did, anyway, was spot major systemic inefficiencies and disingenuously exploit them for personal financial reward. And if Harvard is a place that would expel such a Capitalist of the Year, then it’s everyone else’s moral duty as Americans to pick up where he left off, and continue looting the place until it reaches a competitive market-clearing equilibrium: when looting a Harvard degree would no longer be worth the trouble—when Harvard, horror of horrors, becomes but one college of many!

full: http://thebaffler.com/past/adam_wheeler_went_to_harvard

September 28, 2012

Won’t Back Down; Obama’s America 2016

Filed under: Education,Film,Obama — louisproyect @ 9:00 pm

“Won’t Back Down” is a marriage made in hell between bad art and bad politics. Sitting through it at a press screening on Monday night was the most painful experience I have had since undergoing emergency laser surgery on both eyes to relieve the pressure that would have led to glaucoma and possible blindness. Halfway through the screening I began to wonder if laser surgery might be needed to relieve the pressure on my brain that this awful film was producing. With its treacly Lifetime cable TV clichés and its reckless disregard for the reality surrounding the charter school juggernaut backed by Democrats and Republicans alike, it might take months for me to get the bad taste out of my mouth, like the one that accompanies a hangover from really cheap wine. Maybe the answer is to lock myself in my bedroom and watch the collected works of Akira Kurosawa over the next week or so.

Despite some rather pro forma gestures at making the teacher’s union appear something a bit less threatening than a George Romero zombie attack, the key moment arrives when the head of the union quotes Albert Shanker: “When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.” Although Shanker was a pretty despicable figure, that quote was apocryphal. It first appeared in a Mississippi newspaper (surprise, surprise) but without any source. In fact enemies of the teacher’s unions rather than their leaders are the ones that tend to use it. For example, New York City School Chancellor Joel Klein, one of the country’s top charter school boosters along with Michelle Rhee, used it an June 2011 Atlantic Magazine article that also stated:

The traditional schools, as well as their employees and the unions, are screaming bloody murder, something vividly depicted in The Lottery, a recent documentary that shows community agitators brought in by the union to oppose giving public-school space to the Harlem Success network. But this kind of push-back is actually a good sign: it means that the monopolists are beginning to feel the effects of competition.

Furthermore, with respect to the real Albert Shanker—as opposed to the inversion made by screenwriters Brin Hill and Daniel Barnz (who also directed)—the truth is that he was one of the early supporters of charter schools as the American Federation of Teachers website points out:

In a landmark address in 1988, former AFT president Albert Shanker became one of the first education leaders to champion the concept of charter schools. Shanker envisioned teacher-led laboratories of reform that would experiment with new instructional practices. These practices would then be subjected to rigorous evaluation and, if successful, would serve as models for other public schools.

Shanker also saw charter schools as a way to empower teachers, free them from overly bureaucratic regulations, and strengthen their voice in school and curriculum decision-making. In his view, unions were essential to charter schools, because unions help create the kind of secure work environment that encourages innovation and risk-taking.

As a stand-in for the creator’s confused liberal politics, the script includes a young, dedicated and pro-union teacher named Michael Perry who becomes Maggie Gyllenhaal’s love interest at first and then ultimately her ally in privatizing the school (this is really what the struggle ultimately boils down to.) As a way of demonstrating his idealism, he is identified as coming off the Teach for America assembly line. In keeping with the failure to represent Shanker’s true beliefs (and it is no surprise that the rancid social democrat would have had good words for charter schools), there is little inkling of the dovetailing of charter schools and Teach for America. Both are “reforms” intended to break the back of a powerful and effective trade union.

The July 29, 2009 USA Today reported:

In Boston, TFA corps members replaced 20 pink-slipped teachers, says Boston Teachers Union President Richard Stutman. “These are people who have been trained, who are experienced and who have good evaluations, and are being replaced by brand-new employees.”

This month, he met with about 18 other local union presidents, all of whom said they’d seen teachers laid off to make room for TFA members.

“I don’t think you’ll find a city that isn’t laying off people to accommodate Teach For America,” he says.

In March, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., schools Superintendent Peter Gorman told board members he was laying off hundreds of teachers but sparing 100 TFAers because the district “made a commitment to this program.” Gorman noted that TFA teachers “are placed at schools with high populations of underprivileged students where the placement of personnel has proven to be difficult.”

You really have to wonder if Brin Hill or Daniel Barnz gave a shit about the truth. These are a couple of hacks that were only too happy to pick up a paycheck from Walden Media, the rightwing production company founded by billionaire Philip Anschutz who advocates teaching creationism in public schools. I can just imagine these knuckleheads sending their kids to such a place.

This is Brin Hill’s first screenplay and it really shows it. As for Barnz, he had the chutzpah to tell the N.Y. Times last February that “I am strongly pro-union”. He also stated that “wanted to recreate the thrill of past action-inspiring social dramas without being snared in partisan debate.” Working from an earlier script by Hill, Barnz clearly sought to create a movie in the spirit of “Norma Rae”, “Erin Brokovich”,  or “Silkwood”, all of which feature a working-class woman fighting against Bad Guys standing in the way of truth, justice and the American way. Showing some awareness that an Anschutz-funded project is not likely to fulfill those hopes, he has a female character on the trade union staff say, “When did Norma Rae get to be the bad guy?”

Perhaps there is some value to the film in that it will galvanize public opinion, and particularly that of critics, about what it represents politically. As a clumsy recitation of charter school talking points, it will hopefully serve as a wake-up call in the same manner as Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” remarks. But it would be a big mistake to attribute its toxic message to the designs of the Mitt Romney’s of the world, including the men who run Walden Media and Twentieth Century Fox, the corporation that released it (owned by Rupert Murdoch.) The charter school movement is an alliance between conservatives and liberals, something that was perhaps lost on A.O. Scott who told his N.Y. Times readers that it “might serve as a useful counterweight to the conventional wisdom that Hollywood is a liberal propaganda factory.”

In truth, despite its ultra-right corporate backing, the movie is very much liberal propaganda. The movie was inspired by the attempt of Parent Revolution to take over a couple of schools in California. To call this outfit conservative would be very far from the truth, as the composition of its board of directors would indicate:

Maggie Neilsen

Previously, as a strategy consultant, she launched new organizations, restructured existing efforts, forged partnerships across sectors and branded international efforts.. For Sir Richard Branson and Nelson Mandela, she helped convene and advise the development of The Elders, an independent group of eminent global leaders who offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity.

Peter Shakow

Peter also has extensive national, state, and local political experience. He was a staff member in the Office of Political Affairs at the White House during the Clinton Administration, and has worked on numerous political campaigns across the country. He remains involved in the community, both as an active participant in bar activities and as President of the Board of Directors of the Tierra del Sol Foundation, a non-profit that serves developmentally disabled adults. Immediately before joining the firm, he was Vice President of Communications for a $100 million/year nonprofit based in Los Angeles County.

In other words, these are the same kinds of people that Arne Duncan, Obama’s Secretary of Education, is aligned with. They get their funding from the Gates Foundation, launched by a billionaire who has lavished money on Democrats and Republicans alike, just as is the case with Goldman-Sachs.

I want to conclude with a recommendation of some pieces I have written in the past about charter schools and Philip Anschutz’s Walden Media.

I first took a look at charter schools after seeing “Waiting for ‘Superman’”, a Walden Media documentary and “The Lottery”, another preachy documentary:

In Waiting for “Superman” and The Lottery, the heroes are charter school administrators like Geoffrey Canada and Eva Moskowitz who operate in New York City, and Michelle Rhee who ran the board of education in Washington. Moskowitz is an ubiquitous and truly unpleasant presence in The Lottery while the equally toxic Rhee is dominant in Waiting for “Superman”. Mostly they say that if the teachers unions were busted, an educational Messianic era would ensue. The only thing standing in the way of success in poverty-stricken Black and Latino neighborhoods is teachers enjoying protection against being arbitrarily fired–a basic right won through collective bargaining.

Canada, Moskowitz and Rhee are depicted as the champions of the plucky families who are doing everything they can to get their kids into a charter school. Canada practically guarantees that graduating from his Harlem Children’s Zone will open doors at Harvard, Princeton and Yale. It is hard not to feel for the underdogs they profess to fight for, whose main enemy appears to be an unfeeling and greedy teacher’s union rather than poverty and racism.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, is called upon to make the case for protection against firing but is not really allowed much more than soundbites. She plays kind of the same role that Charlton Heston played as head of the National Rifleman’s Association in Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine, or a Dr. No in a James Bond movie: the sum of all fears.

And with respect to Philip Anschutz, he is a far more evil bastard than Dr. No as my review of “Amazing Grace” would demonstrate.

Thanks to my good friend and comrade Prairie Miller who was one of the founders of New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) and who hosts an Arts show at WBAI, I was able to watch Dinesh D’Souza’s documentary on Barack Obama on Vimeo, an option becoming more prevalent for film reviewers both professional and amateur like me.

Although it was not quite as painful as sitting through “Won’t Back Down”, it was not easy listening to this conservative creep for 90 minutes. Even worse was looking at him, a face that only a mother could love.

The documentary is titled 2016: Obama’s America, and is based on his 2010 book The Roots of Obama’s Rage. According to Prairie, it “is apparently poised to overtake Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911 as the most financially successful documentary of all time.” As P.T. Barnum once said, “a sucker is born every minute.”

D’Souza is a graduate of Dartmouth College and a veteran of the “culture wars” in which rightwingers try to make the case that places like his alma mater and Columbia University, from which I retired after 21 mostly happy years, are the equivalents of the Smolny Institute in the summer of 1917. With other noodniks like David Horowitz and Daniel Pipes, who is given the platform in the final 15 minutes or so of the film, we are led to believe that characters like Columbia University’s Lee Bollinger and Bard College’s Leon Botstein are allied with George Soros and other liberal billionaires in a conspiracy to lead a socialist revolution in the U.S. In fact the title of D’Souza’s film is meant to warn Amuricans (as LBJ used to put it) that Obama’s reelection will culminate in a Soviet America in 2016. Christ almighty, if only that were true.

Doing a clumsy imitation of an intellectual, D’Souza tries to get to the roots of Obama’s alleged “anti-Americanism”. It goes something like this. Although Obama hardly knew his father, his mother served as a transmission belt for his anti-colonial ideas. When she was in Indonesia with her new husband Lolo, she always expressed a preference for her first husband who supposedly was for “sticking it to the man”. Lolo, it seems, was bought off by the Western oil companies doing business in Indonesia and even went so far as to go out on commie-killing missions when he was in the Indonesian army during Suharto’s dictatorship.

Once she bought her son back to Hawaii, he was put under the tutelage of Frank Marshall Davis, a member of the Communist Party who was close to Barack’s Nigerian birth father ideologically as well as his grandfather Sidney Dunham, who according to interviewee Paul Kengor (the author of “The Communist. Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor”) was some kind of Red. It all sounds rather like a half-assed version of “The Manchurian Candidate”, doesn’t it? All this led to Obama finally embracing the ideas of Edward Said, Roberto Unger (his law professor at Harvard), Bill Ayers, and Jeremiah Wright.

Like most rightwing intellectuals, I doubt that Dinesh D’Souza reads much out of his comfort zone of the Weekly Standard, the National Review, and Wall Street Journal editorial pages.

But if you read the article titled “Party of None: Barack Obama’s annoying journey to the center of belonging” by Chris Bray in the thankfully reincarnated “The Baffler”, you will discover that Barack Obama’s mother was “an employee of a thinly veiled Cold War agency, reporting to the American director of an organization with an office at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta.” This hardly sounds like sticking it to the man.

As far as Frank Marshall Davis is concerned, I found his advice to Obama, as recounted in “Dreams From My Father”, a rather perceptive take on where his supposed tutee was headed:

What had Frank called college? An advanced degree in compromise. I thought back to the last time I had seen the old poet, a few days before I left Hawaii. We had made small talk for a while; he complained about his feet, the corns and bone spurs that he insisted were a direct result of trying to force African feet into European shoes. Finally he asked me what I expected to get out of college. I told him that I didn’t know. He shook his big, hoary head.

“Well,” he said, “that’s the problem, isn’t it? You don’t know. You’re just like the rest of those young cats out here. All you know is that college is the next thing you are supposed to do. And the people who are young enough to know better, who fought all those years for your right to go to college—they’re just so happy to see you in there that they won’t tell you the truth. The real price of admission.”

“And what’s that?”

“Leaving your race at the door,” he said. “Leaving your people behind.” He studied me over the top of his reading glasses. You’re not going to college to get educated. You’re going there to get trained. They’ll train you to want you don’t need. They’ll train you to manipulate words so they don’t mean anything anymore. They’ll train you so good, you’ll start believing what they tell you about equal opportunity and the American way and all that shit. They’ll give you a corner office and invite you to fancy dinners, and tell you that you’re a credit to your race. Until you want to actually start running things, and then they’ll yank on your chain and let you know that you may be a well-trained, well-paid nigger, but you’re a nigger just the same.”

And finally there’s this. If Roberto Unger is supposedly a guide to the ideology of the man who is a shoo-in for another term as most powerful capitalist head of state in the world, just check what he said on Youtube in May of this year:

President Obama must be defeated in the coming election.

He has failed to advance the progressive cause in the United States. He has spent trillions of dollars to rescue the moneyed interests and left workers and homeowners to their own devices. He has subordinated the broadening of economic and educational opportunities to the important but secondary issue of access to health care in the mistaken belief that he would be spared a fight.

He has disguised his surrender with an empty appeal to tax justice. He has delivered the politics of democracy to the rule of money. He has reduced justice to charity.

His policy is financial confidence and food stamps. He has evoked a politics of hand holding. But no one changes the world without a struggle.

Unless he is defeated, there cannot be a contest for the re-orientation of the Democratic Party as the vehicle of a progressive alternative in the country. There will be a cost for his defeat in judicial and administrative appointments.

The risk of military adventurism, however, under the rule of his opponents, will be no greater than it would be under him.

Only a political reversal can allow the voice of democratic prophesy to speak once again in American life. Its speech is always dangerous. Its silence is always fatal.

That is the voice of a genuine radical, not the one that the Tea Party and its house intellectuals choose as its target. Obama will surely withstand their attacks and in the next four years we can expect more of the same, an unrelenting austerity drive like the one taking place in Europe. There is a need for a documentary about Obama but it will be up to genuine socialists to make it. With Michael Moore’s shilling for Obama as some kind of man on white horse and the D’Souza’s of the world trying to knock him out of his saddle, there’s an opening for a radical filmmaker to tell it like it is. Hey, you out there, what are you waiting for?

September 26, 2012

Liza Featherstone on “Won’t Back Down”

Filed under: Education,Film — louisproyect @ 4:36 pm

http://dissentmagazine.org/online.php?id=631

“Empowerment” Against Democracy: Tinseltown and the Teachers’ Unions
Liza Featherstone – September 26, 2012

“You know those mothers who lift one-ton trucks off their babies?” says Jamie Fitzpatrick, a working-class mom (played Maggie Gyllenhall), in a confrontation with a corrupt union rep in Daniel Barnz’s edu-drama, Won’t Back Down. “They’re nothing compared to me.”

It’s a “you-go-girl” moment. But real moms can’t lift trucks. And just about everything in this movie is as wildly fantastical as that image.

Fed up with her daughter’s horrible public school, Jamie learns about a law that allows parents and teachers to “take over” a failing school. Against the odds, she organizes the powerless and wins over the naysayers. The movie is inspired by real-life “parent trigger” laws, which are pushed by right-wing groups like ALEC, but backed with equal enthusiasm by progressive urban mayors nationwide. The laws allow a charter takeover if 50 percent of the parents agree to it. Charter schools are mostly non-union, and democratically elected officials have little control over them.

Won’t Back Down is liberal Hollywood’s second blast of gas on what was once a bugbear of the Right: the badness of public schools and teachers’ unions, and the magic bullet of hope offered by privatization. The first was Davis Guggenheim’s documentary Waiting for Superman. Barnz’s movie, featuring great actresses Viola Davis and Gyllenhall, is far more watchable than Guggenheim’s, but the fantasy world it inhabits is exactly the same. Its release, just on the heels of the Chicago teachers’ strike, feels eerily timely, as its anti-union talking points are just the same as those of Rahm Emanuel and the monied interests of Chicago.

read in full

September 16, 2012

RAW VIDEO: CTU Pres. Karen Lewis speaks at Union Park rally | Video | abc7chicago.com

Filed under: Education,workers — louisproyect @ 3:24 pm

RAW VIDEO: CTU Pres. Karen Lewis speaks at Union Park rally | Video | abc7chicago.com.

June 25, 2012

The University of Virginia fracas

Filed under: computers,Education — louisproyect @ 7:55 pm

Over a 22 year career in Columbia University’s IT department, I naturally followed administrative affairs at other universities. I began reading Chronicle of Higher Education back in 1990 mostly as a way of keeping up-to-date with “back office” concerns, especially how computer systems were being used. After a few months, I discovered that this trade magazine could also be relied upon for useful coverage of “the culture wars”, such as Ward Churchill’s firing, etc.

When I first got wind of the forced resignation of the University of Virginia’s President Teresa Sullivan, I wrote it off as some kind of turf battle. As a kind of relic of the medieval world, universities tend to divide into fiefdoms so firings and forced resignations are par for the course. But after a while it became obvious that what happened there had a lot more to do with what’s happening in American society over the past decade or so as the corporate elites of one percent infamy tighten their control over every aspect of our lives, including the Ivory Tower.

Sullivan’s resignation was announced on June 10 and reported in the Chronicle as resulting from “significant disagreements between Ms. Sullivan and the Board of Visitors [another term for board of trustees] about how best to position the historic institution for success in the 21st century.” She had come to U. Va. from the University of Michigan, the same institution that Columbia’s Lee Bollinger had ruled before coming here. As you would expect, she was probably no different than Bollinger or 90 percent of the presidents running colleges today, people once described by Upton Sinclair in “The Goosestep: a study of American Education”:

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.

Sullivan, like Bollinger, spent her time running between Mammon and God at U. of Va. but apparently not fast enough to assuage “visitor” Helen Dragas, a rector of the university and a real estate developer. What? You were expecting a poet or a sculptor maybe? Dragas’s main ally on the board was Vice Rector Mark Kington, who ran an asset management firm, another prerequisite for overseeing an institution of higher learning. The third and most interesting member of the anti-Sullivan triumvirate was Peter Kiernan, who was chairman of U. Va.’s Darden Business School board of trustees and formerly a Goldman-Sachs partner. This Kiernan is a real piece of work, based on the fawning NY Times Dealbook profile from February 29th of this year written by the loathsome Andrew Ross Sorkin, infamous for his article sneering at Occupy Wall Street.

Ultimately, Mr. Kiernan, 58, says he believes we need to put aside political differences to solve our national problems and avoid losing our place in the global pecking order, a doctrine he calls “radical centrism.”

“I was really writing the book to people to say, here’s what you’ve got to do to lead the country in uncertain times,” Mr. Kiernan said, over a recent lunch at the Peking Duck House in New York’s Chinatown. “For once, I wanted to read a book that is agnostic to political parties.”

At Goldman, Mr. Kiernan – a rugged Irish Catholic with a firm handshake and a polished demeanor straight out of Wall Street central casting – was better known for his philanthropy than his politics. He headed the Robin Hood Foundation, an antipoverty group whose ranks are populated by financial titans, and led a charity bicycle ride through Vietnam in 1998, with the proceeds going to disabled veterans.

So, when you put together people like Dragas, Kington and Kiernan, the results are predictable. They will be focused on the university’s “bottom line”, and all the rest—from scholarship to teaching young people how to become good citizens—be damned. Kiernan, like Kington, resigned not long after the national media got a hold of the Sullivan story. This was obviously meant to release some steam rather than solve the underlying problem, namely Mammon running roughshod over culture.

The smoking gun in all this was an email from Dragas to Kington calling attention to a Wall Street Journal article touting the benefits of computerized classes written by John E. Chubb and Terry M. Moe. (Don’t miss Doug Henwood’s interview with Moe here.) Dragas’s subject heading was “we can’t afford to wait”. The title of the WSJ article was most revealing, almost as written to illustrate volume one of Karl Marx’s Capital: “The substitution of technology (which is cheap) for labor (which is expensive) can vastly increase access to an elite-caliber education”. While Marx usually wrote about this in the context of Britain’s textile mills, apparently 21st century capitalism has every worker in its sights, including those in the halls of ivy.

Chubb and Moe are Hoover Institution scholars. Yes, I know, you weren’t expecting that. Both are fanatical rightwingers who have targeted teachers both at the college and secondary education level. They don’t see any particular need to be at Harvard to get a top-flight education:

The fact is, students do not need to be on campus at Harvard or MIT to experience some of the key benefits of an elite education. Moreover, colleges and universities, whatever their status, do not need to put a professor in every classroom. One Nobel laureate can literally teach a million students, and for a very reasonable tuition price. Online education will lead to the substitution of technology (which is cheap) for labor (which is expensive)–as has happened in every other industry–making schools much more productive.

One would be hard-pressed, however, to say whether they want to make a Harvard education available globally to any son or daughter foolish enough to part with their money, or to adopt a different education model altogether:

Don’t dismiss the for-profit colleges and universities, either. Institutions such as the University of Phoenix–and it is hardly alone–have embraced technology aggressively. By integrating online courses into their curricula and charging less-than-elite prices for them, for-profit institutions have doubled their share of the U.S. higher education market in the last decade, now topping 10%. In time, they may do amazing things with computerized instruction–imagine equivalents of Apple or Microsoft, with the right incentives to work in higher education–and they may give elite nonprofits some healthy competition in providing innovative, high-quality content.

As to be expected, Chubb and Moe swept for-profit school failure under the rug. If this type of institution is supposed to be a harbinger of things to come in higher education, American society will be going down the drain a lot faster than anybody expected. What places like these are best at is not educating people, but ripping them off. Through clever advertising campaigns, from all appearances the number one placement on NYC’s buses and subways, they tell working class kids—especially Blacks and Latinos—that a degree from such a school will get them a good job.

The Huffington Post reported  on what really makes for-profit institutions tick. Here’s a hint. It is not computers, but the cash register:

And despite the considerable cost, federal data show that for-profit colleges on average devote less than a third of the money that public universities do toward student instruction, and less than a fifth of the money spent on students by private non-profit institutions.

Much of the money is instead going toward marketing and recruiting new students, and to executive compensation and profits. According to securities filings for some of the larger publicly traded corporations that own for-profit schools, more than 30 percent of revenues are being redirected toward marketing efforts and administrative costs.

There is a tremendous irony in the U. of Va. crisis considering the school’s origins in 1819. It was founded by Thomas Jefferson and the first board of trustees included him, and two other former presidents James Madison and James Monroe.

In a letter written to British scientist Joseph Priestley, Jefferson declared: “We wish to establish in the upper country of Virginia, and more centrally for the State, a University on a plan so broad and liberal and modern, as to be worth patronizing with the public support, and be a temptation to the youth of other States to come and drink of the cup of knowledge and fraternize with us.”

We’ve come a long way from the “cup of knowledge” considering what can be found on the university’s website, even before Dragan’s vision for the future is realized. This is from the Corporate Connections page, shamelessly placed as a link on the university’s home page.

Welcome to the University of Virginia’s “Corporate Connections” gateway. This site will help you navigate through the variety of ways the University relates to and collaborates with business, industry and private foundations.

The Corporate and Foundation Relations office seeks to maximize contributions and other support to the University of Virginia from corporations and foundations, by creating, maintaining and enhancing mutually beneficial relationships between these entities and university units.

We provide an infrastructure for prospect coordination, planning, solicitation and other services that empower university units to conduct these activities in the most effective manner. Our central staff can help you get started based upon your interests and needs. Call (434) 924-4159, e-mail Nick Duke, or write: Office of Corporate and Foundation Relations, University of Virginia, P.O. Box 400807, Charlottesville, Virginia 22904-4807

Among the fruit borne from this poisonous bush is this:

Philip Morris USA Supports Medical Research and Business Leadership with a $25 Million Gift to U.Va.

This is a bit of Philip Morris PR designed to deflect attention from its primary purpose, namely to sell cancer sticks. It should be mentioned as well that the “Nick Duke” inviting emails above is none other than Nicholas R. Duke, a scion of the tobacco-growing empire. How appropriate.

In addition to the company’s support for the University of Virginia, Philip Morris USA has made significant investments in youth-smoking prevention and cessation programs and in research.

Since 1998, Philip Morris USA has invested $1 billion in youth-smoking prevention programs through its Youth Smoking Prevention department and its responsible retailing incentives.

Between 1999 and 2006, Philip Morris USA has provided grants in excess of $176 million to schools, school districts and youth-focused organizations across the United States to help them implement programs that help young people develop confidence and avoid risky behaviors, such as smoking.

Somehow the tobacco giant’s good intentions were lost on the government of Uruguay that like other subversive states in Latin America decided to put the health of its population above that of what Upton Sinclair called Mammon. From the Daily Beast:

Except over a glass of ruby Tannat wine or a sizzling tenderloin, most people pay little mind to Uruguay. But just mention this demure South American nation to the tobacco industry and watch the smoke billow. A long-burning row between the government in Montevideo and cigarette maker Philip Morris is slowly turning into the mother of asymmetric battles.

Earlier this year, little Uruguay (68,000 square miles, half again the size of Cuba), with a population of 3.5 million and a GDP of $44 billion, tightened the already drastic restrictions on local sales of cigarettes. The international tobacco colossus, with a market capitalization of $107 billion and legions of high-priced lawyers and lobbyists from Bern to the Washington Beltway, struck back, filing a complaint with the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes. The battlefield is minuscule, the size of a pack of smokes. But the case is starting rows over national sovereignty, free trade, and public health that show little sign of dissipating any time soon. Through it all, Uruguay has stood firm, showing it can go toe to toe with giants.

Of course, I am obliged to inform my readers that there is a certain consistency in the U. of Va.’s ties to Phillip Morris. After all, the main cash crop on Thomas Jefferson’s plantation was tobacco.

December 13, 2011

Hurrah! Jairus Banaji wins 2011 Isaac and Tamara Deutscher Memorial Prize

Filed under: Education,Islam,transition debate — louisproyect @ 7:26 pm

Jairus Banaji

In mid-October word leaked out that Charlie Post’s “The American Road to Capitalism” was on the short list for this year’s Isaac and Tamara Deutscher Memorial Prize, competing with Jairus Banaji’s “Theory As History: Essays on Modes of Production and Exploitation”. Perhaps it is a sign that the ideological hegemony of the Brenner thesis is finally breaking down that Banaji was declared the winner. Maybe the jury had a chance to read Henry Heller’s recently published “The Birth of Capitalism: a Twenty-First Century Perspective”, a book that offers the most devastating critique of Brenner’s Eurocentrism since Jim Blaut’s.

“Theory as History” is a collection of essays written by Banaji over thirty years dealing with the “transition” problem although none of them mention Brenner by name. Unlike Heller or Blaut, who consciously sought to knock him off his pedestal (I am sure that Henry would object to this characterization but my old friend and comrade Jim Blaut, may he rest in peace, would have accepted it gladly), Banaji’s chief goal is to interrogate some of the “stagist” preconceptions of a dogmatic Marxism that have allowed scholars to succumb to Eurocentric tendencies.  I strongly urge people to purchase the paperback edition from Haymarket books.  (I would be remiss if I did not mention that the book can also be read at Scribd.com for free.)

Among the collection is Banaji’s best-known article, the 44 page “Modes of Production in a Materialist Conception of History” that was published in the autumn 1977 Capital and Class and can also be read at www.anti-politics.net/discussion/Jairus_Banaji.pdf. That was the same year that Robert Brenner published “The Origins of Capitalist Development: A Critique of Neo-Smithian Marxism” in the New Left Review. Ironically, despite Brenner’s connections at that time with a state capitalist variety of Trotskyism, his scholarship owed much more to the British Historian’s group whose leading lights—Eric Hobsbawm, Maurice Dobb, Christopher Hill—were committed to a “stagist” conception of history very much influenced by the Stalintern’s cruder version of Engels’s historical materialism. For the British CP historians, history is marked by discrete phases based on distinct modes of production such as slavery, feudalism, capitalism, socialism, etc. Once one phase is finished, another starts sort of like what happens in natural history. First you have the apes, then the Neanderthal, then homo sapiens, etc.

Banaji rejects this model entirely, describing it as Vulgar Marxism:

The tradition of Vulgar Marxism which drew its earliest sources of energy from the Marxism of the Second International, crystallised only under the domination of Stalin. Stalinism uprooted not only the proletarian orientations of Marxism, but its scientific foundations as well. For the dialectic as the principle of rigorous scientific investigation of historical processes – it was, after all, this rational dialectic that was “a scandal and abomination to bourgeoisdom and its doctrinaire professors” (Marx, Capital, Vol. I, Afterword to Second German Edition) – Stalinism substituted the “dialectic” as a cosmological principle prior to, and independent of, science. For the materialist conception of history it substituted a theory of history “in general”, “converting historical epochs into a logical succession of inflexible social categories” (Trotsky, 1932, Appendix I). Finally, this rubber-stamp conception of history it represented as a history deja constituee, open therefore only to the procedures of verification. This lifeless bureaucratic conception, steeped in the methods of formalism, produced a history emptied of any specifically historical content, reduced by the forced march of simple formal abstractions to the meagre ration of a few volatile categories. Within five decades of Marx’s death, the history written by the Stalinists became as opaque and dreamlike, and hardly as exciting, as the fantasies of surrealism.

As should be clear from the reference to Leon Trotsky above, Banaji’s conception of history is much closer to the combined and uneven development model found in Trotsky’s writings on the Russian revolution. For Trotsky, Russia was a clear example that feudalism and capitalism can co-exist in a given society. Moreover, one of the earliest implicit challenges to the “stagist” conceptions of the CP historians was Eric Williams’s “Capitalism and Slavery”, a book making the case for the interrelationship between Caribbean slavery and British capitalism that was strongly influenced by CLR James’s “Black Jacobins”.

While Brenner is not specifically targeted in Banaji’s article, it does have plenty to say about Maurice Dobb who clearly paved the way for Brenner. In his debate with Paul Sweezy, Dobb was probably closer to the spirit of Karl Marx’s writings than Sweezy but unfortunately bent the stick too far in the direction of defining “free wage labor” as a sine qua non for the capitalist mode of production—thus leading to many of the dogmatic errors of the Brenner school of historiography. Banaji writes:

Again, in Capital Volume 3, Marx referred to the evolution of merchant capital in the ancient world transforming “a patriarchal slave system devoted to the production of immediate means of subsistence into one devoted to the production of surplus value”. According to an edict of 1721, Peter the Great had allowed the Russian factory-owners to utilise serf-labour. “But if the factory-owner could now carry on his business with the labour of serfs”, wrote Pokrovsky, “who prevented the serf-holder from establishing a factory?” To Pokrovsky the edict was one of the forerunners of “bondage or landlord capitalism”. Analysing the land question in Peru, Mariategui wrote about the technically advanced capitalist latifundia on the coast, owned by US and British business, in which “exploitation still rests on feudal practices and principles”. In its theses on the Eastern Question proposed at the Fourth Congress, the colonial commission of the Comintern spoke of capitalism arising in the colonies “on feudal foundations” and developing “in distorted and incomplete transitional forms which give commercial capital predominance. Finally, outside the Marxist tradition, Hobson could refer to industrial profits which “represented the surplus-value of slave or forced labour” and Barrington Moore to “labour-repressive forms of capitalist agriculture”. In all these varied instances – the subordination of the potters of Moscow province to merchant capital, the production of cotton in the slave South, the expansion of landlord capitalism in Rumanian agriculture or Petrine industry, the sugar latifundia of coastal Peru – there was no question of identifying the “mode of production” according to the character of the given forms or relations of exploitation. Nor did any of these instances involve a “coexistence” of modes of production.

Another essay worth singling out is “Islam, the Mediterranean, and the Rise of Capitalism” that appeared originally in the 2007 Historical Materialism. The article makes the case for understanding commercial or merchant capitalism as a much more powerful link in the chain of the system’s history than ever recognized in Marx’s writings. For Banaji, the Dutch and English East India Companies are not simply involved in exchange external to production, a point made as well by Henry Heller. And even before the Dutch and English were involved in capitalist trade, the Portuguese and the Venetians were in the thick of things. Banaji states that by the fourteenth century, Venice was an economy dominated by capital, with the same families controlling trade, transport, finance, and industry.

Of even greater interest is Banaji’s discussion of the Arab trade empire. He states that concepts of profit, capital, and the accumulation of capital are all found in the Arabic sources of the ninth to fourteenth centuries.

Even more startlingly, he uncovers what amounts to a labor theory of value in the writings of Ibn Khaldun, the Tunisian scholar who wrote a history of the world that posited the notion that all great civilizations have a kind of life cycle with an inevitable death. Khaldun wrote that “labor is the cause of profit” and that it is “necessary for every profit and capital accumulation”. Gold and silver are the only socially acceptable measures of value “for all capital accumulations” while profit is defined as the “extent by which capital increases” and commerce as the “striving for profit by means of the accumulation of capital”.

The Arab world is not some backwater for Banaji. He asserts that by the seventh century it was a cosmopolitan civilization whose economic resources were unrivaled except by China. The Muslims created a vigorous monetary economy based on the dinar and drew regional areas into their commercial nexus. In Banaji’s words, that economy “was not just some loose ensemble of feudal regimes”. A late 10th century Persian geographer described Cairo as “the wealthiest city in the world, extremely prosperous.” By the second half of the 10th century, Alexandria was exporting well over 5000 to 6000 tons of flax to European countries.

He concludes:

Thus Islam made a powerful contribution to the growth of capitalism in the Mediterranean, in part because it preserved and expanded the monetary economy of late antiquity and innovated business techniques that became the staple of Mediterranean commerce (in particular, partnerships and commenda agreements), and also because the seaports of the Muslim world became a rich source of the plundered money-capital which largely financed the growth of maritime capitalism in Europe. Indeed, [Ernest] Mandel stated this with unabashed bluntness when he wrote: ‘The accumulation of money capital by the Italian merchants who dominated European economic life from the eleventh to the fifteenth centuries originated directly from the Crusades, an enormous plundering enterprise if ever there was one’

All of this is a useful corrective not only to the Brenner school but to another brand of Eurocentrism that is far more insidious in that it has received big play in the bourgeois media over the last year or so. Published by the prestigious Princeton University Press, Turkish economist Timur Kuran’s “The Long Divergence: How Islamic Law Held Back the Middle  East” won the admiration of pundits everywhere anxious to blame the people of the Middle East for their own problems, as if British and American ships and warplanes had less impact than verses in the Koran.

In an op-ed piece that appeared in the May 29, 2011 NY Times, Kuran offered his explanation of why Arab states were so backward and repressive:

But the handicaps of Arab civil society also have historical causes that transcend the policies of modern rulers. Until the establishment of colonial regimes in the late 19th century, Arab societies were ruled under Shariah law, which essentially precludes autonomous and self-governing private organizations. Thus, while Western Europe was making its tortuous transition from arbitrary rule by monarchs to democratic rule of law, the Middle East retained authoritarian political structures. Such a political environment prevented democratic institutions from taking root and ultimately facilitated the rise of modern Arab dictatorships.

Strikingly, Shariah lacks the concept of the corporation, a perpetual and self-governing organization that can be used either for profit-making purposes or to provide social services. Islam’s alternative to the nonprofit corporation was the waqf, a trust established in accordance with Shariah to deliver specified services forever, through trustees bound by essentially fixed instructions. Until modern times, schools, charities and places of worship, all organized as corporations in Western Europe, were set up as waqfs in the Middle East.

One wonders how much Kuran knows about Arab history if he can make such a claim in the face of Banaji’s research. This is not to speak of Kuran’s obvious inability to appreciate the dynamism of the Anatolian “tigers” who currently rule his native country and who certainly not only have the “concept of the corporation” but a willingness to dump the European Union, the true “sick men”, in favor of trade alliances with a revitalized East.

Jim Blaut died before he had to complete his trilogy on Eurocentrist history. The third volume was to present an alternative way of seeing China, India, the Arab world et al. While this certainly leaves a gap in a crucial area of Marxist scholarship, we can be grateful to Jairus Banaji in his ongoing effort to effectively fulfill Jim’s dream.

October 27, 2011

Occupy the DOE!

Filed under: Education — louisproyect @ 1:20 am

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