Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 23, 2009

Some animals are more equal than others

Filed under: bard college — louisproyect @ 7:29 pm

Three major donors to Bard College

Over on the Facebook group set up to protest the firing of Joel Kovel, a former Bard professor who had run afoul of Leon Botstein cautioned that not much could be done unless sufficient “muscle” was applied on the Board of Trustees. If that is the case, then I doubt anything can be done since the most powerful figures on the board (or who serve in an ex officio status like George Soros) are Wall Street hedge fund operators who are constitutionally incapable of responding to the wishes of Bard students and professors. The sad fact is that despite the halo that surrounds academia, colleges are run more and more nowadays as capitalist enterprises. And if you are going to run your college like a capitalist enterprise, who better to serve on a board than hedge fund operators?

The chairman of Bard’s board of trustees is one Charles P. Stevenson Jr., a Yale graduate in the hedge fund business who lavished millions of dollars to establish a new library at Bard called appropriately enough the Charles P. Stevenson Jr. Library. For some reason, these hedge fund cowboys have a thing for libraries. Last year the New York Public Library renamed its main library the Stephen A. Schwarzman Library in return for this hedge fund magnate’s contribution of $100 million to its $1 billion capital fund drive.

Stevenson lives in 740 Park Avenue and serves as the president of the co-op’s board. The building has been “celebrated” as the richest apartment building in the world in Michael Gross’s book. His website states:

For 75 years, it’s been one of the most lusted-after addresses in the world. Even today, it is steeped in purest luxury, the kind most of us can only imagine. Until now. The story of 740 Park Avenue sweeps across the twentieth century, and Michael Gross tells it in glorious, intimate and unprecedented detail. From the financial shenanigans that preceded the laying of the cornerstone, to the dazzlingly and sometimes decadently rich people who hid behind its walls, this is a sweeping social and economic epic, starring our wealthiest and most powerful old-money families–Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Bouvier, Chrysler, Houghton and Harkness–and today’s new-monied elite: Bronfman, Perelman, Kravis, Steinberg, Koch and Schwarzman.

Get that, Bardians? Decadently rich. How does the president of this building’s board end up as the chairman of the board of trustees of a college that Walter Winchell once called the little red whorehouse on the Hudson?

You know who else lives in 740 Park Avenue? (That is until he gets thrown out for not being able to pay his maintenance.) None other than fellow hedge fund operator Ezra Merkin, who I strongly suspect was recruited to serve on the Jerome Levy Institute board through his connections to neighbor Charles P. Stevenson Jr. This Ezra Merkin just happened to be Bernie Madoff’s chief conduit of funds and depleted Bard College’s endowment by 3 million dollars invested in the Ponzi scheme. Bloomberg.com reported:

Merkin is also “considerate, articulate, intellectual and he seems thoughtful,” said Bruce Greenwald, who served as a governor with Merkin of Bard College’s Levy Economics Institute. “I’m shocked that he got sucked into this.”

Well, I’m not shocked at all. That’s what hedge fund operators are all about. The evidence of the past year or so is that there is a tissue-paper thin dividing line between hedge funds and Madoff’s racket. They are basically card sharps who gamble on their customer’s investments, including my employer Columbia University whose endowment lost 15 percent of its value from investments foisted on the institution by its own Ezra Merkins.

Speaking of the Levy’s, I have already reported on the battle that took place between this hedge fund operator and the waiters at Smith and Wollensky in the 1990s. Apparently that’s not the least of Leon Levy’s shenanigans. As it turns out, old Leon was not above trafficking in purloined antiquities of the sort that disappeared from Iraq in the early stages of Bush’s war as the Harvard Crimson reported on April 6, 2006:

Archaeology experts from three colleges this weekend criticized Harvard and other universities for taking money from a philanthropist whose personal antiquities collection contains some artifacts, they say, were of dubious origin.

Leon Levy-a well-known Wall Street investor who died in 2003-and his widow Shelby White started the Shelby White-Leon Levy Program for Archaeological Publications at Harvard in 1997 to support research on terminated and unpublished field work from sites in Greece, Turkey, Cyrpus, Iran, and the Middle East.

The program has awarded $6 million over the past decade.

But archaeologists from the University of Pennsylvania, Bryn Mawr College, and the University of Cincinnati say that because Levy and White’s own artifact collection was obtained through questionable means, academic institutions like Harvard should not take money from them.

According to Philip J. King, head of the Harvard program, many artifacts held by collectors have been attained as a result of illegal looting and grave robbing of historical sites, taking them out of their important original context.

Although it is beyond the scope of this article to get into the controversy surrounding stolen art, the wealthy nations that own the museums in which they are on display (the Met, the London Museum, etc.) argue that they are in the proper place since the poor countries from which they were stolen lack the resources to care for them properly. As someone who has visited Turkey on multiple occasions, this kind of argument galls me almost as much as Leon Botstein’s “explanation” for Kovel’s firing.

Finally, when it comes to hedge fund operators, Bard has the good fortune to be the apple in George Soros’s beady eye. His ex-wife Susan sits alongside Charles P. Stevenson Jr. on Bard’s board of trustees and George himself functions as a kind of informal secretary of state to and primary revenue-stream for Bard’s rapidly expanding Empire of satellite colleges.

In 2006 France’s highest court rejected Soros’s bid to overturn an insider trading conviction, leaving what the International Herald Tribune called “the first blemish on his five-decade investing career.” He was fined about 2 million dollars for buying and selling Société Générale shares in 1988 after receiving information about a planned corporate raid on the bank.

I would say that the real blemish on Soros’s career has nothing to do with insider trading but rather his extra-business activities which amount to a kind of shadow government. Using the billions of dollars accrued through currency speculation and other hedging strategies, Soros funded anti-Communist movements in Eastern Europe that have frequently led to real suffering.

From 1991, his Open Society Institute channeled more than $100 million to the pro-Western opposition. Political parties, publishing houses and “independent” media such as Radio B92 were bankrolled in order to turn Yugoslavia into a capitalist democracy conforming to his own libertarian ideology. The Serbs have been the prime recipients of Soros’s philanthropic efforts.

In 2006 unemployment reached 27 percent in Yugoslavia, a number greater than that suffered by Americans during the Great Depression. Of course, that’s what happens in “Open Societies” not constrained by that nasty Stalinist habit of guaranteeing a job. In the final analysis, freedom for George Soros is measured by the ability of a businessman to make a profit without government interference. He doesn’t want to appear as if money is all that is necessary for the good life. Citizens must have the right to criticize their government, just as Bard students have the right to criticize their President. Of course, when you have hundreds of millions of dollars at your disposal-like Stephenson, Levy, and Soros-your criticisms will carry more weight than some alumni making a living as a white collar worker. But that’s how the system works. As Orwell once put it, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

1 Comment »

  1. Ha, Bruce Greenwald. A reactionary Republican (despite being Joe Stiglitz’ frequent collaborator) who personally told me that he gave money to Jesse Helms because he supported him enthusiastically.

    Comment by dhenwood — February 23, 2009 @ 7:43 pm

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