Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 15, 2009

Bard College’s lumpen bourgeoisie

Filed under: bard college,Ecology,health and fitness — louisproyect @ 11:19 pm

Bard trustee Stewart Resnick and wife Lynda: health food millionaires, animal torturers, eco-imperialists

I doubt if there’s any college president in the United States better at lining up sleazy millionaires for a Board of Trustees than Bard College’s Leon Botstein. From the arch-Zionist publisher of New Republic Martin Peretz to erstwhile corporate raider Asher Edelman (fictionalized as Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street”), he has assembled a rogue’s gallery second to none.

Yesterday I discovered a new rogue quite by accident. As I read the excellent piece by Daniel Wolff on Counterpunch about how charter schools have become a kind of hobby for narcissistic hedge fund managers, I seemed to recall that Bard College had spawned one or two of these as part of Botstein’s empire-building strategy. Sure enough, a Google search revealed the following:

The Paramount Bard Academy is a collaborative effort of the Resnick Foundation, the Paramount Agricultural Companies, Bard College, and community members of Delano, California. The Academy is a unique initiative that raises expectations for students while providing a model that can contribute to significant growth in student achievement in the region. This charter school reaches out to Delano and other neighboring communities with the goal of educating a group of students that represent a demographic cross-section of the local districts. The participation of the Bard College Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) Program allows the creation of a school in which the students and faculty of a graduate teacher education program are participating members of the teaching and learning community.

As you may recall, Delano is in the heart of California’s agribusiness region and was the locale of some of the most militant struggles of the UFW in the 1970s. The Resnick Foundation and the Paramount Agricultural Companies are owned and controlled by Stewart and Lynda Resnick, a capitalist husband and wife team involved with liberal philanthropy. Paramount is one of the world’s largest pistachio nut growers but the couple has built a number of other businesses as well. Their first enterprise was the Franklin Mint, an outfit that sold tacky goods through late night television ads, including replicas of Princess Di’s pearl necklace. (The Royal Family sued the Resnicks unsuccessfully.)

Stewart Resnick sits on Bard’s Board of Trustees, along with a number of other limousine liberals. His wife Lynda is something of a colorful character. She was friends with Daniel Ellsberg who asked to use her photocopier machine to make copies of the Pentagon Papers and was eventually charged as an unindicted co-conspirator, spending two years eluding prosecutors.

Like many other antiwar activists from that era, Lynda was only opposed to the war that capitalism bred, not the system itself. Indeed, her book “Rubies in the Orchard” is filled with the kind of free enterprise homilies you will find in the writings of a number of other organic food hucksters, including John Mackey of Whole Foods. This is from her website:

POM Wonderful. FIJI Water. Teleflora. The Franklin Mint. Lynda Resnick’s marketing triumphs read like an encyclopedia of branding. She is the smartest and hardest-working marketing brain in the business-the kind of marketer who can sell “ice sculptures to Eskimos.” But her brilliant ideas aren’t simply the result of random inspiration; they’re the products of a systematic approach to marketing that any company-large or small-can adapt to achieve success. In RUBIES IN THE ORCHARD, she divulges her secrets for creating some of the world’s most memorable and iconic brands, and the bull’s-eye strategies to sell them.

As typical Californians, the Resnicks are into “healthy” lifestyles and have not been above making a fast buck turning their affinities into merchandise. After Lynda got all revved up over the anti-oxidant qualities of pomegranates, she launched POM, the pricey juice you see in your better grocery stores.

A natural complement to pomegranate juice, of course, is the very pure and healthy spring water labeled Fiji that the Resnicks have been peddling since 2004. As the name implies, the water comes from the Pacific island.

But their most lucrative operation is Paramount Farms, the world’s largest producer of almonds and pistachio nuts. They obviously have the same commitment to the nutritious nuts that they have to their juice and water. One imagines that a lifetime diet of Paramount nuts, Fiji water and POM juice will allow you to live to a hundred. (They claim that pistachio nuts can prevent lung cancer.) The collateral damage done to the environment and to human beings in pursuit of such nominally admirable goals is another story altogether of course.

Each and every one of these businesses has left behind a snail-like trail of slime. Perhaps the liberal pretensions of the Resnicks make this all the more hard to swallow. If they simply admitted that they were no different from Donald Trump or any other latter-day robber baron, they would be a lot easier to take. But since we are living in the age of hypocrisy, crowned by the current denizen of the White House, this is probably all we can expect.

Let’s start with POM, a juice that Lynda Resnick regards as some kind of magic elixir. Indeed, if pistachio nuts can prevent lung cancer, might pomegranate juice be just what men need to put lead in their pencil, a kind of organic Viagra? Apparently she was convinced enough to deploy a team of scientists to conduct experiments—not on middle-aged men, however, but on rabbits as Earth First! reported:

After a six-month campaign involving a mix of above- and underground actions, pomegranate juice maker POM Wonderful officially declared that it will no longer be associated with animal testing.

“POM Wonderful pomegranate juice has ceased all animal testing, and we have no plans to resume in the future,” wrote Lynda and Stewart Resnick, owners of POM parent company Roll International, in a letter to retailers on January 17.

POM had been a target of animal rights activists because of the research it was conducting in order to show positive health benefits of its juice. One test consisted of locking week-old mouse pups—whose mothers had been fed pomegranate juice—in an oxygen-deprivation chamber for 45 minutes to induce severe brain damage. The babies were then decapitated and their brains studied. Another test involved severing the penile arteries of rabbits to simulate erectile dysfunction. The rabbits were then fed pomegranate juice, while the results were monitored by POM scientists.

Now if it was up to me, I’d like to run a battery of tests like these on the Bard College Board of Trustees. Since that is against the law, I’d of course have to wait until after the revolution.

Moving on to Fiji, things go downhill. Anna Lenzer reported in the September Mother Jones on the Resnick’s eco-imperialism:

Nowhere in Fiji Water’s glossy marketing materials will you find reference to the typhoid outbreaks that plague Fijians because of the island’s faulty water supplies; the corporate entities that Fiji Water has—despite the owners’ talk of financial transparency—set up in tax havens like the Cayman Islands and Luxembourg; or the fact that its signature bottle is made from Chinese plastic in a diesel-fueled plant and hauled thousands of miles to its ecoconscious consumers. And, of course, you won’t find mention of the military junta for which Fiji Water is a major source of global recognition and legitimacy. (Gilmour has described the square bottles as “little ambassadors” for the poverty-stricken nation.)

As might be expected, some Fijians are not convinced that the Resnicks have their best interests at heart and raised hell about their water being diverted to American yuppies, even if they planned to vote for Obama. Of course, the Resnicks—past masters of public relations to cover a myriad of sins—thought they figured out a way to placate the unruly natives as Lenzer reports:

True, some of Fiji Water’s good works are more hope than reality: Though Lynda Resnick insists that “we only use biofuels,” the Fiji plant runs on diesel generators, and a project to protect 50,000 acres of rainforest—plugged on the actual bottle label—has yet to obtain a lease. Still, Resnick told New York’s WNYC last year, “We do so much for these sort of forgotten people. They live in paradise, but they have a very, very hard life.”

Fiji Water may be well advised to spread a bit of its wealth around locally. During the 2000 coup, a small posse of villagers wielding spearguns and dynamite seized on the chaos to take over the bottling plant and threaten to burn it down. “The land is sacred and central to our continued existence and identity,” a village spokesman told the Fiji Times, adding that “no Fijian should live off the breadcrumbs of past colonial injustices.” Two years later, the company created the Vatukaloko Trust Fund, a charity targeting several villages surrounding its plant. It won’t say how much it has given to the trust, but court proceedings indicate that it has agreed to donate .15 percent of its Fijian operation’s net revenues; a company official testified that the total was about $100,000 in 2007. (For perspective, the trade journal Brandweek put Fiji Water’s marketing budget at $10 million in 2008; it recently dropped $250,000 to become a founding partner of the new Salt Lake City soccer stadium.)

Next, we discover that like the incestuous patriarch in Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown”, Stewart Resnick has a thing about water. Not just in Fiji, but in his native state.

Los Angeles Times
Massive Farm Owned by L.A. Man Uses Water Bank Conceived for State Needs
December 19, 2003|Mark Arax

BAKERSFIELD — The Kern River, dry as bone, meets Interstate 5 on an expanse of land no longer tamed by agriculture. The last stand of cotton was plowed under a decade ago, and now tumbleweeds hide jackrabbits and coyotes.

But cotton’s white gold has given way to new riches stored deep below the ground. That’s where 730,000 acre-feet of water — a lake worth more than $180 million on the open market — awaits the pump.

In a new era of buying and selling water, there may be no bigger stockpile than the Kern Water Bank. It was conceived in the mid-1980s by the state Department of Water Resources as a way to store water in the aquifer in wet years so that it can be pumped out in dry years.

Today, though, the massive underground pool is controlled by one corporate farmer, wealthy Los Angeles businessman Stewart Resnick, who owns Paramount Farming Co., the Franklin Mint, and Teleflora, a flowers-by-wire service.

The Kern bank, which was intended to help balance out the state’s water supply to cities, farms and fish, has instead allowed Paramount Farming to double its acres of nuts and fruits since 1994.

In recent years, Paramount received enough water from the state to irrigate its existing orchards and withdraw enough water from the bank to plant more trees.

Paramount Farming is now the largest grower and seller of almonds and pistachios in the world, according to an international business directory. Paramount Citrus, also owned by Resnick, ranks as the largest citrus grower and packer in the U.S.

Critics say Resnick’s control of the water bank is a glaring example of the perversion of water marketing — how a handful of California’s most powerful and wealthy men continue to grab the state’s most precious natural resource.

Finally, we should say a word about another Resnick company called Suterra that produces a pesticide called Checkmate that is useful against the Light Brown Apple Moth which big growers view as a threat to their livelihood. Unfortunately, as is so often the case with such chemicals, it is also a threat to other living beings. When Checkmate was to be sprayed in the Bay Area last year, the locals were as up in arms as the Fijians. The Berkeley Daily Planet tried to explain why the state of California was anxious to stay on the good side of the Resnicks, who know how to throw their ill-gotten gains around like the rest of the bourgeoisie:

With his wife, Lynda Rae, Resnick owns Paramount Farming, which specializes in production of pistachios, almonds and pomegranates and claims to be the world’s largest pistachio processor. Paramount Farming owns Paramount Citrus, “the largest fully integrated grower, picker, shipper and marketer of fresh citrus in North America,” according to the company website.

Resnick also owns the Del Rey Juice Company, in Del Rey, Calif., which produces frozen juices; he owns Teleflora, a world-wide cut-flower delivery business, Franklin Mint, a company that markets collectibles and Fuji Water. The parent company is Roll International.

Resnick is known as a “major donor” in campaign finance lingo. In the last governor’s race he contributed $144,000 to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. In the last year he’s contributed between $1,000 and $3,000 to each of the members of the Assembly Agriculture committee.

Schwarzenegger’s spokesperson Rachel Cameron told the Planet that the “governor has confidence in the CDFA and the science behind the pheromones. He believes it is safe.”

Asked if the $144,000 contribution would have influenced the governor’s view of the product, Schwarzenegger’s political spokesperson Julie Soderland said, “The governor makes all his policy decisions based on the best interests of the people of California.”

The Resnicks are made from the same stuff as Bruce Ratner, a real estate mogul and Bard College trustee who used his political clout to win approval for an intrusively mammoth project in downtown Brooklyn that has locals just as aroused as the Fijians and the Bay Area folks. It is all about the ability of billionaires to control politics, a spectacle writ large as Obama bends over backwards to placate the insurance companies and Wall Street banks.

Why would Bard College’s Board of Trustees be filled to the rafters with such scoundrels? It is almost as if Leon Botstein went out of his way to recruit the lumpen bourgeoisie–the real estate developers, the hedge fund speculators, the agribusiness moguls, et al—that is dragging American society into the pits. When I first learned in the late 80s that he had picked Martin Peretz for the board of trustees, I was shocked. How could a fine liberal arts college invite a man who had supported the Nicaraguan contras to sit on its board? I took the trouble to complain to Botstein in the first of a series of letters such as these (they are no longer addressed to him, but to the general public—most importantly high school students who might waste their parents’ money going to Bard.)

Perhaps like gullible Obama voters, I had the same foolish notion that this president with his flowery speeches to graduating classes might really have the best interests of his students and the planet at heart. Now that I am older and wiser, I see Botstein in the same light as Obama—a man addicted to power who seeks nothing more than to serve the interests of American corporations. In exchange for giving them a bit of free public relations by collaborating on specious do-good projects like the Paramount charter school, they pour money into the school’s endowment funds. All in all, this is just the normal operation of the capitalist system, even if in the case of Bard it is slathered over with a bunch of self-congratulatory bullshit.

Update

I just got word from Michael Perelman that there’s another bit of malfeasance Stewart Resnick has been involved in:

http://www.sacbee.com/capitolandcalifornia/story/2375052.html

Feinstein heeded donor, sought Delta study
By Lance Williams
California Watch

Published: Monday, Dec. 7, 2009 – 12:00 am | Page 4A
Wealthy corporate farmer Stewart Resnick has written check after check to U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s political campaigns. He’s hosted a party in her honor at his Beverly Hills mansion, and he’s entertained her at his second home in Aspen, Colo.

In September, when Resnick asked Feinstein to weigh in on the side of agribusiness in a drought-fueled environmental dispute over the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the wealthy grower and political donor got quick results, documents show.

On Sept. 4, Resnick wrote to Feinstein, complaining that the latest federal plan to rescue the Delta’s endangered salmon and shad fisheries was “exacerbating the state’s severe drought” because it cut back on water available to irrigate crops. “Sloppy science” by federal wildlife agencies had led to “regulatory-induced water shortages,” he claimed.

“I really appreciate your involvement in this issue,” he wrote to Feinstein.

(clip)

UPDATE 2

Last March, Amanda Fortini wrote a puff piece on Lynda Resnick in the New Yorker magazine titled “Pomegranate Princess”. It was so adulatory that it almost sounded like something the Resnicks paid her to write. It was of course just one more sign of the magazine’s degradation. Unfortunately, the article is behind a subscriber’s firewall but I would like to reproduce two paragraphs that reveal the grotesque character of the subject:

A few days later, I visited Lynda in her office at Sunset House, the Resnicks’ twenty-five-thousand-square-foot Beaux-Arts mansion in Beverly Hills. Built in 1927, the house earned its name for its location on one of Los Angeles’s main thoroughfares. Its grand exterior-fourteen-foot columns and wrought-iron balustrades-is matched by an interior so ornate it looks unreal. “People think it’s a Hollywood set,” Lynda said. The cavernous reception hall contains two massive blown-glass chandeliers that hang from a vaulted ceiling with 24k.-gold-leaf moldings. The windows are hung with Fortuny fabric curtains heavy enough that if they fell they might crush a person. Napoleon is a sort of household hero: there’s a marble bust of the Emperor posing as Caesar, complete with laurel wreath, in Stewart’s office, and in the drawing room a colossal seven-foot marble statue of Napoleon brooding over a map. Stewart sought Lynda’s approval before buying the piece. “So he brings me this tiny, two-inch black-and-white photograph in an auction catalogue, and I didn’t pay any attention,” she told me. “Wouldn’t you think it would go on your desk? And then, when it arrived, he said, ‘Honey, I forgot to tell you, we’re going to have to put a steel rebar in the basement to shore up the floor when we bring it in.’ To me, it’s a little taste of Forest Lawn. I can’t stand it.”

“I’m so tired!” Lynda said. “What I wouldn’t give not to have to go out to dinner tonight.” Lynda and Stewart attend dinner parties and charity events at least three times a week, sometimes five or six, and regularly host what Lynda calls “salons” at Sunset House. In many ways, she is a throwback to an old-fashioned hostess and patron-the Lady Ottoline Morrell of Beverly Hills. She collects people as avidly as she collects objets d’art. “People always say, ‘I meet the most interesting people at this house!’ ” she said. She calls herself an “intellectual junkie.” “I’m not impressed with movie stars-I’m impressed with brains. When you go down the list of all the people I know, they’re all really smart. I love smart,” she said. “It’s a fuller life when you know, in the same life, Martha Stewart and Jared Diamond, Edgar Doctorow and Joan Didion and Sylvester Stallone.” When I asked how she knew all these people, she shrugged. “My Rolodex is pretty highfalutin because we live in Hollywood, we’re charitable, we know a lot of people in the industry.” She added, “If I want to meet someone, I find a way.”

9 Comments »

  1. Former Iranian President Rafsanjani is also a pistachio millionaire. Coincidence?

    Conspiracy theorists, have at it.

    Comment by Grumpy Old Man — December 16, 2009 @ 1:51 am

  2. GOVERNOR BETRAYED BY CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF FOOD AND AGRICULTURE (CDFA).

    If the Governor still thinks “Checkmate,” the synthetic pheromone pesticide is safe, he might check:
    (1) The EPA months ago made Checkmate illegal across the entire United States.
    (2) Tests on the Checkmate Synthetic Pheromone active ingredient and the entire Checkmate chemical substance tested toxic (level III toxicity).

    If the Governor still has confidence in the CDFA, he might check that the damage reports on the Light Brown Apple Moth that CDFA had been reporting for two years were all false. The CDFA’s own July 2009 Program Environmental Impact Report (PEIR) on the Light Brown Apple Moth confirms that NO DAMAGE HAS OCCURRED FROM LBAM IN CALIFORNIA. (PEIR, Chapter #3, pages 3-20 & 3-21).

    The embarrassing question now for CDFA and the Governor who trusted them: Why is CDFA proceeding with a multi-million dollar eradication program for an insect that has been shown to NOT cause damage in California?

    Comment by Mary Fletcher — December 16, 2009 @ 3:46 am

  3. Charter schools are a mixed lot, but the dramatic success stories can be mostly explained by de facto cherry-picking or the self-selection that goes on in the admittance process.

    If Americans focused the statistical acumen they had with sports statistics towards other areas of society, then a lot of garbage social science stats would be off the table of public discussion.

    Comment by purple — December 16, 2009 @ 6:34 am

  4. Stewart happens to be a board member of Conservation International another eco-imperialist venture that I wrote about in this article:

    “When Environmentalists Legitimize Plunder,” Swans Commentary, January 26, 2009.
    http://www.swans.com/library/art15/barker12.html

    Lynda is also an emeritus director of Conservation International.

    Comment by michaeljamesbarker — December 16, 2009 @ 12:50 pm

  5. Corporate International, inc. has been phagocytosing (absorbing) universities for decades. Bard, to the regret and sadness of Lou, is no exception.

    This is not an American exception. It happens all over the so-called rich world. France, which I follow out of my past and cultural predispositions, is privatizing (i.e., corporationizing) its entire education system, making it another commodity among the many that enhance individualism, profits, and greed.

    Michael Barker, as Lou, as me, and as others, keep showing with painstaking details (and research) the phagocytosing scam that keeps destroying out ecological system and transfers wealth from the bottom to the top of the food chain.

    The trend is accelerating, not downsizing.

    I have no idea when people will start to push back. Right now, the push seems to be heading only one way — reactionary right (and this is true both in the U.S. and in Europe).

    I have no idea either what can be done to oppose that trend and what alternative we can offer — an alternative that makes sense to the heavy-drugged polity (all over the “rich” world), but I know that Lou is up to the task and so is Swans (http://www.swans.com/)

    More than ever, we need solidarity among ourselves, in spite and beyond our tiny differences.

    Thanks Lou for this well researched input.

    Solidarity, indeed!

    Gilles d’Aymery

    Comment by Gilles d'Aymery — December 16, 2009 @ 10:08 pm

  6. Thanks for this! We need investigative research like this. Please see my four part series on for-profit predatory colleges at dissidentvoice.org. Just put ‘proprietary schools’ in their search engine and you will find the four part series; how they do it, how the neo-liberal government aids and abets and what it costs.

    Danny Weil

    Comment by Danny Weil — December 18, 2009 @ 8:13 pm

  7. “Late Night Live” (on the Australian ABC Radio National) did an interview about Fiji Water and the Resnicks with Anna Lenzer in September. You can listen to it here:

    http://www.abc.net.au/rn/latenightlive/stories/2009/2766756.htm

    Comment by hecksinductionhour — December 21, 2009 @ 11:47 am

  8. […] though I have supplied dossiers on the Resnicks before (Stuart Resnick as Noah Cross; Bard’s Lumpen Bourgeoisie), I can’t resist drawing from the well of resentment once again. If Colonel Kilgore of […]

    Pingback by Erectile dysfunction and a Bard College honorary doctorate « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — April 11, 2012 @ 4:15 pm

  9. […] donors with a proclivity for supporting self-serving policies politically. With a long history of mixing water with education, they are some of California’s wealthiest individuals because of California public water […]

    Pingback by Avoid Proposition 1 Like The Water Pump In A Cholera Outbreak – redqueeninla — July 7, 2016 @ 9:35 pm


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