Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 18, 2009

Alexander Cockburn’s latest nonsense

Filed under: Global Warming — louisproyect @ 7:44 pm

Alexander Cockburn in the December 18-20, 2009 Counterpunch Weekend Edition

“As for the nightmare of vanishing ice caps and inundating seas, the average Arctic ice  coverage has essentially remained unchanged for the last 20 years, and has actually increased slightly over the last 3 years.”

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Jane Hamsher takes down Lanny Davis: priceless

Filed under: health and fitness — louisproyect @ 3:03 pm

In the same vein:

December 17, 2009

Nicholas Kristof and sweatshops

Filed under: economics,imperialism/globalization — louisproyect @ 6:29 pm

The Sweat of his Labor: Kristof and the global apparel industry

By Ken Silverstein

http://www.harpers.org/archive/2009/12/hbc-90006262

I have an article in the January issue of Harper’s called “Shopping for sweat: The human cost of a two-dollar T-shirt,” which looks at the apparel industry in Cambodia. That country promotes sells itself, with the help of major apparel companies that source from there (like Gap Wal-Mart, Nike and Target) as a model apparel producer. Two years ago, USA Today published an article about how the country had “position[ed] itself as the sweatshop-free producer in a fiercely competitive global clothing market”; Cambodia, a Levi’s executive told the newspaper, “is a special country.”

Despite this pleasing reputation, the labor situation in Cambodia is as bad as in other cheap labor havens. According to a 2008 survey, apparel workers there get paid an average of 33 cents an hour, lower than anywhere in the world but Bangladesh.

My article examines the work of New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, one of the foremost advocates of cheap labor in the Third World. “Before Barack Obama and his team act on their talk about ‘labor standards,’ I’d like to offer them a tour of the vast garbage dump here in Phnom Penh,” he wrote last January, in his inimitable prose style that resembles nothing so much as a den mother addressing a troop of Brownies. “The miasma of toxic stink leaves you gasping, breezes batter you with filth, and even the rats look forlorn . . . Many families actually live in shacks on this smoking garbage.” For families living in the dump, “a job in a sweatshop is a cherished dream, an escalator out of poverty,” and attempts by Obama to push for “living wages” for apparel workers in the Third World would merely ratchet up production costs for industry and lead to factory shutdowns and layoffs. “The central challenge in the poorest countries,” he wrote, “is not that sweatshops exploit too many people, but that they don’t exploit enough.”

This column was remarkably similar to one Kristof wrote in 1998 from Indonesia (though at least in that one there was an absence of forlorn rats). ” In the slums in Indonesia and in Thailand, many workers even speak of sweatshop jobs as their greatest aspiration,” he wrote. “Here in the Indonesian capital, Mrs. Tratiwoon stood barefoot recently in the vast garbage dump where she makes a living scavenging through the rubbish and described her dreams for her 3-year-old son: She wants him to grow up to work in a sweatshop.”

Incidentally, Kristof’s speakers’ bureau, APB, says his typical fee is approximately $30,000. Hence, for an hour during which he offers “a compassionate glimpse” into global poverty and gives voice to the voiceless,” as his APB profile puts it, Kristof pockets what a Cambodian apparel worker would make in about 50 years. Nice work, if you can get it.

* * * *

What I wrote on the topic: https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2006/06/06/nicholas-kristof-joan-robinson-and-sweatshops/

December 16, 2009

Sign of the Times

Filed under: Obama — louisproyect @ 8:50 pm

Frederick Seidel article now online

Filed under: motorcycles — louisproyect @ 2:46 pm

On October 22nd, I wrote about Frederick Seidel’s memoir on motorcycles that had appeared in Harper’s magazine which was behind a firewall at that time. You can now read it online at: http://www.harpers.org/archive/2009/11/0082723.

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.”

Rethink Afghanistan

Filed under: Afghanistan — louisproyect @ 2:27 am

December 14, 2009

2009 NYFCO awards

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 6:11 pm

Yesterday I attended the New York Film Critics Online 2009 awards meeting at the Walter Reade Theater in New York along with over 30 other members. Here are the results along with my generally distaff observations. Like the curmudgeonly Armond White who did not attend the meeting, I tend not to believe the hype. My problem, I suppose, is that I insist on judging current movies against the touchstone movies of my youth when there was a debut each month from a Kubrick, Hitchcock, Fellini, Kurosawa or Bergman.

I should add that I come at movies from a somewhat different angle than other NYFCO members. My interest is mainly in addressing a leftwing audience who would not be properly served by the mainstream media that tends to neglect the documentaries or foreign movies that interest me. For example, I will go out of my way to review movies made in North Korea that were part of a film festival at the Korea House in New York City even if they will never be considered for an award by NYFCO. I will also review DVD’s of vintage films with historic interest such as G. W. Pabst’s 1955 “Jackboot Mutiny”, a fictionalized account of the Generals Revolt against Hitler, along with Tarentino’s “Inglourious Basterds”.

NYFCO 2009 Awards Announcement

12/13/09

Inglourious Basterds took the lion’s share of awards while Avatar was named best picture by the prestigious New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) at its tenth annual meeting. Jeff Bridges was named Best Actor for his role in Crazy Heart while Meryl Streep received Best Actress honors for her performance in Julie & Julia. Best Director honors went to Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker. Christoph Waltz was named Best Supporting Actor for Inglourious Basterds and Mo’Nique was selected as Best Supporting Actress for Precious. The White Ribbon was NYFCO’s choice for Best Foreign film, while Best Documentary honors went to The Cove.

The Complete List

******************************

BEST PICTURE

Avatar (20th Century Fox)

[Apparently this is some kind of anti-imperialist parable. I wonder what would have made James Cameron develop such a movie–leaving aside the question whether he has the ability to hit the target. More later.]

DIRECTOR

Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker)

[This is my capsule description of the movie on Rotten Tomatoes: “Don’t believe the hype. This is a cliché-ridden mess which treats Iraqis like zombies or creatures from outer space. Peace activist Chris Hedges should have sued the director for allowing his words to serve as an epigraph for this sorry flick.” My review has generated a ton of hostile comments on Rotten Tomatoes, although not quite on the megaton level of an average Armond White review. Here’s one of them: “Peace activist? You mean an anti-freedom, anti-liberty, anti-American far left wing fanatical nut job?” My review is here: https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2009/08/11/in-the-loop-hurt-locker/

ACTOR

Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart)

[I plan to post a review of this mediocre movie along with a bunch of others as part of my 2009 movie wrap-up. As is generally the case with me, I have trouble separating an actor’s performance from the movie so my nominations for best actor and actress will always be in conjunction with movies I favor. That being said, Bridges did a convincing job of portraying a 60 year old alcoholic country and western singer down on his luck, for what that’s worth.]

ACTRESS

Meryl Streep (Julie & Julia)

[I have this movie at home and plan to see it. I will have more to say about Streep’s performance as Julia Child. Although I don’t think anything can top Danny Ackroyd’s at http://www.hulu.com/watch/3523/saturday-night-live-the-french-chef]

SUPPORTING ACTOR

Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)

[I am in total agreement with this. Waltz is terrific and so is the movie. My review: https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2009/10/25/inglourious-basterds-jackboot-mutiny/]

SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Mo’Nique (Precious)

[I have a screener at home that I will most certainly get to before long since this movie has generated so much controversy. I would be remiss if I did not mention Ishmael Reed’s scathing Counterpunch piece at http://www.counterpunch.org/reed12042009.html]

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Inglourious Basterds – Robert Richardson

[I didn’t think the cinematography was that special but can’t quibble with this vote.]

SCREENPLAY

Inglourious Basterds – Quentin Tarantino

[Yeah!]

FOREIGN LANGUAGE PICTURE

The White Ribbon (Sony Classics)

[This is a particularly interesting movie about how rural semifeudal social relations gave rise to Nazism. I plan to review this movie separately at some length, particularly as it relates to the thesis of Arno Mayer’s “The Persistence of the Old Regime.”]

DOCUMENTARY

The Cove (Roadside Attractions)

[My choice as well. https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2009/08/30/the-cove-crude/]

ANIMATED FEATURE

Up (Disney/Pixar)

[I voted for “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”, which I will review along with a batch of other movies very soon.]

FILM MUSIC OR SCORE

Crazy Heart – Steve Bruton & T. Bone Burnett, music supervisor, Jeffrey Pollack

[My pick as well.]

BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMER

Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)

[Same here.]

DEBUT AS DIRECTOR

Marc Webb [(500) Days of Summer]

[I found the screenplay for this movie particularly annoying so I would not consider giving the director an award. My capsule review is here: https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2009/11/26/2009-movies-wrap-up-part-one/]

ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE

In the Loop (IFC Films)

[A most dreadful movie. I suppose the ensemble performance award made sense if you appreciated the movie. My review: https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2009/08/11/in-the-loop-hurt-locker/]

The Winter of Liberal Discontent

Filed under: parliamentary cretinism,swans — louisproyect @ 2:22 pm

(Swans – December 14, 2009)  When Obama took office last January, liberal voices in the United States greeted him as the second coming of FDR even if it was acknowledged that it might take a push from below to bring a new New Deal into fruition. The thought that Obama had more in common with Herbert Hoover never entered their minds, needless to say. In less than one year since inauguration day, the bloom seems to have faded from the rose.

On December 2nd, Politico.com reported that “Jane Hamsher leads left away from White House,” a reference to the fact that the liberal Firedoglake blogger has organized her supporters to challenge centrist Democrats willing to compromise with the Republicans over health care. As a 50-year-old survivor of three bouts with breast cancer, the issue is intensely personal as well as political. She told Politico that “I don’t know how you live through that” without money, having spent some $60,000 out-of-pocket despite being fully insured.

If you’ve seen Michael Moore’s Capitalism: a Love Story, you’ll surely remember how the documentary treated Obama’s election. Despite acknowledging that he had been the beneficiary of massive contributions from Goldman Sachs, the movie’s primary villain, he was seen as the possible coming of FDR.

Despite being a slavish backer of whichever candidate the Democrats dredged up in the last two elections, including mass murderer General Wesley Clark, Moore has shown signs that the honeymoon is over. He composed an open letter to the president on the eve of his speech calling for 30,000 more troops in Afghanistan:

When we elected you we didn’t expect miracles. We didn’t even expect much change. But we expected some. We thought you would stop the madness. Stop the killing. Stop the insane idea that men with guns can reorganize a nation that doesn’t even function as a nation and never, ever has.

Stop, stop, stop! For the sake of the lives of young Americans and Afghan civilians, stop. For the sake of your presidency, hope, and the future of our nation, stop. For God’s sake, stop.

Considering the fact that Obama ignored the filmmaker’s advice, one wonders if he will now regard him as continuing “the madness,” “the killing,” and “the insane idea” that the U.S. can do any good in Afghanistan.

Read full article: http://www.swans.com/library/art15/lproy58.html

December 11, 2009

Barbara Capitman: the red who saved Miami Beach’s Art Deco hotels

Filed under: Miami Beach — louisproyect @ 3:53 pm

Barbara Capitman

When our tour guide revealed yesterday that the person most responsible for saving Miami Beach Art Deco buildings from the wrecking ball of capitalist progress was a Communist Jew from New York, my first reaction was surprise and delight. But after a moment it sunk in that this was just what I might have suspected. When it comes to looking after the long-term interests of society, whether it is cultural heritage or climate change, you have to rise above the profit motive and who better to assume this role than the Red.

In 1948 the 28 year old Barbara Capitman met her future husband Will at a May Day party sponsored by the Young Communist League in N.Y. She was the only child of a sweater-importing father and a mother who was a sculptor and painter. When Will graduated from NYU law school in 1951, he was blocked from passing the bar because of his YCL past. So instead he made a living teaching business and marketing at Harvard and Yale.

In 1973 he got a tenure track position at the Florida International University business school and the two moved to Coconut Grove, Miami’s version of Greenwich Village. Two years later he died from pancreatic cancer and Barbara was on her own.

After moving to Miami Beach, Barbara ran into Leonard Horowitz, a doorman at a luxury condo who was gay and an aspiring artist/designer. They became close friends after meeting and soon discovered a shared commitment to the preservation of Art Deco buildings. The two formed a committee to save the old buildings now falling into disrepair that relied heavily on donations from gay people and senior citizens. Within 3 years, they managed to have over half of South Beach’s Art Deco hotels covered by landmark preservation laws. Leonard Horowitz died of AIDS in 1988. The hotel we are staying at is between 10th and 11th streets on Ocean Drive and 11th street has been renamed Leonard Horowitz Drive.

Barbara Capitman died two years later. The NY Times obit noted:

In 1976 she helped to found the Miami Design Preservation League, which in 1979 won Federal historic designation for the South Beach district of Miami Beach. Her outspoken, unorthodox manner later led to her ouster from the group.

”She would push and agitate and cause trouble until people wouldn’t speak to her,” said Michael Kinerk, chairman of the Art Deco Weekend festival. ”She was interested in results, not social sensitivities.’

I would say that no social change takes place without people who are “outspoken” and “unorthodox”. The fact that she was interested in results rather than “social sensitivities” should not be lost on those leftists who are reluctant to take on the status quo.

In the April 27 1982 Village Voice, Alexander Cockburn hailed Capitman as a true heroine. He quoted her on the Art Deco district:

At night when the full moon is overhead, the residential streets of the Art Deco district take on that stagey, solemn simplicity of another era. Moonlight and neon articulate the stripes and circles of the small apartments on Euclid or Jefferson and the swaying palms cast shadows on the curving walls. This is the night world that Thomas Wolfe wrote of in the 1930s—the decade of our district’s revival—nights filled with the far-hooting of trains, the nearer sounding of great vessels moving into port, the mysterious rustling of trees…

Cockburn noted that Capitman was not able to defend all of Miami Beach from the assault of real estate developers. The South Beach area remains unsullied but the middle and northern parts of the island have succumbed to the forces Cockburn describes as follows:

The forces of darkness gathered their nerve, and finally, in 1981 tore off their whiskers and pounced. Anyone who wants to see what might happen to the Deco Square Mile need only glance north of 23rd Street, where architectural barbarism is on the rampage and the condomaniac, behemothic tide marches down via the Fountainbleau and other signposts of Babylon.

Cockburn concludes his article by saying that if the real estate developers had their way, the northern sector of South Beach would succumb and the result would be equivalent to “the permanent submersion of substantial portions of Venice.”

Ironically, Art Deco was an attempt to apply the aesthetic of Russian Constructivism and Italian Futurism to architecture. These art movements were in themselves attempts to approximate the forms of machinery to fine art in the spirit of a modernization stripped of nostalgia for the past. The products of that age now are threatened by the relentless march of capitalist modernization which will result in the leveling of all that is beautiful and its replacement by shopping malls and Walmarts. It is to the credit of people like Barbara Capitman, someone who presumably would have read the Communist Manifesto at some point in her life and who would have absorbed Marx’s breathless evocation of the bourgeoisie’s “most revolutionary role”, to draw a line in the sand and tell this bourgeoisie to get fucked.

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