Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 5, 2018

Millionaire leftist Bard professors removed from Alexis Tsipras’s cabinet

Filed under: Academia,bard college,economics,Greece — louisproyect @ 5:03 pm

Dimitris Papadimitriou

Rania Antonopoulos

Husband and wife Dimitris Papadimitriou and Rania Antonopoulos are big-time post-Keynesian economists at Bard College who just resigned from Alexis Tsipras’s cabinet. It seems that Antonopoulos was receiving a 1000 euro per month housing subsidy for her rental apartment in the swanky Kolonaki neighborhood in Athens even though the couple were multimillionaires. Apparently this did not sit well with ordinary working people suffering through a terrible austerity.

The right-wing press in Greece dug up the dirt on the couple and used it to scandalize Syriza since it is perceived as not serving the bourgeoisie adequately. Think of Fox News going after Obama and you’ll get what has been taking place. Neos Kosmos, a newspaper based in Melbourne, Australian with no discernible ties to the right-wing as far as I can tell, supplied the economic data on the two economists:

According to their tax records, the couple declare an annual income of more than half a million dollars, while their assets and property portfolios are valued in the millions. The Greek media report that the couple owns a luxury villa of 300 sq.m. plus 180 sq.m. supplementary space, 80 sq.m. swimming pool on the island of Syros; a 110-square-meter apartment in New York; a 31.6 sqm apartment in Glyfada, Athens; assets in stocks and bank deposits worth of more than 3,000,000 euros.

The last time I saw such opulence married to “socialist” pretensions was back in 2007 when Jared Kushner’s newspaper—the NY Observer—reported that Trotskyist chieftain Jack Barnes had just sold his West Village condo for a cool $1.87 million.

Interestingly enough, despite her wealth, Antonopoulos went out of her way to file for the housing subsidy as she indicated in a statement to the press:

According to Law 4366/2015 which entitles non-parliamentary members of the government to receive a residence subsidy, since they do not own a home in Athens, I have requested and received a significant amount as a rent subsidy. This provision of the legislator has been enjoyed since 1994 by all non-Athens deputies without any other income conditions.

Many months after its institutionalization I was informed that as a non-parliamentary member of the government I am entitled to a subsidy, and indeed by my colleagues. So I filed an application and since then I have received a total of 23,000 euros for two years.

What a little piggy. She and her husband have a joint income of $520,000 per year and still she applies for a housing subsidy as if she were a single mom working at Walmarts with 3 kids to support. Even after she got caught with her grubby fingers in the till, she  refused at first to resign as the Greek Reporter indicated on February 26th.

Dimitris Papadimitriou and Rania Antonopoulos came to Greece with ambitious plans to rescue the country from the hole that German bankers had dug. He ran the Jerome Levy Institute at Bard, a think-tank devoted to post-Keynesian wisdom, and was a Hyman Minsky scholar. Minsky is a big favorite with “progressive” economists, especially after the 2007 mortgage-backed securities meltdown. He writes all about the instability that plagues the capitalist system through chronic boom and bust cycles.

For Minskyian theory to work, it has to focus almost exclusively on the financial sector, which of course economists like Paul Krugman tended to do. Ooh, those dirty, rotten banks. However, it misses out on the real problem facing American capitalism, namely the declining rate of profit that is a function of the system’s need to replace people with machinery—and hence reduce the amount of surplus value that can be wrung from their muscles. Anwar Shaikh, who happened to have been on the staff of Jerome Levy Institute at one point, just came out with a massive study of this process. Papadimitriou’s dissertation at the New School was about the measurement of the rate of surplus value in Greece. I guess studying it helped him to extract it later on in life.

Needless to say, bourgeois economists, like the inner cadre at Jerome Levy Institute, step gingerly around the question of capitalism itself since they are far too wedded to the system on a material basis and understand as well that Keynesianism still has plenty of purchase in elite circles. Who wants to hear from an annoying Marxist, especially when his or her ideas clash with owning mansions, yachts, and million-dollar paintings. In other words, like all of the people serving on the Bard College Board of Trustees.

Bard College and its president-for-life Leon Botstein embody a culture in which people like Dimitris Papadimitriou and Rania Antonopoulos can flourish. Back in 1995, I came into contact with a union organizer from Local 100 of the Restaurant Workers Union named Brook Bitterman who was trying to apply pressure on Jerome Levy to come to terms with the workers Bitterman represented at Smith and Wollensky, one of Levy’s businesses. I gave Bitterman a copy of the Bard College alumni directory that he used for a direct mail campaign to get the mostly pinko graduates to demand justice for the workers as enunciated in a letter the union sent to Dimitris Papadimitriou:

Dear Dr. Papadimitriou

We are writing to express our concern about what we perceive to be a striking contradiction between the goals and work of the Jerome Levy Institute of Economics and the private business affairs of its founder and chief supporter, Leon Levy, who also serves as a Trustee of Bard College.

Over the past several years, the Jerome Levy Institute – Bard College’s first post-graduate institution – has become a respected outlet for academics and policy analysts concerned with growing income inequality and crisis-prone financial markets. As a union of low wage, mostly immigrant and minority restaurant workers, Local 100 is very familiar with the growing inequality in the American labor market. Many of our members and their families have also seen firsthand how financial market developments, such as the leveraged buyout frenzy of the 1980s, can have a profoundly negative impact on the quality of their lives.

Continue reading

Not long after this campaign began, I received a letter from the president of the Board of Governors of the Bard Alumni Association taking great umbrage at Local 100’s campaign. It stated: “Many of our trustees, overseers, advisory board members, donors, alumni/ae, faculty, administrators, parents of students and students, have business relationships — some of which may be deemed by you or others as ‘controversial’ — unrelated to their relationship with the College. It would hardly be appropriate for us to inject ourselves into those relationships. Such is the case with the alleged relationship between Leon Levy and Smith & Wollensky.”

Yeah, who the hell would want a Bard College alumnus like me poking around in the private affairs of Leon Levy or Rania Antonopoulos? Maybe that’s the reason I’ve been removed from the Bard College alumni database and no longer receive communications from the school, either in the mail or electronically.

August 8, 2017

A weekend in Hudson

Filed under: bard college,Catskills,Film,Syria — louisproyect @ 5:17 pm

Louis Proyect and Lucas Jedrzejak

My primary purpose in going to Hudson, NY was to attend a screening of Lucas Jedrzejak’s documentary “Ketermaya” on Sunday, August 6th,  a film I first saw at the 2017 Socially Relevant Film Festival in March of this year. The screening was organized by Danette Gorman who was also at the SR 2017 festival and was inspired by the film to show solidarity with Syrian refugees determined to forge ahead despite dire circumstances. They are a microcosm of the freedom struggle that continues after six years of the regime’s genocidal attack on civilians.

Unlike other films about Syrian refugees that tend to be stories about their desperate flights across Europe or the Mediterranean and subsequent estrangement from an aloof if not hostile Swedish or German society, “Ketermaya” is a different kind of film. It is a testimony to the unquenchable spirit of the Syrian people and particularly the children of this refugee camp who will be the future leaders of a free Syria someday if there is any justice in this world and if there are enough people like Lucas and Danette to help make the critical difference.

Another motivation was to return to a town I had visited with some frequency when I was at Bard College in the early 60s. About a twenty minute drive from Bard, Hudson was in decline just like other towns and villages along the Hudson River. What all of them had going for them was a stunning view of the river and the Catskill Mountains behind it that I enjoyed from my dorm window at Ward Manor, a mansion the school purchased in my junior year. One night I came back around 8pm to see Bob Dylan in a salon on the ground floor playing an electric guitar with some of Bard’s folk musicians. I listened to them play for a bit and walked back to my room wondering why Dylan had gone electric.

Ward Manor

In a stroke of luck, Danette found lodging for me and my wife in the house of her friend Agi in the hills above Hudson. The view, as indicated above, was spectacular. Our host was nicknamed Agi since it easier to pronounce than her Hungarian birth name.

Her story was remarkable.

During WWII, when she was only three years old, she was among the Jews living under the protection of Raoul Wallenberg. As a Swedish diplomat assigned to Budapest, he was able to issued protective passports and to keep Jews like Agi and her parents alive in buildings designated as under Swedish protection. As an ally of Nazi Germany, Hungary obviously sought ways to help carry out the Final Solution. One day a gang of machine-gun touting Hungarian militia members swarmed into her building and ordered her and everyone else to line up on the street. With death staring them in the face, Wallenberg’s limousine showed up at the last minute. Using his authority as an official representative of Sweden, he ordered the fascists to disperse.

Why would Soviet Russia have had Raul Wallenberg arrested in January 1945, the month of my birth, and sent to the Lubyanka prison camp near Moscow where he died two years later? Since the USSR had no use for “bourgeois democracy”, there are no records of the charge against him, which were probably as bogus as all the others that took place under Stalin. What we do have is a record of Soviet leader Nikolai Bulganin’s order for his arrest:

On Saturday during lunch at Agi’s home, Lucas referred briefly to his own exposure to Stalinist criminality. In high school, he had a teacher who was notoriously strict and demanding—the sort of man who would throw a heavy keychain at the blackboard to get the attention of an unruly class. One day, he closed the door to the classroom and told the students that he was going to tell them the truth about the massacre in Katyn. 23,000 Polish officers were executed in 1940 for no other reasons than that they were officers. This occurred when the USSR was in control of the eastern half of Poland as part of the secret protocols of the Malenkov-Ribbentrop nonaggression pact. It was the determination of men and women like this high school teacher, as well as Lucas’s parents, to be free that put them on a collision course with the Kremlin, which finally culminated in the emergence of Solidarity in 1980.

Like Lucas, Agi knew what it meant to be part of a powerful anti-bureaucratic movement. Like many Hungarian youth, she started off seeing some benefits in Communism, especially its ambitious athletics program modeled on the USSR’s but when she joined a massive protest march in 1956, she felt the same way that Poles would feel in 1980 and Syrians would feel in 2011—free at last, to repeat Martin Luther King Jr’s immortal words.

As I have said hundreds of times before, the Western left has a deficit problem. Seeing Washington as a kind of absolutely evil presence in the world, it tends to demonize any movement receiving its aid. This leads it to excuse oppressive behavior by the Kremlin on a consistent basis, just like the Communist Parties did in the 30s and 40s. When there was a USSR, one might explain this as motivated by good intentions even if it objectively helped Stalin have Wallender arrested or invade Hungary and Poland. But with Putin supposedly being one of the wealthiest men in the world today according to some experts and Assad’s crony capitalist cousin controlling 60 percent of the Syrian economy, there can be no excuse.

With 150 people showing up for the screening of “Ketermaya”, it was obvious that human rights trumped geopolitical foolishness. Like anybody else who has seen the film, they understood that Syrians deserve our support and solidarity.

There are good reasons why Hudson would serve as a “sister city” to Ketermaya, to recall the term activists used in the 1980s when places like Park Slope in Brooklyn would link up with a Nicaraguan city that had been a victim of Reagan’s contra war. What better way to oppose American foreign policy than to act as a citizen of the world sending medicine or computers to people under siege? Agi described Hudson as a city with many liberal-minded New Yorkers who moved there because they could no longer afford the rents in Park Slope. Among them were a sizable contingent of gays and lesbians who flocked to the there in the mid-80s when it was rapidly becoming a center for antique dealers, a business long favored by gay men and women. Wikipedia refers to this development:

In the last few years, perhaps encouraged by the number of gay business owners among the original antiques dealers, Hudson has become a destination for gay people who have opened new businesses, moved here from larger urban areas, and who have been in the forefront of the restoration of many of the city’s historic houses. In 2010, Hudson High School made history when openly gay seniors, Charlie Ferrusi and Timmy Howard, were named prom king and queen. During the same year, Hudson hosted its first gay pride parade, which was attended by several hundred people.

Since January, Americans have been agonizing over the direction of the country with a racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, Islamophobe in the White House. While a lot of the discussion veers toward electoral strategy, there was something about the positive example of Hudson that deserves consideration by the left.

Aided by the Presbyterian Church in Hudson, which is as progressive as any Unitarian church I have ever seen, Danette Gorman has taken the initiative to create an alternative America that embodies the true spirit of this country. Only arriving in Hudson around the same time she saw “Ketermaya”, she raised money to fund a needs assessment trip to Lebanon. Her next step is to organize a meeting at the church to get people involved. So instead of bemoaning the evils of a know-nothing president, she and her fellow Hudsonites are acting to create a different reality, one in which solidarity across borders in the interests of peace and fair play reigns supreme.

If you want to support Danette Gorman’s project to help the children of Ketermaya, please go to https://www.helpsyriaskids.org/ and help spread the word.

Finally, as someone who recognizes the power of “Ketermaya” to cut through the stereotypes of Syrians as fanatics and potential terrorists, I am hoping to recruit college students in NY to help organize a screening when the fall semester starts. Ideally, it would include Skype connections to Lucas for a Q&A and with the children of Ketermaya who love connecting with people in the West to tell their story. Contact me at lnp3@panix.com if you find this trailer inspiring, as surely you will.

October 18, 2016

A letter to a Bard College Center for Environmental Policy professor

Filed under: bard college,Ecology — louisproyect @ 1:41 pm

Dear Gidon Eshel,

Let me start off by introducing myself. I graduated Bard College in 1965 and blog as the Unrepentant Marxist. In that capacity, I have written 91 articles on ecology since 1991 (just a coincidence) mostly triggered by a talk that Joel Kovel gave at the Brecht Forum in NYC a few years earlier where he likened capitalist growth to metastasizing tumors. Does the name Kovel ring a bell? He used to teach environmental studies at Bard College until Leon Botstein fired him in 2009 for his anti-Zionist writings.

When I am not writing about politics, I review films—mostly documentaries such as Leo DeCaprio’s “Before the Flood” that I saw at a press screening last night. Among the Green activists and thinkers he spoke to in the course of his travels around the world was you. In making the case for eating less beef, you raised very important questions about the impact cattle have on climate change both through the clearing of forests for grazing, the discharge of methane and the unconscionable waste of water that raising such animals requires.

When I saw you identified as a Bard professor, a lot of memories I have had about the institution rose to the surface like the ‘madeleine moment’ in Proust. To start off, I could not help but remember the first encounter I had with Botstein a few years before I got on the Internet and that was conducted by snail mail. When I discovered that Martin Peretz had become a member of the board of trustees, I reminded Botstein that he had been stumping for aid to the Nicaraguan contras in the New Republic, in contradiction if you will to the values Bard College stood for. I asked Botstein how he could defend the values of a liberal arts education when Peretz called for the funding of counter-revolutionaries who burned schoolhouses to the ground in Nicaragua.

You may or may not be aware that the Sandinista revolution to a large extent was fueled by the displacement of small farmers from their land, which was to be used instead for cattle ranching as Robert G. Williams pointed out in “Export Agriculture and the Crisis in Central America”. This occurred in places like Matiguas, a “municipo” of Matagalpas where some 30 percent of the land had been covered by forests, but by 1976 deforestation had leveled 95 percent of the land. Where 8 percent of the land had been used to grow corn and beans in 1963, by 1976 the percentage was 1 percent. By contrast, cattle grazing land, which was 39 percent in 1963, grew to encompass 94 percent of the land ten years later. All that dispossession so that fast food restaurants could be supplied.

Speaking of Peretz and the Bard College board of trustees, I see that he remains a life trustee. I suppose being a life trustee goes hand in hand with Botstein being a president-for-life. I have no idea what Peretz brings to the table except deep pockets since it is evident that as New Republic publisher/editor, he had the same kind of understanding of ecological issues as the Koch brothers who were lambasted in DeCaprio’s film. He allowed contributing editor Gregg Easterbrook to write articles that were a slap in the face not only to Leo DeCaprio but professors like you who were hired out of the funds that Peretz coughed up. In many ways Easterbrook’s global warming skepticism was far more harmful than Rush Limbaugh’s since he carried the imprimatur of a liberal magazine–liberal at least by reputation. For example, there was a cover story in the May 1998 New Republic by Easterbrook that included this priceless observation:

So far, greenhouse gas emissions have not caused temperatures to increase as much as scientists and their computer models predicted. Over the course of the twentieth century, the mean global temperature has risen only about one degree Fahrenheit–not a number worth losing any sleep over.

As it happens, Peretz is fairly typical of the people Botstein has added to the board who combine liberal and even Green pretensions with a record that contradicts the values of your department. Like Peretz, Stewart Resnick is a life trustee and also like Peretz has the kind of deep pockets that have allowed Botstein to expand Bard College to the point that it is no longer recognizable to me as a graduate of the little red whorehouse on the Hudson as Walter Winchell once put it. The Resnicks put up the funding for a new science laboratories building but that funding was only made possible by Stewart Resnick’s plundering of the poor and the vulnerable. Of course, that goes with the territory as recent research on how slavery benefited Ivy League schools.

I would refer you to a Mother Jones article written in August about the Resnicks that should be required reading for you and everybody else in your department. It is titled “Meet The California Couple Who Uses More Water Than Every Home in Los Angeles Combined” and begins:

Rafaela Tijerina first met la señora at a school in the town of Lost Hills, deep in the farm country of California’s Central Valley. They were both there for a school board meeting, and the superintendent had failed to show up. Tijerina, a 74-year-old former cotton picker and veteran school board member, apologized for the superintendent—he must have had another important meeting—and for the fact that her own voice was faint; she had cancer. “Oh no, you talk great,” the woman replied with a warm smile, before she began handing out copies of her book, Rubies in the Orchard: How to Uncover the Hidden Gems in Your Business. “To my friend with the sweet voice,” she wrote inside Tijerina’s copy.

It was only later that Tijerina realized the woman owned the almond groves where Tijerina’s husband worked as a pruner. Lynda Resnick and her husband, Stewart, also own a few other things: Teleflora, the nation’s largest flower delivery service; Fiji Water, the best-selling brand of premium bottled water; Pom Wonderful, the iconic pomegranate juice brand; Halos, the insanely popular brand of mandarin oranges formerly known as Cuties; and Wonderful Pistachios, with its “Get Crackin'” ad campaign. The Resnicks are the world’s biggest producers of pistachios and almonds, and they also hold vast groves of lemons, grapefruit, and navel oranges. All told, they claim to own America’s second-largest produce company, worth an estimated $4.2 billion.

The Resnicks have amassed this empire by following a simple agricultural precept: Crops need water. Having shrewdly maneuvered the backroom politics of California’s byzantine water rules, they are now thought to consume more of the state’s water than any other family, farm, or company. They control more of it in some years than what’s used by the residents of Los Angeles and the entire San Francisco Bay Area combined.

Finally, there is George Soros who while not being a board member (his ex-wife of course is) symbolizes more than anybody on the planet the dichotomy between professed values and action. I am sure you are aware that his millions were critical in transforming Bard College into what it is today, a major institution with satellites across the world carrying the Bard brand name.

As it happens, Soros is demonized by the rightwing press for his funding of the Tides Foundation and the Environmental Defense Fund but as is the case with the Resnicks, a lot of the money comes through investments totally at odds with the stated values of such groups.

For example, the Guardian reported on August 19, 2015 that Soros is pumping money into coal companies:

Billionaire climate philanthropist George Soros invested more than $2m (£1.3m) in struggling coal giants Peabody Energy and Arch Coal in recent months, despite having once called the fuel “lethal” to the climate.

Filings with the Securities and Exchange commission show that between April and June this year Soros Fund Management (SFM) bought more than 1m shares in Peabody ($2.25m), the world’s largest private coal company, and 500,000 shares in Arch ($188,000).

The firm, which Soros chairs, bought the large stakes for bargain prices. Peabody and Arch are giants of the US coal sector but have suffered massive declines in recent years, losing more than 98% of their value. SFM made a similar move in 2014 by investing $234.4m in coal and gas company Consol. Those shares were sold off after a few months as gas prices continued to fall.

Soros is not only into coal. He is also apparently into fracking as the Huffington Post reported on November 3, 2014:

One of the world’s legendary investors is upping his bet on Argentina’s shale oil and gas industry in a show of confidence for shale production in South America’s largest unconventional prize — and a big boost for both supermajors and smaller players making big waves in the heart of new discovery areas.

George Soros has doubled his stake in YPF SA, the state-owned oil company in Argentina, which sits atop some of the world’s largest shale oil and gas resources, and is about to get even larger following a new discovery over the last couple of weeks of a second key shale play.

Argentina holds an estimated 27 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil and 802 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable shale gas, much of it located in the Vaca Muerta, an enormous shale formation in the Neuquen basin — the second-largest shale gas deposit and the fourth-largest shale oil deposit in the world.

As you may or may not be aware, DeCaprio weaves in some interesting information into his documentary about the very fine film he made last year called “The Revenant”. He thought it was important to make a film that showed the despoliation of nature carried out by those who colonized North America. You can see him and the director studying a 19th century photograph of a small mountain of pelts with a grinning hunter in front of it, about which he commented that these men took no moral responsibility for the world that they would leave their descendants.

It turns out that “The Revenant” ran into some major problems in filming on location in northern Canada since there had been no snow to speak of in an unseasonably warm winter. (Today in NYC the temperature will be going up to 85.) So they had to pick up the cameras and the rest of the gear and fly 9000 miles to Argentina where deep snow could be found. Who knows? Maybe by the time YPF SA gets finished, that snow will be history as well.

Yours truly,

Louis Proyect

June 9, 2015

In response to a Pentagon official (and Bard College graduate)

Filed under: bard college,war — louisproyect @ 9:15 pm

Malia Du Mont

Recently a spate of comments showed up on my blog in response to an article I wrote last year calling attention to Bard College’s increasing ties to the American military. There is the matter of joint academic conferences held with West Point, the military academy about a half-hour’s drive from Bard. I was also intrigued by the role played by Malia Du Mont, a Bard graduate who was leading a tour of the Pentagon. I quoted from the Bard website:

Malia Du Mont ’95 is special assistant to the chief of staff in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs. Malia majored in Chinese at Bard, and after graduation moved to China, where she spent a year teaching English and a year doing graduate studies. In 1997 she moved to Beijing to serve as a Defense Intelligence Agency intern and bilingual research assistant at the United States embassy. “At Bard, joining the military never entered my mind,” she says. “But I was interested in service to my country, and living in China, I gained an appreciation of American freedoms.”

I can only conclude that a spike in readership of the article prompted the comments. Usually I can track this down from a link to the article that is documented in my WordPress dashboard but in this case there was none. A bit of a mystery all in all but welcomed since there’s nothing I love better than tweaking the nose of Leon Botstein and the sort of students he has cultivated during his presidency-for-life. In the old days it was beatnik poets and religious mystics. Now it is Pentagon officials. Sigh.

I post the comments below and will follow up with my reply:

Malia Du Mont

So you think the military should be secretive and off limits? It is your right (and your responsibility) as an American to understand all the instruments of our democracy. Pentagon tours are open to the public, just as are tours of the White House or the Smithsonian Museum of Art. Apply at the link here. http://pentagontours.osd.mil/ You are keeping yourself deliberately misinformed and ignorant, and are accusing people of guilt by association. That does not strike me as keeping with the best of Bard. “Parents, don’t let your kids grow up to be close-minded cynics.”

From an FoM (Friend of Malia)

Malia Du Mont is a Kennedy School classmate and a friend of mine. It’s one thing to take issue with DoD (and yes, there is plenty to take issue with) but your slanderous mischaracterization of her is as insulting as it is without merit. But hey, you have a problem with the Pentagon, so why not just denigrate a smart, thoughtful, and decent person who decided to serve her country in a military uniform? Thanks for nothing.

Bill Hornbostel

As someone who both went to Bard and actually knows Malia Du Mont, I have to say that I am saddened by your rather casual character assassination of her. It appears to be founded in your rigid adherence to a black-and-white ideology, and also utterly unmoored to either knowledge of her personally, or of knowledge of the world beyond the cloisters of academia. Indeed, my perusal of your writings shows you to be merely the equal and opposite to the propagandists at the likes of Fox News. Frankly, I would expect a better, more critical, and more nuanced quality of thought from a Bard graduate. There is more in the world than is dreamt of your you [sic] limited philosophy, lad.

To Ms. Du Mont:

Look, a tour of the Pentagon is not a blow on behalf of transparency. Our problem today is that an imperial presidency is making decisions that are being kept secret from the American people. The use of drone warfare is not subject to democratic decision-making as should be obvious at this point. A tour of the Pentagon is not going to reveal how and why innocent people keep getting killed. Today’s NY Times had an article that is a chilling reminder of how Obama’s Star Chamber is operating without accountability:

WASHINGTON — The families of an anti-Qaeda cleric and a police officer killed in an American drone strike in Yemen filed suit in federal court in Washington on Sunday night, asking the court to declare that the strike was unlawful.

The lawsuit, which seeks no monetary damages, is described by the complainants as an attempt to break through the secrecy surrounding drone strikes and to have the court impose some public accountability for mistakes made in the program.

It cites President Obama’s decision in April to publicly disclose that a separate American strike, on a Qaeda compound in Pakistan, had inadvertently killed two Western hostages, an American and an Italian.

The lawsuit notes that Mr. Obama said at the time that the hostages’ “families deserve to know the truth” and that the United States was willing “to confront squarely our imperfections and to learn from our mistakes.”

The lawsuit asks for the same consideration for the families of Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber, the cleric, and Waleed bin Ali Jaber, his cousin, the sole traffic police officer in their village of Khashamir. Both men were Yemeni citizens.

“There is a simple question at the heart of this claim,” the suit says. “The president has now admitted to killing innocent Americans and Italians with drones; why are the bereaved families of innocent Yemenis less entitled to the truth?”

To a “Friend of Malia”:

I am not sure how I am “denigrating” Ms. Du Mont. I said that she reminded me of the CIA agent in “Zero Dark Thirty”. I thought that she would have regarded that as a compliment even though I have little use for killers myself, in or out of uniform.

To Bill Hornbostel

You believe that my writings demonstrate that I am “the equal and opposite to the propagandists at the likes of Fox News.” I am not sure what to make of that. I have always regarded Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz as the liberal counterparts of Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. My orientation is Marxist, an outlook that might be unfamiliar to you since Leon Botstein booted Joel Kovel, one of the few Marxists in the faculty. In terms of my “limited philosophy”, I guess that opposing drone warfare—the number one strategy of Ms. Du Mont’s superiors today—puts me in good company even if that makes me an outlier to other Bard graduates.

Drone Warfare

A project of the Peace Action Education Fund
In cooperation with the Interfaith Working Group on Drone Warfare          

The Release below was sent and published in Religion News Service

Press Release sent: June 1, 2015 

Interfaith Letter Expressing Grave Concerns on Drone Warfare Sent to President Obama and Congress

 Twenty-nine faith leaders from Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh traditions have sent an Interfaith Letter on Drone Warfare to President Barak Obama and the U.S. Congress.

 The signers say it is morally unacceptable that thousands of innocent people have been killed by US lethal drone strikes. The letter also raises concerns that targeted killings by drones lack transparency and accountability. Finally the letter argues that drone strikes do not make Americans safer, but rather aid recruitment by extremist groups.

 Elizabeth Beavers, Co-Convener of the Interfaith Working Group on Drone Warfare, noted that many human rights groups and journalists have tried to tally the casualties from drone strikes[1]. A recent study by the Open Society Foundation found that in nine case studies in Yemen, innocent civilians were documented to have been killed in all nine drone strikes[2].

 In their letter, the interfaith leaders point to more effective methods of combating extremism through nonviolent-creative strategies, including sustainable humanitarian and development assistance, and programs that address the political, economic and social exclusion that fuel radicalization.

About Interfaith Network on Drone Warfare

The Interfaith Network on Drone Warfare is a project of the Princeton-based Peace Action Education Fund, and works in cooperation with the DC-based Interfaith Working Group on Drone Warfare. The Interfaith Network was formed following an Interfaith Conference on Drone Warfare held January 23-25, 2015, attended by some 150 diverse faith leaders from across the country at Princeton Theological Seminary. Details of the Interfaith Conference, including the statement adopted by the attendees, can be found at peacecoalition.org/dronesconference.

May 8, 2015

Message from the Memoirist

Filed under: bard college,literature — louisproyect @ 8:03 pm
Saying No to a System That Would Crush Us

The Poems of Paul Pines


Fifty-four years ago when I was a freshman at Bard College, the Beat Generation was still a presence in our lives. In dorm rooms you could spot copies of Donald Allen’s “The New American Poetry” on the bookshelves of the “hippest” students, back when the term referred to the bohemian underground rather than the sort of clothing you wore (not that black turtleneck shirts were not de rigueur.)

Two years earlier I had read about Jack Kerouac in Time Magazine and had decided to join the Beats even if its energies were largely spent. Kerouac’s odysseys continued to inspire some Bardians to take a year off and ship out on freighters or to hitchhike across the U.S. as I did shortly after graduating.

Despite the school’s bohemian reputation, Robert Kelly was the only faculty member who had any kind of connection to the Beat subculture. In 1961 I was able to attend poetry readings organized by Kelly that featured writers in Donald Allen’s anthology, including LeRoi Jones who co-edited Fubbalo with Kelly, a poetry magazine out of the U. of Buffalo where the two men taught before Kelly came to Bard. Jones, of course, transformed himself into Amiri Baraka later on. You got an inkling of where he was going from what he read at Bard, “The System of Dante’s Hell”, a novel about Newark that revealed to me the depth of Black anger about American society.

read full article

September 23, 2014

The cult of Leon Botstein

Filed under: bard college — louisproyect @ 3:41 pm

Yesterday I got word from Richard Greener, acclaimed author of the Locator novels and Bard College class of ’61, that a big profile on Leon Botstein had appeared in the New Yorker Magazine. He added this comment:

Most telling line in this: “…Botstein changed the school’s reputation beyond recognition.” I know, for some, this is a plus, but for me it’s exactly why I stopped giving money to Bard.

Bard is one of those examples where someone becomes owner of a famous brand name and then releases a new product having little to do with the original. One  that comes to mind was when a Japanese company began making cheap transistor stereo components with the Marantz trademark, a name previously associated with the very best tube audiophile equipment. While nobody would ever mistake the grubby Bard College of Richard Greener’s (and my) generation with the carriage trade, it did have its own integrity—one that earned the unintended accolade of gossip columnist and redbaiter Walter Winchell as “the little red whorehouse on the Hudson.”

Bard was once part of a clutch of “experimental” colleges that began to emerge in the 1920s as an alternative to the existing model. For one reason or another, most e went through a deep administrative and financial crisis in the mid to late 60s that either led to their extinction or their transformation. Victims of extinction included Franconia, a school that Leon Botstein took over as president in 1970 at the tender age of 23, the youngest in American history, and on account of his being the son-in-law of a trustee. Victims of transformation include Bard College, the next and last stop in the career of Leon Botstein.

My initial reaction to Botstein’s arrival at Bard was positive. Splashy news articles intended to give the impression that he can walk on water accompanied every step in his career. Like someone who was at the Sermon on the Mount, I became a follower. That is, until I learned that Martin Peretz had become a member of the board of trustees around 1989, just when I was deeply involved in Nicaragua Solidarity. Long before I ever began using email, I sent him an angry and sarcastic letter about the propriety of such a figure being on the board when he was advocating the contra funding that had led to so many schools in Nicaragua suffering mortar attacks. He took the trouble to write me back a characteristic defense of his actions filled with self-justification and egomania, personality traits  noted by many shrewd observers, even the Bard graduate who wrote the New Yorker profile.

That letter set off a 25 year feud that is still going strong. To be more accurate, a one-way feud since Botstein never bothers to reply. Why should he? I am the proverbial gadfly so easy to be ignored. But it rankled Leon that his kids read my blog and kept asking questions about what I was writing. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when his son asked him about the addition of Stewart Resnick to the board, an agribusiness magnate who has bought off the California Democratic Party in pursuit of his anti-environmental and anti-working class profit-making enterprises.

Let me turn now to the New Yorker article and provide my own running commentary.

The article makes clear that funding is not based on alumni contributions but on a group of billionaires who are members of the Botstein cult:

Though he has raised more than a billion dollars during his tenure, the college’s finances remain precarious. Bard has lacked both a large body of wealthy alumni and a developed infrastructure for soliciting their donations.

Botstein freely admitted to reporter Alice Gregory: “We’re in the business of looking for large investors. Basically, the people who created the college are Leon Levy, Dick Fisher, and George Soros.” (All three are Wall Street speculators.) That’s very reassuring given what has transpired at the University of Illinois, a sign that the privatization of the American university proceeds at a blinding speed.

The problem Bard faces is one that all cults face. What happens when the cult leader dies? Botstein has been president of Bard College for 40 years and turned it into his fiefdom. Would George Soros, or those who administer his foundation, be so generous when the next president comes along? That’s what happens when you operate on the basis of what the Stalinists called a “cult of personality”. Even with Botstein still in the saddle, investment-rating firms strike a note of pessimism:

In December, 2013, after a three-month review, Moody’s Investors Service downgraded Bard’s bond rating three notches and revised its outlook to “negative.” The Moody’s report cited Bard’s “exceedingly thin liquidity with full draw on operating lines of credit,” “weak documentation and transparency,” “willingness to fund operations and projects prior to payment on pledges,” and “growing dependence on cash gifts.” (The report found that in 2012 and 2013 more than forty per cent of annual operating revenues came from gifts. Among other small private colleges, about seven per cent is typical.) Six months earlier, Bard had had monthly liquidity of $7.1 million—equal to just two weeks’ worth of operating costs. Bard is highly leveraged, carrying a hundred and sixty million dollars of debt, which is close to its operating budget of a hundred and eighty-five million. The undergraduate endowment (eighty million dollars) is a tenth that of Vassar, a school that is comparable to Bard in both size and age and is one Amtrak stop to the south.

Reporter Alice Gregory takes note of Botstein’s rage that US News and World Report ranks Bard College at 45th in the nation. She adds that he has become convinced that “he is operating within an insane and crooked system rigged by villains and run by fools,” words that come to mind whenever I consider the board of trustees that has made his ambitions possible, as well as the deep pockets of his long-time friend and ally George Soros whose hedge fund was fined $2.2 million for manipulating security prices in Hungary. After all, how else do you expect the next garish building to go up at Bard unless George Soros is allowed to game the stock market? What are you? Some kind of commie?

After one of her conversations with Botstein, Gregory reflects: “And though he can strike people as a world-class egomaniac, one never feels condescended to.” Or as she puts it a bit later: “To an eighteen-year-old, Botstein’s self-generated glamour is at once intimidating and all too tempting to mock.” Unfortunately, from what I can gather, there is not very much mocking going on at the new Bard. During the old Bard, it was apparently the thing to do as she reports on his early days ruling the college:

Students, put off by his ambition and his desire to whip the school into shape, wrote ad-hominem op-eds in the school paper. Fed up, Botstein called a meeting with the students, at which he sought their sympathy, telling them that he was “not a cardboard cutout.” The next day, the campus was teeming with students wearing cardboard cutouts of Botstein pinned to their clothes.

I suppose that being awestruck is the honest reaction of someone 50 years Botstein’s junior but I had a different reaction when he attempted to dress me down at the last reunion for having the temerity write things his kids would read. I had to remind him that I was older than him and that I didn’t appreciate being talked down to. (Btw, it was okay for Gregory and me to end a sentence with a preposition. This is not really any kind of grammatical rule to be followed.)

When you keep in mind that Botstein is okay with three billionaires having “created the college”, it is not reassuring to learn that he has a relationship with the faculty that would turn a Phyllis Wise green with envy:

A consistent criticism of Botstein is that he runs Bard like a duchy, that professors’ opinions are routinely disregarded and their expertise ignored. On a number of occasions, he has overridden hiring and tenure decisions made by otherwise supportive departments. Botstein refuses to speak with restraint, even when it’s in his best interest, and his temper was described to me as “Biblical” by an employee who went on to recall, albeit fondly, an outburst that was “a blitzkrieg of torrent, metaphors, congratulation, deceit, and stories that didn’t make any fucking sense at all.”

With all due respect to Alice Gregory’s assiduous reporting and ability to string sentences together in good New Yorker fashion, I think she failed to really hone in on what Botstein has been up to. The article is utterly devoid of politics, a flaw no doubt associated with the neoliberal predilections of her editor at a magazine that has been transformed along the same lines as Bard College. For a more telling account of what happens at Bard, I recommend this account from alumnus Amit Gupta who was very involved with Palestine solidarity:

The Dark Side of Bard’s Conception of “Academic Freedom”

But there is a dark side to President Botstein’s ideas of academic freedom – which are in turn replicated at other universities like Bard College. Although President Botstein is ardently defensive of the right of his students to voice virtually any viewpoint without outside interference of attacks, this same power game results in skewing Bard College’s funding, faculty, and communal consciousness on Palestine in the direction that President Botstein and the college’s financiers demand.

Stifling Faculty Dissent. In 2008, before I had the opportunity to study with him, politics professor Joel Kovel, an outspoken critic of Zionism and Israel, was fired in a murky episode that was likely influenced by Kovel’s opinions on Zionism. The following year, radical politics professor Pierre Ostiguy was also fired despite significant student opposition in what began to look like a purge of leftists from Bard College’s politics department. Although a number of faculty in the politics department continue to provide the opportunity to study fairly critical and radical ideas of politics, the department was significantly re-shaped. After firing Ostiguy, President Botstein welcomed Walter Russell Mead, who brags of a lengthy career teaching and supporting American and British imperial expansion and is a fairly strong supporter of Israel and a critic of the ASA boycott.

Furthermore, the process through which tenure was granted to Bard faculty was and remains strongly controlled by a few senior faculty and President Botstein himself. Without naming names, it is clear that this level of authoritarianism has already scared away some of the campus’ most intelligent faculty members. Others told me informally that they simply could not engage in dissent on campus because they would risk losing tenure. This is not a slight against President Botstein as an individual; this same problem exists at virtually every American university, because campuses and their tenure processes do not exist outside the political matrix that professors study and teach about.

My only quibble with Amit’s take is that there are exceptions to what happens at Bard and the U. of Illinois. Although I have had complaints about my former boss at Columbia University Lee Bollinger, the man was a fierce defender of academic freedom.

Five years ago I heard that Bard’s finances were shaky. I would love to see the balance sheet, a privilege I used to have when I maintained Columbia University’s financial systems. I can’t help but think that Bard’s expansion under Botstein is very much part of what has happened over the past 25 years in the United States, dating back to my initial confrontation with Botstein. A series of financial bubbles have been punctured over and over, leaving Wall Street and the poor slobs with IRA’s in bad shape until the next bubble starts inflating. What if there is no next bubble? Both leftwing economist James Galbraith and rightwing libertarian Tyler Cowan have written books arguing that the American economy has reached a “no growth” stasis that will cause significant suffering.

The prospects of Leon Botstein either dying or retiring coinciding with these harsh new realities might mark the end of Bard College finally, a school first transformed and then terminated. If it disappears, I will mourn the school I once attended, not what it has become.





September 16, 2014

The growing intimacy between Bard College and the American military

Filed under: bard college,middle east — louisproyect @ 4:09 pm

Parents, don’t let your kids grow up to be Bardians.

I say that as a Bard graduate who went there when it was a bohemian outpost even if it wasn’t very radical. There’s one thing I know, however. Under President Reamer Kline, an Episcopalian minister who ruffled the feathers of the student body on more than one occasion, you would have never seen the kind of outrageous partnership with the US military that has been developing under President-for-life Leon Botstein, who once had the temerity to invoke Karl Marx in a commencement address in the early 1990s. Well, you know what they say about the devil quoting scripture.

As an alumnus, I get the occasional email from the school. Most often they are innocuous items about a weekend up at the school to hear Leon lecture on Dvorak or some such thing. But you can imagine my consternation when I received this last Friday:

Screen shot 2014-09-16 at 10.10.48 AM

Malia Du Mont, who is leading this macabre tour of Murder, Inc. strikes me as the same sort of character that Jessica Chastain  played in Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty”, a woman capable of administering torture in the morning and then going out later to dinner at a quaint restaurant with another well-educated chum where they could discuss Rilke’s poetry. Here’s some information on her from the Bard alumni website:

Malia Du Mont ’95 is special assistant to the chief of staff in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs. Malia majored in Chinese at Bard, and after graduation moved to China, where she spent a year teaching English and a year doing graduate studies. In 1997 she moved to Beijing to serve as a Defense Intelligence Agency intern and bilingual research assistant at the United States embassy. “At Bard, joining the military never entered my mind,” she says. “But I was interested in service to my country, and living in China, I gained an appreciation of American freedoms.” Sheen listed in the United States Army Reserve in 1999, and, the same year, entered the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, eventually earning a master’s degree in public policy. After several years working as an Asian security analyst at The CNA Corporation, she decided to volunteer for deployment with the Army Reserve, and in 2006 was sent to Afghanistan, where she was responsible for providing strategic political-military analysis to the commanding general and other senior United States officials. After a year in Kabul, Malia continued her military service as an Afghanistan analyst at NATO’s Allied Command Operations in Belgium. She returned to Washington D.C. in 2008, and volunteered for further military service in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, where she participated in the Obama Administration’s Afghanistan Strategy Review.

There was about as much chance of a Bardian from my generation following such a path as there was me being invited to Botstein’s house for tea and crumpets. (What the fuck is a crumpet anyhow?)

That’s not the end of it. On the Bard College website, there’s an announcement for a joint Bard-West Point conference on the Middle East:

The Bard Globalization and International Affairs program, and the West Point–Bard College Exchange will present a panel “New World Disorder: U.S. Grand Strategy in a Chaotic Middle East,” featuring Walter Russell Mead and James Ketterer of Bard College and Ruth Beitler of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The panel will address the increasing and overlapping challenges facing the United States across the Middle East and North Africa. It will take place, on Monday, September 22nd at 6:30 p.m. in the Weis Cinema at the Bertelsmann Campus Center at Bard College. For more information, go to http://www.bard.edu/bgia/.

The Middle East and North Africa present a wide variety of foreign policy challenges for the United States. The panel will discuss U.S. policy toward the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the aftermath of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, ongoing tensions in Libya, strained relations with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and continuing negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear program. There will be opportunities for questions and comments from the audience.

Walter Russell Mead is James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs and the Humanities. He is the author of many articles and books, including Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World. James Ketterer is director of international academic initiatives at Bard’s Center for Civic Engagement and was previously Egypt country director for AMIDEAST. Ruth Beitler is associate professor of international relations and Comparative Politics in the Department of Social Sciences at the U. S. Military Academy, where she serves as course director for Middle East Politics and Cultural Anthropology. She is also director of the Conflict and Human Security Studies Program.

I’ve written about Walter Russell Mead in the past. He is Bard’s Thomas Friedman. People like Friedman understand the true nature of globalization. In a March 28, 1999 NY Times article, he put it this way:

The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist — McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the builder of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies is called the United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

That’s clearly understood by Mead and by Bard’s Globalization and International Affairs Program that should be renamed the Program for Globalization and American Hegemony if the people running it had a shred of honesty. Like Du Mont, the character running the program is a Bard graduate–his name Jonathan Cristol. In an article about Cristol I wrote in February 2011, I took note of his disgusting take on the Arab Spring in an article for Mead’s “The American Interest”, where he wrote:

Am I really arguing that these states should brutally suppress the protestors and that the United States should encourage them to do so? Not really. The optics of America supporting brutal suppression would not be good for Washington. However, if these governments wish to stay in power, the best means of doing so is to scare the people sufficiently enough to stop them from marching through the street.

Maybe liberty and justice are indeed for all, but these particular protests are not necessarily good for the United States. America’s love of democracy sometimes blinds us to the potential results of the democratic process (re: Gaza) and to the fact that liberty and democracy do not always go hand in hand.

Just the sort of person qualified to organize a conference on the Middle East, at least if you see things from the perspective of the Pentagon and the CIA.

James Ketterer is a new name to me. I have grown to expect new hires at Bard to follow the State Department script and he did not disappoint. He was “country director” for Egypt under the auspices of Amideast, an outfit dedicated to promoting American and Middle Eastern ties. Its past President was Robert S. Dillon, the Ambassador to Lebanon from 1981 to 1983. You have to assume that anybody serving in such a capacity was there to promote imperialist goals, no doubt provoking such anger among the natives that they had the nerve to bomb the American embassy.

Finally, there’s Ruth Beitler, the West Point professor that we can assume was chosen to reinforce the idea that Arab protest was not necessarily good for American interests. She’s the author of “The Fight for Legitimacy: Democracy vs. Terrorism”, a Praeger book that came out in 2006. With a title like that, you can be sure that she would feel right at home on the Sean Hannity program. On February 24, 1967, the NY Times reported that Praeger had published 15 or 16 books on the advice of the CIA. When asked whether the spooks had financed their publication, Frederick Praeger said that he had “no comment”. Back then, you could be sure that Bard students and professors would have been outraged by such interference with American intellectual life but now I am not so sure.

Like all works in this genre, you will never see a reference to how democracies can act in a terrorist fashion. Hamas is terrorist but when an IDF jet drops a bomb on a UN School harboring women and children, it is the act of a democracy defending itself. Too bad Orwell did not live long enough to see how doublethink functioned when it came to the Middle East. I am sure he would have some pungent words for the likes of Ruth Beitler.

It should be acknowledged that Leon Botstein is not an outlier in building ties to the American military. Like most college presidents, he understands that corporate and military power go hand in hand with the health of the American academy. The corporatization of the American university continues apace. If the U. of Illinois bends over backwards not to alienate its bourgeois Jewish funders, you can bet that Bard will be even more solicitous since its President is a Zionist ideologue. In a January 2nd Chronicle of Higher Education article, Botstein spoke about the role of alumni in his opposing the BDS movement: “As an active member of the Jewish community, I recognize that the American Jewish community is disproportionately generous to American higher education. For the president of an institution to express his or her solidarity with Israel is welcomed by a very important part of their support base.”

All of this is part and parcel of the deadly grip of American corporate and military on the American academy, with the full impact being felt in Middle East politics. Just as Steven Salaita was victimized by the U. of Illinois, so was Joel Kovel at Bard College. Leon Botstein much prefers a faculty that will not have the brass to complain about a conference like this rigged to favor the Netanyahu agenda. I guess for that kind of faculty, we would look to a place like Brandeis University that despite its official ties to Judaism at least hires professors willing to stick out its neck when it comes to Israel, as this Fox News report would indicate:

Emails within a tight circle of academics at an exclusive university just outside Boston founded by American Jews reveal a long-standing and vehement anti-Israel bias and anger at Fox News and a human rights advocate who renounced her Muslim faith.

Thousands of messages on a Brandeis University ListServ obtained by conservative students and reviewed by FoxNews.com were hyperbolic in their condemnation of Israel, regarding the recent fighting in Gaza and prior conflicts with the Palestinians. Accusations that Israel has committed war crimes and “holocaustic ethnic cleansing” against Palestinians appear in the messages from academics at the school.

In one message, Brandeis Professor of Sociology Gordon Fellman urged Israeli academics to sign an “open letter” to “end the illegal occupation in Palestine.” The letter states that “the government of Israel, having provoked the firing of rockets by its rampage through the West Bank, is now using that response as the pretext for an aerial assault on Gaza which has already cost scores of lives.”

It goes on to note that “an atmosphere of hysteria is being deliberately provoked in Israel, and whole communities are being subject to collective punishment, a war crime.” Fellman later encourages participants to read a work titled, “S. African Nobel Laureate Tutu likens Mideast crisis to apartheid.”

So, if you are trying to figure out where to send your kid to school, my suggestion is to give Brandeis a second look. It is there where professors are defending true Jewish values rather than at militaristic Bard College.




August 29, 2014

What’s next? A tour of CIA headquarters?

Filed under: bard college — louisproyect @ 3:17 pm

An email I received from Bard College’s alumni office:

Screen shot 2014-08-29 at 10.52.22 AM

July 17, 2014

Out of the bowels of the slave and opium trade sprang Bard College

Filed under: bard college — louisproyect @ 5:26 pm

From pages 228-229:

The transition to a more focused scientific racism required not a leap but a casual step. The institutionalization of medicine—the organization of science faculties and medical colleges in the colonies—happened as slave owners, planters, land speculators, and Atlantic merchants began sponsoring scientific research. The families who paid for the establishment of medical schools and science faculties also oversaw those developments. The founding of medical colleges on American campuses brought science, particularly the human sciences, under the political and financial dominion of slave traders, slave owners, and their surrogates. The class influences upon science were apparent during the Whistelo trial. The court invited experts whose educational credentials, professional titles and appointments, and institutional affiliations mapped the half-century rise of academic science in North America. That deference was, in fact, a fair reflection of how fully science had been tamed. As slaveholders and slave traders paid for medical colleges and science faculties, they also imposed subtle and severe controls on science.

As Atlantic slavery underwrote the production of knowledge, it distorted the knowable. “When a governing board sat down to consider the affairs of the colonial college,” the historian Richard Hofstadter observed, “there was usually assembled at the table a group of men who were accustomed to seeing each other frequently at the counting houses, in each other’s homes, and in the vestries of churches.” As noted earlier, John Morgan, a founder of the medical school at Philadelphia, traveled to the West Indies to make connections and raise money. The cofounder of the medical college, William Shippen Jr., had extensive land interests in Pennsylvania, and was tied through marriage to regional dynasties including the Livingstons of New York and New Jersey. On April 3, 1762, Shippen had wed Alice Lee of the prominent Virginia plantation family.”

The New York surgeon John Bard, president of the local medical society, secured his family’s economic position by investing in land and slaves. His son Samuel’s education at King’s College (Columbia) and Edinburgh was a departure from his career path. Surgeons traditionally received their training as apprentices, while physicians studied the arts and sciences at universities. The two professions were also divided by specialty: surgeons performing external and mechanical treatments, such as bleedings and amputations, and physicians focusing on internal medicine. Dr. Bard fully supported his son’s professionalization, offering suggestions for scientific and medical reading, and lovingly supervising Samuel’s study habits, dress and manners, social activities, and courses. He gave Samuel detailed advice on courting a wife. He sent money for his expenses, encouraged him to seize every educational opportunity while abroad, and, self-conscious about their colonial status, reminded him of the importance of “appearing like a Gentleman.”

While Samuel Bard was studying in Scotland, his father invested in Hyde Park, a 3,600-acre plantation along more than three miles of the Hudson River in Dutchess County, New York, with a resident overseer “to support his the said John Bard’s slaves in good and sufficient Cloathing and Bedding.” When Samuel Bard returned to New York City to establish its first medical college, he turned to merchants for support. His son William eventually married Catherine Cruger, the daughter of the St. Croix slave trader Nicholas Cruger, and his daughter Eliza married John McVickar, professor of political economy at Columbia and heir of a West Indies and China trader whose ships carried the products of slavery and opium. William Bard became a founder of the New York Life Insurance and Trust Company. In 1860 William and Catherine’s son John Bard founded St. Stephen’s College (Bard) as a preparatory school for General Theological Seminary in New York City. Bard donated a chapel and land for the campus. Columbia eventually honored John McVickar and Samuel Bard with the memorial McVickar Professorship of Political Economy and the Bard Professorship of the Practice of Medicine.

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.

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