Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 25, 2020

Reflections on the passing of David Dinkins

Filed under: New York — louisproyect @ 7:49 pm

David Dinkins, 1927-2020

There’s a bromide-filled tribute to David Dinkins in Jacobin that might have been expected given his long-time membership in the DSA. At the time, nobody had any illusions that the DSA would lead a revolution in the USA, least of all people like David Dinkins, Major Owens and Ruth Messinger, who all occupied high-level political positions in New York. They would refer to themselves as “progressives” and—truth to tell—there’s not much difference between them and the “squad” politically. If you look at Major Owens’s voting record as a Brooklyn Congressman, there’s not much to distinguish it from Ocasio-Cortez’s.

Like Bill DeBlasio, Dinkins came into office with relatively high expectations but failed to live up to them. As a cautious clubhouse politician, there was little reason to think that he would take on the real estate industry or the cops, the two most retrograde players in the city. Michael Tomasky, a long-time DP liberal, was not expecting much from Dinkins when he was the Mayor in 1993. When a gay contingent was banned from the St. Patrick’s Day parade that year, Dinkins refused to march in it. But when the Salute to Israel parade organizers pulled the same homophobic stunt, Dinkins still marched. Tomasky wrote in the June 21, 1993 Nation Magazine:

The papers never came right out and said it, but the obvious reason for the double standard is as follows: Dinkins figures the Irish vote is lost, but the Jews are another matter. So politically, it’s smart to offend the Irish and stand up for gays and lesbians (even though, in inimitable Dinkins style, he ended up offending them too, after police arrested 218 demonstrators who held a countermarch). But to a Democrat who’ll need every vote he can get this November, Jews are several positions ahead of gays on the vote charts.

Dinkins was elected in 1986, to a large extent the beneficiary of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition that had sunk roots both in Chicago and NY. Back then, people had high expectations of its possibilities just as they have had over Bernie Sanders’s two presidential campaigns.

Dinkins was a protégé of Raymond Jones, a powerful Tammany Hall godfather of the black political class. Along with Dinkins, he trained Percy Sutton, Basil Patterson, and Charlie Rangel who all became powerful machine politicians. It was only Dinkins who adopted the veneer of progressivism.

Just before the election in 1989, a Black youth named Yusuf Hawkins was murdered by a mob of racist whites in Bensonhurst. Just like the outrage over the murder of George Floyd, this incident stirred passions in the Black community and helped Dinkins triumph over his DP rival Ed Koch in the primary, who was becoming despised for his racism.

He also triumphed over Rudy Giuliani who was his Republican rival in the general election. Voters didn’t go for Giuliani’s abrasive style and preferred Dinkins’s calm demeanor that was expected to unite the city, in the same manner as Biden is expected to unite the country. To succeed as mayor, Dinkins had to strike a balance between the city’s progressive-minded voters and Black community on one side and on the other the city’s real estate industry, the cops and the ethnic whites in the outer boroughs where white supremacy ran deep.

Tomasky warned Nation Magazine readers that Dinkins was backed by “the army of real estate barons, lawyers, lobbyists, and fixers who really run this city.” In 1990, NYC was in the midst of one of its periodic fiscal crises. After taking office, it was not surprising that he would choose fiscal austerity just as we expect from a Biden presidency. To keep FIRE (Finance, Insurance and Real Estate) businesses from relocating to New Jersey, Dinkins offered substantial tax abatements as an incentive to remain. Like Koch, Dinkins gave Morgan Stanley a tax package worth more than $30 million to keep its 4000 jobs in the city.

Like de Blasio, Dinkins faced immense problems trying to redress the city’s homeless problem. He created shelters that while benefiting indigent families often antagonized the residents who harbored NIMBY resentment toward the very poor.

Ultimately, Dinkins was the victim of a racist backlash triggered by the accusation that he took the side of Black rioters in Brooklyn against the Hasidim in 1991. A caravan of Lubavitchers was returning from a visit to the gravesite of the head Rabbi’s wife when a car ran over Gavin Cato, a seven-year-old Black boy. In retaliation, a Black youth stabbed rabbinical student Yankel Rosenbaum to death in a melee. When the youth was acquitted, Dinkins lost much of his Jewish support and lost to Giuliani in the next election.

What would a genuinely socialist mayor do to set New York in new, radical directions. Like Dinkins, there were high expectations that Nicaragua activist Bill de Blasio would make a difference. There’s not much in the realm of possibilities given the transformation of the city over the past fifty years as its manufacturing base has dwindled away. Even if they were willing to take on the FIRE ruling class, they lacked the social base that could have made the city much more like the egalitarian example it once was. Keep in mind that the city was once a place where public housing was generous. I live in a Mitchell-Lama building, one of the few relics of a bygone era.

Robert Fitch described this descent in a book titled “The Assassination of New York”. In 1994, he wrote an article for NLR titled “Explaining New York City’s Aberrant Economy” that contained the seeds of the ideas found in the book. Let me quote it liberally so that you can get an idea of the sorry state of a once-great metropolis:

A generation ago, New York’s poverty and unemployment rates ranked substantially below those of the rest of the country. The labour-force participation of its Harlem residents was roughly comparable to the national average. Now the Harlem and central Brooklyn rates are twenty points below the national average, while youth labour-force participation for all races has fallen by more than half.

Altogether from the 1890s to the mid 1950s, the city boasted the most stable and diversified economy in urban America. It could plausibly claim to be the richest city in the world. Now it is arguably the poorest in North America, as well as the least diversified. Since the late fifties, New York has been transformed essentially into a one-crop economy—office and luxury construction based chiefly on tenants in ‘FIRE’—finance, insurance and real estate.

New York’s FIRE Storm

The aberrant performance of New York’s economy ought not to be disassociated from this headlong structural transformation. No us city has changed its industrial structure as dramatically as New York. In the 1950s, New York had two workers in manufacturing for every job in finance, insurance and real estate. Now, New York has nearly reversed the ratio: with one and a half jobs in FIRE for every job in manufacturing.

Chiefly because fire jobs failed to keep pace with force-fed, state-planned and highly subsidized office construction, New York has experienced a real-estate collapse of 1930s proportions. Going into 1994, seven years after the great October crash, giant developers continue to file for bankruptcy. The fall in commercial real-estate prices persists as old leases at high rents continue to expire. Nearly 65 million square feet of space still remain empty.

What is chiefly significant about this total is not just that it is space equivalent to thirty Empire State Buildings. It’s rather that during the entire decade of the eighties, developers built only 53 million square feet. Not only did the city build too much space, it didn’t need the space it had. Nor do prospects for filling up the space seem bright. In the early 1990s, brokers said, ‘Stay alive till ’95’. Now they say, ‘Find something to do until 2002’.

(The article is behind a paywall. Contact me privately for a copy.)

August 4, 2020

Mayor de Blasio’s doublethinking on Karl Marx

Filed under: Deblasio,housing,New York — louisproyect @ 5:15 pm

Bill de Blasio

Rupert Murdoch’s NY Post made a splash on July 24 with an article titled “de Blasio quotes Karl Marx in WNYC radio interview”. This red-baiting exercise begins:

First it was Che Guevara — now it’s Karl Marx!

Mayor Bill de Blasio reached back to his salad days as a young radical to quote the father of communism on Friday.

As for the source of the Karl Marx quote, it was during the course of an interview that NPR’s Brian Lehrer asked de Blasio to comment on a Politico article that made the mayor sound like a fire-breathing radical. Instead of “reaching out now to business leaders in the city” for help with various problems, he shut the door on this possibility by focusing on “inequality and wanting to raise taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers and things like that.”

de Blasio responded:

I think, look, there’s an underlying truth in the fact that my focus has not been on the business community and the elites. And bluntly – I mean, my predecessor certainly focused that way and many mayors have. And I think that’s, unfortunately – I think this is a profound problem. And I am tempted to borrow a quote from Karl Marx here when he says…that the state is the executive committee of the bourgeoisie.

If you didn’t continue reading the interview transcript, you’d think that de Blasio was what the Post described, an unreconstructed radical. To support that case, they cited three “business leaders” who found him uncooperative. Of course, you can find the top ranks of the police force blaming his “leniency” for a spike in homicides even though he has bent over backwards to placate them. Indeed, at the beginning of Lehrer’s interview, you’ll note that he cites an article  charging the mayor with being a tool of the real criminal element in the city: the police force. It is the NY Times, a respectable bourgeois newspaper as opposed to Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid joke, that has been holding De Blasio’s feet to the fire for giving the cops free rein.

Immediately after invoking Karl Marx, de Blasio turns around and says that he disagrees with him, something you’d never realize from the Post article:

…I actually read that when I was a young person, I said, well, that’s not the way it’s supposed to be. The business community matters. We need to work with the business community. We will work with the business community, but the City government represents the people, represents working people and, you know, mayors should not be too cozy with the business community. Governors should not be too cozy with the business community. Respect them, listen to them, sometimes they have great ideas, sometimes they offer real help. There are more and more people in the business community, to be fair, who are seeing the problems and the inequalities, and actually are starting to speak up about it more. But I want them to act.

When de Blasio talks out of both sides of his mouth like this, he is using what George Orwell called doublethink in “1984”, the act of putting forward two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct. Despite all his flaws, Orwell correctly singled out Stalin as a master of doublethink as evidenced in this quote from one of his speeches:

We are for the withering away of the state, and at the same time we stand for the strengthening of the dictatorship, which represents the most powerful and mighty of all forms of the state which have existed up to the present day. The highest development of the power of the state, with the object of preparing the conditions of the withering away of the state: that is the Marxist formula. Is it “contradictory”? Yes, it is “contradictory.” But this contradiction is a living thing and wholly reflects the Marxist dialectic.

Keep in mind that despite his reputation of being an anti-Communist, Orwell’s “1984” was just as much an attack on the false consciousness promoted in the West. Bourgeois politicians are masters of this kind of doublethinking, including Bill de Blasio.

When de Blasio says he wants the capitalists to act, what is that supposed to mean? To act against their own class interests? To continue with his doublethinking exercise, de Blasio refers to Rutger Bregman’s challenge to the rich bastards at Davos a couple of years ago, but without mentioning his name:

There was a New York Times article about Davos a few years ago. It was very telling and they said, you know, everyone was talking about the income inequality at Davos and they were all wringing their hands. But then when speakers got up and said, okay, so you need to raise wages and allow unionization of your companies, or you need to raise taxes on the wealthy, those ideas were immediately dismissed. And that’s been my experience. I’ve met with business leaders from day one, and I do have – some folks I’ve really found some good common ground with, and they really want to help New York City. But a lot of folks have just sort of hit a wall when I say, guys, you’re going to have to pay more in taxes, and we’re going to have policies that favor working people more like rent freezes, which we’ve done now multiple times, and things that really have to shake the foundations of our inequality.

In his pathetic run for president last year, de Blasio made raising taxes on the wealthy a cornerstone of his campaign, just as Sanders made Medicare for All. Understanding that he had zero chance of winning the primary, he raised such a populist profile in order to recapture some of the support he once enjoyed as mayor by breaking with the pattern of pro-corporate administrations going back for decades, both Democrat and Republican.

One major Democratic Party politician took issue with such a tax-raising measure, namely Governor Andrew Cuomo who has feuded with the mayor ever since he got elected. If de Blasio got elected by pretending to be on the left, Cuomo never fostered such illusions. Most New Yorkers understand that he is on the side of the rich but likely vote for him in the absence of a serious challenger. Just the other day, there were protests at mansions out in the Hamptons by pitchfork-wielding activists. They demanded that taxes be raised on the rich in defiance of the governor as Business Insider reported:

The economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus crisis has strengthened calls for a wealth tax, especially in New York, where Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortex has proposed a special state tax on the ultrawealthy. The proposal has the support of at least 83 ultrawealthy people, including Ben & Jerry’s cofounder Jerry Greenfield and Disney heiress Abigail Disney, who penned an open letter arguing that such a tax would “ensure we adequately fund our health systems, schools, and security … immediately. Substantially. Permanently.”

Cuomo shot down the idea, saying that it would drive New York’s 118 billionaires out of state. At the same time, the governor announced cuts to state funding for schools, public housing, and hospitals amid a budget crisis brought on by the coronavirus crisis, sparking protests. Thursday’s march was the second protest in the Hamptons featuring pitchforks this month. The pitchforks used in the July 1 event were plastic ones purchased from a Halloween store, Patch reported at the time.

I first ran into Bill de Blasio back in 1989 when he was an aide to Mayor David Dinkins. Fresh back from a volunteer project in Nicaragua, de Blasio used to come to Nicaragua Network meetings in New York where he tried to be helpful. Not long after I wrote a “dossier” on de Blasio in 2013 during his first mayoral run, I was contacted by a NY Times reporter who was trying to red-bait him but with more sophistication than the NY Post. I referred him to some people that I used to work with in my activist days, seeing no reason why anybody would want to hide being a supporter of a revolution made on behalf of the poor. They helped him recreate the Bill de Blasio of the good old days as the NY Times’s Javier Hernandez reported:

Mr. de Blasio’s answering machine greetings in those days seemed to reflect a search for meaning. Every few weeks, he recorded a new message, incorporating a quote to reflect his mood — a passage from classic literature, lyrics from a song or stanzas of a poem.

Over time, he became more focused on his city job, and using the tools of government to effect change. The answering machine messages stopped changing. He no longer attended meetings about Nicaragua.

His friends in the solidarity movement were puzzled. At a meeting early in 1992, Mr. de Blasio was marked absent. A member scribbled a note next to his name: “Must be running for office.”

In office, de Blasio never wavered from serving the interests of the city’s powerful real estate interests. His rezoning legislation allowed the process of gentrification to proceed but even more effectively. Samuel Stein, the author of “Capital City: Gentrification and the Real Estate State” and a city planning expert, nailed de Blasio in a Jacobin article titled “De Blasio’s Doomed Housing Plan”. The subtitle hints at his doublethinking tactics: “By embracing inclusionary zoning, Mayor de Blasio gets to put forth a big, bold plan for reducing inequalities without challenging capitalists.” In a nutshell, inclusionary zoning allows real estate developers to get tax credits if they set aside 20 percent of a new building for working-class tenants. Michael Bloomberg pushed for this as Mayor and de Blasio did nothing except follow in his footsteps. Stein writes:

Inclusionary zoning is a fatally flawed program. It’s not just that it doesn’t produce enough units, or that the apartments it creates aren’t affordable, though both observations are undeniably true. The real problem with inclusionary zoning is that it marshals a multitude of rich people into places that are already experiencing gentrification. The result is a few new cheap apartments in neighborhoods that are suddenly and completely transformed.

de Blasio wants to use inclusionary zoning to create sixteen thousand apartments for families making $42,000. That’s just 3 percent of the need for such apartments in the city today, according to the plan’s own figures. At the same time, the mayor’s policies would build one hundred thousand more market-rate apartments in the same neighborhoods. What will happen when these rich people arrive? Rents in the surrounding area will rise; neighborhood stores will close; more working-class people will be displaced by gentrification than will be housed in the new inclusionary complexes.

Tom Angotti, the director of the Hunter College Center for Community Planning and Development, argues that inclusionary zoning’s proponents “deal with housing as if it existed in a free market — as if it were just a matter of individual apartments combined. But it exists in a land market, where values are determined largely by location and zoning capacity. In areas with high land values, the new inclusionary development will just feed the fire of gentrification.”

I met Tom Angotti at a Left Forum 4 years ago or so and raised the possibility of him doing a video with me about rezoning. I never followed up because my plate was filled. I do have a copy of his “Zoned Out! Race, Displacement, And City Planning In New York City” and recommend it highly.

Unlike most of the liberal-left, I had no illusions that de Blasio would rock the boat. In a CounterPunch article dated September 25, 2013, I projected what his administration would be up to:

As de Blasio escalated up the electoral ramps in New York, he was careful to retain his liberal coloration even though he became an ally of Dov Hikind, a Brooklyn pol who once belonged to Meir Kahane’s terrorist Jewish Defense League.

When Hikind spearheaded a drive to force Brooklyn College to add a speaker reflecting Zionist policies to a meeting on BDS, de Blasio issued the following statement: “The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is inflammatory, dangerous and utterly out of step with the values of New Yorkers. An economic boycott represents a direct threat to the State of Israel–that’s something we need to oppose in all its forms. No one seriously interested in bringing peace, security and tolerance to the Middle East should be taken in by this event.”

Despite his anti-landlord rhetoric, he also endorsed Bruce Ratner’s downtown Brooklyn megaproject that ran roughshod over the local community’s needs. Originally based on a design by superstar architect Frank Gehry, the project so appalled novelist and Brooklynite Jonathan Lethem that he was inspired to write an open letter to Gehry calling the project “a nightmare for Brooklyn, one that, if built, would cause irreparable damage to the quality of our lives.”

There’s lots of excitement among liberals about the prospects of a de Blasio mayoralty. As might have been expected, the Nation Magazine endorsed him in the primary election as “reimagining the city in boldly progressive, egalitarian terms.” Peter Beinart, a New Republic editor who has gained some attention lately for veering slightly from the Zionist consensus, wrote an article for The Daily Beast titled “The Rise of the New New Left” that was even more breathless than the Nation editorial. Alluding to German sociologist Karl Mannheim’s theory of “political generations”, Beinart sees the de Blasio campaign as “an Occupy-inspired challenge to Clintonism.”

Most of Beinart’s article takes up the question of whether de Blasio’s momentum could unleash broader forces that would derail Hillary Clinton’s bid for the Democratic Party presidential nomination in 2016. Perhaps that analysis can only be supported if you ignore the fact that de Blasio was Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager when she ran for senator from New York in 2000. The NY Times reported on October 7, 2000: “At the White House, the president, Mrs. Clinton and her campaign team can often be found in the Map Room or the Family Theater, drilling for her debates, or fine-tuning lines in some speech.” One surmises that Bill de Blasio was there.

Ultimately, what will create affordable housing and higher taxes on the rich is the kind of protests that took place out in the Hamptons. The rich have no worries about a Mayor de Blasio or even a President Bernie Sanders. As long as the capitalist state exists as the superstructure over capitalist property relations, the ruling class will have its way. Today, as at no point in American history since the 1930s, capitalist society is facing its deepest crisis. The liberal-left that backed Bill De Blasio, Bernie Sanders, and every other doublethinking politician is doing the best it can to steer people into futile DP election campaigns. The only thing that will work is a massive movement of the working-class and its allies against the two-party system that culminates in a new kind of state that governs on behalf of them rather than the rich. If de Blasio can quote the Communist Manifesto, so can we but without the doublethink:

The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.

December 6, 2019

Michael Bloomberg and me

Filed under: computers,Counterpunch,New York,real estate — louisproyect @ 4:57 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, DECEMBER 6, 2019

In 1975, I took a job as a Cobol programmer at Salomon Brothers in New York, mainly on the buzz generated by a N.Y. Times profile of its star block trader Michael Bloomberg. The November 9th article noted that “The single‐minded dedication of Mr. Bloomberg’s pressure‐cooker life goes hand in glove with the aggressive business style which has made Salomon Brothers one of the largest and most profitable firms on Wall Street.”

While at Salomon, I often stopped by Socialist Workers Party national headquarters after work to take part in systems design meetings with two other party members. We were automating The Militant and Pathfinder Press as part of an ambitious expansion program by the Trotskyist movement. The SWP had purchased an IBM System 32 minicomputer to generate mailing labels for The Militant and to keep track of Pathfinder’s financial records. Modernization also included the purchase of a web press located on the ground floor of a five-story building on West Street that we foolishly thought of as our Smolny Institute. (A web press had nothing to do with the Internet. It was just a high-powered technology for printing on continuous rolls of paper.)

Continue reading

May 3, 2019

Decade of Fire

Filed under: housing,New York,Puerto Rico — louisproyect @ 4:35 pm

Opening today at the Metrograph theater in New York, the documentary “Decade of Fire” tells both the personal story of Vivian Vázquez Irizarry, who grew up in the South Bronx, and the South Bronx itself, which in the 1960s became a virtual synonym for urban decay. The fire in the title refers to the vast number that took place over a decade, reducing the housing stock of a once vibrant, working-class area. This is not just the story of the South Bronx. It is also about the malign neglect that befell many neighborhoods outside the privileged Manhattan island that was the site of Woody Allen movies, including a film of that title, which was so indifferent to the lives of others.

Irizarry produced, directed and served as narrator for “Decade of Fire”. Like many other people in the South Bronx, her grandparents came to the USA from Puerto Rico because of jobs disappearing as a result of Operation Bootstrap, a version of primitive accumulation that was intended to build up the island’s industrial base. As was the case of mechanizing the cotton fields in the South, farmers and those not lucky enough to find a job were forced to relocate.

When I worked for the Welfare Department in Harlem in 1967, I saw the same kind of destruction. When I visited families on the side streets between 8th Avenue (now called Frederick Douglass Boulevard) and Manhattan Avenue, it seemed like at least one out of four buildings were either totally or partially destroyed by fire. But it was the South Bronx that loomed the largest as a symbol of urban ruin, with both politicians and comedians using it as shorthand for “the ghetto”.

In one of the more eye-opening scenes in the film, we see the people of South Bronx literally trying to drive the film crew of “Fort Apache, the Bronx” from their neighborhood. Like “The Warriors”, another lurid and racist film set in the Bronx that is excerpted in the documentary, it dehumanized the largely Latino and Black residents as “thugs”. Not having seen “The Warriors”, I do wonder how much it distorted the Sol Yurick novel it was based on. Sol, a deeply anti-racist and Marxist author whose class on world literature as an expression of the ruling class I took at the Brecht Forum, wrote “The Warriors” as an adaptation of “Anabasis”, the history of the Greco-Persian wars written about Xenophon. Like everything else Hollywood touches, it turned Sol’s story into trash.

Although the housing stock in the South Bronx was deteriorating by the 1960s, it was by no means uninhabitable. Essentially, the banks and the capitalist state decided not to help keep it afloat, a pattern that keeps being repeated in the USA, with the latest iteration Obama’s cozy arrangement with Wall Street that bailed out the bankers, who avoided criminal prosecution. In the case of the South Bronx, a tightly-enforced red-line policy made investments in the upkeep of the buildings there next to impossible.

Once the deterioration began to quicken, landlords decided to bail out. To get the most they could out of their abandonment, they hired locals to set fire to the buildings in exchange for a paltry payment. In every instance, they were paid for their efforts by the insurance companies. The role of the fire department in all this was key to the wholesale destruction. It failed to sustain the arson investigation unit and went along with drastic cuts in firehouses in the South Bronx, all under the watch of John O’Hagan, a racist who we see explaining the fires as the result of people being crowded into apartments and not understanding the norms of urban life. He might as well have called the people of the South Bronx apes.

One after another we see politicians like the iconic liberal Republican mayor John Lindsay to the execrable Ed Koch justifying the neglect of the South Bronx. Worst of all is Patrick Moynihan, the life-long Democrat who was Assistant to President Nixon on Domestic Policy and notorious for his theory of “benign neglect”. Watching him defend his ideas is enough to turn your stomach.

What finally began to stanch the bleeding was community activism that the director became part of. In the 1980s a series of co-operatives began to clean out the burned buildings and renovate them. These efforts were actually closely tied to the emergence of Puerto Rican nationalism that viewed the South Bronx as a kind of “liberated” territory. In the decades that followed, money began to be funneled into the area but often as part of a gentrification project that is ongoing. Community activists have insisted on the right of residents to determine the future of housing in the South Bronx, not banks or real estate developers.

August 1, 2018

Munsee Democracy

Filed under: indigenous,New York — louisproyect @ 12:15 am

I’ve begun to read Robert Grumet’s “First Manhattans: A Brief History of the Munsee Indians” as background for the segment of the documentary I am working on about the Catskill Mountains. The Munsees were the native peoples who lived in Manhattan (from the Munsee word meaning “the place where we get bows”) and up through the Catskill Mountains, including along the Neversink River that the drone pilot filmed last Wednesday. Grumet’s introduction is a model of anthropology, history and powerful writing as illustrated below:

Sachems [chiefs] like Tackapousha could maintain authority, however, only by demonstrating skill and ability. They were authoritative, not authoritarian. As William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, put it 1683, Indian leaders were moved “by the breath of their people.” Those capable of demonstrating leadership won their people’s support. Those that did not could swiftly lose followers, who were free to vote with their feet and move elsewhere. Relying more on the power of persuasion than on the persuasion of power, sachems worked together with councilors to hammer out community consensus. Consensus in Indian societies in the region did not mean unanimity. Rather, it meant consent, sometimes grudgingly given, from those who elected to stay and relocation elsewhere for those who dissented.

When I read this paragraph, I thought immediately of the scene in John Boorman’s 1985 “Emerald Forest” about a British boy named Tommy who is kidnapped by Indians in the Amazon rainforest and raised as a member of the tribe. When his father finally learns that he is alive and fully socialized as an Indian. When his father tells the chief that he should order the tribe to release the son back to his father, he replies along the lines of Munsee democratic norms. From my review:

Tommy’s father has never lost hope that he can discover his son and organizes an expedition into the heart of the rainforest. He runs into a war-party of the “Fierce People,” who pursue him. He eventually lies exhausted near a river, after having been wounded by one of their spears. There he meets his son, who manages to rescue him from his attackers. The two make their way back to the “Invisible People’s” camp.

After his father recovers from his wounds, he tells Tommy that he wants to take him back with him to the city, but the youth explains that he has been in “the World” too long. He belongs there now. Then the father turns to the chief and asks him to order the boy to return with him. The chief shrugs his shoulders and says that if the boy wanted to return, he would have agreed to do so. Furthermore, he would not be chief any longer if he told members of his tribe to do something that “they did not want to do.” This admission gets to the very heart of the difference between “primitive” society and our own. In our society, it is normal for the state, employer, teachers and religious officials to order us around every day of our lives. The high price of civilization is repression.

 

 

May 5, 2017

How the High Line benefits High Income New Yorkers

Filed under: New York,real estate — louisproyect @ 6:40 pm

28highline-jumbo

On April 21st I wrote a favorable review of “Citizen Jane”, a documentary about Jane Jacobs who defended NYC neighborhoods from Robert Moses’s invasive attempts to force expressways on the working class residents. I did have problems, however, not so much with the film but the producer’s ties to a project that smacked of Robert Moses’s pro-capitalist agenda:

Although I can recommend this documentary highly, I would be remiss if I did not mention that one of the producers is Robert Hammond, who is executive director of Friends of the High Line that spearheaded the reclamation of a 1.5 mile elevated rail line on New York’s West Side near Chelsea. Working on this project with Joshua David, the two received the Rockefeller Foundation’s Jane Jacobs Medal in 2010. The High Line has become a big tourist attraction and a magnet for restaurants and new apartment building construction on the West Side.

I doubt that Hammond and David would have turned down the award, but I just may have after seeing Rockefeller’s name attached to it. Last year I reviewed a film titled “The Neighborhood that Disappeared” that describes the demolition of a largely Italian working class neighborhood in Albany that Jane Jacobs would have cherished. It was a victim of the master plan to create Nelson Rockefeller’s Empire State Plaza, a monstrosity that left a permanent scar on the capital city even as it expedited automobile traffic. Tying Rockefeller’s name to Jane Jacobs is almost like tying the Koch brothers’ name to an award on environmental activism.

Furthermore, even though the High Line has succeeded in terms that Jane Jacobs might have approved, its obvious charms have not been of universal benefit to people living in Chelsea, not exactly a slum that was ripe for gentrification. By the time that work on the High Line began, it was already vying with Greenwich Village for its own handsome brownstones, adorable ethnic restaurants and gay-friendly vibe.

However, the High Line was key to Chelsea being transformed into one of the city’s most expensive neighborhoods and a home to criminal oligarchs who have bought $15 million condos in the new high-rises that blight the neighborhood. I recommend “Class Divide”, an on-demand HBO documentary that I reviewed last April that identifies the High Line as a beachhead for the invasion of real estate sharks and the Russian, Chinese and Indian gangsters who now call Chelsea home. From the HBO website:

Avenues [a private school that caters to the sons and daughters of the rich] is just one example of the way the neighborhood has been dramatically transformed. The High Line, a once-abandoned elevated railroad track, was reborn and turned into a wildly popular public park in 2009. Attracting five million people a year, The High Line has transformed a once-gritty area into the hottest neighborhood in NYC’s high-end real-estate market. “Every building is trying to outdo each other,” explains Community Board Committee co-chair Joe Restuccia.

However, many buyers in this current wave of gentrification seem to have no desire to integrate into the established lower-income community. Almost 40% of high-end residences have been sold to foreign or anonymous clients, and the average rent for Chelsea apartments has risen almost ten times faster than Manhattan as a whole, ousting many who can’t afford to keep up. “I just don’t understand why the old can’t be with the new,” says Yasmin Rodriguez, a lifelong West Chelsea resident and parent who is rapidly being priced out of her own neighborhood. “I have so much history here.”


In the latest Village Voice, a newspaper that is becoming much more relevant lately because of an infusion of cash by an investor who remembers the old Voice fondly, there’s a fascinating article that discusses the High Line and Robert Hammond’s regrets about the project:

There is no better illustration of gilded, internet-age New York than the High Line.Anchored on the south by the relocated Whitney Museum and on the north by the high-rises of Hudson Yards, the elevated park sits at the center of a real estate frenzy that has uprooted earlier generations of gentrifiers, art galleries, and even the city’s sense of who should control public space.

The story of how we got here, however, has evolved over time. Before it opened with a series of ribbon-cuttings between 2009 and 2014, the High Line spent a decade in gestation, developing as the idea of a group of Chelsea residents, then spreading to the city’s gala-hopping elites, and eventually winning the embrace of the Bloomberg administration. During this era, much of the public discussion about the park was old-fashioned boosterism, gushing about its high-design, post-industrial aesthetic, its magnetic pull on tourists, and its role as lynchpin for the mushrooming art, restaurant, retail, and condominium scene in West Chelsea and the Meatpacking District.

This type of cheerleading is epitomized by New York Post restaurant and real estate writer Steve Cuozzo, who earlier this year called the park a “masterpiece” and “true wonder of our age” that has enabled “limitless popular pleasure.” Anyone who has misgivings about the High Line, he said, implies “that the High Line is somehow a racist creation” and is sympathizing with “reactionary leftists who prefer the crime-and-decay-ridden New York of the 1980s.”

Inconveniently for Cuozzo, one person with second thoughts is Friends of the High Line co-founder Robert Hammond, who now thinks the High Line didn’t pay enough attention to low- and moderate-income New Yorkers, particularly those in public housing next door to the park. “We were from the community. We wanted to do it for the neighborhood,” he told CityLab in February. “Ultimately, we failed.”

Lately, Hammond has been seeking redemption, pushing other high-profile park projects around the country to bake equity into their decision-making processes. Friends of the High Line has also been trying to make up for lost time, launching arts and jobs initiatives with residents of nearby public housing. Danya Sherman, former director of public programs, education, and community engagement for Friends of the High Line, details these efforts in her contribution to Deconstructing the High Line, a series of essays by academics, architects, and those involved in the making of the elevated park.

Equity initiatives are worthwhile, but Hammond’s recent conversion and Sherman’s essay evoke a sinking feeling that these good intentions are simply too little, too late. Before the High Line proffered progressivism through its programming, other contributors to the book note, it cast cold, hard capitalism in concrete.

The Voice article refers to a CityLab article that also reviews Hammond’s misgivings about High Line, also worth reading.

November 25, 2014

The “accidental” killing of Akai Gurley was no accident

Filed under: housing,New Deal,New York,racism — louisproyect @ 7:45 pm

As the grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri was calculating how to avoid bringing killer cop Darren Wilson to trial, another ignominious homicide took place in the Louis H. Pink Housing Project in Brooklyn, NY. The New York Times reported on how a rookie cop named Peter Liang killed a young Black man named Akai Gurley:

Two police officers prepared to enter the pitch-black eighth-floor stairwell of a building in a Brooklyn housing project, one of them with his sidearm drawn. At the same time, a man and his girlfriend, frustrated by a long wait for an elevator, entered the seventh-floor stairwell, 14 steps below. In the darkness, a shot rang out from the officer’s gun, and the 28-year-old man below was struck in the chest and, soon after, fell dead.

The shooting, at 11:15 p.m. on Thursday, invited immediate comparison to the fatal shooting of an unarmed man in Ferguson, Mo. But 12 hours later, just after noon on Friday, the New York police commissioner, William J. Bratton, announced that the shooting was accidental and that the victim, Akai Gurley, had done nothing to provoke a confrontation with the officers.

A follow-up article detailed how such an “accident” might have taken place:

From different corners of Brooklyn, the lives of Mr. Gurley and Officer Liang, two young men separated in age by a single year, collided amid the faint shadows of the stairwell inside 2724 Linden Blvd., one of the buildings in the vast the Louis H. Pink housing project.

For Mr. Gurley, the stairs, even in their sorry state, offered the best alternative to chronically malfunctioning project elevators. For Officer Liang, their darkness presented a threat.

Often the department’s least experienced officers are sent.

“This is a result of poor in-street field training; you literally had the blind leading the blind out there,” said another high-ranking police official.

Both police officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the shooting investigation is still unfolding.

Most of the reporting centers on the cop’s inexperience as if a way to ward off interpretations that he was acting out of a KKK mentality so prevalent in the St. Louis police department. Since Chinese-Americans don’t tend to be seen as vicious racists, it is more difficult to mount Ferguson type protests over the killing. But in a very real sense, Brooklyn = Ferguson. It was the poverty and neglect of East New York that created the conditions for just such an accident.

Furthermore, a look at housing projects in general and the Louis H. Pink project in particular will demonstrate that we are dealing with institutions just barely distinguishable from South African shantytowns, even though they were at one time a staple of New Deal reform.

Louis Heaton Pink was an advocate of public housing in the 1930s who became the director of the New York Housing Authority, the city agency responsible for projects all across the city now in various states of disrepair. He was first appointed to a state housing agency by Al Smith, the governor of New York who despite having a solid record as a reformer got on FDR’s wrong side after running against him in the 1932 presidential primary.

This article from the February 14, 1934 NY Times should give you some idea of how Pink envisioned public housing:

louis pink article

When I worked for the Department of Welfare in Harlem in 1967, housing projects were considered a step up from slum buildings on the side streets even though they were beginning the steep decline that would eventually lead to the violent crime, broken elevators and darkened stairways that served as Akai Gurley’s death chamber.

The explanation is obvious. Like most public institutions that sprang up as a result of the modern welfare state, NYC public housing was the first to be sacrificed at the altar of austerity. The first to go was public housing. Next came hospitals and now it is CUNY that has to tighten its belt.

But austerity is not the end of the story. If the Housing Authority was truly broke, then the broken elevators, etc. might be understandable even if not forgivable. It turns out that there was money available for repairs but the rich white bastards who run the NYCHA had other ideas about what to do with it as the Daily News reported on August 1, 2012:

Screen shot 2014-11-25 at 2.18.05 PM

In a New York Magazine article that appeared shortly after the Daily News revelations, the sad state of the Louis H. Pink Houses was detailed in a lengthy article:

That said, I was in the Pinks because of its namesake, Louis H. Pink. Born in Wausau, Wisconsin, in 1882, a former resident of a Lower East Side tenement, Pink was a leader in the fight to rid New York of its slums, which in 1920 reputedly covered seventeen square miles of the city. Three decades after Jacob Riis depicted the horrors of slum life in How the Other Half Lives, city children were “still being brought up in dark, ill-ventilated, overcrowded, unsafe tenement houses,” Pink wrote in his 1928 book, The New Day in Housing. Taking his lead from the Gemeindebau, or “community construction,” built in “Red Vienna” following World War I, Pink felt New York would benefit from “modern, sanitary housing for the great mass of our less well off citizens.”

Pink was joined by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, who blamed the TB death of his first wife on the evils of slum living. “Down with rotten, antiquated ratholes! Down with hovels! Down with disease! Down with crime!” the Little Flower proclaimed, saying every New Yorker deserved “a bit of sunshine in every window.” On December 3, 1935, Louis Pink joined La Guardia, Governor Herbert Lehman, and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to dedicate First Houses on Avenue A and 3rd Street. It was the beginning of public housing in the United States.

In 1959, when the Louis H. Pink ­Houses opened, no First Lady appeared. Public housing was in its stolid middle age, the era of idealism long gone, and NYCHA’s enterprise had morphed into a full-scale building boom pursued with typical assembly-line zeal by the city’s chairman of slum clearance, Robert Moses. Filed under the rubric of “urban renewal” (James Baldwin called it “Negro removal”), slum-clearing was done for private development as well as great municipal feats like the Cross-Bronx Expressway. The displaced, especially white lower-middle-class workers who otherwise would have moved to places like bucolic (and racially segregated) Levittown, were encouraged to move to public high-rises full of Mayor La Guardia’s sunlight.

Not surprisingly, New York Magazine—prime reading material for Manhattan’s upwardly mobile—gave NYCHA head John Rhea an opportunity to defend himself.

The centerpiece of Rhea’s “public-­private solution” for NYCHA has been the city’s 2010 funding deal with Citigroup. In exchange for fifteen years’ worth of guaranteed federal low-income-housing tax credits, the bank helped secure $230 million for 21 troubled developments that were built but no longer funded by the city and/or the state. The arrangement triggered NYCHA’s eligibility for the onetime infusion of $75 million of federal stimulus funds.

“If you want to save the proud tradition of public housing in this city, you’ve got to think differently,” Rhea declared, adding that while heading NYCHA was “by far the biggest challenge” of his career, he had come to love his job and the projects themselves. “NYCHA is supposed to be this great problem,” the chairman said. “But if your rich uncle left you NYCHA in his will, that would be the luckiest day of your life. NYCHA, with its vast holdings, is a tremendous asset for the City of New York.

You would of course have to conclude that any bureaucrat who thinks in terms of “public-private” and cuts deals with Citibank would be the last person to attend to public housing woes in New York, even if he is African-American (another version of Barack Obama, to be sure.) After four years of getting nothing done, Rhea resigned in December 2013 before Bill de Blasio had a chance to fire him.

I don’t think the Black community expects much from the new “reformer” based on this August 27 article that appeared in the NY Observer.

Bill de Blasio Heckled While Touting NYCHA Safety Gains

Mayor Bill de Blasio today at the Lincoln Houses in East Harlem. (Jillian Jorgensen)

Mayor Bill de Blasio went to the Lincoln Houses in East Harlem to talk about crime reductions and safety upgrades in the city’s public housing stock — but some residents just didn’t want to hear it.

The mayor was heckled by at least two people who gathered to watch his press conference in a sunny courtyard Wednesday, where he stood strategically in front of construction workers removing scaffolding residents have long complained are a blight and a danger.

As the mayor sought to take the microphone after Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito spoke, a man shouted in Spanish at the mayor about needing more security. Mr. de Blasio at first tried to keep talking, but eventually paused and offered: “Thank you, brother.”

Shortly after, NYPD Chief of Housing Carlos Gomez was also met with a skeptical response from a local resident as he spoke.

“July first, the crime in housing was up. It was up for the fifth year in a row. With the additional officers, and resources, the additional work being conducted by other city agencies, I’m proud to say as we stand here today crime in public housing is down, more than 4 percent — that’s higher than the city averages,” Mr. Gomez said.

“Since when?” a woman called out. “Since when it went down?”

“From July 1 until now crime is down double-digits throughout NYCHA in the city, down 13 percent. Murders are down 18 percent, and our shooting incidents are down in NYCHA,” Mr. Gomez said.

But as he spoke, the woman responded “That’s a lie. That’s a lie.”

When asked by a reporter about that response, the mayor said he understood why it seemed to some residents that crime had not truly fallen.

“Because it takes time, first of all, for everyone to feel it. And I don’t blame anyone who is feeling there isn’t enough yet in the way of improvement. We have a lot to do. The numbers that Chief Gomez gave are the numbers, and that clearly means progress,” Mr. de Blasio said. “That means some people are alive today who wouldn’t have been otherwise, some people are safe today who wouldn’t have been otherwise.”

Though the city has had 29 fewer murders this year and 1,000 fewer robberies, the mayor said, people won’t believe in change until they see it — comparing it to the focus of his press conference, the removal of the scaffolding or “sheds” that residents argued served as hiding places for guns and illegal activity.

“Until people see the sheds down, they aren’t going to feel the benefits,” he said.

After the press conference, Mr. de Blasio enjoyed a brief and seemingly friendly chat with the man who had shouted at him in Spanish.

Earlier this summer at the same housing development, Mr. de Blasio vowed to remove scaffolding and add cameras, lights, and hundreds more police officers to the city’s public housing earlier this summer to combat rising crime there.

According to Mr. Gomez, crime in public housing is now down: Year-to-date, in the Housing Bureau citywide crime is down 4.2 percent, with murders down 5.9 percent, rapes down 3 percent, and robberies down 5.6 percent.

Still, shootings are still up in NYCHA developments over the course of the entire year — and are up citywide, outside of public housing complexes — though they have fallen in the Housing Bureau since July 1.

July 29, 2014

Bratton, De Blasio and the subway break-dancers

Filed under: crime,New York,racism — louisproyect @ 7:35 pm

Today’s NY Times reports on the crackdown on break-dancers in the subway.

The young dancers, Peppermint and Butterscotch, scanned the scattered faces aboard the New York City subway. One caught their eye.

“Are you a cop?” a performer asked, as their Q train rumbled toward Canal Street. The man waved them off. Peppermint and Butterscotch were satisfied.

“It’s showtime!” they shouted.

Music filled the train. Legs curled around the car’s graspable bars like creeping ivy. Then came a finale that surprised even the dancers: four plainclothes officers converging in tandem, and two sets of handcuffs.

Cheered by tourists, tolerated by regulars, feared by those who frown upon kicks in the face, subway dancers have unwittingly found themselves a top priority for the New York Police Department — a curious collision of a Giuliani-era policing approach, a Bloomberg-age dance craze and a new administration that has cast the mostly school-age entertainers as fresh-face avatars of urban disorder.

There’s probably nobody more opposed to being a captive audience on the subways than me. I have been riding NYC subways since they cost 15 cents a ride. When they were this cheap, they lacked air conditioning and were as noisy as hell, but you could at least be assured that you would never be forced to watch a musical performance, begged for spare change, or listen to a sermon.

That was a function of the city being a lot more economically and socially viable than it has been ever since the fare reached the dollar level at least. In 1961 the city was home to a million and one small manufacturing plants that provided jobs for Blacks and Latinos. This is not to speak of the jobs in heavy industry just across the river in New Jersey, such as the Ford plant in Mahwah. In those days, jobs were like low-hanging fruit for recent immigrants from the Deep South or Puerto Rico. They disappeared long ago, forcing the grandchildren of those who worked in them to beg for change or to break dance just one step ahead of the law.

In some ways it is the subway preachers that make me the most crazy, even though they are probably certifiably insane themselves. When I used to take the number one train up to Columbia University, there was a guy who showed up about once a month and preach to us. He had a thick Jamaican accent and would always prattle on about how Jesus was coming to take the faithful up to heaven and send the sinful down to hell. I had to restrain myself from ranting about there being nothing but colliding atoms. What good would it do?

During the Giuliani administration, chief of police William Bratton implemented the “broken window theory”, one that posited petty crime as creating a climate for more serious crimes. This meant in practice arresting the homeless men who used squeegees on car windows when they were stopped for a red light. They generally didn’t say anything if you refused but hoped to get a dollar for their work. The cops also went after young men, mostly Black and Latino, who spray-painted graffiti on subway cars, including Michael Stewart who died in 1983 while under police custody. Despite eyewitnesses who saw the cops kicking and beating him, an all-white jury acquitted the six officers.

Eventually the “broken windows” policy led to the formation of a Street Crimes Unit that targeted young Blacks and Latinos for selling drugs or other minor offenses. This was really the beginning of “Stop and Frisk”, the policy that Bill De Blasio claimed he wanted to abolish. Obviously it has snuck back in through the back door. In a very good article on Bratton in the ISO newspaper, attorney David Bliven describes his experience with Bratton’s law and order:

As a young civil rights lawyer in Jamaica, Queens, at the time, I had more than a few victims of this police harassment come into my office. They were often Black teenagers who described how they were walking home from school, or from the store, or just hanging out with friends, when a car pulled up and out jumped the NYPD thugs. They’d throw the teen into their car, rough him up in the backseat, try to get drug sale information out of him, and when they determined the kid knew nothing, end up dumping the then utterly frightened kid on the other side of Queens.

The Street Crimes Unit was eventually disbanded–not because it wasn’t effective at its mission (intimidating and oppressing Blacks and Latinos)–but because it eventually made its way into the mainstream press and thus fell out of favor with the white liberal establishment. The idea behind the Street Crimes Unit lived on and was quickly replaced by Drug Sweep Teams, which were the precursor to the “stop-and-frisk” policy.

Now that Bratton is running the police department again, the “broken window theory” has been reinstituted. Besides break dancers, it seeks to protect the public from the mostly minority men and women who sell single cigarettes on the street at a cut-rate price. One of them was Eric Garner, an immense but sickly African-American who died as an illegal chokehold was being placed on him and as he cried out that he could not breathe:

To its credit, the NY Times editorialized against Bratton’s policy:

How terrible it would be if Eric Garner died for a theory, for the idea that aggressive police enforcement against minor offenders (he was a seller of loose, untaxed cigarettes) is the way to a safer, more orderly city. Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton responded swiftly after Mr. Garner was fatally assaulted by officers on Staten Island. They reached out to his family, promising to retrain every officer about the rules against using chokeholds. Two officers have been put on desk duty pending investigations.

The mayor and the commissioner should also begin a serious discussion of the future of “broken windows” policing, the strategy of relentlessly attacking petty offenses to nurture a sense of safety and order in high-crime neighborhoods, which, in theory, leads to greater safety and order. In reality, the link is hypothetical, as many cities and towns across the country have enjoyed historic decreases in violent crime since the 1990s, whatever strategies they used. And the vast majority of its targets are not serious criminals, or criminals at all.

Bratton is a pioneer of broken windows policing and Mr. de Blasio is a stout defender. The tactic was embraced in the crime-plagued New York of 20 years ago. But while violence has ebbed, siege-based tactics have not. The Times reported on Friday that the Police Department made 394,539 arrests last year, near historical highs.

The mayor and the commissioner should acknowledge the heavy price paid for heavy enforcement. Broken windows and its variants — “zero-tolerance,” “quality-of-life,” “stop-and-frisk” practices — have pointlessly burdened thousands of young people, most of them black and Hispanic, with criminal records. These policies have filled courts to bursting with first-time, minor offenders whose cases are often thrown out, though not before their lives are severely disrupted and their reputations blemished. They have caused thousands to lose their jobs, to be suspended from school, to be barred from housing or the military. They have ensnared immigrants who end up, through a federal fingerprinting program, being deported and losing everything.

No matter how much clout the “newspaper of record” has, the politician that the Nation Magazine, Salon.com, and the Huffington Post drooled over will likely ignore its recommendations. Once again from the NYT article we linked to at the beginning of this post:

Mayor Bill de Blasio has defended the approach even as some police reform advocates have called for big changes after the death of a Staten Island man, Eric Garner, during an arrest over accusations of selling untaxed cigarettes, a subject of complaints by local businesses.

“If you’re violating the law, I can understand why any New Yorker might say, well that might not be such a big offense or that might not be something that troubles any of us individually,” the mayor said, standing with Mr. Bratton on Monday at City Hall. “But breaking the law is breaking the law.”

And what exactly is the difference between Giuliani and De Blasio? I guess the same difference between Bush and Obama. In a period of declining economic opportunities, law and order will become more and more repressive. In the early stages of capitalism, vagabonds roamed the British countryside and prompted the equivalent of “stop and frisk” back then—draconian policies including being sentenced to a debtor’s prison.

Chapter 28 of V. 1 of Capital begins as follows:

The proletariat created by the breaking up of the bands of feudal retainers and by the forcible expropriation of the people from the soil, this “free” proletariat could not possibly be absorbed by the nascent manufactures as fast as it was thrown upon the world. On the other hand, these men, suddenly dragged from their wonted mode of life, could not as suddenly adapt themselves to the discipline of their new condition. They were turned en masse into beggars, robbers, vagabonds, partly from inclination, in most cases from stress of circumstances. Hence at the end of the 15th and during the whole of the 16th century, throughout Western Europe a bloody legislation against vagabondage. The fathers of the present working class were chastised for their enforced transformation into vagabonds and paupers. Legislation treated them as “voluntary” criminals, and assumed that it depended on their own good will to go on working under the old conditions that no longer existed.

Now that we are in the period of capitalism’s senescence, we find that once again manufacturing cannot absorb the “free” proletariat. In the 18th century this was because it had not come into existence. In the 21st it is because it no longer exists.

October 12, 2013

Bill de Blasio and William Mulrow

Filed under: New York,Occupy Wall Street,parliamentary cretinism — louisproyect @ 2:00 pm

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/12/nyregion/wooing-hometown-industry-de-blasio-meets-wary-wall-st.html

Mr. de Blasio is not a complete stranger to the financial world. His wife, Chirlane McCray, briefly worked under Mr. Schlein at Citigroup, and after the financial crisis Mr. de Blasio opposed limits on bank bonuses.

He seeks counsel from Orin S. Kramer, a hedge fund manager and a top donor to President Obama, who introduced him at the Viacom lunch. Another ally is William Mulrow, who is a senior managing director at Blackstone and a former candidate for state comptroller (and who once donned dingy clothes to impersonate an Occupy Wall Street protester at a private bankers’ dinner).

* * * *

NY Times January 20, 2012, 9:52 pm

A Raucous Hazing at a Wall St. Fraternity

By KEVIN ROOSE

The chandelier-filled ballroom was teeming with 200 men in tuxedos — and a smattering of women — whose daily decisions can collectively make or break the global financial markets. Most were picking over a lavish dinner that included rack of lamb and crème brûlée. Others were preparing to sing bawdy show tunes.

Kappa Beta Phi, an exclusive Wall Street fraternity whose members include big-name bankers, hedge fund billionaires and private equity titans, met at the St. Regis Hotel in Manhattan on Thursday night for its 80th annual black-tie dinner and induction ceremony.

As always, the event was held in strict secrecy, with members being told that “what happens at the St. Regis stays at the St. Regis.”

A reporter, however, was able to walk in unquestioned and observe the proceedings.

Neither a rough year in the financial markets nor the animus of the Occupy Wall Street movement was enough to dampen spirits at this year’s dinner, which was attended by members like Alan C. Greenberg, known as Ace, the former chairman of Bear Stearns; Robert H. Benmosche, the chairman of the American International Group; Meredith Whitney of the Whitney Advisory Group; and Martin Lipton, founding partner of the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz.

The Occupy movement was fodder for several after-dinner skits. In one, a documentary filmed during the protests, James Lebenthal, a bond specialist, joked with a protester whose face was appeared to be tattooed.

“Go home, wash that off your face, and get back to work,” Mr. Lebenthal told the protester.

Reached through his daughter on Friday, Mr. Lebenthal declined to comment.

In another skit, William Mulrow , a senior managing director at the Blackstone Group, put on raggedy clothes to play the part of an Occupy protester. Emil W. Henry Jr., a managing partner at Tiger Infrastructure Partners and a fellow new Kappa, joined him dressed as a wealthy baron.

“Bill, look at you! You’re pathetic, you liberal! You need a bath!” Mr. Henry said, voice full of mock indignation.

“You callow, insensitive Republican!” Mr. Mulrow said. “Don’t you know we need to create jobs?”

A Blackstone spokesman declined to comment on Mr. Mulrow’s behalf. Mr. Henry was not immediately available for comment.

September 29, 2013

Green heron spotted near Central Park reservoir

Filed under: New York — louisproyect @ 8:47 pm

Just spotted one of these while out jogging in Central Park:

 

The Heron, Theodore Roethke

The heron stands in water where the swamp
Has deepened to the blackness of a pool,
Or balances with one leg on a hump
Or marsh grass heaped above a muskrat hole.

He walks the shallow with an antic grace.
The great feet break the ridges of the sand,
The long eye notes the minnow’s hiding place.
His beak is quicker than a human hand.

He jerks a frog across his bony lip,
Then points his heavy bill above the wood.
The wide wings flap but once to lift him up.
A single ripple starts from where he stood.

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