You are currently browsing the monthly archive for June 2012.

“There is no doubt that Russia was killed by literature. Of the ‘corrupters’ of Russia, there is not a single one without a literary background.” Vassily Rozanov (1856-1919)

Read Russia, an initiative sponsored by the Russian government celebrating contemporary Russian literature, sent 50 Russian authors to NYC for the 2012 Book Expo America. With all the revolutionary fervor in the world today we wanted to hear what Russian writers had to say about revolutions, theirs and others.  

Dmitry Bykov (leaning back) — a multi-award-winning author, journalist and media gadfly — told LE the Russian Revolution was a good thing, comparing it to the American Revolution, and suggesting the US government sponsored it.

Olga Slavnikova (second from right) — author, journalist, and writing instructor said: “I’ve been an anti-communist from childhood. I think the October Revolution was the most tragic page in Russian history. The revolution that might happen today (in Russia) will probably lead to another communist regime.”

We asked Mikhail Seslavinsky (right), head of the Russian Federal Agency for Press and Mass Communication, if the Russian Revolution had been a good thing for Russia? He said “no”.

Commentary: It’s incorrect to say that the Russian Revolution and the American Revolution are comparible. The US experience in self-governing has certainly seen plenty of ‘fraud and force’, but its architects believed themselves to be acting in keeping with the laws of nature and Providence. Whereas, Trotsky and the Bolsheviks were intent on violating nature to improve nature. “Man will occupy himself with re-registering mountains and rivers and will earnestly and repeatedly make improvements in nature. In the end, he will have rebuilt the earth, if not in his own image, at least according to his own taste. We have not the slightest fear that his taste will be bad…” Leon Trotsky 1923

Ironically, the Arab Spring has seen the US government acting more like Trotsky, and the Russian government more like Jefferson.

When self-governing is in line with nature (Jefferson’s goal), freedom can flourish. When self-governing violates nature (Trotsky’s goal), freedom gives way to tyranny — as we see in the U.S. today. The harm done to individuals and society by a disordered democracy can exceed the harm done by a ‘strong-man’ regime (Gaddafi, Mubarak, Assad).

Photographs: Stephen Wise

Ann Patchett, best-selling author and independent book store owner, received the Most Engaging Author Award at this year’s American Booksellers Association Luncheon.

The ABA has 1900 independent book store owners as members. After years of store closings, the last two years have seen an uptick in membership and store openings. There are reports of former Borders employees opening their own stores in locatations that had been Borders.

A Harper Collins executive told LE that independent book stores represent 15-20% of their sales. And e-books deliver 60% of the sales of some titles. Nevertheless, the publishers we spoke with said they were committed to doing all they can to help independent book sellers survive and thrive.

Commentary: If publishers really cared about independent book sellers they would find books to publish that made people want to live — in the ‘ordinary world’, rather than books that make the ordinary world disappear.

From this year’s Book Expo America.

David M. Rubenstein, Co-Founder & Managing Director, The Carlyle Group (third from right), was the keynote at Japan Society’s 2012 Annual Dinner.

Gillian Tett, US Managing Editor, Financial Times (center), was the Master of Ceremonies. LE asked Ms. Tett if QE3 was on the way? She said: “I think it may be.” Back on April 3, 2012 Financial Times contributor Gavyn Davis wrote a column, “Why the Fed has Taken QE3 off the Agenda.”

Commentary: Printing money is too easy (like predator drone strikes and preemptive cyber-warfare), and continues to replace ‘broad-based policy’ in addressing US problems — with little or no concern for long term consequences.

David Rubenstein told a ballroom filled with Japanese businessmen, “the US is not in a recession” and “the government will take the steps necessary to keep the US out of a recession.” He added that “private equity is an important part of the US economy” — increasing efficiency for companies and profits for fund managers. He said the government can’t be counted on to solve the nation’s problems, but the private sector can — contradicting his earlier claim that the government can keep the country out of a recession. He then said: “God’s work must be our work, the private sector can do God’s work” — and then added that Private Equity activity in Japan is 10% what it is in the U.S. “Japan can’t be insular,” he said. It should take advantage of the higher priced yen and invest in the US and Europe.

Private equity firms are toxic for America and the world. Japan would do well to avoid them. Mr. Rubenstein said that he tells Japan’s officials the same thing he tells Ben Bernanke, Chaiman of the Federal Reserve Board, “If you are are worried about deflation bring me in, and I will get it up.”

Photograph: Stephen Wise

Artwork: Makoto Aida

Natalia Dmitriyevna, wife of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, spoke at Book Expo America, 6/5, as part of a significant Russian presence at this year’s Expo. She talked about the Solzhenitsyn Archive, and unseen works of her husband (1918-2008) that will be published.

LE ask Natalia if Alexander Solzhenitsyn would see any connections between the Russian Revolution and the Arab Spring? She commented: “Solzhenitsyn dedicated many years of his life to the study of the Russian Revolution, particularly the February Revolution (1917), which similarly happened very quickly, was unexpected and was indeed a mass event. The mechanism, the chemistry, the inside workings mysterious as they are of revolutions, fascinated him greatly. I think today he would be the most keen observer of  these events.”

Natalia Dmitriyevna distinguished between what happened in February 1917 and October of that year — “what happened in October was not a revolution it was a coup d’etat. The proper comparison if we are talking about real revolutions would be the February Revolution.” She added: “You are right there are many analogies.”

Commentary: The Russian Revolution of 1917 and the so-called Arab Spring of today, are examples of misguided individuals ‘burning down the house’, rather than responsibly reforming society.

In The Gulag Archipelago (1973) Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said: “In 1918, in order to speed up the cultural victory of the revolution as well, they began to ransack the churches and throw out the relics of the saints, and to carry off church plate.” We see the same things happening today.

Photographs: Stephen Wise

Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco are out with a new book, Days Of Destruction Days Of Revolt (Nation Books 2012).

Joe and I set out two years ago to take a look at the sacrifice zones, those areas in the country (U.S.) that have been offered up for exploitation in the name of profit, progress, and technological advancement. We wanted to show in words and drawings what life looks like when the marketplace rules without constraints, where human beings and the natural world are used and then discarded to maximize profits. We want to look at what the ideology of unfettered capitalism means for families, communities, workers and the ecosystem.

Commentary: The US seems incapable of correction and reform. Its misguided mindsets and systems are winning, while the country withers, and its hollow leaders threaten the world. 

Photograph: Stephen Wise

Commentary: American society lacks a correct interpretation and conception of ‘man’.

As a result, politicians, activists, gurus, and pharmachologists are stepping in to fill the void.

Photographs: Stephen Wise

Blackstone Group, a New York-based private equity firm and owner of Hilton Worldwide, has raised over $10 billion this year for a new property fund that will invest in distressed property assets.

Given the amount of debt on the books for Hilton ($16 billion+), one has to believe that it too qualifies as a distressed asset.

It is pension funds, endowments, foundations and taxpayers that take the hit, when Blackstone and other private equity firms restructure and default on their debt obligations.
In 2010 Blackstone defaulted on Manhattan’s Stuyvesant Town & Peter Cooper Village (110 buildings and 14,000 apartments) — an asset they acquired largely with pension fund money in 2006. CalPERS (California Public Employee Retirement System) lost at least $500 million. Some have put the figure at $3 billion+.

In 2008 Blackstone CEO, Stephen A. Schwarzman, donated $100 million to the New York Public Library.

In 2010 LE asked Senator Charles Schumer about the Stuyvesant deal, and how it was approved? He disavowed any connection with it, saying it was all Bloomberg’s doing.

The fact that President Obama has authorized a preemptive and illegal cyber war on the sovereign State of Iran, a country that poses no threat to the United States, should be of concern to all Americans.

“The inattentiveness of the West, and particularly the United States, to considerations of international law contributes to a political climate of lawlessness in which states feel they need not be held accountable to international standards of behavior. A country has a right to do what is legally permissible — not what it thinks serves its interests. If a country does not abide by international law, it cannot condemn others for acting in the same manner.” Daniel Patrick Moynihan