Saturday, October 24, 2009

Thelonious Monk: An American Original

Dr. Robin D.G. Kelley.

Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of An American Original by Robin Kelley--Free Press, October 2009


The book is finally out and it is simply INCREDIBLE. This is an absolutely stupendous achievement by one of the finest social historians and cultural critics in this country, the great Robin D.G. Kelley. Dr. Kelley has written the definitive biography of the legendary Thelonious Monk and it is a 600 page masterpiece. Over ten years of exhaustive historical research and writing went into this opus and it was more than worth the wait! So don't hesitate for another second.

Note: I will be doing an extensive review and analysis of Dr. Kelley's new biography on this site as soon as I finish reading the text)


Who Is Thelonious Sphere Monk?

With the arrival Thelonious Sphere Monk, modern music—let alone modern culture—simply hasn’t been the same. Recognized as one of the most inventive pianists of any musical genre, Monk achieved a startlingly original sound that even his most devoted followers have been unable to successfully imitate. His musical vision was both ahead of its time and deeply rooted in tradition, spanning the entire history of the music from the “stride” masters of James P. Johnson and Willie “the Lion” Smith to the tonal freedom and kinetics of the “avant garde.” And he shares with Edward “Duke” Ellington the distinction of being one of the century’s greatest American composers. At the same time, his commitment to originality in all aspects of life—in fashion, in his creative use of language and economy of words, in his biting humor, even in the way he danced away from the piano—has led fans and detractors alike to call him “eccentric,” “mad” or even “taciturn.” Consequently, Monk has become perhaps the most talked about and least understood artist in the history of jazz.

Born on October 10, 1917, in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, Thelonious was only four when his mother Barbara, big sister Marion, and baby brother Thomas, moved to New York City. Unlike other Southern migrants who headed straight to Harlem, the Monks settled on West 63rd Street in the “San Juan Hill” neighborhood of Manhattan, near the Hudson River. His father, Thelonious, Sr., joined the family three years later, but health considerations forced him to return to North Carolina. During his stay, however, he often played the harmonica, “Jew’s harp,” and an old player piano the family acquired soon after he arrived. Thelonious’s mother also played piano, mostly hymns and other sacred music, and she encouraged her children’s musical interests by taking them to hear Franko Goldman’s band perform in nearby Central Park and paying for music lessons. She arranged piano lessons for Marion and hoped Thelonious would take up violin. He chose trumpet instead, and studied the instrument briefly but was challenged by bronchial issues. He was about eleven when Marion’s piano teacher took Thelonious on as a student. By his early teens, he was playing rent parties, sitting in on piano at a local Baptist church, and was reputed to have won several “amateur hour” competitions at the Apollo Theater.

Admitted to Peter Stuyvesant, one of the city’s best high schools, Monk dropped out at the end of his sophomore year to pursue music and during the summer of 1935 took a job as a pianist for a traveling evangelist and faith healer. Returning after two years, he formed his own quartet and played local bars and small clubs until the spring of 1941, when he became the house pianist at Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem.

Minton’s, legend has it, was where the “bebop revolution” began. The after-hours jam sessions at Minton’s, along with similar musical gatherings at Monroe’s Uptown House, Dan Wall’s Chili Shack, among others, attracted a new generation of musicians brimming with fresh ideas about harmony and rhythm—notably Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Mary Lou Williams, Kenny Clarke, Oscar Pettiford, Max Roach, Tadd Dameron, and Monk’s close friend and fellow pianist, Bud Powell. Monk’s harmonic innovations proved fundamental to the development of modern jazz in this period. Anointed by some critics as the “High Priest of Bebop,” several of his compositions (“52nd Street Theme,” “‘Round Midnight,” “Epistrophy,” “I Mean You”) were favorites among his contemporaries.

Yet, as much as Monk helped usher in the bebop revolution, he also charted a new course for modern music few were willing to follow. Whereas most pianists of the bebop era played sparse chords in the left hand and emphasized fast, even eighth and sixteenth notes in the right hand, Monk combined an active right hand with an equally active left hand, fusing stride and angular rhythms that utilized the entire keyboard. And in an era when fast, dense, virtuosic solos were the order of the day, Monk was famous for his use of space and silence. In addition to his unique phrasing and economy of notes, Monk would “lay out” pretty regularly, enabling his sidemen to experiment free of the piano’s fixed pitches. As a composer, Monk was less interested in writing new melodic lines over popular chord progressions than in creating a whole new architecture for his music, one in which harmony and rhythm melded seamlessly with the melody. “Everything I play is different,” Monk once explained, “different melody, different harmony, different structure. Each piece is different from the other. … [W]hen the song tells a story, when it gets a certain sound, then it’s through…completed.”

Despite his contribution to the early development of modern jazz, Monk remained fairly marginal during the 1940s and early 1950s. Besides occasional gigs with bands led by Kenny Clarke, Lucky Millinder, Kermit Scott, and Skippy Williams, in 1944 tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins was the first to hire Monk for a lengthy engagement and the first to record with him. Most critics and many musicians were initially hostile to Monk’s sound. Blue Note, then a small record label, was the first to sign him to a contract. Thus, by the time he went into the studio to lead his first recording session in 1947, he was already thirty years old and a veteran of the jazz scene. Although all of Monk’s Blue Note sides are hailed today as some of his greatest recordings, at the time of their release in the late 1940s and early 1950s, they proved to be a commercial failure.

Harsh, ill-informed criticism limited Monk’s opportunities to work—opportunities he desperately needed especially after his marriage to Nellie Smith in 1948, and the birth of his son, Thelonious, Jr., in December of 1949. Monk found work where he could, but he never compromised his musical vision. His already precarious financial situation took a turn for the worse in August of 1951, when he was falsely arrested for narcotics possession, essentially taking the rap for his friend Bud Powell. It was his second arrest; the first, in 1948, was for possession of marijuana. Deprived of his cabaret card—a police-issued “license” without which jazz musicians could not perform in New York clubs—Monk was denied gigs in his home town for the next six years. Nevertheless, he played neighborhood clubs in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Harlem, sporadic concerts, took out-of-town gigs, composed new music, and made several trio and ensemble records under the Prestige label (1952–1954), which included memorable performances with Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, and Milt Jackson. In the fall of1953, he celebrated the birth of his daughter Barbara, and the following summer he crossed the Atlantic for the first time to play the Paris Jazz Festival. During his stay, he recorded his first solo album for Vogue. These recordings would begin to establish Monk as one of the century’s most imaginative solo pianists.

In 1955, Monk signed with a new label, Riverside, and recorded several outstanding LP’s which garnered critical attention, notably Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington, The Unique Thelonious Monk, Brilliant Corners, Monk’s Music and his second solo album, Thelonious Himself. In 1957, with the help of his friend and sometime patron, the Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, he had finally gotten his cabaret card restored and enjoyed a very long and successful engagement at the Five Spot Café with John Coltrane on tenor saxophone, Wilbur Ware and later Ahmed Abdul-Malik on bass, and Shadow Wilson on drums. From that point on, his career began to soar; his collaborations with Johnny Griffin, Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey, Clark Terry, Gerry Mulligan, and arranger Hall Overton, among others, were lauded by critics and studied by conservatory students. Monk even led a successful big band at Town Hall in 1959. It was as if jazz audiences had finally caught up to Monk’s music.

By 1961, Monk had established a more or less permanent quartet consisting of Charlie Rouse on tenor saxophone, John Ore (later Butch Warren and then Larry Gales) on bass, and Frankie Dunlop (later Ben Riley) on drums. He performed with his own big band at Lincoln Center (1963), and the quartet made a few European and world tours throughout the decade. In 1962, Monk had also signed with the gargantuan Columbia records, and in February of 1964 he became the third jazz musician in history to grace the cover of Time Magazine.

However, with fame came the media’s growing fascination with Monk’s alleged eccentricities. Stories of his behavior on and off the bandstand often overshadowed serious commentary about his music. The media helped invent the mythical Monk—the reclusive, naïve, idiot savant whose musical ideas were supposed to be entirely intuitive rather than the product of intensive study, knowledge and practice. Indeed, his reputation as a recluse (Time called him the “loneliest Monk”) reveals just how much Monk had been misunderstood. As his former sideman, tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin, explained, Monk was somewhat of a homebody: “If Monk isn’t working he isn’t on the scene. Monk stays home. He goes away and rests.” Unlike the popular stereotypes of the jazz musician, Monk was devoted to his family. He appeared at family events, played birthday parties, and wrote playfully complex songs for his children: “Little Rootie Tootie” for his son, “Boo Boo’s Birthday” and “Green Chimneys” for his daughter, and a Christmas song titled “A Merrier Christmas.” The fact is, the Monk family held together despite long stretches without work, severe money shortages, sustained attacks by critics, grueling road trips, bouts with illness, and the loss of close friends.

During the 1960s, Monk scored notable successes with albums such as Criss Cross, Monk’s Dream, It’s Monk Time, Straight No Chaser, and Underground. But as Columbia/CBS records pursued a younger, rock-oriented audience, Monk and other jazz musicians ceased to be a priority for the label. Monk’s final recording with Columbia was a big band session with Oliver Nelson’s Orchestra in November of 1968, which turned out to be both an artistic and commercial failure. Columbia’s disinterest and Monk’s deteriorating health kept the pianist out of the studio. In January of 1970, Charlie Rouse left the band, and two years later Columbia quietly dropped Monk from its roster. For the next few years, Monk accepted fewer engagements and recorded even less. His quartet featured saxophonists Pat Patrick and Paul Jeffrey, and his son Thelonious, Jr., took over on drums in 1971. That same year and again in 1972, Monk toured widely with the “Giants of Jazz,” a kind of bop revival group consisting of Dizzy Gillespie, Kai Winding, Sonny Stitt, Al McKibbon and Art Blakey, and made his final public appearance in July of 1976. Physical illness, fatigue, and perhaps sheer creative exhaustion convinced Monk to give up playing altogether. On February 5, 1982, he suffered a stroke and never regained consciousness; twelve days later, on February 17th, he died.

Today Thelonious Monk is widely accepted as a genuine master of American music. His compositions constitute the core of jazz repertory and are performed by artists from many different genres. He is the subject of award winning documentaries, biographies and scholarly studies, prime time television tributes, and he even has an Institute created in his name. The Thelonious Monk Institute was created to promote jazz education and to train and encourage new generations of musicians. It is a fitting tribute to an artist who was always willing to share his musical knowledge with others but expected originality in return.

Book Events

Monday, October 5, 2009, 7:00 – 9:00 PM
Barnes and Noble
66th and Broadway
New York, NY

Thursday, October 8, 2009, 7:30
Book party, Discussion, and Jam session
The Brecht Forum
451 West Street, New York, NY 10014 (between Bank & Bethune Streets)
Phone: (212) 242-4201 – Email: brechtforum at

Saturday, October 10, 2009, 6:00 – 8:00 PM
Politics and Prose Bookstore and Coffee House
5015 Connecticut Ave., NW
Washington, DC

Tuesday, October 13, 2009, 7:30 PM
Conversation with Robin D. G. Kelley on Thelonious Monk
With Guest, pianist Randy Weston
Center for Jazz Studies, Columbia University
Dwyer Cultural Center, 258 St. Nicholas Ave. and 123rd St.
New York

Thursday, October 15, 2009, 3:00 PM
Reading and book signing, “‘North of the Sunset’: Thelonious Monk’s L.A. Stories”
Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA
Presentation Room
Los Angeles, CA
Free and open to the public

Tuesday, October 20, 2009, 7:00 PM
Book Soup
8818 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90069-2125
(310) 659-3110

October 23, 2009, 7:00 PM
Vroman’s Bookstore
695 E Colorado Blvd
Pasadena, CA 91101
(626) 449-5320

October 27, 1009, 7:00 PM
Eso Won Bookstore
4311 Degnan Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90008
(323) 290-1048

October 29, 2009, 7:00 PM
City Lights Bookstore
261 Columbus Avenue at Broadway (North Beach)
San Francisco, California 94133
Tel (415) 362-8193

Return to Main Menu.

The Book
About The Author
Who Is Thelonious Sphere Monk?
Book Events

The Book

Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original

“The piano ain’t got no wrong notes!” So ranted Thelonious Sphere Monk, who proved his point every time he sat down at the keyboard. His angular melodies and dissonant harmonies shook the jazz world to its foundations, ushering in the birth of “bebop” and establishing Monk as one of America’s greatest composers. Yet throughout much of his life, his musical contribution took a backseat to tales of his reputed behavior. Writers tended to obsess over Monk’s hats or his proclivity to dance on stage. To his fans, he was the ultimate hipster; to his detractors he was temperamental, eccentric, taciturn, or child-like. But, these labels tell us little about the man or his music.

In the first book on Thelonious Monk based on exclusive access to the Monk family papers and private recordings, as well as a decade of prodigious research, prize-winning historian Robin D. G. Kelley brings to light a startlingly different Thelonious Monk–witty, intelligent, generous, family-oriented, politically engaged, brutally honest, and a devoted father and husband. Indeed, Thelonious Monk is essentially a love story. It is a story of familial love, beginning with Monk’s enslaved descendants from whom Thelonious inherited an appreciation for community, freedom, and black traditions of sacred and secular song. It is about a doting mother who scrubbed floors to pay for piano lessons and encouraged her son to follow his dream. It is the story of romance, from Monk’s initial heartbreaks to his life-long commitment to his muse, the extraordinary Nellie Monk. And it is about his unique friendship with the Baroness Nica de Koenigswarter, a scion of the famous Rothschild family whose relationship with Monk and other jazz musicians has long been the subject of speculation and rumor. Nellie, Nica, and various friends and family sustained Monk during the long periods of joblessness, bipolar episodes, incarceration, health crises, and other tragic and difficult moments.

Above all, Thelonious Monk is the gripping saga of an artist’s struggle to “make it” without compromising his musical vision. It is a story that, like its subject, reflects the tidal ebbs and flows of American history in the twentieth century. Elegantly written and rich with humor and pathos, Thelonious Monk is the definitive work on modern jazz’s most original composer.

Advance Praise for Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original

“Robin Kelley’s new biography Thelonious Monk: The Life And Times of an American Original is a breath of fresh air amongst the biographies of our legendary jazz musicians. This book is thorough, detailed and written with a true affinity for Monk’s humaneness and creative musical output. It fills in the missing pieces about the growth of the jazz scene in New York through the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, detailing each step of TSM’s development – who passed through his bands, what gigs he played and what happened on those scenes. It’s an invaluable and close look at the center of the world’s most important creative musical developments in these decades: New York City.”

Chick Corea

“Thelonious Monk: The Life And Times of an American Original is one of the most anticipated books in jazz scholarship, and well worth the wait. Robin D. G. Kelley represents one of this generation’s most important voices equipped with the knowledge, passion and respect for both jazz and jazz musicians required to interpret the many details and nuances of Thelonious Monk’s life. This compelling book will both challenge old assumptions and inspire new assessments of the life and legacy one of the world’s greatest musicians.”

Geri Allen, pianist/composer, Associate Professor of Jazz & Contemporary Improvisation, University Of Michigan

“Powerful, enraging and enduring. . . . In Robin Kelley’s finely grained and surely definitive life-and-times study, Thelonious Monk: The Life And Times of an American Original, has found an original biographer.”

David Levering Lewis, biographer of W.E.B. Du Bois and Pulitzer Prize winner

“An honest and eloquent treatment of one of our most important artists, Thelonious Monk: The Life And Times of an American Original is a stunning tour de force! It is the most comprehensive treatment of Monk’s life to date. Furthermore, in Monk’s story, Kelley has found the perfect medium to shed light on a nation’s, and a people’s, history and persistent quest for freedom. In so doing he has given us a book that is as bold, brilliant and beautiful as Monk and his music.”

Farah Jasmine Griffin, author of If You Can’t Be Free, Be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday

About The Author

Robin D. G. Kelley never met Thelonious Monk, but he grew up with his music. Born in 1962, he spent his formative years in Harlem in a household and a city saturated with modern jazz. As a child he took a few trumpet lessons with the legendary Jimmy Owens, played French horn in junior high school, and picked up piano during his teen years in California. In 1987, Kelley earned his PhD in History from UCLA and focused his work on social movements, politics and culture—although music remained his passion.

During his tenure on the faculties of Emory University, the University of Michigan, New York University, and Columbia University, Kelley’s scholarly interests shifted increasingly toward music. He has written widely on jazz, hip hop, electronic music, musicians’ unions and technological displacement, and social and political movements more broadly.

Before becoming Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, Robin D. G. Kelley served on the faculty at Columbia University’s Center for Jazz Studies, where he held the first Louis Armstrong Chair in Jazz Studies. Besides Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original, Kelley has authored several prize-winning books, including Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression (University of North Carolina Press, 1990); Race Rebels: Culture Politics and the Black Working Class (The Free Press, 1994); Yo’ Mama’s DisFunktional!: Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America (Beacon Press, 1997), which was selected one of the top ten books of 1998 by the Village Voice; Three Strikes: Miners, Musicians, Salesgirls, and the Fighting Spirit of Labor’s Last Century, written collaboratively with Dana Frank and Howard Zinn (Beacon 2001); and Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination (Beacon Press, 2002). He also edited (with Earl Lewis), To Make Our World Anew: A History of African Americans (Oxford University Press, 2000), a Choice Outstanding Academic Title and a History Book Club Selection. Kelley also co-edited (with Sidney J. Lemelle) Imagining Home: Class, Culture, and Nationalism in the African Diaspora (Verso, 1994). He is currently completing Speaking in Tongues: Jazz and Modern Africa (Harvard University Press, forthcoming), and a general survey of African American history co-authored with Tera Hunter and Earl Lewis to be published by Norton.

Kelley’s essays have appeared in several anthologies and journals, including The Nation, Monthly Review, The Voice Literary Supplement, New York Times (Arts and Leisure), New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, Color Lines, Code Magazine, Utne Reader, Lenox Avenue, African Studies Review, Black Music Research Journal, Callaloo, New Politics, Black Renaissance/Renaissance Noir, One World, Social Text, Metropolis, American Visions, Boston Review, Fashion Theory, American Historical Review, Journal of American History, New Labor Forum, Souls, Metropolis, and frieze: contemporary art and culture, to name a few.

Video of Robin Kelley author of new biography Thelonious Monk: The Life & Times of An American Original talking about Monk and his book:

The Banks and Corporations Vs. The Rest of Us


While this band-aid measure by the government will in itself do very little to address the far bigger problem of seriously regulating and controlling the financial sector it is a small step in the right direction. However, for this directive to have any real impact in establishing genuine public control of the banking industry and Wall Street it must be followed up by new strong regulatory laws imposed by the federal government and broad social democratic demands by American citizens that insist on telling the robber baron financial sector of the U.S. economy what to do and how to do it for a change as opposed to the other way around...So both we and the Obama administration still have a very long way to go to establish true justice and democracy in the economy...


October 22, 2009

U.S. to Order Steep Pay Cuts at Firms That Got Most Aid
New York Times

WASHINGTON — Responding to the growing furor over the paychecks of executives at companies that received billions of dollars in federal bailouts, the Obama administration will order the companies that received the most aid to deeply slash the compensation to their highest paid executives, an official involved in the decision said on Wednesday.

Under the plan, which will be announced in the next few days by the Treasury Department, the seven companies that received the most assistance will have to cut the cash payouts to their 25 best-paid executives by an average of about 90 percent from last year. For many of the executives, the cash they would have received will be replaced by stock that they will be restricted from selling immediately.

And for the 25 best-paid executives, the total compensation, which includes bonuses, will drop, on average, by about 50 percent.

The companies are Citigroup, Bank of America, the American International Group, General Motors, Chrysler and the financing arms of the two automakers.

At the financial products division of A.I.G., the locus of problems that plagued the large insurer and forced its rescue with more than $180 billion in taxpayer assistance, no top executive will receive more than $200,000 in total compensation, a stunning decline from previous years in which the unit produced many wealthy executives and traders.

In contrast to previous years, an official said, executives in the financial products division will receive no other compensation, like stocks or stock options.

And at all of the companies, any executive seeking more than $25,000 in special perks — like country club memberships, private planes, limousines or company issued cars — will have to apply to the government for permission. The administration will also warn A.I.G. that it must fulfill a commitment it made to significantly reduce the $198 million in bonuses promised to employees in the financial products division.

The pay restrictions illustrate the humbling downfall of the once-proud giants, now wards of the state whose leaders’ compensation is being set by a Washington paymaster. They also show how Washington in the last year has become increasingly powerful in setting corporate policies as more companies turned to the government for money to survive.

The compensation schedules set by Kenneth R. Feinberg, the special master at Treasury handling compensation issues, comes as many other banks that received smaller but significant taxpayer assistance in the last year have been reporting huge year-end bonuses, setting off a new round of recrimination in Washington about the bailout of Wall Street.

Since his appointment last June by Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, Mr. Feinberg has spent months in negotiations with the companies as he seeks to balance compensation concerns against fears at the companies that any huge restrictions in pay could prompt an exodus of executives. Under a law adopted earlier this year, the Treasury Department was instructed to examine the salaries and bonuses for the five most-senior executives and their 20 most highly paid employees at companies that have received extraordinary assistance.

Mr. Feinberg has already achieved significant results at several companies. As a result of his discussions, Kenneth D. Lewis, the head of Bank of America who recently resigned, agreed to forgo his salary and bonus for 2009. (He will still receive a pension of $53.2 million, although Mr. Feinberg can issue an advisory opinion challenging it that would carry political weight.) And fearful of a political backlash over the pay of Andrew J. Hall, a successful energy trader who received nearly $100 million last year, Citigroup agreed two weeks ago to sell its Phibro unit that Mr. Hall heads to Occidental Petroleum.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

Corporate Capitalism, The Banking Industry, and Economic Collapse: What Is To Be Done?--Part II

October 20, 2009


Safety Nets for the Rich

By Bob Herbert
New York Times

The headlines that ran side by side on the front page of Saturday’s New York Times summed up, inadvertently, the terrible fix that we’ve allowed our country to fall into.

The lead headline, in the upper right-hand corner, said: “U.S. Deficit Rises to $1.4 Trillion; Biggest Since ’45.”

The headline next to it said: “Bailout Helps Revive Banks, And Bonuses.”

We’ve spent the last few decades shoveling money at the rich like there was no tomorrow. We abandoned the poor, put an economic stranglehold on the middle class and all but bankrupted the federal government — while giving the banks and megacorporations and the rest of the swells at the top of the economic pyramid just about everything they’ve wanted.

And we still don’t seem to have learned the proper lessons. We’ve allowed so many people to fall into the terrible abyss of unemployment that no one — not the Obama administration, not the labor unions and most certainly no one in the Republican Party — has a clue about how to put them back to work.

Meanwhile, Wall Street is living it up. I’m amazed at how passive the population has remained in the face of this sustained outrage.

Even as tens of millions of working Americans are struggling to hang onto their jobs and keep a roof over their families’ heads, the wise guys of Wall Street are licking their fat-cat chops over yet another round of obscene multibillion-dollar bonuses — this time thanks to the bailout billions that were sent their way by Uncle Sam, with very little in the way of strings attached.

Nevermind that the economy remains deeply troubled. As The Times pointed out on Saturday, much of Wall Street “is minting money.”

Call it déjà voodoo. I wrote a column that ran three days before Christmas in 2007 that focused on the deeply disturbing disconnect between Wall Streeters harvesting a record crop of bonuses — billions on top of billions — while working families were having a very hard time making ends meet.

We would later learn that December 2007 was the very month that the Great Recession began. I wrote in that column: “Even as the Wall Streeters are high-fiving and ordering up record shipments of Champagne and caviar, the American dream is on life support.”

So we had an orgy of bonuses just as the recession was taking hold and now another orgy (with taxpayers as the enablers) that is nothing short of an arrogantly pointed finger in the eye of everyone who suffered, and continues to suffer, in this downturn.

Whether P.T. Barnum actually said it or not, there is a sucker born every minute. American taxpayers might want to take a look in the mirror. If the epithet fits...

We need to make some fundamental changes in the way we do things in this country. The gamblers and con artists of the financial sector, the very same clowns who did so much to bring the economy down in the first place, are howling self-righteously over the prospect of regulations aimed at curbing the worst aspects of their excessively risky behavior and preventing them from causing yet another economic meltdown.

We should be going even further. We’ve institutionalized the idea that there are firms that are too big to fail and, therefore, “we, the people” are obliged to see that they don’t — even if that means bankrupting the national treasury and undermining the living standards of ordinary people. What sense does that make?

If some company is too big to fail, then it’s too big to exist. Break it up.

Why should the general public have to constantly worry that a misstep by the high-wire artists at Goldman Sachs (to take the most obvious example) would put the entire economy in peril? These financial acrobats get the extraordinary benefits of their outlandish risk-taking — multimillion-dollar paychecks, homes the size of castles — but the public has to be there to absorb the worst of the pain when they take a terrible fall.

Enough! Goldman Sachs is thriving while the combined rates of unemployment and underemployment are creeping toward a mind-boggling 20 percent. Two-thirds of all the income gains from the years 2002 to 2007 — two-thirds! — went to the top 1 percent of Americans.

We cannot continue transferring the nation’s wealth to those at the apex of the economic pyramid — which is what we have been doing for the past three decades or so — while hoping that someday, maybe, the benefits of that transfer will trickle down in the form of steady employment and improved living standards for the many millions of families struggling to make it from day to day.

That money is never going to trickle down. It’s a fairy tale. We’re crazy to continue believing it.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

"April 3, 1968" - Martin Luther King's Prophetic Last speech


This speech was given in Memphis, Tennessee on April 3, 1968--the day before Dr. King was assassinated. He was only 39 years old at the time of his death (as was Malcolm X when he was murdered on February 21, 1965). This is one of the finest speeches that Dr. King ever gave in an extraordinary life and career that made him one of the greatest and most important public figures of the 20th century...


Martin Luther King Jr.'s Children Resolve Bitter Dispute Over Estate




An out-of-court settlement has finally resolved a long-standing dispute among Dr. Martin Luther King's children over his multimillion-dollar estate.

Although Dr. King died in 1968, his estate continues to produce substantial income. Among other things, the estate includes the broadcast rights to Dr. King's “I have a dream” speech.
In 1999, the 11th Circuit ruled in Estate of Martin Luther King, Jr., Inc. v. CBS, Inc.that the public performance of his speech did not constitute "general publication," and that by giving the speech in public he did not forfeit his copyright. As a result, re-broadcast of the speech has remained a major income generator for the estate.

In addition, the estate made $32 million from the sale of Dr. King's papers to the City of Atlanta in 2006. The sale was reportedly necessary "to protect the papers for future generations because of crumbling infrastructure and mounting debt at the King Center in Atlanta," the Times Online reports.

The dispute between Dr. King's children culminated in a lawsuit filed by two of his children, Bernice and Martin Luther King III, against their brother, Dexter. The lawsuit alleged that Dexter converted “substantial funds" from the estate for his personal use. Dexter King then countersued his brother and sister, demanding control of certain love letters between Dr. King and Coretta Scott King. The recent settlement of the lawsuit resolved the various claims, and the siblings have stated that they hope to now move forward and preserve the legacy of their parents.

Posted by Bruce Carton on October 20, 2009

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Corporate Capitalism, The Banking Industry, and the Current Economic Collapse: What Is To Be Done?


On September 13, 2009 the Brooklyn Book Festival in New York sponsored a symposium entitled "The Great Recession" featuring the authors, activists, and political journalists Naomi Klein, Justin Fox, and Kai Wright. This very informative and wide ranging discussion encompassed a broad critical examination of the present crisis in the banking industry and its political and ideological ramifications for the millions of people who have been and continue to be utterly devastated by the massive foreclosure of their homes and the spiraling unemployment rate that is now in double figures throughout the country. Moderated by New York Daily News columnist and radio host Errol Louis this panel was originally televised on C-SPAN2 in their BookTV series.

About the Program

From the 2009 Brooklyn Book Festival, a panel discussion on the current economic recession. The panelists are: Justin Fox ("The Myth of the Rational Market"), Naomi Klein ("The Shock Doctrine") and Kai Wright ("Drifting Toward Love"). The discussion is moderated by New York Daily News columnist Errol Louis.

About the Panelists:

Justin Fox is the business and economics columnist for Time magazine where he writes the blog The Curious Capitalist for Mr. Fox was formerly a writer and editor at Fortune magazine. He is the author of "The Myth of the Rational Market."

Naomi Klein writes a weekly column for The Nation and The Guardian She is the author of "No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies" and "Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate" and the critically acclaimed bestseller "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism" which has been translated into 27 languages worldwide. Ms. Klein was formerly a fellow at the London School of Economics.

Kai Wright is a Brooklyn based writer and editor. His work has appeared in The Progressive, Mother Jones, The Village Voice, and other media outlets. He is the author of "Soldiers of Freedom: An Illustrated History of African Americans in the Armed Forces" and "Drifting Toward Love: Black, Brown, Gay, and Coming of Age on the Streets of New York"

The U.S. Political Economy, Wall Street, and the Ongoing Banking Crisis


Paul Krugman remains one of the very few major economists and political journalists in this country who is consistently telling us the WHOLE TRUTH AND NOTHING BUT with regard to the banks, Wall Street, corporate domination and the pathetically weak and accomodating policies of the Obama administration in addressing this ongoing major crisis...


October 19, 2009


The Banks Are Not All Right
By Paul Krugman
New York Times

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. O.K., maybe not literally the worst, but definitely bad. And the contrast between the immense good fortune of a few and the continuing suffering of all too many boded ill for the future.

I’m talking, of course, about the state of the banks.

The lucky few garnered most of the headlines, as many reacted with fury to the spectacle of Goldman Sachs making record profits and paying huge bonuses even as the rest of America, the victim of a slump made on Wall Street, continues to bleed jobs.

But it’s not a simple case of flourishing banks versus ailing workers: banks that are actually in the business of lending, as opposed to trading, are still in trouble. Most notably, Citigroup and Bank of America, which silenced talk of nationalization earlier this year by claiming that they had returned to profitability, are now — you guessed it — back to reporting losses.

Ask the people at Goldman, and they’ll tell you that it’s nobody’s business but their own how much they earn. But as one critic recently put it: “There is no financial institution that exists today that is not the direct or indirect beneficiary of trillions of dollars of taxpayer support for the financial system.” Indeed: Goldman has made a lot of money in its trading operations, but it was only able to stay in that game thanks to policies that put vast amounts of public money at risk, from the bailout of A.I.G. to the guarantees extended to many of Goldman’s bonds.

So who was this thundering bank critic? None other than Lawrence Summers, the Obama administration’s chief economist — and one of the architects of the administration’s bank policy, which up until now has been to go easy on financial institutions and hope that they mend themselves.

Why the change in tone? Administration officials are furious at the way the financial industry, just months after receiving a gigantic taxpayer bailout, is lobbying fiercely against serious reform. But you have to wonder what they expected to happen. They followed a softly, softly policy, providing aid with few strings, back when all of Wall Street was on the ropes; this left them with very little leverage over firms like Goldman that are now, once again, making a lot of money.

But there’s an even bigger problem: while the wheeler-dealer side of the financial industry, a k a trading operations, is highly profitable again, the part of banking that really matters — lending, which fuels investment and job creation — is not. Key banks remain financially weak, and their weakness is hurting the economy as a whole.

You may recall that earlier this year there was a big debate about how to get the banks lending again. Some analysts, myself included, argued that at least some major banks needed a large injection of capital from taxpayers, and that the only way to do this was to temporarily nationalize the most troubled banks. The debate faded out, however, after Citigroup and Bank of America, the banking system’s weakest links, announced surprise profits. All was well, we were told, now that the banks were profitable again.

But a funny thing happened on the way back to a sound banking system: last week both Citi and BofA announced losses in the third quarter. What happened?

Part of the answer is that those earlier profits were in part a figment of the accountants’ imaginations. More broadly, however, we’re looking at payback from the real economy. In the first phase of the crisis, Main Street was punished for Wall Street’s misdeeds; now broad economic distress, especially persistent high unemployment, is leading to big losses on mortgage loans and credit cards.

And here’s the thing: The continuing weakness of many banks is helping to perpetuate that economic distress. Banks remain reluctant to lend, and tight credit, especially for small businesses, stands in the way of the strong recovery we need.

So now what? Mr. Summers still insists that the administration did the right thing: more government provision of capital, he says, would not “have been an availing strategy for solving problems.” Whatever. In any case, as a political matter the moment for radical action on banks has clearly passed.

The main thing for the time being is probably to do as much as possible to support job growth. With luck, this will produce a virtuous circle in which an improving economy strengthens the banks, which then become more willing to lend.

Beyond that, we desperately need to pass effective financial reform. For if we don’t, bankers will soon be taking even bigger risks than they did in the run-up to this crisis. After all, the lesson from the last few months has been very clear: When bankers gamble with other people’s money, it’s heads they win, tails the rest of us lose.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

Citizen Activism, the fight for a 'Public Option', and the Movement for National Healthcare Reform


The Feinstein 1200 Newsletter is a publication that was put together by an engaged citizen from the San Francisco Bay Area who is trying to organize public opinion in support of a public option for healthcare reform. When Chuleenan attended an August session at Senator Diane Feinstein's San Francisco office to push her to support a public option, she met a woman who was very interested in citizen action on healthcare. That woman collected people's emails and began sending messages to folks interested in staying informed about healthcare. She eventually established a restricted Google group, The Feinstein 1200, which aims to link this community, and to provide a sounding board to exchange ideas and news on the issue of health care reform throughout the August recess.

The following excerpts from the Newsletter raise some very important facts about the current national fight for real healthcare reform. Check it out,,,


The Feinstein 1200 Newsletter: October 19, 2009

This Feinstein 1200 Newsletter is devoted entirely to today’s appearance by former U.S. Labor Secretary, Berkeley professor, and tireless public option supporter Robert Reich on WNYC, which you can hear through the blogspot.

I've excerpted three quotes, for those who don't have 15 minutes for the entire program.

1) Reich’s “bombshell” on the agreement between the White House and health insurers,

2) A quick quote from Reich on insurance anti-trust exemptions, and

3) Most importantly, Reich's clarification of what is now possible through the Senate.

1. Reich’s bombshell: On today's WNYC interview, Reich stated: “Originally there was a kind of agreement between the insurance companies and the White House, started last January, and that agreement was the WH saying to the insurance companies:

‘Look, we can get you 30-35 million more customers, but you have to agree to just, uh, to be quiet. Don’t do what you did during Bill Clinton’s health care fight. Don’t run ads against us, don’t be an obstreperous, negative lobbying force. At the very least be quiet, you’ll make much more money if we can get this thing through. And when it comes to a public option, we, that is the White House, we will not push it. If it gets enacted, that’s okay, but we’re not going to push it, that’s up to Congress.’

“Now that deal began to unravel probably about 3 or 4 weeks ago, and certainly the last piece of that unraveling was a major study produced by the insurance lobby in Washington saying that the health care reforms emerging from the Hill were going to cost consumers much more than the White House or the Congressional Budget Office had let on. Why did the insurance company do an about-face? I think because instead of getting the 25-35 million new customers that they were promised by the White House, it looked as if they were only going to get 20 million new customers. And the Senate Finance Committee and other committees were even toying with the idea of reducing the penalties on people who would not necessarily sign up, which means there could be even fewer benefits for them.”

2. In response to the question of whether there is an anti-trust exemption for insurance companies: “They do have an anti-trust exemption, and that means that there is really not very much that the government - unless that exemption is taken away - can do about insurance companies getting together and monopolizing a local market or a national market. Which is exactly why I and so many others have been calling for a public insurance option, something that would give the insurance companies some real competition. And (in Saturday’s media address) the President did come down rhetorically on the insurance companies, but I did not hear anything about him going to demand a public option.”

(Editor’s note: this mirrors President Obama’s omission of any statement about a public insurance option, or “public option”, during his fundraising appearance in San Francisco on Thursday evening. So is he still trying to “play nice” with an insurance lobby that is trying to destroy his health care reform package? Mr. President, the insurance lobby is not your real friend. Those of us holding you to your promises are, believe it or not, your real friends - we want, and need, for you to have a genuine legacy, and we believe that's possible if you don't continue to bend to corporate interests.)

3. Most importantly, Reich clarified: “Most people don’t understand but it’s critically important in terms of understanding the process of the Senate: All Harry Reid has to get is 60 senators (and there are 60 democrats) to vote for a procedural motion to get the health care bill to the Senate floor. They don’t have to vote in favor of the health care bill. If they don’t like the health care bill, if they’re Mary Landrieu from Louisiana who’s in serious trouble because her state is so conservative, they can say to constituents: ‘I’m just voting for procedural motion because I think it’s fair to get the bill voted on.’ Now once Harry Reid gets those 60 votes for procedural motion to overcome a filibuster and gets the vote to the floor, then all he needs is 51 votes, and by many peoples’ head counts, he does have 51 votes, including a good chance of 51 votes for a public insurance option. And again that option is critically important because if we don’t have it, we won’t be able to afford health care in years ahead because there won’t be competition for the private insurance companies.”

Please contact me with any questions or comments. You might also want to check out Reich's blog.

Many thanks,

Eva Chrysanthe

The Feinstein 1200

Serena Williams: A Champion on the Tennis Court AND the Racetrack