Why Is New York City Planning to Sell and Shrink Its Libraries?

Defend our libraries, don't defund them. . . . . fund 'em, don't plunder 'em

Mayor Bloomberg defunded New York libraries at a time of increasing public use, population growth and increased city wealth, shrinking our library system to create real estate deals for wealthy real estate developers at a time of cutbacks in education and escalating disparities in opportunity. It’s an unjust and shortsighted plan that will ultimately hurt New York City’s economy and competitiveness.

It should NOT be adopted by those we have now elected to pursue better policies.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Citizens Defending Libraries Main Page

Defend our libraries, don't defund them. . . . .  fund 'em, don't plunder 'em 

SIGN OUR PETITION TO SUPPORT LIBRARIES:  Sign our new updated petition here:
Mayor de Blasio: Rescue Our Libraries from Developer Destruction
You can also stay informed by following us on Twitter (@DefendLibraries) and by liking our Citizens Defending Libraries Facebook page. And we post videos on our Citizens Defending Libraries YouTube Channel.
When We Started and Why

Citizens Defending Libraries was founded in February of 2013 in response to then breaking headlines about how, across the city, our public libraries were proposed to be sold and shrunk at great public loss, with libraries being intentionally underfunded, their books and librarians eliminated.  Citizens Defending Libraries was first to point out how the the real estate industry's interest in turning libraries into real estate deals was driving such sales and the reduction of funding and library resources.

Achievements

Citizens Defending Libraries has had a number of significant successes fending off and preventing library sale and shrinkages and there has been some progress towards restoration of the funding of libraries to a proper pre-library-sales plan level of proper funding.  These successes include: 
    •    The sale of Mid-Manhattan, the most used circulating library in Manhattan, was prevented with the help of two lawsuits in which Citizens Defending Libraries was first in the list of named plaintiffs.  That sale was prevented as Citizens Defending Libraries joined with others to successfully derail the New York Public Library’s ill-conceived consolidating shrinkage of major Manhattan libraries known as the Central Library Plan.  Citizens Defending Libraries accurately predicted this sell-off and shrinkage of libraries was likely to cost over $500 million, far more than the $300 advertised by the NYPL as it promoted its real estate deals.  Unfortunately, work remains to be done as aspects of the Central Library Plan still ominously survive:
    •        The NYPL still plans to sell and close the largest science library in New York City, SIBL, the Science Industry and Business Library, eliminating its collection of science books just when they are needed most,
    •        Millions of additional books are still missing from and need to be brought back to the 42nd Street Central Reference Library at Fifth Avenue (yes that's the building with the lions, Patience and Fortitude).
    •        The NYPL still plans to subject the Mid-Manhattan Library to a consolidating shrinkage with a concomitantly vast reduction in available books.
    •    The sale and closing of another beloved central destination in Manhattan, the 5-story Donnell Library is now widely understood to have been a mistake. Library administration officials now apologize acknowledging it was a significant mistake, but that is only so long as we keep reminding the public what was lost and how the library was sold for a pittance, while real estate industry insiders like Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner benefitted from this first “shrink-and-sink” deal by replacing it with luxury tower, a tiny underground and largely bookless library in its base.
    •    Working with others in the community, we have so far prevented the sale the Pacific Branch Library, the first Carnegie in Brooklyn, next to Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards megadevelopment (now aka “Pacific Park”), which in 2013 the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) announced was one of its two highest priorities to sell as it launched a program of real estate deal sell-offs.
    •    For almost four years, from 2013 to 2017, we delayed and fended off the sale and destruction of Brooklyn’s second biggest library, the central destination Brooklyn Heights Library, which included the central Business Career and Education Library and a now shuttered Federal Depository Library making federal documents, records, and history available to the public.  This was another “shrink-and-sink” sale of property, also next to (and involving) Forest City Ratner property was the BPL’s other first announced highest priority.  Again, a luxury tower will stand where an important central destination library once stood.  Garnering over 2,000 testimonies from the community we surprised everybody by causing Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams to come out against the project after it was launched.  It was also reportedly the subject of a “play-to-play” investigation with respect to the development team that was an inferior bidder channeling funds to Mayor de Blasio.  That investigation appears to have been dropped immediately after Donald Trump stunned the public by firing U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
    •    We alerted the public and Red Hook community about “Spaceworks,” a real estate company formed Mayor Bloomberg’s administration to shrink libraries viewing library space as being under utilized we helped to prevent the already woefully small 7,500 square foot Red Hook library from being shrunk down to just 5,500 square feet.  Brooklyn Community Board 6 helped kill the shrinkage.  (While we also worked to get the word out to the Williamsburg community about a proposed shrinkage there with Spaceworks being handed the second floor of the Williamsburg Library, we were not able to act fast enough and Councilman Steve Levin and Brooklyn Community Board 1 were supporting the scheme.)
     •    We alerted the Sunset Park community about long-secret plans to sell the Sunset Park Library and redevelop it into a mixed used project.  We believe that because we were on the scene to shine this spotlight, and also because the BPL wanted to overcome our opposition to the Brooklyn Heights Library sale, Sunset park is the first time the BPL actually proposed to enlarge one of the the libraries it was targeting for sale.  That will be a sort of victory if there is no subsequent bait-and-switch.  Unfortunately, it is not a perfect victory.  Our sense is that for good and valid reasons the informed Sunset Park community was still largely, perhaps 90%, opposed to the library replacement plan they were not involved in developing and from which they will suffer while the library is closed for many years before it is replaced.  Unfortunately, those who were in place to fight for the Sunset Park community’s interests did not ultimately defend them.  That includes Brooklyn Community Board 7 and City Councilman Carlos Menchaca.
     •    Citizens Defending Libraries was also on the scene to shine a spotlight and help put things quickly in perspective for the Inwood Community when the NYPL announced it wanted to turn the Inwood Library into a real estate deal, likely also as a part of an effort to help push through a upzoning of the area.
     •    Citizens Defending Libraries similarly sounded the alarm before word was out publicly about a proposal for a consolidating shrinkage of the Brower Park Library with the Prospect Heights Children’s Museum (reversing a previous expansion).
     •    Citizens Defending Libraries has been engaged in an education and publicity campaign.  It included:
     •        Forums, including a mayor forum during the 2013 election with most of the candidates endorsing our proposals that libraries be properly funded, not sold and shrunk.  Mayor de Blasio, whose position we changed during the campaign, joined with us in July to proclaim that our libraries should not be sold saying: “It's public land and public facilities and public value under threat. . . and once again we see, lurking right behind the curtain, real estate developers who are very anxious to get their hands on these valuable properties.”  Unfortunately, by October he was taking money from developers behind the curtain.
        •    As a result of our activism there have been hearings about the sale and shrinkage of libraries starting with a very important June 27, 2013 New York State Assembly hearing that embarrassed city library administration officials. 
       •    A letter of support signed by multiple community organizations, electeds and candidates running for office.
        •   In May of 2016 Citizens Dfending Libraries was honored to be a recipient of the Historic Districts Council's Grassroots Preservation Award.
Despite our battles won, our NYC libraries are still besieged by a major war and the threat of such plans.

What libraries are affected?
Library officials said early on that they wanted to sell the most valuable NYC libraries first.  And indeed, that is exactly what the NYPL did when its first move was to sell the central destination Donnell Library, a library that was documented to be on most valuable block in Manhattan at the time.  Similarly, the concurrently launched Central Library Plan with its proposed sale of the Mid-Manhattan Library focused on the choicest real estate.  The BPL did the same thing prioritizing two prime site libraries adjacent to Forest City Ratner property for probable luxury towers, the Brooklyn Heights Library and the Pacific Branch library.  Unfortunately, the libraries that are most valuable to real estate developers are also the most valuable to the public for very similar reasons, including central accessible locations.

The most valuable libraries may be at the top of this list, but all libraries in the New York City system are currently under siege.  All libraries are under siege because of the deliberate, unprecedented and absolutely unnecessary underfunding of NYC libraries that is being presented as an excuse to sell libraries affects all libraries in all our city's boroughs.

All libraries in the New York City system should also be considered currently under siege because each and every library sale becomes precedent and a model for the next.  The shrink-and-sink sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library replicates the shrink-and-sink Donnell Library (in fact it was conceived at the same time with the same people in the background).  Moreover, BPL president Linda Johnson told the City Council when it was approving the shrink-and-sink Brooklyn Heights Library sale that it would be a model for future library deals by all three city library systems, the BPL, which she heads, the NYPL and the Queens Library.  Johnson has referred to herself as head of the Brooklyn Library system as having "over 1,000,000 square feet of real estate" at her disposal.

While Library officials are attracted to seizing for conversion the most valuable libraries first, they are also usually tactically coy about their plans. At this point they openly acknowledge going after only a few libraries at a time.  They go after the very valuable ones they want and they also go after the libraries where they believe they have ascertained that they can overcome community opposition and expect that they can, at the same time, perhaps achieve another objective that attracts them, like laying the groundwork for an upzoning in Inwood or establish and entrench a principle of reduction as with Spaceworks in Red Hook and Williamsburg.

For more details about affected libraries click here:  What Libraries Are Affected By City Strategy Of Defunding, Shrinking, Selling Off Libraries?

Are The Libraries Being Shrunk, Pushed Underground, Books and Librarians Eliminated Because the World Is "Going Digital"?

Although the people promoting library sales and elimination of books would like to use as an excuse that the world is going digital, that is not the case.  New York City libraries are more used than ever.  Although use was up 40% programmatically, most of the recent increased use is in terms of circulation, 59%, and almost all of that circulation is physical books.  That is despite an effort by NYC library administration officials to steer people into the use of digital books (which, maybe surprisingly, are actually more expensive for the libraries) and away from what they derisively refer to as "old-fashioned analogue books."

While digital books sometimes have some advantages the general population tends to prefer physical books.  Further, there are advantages with physical books related to the way people learn and think and there are problems and concerns about digital books that need to be considered.  See:  Physical Books vs. Digital Books.

At the same time, libraries do need to address digital needs and provide access to the internet; they need to help bridge the so-called "digital divide" between those who have ready access to computers and the internet and those who don't.  For that reason libraries should actually be growing to address these expanded needs rather than shrinking.  In this regard it is, indefensible and inexplicable that two top-notch libraries with some of the most advanced and robust support of computer and internet libraries, SIBL the 34th Street Science, Industry and Business Library and the downtown Brooklyn Heights Library with its Business, Career and Education Library, were both targeted for simultaneous elimination.

Are Libraries Just Too Expensive a Luxury to Pay For?

In the overall scheme of things, New York City libraries cost virtually nothing.  When it comes to libraries, no matter how you slice and dice it, we are dealing with total funding figures that come to fractions of a percentage point, this despite the fact that, economically, libraries more than pay for themselves, and: “More people visited public libraries in New York than every major sports team and every major cultural institution combined.”

Notwithstanding, subsidies to sports venues like the Ratner/Prokhorov “Barclays” arena dwarf what we spend on libraries. In 8 years when we spent at least $620 million on just three sports arenas, (the Ratner/Prokhorov "Barclays" included) that amount was 1.37 times the amount spent on libraries serving seven times as many users.

The underfunding of libraries is notwithstanding that libraries are one of the public's top priorities. The city’s 59 community boards ranked library services as their“third highest budget concern” and“Brooklyn’s community boards ranked libraries their top priority.”  In 2013 when the NYC Comptroller polled the public about its priorities for "The People's Budget" libraries were again one of the very top priorities.

Valuable in so many ways in their own right, libraries must also be considered an essential adjunct to schools and ensuring proper education and literacy of the population.  One thing that a recurring trope in science fiction scripts gets right is that there is a high correspondence, if not quite one-to-one correlation, between the demise of great libraries and the collapse of once great civilizations.

NYC Libraries Are Being Sold For Huge Losses And For Minuscule Fractions of Their Value

People ask whether the public is at least getting good deals or "value" when we sell our libraries.  We absolutely are not.  We are selling our libraries for far less than their worth and far less than we have invested in them.  The losses are actually profoundly embarrassing notwithstanding the proclivity of library officials to deceptively characterize proceeds from sales as "profits," and as "hefty" rather than "paltry."  That's been true since the beginning. . .

. . .  The first library sold, the Donnell Library, the central destination, 97,000-square foot, five-story central destination library on what was documented to be the most valuable block in Manhattan at the time, was sold to net the NYPL less than $25,000 million.  The penthouse in the luxury tower that replaced it in the 50-story luxury tower replacing Donnell went on the market for $60 million.  Another single lower-level condo unit in the luxury building, 43A, sold for $20,110,437.50.  There is also a 114 guest room luxury hotel in the tower.  according to the Wall Street Journal, Chinese investors made that hotel,“the most highly valued hotel in the U.S.” after agreeing to buy it for “more than $230 million. . .  .more than $2 million a room.”

. . . The central destination Brooklyn Heights Library in Downtown Brooklyn, expanded and fully upgraded in 1993, one of the most modern and up-to-date libraries in the system would cost more than $120 million to replace.  The city sold it for less than its tear-down value, for less than its value as a vacant lot, and because it was sold to a developer who's inferior bid was not the highest bid, it's sale became the subject of one of the pay-to-play investigations of the de Blasio administration.  When costs are finally calculated it is likely the city and library administration officials will have netted less than $25 million from this library's ruination.

. . . In two suspicious real estate deals the NYPL has sold the 34th Street SIBL library, the city's biggest science library . . . . .

TO READ MORE- Click:  TO READ MORE- Click: Libraries Being Sold For Huge Losses And Minuscule Fractions of Their Value

Who Is Selling Our Libraries?

The plans to sell our libraries were announced under the Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration and it appears that they go back to at least 2005 and probably at least 2004.  Prior to the Bloomberg administration, NYC libraries were being expanded significantly under the Giuliani administration.  During the 2013 mayoral race, candidate Bill de Blasio said that the library sales should be halted, but in short order Mr. de Blasio was taking money from real estate developers "behind the curtain  . .very anxious to get their hands on these valuable properties.”

Once in office, Mayor Bill de Blasio continued with the library sales he decried as a candidate, although, to give the devil his due, de Blasio did not proceed with the full-blown NYPL Central Library Plan.  While the Mid-Manhattan library is now being subjected to a consolidating shrinkage it is no longer being sold straight out, but, under Mayor de Blasio we are still selling SIBL the city's biggest science library.  We are also still exiling research books off premises from where they were once readily and quickly retrievable at the 42nd Street Library.


There are other elected officials that are avidly taking the lead pushing these city library sales.  Foremost among them is city council member Brad Lander.  Also clearly conspicuous in his enthusiastic and unrelenting support for these plans is Jimmy Van Bramer head of the City Council Cultural Committee of which the city council's library subcommittee is a sub-component he domainates in leading.  .  .

 . .  Each particular local city council member must also be held responsible for what happens to the libraries in their districts, but revelations are that many of them, like Councilman Stephen Levin (Brooklyn Heights and Williamsburg libraries), Ydanis Rodriguez (Inwood Library) and Carlos Manchacca (Sunset Park Library), were brought on board behind the scenes in advance to  . . .

TO READ MORE (including about the involvement of a Trump presidential son-in-law, Blackstone's Steve Schwarzman, the library boards of trustees, law enforcing officials standing idly by the sidelines and what are supposed to be charitable organizations serving the public) - Click:  WHO Is Selling Our Libraries?

When Did The Plans To Sell Libraries (Plus The Launching of The Concomitant Underfunding of Libraries) Begin?
Chart from Center From an Urban Future report showing sharp decline in funding (coinciding with plans to sell off/"leverage" libraries) against escalating use.  
As noted, although plans to sell NYC libraries were not announced by the Mayor Michael Bloomberg administration until much later, those plans actually to go back to at least 2005 or probably 2004David Offensend was hired by the NYPL in June of 2004 and, though he is imprecise, he says that he started working on library deals not long after his arrival there.  Janet Offensend, his wife, who helped launch BPL library sales started haunting the BPL and its board in 2005.  Other city development officials were being positioned by Mayor Bloomberg on the BPL board around that time.  (The Bloomberg administration took office January 1, 2002, shortly after 9/11.  By contrast, the Giuliani administration implemented library expansion plans that carried over into the early Bloomberg years.)

The BPL's minutes for 2005 show that in January a developer, perhaps jumping the gun based on inside knowledge, was angling to buy the 12,200 square-foot Midwood Library.  In November 2006 the New York Times ran a little noticed article about tearing down “obsolete” branch libraries to produce “new,” "better" library space in multi-use developments saying that a study had produced "an inventory of nearly every branch library in New York City" to identify "candidates for redevelopment" (like the "Red Hook, Sunset Park and Brower Park" libraries and the "Clinton Hill Library," which involves pushing through an accompanying rezoning.)  The article mentions "deferred maintenance" as a reason to redevelop the libraries.

In May of 2006 it was revealed that four Connecticut librarians had won a fight, secret because of a gag order since it began in July 2005, to resist broad federal surveillance of their library patrons.

Although the public did not know what it needed to know in order to see it happening, 2007 and 2008 were extremely eventful years in terms of furthering the plans to sell NYC libraries: 
2007 
    •    In January 2007, Booz Allen Hamilton (known principally as a private surveillance firm, the "colossus" in the industry, working for the federal government) was hired to assist the NYPL trustees with their strategy of the sale and reformulating of libraries.
    •    In the Summer of 2007 the Mayor Bloomberg and First Deputy Mayor Patti Harris expressed enthusiasm for the NYPL’s plans to sell and redevelop major central destination Manhattan Libraries.
         •    In November The Donnell Library sale was announced . . . .

TO READ MORE (a complete timeline of library sale events and maneuvers in 2007, 2008 and right through to to the formation of Citizens Defending Libraries) - Click: When Did Library Selling and Underfunding Begin?

It's Not Just The Real Estate Industry Threatening Libraries


While most New Yorkers are attuned to the power and excesses of the city real estate industry and therefore easily understand its role as a key motivator in the assault on libraries, it's unfortunately naive to believe that only the real estate industry has an agenda that is adverse to the tradition of continuing libraries as the democratic commons we have known them to be.

This gets us into some other big questions. TO READ MORE- Click: Examining The Panoply of Threats

Control of Information

Does dumbing down the public make sense, is it truly workable if you want an effective democracy?  The availability and control of information, including in libraries as copious storehouses of information, has always long disconcerted authoritarians.  For instance, is it surprising to know that Senator Joseph McCarthy exercised his influence to ban from U.S. controlled libraries the music and scores of the "Fanfare For The Common Man" composer Aaron Copeland, because McCarthy believed  . . . .
TO READ MORE- Click: Examining The Panoply of Threats 
No doubt there are those for whom it would be preferable if information in libraries was tidily circumscribed so that it just slipstreams comfortably behind the limited thinking and reporting of the corporate conglomerate controlled national media.  That's a corporate media which among other things and by example underreports the climate change crisis, and  . . .
TO READ MORE- Click: Examining The Panoply of Threats
 While the tradition has been to protect and preserve the information entrusted to libraries, information on the internet can be startlingly evanescent, its continued existence subject to decisions made by whim or out of wrath about what the public should see. . . .
TO READ MORE- Click: Examining The Panoply of Threats
The Internet And Digital as Business

As the world speeds into digital, it is important to recognize the pull and tugs of what the internet corporations would like, including reasons for wanting things to go digital.  There are reasons why, when just five or six (as of 2017) people control as much wealth as half of the rest of the world's population, that Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon (and Washington Post) owner Jeff Bezos, and Microsoft's Bill Gates are three for them (with another Carlos Slim Helu incidentally, as part of his media holdings, being the largest shareholder of the New York Times.  Those reasons coincide with the reasons Apple, Google/Alphabet, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft are all vying (along with Exxon Mobile) for the spot as largest U.S. company.

 . . . Think where all this money comes from.  There is, of course, the ubiquitous advertising, as the pop-up ads that saturate far-flung corners of the internet will remind you, just as advertising saturates the monopolistically owned TV and radio airwaves.  There is also the data-scraping.  As the "old internet saw" was quoted when Google was wiring all of NYC's streets for wireless internet "for free": "If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product."  What the private internet companies know about you helps target you . . . .
TO READ MORE- Click: Examining The Panoply of Threats (or start by reading some of the snippets in different categories below.)
Privatized Political Advantage

Among those buying the data are political parties and their campaign operations looking to control the elected seats of government. Now with unprecedented insight into your preferences, those actors and operatives use the data to decide, with tools like gerrymandering, how much your vote should or should not be allowed to count.  With "voter preference files" that contain tens of thousands of "sets of data points" they have graduated from "microtargeting specific groups" to "nanotargeting" with different kinds of messages (whether true or not) designed elicit particular `emotional responses' from voters.  "Pay to sway" services supply a smorgasbord of  . . .
TO READ MORE- Click: Examining The Panoply of Threats
Owning Ideas and Culture to Charge For Them

The content industry has its wants as well.  Its purveyors desire, for instance, to get the public out to the very latest movie you see touted on billboards, simultaneously on the sides of city buses, via the ads on Comedy Central and other channels, perhaps also boosted by a "sponsorship" mention on your local public radio station as it does featurette reporting . . . 
TO READ MORE- Click: Examining The Panoply of Threats
A Reduction to Dollar$ Sense

. . Traditional libraries have always stood as models opposite to the concept that everything in the world, plus everything that ought to be prioritized and perpetually pushed to the fore should exist in stripped-down monetizable dimensions.  To evaluate the world exclusively in the very limited terms of seeing things in terms of just numbers or only following the money is, in an of itself, impoverishing.  A 2015 report published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review studied how  . . .
TO READ MORE- Click: Examining The Panoply of Threats
Surveillance

The last big subject to mention bears a relationship to the first topic.  When the government, whoever is in charge, isn't actually preventing citizens from reading certain books it might proscribe, it can, nevertheless, be interested in surveiling what books and information members of the public are reading.  In theory, this could allow the government to  . . . .
TO READ MORE- Click: Examining The Panoply of Threats
Who Is Hurt Most When Libraries Are Defunded and Dismantled? The Poor, The Racially  Discriminated Against, Scholars, Future Leaders

Defunding and dismantling our libraries hurts society broadly, probably more broadly than many may have considered.

It is, of course, usually recognized that cutting back on library services significantly impacts low-income neighborhoods relying on them.  A PowerPoint presentation to the Queens Library board told it that library service is most important to low-income users: 2/3rds visit at least weekly, & almost 30% visit every/most days.  A recent Pew research Center report says "Low-income Americans, Hispanics and African Americans are more likely than others to say that a library closing would impact their lives and communities," see them as community anchors, and use them to pursue jobs.  And it's been astutely commented that wherever it happens the loss of libraries is "another surefire way to entrench inequality."
 
Researchers and students also use the libraries.  Arguing to destroy libraries, the NYPL tried a divide-and-conquer-the-community approach suggesting that the research library was elitist and not sufficiently populist when in any given year the researchers and students at its 42nd Street central reference library consult "only 6% of print sources."  The same argument was being used to thin out collections at neighborhood libraries and move books off-site from those locations too.  That "6%" consultation rate was referred to by Ada Louise Huxtable in her very last column, published just weeks before her death (Wall Street Journal: Undertaking Its Destruction, December 3, 2012), in which she lambasted the NYPL's Central Library Plan including its stingy thinking that books should not be kept on hand if they are consulted infrequently:
If we could estimate how many ways in which the world has been changed by that 6%, the number would be far more meaningful than the traffic through its lion-guarded doors. The library's own releases, while short on details, consistently offer a rosy picture of a lively and popular "People's Palace." But a research library is a timeless repository of treasures, not a popularity contest measured by head counts, the current arbiter of success. This is already the most democratic of institutions, free and open to all. Democracy and populism seem to have become hopelessly confused.
Among other things, the 42nd Street Central Reference Library and SIBL are the libraries for the graduate students at CUNY, the City University of New York, who  . . . .

TO READ MORE (about how the benefits of libraries are transmitted throughout society, the racial discrimination in selling libraries and divide and divide-and-conquer-the-community ploys) - Click: Who Is Hurt Most When Libraries Are Defunded and Dismantled?

How Many Books Are Disappearing?


Venturing into a library to witness scads of empty book shelves is a disorientating experience.  The empty shelves constitute early warning signs: Empty shelves at Mid-Manhattan Library, SIBL, the Brooklyn Heights Library, the Grand Army Plaza Library, the 42nd Street Central Reference Library have meant that these libraries have been targeted to be involved in library sale and shrinkage plans.

It is stunning how many books have disappeared and become unavailable, multiple millions overall.  (Library administration officials have done their best to obscure true counts of the reductions.)  If the books disappear from targeted libraries far enough in advance library administration officials can deceptively promise that there will be as many books after the shrinkage of the library as before.  Another deception is for library officials to claim that if books are exiled to be consolidated elsewhere in a "deduping" center there will actually be "more" books as a result.  ("Deduping" is euphemism for book elimination, the idea being the more books you consolidate in a central location the more books you have that are "duplicates" to be eliminated.)

Amazingly, despite the increasing difficulty in obtaining books NYC book circulation is going up and circulation increases are mainly the physical books that patrons generally prefer.  The idea that because some books (not all- for instance, Robert Caro's "The Power Broker") are available digitally we no longer need libraries to supply physical books is a myth.  That library administration officials disparage physical books as "old-fashioned analogue books" or just "artifactual originals" or that those officials will spend more money to push people in to digital reading than what spending on physical books costs does not make that myth any more true.

When library officials solicit contributions from the general public they will jive about how they are asking for that money in order to buy more books because they know that is a vision the public will support and respond favorably to, but at the same time library officials are less than transparent about how they are actually removing books from library premises and from the system entirely.

For more information about how many millions of books have disappeared from which libraries . .

TO READ MORE- Click: How Many Books Are Disappearing From New York City Libraries?

Why Turning Libraries Into Real Estate Deals Isn't The Good Deal Library and City Development Officials Describe

At first blush, many people have accepted what city development and library officials have regularly asserted about the deals launching this city-wide program of converting libraries into real estate deals (or, similarly, "redeveloping" our schools for that matter), that by "unlocking" library real estate development rights with multi-use developments it is a "win-win" proposition that benefits the libraries as well as the developers and real estate industry.

The offer of a free lunch is a tempting thing to hope for, but it doesn't bear scrutiny.  The math, when you do it, simply doesn't work out: It is expensive to tear down existing, frequently recently renovated libraries that the public has already invested substantially in.  When these development ideas are promoted the math goes from initial wishful fantasies, to deliberately obfuscated lack of transparency, to outright mendacious misrepresentation.  If library officials had insisted that the Donnell Library or the Brooklyn Heights Library be fully and completely replaced when they were sold (irrespective or their spaces being shoved underground), the sales would have to be calculated showing deep and obviously absurd public losses. . .

There is also the disruption that affects the public. And, although library and city officials try to skip over the point, when library assets are being divested, the libraries are, in the process, shedding their opportunities for future expansion and to keep pace as the city grows.

Moreover and probably most important, such multi-use development schemes force the libraries to "partner" with powerful private real estate interests that ultimately wind up in the drivers seat, setting the priorities with big checkbooks that bankroll false and misleading PR.  With the moneyed interests throwing their weight around, the public is exposed to bait-and-switch variations.  The Donnell Library sale deal that was described to the press and public when it was announced in no way resembled the deal that was consummated.

Selling Libraries And The Broader Issue of Private Sector Plunder of Public Property

Libraries are not our only public commons that are undemocratically under attack.  The attacks on libraries reflect a much wider scourge of plundering our public assets with the selling off and privatizing of schools, hospitals, public housing, parks, and even the privatization of our streets and sidewalks.  Accordingly, instead of just fighting the library fight, Citizens Defending Libraries (and you can join us) has reached out to other activists to hold a series of forums on the selling off of public assets and help engender and understanding of the commonalty of the threats and tactics an subterfuges we see.  For instance, as Noam Chomsky has explained one such "standard technique of privatization: defund, make sure things don't work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.". .  (In other words, when the door is open to privatization and sell-off there is an inducement to underfund.)  And then, with the transfer to private ownership, the result for public gets even worse.

Some of The Biggest Lies To Watch Out For 

City and library officials working with real estate developers trot out a standard set of misleading falsehoods and ploys to promote library sales.  If you think they sound good, watch out, often what they are saying is pretty much opposite to the real truth.

Want to know what lies to watch out for? . .

TO READ MORE- Click: The Biggest Lies To Watch Out For When Official Sell Libraries

(Read about: lies about public process * Lies about how to oppose a sale * Lies that "replacement" libraries will be as big or bigger *  Lies that libraries are too "dilapidated" to fix * The "same number of books" lie)

Where Does It Go From Here?  What Can You do?

One thing you can do is consider this a worthy cause and inform yourself and others about it.  Protection and preservation of our libraries is something that most people instantly and automatically understand.  As one member of our group observed early on: "If you can't stop them at libraries, where can you stop them?"  That's why we must stop them.. .

 . .  But also, because people do understand what it means to protect libraries, because they understand it in their very bones, the protection of libraries is an issue and a cause that can be used as a fulcrum to push back on the many other issues that relate to it, the impoverishing privatizations of public assets in general, abuses of the real estate industry, the corrupting influence of money in politics, inequality of power and wealth and the abuses of power by the wealthy. 

What Can We Do Next?

TO READ MORE- Click: How to Defend Our Libraries.

(Read about: Altering the law * Insisting on transparency * defending library buttons * Our Letter of Support * Our petition * Our mailing List * Testimony at public hearings *  Birddogging elected officials  *  Contacting the press *  Social media * Having us speak to yous community organization * Letters to the editor/comment on web articles * Research help * FOIL assistance * Singing the marvelous Judy Gorman library song )



The morning crowd waiting for the Brooklyn Heights downtown library to open
The Petition Being Put Forth By Citizens Defending Libraries

The first petition (gathered over 17,000 signature, most of them online- available at signon.org with a background statement and can still be signed).   On June 16, Citizens Defending libraries issued a new updated petition that you can sign now:
Mayor de Blasio: Rescue Our Libraries from Developer Destruction
CONTACT: To contact Citizens Defending Libraries email MDDWhite (at) aol.com.

The archive of our previous web page (used into December 2017) can be found by clicking HERE.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Stephen A. Schwarzman Is Specifically Cited By New York Magazine’s Frank Rich As He Asks: What Will Happen to The Trump Toadies?- And Then Rich Compares Schwarzman To The American Industrialists Who Collaborated With Hitler

In New York Magazine NYPL trustee Stephen A. Schwarzman is rounded up as part of a rogues gallery of "toadies" compared to the wealthy American's who supported Hitler's fascism in Germany.
New York Magazine doesn’t like Trump.  Like a lot of other blue media these days it runs a lot of articles telling us how bad Trump is.  We don’t think there is huge value to the proliferation of articles nearly everywhere that focus on, describe or intimate that Donald J. Trump is the cause of all our national problems rather than a mere symptom.  We venture to say that incessant focus on Trump personally is a distraction from discussion of issues and problems that are institutionalized and embedded deeply in the political and power infrastructure of our country.

Nevertheless, some of these polemics against Trump also, on occasion, describe those problems that exist institutionally in this country and point out things that are wrong with the political and power infrastructure of our country.  Frank Rich has a new “Intellgencier” article in New York Magazine this week that we think falls into that category:   What Will Happen to The Trump Toadies? Look to Nixon’s defenders, and the Vichy collaborators, for clues, January 7, 2020.

The article is also of particular interest to us as library defenders because the article chooses several times to cite NYPL trustee Stephen A. Schwarzman as a particular and prime example of the people in power that Mr. Rich sees as facilitating the rise of fascism in the United States, in much the same way that American businessmen supported Hitler’s fascism in Germany.

And while Schwarzman, much like Trump, may be viewed as a symptom of problems with our country extending to the way that our New York City libraries are run, Schwarzman is also a very visible symbol of those problems.  Just the way that Trump has made himself extra conspicuous by putting his name ubiquitously on so many buildings and projects (even when he had scant involvement in bringing them about), so too has Schwarzman made himself extra conspicuous when it comes to libraries by insisting that his name be plastered with repetitive excessiveness on the NYPL’s 24nd Street Central reference library. . . . Something the NYPL trustees did for Schwarzman because Schwarzman transfered a paltry $100 million to the NYPL on the understanding that the NYPL would initiate the Central Library Plan (and probably Donnell) real estate deal sell-offs of libraries.

People are now, with embarrassment, busy ripping the name of Trump off various edifices.  Maybe, due to similar embarrassment, we'll also soon see the Schwarzman name ripped off the 42nd Street Central Reference Library.

Schwarzman has a knack for being on the wrong side of things.  As Rich argues, that may be because he is amoral and will do anything for money.  So relatively recently, we wrote about Schwarzman again in connection with his hob nobbing praise for Saudi Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (you know . . .  the dismemberment killing of Jamal Khashoggi).  We wrote when the NYPL was going to turn over space to the Crown Prince to teach young people how to enhance their reputations.  See: Stopped!! NYPL's Plan To Turn Over Its 42nd Street Central Reference Library Grand Celeste Bartos Ballroom For Event Honoring The Infamous Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (Good Friend of Stephen Schwarzman?)
Schwarzman with Ghislaine Maxwell
That article also talked about Schwarzman’s connection with burning down the Amazon and Ghislaine Maxwell, Jeffrey Epstein's accomplice in his pedophiliac sexual and political blackmail operation.
Soon after, we came back with much more bad news about Schwarzman when he was featured (and on the cover) in a new book about the maneuvers that transferred an extraordinarily vast amount of middle and lower income American wealth, what people had invested in their homes, to people like Schwarzman.  See: New Book “Home Wreckers” Identifies NYPL Trustee (And 42nd Street Library Namesake) Stephen A. Schwarzman As Key Culprit (Along With His Friends and Neighbors) In The Huge Theft That’s Responsible For Depleting Wealth of Other Americans.  

Schwarzman is the man who thinks that taxes on the poor should be raised while the loopholes that cause him, the highest paid CEO, over $1 billion in a single year, to pay far lower taxes than anyone else.

We agree with Matt Taibbi that the American media is far too focused on engendering counterproductive and artificial hatreds.  We agree with Taibbi also cheap that ramping up to histrionic Hitler and Nazi comparisons is rarely constructive and tends to tamp down rational thinking, but Schwarzman himself has indulged in this kind of thing.  It was Schwarzman who, perceiving himself to be involved in a class war, said that, when it come to protecting the preferential tax breaks he receives, the rest of us are like Hitler.

In using Stephen Schwarzman as a key cited example, Frank Rich’s article makes the case that the greedy self interest of such wealthy people as Schwarzman makes them amoral, as if they don’t care whether fascism will triumph.  There is another interpretation others have offered that Rich doesn’t put forth.  That is the argument that, for many of the wealthy looking to preserve their wealth in the run up and time of to World War II, those individuals actually preferred fascism to the possibly alternatives, particularly communism or socialism or any forms of wealth redistributions.

Here is some of what Rich wrote about Schwarzman and Schwarzman’s comrades whom he describes as “Trump toadies.”  Note that Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner also gets mentioned and that Schwarzman and Kushner were both involved in the NYPL’s sell-off the beloved Donnell Library, the first major NYC library sale real estate deal.  (Emphasis supplied below)
You don’t have to be a card-carrying fascist to collaborate with fascists and help them seize power; you just have to be morally bankrupt and self-serving. As the authoritative American historian of Vichy France, Robert O. Paxton, has pointed out, it was only “a rather small minority” of France’s wartime collaborators who were motivated by an actual “ideological sympathy with Nazism and Fascism” to go along with the Nazi puppet regime fronted by Marshal Philippe Pétain in Vichy. A more widespread incentive was “personal gain.” Others rationalized their complicity by persuading themselves they were acting in the “national interest.” It would be no surprise if that distribution of motivations persists among Trump collaborators today. Such backers as the financier Stephen Schwarzman and New York real-estate titans like Stephen Ross of Hudson Yards no doubt congratulate themselves on acting in the “national interest” while pocketing personal gains measured in either political influence or on a profit-and-loss statement.

In France, such ostensible moral distinctions among collaborators were rendered moot in the long-delayed and gruesome postwar reckoning.

    * * *

The antecedents for Trumpist enablers from the tycoon sector both within and outside the White House — Cohn, Schwarzman, Steven Mnuchin, Wilbur Ross, et al. — can be found in those now-vilified captains of 1930s American industry who were prime movers in various back-channel schemes to appease Hitler. The America First Committee’s members included Henry Ford, an unabashed anti-Semite who was name-checked admiringly in Mein Kampf, and Avery Brundage, an Illinois construction magnate and president of the U.S. Olympic Committee who bent to Hitler’s will by yanking the only two Jewish competitors on an American team in the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin. . . .

These businessmen’s machinations did not bring about peace in their time but did bring financial quid pro quos that fattened their bottom lines.

 . . . Alfred P. Sloan, the longtime GM chairman, explained his philosophy: “An international business operating throughout the world should conduct its operations in strictly business terms, without regard to the political beliefs of its management, or the political beliefs of the countries in which it is operating.” Surely Jared Kushner, Mnuchin, and Schwarzman couldn’t have put it any better as they cavorted with Mohammed bin Salman at his investment conference in Riyadh in October, a year after the murder and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi. As with Ford, Brundage, Mooney, and the rest, any loot they accrued in exchange for their pact with the Devil will be unearthed in good time.
Mr. Rich ends, or nearly ends with the observation about all of the Trump “enablers and collaborators” he has singled out for the opprobrium of his article that: “It is too late for them to save their reputations.”

What Rich doesn’t ever bring into the conversation is that the powerful working with Nazi’s didn’t end with World War II, even that war’s conclusion.  After World War II, many Nazi’s were brought into this country, and it wasn’t just the rocket expert Wernher von Braun.  Many escaped anything like a prosecution at Nuremberg.  The name of one major U.S. government classified program to bring Nazis to the United States was “Operation Paperclip.”  With luck, its something you can read about in the libraries if. . .

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

An Open Letter To Reverend Ana Levy-Lyons of The First Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Brooklyn Requesting A Sermon About Peace

There is now a many year tradition at Noticing New York (about real estate development in New York and associated politics), written by Citizens Defending Libraries co-founder Michael D. D. White.  Each year on Christmas Eve, Noticing New York publishes a seasonal reflection.  (More about the Noticing New York tradition here.)  There is something a little bit different up at Noticing New York as a seasonal reflection this Christmas Eve.  It's a letter Michael White wrote to Reverend Ana Levy-Lyons, minister at his First Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Brooklyn, requesting that she deliver a sermon about peace.   There is a more about his decision at Noticing New York.

Because the censorship and information control subjects of this letter are so important, we are also publishing it here at Citizens Defending libraries.  It is also being published at National Notice, also written by Mr. White.

December 19, 2019

Re:  An Open Letter Requesting A Sermon About Peace

Dear Reverend Ana,

Last spring my wife Carolyn and I invested heavily in our congregation’s fund raising lottery trying to win the prize of choosing a topic for a sermon you would give.  We didn’t win.  Had we won, we would have challenged you with what you might not have found an easy subject, speaking about Julian Assange, American war crimes, and the U.S. pursuit of empire.  Our choice of subject would not have been be to vex you with its difficulty, but to ask you to speak to what could be such a simple concept: Peace.  If, these days, conversations about peace are avoided as difficult, what better than address that difficulty in a sermon?

Giving it some consideration, I think that making a worthy case for a sermon topic is a good a way to gain the prize of having you speak on a topic we care about, as good a way as investing in fund raising lottery tickets.  Therefore I will try.

Is peace a spiritual thing?  Is talk about our common humanity, our common bonds, and about surmounting the blindness that fractures our relationships a proper thing to address in religious terms?  I acknowledge I’m being obvious here.  What I just referred to is supposed to be basic and elemental to the great faiths.

I grew up in the Vietnam War era and I remember churches and church people taking the lead in saying that the wars we waged in Indochina were wrong.  These days we, as country, are more military extended than ever.  My oldest daughter is now about to be twenty-nine years old.  We had already started bombing Iraq when she was born in January.  The war in Iraq is just one of the perpetual wars that has continued essentially for the entirety of her life.  All of our wars are long now.  As formally measured by some, the War in Afghanistan, with its later beginning, has surpassed the Vietnam War as our country’s longest war.

These days the United States has been bombing nine countries, ten if you include, as we should, all of the U.S. participation in the bombing of Yemen, the other nine countries being: Mali, Niger, Somalia, Libya, and then, in the Middle East, it’s Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria. We have 800 military bases in other countries.  With practically no comment or attention from us, President Obama opened new military bases across Africa.

A peace symbol hangs prominently in our Unitarian Universalist congregation’s sanctuary where our sermons are given.  We begin every Sunday service singing the words: “let peace, good will on earth be sung through every land, by every tongue.”  Christmas comes every year, and every year we evoke and extol, as is customary in the Christian tradition, the image of Jesus as the “Prince of Peace.”  In our congregation’s Weaving Social Justice Committee we have discussed the prospect of rededicating the side chapel within the sanctuary that is known as the “Peace Chapel” to that cause.  In our list of candidate films for the social justice film series we are working on we have films about the injustice of war. . .

 . . . But, by and large, we hardly ever actually say anything about peace or the need to end the  perpetual wars for which our country is now responsible.  Has there been any sermon in our sanctuary on the subject of peace?  I can’t recall one.

I was not at the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly in June this summer, but I talked with people who went, and I looked over the multi-day program.  I was told and I saw that there were no sessions on the subject of peace.  Nor was anything said about the antithesis thereof, war, although we are deeply embroiled in wars to the point that they are inescapably always in the background our daily American lives.
 
Our congregation through its leaders including members of the social justice committee is now reaching out to other congregations in our city and to their social justice actors to coordinate collective activism on the issues important to all of us.  The importance of peace activism has not been mentioned in those discussions no matter that it is integrally related to virtually every other issue that is being discussed of common interest.  Has the subject of peace somehow been tagged as off-limits?  Is peace now too controversial to be discussed by and among religious communities?

Other social issues have attracted the attention of organizing Unitarians and have been the subject of multiple sermons. I understand and support that and among them are issues like the climate change chaos catastrophe emergency.  The climate emergency is an existential threat to all of humanity.  When the Democratic National Committee ordered that there be no debate focused on the single issue of climate change– the DNC actually forbade Democrats from participating in any such debate organized by anyone else– the case was made that the existential issue of climate is so fundamental that it is intertwines with and underlies virtually every other issue that’s important.  There are other issues like that; issues that are inextricably related to society’s other major issues.       

Our American wars together with the rest of our military interventions that stoke conflict in other countries are far too often wars which are very much about the extraction of oil and fossil fuels.  Moreover, overall our wars help keep in place the systems that continue to vandalize our planet, exterminating its ecosystems.  Further, the US military is one of the largest polluters in history, “the single-largest producer of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the world,” and that the Pentagon is responsible for between “77% and 80% of all US government energy consumption” since 2001.  The US military is consuming more liquid fuels and emitting more climate-changing gases than most medium-sized countries, polluting more than 140 countries. Obscuring the reporting on this, the United States, which exempts its military from environmental laws, insisted on exemptions from reporting of the military emissions of all countries from climate agreements. The U.S., has itself escaped such reporting by exiting the Paris Climate Accord.

It is not clear, but these staggering figures about fossil fuel use probably don’t include the fossil fuel consumption related to the initial manufacture of weapons.  Consider also that replacement, or nonreplacement, of what is bombed, burned and incinerated also must entail substantial additional environmental costs.
                                     
It is not just greenhouse gas emission pollution that the military produces: In 2010, a major story that went largely unreported was that the U.S. Department of Defense, as the largest polluter in the world, was producing more hazardous waste than the five largest US chemical companies combined, and that just some of the pollutants with which it was contaminating the environment were depleted uranium, petroleum, oil, pesticides, defoliant agents such as Agent Orange, and lead, along with vast amounts of radiation. Following our bombings, birth defects reported in Iraq are soaring. A World Health Organization survey tells us that in Fallujah half of all babies were born with a birth defect between 2007 and 2010 with 45 per cent of all pregnancies ending in miscarriage in the two years after 2004.

Another thing we face that has been deadening to the human spirit has been the increasing “othering” of people who we are made to think are different from us.  Frequently now that’s immigrants from other countries who are black or brown.  Often that “othering,” as with Muslims, is stoked in ways that may cause us to support or tolerate wars in which those others suffer most and towards whom hostilities are often officially directed.  We may also forget how our wars and military activity push the flow of populations forcing people to migrate across boarders, as, for instance, with those leaving Honduras after our country helped bring about the military coup that replaced the government there.

Also basic and underlying so many of our problems are racial, income and wealth inequality with concomitant inequality in power and influence. These are things that Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., who practiced ministry through activism and activism through ministry, labored to eliminate.  Not long before he was assassinated, King also began to speak out against the Vietnam war saying the great challenge facing mankind is to get rid of war.  Before he did so, he carefully weighed cautions urged on him that as a civil rights leader he shouldn’t do so, that it would undermine support for his civil rights work, split his coalition, and that these issues should not be joined together.  But King concluded that the issues were tied together and decided that he would address them on that basis.

When King expressed his opposition to the war in his very famous “Beyond Vietnam -- A Time to Break Silence,” delivered in this city’s Riverside Church, New York City, April 4, 1967, one year to the day before his assassination, he said he was “increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.”  He spoke of the disproportionate toll that waging war exacted on the poor and spoke of the poisoning of America’s soul. . . So it is today.

War is profitable business.  It busies packs of lobbyists who know a great deal more about often secret budgets than we, as the public, will ever learn.  But that profit drains the resources of our society enfeebling our ability to accomplish so much else.  The Pentagon and military budget is about 57% of the nation’s discretionary budget.  If all of the unknowable black box spending that goes into the Military-Industrial-Surveillance Complex were included, that percentage could well bump up higher.  We spend more on military spending than the next ten countries combined (or seven, depending on the year and who calculates), and we spend much more than all the rest of the countries in the world left over after that.  Of course, much of that spending by other countries is on arms we supply making the world dangerous.

We may not fully know about or have a complete accounting of all the dollars we spend in these areas, but, in May of 2011 after the U.S. announced that it had killed Osama Bin Laden, the National Priorities Project calculated that, as of that time, “in all, the U.S. government has spent more than $7.6 trillion on defense and homeland security since the 9/11 attacks.”  Point of reference: a “trillion” is one million millions.

Just the increase in the military spending in the last two years since Trump came in is as much as Russia spends on its entire military budget ($66 billion).  Similarly just that increase is greater than the entire military budgets of Britain ($55 billion) or France ($51 billion). 

Our fixated disposition to keep spending more is entrenched: Even Elizabeth Warren, a senator from Massachusetts who promotes herself as a left wing progressive, voted in 2017 to increase the defense budget by $80 billion, surpassing the $54 billion increase requested by President Trump.  60% Of House Democrats voted for a defense budget far bigger than Trump requested.

Perhaps most disquieting and insidiously corrupting to our morality and our souls are the pretexts we adopt to justify going to war and to abide its horrors, particularly when we leave those pretexts dishonestly unexamined.  The public flailed and many among us continue in their confusion, unable to sort out that Iraq did not attack the United States or have weapons of mass destruction before the second war that we unilaterally and "preemptively" launched to invade that country.  Before our first Gulf War attack on that country there were no slaughtered `incubator babies’: That was just a brazen, cynically staged public relations scam.  Similarly, how few of us know and recognize that Afghanistan did not attack the United States on 9/11– We precipitously invaded that country because the government there was at that time asking that procedures be followed and proof furnished before it would assist in finding and turning Osama Bin Laden over to the United States.

The foreign country that was most involved in 9/11, and from where almost all of the men identified as the alleged 9/11 hijackers came, is Saudi Arabia.  Saudi Arabia is the country to which we are selling massive amounts of weapons (making it that world’s third biggest military spender) and it is the country with which we are deeply involved perpetrating war crimes against Yemen.

In the Vietnam War, our second longest war, it was the Gulf of Tonkin incident that, not being what it seemed nor reported to be, was the pretext for war.

Perhaps hardest and most challenging to our susceptibilities as caring people striving to be spiritual and attentive to justice are the pretextual manipulations to which we are subject in regard to what Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman spotlighted as the selective distinguishing between “worthy” versus “unworthy” victims.  “Worthy” victims are those who, whatever their number, deserve our outrage and are a basis for calls for the international community to mobilize toward war.  “Unworthy victims” are those who can die en mass without attention or recognition like the tens of thousands of Yemeni children who have died for lack of food, water and medicine because of Saudi Arabia’s blockade assisted by the U.S..  Often, as with Palestinians removed from their homelands, these victims are blamed for their own victimhood.

Additional layers of pretext pile up when we encounter journalists and whistleblowers willing to be the messengers of war crimes.  We punish those messengers while, concurrently, there is no consequence for those who perpetrate the war crimes.  Often the perpetrators are promoted to higher office. That includes those who illegally torture others to coerce useless, undependable, and likely false “confessions.”  Thus we punish and torture Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning for exemplifying what Daniel Ellsberg called “civil courage.” Thus we vindictively send CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou to prison for disclosing his agency’s torture program.

Wikileaks, Julian Assange’s organization has published much that is embarrassing to the United States and those in power, much of it is particularly embarrassing to the U.S. military.  Wikileaks has never published anything that was untrue, but the truth of what it has published is disruptive to the official narratives of the war establishment. That establishment has been seeking vengeance against and to neutralize Assange since events in 2010 when in April Wikileaks published documenting gunsight video footage, under the title of “Collateral Murder,” of a US drone strike on civilians in Bagdad provided by Chelsea Manning.  The New York Times and Washington Post did not respond to Manning’s attempts to publish that same footage through them or other evidence of U.S. war crime in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Anyone who wants proof of the pretextual nature of the United States’ persecution of Julian Assange and of the ghastly and sometimes illegal, abuse of inordinate power against Assange should watch or listen to Chris Hedges June 8, 1019 “On Contact” interview with UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer (“On Contact: Julian Assange w/UN Special Rapporteur on Torture”- Chris Hedges is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church).  The attacks against Assange began with a highly orchestrated campaign of character assassination.  They have progressed to things far worse.  Both Assange and Manning (who was pardoned from a 35-year sentence after seven years of confinement that included the torture of Manning) are now being held in prison, no end in sight, for no crimes of which they have been convicted.  I think we have to agree with the criticism of this as psychological torture.  The continued torture of Manning is an effort to get at Assange even if that were to involve forcing Manning to lie.

The United States wants Assange extradited to the Unites States to be tried for the crime of practicing journalism that was unflattering to the United States government. Somehow we have the highhandedness to conceptualize this journalism to be treason although Assange is a foreign national. Assange faces no other charges. Under the laws pursuant to which the U.S. would try him, Assange, like the exiled Edward Snowden, would not be permitted to introduce any evidence or argument that disclosing illegal U.S. activity or war crimes benefits the public.  It’s said that the United States wants nothing more than a show trial and I think that must be considered obvious.

When Assange sensed in 2012 that trumped up charges in Sweden would be used as a subterfuge to transfer him to United States custody for such a show trial he obtained political asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. For this, a British judge sentenced Assange and had him serve 50 weeks in a high security prison for “bail jumping”; that’s just fourteen days short of the maximum possible sentence, although the obviously trumped up charges for which Assange had posted bail were withdrawn, negating the original bail terms as a result.  A normal, typical sentence for bail jumping would have entailed only a fine, in a grave case, a much shorter prison sentence.

Britain was able to send police officers into enter the Ecuadoran Embassy to arrest Assange for “bail jumping” and then later hold him, without other charge for pending extradition to the United States, because of a change in the Ecuadoran government that was evidently CIA assisted, and as the United States was dangling financial aid for that country.  Assange’s eviction from the embassy, along with his being simultaneously stripped of Ecuadoran citizenship, was done without due process.
 
The persecution of Assange casts a long shadow to intimidate other journalists, whistleblowers and activists as they themselves are being intimidated about disrupting the preferred narrative concerning America’s militarily asserted empire.  Other providers of news simply lay low not reporting things.  As neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post reported it, you may not have heard about the recent scary SWAT style arrest of journalist Max Blumenthal by Washington D. C. police hours after he reported about the United States government funding of the Venezuela Juan Guaidó coup team.  Blumenthal was shackled and held incommunicado for an extended period. Not long after that the D.C. police went out to similarly arrest activist and journalist Medea Benjamin when she publicized the U.S. backing of coups in Venezuela and Bolivia.

With silenced journalists, will we, based on unchallenged pretexts, send our military into to change the government of Venezuela as there is talk of doing?  In Bolivia the coup we sponsored has been successful without that.  Meanwhile, there is talk of pretexts for military actions against Iran, Russia, North Korea.

Journalists who still show courage, are subject to exile, sometimes self exile, from their journalistic homes, to alternative media outlets, where, like Assange, they are likely to be less heard and will be more vulnerable. Journalist Tareq Haddad just announced that he resigned from Newsweek because that publication has been suppressing a story of his.  His story was about the whistleblower revelations of buried evidence that the supposed 2018 Duoma chemical attacks by Syrian president Assad on his own people was fairly obviously a concocted fabrication when it was used as a justification for the U.S. to bomb Syria.  Remember our bombings of Syria?  The was another in 2017. It was for such bombings of Syria the press declared that Trump was finally `presidential,' and, as the cruise Tomahawk missiles launched, MSNBC’s Brian Williams spoke of being “guided by the beauty of our weapons” using the word “beautiful” three times in 30 seconds.

The strenuous suppression of these voices like Assange's that would disrupt official narratives shows how the conduct of war has a tight moral link to the choices we make to speak out against war and against the suppression of the voices that oppose war.  In his sermon against war at Riverside Church that day one year to the day before he was killed, Reverend Martin Luther Kings Jr. said that, “men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government's policy, especially in time of war.”

King also said that, when assuming the task of such opposition, it was difficult to break free of the “conformist thought” of the surrounding world.  Indeed, with the complicity of a much more conglomerately owned corporate media than in King’s time, it seems as if there is a secularly consecrated catechism of what we know we as Americans are not supposed to say, what we must veer away from and avoid.  We subscribe with almost religious ferocity to the belief that American exceptionalism justifies all our actions in the world.  It feels, as if in our bones, that we know that to violate this proposition and say something else would create a rumbling disturbance in the force (you know, “Star Wars”).  Or is our silence, merely something less profound than that, just the equivalent of what we think would be an exceptionally super-rude topic to bring up at a family Thanksgiving or holiday diner?
                               
Dr. King correctly foresaw that there would be significant prices he would have to pay for speaking out against our country’s war.  He concluded that he had to do so, that he had to `break the silence,’ despite the prices he knew he would have to pay. He felt that doing so was the only thing he could do and remain true to himself and his causes.

Ana, I have no doubt that there would be prices you would have to pay if you spoke out for peace; if you spoke out against war.  I also acknowledge that there are prices our congregation could face.  Relatively recently the FBI has raided the homes of public nonviolent peace activists who have long, distinguished careers in public service.  (And the FBI has also been investigating nonviolent climate activists and Black Lives Matters activists.)  But I urge you to deliver a sermon about peace because it would be the right thing to do.  Perhaps it could go along with a rededication of our sanctuary’s Peace Chapel. And, perhaps,  if you would give a sermon like Dr. King gave against our wars, it might do more than just be a good thing in its own right: It might serve as a model for the ministers of other congregations who would follow suit.

Maybe, as in Martin Luther King Jr.’s day, there can again be a time when people see the call for peace as a spiritual issue and our church’s, temples and congregations again take a lead role in calling for peace and an end to our wars.

Have I made the subject of peace sound as if it is complicated?  If so, I am sorry.  That can be a problem in itself.  At bottom, shouldn’t this all be so simple?  Peace, supporting peace, speaking out for peace. .  Something very simple.
 
            Last night I had the strangest dream
            I never dreamed before.
            I dreamed the world had all agreed
            To put an end to war.*

* From “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream,” by Ed McCurdy- 1950,
 a precursor of sorts to “Imagine” by John Lennon and Yoko Ono- 1971

 Sincerely,

Michael D. D. White