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.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Authors Anand Giridharadas, Eric Klinenberg, Kristen Ghodsee, and Activist Blair Imani, On Panel at Brooklyn Book Festival Discuss, `How To Change The World’ (With Libraries and Social Infrastructure!) Plus Who NOT To Trust— When In Jumps Untrustworthy, Library-Selling Councilman Brad Lander!!

Brooklyn Book Festival "How Do We Change the World?" panel. Left to right, after moderator (and fellow author) Jessica Bruder: panelist authors Kristen Ghodsee, Eric Klinenberg, Blair Imani, and Anand Giridharadas
Sure you want to charge out and get started `changing the world’: You’re revved up because it sure seems the world could use a lot of changing these days!  But it is amazing how twisted things can get right at the outset and how insanely easy it is to trip up in trying to choose your allies. . .

Starting off the morning Sunday (it was the 16th) at the Brooklyn Book Festival was a panel of authors (two of whom we have written about already, Anand Giridharadas (Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World) and Eric Klinenberg (Palaces for the People: How To Build a More Equal and United Society*) and two of whom we have not yet written about, gender and communism scholar Kristen Ghodsee, (Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism: And Other Arguments for Economic Independence) and activist Blair Imani (Modern HERstory: Stories of Women and Nonbinary People Rewriting History).
(* Mr. Klinenberg has both a British title for his book for U.K. release, “Palaces for the People: How To Build a More Equal and United Society,” and a United States Title, “Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life.”)
The panel's topic was: "How Do We Change the World?"

We wrote about Mr. Klinenberg because he wrote an op-ed derived from his new book about the importance of libraries as an example of how critically libraries represent the need for us to conserve and build our social infrastructure.  His op-ed sounded extraordinarily like it was cribbed directly from the web pages of Citizens Defending Libraries, including his assertion that one reason libraries are besieged these days is because those in power see them as “out of sync with the market logic that dominates our world” plus his rallying cry that libraries need “defending” because they are ties to our freedom and equality.

See: Eric Klinenberg in NY Times Op-ed calls for Defending Libraries Promoing His New Book- "Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life"

We wrote about Mr. Giridharadas because of his warning about who not to trust and more specifically his book’s admonitions that when the wealthy, all the “new philanthropists” who come out (to once again use Mr. Klinenberg’s phrase) infected by their “market logic that dominates our world” we should, indeed, stop to look their gift horses in the mouth— because the gifts they are presenting are likely to be more harmful than beneficial.

See: There’s Much You Should Not Trust When The Wealthy Give- Anand Giridharadas’ “Winners Take All- The Elite Charade of Changing the World” and David Callahan’s “The Givers: Wealth, Power and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age”

The panel discussion was in the Brooklyn Borough Hall Courtroom, the very same space where multiple “hearings” have been held about the sale of Brooklyn Libraries to turn those libraries into real estate deals, such as the shrink-and-sink sale that got rid of Brooklyn’s second biggest library, what was the Business, Career and Education Federal Depository Library, the central destination Brooklyn Heights Library in Downtown Brooklyn.   . .   BTW: The luxury condos in the tower replacing that library are just now coming to market.  See: As Condo Apartments Set Brooklyn Heights Sales Records (You Heard About Matt Damon’s $16.645 Million Penthouse?) Central Library Sold To Build (Now About To be Marketed) Luxury Condos Nets Mere Pittance.

Thus it was highly ironic in multiple ways that, before the panel even had a chance to commence, who should jump in but library-selling Brad Lander who previously grabbed the spotlight at so many of such hearings leading those who  champion and push for the selling of libraries in deals that will impoverish the public.  (For instance, see him in several clips here: Will Steve Levin Save the Brooklyn Heights Library?)
Brad Lander presenting himself as a progressive activist at the Brooklyn Book Festival's "How to Change The World."  The lectern is the same one where so many people have testified opposing the NYC library sales Mr. Lander promotes when he testifies.
Lander did a breathless double-time spiel associating himself with the `politics’ of ‘activism.’  Like every other knave these days who dresses up in fauxmanteau progressivism, Lander ventured forward in his “bonding” with the audience, starting with an all too usual and easy `I am anti-Trump pot-shot.’   Here are the Landerisms the audience had to sit through before the panel they came to hear got to talk:
I am so exited to come and listen to this panel- I don’t know about you, but I feel like my normal day is something like, you open Twitter and you’re like `Oh my god, what did Trump do today? . . .Who is going to be harmed by it?’  Then you see all this incredible activism taking place.  You think: `Wow!; people are really rising up in creative and new ways, and maybe there is a new world we could build that reflects people’s full selves!’ . . . What would it take to actually bring the change that we need?  I feel like we are in a moment when people have woken up for the need for really big change.  The question of how to bring it remains really, really challenging, so people are focused on just how big the inequalities are economically, but across so many lines of difference as well.  What would it look like to have real equality, real representation in our world, the climate crisis, weakness in our democracy.  But each of those challenges also presents a challenge for the kind of activism that we need to make that change, those very lines of division that general hopelessness about our institutions, they present those challenges: How are we going to make those changes? . . .
This is the same city councilman whom the library selling BPL president Linda Johnson and the library selling Jimmy Van Bramer both proclaimed to be  "very clever."

It gets worse, as we will come back to, during the Q&A that wrapped up the panel discussion, Mr. Klinenberg told the audience that those seeking to change the world (including apparently people wanting to defend and build libraries) should seek out Lander to help them, because they were not going to be able to do it alone.

In the same room, at the same lectern where Brad Lander pitched himself as a (library supporting?) activist, many members of the public testified against library sales Lander was promoting.
We were prepared, in fact we were on the very edge of our seat, trying to get called upon during the Q&A.  We wanted to ask a question about the degree of care with which we need to select our allies for activist change.  We were eager to ask this given the example of Mr. Lander’s usurpation of the opening moments with his self-promoting appeal, and also because of many cautions from Mr. Giridharadas during the session telling us to beware of how the wealthy use their money and foundations.  Giridharadas told us the wealthy try to always to be in the driver’s seat steering, or “changing change” so that change will never take off in a direction offensive to what they have in mind respecting continuing their self-enrichment; over and over again their goal is to just soften the abrasive edges of their self enrichment by appearing to be on the side of the public  — Ah well, we did not get called upon and therefore did not get to ask our question about how to decide who to trust before it was all over.

Here are some highlights of the discussion preceding the Q&A that pertain most interestingly to libraries:
    •    Mr. Klinenberg told the audience that “a week ago, I did an op-ed about libraries, public institutions, which for me are extraordinary a source of inspiration and are in neighborhoods that we live in . . . a place that deserves our resources, our attention, our love. . .”  (We should note that Mr. Klinenberg should have a certain amount of credibility dating a ways back- We previously wrote how Jane Jacobs, in her last book, admired Mr. Klinenberg’s work as a graduate student done a number of years ago.)
Anand Giridharadas

    •    Mr. Giridharadas sounded the alarm not to trust appearances or announced good intentions when the wealthy deploy their philanthropy.  His words sounded sharper than we’ve heard them before (we wrote more about this before):
       •    “We live in a day where the elites seem to really want to help, and yet this is by any reading of the numbers this is the most predatory elite we’ve had in America in one hundred years.  I became interested in how billionaires are helping us while screwing us at the same time. . . . Is the help what upholds their hoarding?”
       •    “When rich people . . . come into the space of changing the world, they never sit in the back row of changing the world; they sit in the front row.  They always get on the board of directors of changing the world.  The wind up as the COO or CEO or something with a `C’ of changing the world, and they change change.  They defang change; they tend to define change in ways that don’t threaten winners.”
       •    He said we get a “light facsimile of change that is the kind of change Mark Zukerberg can get on board with.”
       •    We shouldn’t be looking at these “sugar daddies” to fix inequality and “outsource change.”
       •    He said, “I don’t think that we should be turning first to the `woke’ billionaires to fix this.  My goal is to remind people that we built things like this [the grand court room and Brooklyn Borough hall building we were in] again, and we don’t need permission slips from the powerful to make changes.”
       •    He said we have to clear the brush of a lot of widely believed bullshit and terminology that needs to be dismantled:
          •    “Win-Win”- Neoliberal bullshit.
          •    “Thought Leaders” are thinkers that don’t threaten power.  There are “thinkers” and then there are “thought leaders”- You don’t want to be a “thought leader,” bad thing to be.
          •    “Doing good by doing well, and doing well by . . .”  Again, not good, not real change.
          •    “Innovation”- Not the same as “progress.”  We got a lot of innovation in the last 30 or 40 years.  Unfortunately it just skipped about half of us.
          •    “Giving back”- Sounds nice?- Not the same as “taking less.”
        •    “There is a significant silent minority within the power institutions of our age that understand that they are sitting in temples of cruelty, that understand that they are part of system that’s indefensible.”
Kristen Ghodsee

   •    Kristen Ghodsee said,  “I am trying to think outside of the box of capitalism.  I am trying to push back: Why is it we always turn to the billionaires?  And why do we think of our social infrastructure as something that has to happen within a fundamentally private market where the prices of good and services are always informed by the caprices of supply and demand.”  She blamed “a particular form” of “unregulated neoliberalism capitalism” as the “source of all our problems,” devastating us with “the idea that everything has to have a price” and “even our most intimate experiences are increasingly commodified.”  (She also said she was “totally on board with” the practical benefit of building more libraries.)

   •    Klinenberg said he believed in turning toward the state for help, not billionaires.  We agree with him on this.  It’s one reason why it is so worrisome when the city cuts back on funding libraries with private partnerships and “new philanthropies” stepping up as the potential replacements.
Following the panel, there was this self-explanatory exchange with Mr. Klinenberg that starts with the following email from Citizens Defending Libraries co-founder Michael D. D. White:
Dear Mr. Klinenberg,

When we talked after the morning Brooklyn Book Festival panel and you signed my copy of your new book (inscribing it “solidarity”) I noted that during the Q&A when you were answering for the audience the question of `what to do to change the world’ you told them to `find Councilman Brad Lander’ and work with him; and I was clear with you about how Councilman Brad Lander has been in the forefront promoting turning New York libraries into real estate deals, their sale and shrinkage and elimination of books, (basically across the board) and including specifically, for example, the NYPL’s Central Library Plan and the shrink-and-sink sale of Brooklyn’s second biggest library, deals that benefit real estate developers, not the public.  The latter, the shrink-and-sink sale of Brooklyn’s second biggest library was modeled after the shrink-and-sink sale of the Donnell Library.  Those two shrink-and-sink schemes were conceived essentially at the same time.  I also see that, although you say that Citizens Defending Libraries and the Committee to Save the New York Public Library were unknown to you when you wrote your book, your book includes descriptions of both of those library sales we were so active in criticizing.

I have reviewed your Brooklyn Book Festival remarks when you told people who were seeking to change the world to `find Councilman Brad Lander’ because I intend to write about what you said, and it seems reasonable that people hearing how you phrased things and the context in which you were offering your advice, would probably conclude that you were instructing them that, rather than work alone (which you said would be unsuccessful), they should “find Brad Lander” because they could “believe” in him, should “support” him, that Lander is some who we can think of as helping to “build libraries,” and, finally, that Mr. Lander is someone who exists safely exterior to the trap of neoliberal thinking.

I’ll also remind you that just before the panel began its discussion, Councilman Lander jumped in to speak to the crowd and portray himself with some heavy duty rhetoric as a fellow political activist looking to make the same changes the audience of activists were wanting.

Accordingly, before I write about your instruction to “find Brad Lander,” I wanted to contact you and see if you wanted to retroactively supply some sort of caveat or warning that I can pass along from you, perhaps particularly to people seeking to defend libraries and our public assets and infrastructure, about Mr. Lander and what to expect from him. . . before they put themselves in Mr. Lander’s hands or let him lead them.  Would you like to do so?

Perhaps I should also mention that I have found the descriptions in your book about the Donnell and Brooklyn Heights Library sales. The flaws I find in them is the overall mildness of what you wrote and what is missing be virtue of what you elide in your descriptions.  I can take that up with you further a bit later.
Mr. Klinenberg responded:
Dear Mr White,
I respectfully ask that you do not misrepresent my statement. I told the audience that they cannot change the world by asking alone. I told them to speak to people like Mr Lander because he is an elected representative in our local democracy. That is clearly not the only way to change the world, and I said that as well. The way you’ve described it here is a gross simplification of my remarks.

I believe in solidarity. I’d like to see advocates for the city libraries work together more effectively. I know there are differences in strategy and in opinion about some matters, including how to finance the system. I take a position in the book. You can write Bantu it, of course. I simply ask that you represent it fairly.

Bets wishes,
Mr. Klinenberg did not take up the first or a subsequent invitation extended to him to join Citizens Defending Libraries in warning people about what Councilman Lander is up to in terms of the libraries.

— Another thing that Mr. Klinenberg could do in the interest of “solidarity” (and staying informed) would be to sign our Citizens Defending Libraries petition that the New York City’s administration should adequately fund our libraries,  not sell them as real estate deals. 
Mr. Klinenberg's book inscribed with "Solidarity," by him.
Here is exactly what Mr. Klinenberg said in answering the question about how to change the world.  It is up to you to decide its implications with respect to Mr. Lander who had orated entreatingly earlier.  To be fair, Mr. Klinenberg does not technically say exactly why it would be good to seek out this elected representative.

Mr. Klinenberg:
The question is how can I as an individual do something to change the world?  The answer is you can’t.  But if the question is how do we do something, then there is a world of possibilities, because these are major problems that we are fighting right now; it’s about the shape of the world.  The only way we do something is if we do something as a collective.  And that means that we export that collective out of the space of neoliberalism that has made us think of ourselves as individual actors who can change the world with our consumption.  So whatever it is that’s your passion, and in this room there are going to be a lot of passions (there are a lot of things that are fucked up and need to be changed), find the other people who share your passion, persuade people who don’t know what they are passionate about that this is a passion worth fighting for, take time out of your schedule to meet with those people and do something.  Find Brad Lander and other members of the local political infrastructure or the national political infrastructure; find the organizations that you can believe in and work with them and support them.  And I am not an opponent of social media, but we are not going to change the world by “liking” things; we are going to change the world by building libraries and day care centers, and safe places where people can spend time and enjoy each other’s companionship.  That’s the world we want to make together.
Perhaps you want to know what Mr. Klinenberg’s book said about the library sales that we think is misleadingly mild?

Below are the paragraphs he wrote. For balance and perspective we will intersperse them with our comments to indicate his shadings and what he left out of the story- 
Klinenberg: The current battle pits the library's executive leadership, which is anxious about the system's declining fortunes, against local patrons who fear they'll lose neighborhood branches and specialized services if the system consolidates.
[Our comment: Portraying the library's executive leadership (presumably the library boards interconnected with that “leadership”) as “anxious” (does that mean “caring”?) about the “declining fortunes” skips over possible characterization of the board and “leadership” as being real estate deal oriented and wealthy in the kind of way* that Mr. Giridharadas scrutinizes in his analysis.  It is also perhaps inconsistent with Klinenberg’s own endnote buried at the back of the book- for those who read endnotes- mentioning the NYPL’s Central Library Plan describing it as a “misguided, massively expensive, and ultimately ill-fated effort . . .led by elite trustees who, as one former library executive said, “only care about the 42nd Street Building” and “don’t care about the branches.”  For that quote, he refers to Scott Sherman’s book Patience and Fortitude- Power, Real Estate, and the Fight to Save a Public Library about the Central Library Plan which was derailed in part by the efforts of Committee to save the New York Public Library and Citizens Defending Libraries and by two lawsuits in which Citizens Defending Libraries was the first named plaintiff, but Mr. Klinenberg told us he’d heard of neither group when he wrote his book.
(* In fact, just a few pages before Klinenberg has a few sentences that make him sound perplexingly, but not exactly, similar to Giridharadas: “Like Zuckerberg, corporate leaders are always happy to experiment with projects that promote the common good while raising their market capitalism.  But there are limits to how much they can accomplish by giving while taking.  How much more wealth do they need to accumulate before they are ready to help?”  Both men’s books are promoted by Greenlight Bookstore.– Klinenberg next writes he finds the lack of support for libraries from the corporate tech world “puzzling,” but the minute you start wondering about that question there are plenty of answers available.  Amazingly, Klinenberg acts as if he comprehends so little that he cites as an exception to this stinginess, as an example of generosity, the transfer of money by Stephen A. Schwarzman to the NYPL on the understanding that the NYPL would proceed with the Central Library Plan selling major Manhattan libraries.) 
At this point in Klinenberg’s narrative, it would have been an excellent time for him to mention the Central Library Plan and how it involved the proposed sale of central destination libraries: Mid-Manhattan, New York’s biggest circulating library and SIBL, the Science Business and Industry Library (among other things the city’s biggest science library), and, as it was announced at the same time, the central destination arts and media Donnell Library.  It also involved the banishment of millions of books intended to be shelved at the 42nd Street Central Reference Library.  He could have mentioned these things here, but they go unmentioned in his book.—   Klinenberg does mention what he calls the current “renovation” of the Mid-Manhattan Library and money for it coming from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, but only in a way that his readers would assume that it was unquestionably good, not questioning the shrinkage or book loss involved or the questionable expenditures of money.

“Consolidates,” the word used by Mr. Klinenberg, sounds relatively neutral, like a possible good thing, compared how we more fully we convey the threat of these “leadership” proposals describing them as “consolidating shrinkages.”]
Klinenberg (continued): They have good reason to fear. According to the Center for an Urban Future, the New York Public Library system has more than $1.5 billion in construction needs-just for repairs and maintenance on existing facilities. In Manhattan, the city sold land and air rights to the beloved Donnell Library, across from the Museum of Modern Art on Fifty-Third Street, in 2007, for $59 million, promising to open a new facility within the new luxury hotel and condo building there by 2011. It opened in summer 2016, and while some appreciated its twenty-first-century design, both users and critics complained that it felt soulless, more like an Apple Store than a community hub.
[Our comment: The “They have good reason to fear” formulation, splits the possible blame for that fear between the described underfunding of the libraries and the first mention of any sell offs of NYC libraries.  This doesn’t describe for Klinenberg’s readers our admonitions about efforts on the part of the library “leadership” to overstate and exaggerate repair figures (even while holding back available funds) and, as can been seen in part from the minutes of the BPL trustee meetings, an agreement with Bloomberg city administration officials to start building up those repair figures made just as they were also launching the library sell-off plans.  In his back of the book endnotes, Klinenberg says he is taking his figures from the testimony of Jonathan Bowles of the Revson funded Center For an Urban Future at the September 30, 2013 City Council hearing.  That hearing, at which Citizens Defending Libraries delivered copious opposing testimony, was the first city council hearing about selling libraries, and was set up and orchestrated by the City Council and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer to justify selling libraries (including at that time the NYPL Central Library Plan) shortly after plans for selling libraries were eviscerated (including follow up in the newspapers) in at a June 27, 2013 state assembly hearing on the subject. Klinenberg doesn’t note that Bowles and the Center For an Urban Future have actually advocated the library sales that Klinenberg is only softy bemoaning in his text here.  (In our communication with Mr. Klinenberg we said that we wondered where he was getting his information.)

While “beloved Donnell Library” is the phrase we consistently use remembering its unforgivable sale, Klinenberg says that the library was sold “for $59 million,” without indicating, especially for non-New Yorkers not knowing real estate prices here, how much less this figure was than the huge central library’s actual value to the public.  He also does not note that this is a gross figure and that if he was paying attention to Scott Sherman’s book, what the NYPL netted after expenses for selling the valuable library was probably less than $23 million at best.  Also, maybe because he doesn’t know, Klinenberg does not say that the Donnell was sold off in what was for practical purposes a no-bid deal where one of the principal financial beneficiaries of the transaction was Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law.

Klinenberg says the NYPL promised to open “a new facility” in what was rebuilt.   What they really promised was that the Donnell Library would be rebuilt.  Ultimately, the NYPL was too embarrassed to call what was built a new “Donnell”: it became just a “53rd Street library,” jettisoning reference to the past.  They did not, at the time the sale was announced, tell the public about the huge luxury tower that was coming.  The NYPL just talked about an “11-story hotel” being built.

For Klinenberg to say that the criticism of the “new facility” was that it “felt soulless” is an extreme understatement.  What about the fact that library was smaller, just over a fourth the size?  That it was largely underground?  That books were largely eliminated, along with other facilities like that auditorium and media center as well?  That, to add insult to injury, the new facility was showing huge picture screen slides of fancy real estate developments and construction?  And how can Mr. Klinenberg be aware of any of this criticism at all without knowing that Citizens Defending Libraries and the Committee to save the Public Library were leading demonstrations about it, plus consolidating the published criticism that regularly quoted us?    As for the twenty-first-century design gibberish, that’s pure Center for and Urban Future PR speak, some of the “brush” and “widely believed bullshit and terminology” that needs to be cleared away in this context.

To point out that the library’s opening in 2016, after almost nine years, was later than promised is to miss the point that its opening lagged the opening of the luxury hotel, restaurants and condos by more than a year or what that, in turn, said about the NYPL’s priorities in making the library into a real estate deal.]        
Klinenberg (continued):  In Brooklyn, where estimates for repairing the borough's sixty branch buildings top $300 million, the public library board tried to sell the historic, heavily used Pacific Library branch in Boerum Hill to real estate developers, only to withdraw the offer because of fierce neighborhood protests. Soon after, the board voted to sell the land rights to the Brooklyn Heights Library for $52 million, so that another developer could build a thirty-six-story, mixed-use tower that, as in Manhattan, would include a new library, considerably smaller than the current one. Once again, neighbors protested, but this time for naught. The Brooklyn Borough Board approved the sale in early 2016.
[Our comment: Again, Klinenberg promotes the believability of the repair figure that “leadership” trotted out to sell libraries they were intentionally underfunding to have an excuse to sell these valuable assets.  Klinenberg notes the “fierce” opposition to the sale of the Pacific Library, but somehow again, by his account, never noticed our Citizens Defending Libraries leadership in the fight?   Once again, Klinenberg describes the sale of the central destination Business, Career, and Education Federal Depository Brooklyn Heights Library in downtown without noting that it was the second biggest library in Brooklyn, recently expanded and fully upgraded, or how much below its value it was sold for, for less than its tear down value of that of a vacant lot in what was criticized as pay-to-play deal for campaign contributions to the mayor.  He doesn’t lay it out for non-New Yorkers or indicate that, $52 million aside, the library sale will, just like Donnell, actually net far less than that gross figure he gives.  This time, Klinenberg does say that the new library will be “considerably smaller,” (about 40% of what it was), but he doesn’t note the loss of books, the discontinuation of the Business, Career, and Education plus Federal Depository functions banished from the site, and he doesn’t note that, again, like Donnell, the public will be pushed more underground.  Again, he notes the protests and, once again we must wonder how he professes to be unaware that we led them.  Mention of us would, of course, have the consequence of leading people into a more informed state of affairs.]     
Klinenberg (continued): The fiscal crisis in the New York Public Library has had more immediate consequences too. Between 2008 and 2013, New York City cut the library system's operating funds by $68 million, resulting in a 24 percent drop in staff hours. A century ago, most branch libraries were open seven days a week; today, most are closed on Sundays, which have always been popular days for immigrants, blue-collar workers, and families to visit. No other institution can fill the void.

[Our comment: There is no reason for the libraries to be underfunded, especially when they are a top public priority and cost relatively little to fund.  Mr. Klinenberg writes as if he does not recognize the games that are being played here, dangerous ones at that.  If underfunding of the libraries is allowed to work as an excuse to sell libraries then that underfunding will persist as long as the real estate industry and its allies still want libraries to be sold.]
If Mr. Klinenberg is writing so mildly, taking the edge off what he is telling the public every conceivable which way, should we be wondering why?

In the acknowledgments to his book, Mr. Klinenberg offers an origin story with respect to his writing of his book— It started with an approach to him to write about libraries— And that approach came from the Revson Foundation which has funded all sorts of initiatives in connection with promoting the sale of libraries (it has on its board Sharon L. Greenberger who lead the Brooklyn Public Library’s launch of its library sales, while Reynold Levy, another of its board members is president of the unaptly named Robinhood Foundation spearheading the Inwood Library sale)– emphasis is supplied:
I am also lucky to have met Julie Sandorf, president of the Charles H. Revson Foundation and fierce champion of public libraries.  In early 2016, Julie came to IPK [Institute for Public Knowledge- established in 2007 by the President and Provost of New York University] and pitched a small, collaborative project on the state of New York City’s branch libraries.  I raised the bid, and came back to the foundation with a proposal for what ultimately became a wide-ranging project on libraries, social infrastructure, and civic life.  Julie and her team have been all in ever since, and I thank them for their support.
We have asked Mr. Klinenberg about his funding from the Revson Foundation and how much it was.  He hasn’t informed us about that.  He did respond to another inquiry when we asked whether his writing about the library sales was reviewed by the Revson Foundation or the Center for an Urban Future (whose promotion of Library sales is funded by the Revson Foundation).  He told us he did not have the “Revson or CUF vet my writing.”

Mr. Giridharadas tells us to be wary of the foundations of the “new philanthropy,” because they are not what they seem, often wanting to soften the edges of greed to let it persist in its pursuits.  And he also describes foundations that veer off course from what would actually be helpful, because keeping the interests of the wealthy always in mind they set the wrong priorities. But until we have settled down with his book to read it through, we won’t know whether he has ventured to describe foundations such as the Revson Foundation, the Robinhood Foundation and the Center for and Urban Future (not to mention the oddly comprised boards of the libraries themselves), who apparently represent something worse, efforts to use the guise of charity to plunder public assets, case in point, turning libraries into real estate deals that benefit the real estate industry, but impoverish the public that relies on libraries.

Back of book blurbs
Mr. Klinenberg’s book is likely to get good readership.  He seems to have risen to a certain level of access that plugs him into the mainstream media.  He has appeared on Bill Maher.  The back of his book has endorsement blurbs from a number of recognized names: Jon Stewart (Citizens Defending Libraries would over to have had Mr. Stewart or John Oliver pay attention to our publicizing of the library sell-offs; hasn’t happened yet), Renzo Piano (who designed the New York Times building), sociologist Alie Hochschild (who credits Mr. Klinenberg with a “Jane Jacobs-eye”), Rebecca Solnit (of “mansplaining” fame) and “How Democracies Die” authors  Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt.  That may mean that Klinenberg’s story about what is happening with New York City library sales will tend to become more the official one than ours. . . Especially if our press releases are not picked up. . . .

 . . . We think it would be unfortunate if that proves to be the case.  Among other things, we think the information we provide is far better researched and is a far more neutral and careful expression of the facts and the concerns that face us.  And, we are careful about with whom we ally; we don’t take money from the Revson Foundation!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

As Condo Apartments Set Brooklyn Heights Sales Records (You Heard About Matt Damon’s $16.645 Million Penthouse?) Central Library Sold To Build (Now About To be Marketed) Luxury Condos Nets Mere Pittance

What Brooklyn Heights real estate news do you want to hear about first?

Do you want to know that the condos in One Clinton, the luxury tower that’s replacing Brooklyn’s second biggest library, what was the Business, Career and Education Federal Depository Library, the central destination Brooklyn Heights Library in Downtown Brooklyn, are about to be marketed?

The Standish
Or do you want to hear that condo apartments are setting sales records- yes, apartments, not even townhouses, with Matt Damon showing up in Curbed and the Wall Street Journal with reports that he is in contract to buy a $16.645 million penthouse in The Standish, converted from what was once a hotel.  That’s maybe more fun to hear about.  As Curbed points out, if the reports prove to be true, the $16.645 million asking price for the penthouse will “beat the record” set by the  sale of a Cobble Hill townhouse, 177 Pacific Street, bought by photographer Jay Maisel going into contract for $16 million (but closing for just $12.9 million) in 2015.  The next runner up cited by Curbed was another apartment, Dumbo’s Clocktower penthouse, which sold for $15 million. . . . Wow!  Such a price, even when The Standish is fairly nondescript by Brooklyn Heights standards!

New, about to open sales office for One Clinton at 153 Remsen Street.  Is this a transaction to depict in shades of grey?  Probably not. 
Back to One Clinton: Sunday’s New York Times Real Estate Section reported on the commencement of the apartment sales.  See: The High End- A Condo Tower on a Library Site- Sales begin at a Brooklyn Heights building that faces Cadman Plaza and replaces a 1960s library with a smaller branch and 134 condos.-  By C. J. Hughes, September 14, 2018

The Real Estate Section article puts front and center the critical issue of the library sell-off that preceded these condo sales well, and it quotes one of our Citizens Defending Libraries co-founders while doing so:
Opponents say that the project, from the Hudson Companies, has done something deeply offensive: bulldoze a library, and a popular one at that, to make way for luxury housing.

 “The developer is coming to clearly enrich himself at the expense of the public,” said Michael D. D. White, a co-founder of Citizens Defending Libraries, a group formed in 2013 after city officials announced plans to redevelop the site, which is on Cadman Plaza West at Clinton Street, near Brooklyn Borough Hall.

“Memories are not going to go away,” added Mr. White, who over the years has organized protests near the former library, which was built in 1962, and plans to stage another with the opening of the condo’s sales office.

    . . .  Mr. White said the new library would be a pale substitute for the old version, in part because it’s so much smaller than the former library, which measured 59,000 square feet. Many rooms in the new library will also be underground, another unwelcome change, Mr. White added.
Unfortunately, this good press regarding how unfortunate the sale of the library is, comes after the sale has occurred and the library destroyed.  And it’s in the Real Estate Section, a section of the paper most readers find their way to because they are interested in tracking real estate business or buying (an often luxury) place to live.  There are other sections of the paper that have more to do with holding our public officials to account, officials like those who pushed this library sale through: Mayor de Blasio (in what was looked at as a pay-to-play deal), Councilman Brad Lander and Councilman Steve Levin among them.

The Times article also notes the role of Brooklyn Community Board Two and the Brooklyn Heights Association in pushing through the library sale.  In fact, given yet one more opportunity to back off from its crucial support in putting through the library sale and shrinkage with the elimination of the Business, Career, and Education and Federal Depository library parts of the library previously there, the Brooklyn Heights Association speaking through its executive director Peter Bray reiterated all over again its continuing support for the sale of the library saying, “We’ve taken a very close look at this project from day one.”   The Times, in passing, made sly note of the  incongruity that the Brooklyn Heights Association “has railed against other residential towers.”  That includes the association’s objections to the very similar and similarly located Pineapple Walk tower that was proposed . . .

. . . The Times article didn’t mention that one difference with the library sale luxury tower, as opposed to those other residential towers “railed against,” was that Saint Ann’s School was cashing in as a big beneficiary of the transaction and the BHA allowed BHA board members from the community connected to Saint Ann’s a great deal of influence with respect to approving the transaction.

More objectionable than Saint Ann’s School cashing in on the sale of this public asset is the comparative pittance that went to the public in exchange for giving up its library.  The library had been significantly expanded and fully upgraded quite recently in 1993, making it one of the most modern and up to date in the system with lots of computer resources.  The library would cost over $120 million to replace.  But the library was sold for less than its tear down value, for just a very few multiples what Matt Damon is paying for his apartment.  Unfortunately, that figure is not what the Brooklyn Public Library will net from the sale after all the losses and expenses are tallied.  That figure will be considerably less.

The Brooklyn Public Library has not been forthcoming about the numbers that should be worked into such a final reckoning, but if our estimates are close to the mark, then the BPL will net probably not much more than what Matt Damon is paying for his penthouse.  If our figures are off the mark and we have overestimated what the BPL will net, the BPL might even net less than Damon is plunking down for his new Brooklyn Heights digs.

As for the buyers of One Clinton condos?  They may not be encountering prospects as gilded as they hope.   The library, before it was destroyed, was inscribed with a promise on its wall that faced north under the shade of what were Truth Park’s trees.  The promise was that those who came to the site would not find gold, just truth and wisdom as long as that’s what they sought.  The inscription read:
All that come here to seek treasure will not take away gold but the seeker after truth and instruction will find that which will enrich the mind and heart
It was a promise offering hope and inspiration to the many coming to the library site for the public purposes to which the library was dedicated. . .  But it was an admonition to those less pure coming to the site seeking instead only to satisfy their greed.

“Memories are not going to go away”: The inscription, `truth, instruction and an enriched mind and heart, not gold' on the side library facing Truth Park

Saturday, September 15, 2018

There’s Much You Should Not Trust When The Wealthy Give- Anand Giridharadas’ “Winners Take All- The Elite Charade of Changing the World” and David Callahan’s “The Givers: Wealth, Power and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age”

Beware the Triumph of the "New Philanthropy"
On a recent Sunday towards the end of August the New York Times Book Review ran as its cover a review written by economist Joseph Stiglitz of Anand Giridharadas new book “Winners Take All- The Elite Charade of Changing the World” (see Meet the ‘Change Agents’ Who Are Enabling Inequality August 20, 2018.)  Somewhat consistently, the New York Times Book Review podcast started out the first half of its 54 minutes with an extended interview with Mr. Giridharadas about his new book (listen to Interrogating the Change Makers- “This is change that doesn’t necessarily change anything,” Anand Giridharadas says, August 24, 2018)

That same Sunday the Times ran amongst its collection of Sunday Review op-eds an op-ed by Mr. Giridharadas “Beware Rich People Who Say They Want to Change the World- Society’s winners can seem so generous, until you consider what they’re really selling,” (August 24, 2018), which was basically adaptation of from his book to promo its themes.

The next Sunday, Mr. Giridharadas again appeared in the Times Sunday Book Review Section this time reviewing Francis Fukuyama’s book “The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment” and Kwame Anthony Appiah’s “Rethinking Identity: Creed, Country, Color, Class, Culture” (see: What Is Identity? August 27, 2018).  Of course, his review of those authors’ books included a squib identifying Mr. Giridharadas as the author of his new “Winners Take All” book.

In all, the Times did not do a shabby job in giving a leg up to one of its own: Mr. Giridharadas has been writing regularly for the Times now for a number of years.  The Biographical information on his website contains the following:
He is a former columnist and correspondent for The New York Times, having written, most recently, the biweekly “Letter from America.” His datelines have included Italy, India, China, Dubai, Norway, Japan, Haiti, Brazil, Colombia, Nigeria, Uruguay, and the United States. He has also written for The Times's arts, business, and travel pages, and its Book Review, Sunday Review, and magazine-
Giridharadas’s promotion of his new books is also doing well enough in other ways; you can catch him this upcoming Sunday 10:00 AM at the Brooklyn Book Festival:
How Do We Change the World?
Borough Hall Courtroom
209 Joralemon Street
Brooklyn Heights, New York 11201
Choosing between the Stiglitz review of Giridharadas’ book and Giridharadas’ own op-d microcosmic facsimile of his book, we recommend reading the Stiglitz review first.   Infused with Stiglizt’s own points of view, his review zips along making extra points about the Trojan House bargains of accepting charity from the ever more wealthy and disconnected .01%, and expresses those points perhaps a tad more trenchantly.

Stiglitz also appropriately and importantly links Giridharadas’s new book to another by David Callahan while offering an observation about how both authors are likely pulling their punches as they write about the wealthy in order to maintain their access to them.  He writes:
Giridharadas embedded himself in the world he writes about, much as the journalist David Callahan (who edits the Inside Philanthropy website) did for his recent book, “The Givers: Wealth, Power and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age.” And like Callahan, Giridharadas is careful not to offend. He writes on two levels — seemingly tactful and subtle — but ultimately he presents a devastating portrait of a whole class, one easier to satirize than to reform.
One of our friends from Texas breathlessly inquired the other day whether we had heard about Giridharadas and how Giridharadas had been boldly in the face of the wealthy when he gave a speech before a 2015 confab of moneyed “thought leaders” gathering in Aspen to solve the world’s problems through philanthropy.   Did you hear, he asked us, that Giridharadas told them they could do a hell of a lot more good in the world than they did with their charity, if they would just stop the harm they did while making their money?  Perhaps our well-read Texas book friend had just seen the actually quote in a New York Magazine interview where Giridharadas was plugging his book.  To wit (emphasis supplied):
Giridharadas broke with protocol, accusing his audience of perpetuating the very social problems they thought they were solving through philanthropy. He described what he called the Aspen Consensus: “The winners of our age must be challenged to do more good, but never, ever tell them to do less harm.”
(See: Q&A- Why Philanthropy Is Bad for Democracy Anand Giridharadas, author of Winners Take All, on how well-meaning liberals paved the way for Trump, by Nick Tabor, August 26, 2018)

Our Texas friend quickly cited as an example of that thought the Sackler family that has been virtually criminal, acting like common drug pushers with deceptive agendas, addicting hundreds of thousands to opiods.  In fact, the New York Magazine article quote from Giridharadas on this:
The CDC now estimates that 200,000 people have died in the opioid epidemic. Just think about that for a minute. Those are genocide numbers! Not only have they not gone to jail, their names are in the Brooklyn Museum.
Another recent such example is the way that when Seattle passed a small tax on businesses making more than $20 million in gross revenue in order to address its homeless crisis (greatly acerbated by skyrocketing rents) Jeff Bezos and his Amazon, Seattle’s biggest employer and the second biggest company in the United States, used their political heft to crush the tax getting it repealed.  That was the absurdity even though Jeff Bezos with $167 billion is the world’s richest man and many of Amazon’s workers, impoverished by the low wages the monopoly pays, collect food stamps.

Giridharadas apparently has a number of ideas he wants to address about why the so-called “giving” of the monied elite should not be accepted at face value for what it purports to be or considered as an actually benefit to society.  Having not yet read the book we don’t know for sure how well laid out they are there.
    •    In his op-ed he says that the elites are selling “fake change,” “milquetoast” change that “is change the powerful can tolerate” and that leaves in place and undisturbed a “winners-take-all economy” that “siphons the gains from progress upward.”  He suggests it allows the wealthy the benefit of `redefining change,’ and `defanging’ it so that there are no redistribution of power, income, or benefits with the flow continuing upward.  He also offers the line, “President Trump is what we get when we trust the rich to fix what they are complicit in breaking.”

    •    In his Times Book Review podcast interview Giridharadas speaks of the charity of the wealthy as “papal indulgences” indicating that they serve as conscience salves, or the components of broken, jury-rigged moral systems by which wealthy escape any self restraint or regulation.  He said he also see the charity as `helping’  the underlying problem persist.

    •    In his New York Magazine interview he discusses a quote he uses from Thomas Piketty: “the durability of this system depends on the effectiveness of its apparatus of justification.”  He says there that his book is about “The apparatus of justification” and how his critique is that this philanthropy, a drop in the bucket, “is upholding the problem . . ” the “kindness” of the wealthy “is how a bad system is maintained.”

    •    In the podcast Giridharadas also speaks of the “win-win” formulations that almost inevitably creep in to the equations with what the wealthy propose as philanthropy.  When `what’s in it for them' is a prerequisite, perspectives are likely to be pretty skewed and it likely leads quickly to some pretty corrupt equations.  We are not sure how far Giridharadas pursues those implications.  Michael Bloomberg in his autobiography released as he was launching into politics  said he never made charitable gifts without calculating the benefit he’d get in return.  Then he put his chief political tactician in charge of dispensing his gifts enforcing quid pro quo returns.  
Stiglitz tells us that Giridharadas refers to the:
prevailing ethos “MarketWorld,” made up of people who want “to do well and do good.” He beautifully catches the language of Aspen, Davos and the recently extant Clinton Global Initiative, which will doubtless reappear in the newly born Bloomberg initiative. It’s a world of feel-good clich├ęs like “win-win” and “make a difference.”

    * * *

They would fund a million of these buzzwordy programs rather than fundamentally question the rules of the game — or even alter their own behavior to reduce the harm of the existing distorted, inefficient and unfair rules.
Stiglitz continues that:
Giridharadas rightly argues that this misallocation of resources creates a grave opportunity cost. The money and time the MarketWorlders spend fixing the edges of our fraying social order could be used to push for real change. This is especially so in the political battles in which the country is currently engaged, where a majority of the Supreme Court and members of Congress seem hellbent on rewriting the rules of the American economy and political system in ways that will exacerbate economic disparities, increase monopoly power, and decrease access to health care and women’s reproductive rights.
The ending of Stiglitz’s review apparently tracks the ending of the Giridharadas book quoting political scientist,  Chiara Cordelli:
Democracy and high levels of inequality of the kind that have come to characterize the United States are simply incompatible. Very rich people will always use money to maintain their political and economic power. But now we have another group: the unwitting enablers. Despite believing they are working for a better world, they are at most chipping away at the margins, making slight course corrections, while the system goes on as it is, uninterrupted.
But it is probably too shallow when describing the worst in current philanthropic trends to stop and conclude only with the observation that they enable the system to continue uninterrupted.

As noted above, in his review, Stiglitz mentioned David Callahan’s “The Givers: Wealth, Power and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age.”  Callahan edits the Inside Philanthropy website.  In a previous Citizens Defending Libraries post we mentioned and quoted from a New York Times op-ed Callahan wrote (“Who Will Watch The Charities” 2015): Why Nonprofit Boards May Stray From Their Core Missions And Obligations To the Public- Considered Generally And Particularly With Respect To Libraries.  Here’s what we quoted via a Noticing New York article:
There is new study on the increasing dominance of Wall Street financiers on charitable boards. . . by Garry W. Jenkins at Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law. .

From the report:
As financiers come to dominate the boards of leading nonprofits, it is not surprising that their approaches and priorities have made their way, very explicitly and fundamentally, into the governance of the nonprofit sector.
    * * * *

A May 30, 2015 New York Times Sunday Review Op-Ed, "Who Will Watch the Charities?," by David Callahan, founder and editor of Inside Philanthropy, is far more caustic and cynical.  "(W)e should end the charade that all philanthropy is somehow charitable," says Mr. Callahan. . .   He warns a big problem with modern philanthropy: "how inextricably entwined it has become with politics and ideology."  He says:
it's alarming how in an era of high inequality, private funders have a growing say over central areas of civic life like education and public parks, and how this influence is often wielded against a backdrop of secrecy.
As for political ideology, Jane Mayer in her book “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right” devoted a lot of text to documenting how the Koch Brothers have used “charities” to which they have made tax deductible contributions to further their political agenda, which is in turn focused on what would be best for their personal businesses and increase their wealth.

Scott Sherman wrote about Callahan’s new book.  He noted its overall mildness, the “Givers is not a screed; those looking for a rhetorical demolition of the superrich will be disappointed.”   It is a inventory of a variety of wealthy givers with different styles and motivations that, as Callahan points out, “you’ll find that few of them, as individuals, had much to do with the meltdown of 2008 and many would be fine with paying higher taxes.”  But Sherman says about the “new philanthropy?”:
There are growing concerns about the influence and reach of the superwealthy: “Philanthropy is becoming a much stronger power center,” Callahan says, “and, in some areas, is set to surpass government in its ability to shape society’s agenda.” The state has retreated; the givers have advanced.
You have to read a long way into Sherman’s article before he brings up the relevance of what Sherman wrote about in his book “Patience and Fortitude- Power, Real Estate, and the Fight to Save a Public Library.”  Sherman’s book was about a consolidating shrinkage plan to sell and destroy Manhattan's most important central libraries, including the 42nd Street Central Reference Library.  The plan involved a “charitable” donation from the CEO with the highest salary in the world.  Sherman writes:
In 2008 Stephen A. Schwarzman, another cofounder of Blackstone, gave $100 million to the New York Public Library at a moment when the Library was secretly undertaking a dubious real estate and construction scheme. For nearly a decade, the NYPL refused to reveal how Schwarzman’s money was being utilized. Only in recent months did the Library account for the gift’s use: the $100 million formed part of the endowment and will soon be used for new renovation projects.
Even so, Sherman pulls his punches.  He does not describe how that $100 million Schwarzman transfer was on the understanding that the plan to sell libraries would go forward.  (See: On Charlie Rose NYPL Trustee Stephen Schwarzman Confirms Suspicions: His $100 Million To The Library Was Linked To NYPL’s Real Estate Plans, June 22, 2013.)  And that is probably not all that made Schwarzman’s $100 million transfer a problem.  (See: Too Close For Comfort? Real Estate Addresses- Blackstone, Booz Allen Hamilton, The Libraries & Bryant Park.)

Worse yet, Sherman blithely mentions to 'balance out' (?) `on the good side of things’ the following that is misleading:
In New York, the Leon Levy Foundation has helped to revitalize a pair of Brooklyn landmarks, the Brooklyn Public Library and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
In fact, the Brooklyn Public Library central Grand Army Plaza is threatened by exactly the same kind of misguided plans that Schwarzman’s Central Library plan threatened the Manhattan libraries with.  It is again another symptom of how profit and a market place oriented philanthropy is running amuck to destroy and privatize our public assets.  See:  Planned Overhaul of Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza Library- Another “Central Library Plan” Questionable In All The Same Ways.

Meanwhile, almost immediately adjacent to the Grand Army Plaza Library, the Botantic Garden is similarly under threat.  It was once a board of horticulturalists and peopel of that ilk. It's been taken over by a board of market-oriented Wall Streeters with too many conflicts of interest, a board that is allowing or promoting shrinkage of that public asset: The garden’s science building was sold off; the hours are shorter; charges have been instituted for the public to visit the garden and those charges keep escalating; more space and resources are devoted to private parties and functions; and, very importantly right now the board is not fighting or in any way seriously objecting as the previous zoning that was intentionally protective of the garden is being eliminated to build towers that will overshadow it, ruin views and send glass glare into it as well.
Towers casting shadows on the Botanic Garden as protective zoning is eliminated without a whimper of protest from a "new philanthropy" board
Yes, certainly sometimes the “new philanthropy” is about making things nice around the edges, putting a better face on things and making a system that needs to be changed more palatable so it can persist, but sometimes, connected to ruses to steal more, that “new philanthropy” is not giving at all.  Sometimes the public is directly impoverished by the exact schemes that masquerade as charity.  Take for instance this undemocratic result: how a school district can wind up with less funds for what the public wants funded when the (Bill and Melinda) Gates Foundation pays the school district on condition that it divert its available funds away from other expenditures that were the district's priorities to a questionable pet project the foundation is promoting.  Or very similarly, consider the funds that get advanced to pay for schools to be converted into private charters?

The Revson Foundation is, in theory a charity, but it has been very busy funding and promoting the promotion of selling and shrinking libraries, getting rid of books and making libraries more oriented to marketplace oriented partnerships with private corporations.  (BTW: Speaking of such partnerships, the NYPL board of trustees were told this week that the NYPL is going into the film business with HBO.)

But these efforts can be subtle and stealthy, hard to recognize and sort out.  When Anand Giridharadas appears at the Brooklyn Book Festival on Sunday he will appear on a panel with Eric Klinenberg, who himself just had a Times Sunday Review op-ed published promoting his new book: “Palaces of the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life.”  His op-ed, reading like it was cribbed from the Citizens Defending Libraries own web site was:  Why Libraries Still Matter- To Restore Civil Society, Start With the Library (In an age of polarization and inequality, the are the bedrock of civil society. -  This crucial institution is being neglected just when we need it the most.)
Even so, Mr. Klinenberg’s new book does not mention Citizens Defending Libraries or the Committee to Save the New York Public Library.  Nor does his book mention previous books that have covered this territory: “Dismantling the Public Sphere- Situating and Sustaining Librarianship In the Age of the New Public Philosophy,” by John E. Buschman and “Barbarians at the Gates of the Public Library: How Postmodern Consumer Capitalism Threatens Democracy, Civil Education and the Public Good,” by Ed D'Angelo.  We checked with Mr. Klinenberg and he said that although he lives in the same city and is writing about these subjects he never heard of  Citizens Defending Libraries or the Committee to Save the New York Public Library, and that he has not heard of John E. Buschman or Ed D'Angelo or their work.

Mr. Klinenberg’s book was funded by the Revson Foundation, something we have asked him more about, but have not heard back about.

Mr. D'Angelo expressed concern to us (which we share) that Mr. Klinenberg, wittingly or not, may be helping the Revson Foundation, “wrap their market-oriented policies in a progressive garb that is more in tune with the current political climate.”  It is impossible to reach a judgment on this from this Times Sunday book review of Klinenberg’s book.  . . .  It should be noted that Klinenberg’s work as a graduate student concerning a 1995 heat wave in Chicago was noticed and written about admiringly by Jane Jacob’s in her last book “Dark Age Ahead” (2004).  Jacobs praised Klinenberg and a study he did for being able and willing to search “beneath the surface” to reach conclusions, contrary to those of a sloppy New England Journal of Medicine study about the elderly who survived the heat wave vs. those who didn’t.  The New England Journal blamed the victims: Matching neighborhoods against each other for contrast, Klinenberg concluded that those elderly who proved better able to survive were in neighborhoods where the neighborhood fabric was strong, that had “stores and gathering places,” where people were “accustomed to walking outside” on the “district's bustling crowded street” where they felt secure and trusted, rather than feared their neighbors.  Another failing Jacobs said that Klinenberg found was that, with the implementation of “reinventing government” cutbacks, firemen had been trained to 'replace' social workers who were fired . . .  much the way librarians are being 'replaced' by untrained substitutes now?

Maybe we will learn more about Klinenberg’s point of view at Sunday’s Brooklyn Book Festival.  As for “witting” the Times review of Klinenberg’s book tells is that Klinenberg is “best known recently as Aziz Ansari’s co-author for “Modern Romance,” in which he helped the comedian apply social science tools to better understand dating.”- So, we might guess that Klinenberg at least knows how to be witty.

As for access to the wealthy, the access that Anand Giridharadas got for his book included ex-president Bill Clinton.  He said in his podcast interview that he was flabbergasted Clinton, addressing a hypothetical in their conversation said that he would allow a partnership where sugary drink manufacturers would “serve” schools by putting sugar drink vending machines in the schools. Clinton told Giridharadas that the private market needs of the drink manufacturers had to be served in the partnership and that the bad health effects of the sugar should be solved with around-the-edges fixes like asking that the bottles be smaller containing smaller portions.  Hearing this you can probably understand why the “charity” work of the Clintons in Haiti is so unpopular.

Partnerships with private drink companies to put sugary drinks in schools is not exactly a pure hypothetical: Mayor Michael Bloomberg went outside proper competitive bid process to force sugar drink “Snapple” vending machines into NYC schools and libraries– The Queen Library successfully resisted.  Mayor Michael Bloomberg starting around 2005 or earlier was also the first New York mayor to start selling off and shrinking libraries while turning them into real estate deals.  (Mayor Giuliani before him was building libraries and expanding them.) 

Mr. Giridharadas' Sunday Book Review Section review of the Francis Fukuyama and Kwame Anthony Appiah books centers around some murky discussion about how we find our identities and who we identify with, also how unfortunate “resentments” may inappropriately separate us as individuals.  In the context of Giridharadas’ review of the two books, the questions seem to be asked mostly in terms of what “groups” people are now being drawn to identify with, and the “identity politics” stuff (where `tribe’ trumps `principles’ in setting course).  A focus on so many fracturing possibilities could be a distraction. . . . We think the much more important thing going on in this country now in that regard is, instead, the sequential “othering” that is occurring with group after group: after 9/11 with Muslims (sending them to Guantanamo or worse with no due process); now with undocumented aliens seeking safety and asylum (sending them to detention camps where there is no due process); as always with people of color (who are subject to a justice system where they do not get equal due process); and now, increasingly, the poor whose very status is more and more criminalized (thus often setting them adrift from due process).
That “othering” process, often cultivated with some calculation from above, serves as a distraction of public energy from where it probably should be directed.  Where should it probably be directed?: That’s something that comes up when Giridharadas quotes Fukuyama.  Of course there is stress to be dealt with: “Fukuyama reminds us that across much of the West, people have suffered dislocation and elites have captured the fruits.”  But:
Fukuyama . . .  fears identity politics “has become a cheap substitute for serious thinking about how to reverse the 30-year trend in most liberal democracies toward greater socioeconomic inequality.” Fukuyama worries that the “woker” the left gets on identity issues, the weaker it gets on offering a critique of capitalism.
According to Giridharadas, Appiah begins his book by observing that he, himself, is a man of “ambiguous identity,” constantly asked, “What are you?”  Appiah is “a Ghanaian-British-American philosopher.”
Vested, sitting before empty bookshelves, trustee Kwame Anthony Appiah,at the NYPL trustee meeting where he volunteered for the presentation Wiseman caught on film of the Phillis Wheatley artifacts.
In terms of Appiah’s identity, Giridharadas did not note that Appiah is a fellow New York Times columnist, writing Times ethicist column.  He also did not note that Appiah is trustee of the NYPL.  In other words, Appiah is on one of those big boards of “muckety-mucks” (to use Joseph Stiglitz’s term) engaged in dispensing the “new philanthropy” we have been talking about as the core subject of Giridharadas book.  You can see Mr. Appiah in a film that Federick Wiseman was granted access to film about the NYPL in the NYPL board room as Appiah `volunteers’ to inform the other Trustees about Phillis Wheatley, “the first African American poet to be published in this country,” writing her poems as a slave before she was freed.

This raises some questions about whom Mr. Appiah, defined as a “cosmopolitan” by Giridharadas, identifies with when it comes to these fights about “socioeconomic inequality” and the need to offer “a critique of capitalism.”  Mr. Appiah’s book posits derivations of identity deriving from “five types of identity, all conveniently beginning with the letter “c”: creed, country, color, class and culture.”

Mr. Appiah did something very interesting and rather atrocious in his very first Ethicist column.  He was answering the question of a self-described whistle-blowing librarian who thought she should get word out about the “serious damage” going on in her library with a poorly planned and radical downsizing and discard of books at the library because: “If local researchers knew the scope of devastation underway, they would have strong objections.” 

Appiah responded telling the inquiring librarian to stop thinking of herself as a whistle-blower and let her administrators proceed, assuring the librarian (and his readers) that the decisions made:
don’t sound morally wrong. They reflect a judgment at odds with your own; they don’t reflect corruption, abuse or a total abandonment of the institution’s purposes.
At no time writing back did Appiah disclose that he is a trustee of the NYPL, a member of the decision-making board criticized for exactly the same kind “serious damage” to public assets due to book destruction and a “poorly planned” radically downsizing of the libraries (with the bait of Mr. Stephen Schwarzman’s money).  In fact, one might say that through nondisclosure, Appiah used his fractured “identity” or self-described  “ambiguous identity” to, by slight of hand, provide his own self justification for some very questionable actions he himself is partaking in. . . .
Does this look like another result of the way copiously flowing “new philanthropy” money controlling our public assets and policy fuzzes clear thinking when alliances are being formed and political actions being decided upon?

Let’s sum up with some points about why and how “philanthropy” money offered today may be often doing far more harm than good.   We know that Anand Giridharadas and David Callahan each make a number of these points, but we don’t know if any of the below are points that either has neglected to make:
    •    Acting salves for the conscious, such so-called  “philanthropy,” may stop the wealthy from self-regulating as the engage in very destructive behaviors.

    •    Such “philanthropy”  may act as an accomplice and a justification “apparatus” disguising the need for more appropriate and effective deeper changes where the system really needs to be fundamentally changed.

    •    The focus on finding “win-win” market oriented solutions where one of those “wins” is a market oriented benefit to the rich means that good private initiatives that otherwise could be truly beneficial get routinely shelved and supplanted by less desirable one if there is no benefit enticing a wealthy sponsor.

    •    “Philanthropists” coming from hedge funds and the board rooms of Wall Street who think of everything reduced to dollars and quantifiable numbers, and invariably cast things in market terms may be color-blind to other values and incapable of thinking in terms of other value systems.  As for seeing things or not as the wealth make policy for all, Stiglitz also offers quote from political scientist, Chiara Cordelli: “This right to speak for others, is simply illegitimate when exercised by a powerful citizen.”

    •    Tax deducted “philanthropy” can be used with stealth to push through objectionable private profit schemes that diminish or steal public assets or the public realm.  That’s the case with the Revson Foundation promoting the conversion of libraries into real estate deals and libraries that are more commercially and commercial Internet oriented, can be used in ways that benefit the wealthy class but directly are not good deals for the public.  Or, another example is the tax deducted “philanthropy” such as Michael Bloomberg conducts, used, quid-pro-quo, as a tool for his personal benefit and ambitions.  Similarly, Forest City Ratner set up 501(c)(3)s as astroturf to support its Atlantic Yards Project.  One of those Ratner controlled organizations was then used as the launching pad and bankroll for Forest City Ratner to run a candidate against Tish James the local councilmember who was opposing that real estate project. And when approvals for his project might have been rejected by the community, Bruce Ratner's donations to the Brooklyn Museum bought the award of an honor from the same museum that had now honored the Sacklers by putting their name on the public edifice.

    •    Tax deducted “philanthropy” may be used as mechanisms, as the are by the Koch brothers and those in the wealthy club they work with, to promote political and economic philosophies that are intended in the end to benefit their businesses, financial interests and the continued build up of their wealth.  The use of the “charity money” goes beyond promoting to political philosophies, extending to ensuring that whomever they want attains and stays in political office.   

    •    In general, “philanthropy” allows the wealthy to act as gatekeepers to the public dialogue, regulating access, and keeping the focus on discussions, questions and the answers to those questions where they want it. The “givers” replace and become more powerful than the democratically elected state.
PS: (9/25/2018)  For a second chapter to what is written here and to find out what happened at the Brooklyn Book Festival panel discussion see:  Authors Anand Giridharadas, Eric Klinenberg, Kristen Ghodsee, and Activist Blair Imani, On Panel at Brooklyn Book Festival Discuss, `How To Change The World’ (With Libraries and Social Infrastructure!) Plus Who NOT To Trust— When In Jumps Untrustworthy, Library-Selling Councilman Brad Lander!!