Home

$4 Gas Is Only the Beginning

 

 

By Leslie Evans

Republicans and Democrats are scrambling in a blame game over the skyrocketing price of gasoline, which is rapidly approaching the historic highs of the 2008 oil shock. As of April 29 pump prices for regular had topped $4 in thirteen states and crested $3.90 in eleven more. The April 23 Christian Science Monitor carried the headline "Obama faces trouble with $4 gasoline." The story led off: "Polls show Americans blame Democrats more than Republicans for $4 gasoline prices, and President Obama's poll numbers show it."

 

Of course, Americans traditionally hold incumbents responsible for any bad thing that happens. New Jersey governor James F. Fielder was voted out of office in 1916 as punishment for shark attacks off the Jersey shore. And drought-stricken states throughout the twentieth century voted against incumbent presidents who failed to make rain.

 

Things aren't made easier by a Republican and Tea Party establishment that lives on a different planet, where global warming is a hoax, oil is an inexhaustible gift from God to Americans as a reward for their exceptionalism, and all we need to do to put cheap gas in the tank is to "Drill, Baby, Drill!"

 

Without belaboring the rebuttal here, U.S. oil companies are already sitting on leases on millions of acres of land that they don't drill because wells are expensive and they have no good reason to think there is oil underneath. After all, more then 1 million wells have been drilled on American soil and in shallow offshore seas. The companies pretty well know what is out there.

 

 

And even if we desecrate the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the best informed entity on the subject, in its 2008 report projected that if work began promptly in the nearly year-round ice-bound region it would be ten years before any oil appeared and production could hit 780,000 barrels a day by 2027, declining steadily after that. That is not going to put much of a dent in U.S. daily oil consumption of 21 million barrels a day.

 

Unhappily, President Obama's counterpunch has been more symbolic than real. He has called for rescinding tax breaks for oil companies, which are reporting record profits from the run-up in crude prices of the last year. The idea that American oil company profits are the root cause of rising gas prices, though loudly trumpeted by the Democrats and much of the liberal media, is simply not true, and while comparatively big profits may be reprehensible, the notion that cutting them by government action can have any noticeable effect on the price of gas is living in a past that has been gone for forty years.

 

At best you would have to say that all wings of the political establishment are in determined denial. In January the ever-optimistic U.S. Energy Information Administration, which is supposed to know the most about this stuff, predicted that there was only a 10% chance that gas would hit $4 by the end of the summer driving season in September.

 

Who Owns the Oil? Not Americans

The past that Obama and apparently many Americans seem to be thinking of was the era of the "Seven Sisters," when privately owned -- mostly American -- oil companies dominated the global petroleum industry. This lasted from the mid-1940s to the 1970s. The famous seven were the Americans - Standard Oil of New Jersey, Standard Oil of New York (now ExxonMobil), Standard Oil of California, Gulf Oil, and Texaco (now Chevron) - joined by two from other countries, Royal Dutch Shell, and the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (now BP). In 1973 the Seven Sisters controlled 85% of the world's petroleum reserves.

 

Today the six largest privately owned oil companies are BP (United Kingdom), Royal Dutch Shell (Netherlands and UK), Total S.A. (France), and only three American corporations: Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and ExxonMobil. The six together control only 6% of world oil and gas reserves. The balance has shifted overwhelmingly to foreign, state-owned companies. State owned companies control 77% of world reserves, led by Aramco of Saudi Arabia, which was pumping 8.2 million barrels a day (mbd) in 2010 with a claimed capacity of 12.5 mbd, followed by National Iran at 3.5 mbd, Petroleos Mexicanos (2.9), Iraq National Oil (2.5), Petro China (2.3), Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. (2.3), Kuwait Oil Co. (2.3), and Petroleos de Venezuela (2.2). ExxonMobil is the only publicly traded company that even makes the top ten, at 2.5 mbd. Other significant players include Russia and Nigeria. (Forbes, July 9, 2010)

 

Clearly the U.S. oil companies have only extremely marginal ability to affect the price of oil or gas, and no tinkering with their tax status is going to change that. This is another measure of the relative decline of the United States as a world power, also testified to by the long series of lost, stalemated, or indecisive wars of the last generation.

 

So when we come in for a reality check we find that the United States produces and has reserves of only about 2% of world oil. That tail is not going to wag the dog of world fossil fuel prices. It consumes 25% of world output, about half from imports. It makes up the difference by pumping out its existing supplies at a far greater rate than any other major oil producer, for which future generations will pay the price.

 

Supply, Demand, and Peak Oil

Gas prices in turn depend on the price of crude oil, and that has been rising rapidly. Crude oil sold for about $3 a barrel for some 65 years, from 1880 through 1945. It rose marginally to about $5 a barrel for the next thirty years, until the OPEC oil embargo of 1973, when it began to spiral upward. It hit $21 a barrel in 1981, then roller-coasted down to $10 in 1990, followed by another spike, to a little over $30 a barrel that year following Saddam Hussain's invasion of Kuwait and the outbreak of the First Gulf War, only to turn downward again a few years later. What is striking, however, is that each trough is higher than the last time and each peak sets a new record.

 

The present huge upward curve began in 2000. It topped out in 2008 when crude oil briefly hit $147 a barrel, probably contributing as much to the U.S. and world financial collapse as the sub-prime mortgage crisis.

 

What has happened is that world demand has risen faster than supply. Worse yet, global output plateaued in 2005. Wikipedia summarizes: "Worldwide oil production, including oil from oil sands, reached an all-time high of 73,720,000 barrels per day in 2005. By 2009, production had declined to 72,260,000 barrels per day." This defies the standard economic model that big increases in sale prices will bring more product to market. Can't do it if it ain't there.

 

The cause is the once-controversial phenomenon called peak oil. It was first proposed by Shell oil geologist M. King Hubbert in a 1956 paper. Hubbert discovered that output from any given oil well followed a bell shaped curve: rising to its highest point when about half of the total oil had been extracted, and declining steadily thereafter, with a substantial portion of the second half unrecoverable. Further, the first half of the output was the easy part, with the second half deeper, more difficult to recover, and more expensive.

 

Eventually on the downhill side you hit the Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI) limit. Simple crude oil out of a fresh well gives you about 100 to 1 return. That is, it took only the equivalent energy of one barrel of oil to harvest 100 barrels. That has dropped in the U.S. today to one barrel invested to harvest only three barrels of return. Small wonder that the cost of oil has gone up. But at some point on each oil well, even when there remains a large amount of oil in the ground, EROEI falls to one for one. That is the point at which efforts to get the last part of the oil stop. It is why most figures on so-called oil reserves are grossly misleading, as they are to some degree guesses to begin with, and at best include the large percentage of unrecoverable oil ruled out by the prohibitive energy costs that would be needed to extract the product.

Hubbert in 1956 predicted that U.S. domestic oil production would peak between the late 1960s and early 1970s. That is exactly what happened, with U.S. output going into irreversible decline, leading to the U.S. going from self-sufficiency in oil to dependency on imports, particularly from the Middle East. Production in the continental 48 states peaked in 1970. Alaska's famous Prudhoe Bay wells peaked in 1989. And production in the shallow parts of the Gulf of Mexico peaked in 1998.

 

 

 

But Hubbert's curve works not just for a single well or country but globally. And more and more official sources have concluded that global oil peaked in 2005. Below is a graph showing the dates when 24 oil producing countries peaked and went into decline. The graph is from the beginning of 2007. The process has continued unabated since, with Saudi Arabia essentially the only significant oil producer with a fairly persuasive claim to have any available excess capacity, and that is not much on a global scale, amounting to a claimed 4 mbd. The Saudis promised at the beginning of the Libyan revolution to increase their output to cover the loss of about 2 mbd from Libya, but they have actually been able to produce only about half of that.

 

 

The other side of the coin is the rapid rise in world demand on an engine that is stuck in neutral. There have been slight declines in use in Western Europe and the U.S. through conservation and efficiency improvements. But demand growth has simply shifted to the developing world. China alone increased its daily oil use from 3.5 mbd in 1999 to 9 mbd in 2010, this alone more than eclipses the whole of Saudi Arabia's claimed excess capacity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unwillingness to Recognize That Resources Are Finite

While fossil fuels are finite -- the decayed remains of prehistoric plant materials that took millions of years to turn into oil -- human population has been growing at exponential speed, from 2.5 billion in 1950 to 7 billion in 2010. Add industrial development and a rise in living standards to that, and world demand for fossil fuels has been increasing dramatically while production has stagnated. In most producing countries it has in fact declined, often by very large margins.

 

 

For understandable reasons politicians of any stripe do not want to be the bearers of vastly bad news. Denial becomes an obligatory part of the profession. And that is what we have gotten. While officialdom mostly avert their eyes, there has been a small coterie of whistle blowers who have been trying to wake the country up. They tend to refer to themselves as the peak oil community. These include James Howard Kunstler, whose "The Long Emergency" lays out one of the most pessimistic scenarios, where oil decline and astronomical price increases shatter modern civilization altogether and we return to the life of the nineteenth or even eighteenth century, with vast loss of life along the way as modern agriculture collapses due to prohibitive costs of transportation and oil-based fertilizers.

 

Other figures include the prolific Richard Heinberg, where you might look at his "Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines" or his large and comprehensive volume coedited with Daniel Lerch, "The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century's Sustainability Crises." Along similar lines is "The Ecotechnic Future: Envisioning a Post Peak World" by John Michael Greer. Then, among the least apocalyptic of this school, there is Jeff Rubin's "Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller." Rubin limits his prediction to the collapse of globalization and most air travel due to high fuel costs, leading on the positive side to a revival of American manufacturing industry. For ongoing current news one of the best sources is the Energy Bulletin website of the Post Carbon Institute.

 

Remember as you read in this literature that no one is talking about oil running out. It doesn't have to do that to become too hard to get and too expensive for the uses we have built our civilization on, particularly cheap car and truck transport.

 

To be frank, pioneers are sometimes outsiders who champion several fringe ideas at once. Kunstler warned repeatedly that the Y2K computer clock threat would crash the world economy, and he was a vitriolic critic of suburban sprawl on esthetic grounds long before he had the idea that gas prices would turn the hated suburbs into wastelands.

 

Richard Heinberg was a personal assistant to the famous crank Immanuel Velikovsky, who wrote numerous books trying to prove that catastrophes described in the Bible such as Noah's flood were real and were caused by drastic changes in the orbits of other planets in the solar system -- in living human memory. Heinberg is also a 9-11 Truther.

 

John Michael Greer, who writes admirably clear and factual books on fossil fuel depletion, leads another life as a self-proclaimed Arch Druid, where he has a long beard, dresses in ankle length white robes, and writes books claiming that magic and magical beings are real.

 

Happily Jeff Rubin has more plausible credentials, having served for twenty years as Chief Economist for CIBC World Markets, the investment banking subsidiary of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.

 

Heinberg's "Post Carbon Reader" presents contributions by 36 authors, many of whom are tenured professors or the heads of established nonprofit agencies, above any suspicion of bizarre agendas.

 

If some of our path breakers have something a bit kooky about them, in the last year a number of long-reluctant official agencies have begun to confirm the peak oil community's worst fears. One of the first was the U.S. military. The UK "Guardian" reported April 11, 2010:

"The US military has warned that surplus oil production capacity could disappear within two years and there could be serious shortages by 2015 with a significant economic and political impact. The energy crisis outlined in a Joint Operating Environment report from the US Joint Forces Command, comes as the price of petrol in Britain reaches record levels and the cost of crude is predicted to soon top $100 a barrel.

 

"'By 2012, surplus oil production capacity could entirely disappear, and as early as 2015, the shortfall in output could reach nearly 10 million barrels per day,' says the report, which has a foreword by a senior commander, General James N. Mattis."

 

Most notable has been the turnabout by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the Paris-based intergovernmental advisory body for the OECD countries. The IEA had long been accused of doctoring its figures under pressure from the United States to present an unreasonably optimistic picture. Then, in November 2010, in its World Economic Outlook, it dropped a bomb, predicting that "Crude oil output reaches an undulating plateau of around 68-69 mb/d by 2020, but never regains its all-time peak of 70 mb/d reached in 2006." Whoa! after years of denying there would be any supply problem for crude for decades to come, the IEA now announces that world crude production peaked back in 2006, with a total output that would never be reached again!

 

The IEA tried to soften the blow with projections that the shortfall would be made up by gas liquids, tar sands, and other unconventional (and very expensive) sources, claims that were widely regarded as improbable. It capped its peering into the future with a prediction that crude oil would reach $113 a barrel -- in 2035! On April 27, 2011, Brent crude was selling for $125, twenty-four years ahead of schedule and already $12 over budget.

 

NOTE: There are two international standards for oil prices. The conventional one for the United States is West Texas Intermediate (WTI), set at oil storage depots in Cushing, Oklahoma. This is the amount usually cited in the American media for current oil prices. The other, European, price, based on the UK's North Sea wells, is called Brent crude (for a well named for the Brent Goose). Normally the spread between the two is about 75 cents, but in the last year it has grown to more than $10. It is widely accepted that the WTI price (on April 27 at $112) is artificially low due to limited storage in Cushing, which is overfilled. Large parts of the U.S. pay the Brent price, not the WTI price, including the Gulf of Mexico states and the West Coast.

 

The unraveling by one-time peak oil skeptics has continued. Ronald Stoeferle of the Erste Group, the leading financial provider in the Eastern European Union with more than 50,000 employees, reported on March 14 on oilprice.com that "the British Department of Energy and Climate Change is collaborating with the Ministry of Defence and the Bank of England on a study about the consequences of peak oil." He added that "peak oil is not just a chimera of doomsday prophets, scaremongers, and congenital pessimists, but rather imminent reality," citing a report that 64 countries "have already reached their maximum production levels."

 

 

Stoeferle then cites a recent study by a German government think tank warning of the risk of a "tipping point" in which "the economic system would tip over." He summarizes the risks the German government study considers possible:

 

-The Western industrialised powers lose their influence

 

- Dramatic shifts of political and economic balances of power

 

- Massive reduction of mobility

 

- Further erosion of trust in governmental institutions and politics

 

- Negative impact on democracy, since a systemic crisis would create "space for ideological and extremist alternatives to existing forms of government"

 

- Possible partial or full failure of the markets, which could result in a regression to barter trade

 

- Shortages in the supply of essentially important goods, such as food, and famine as a result

 

- Price shocks in practically all areas of the industry and in almost all stages of the value chain

 

- Banks would lose their basis of business, since companies with low creditworthiness would not survive

 

- Loss of confidence in currencies, as a result hyperinflation, and return to barter trade on local level

 

- Mass unemployment and state bankruptcies

 

This vision is hardly less apocalyptic than the most pessimistic scenarios of James Howard Kunstler and Richard Heinberg.

 

Retired CIA analyst Tom Whipple, who has specialized in the study of peak oil since 1999, looked at the future in his February 17, 2011, column in the Falls Church News-Press (Falls Church, Virginia):

 

"With declining quantities of fossil fuels, and the likelihood that renewable forms of energy cannot be developed and expanded quickly enough, continued worldwide economic growth is unlikely. While countries that are self-sufficient in fossil fuels and those able to get a lock on a share of fossil fuel production (most likely the Chinese) will be able to grow for a while. Eventually, however, they are certain to encounter other constraints. At the minute fresh water and food seem poised to follow fossil fuels into scarcity, but there are many other natural resources that soon will be too expensive for common use.

 

 

"Taken together, the decline and eventual near cessation of fossil fuel production and that of many other minerals, disruption in global weather patterns, and the growing food and water scarcity will constitute the third great transition [the first being agriculture, the second the Industrial Revolution]. Unlike the previous transitions in which life arguably got better for some, if not most, of the world's peoples, any upside to this transition seems to pale in the face of what is to come. Obviously the seven billion of us are going to have to shrink to some more sustainable number. Some demographers are already arguing that this might be under 1 billion."

 

Small wonder that virtually every prominent politician sees leveling with the public on this one as a career ender.

 

What Can Be Done?

It's when you start to think about what can be done that you really get why the politicians won't touch this one but just keep hoping the worst will hold off until they are out of office, or better yet, have made it to the end of their lives ahead of the storm. It is true that, while the storm looks to be beginning right here and now, there is always some chance that the decline will be put off for a while, and the downward slide will be slow. But the end is pretty clear and even an optimist is not likely to plan for it being more than a century away. World population, heavily dependent on fossil fuels for transportation, heating, electricity, and food production, is climbing toward an estimated 9 billion. Arable land is being eroded, global warming is already disrupting harvests, water tables, many of irreplaceable one-time deposits of "fossil" water, are being over pumped, and the price of oil keeps climbing.

 

Even uranium, if we were to choose to go the nuclear route after Fukushima, is within decades of exhaustion. And so far only oil -- and liquified natural gas at steep costs -- can be pumped into a gas tank. Solar and wind power have extremely low return on energy invested, depend on oil to manufacture and transport the equipment, and are not going to run any airplanes or ocean going cargo ships.

 

There are things that can be done, so long as there remains a substantial amount of oil available. These are mostly fossil fuel extenders rather than true replacements. But they are steps that should be taken, in fact should have been taken thirty years ago. One step would be to build or re-build a nationwide system of electric railways and street cars. Electricity can be and is generated in large quantities by natural gas and, with its ecological overhead, by coal. Both of these are finite as well, and probably have less than a century to go, but they will be around for a while after the oil has become too expensive for ordinary passenger cars and many other of its customary uses.

 

 

America needs to begin replacing, or at least supplementing on a large scale, the agribusiness model of food production. Organic farming, apart from its health claims, has the great virtue that it does not depend on fertilizers made with fossil fuels (mainly natural gas). As oil becomes more expensive and more restricted in its allowable uses America will need to reverse the flight from the land that was one of the major demographic transitions of the twentieth century. Today's economy in which a huge portion of the population do not produce any tangible product is possible only because of the expenditure of the huge equivalents of human energy stored in finite, one-time deposits of fossil fuels. As these tangibly decline, standards of living will decline as well, and a far larger proportion of the population will have to be committed to the production of food and physical commodities.

 

Living space will also have to be redesigned. The incomprehensibly large investment in automobile-enabled urban sprawl with its concomitant long commutes in private automobiles of the post World War II period will prove to be too expensive to maintain. Higher density city and small town cores will become the new norm, with much of the abandoned suburbs being returned to the farmland they had concreted over. Urban front and back yards will be dedicated to raising food in the pattern of the Victory Gardens of the last world war.

 

One dead end that unfortunately has been endorsed by the Obama administration is ethanol. Declining arable land, droughts and fires, and the rising cost of fertilizer are causing rising food prices, already putting the very survival of a large part of the world's population at the mercy of a single bad global harvest. Diverting corn and sugar from the food supplies of poor nations to fill the gas tanks of rich ones is an unconscionable act.

 

 

Every U.S. president since Nixon has pledged to wean the country from dependency on foreign oil. So far this has been mostly just talk. A formidable obstacle to ending the paralysis in U.S. energy policy is the continually reinforced evidence of the solidity of our civilization. Like the citizens of Eternal Rome, it seems so established, so predictable, so real as to be unshakable. Surely it will go on, if not forever, than at least for our lifetimes, even for those of us who are pretty young. A good antidote to that kind of mesmerizing thought process is Jared Diamond's 2005 book "Collapse." He traces the unanticipated and unexpected collapse of several mostly small ancient societies. The Polynesian inhabitants of Easter Island, having come from the Western Pacific where a more lush growing season saw palm trees growing faster than people harvested them, got in the habit of chopping down the trees in their new home at the same rate, for firewood, for building materials, and to make ocean going canoes. Over time the more barren Easter Island couldn't keep up. There were fewer and fewer palm trees. When the last tree was cut and there was no wood to make ocean going canoes for fishing the population collapsed to a tiny handful of survivors. What do you suppose the Easter islander was thinking when they cut down the last tree, or the next to last one?

 

How the LA Times After a Hundred-Year Love Affair with the City of Vernon Decided It Really Hated the Place All Along

 

A more balanced look at the industrial town's history and at some of the (often ill considered) proposals for solving the Vernon problem.

 

By Leslie Evans

 

Vernon, California, is an odd little town. Five square miles of meat packing plants, warehouses, and industrial enterprises where 50,000 people work during the day while only 91, belonging to just 23 families, live at night. There are only 26 homes within the city's borders, virtually all occupied by city employees or relatives of the long-serving members of the city council or other city officials.

 

Vernon lies on the southeast side of Downtown Los Angeles, bounded roughly by Washington Blvd. on the north and Slauson on the south. Its main arteries are Santa Fe Avenue, Soto Street, and Bandini Blvd., the last best known for the fertilizer company of the same name.

 

If you first read about Vernon in 2005, the last five years would be one unrelieved story of municipal scandal. In April of that year the Los Angeles district attorney issued search warrants at the Vernon city hall in an investigation of alleged misuse of public funds. Boxes of files were seized. A year and a half later, in November 2006, indictments were handed down against long-time mayor Leonis Malburg, city administrator Bruce Malkenhorst, Sr., and several other city officials. The charges mostly amounted to payment of very high salaries and bonuses to the elderly coterie who run Vernon, as well as charges that several, including the mayor and Malkenhorst, live outside of the city, making their votes in the small industrial town illegal.

 

 

The scandal soon became conflated in the press and the public mind with another story of municipal corruption in the nearby town of Bell, which shares a border with Vernon. In Bell the mayor and other functionaries also gave themselves supersized salaries. Yet there were differences that were soon lost in the general sense that unrestrained criminality was afoot. Bell, a town of 36,000, mostly very poor Latinos, was virtually bankrupted by secret salary raises, illegal taxes, and secret deals between city officials and businesses that they owned, leaving the city with huge debts. The citizenry rose up in fury and were ready to show up with the traditional pitchforks and torches to administer vigilante justice. In Vernon by contrast it was only the outsiders who got excited. The town is one of the most prosperous in the region.

 

The handful of well paid city employees, enjoying practically giveaway rents, are the last ones to raise a protest. Even the 1800 businesses in the industrial burg generally love the place, and while they wanted the big salaries reduced and some new leaders, they have consistently resisted the more extreme proposals of Los Angeles city and county politicians to dissolve the city altogether, or the ill-thought-out proposal of the County Board of Supervisors to strip the city of control of 90 percent of the tiny housing stock, which would be likely to open the rich little town to a takeover by genuinely criminal elements far worse than the current leaders.

 

Below I will take up the current scandal and critique the LA Times' recent revisionist history of the small town, which will provide a clearer basis to look at the various proposals to solve the Vernon problem.

 

The Los Angeles Times has in large part played a negative role in the Vernon scandal. It was of course a very good thing for the Times to expose the excessive salaries of the Vernon officialdom. And no one can deny that the problem is significantly inherent in the founding structure of the city, as a peculiar hybrid between a city and a private corporation. Yet because the roots of the problem lay far in the past the Times gave in to the temptation to raise a lynch mob atmosphere against the town by retrospectively painting its whole history as one of criminal malfeasance. This view, asserted extremely forcefully in the Times in the years since 2005, is simply not supported by its own archival coverage, both on a factual level and in the overwhelmingly positive opinions the Times regularly expressed toward Vernon during its first 100 years. The Vernon leadership may have always been the self-perpetuating dynasty of its two founding families, and that may not be how any normal city is run, but for a century the Times, with a few rare exceptions regarded the founding families as good stewards of an industrial park essential to the economic well-being of Los Angeles city and county and responsible for providing tens of thousands of badly needed jobs.

 

 

The Unfolding Vernon Scandal

 

The investigation of the Vernon officialdom began in 2005. Five years later much of the investigation is still in process with very little of it finding enough of a smoking gun to end in a courtroom. The charges were not in themselves particularly egregious, though they could potentially carry long jail terms. The salaries were without question extremely high for town government officials. Bruce Malkenhorst, Sr., was making almost $600,000 a year in salary and bonuses, plus perks such as city-funded limousine service and first class foreign travel. The accusation has been raised that some of this money was illegitimately for personal use but no indictments have been issued years into the investigation. Deputy city attorney Eric Fresch was paid nearly $1.65 million in salary and hourly billings in 2008. Extreme but not in itself illegal, and far less than corporate CEOs and staffs, which as we will see is in some sense what the Vernon officialdom actually are. City administrator Donal O'Callaghan has been charged with conflict of interest for getting his wife a city job.

 

A number of the Vernon officials were charged with voter fraud, including Mayor Leonis Malburg and his wife, Bruce Malkenhorst, Sr., and a few others. This is for giving a false address to vote in a district where you do not live. It can be prosecuted as either a felony or a misdemeanor at the discretion of the district attorney. This has been a century-long issue for Vernon. As the town is an industrial park with virtually no residential section, its leaders always mostly lived elsewhere, commuting to work and voting in the town. Los Angeles has become fussier about this violation in recent years and initiated several cases against LA politicians, but they have never led to the kind of severe punishments the statute nominally permits. Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Braithwaite Burke, when found in 2007 to be living in a Brentwood mansion instead of the low-income area she represented, escaped charges by retiring. In 2010 Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon and his wife, as well as California State Senator Rod Wright, were all indicted for giving false addresses on their voter registrations. It is doubtful any of these public servants will do any jail time.

 

The Bizarre 2006 Election

 

The Vernon investigation of 2005 was inflamed by a surreal election fiasco that began in January 2006. Eight strangers -- the town is small enough so everyone knows who is a stranger -- moved into a five-room industrial building and within a few days three of them filed applications to run for the five-member city council. If elected they would have commanded majority control over a city with a $300 million annual budget. The town's microscopic voter base meant that any challenge had some potential to unseat the incumbents and take control of a city on which some 1800 industrial companies and commercial operations depend. The unorthodox living arrangements had been secured by Chris Summers, described by the LA Times as "a disbarred attorney who has been convicted of embezzlement and forgery." The Times added that Summers had a long-time lucrative relationship with Albert Robles, "a convicted felon who as treasurer of South Gate nearly bankrupted that city." Terrified that this unsavory crew could recruit and register fifty or sixty people to come in and vote to take over the town, the geriatric Vernon leadership grossly overreacted.

 

Charging that the building had been occupied without the owner's permission, the city council had city police break the locks and evict the eight squatters. The would-be candidates were met by Albert Robles, who was seen giving one of them $100. They then took up residence in an Alhambra hotel, and showed up to vote on April 11. City Clerk Bruce Malkenhorst, Jr., canceled the eight new voter registrations and locked up the ballot box while the case went to court. Meanwhile the town hired clumsy private detectives to ostentatiously shadow their new opposition.

 

The case took an ominous turn when the county registrar ruled that canceling the voter registrations was illegal and that even homeless people had a right to register to vote. With that ruling the future of Vernon was placed in doubt, as any well-funded speculator could probably find seventy homeless people they could pay to bus into Vernon to outvote the 60 registered residents.

 

A word here about Albert Robles, the reputed mastermind of the effort to capture a majority on the Vernon city council. The Times devoted a single sentence to this character while aiming many columns of vitriol at the current Vernon leadership. Without glossing over the evident greediness of the Vernon elders, they have never been accused of doing a bad job of running the little city, which is free of debt, has a model police force, its own health department, and is even by the Times' accounts, remarkably efficient, with the lowest electric rates in the state, clean streets, and graffiti free. The Times in the four years of its hostile coverage following the 2006 election has been remarkably unconcerned at what the city would likely have become if the takeover effort had succeeded. Robles is a former mayor, councilman, treasurer, and deputy city manager for the city of South Gate. According to the Wikipedia, "Robles was indicted on federal corruption charges in 2004. This stemmed from his award of contracts worth millions to friends and business associates as well as funneling money through the awarded contracts to himself and family members. He was found guilty of 30 counts of bribery, money laundering, and depriving the electorate. He was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison and ordered to pay the city of South Gate $639,000 in restitution." Nothing remotely on that scale has been charged against the Vernon political coterie and it doesn't take much imagination to see that the aim of the electoral challenge had little to do with democracy but was a gambit to loot the lucrative town treasury.

 

In October 2006 Judge Aurelio Munoz ruled that the ballots must be counted. Vernon complied, no laws were broken, and the incumbents were reelected. But the heavy handed methods they had used, exacerbated by the very high salaries they were revealed to be paid and the several who lived out of district but voted in the city, opened up a firestorm.

 

"Almost since Vernon was established . . . the town has moved from controversy to controversy"

 

The LA Times, which for the previous hundred years had been an enthusiastic promoter of the little city, now saw nothing but evil there and developed an astonishing case of amnesia about its own past coverage, now seeing a century of corruption. An editorial in the April 14, 2006, issue headed "Infernal Vernon" fumed: "HISTORY HAS SHOWN THAT there is no election the city of Vernon will not cancel, disrupt or simply ignore if there is even the possibility it will not benefit the handful of families that have mismanaged the city for a century."

 

Hector Becerra, who has emerged as the Times' point man on the trash Vernon campaign, with backup from two other Times reporters, filled in this indictment in a lengthy June 18, 2006, article.

 

"Almost since Vernon was established a century ago," Becerra et al. wrote, "the town has moved from controversy to controversy." The article then launches into a supposed history of Vernon that is wrong or tendentious on numerous counts. First, it singles out John B. Leonis as THE founder, presumably because he was a colorful character and makes a simple and easily grasped link to the current scandal-plagued mayor, Leonis Malburg, who is John Leonis's grandson.

 

John Baptiste Leonis

John Baptiste Leonis was a French Basque immigrant and an important figure in Vernon's first half century, but he was never the town boss. A word here about Vernon's founding, as it contained within its initial charter all the issues that made the city praiseworthy for its first century but which are now the basis for condemning it. The idea came from Leonis, who ran a general store amidst numerous pig farms. Leonis persuaded two brothers who owned one of these farms, James and Thomas Furlong, to go in with him in turning their land into what would today be called an industrial park. They in turn persuaded a majority of the other nearby farmers to pool their land and incorporate in 1905 as the city of Vernon.

 

From the outset Vernon was chartered under the motto "Exclusively Industrial." That meant exactly what it said: It was going to be a city with essentially no residential district, exclusively devoted to serving industrial properties. That meant from the outset that Vernon was an unusual hybrid, part city but in large part a corporation that leased or sold land to factories and warehouses to which it provided many services. And like any corporation, its owners, who initially also personally owned the land on which the city was built, would remain in office indefinitely. It is not true, as the Times has it, that Vernon was born in controversy over this organizational form, which is self-evidently at the heart of the essential charges against it today: that the leadership is self-perpetuating and pays itself corporate-style salaries, that the few residents are essentially employees rather than citizens, and that a number of the city officials live in actual residential parts of town rather than among the slaughterhouses and factories that make up almost all of Vernon. It was only in the twenty-first century that the forms required of a city came to be seen as incompatible with what was in essence the private ownership of the town.

 

Becerra sets out to prove his charge that Vernon was beset by controversy "almost since [it] was established" with this first salvo:

 

"A powerful voice on the town's Board of Trustees," [the mayor, who held the strongest single power in the city, was James Furlong from 1905 to 1941], "Leonis initially promoted activities that other jurisdictions spurned: gambling, prizefighting and drinking. He leased land to a saloon owner who opened the 'longest bar in the world.' On one side was a boxing stadium; on the other, a baseball stadium."

 

Becerra suggests a scene of small scale squalid depravity run by lowlife hustlers. Let's look a bit at this sin city. Note that Leonis became rich by creating a bank and he later owned a stockyard and feed mill. He was not an owner of any of the night life establishments for which Vernon was, in fact, famous during its early days, though he had the vision to bring in promoters who made the little town a center of Los Angeles night life.

 

There were some brothels in the early days, as there were in other cities, including Los Angeles, but Vernon closed them down in 1913. The gambling, such as it was, took place at Baron Long's Vernon Country Club. This was the one Vernon institution the LA Times campaigned against during those years, mainly because the paper didn't like strong drink in the period leading up to Prohibition and Vernon was, along with Venice, California, one of the two "wet" towns in the county. The gambling issue came to a head in February 1916, a decade after the town's founding, when Harry Ellis Dean, a former county deputy chief district attorney, persuaded a justice of the peace, acting in the mistaken belief that the DA's office had authorized it, to issue an arrest warrant for Baron Long on charges of illegal gambling. The actual county district attorney, Thomas Lee Woolwine, refused to prosecute, saying the gambling in question "was in the form of ongoing contests of a sort long conducted by various businesses. Though technically games of chance, they 'had been allowed to run on the theory that they were within the law'" (2007 Metropolitan News Company story, the internal quote is from an LA Times article of the period). The Vernon Country Club was destroyed in a fire in 1929, when the Times described it as "one of the most popular dining and dancing resorts of Los Angeles county" (March 1, 1929). Baron Long went on to become the owner of the Biltmore Hotel.

 

From Hector Becerra's disparaging dismissal of the anonymous "saloon owner" and passing references to prize fighting and baseball the reader would never suspect the central role little Vernon played in Los Angeles sports and night life in its first two decades. The unlikely rise of a mainly industrial park into a major center for Hollywood celebrities and the high-life crowd was due to three men: first of all, the "saloon owner," Jack Doyle, and Vernon meatpackers Peter and Edward Maier.

 

In a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, Times sportswriter Steve Springer in 2006 gave a more honest account of Vernon and area sports:

 

"Before football came and went, before the Dodgers and Lakers, boxing was the center of the Los Angeles sporting world. . . . The city of Vernon was the first focal point for the sport in the Los Angeles area, thanks to a bartender and former railroad worker named Jack Doyle, who opened a training camp in Arcadia in 1908 . . . . Two years later, when he opened a bar in Vernon, Doyle decided boxing would be a great vehicle for getting customers into his establishment. So he began to stage four-round fights, the participants lined up by matchmaker Wad Wadhams." (March 30, 2006).

 

Boxing at Jack Doyle’s Vernon Arena, 1927


Boxing began in Vernon shortly after the town was founded in an outdoor arena run by Tom McCarey but it took off in a big way after Jack Doyle opened Jack Doyle's Central Saloon in 1910 at the corner of Santa Fe and Joy Street. It did have a 100 foot bar, with 37 bartenders. He built a small arena next door, which he replaced in 1923 with a 7,000 seat stadium that the Times described as "the finest U.S. indoor arena" (January 1, 1924). While it was being built the paper enthused:

 

"The manly art of self-defense has a prestige at present in Los Angeles that is hardly second to that of any other city in the Union. True, we are not allowed to swing but four-round bouts, but these short session affairs have become a fad and in many cases are more replete with torrid action than are the longer tilts in the East. So popular has the game become in the last year or so that the home of the four round sport in Southern California -- Vernon arena, if you please, is absolutely too small to accommodate the fans when an enticing program is offered." (July 13, 1923)

 

Doyle in his day was a nationally famous fight promoter and many world championship bouts were held at his Venice Arena. Jack Dempsey fought there in 1924.

 

The second major sports development was the creation in 1909 by Peter and Edward Maier of the Vernon Tigers, a Pacific Coast League baseball team. The team was bought in 1919 by Hollywood star Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, and won the PCL pennant in 1920 over the Seattle Indians. After being moved to San Francisco for a while the team came back to Los Angeles under the name the Hollywood Stars, where it lasted until 1958.

 

Jack Doyle

To try to sort out truth from fiction, in research for this article I did a search of the Los Angeles Times archive for the word "Vernon" in article headlines from 1905 to the present. This turned up 4006 articles. The vast majority were about the city of Vernon. I went through year by year looking at each headline, reading the free abstract wherever it bore on the issues we are looking at, and paying to see the full text of scores of articles on the Times pay-per-view archive. What this revealed is that far from Vernon being a center of controversy "almost since [it] was established," the Times poured out ink over two decades covering Vernon sporting events and little else about the town. Typically the paper ran 180 to 200 articles a year about Vernon, most about boxing matches, or under titles such as "Vernon Tigers Gnaw the Sacramento Solons."

 

There is an occasional denunciation of Baron Long or a note that some industrial plant has been built, but sports is not just the main but virtually the only subject worth covering. The sports ended when the Tigers were moved to San Francisco in 1925 and Jack Doyle became the fight promoter for the Olympic Auditorium in downtown Los Angeles in 1927. With sports gone the Times lost interest. In 1930 the Times ran only 5 articles on Vernon, mostly on industrial construction.

 

What today's Times reporters don't seem to want to recall is what the Times actually thought of Vernon the city. It was not scandals of supposed mismanagement. A good sample comes from the January 1, 1915, Times, under the headline "Vernon --The Coming Industrial and Manufacturing Center of Los Angeles County." This gets us to something else that is objectionable in the Times' coverage of the recent five years. Vernon consistently comes across as a little no-account burg whose only interest is as a negative example of a historically bad leadership. It is always mentioned that Vernon is an industrial enclave, but the tone invariably suggests that it is not an important place except for concern about its bad government. In the genuine history of our area Vernon was the keystone of Los Angeles industrial growth and remained indisputably so until the incorporation of the City of Industry in 1957. The Times, singing a song that it would reprise many times over the next ninety years, added in its 1915 article:


"One of the greatest factors for real progress and prosperity in Southern California for a decade or more has been the industrial development in the ... manufacturing suburb of Vernon."

 


An Expose That Wasn't

 

Hector Becerra doesn't find his first supposed nugget of scandal until twenty years after the city was founded. No scandal in twenty years wouldn't be bad for most cities. Here is how he tells it:

 

"In 1925, The Times did its first front-page expose of Vernon. The paper quoted one foe as saying of Leonis: 'In that town, you do not file papers at the City Hall. You simply hand them to John and he puts them in his pocket. If he is in favor of the proposition, it goes through; if he is opposed, that's the last you hear of it.'"

 

By definition an expose is a revelation of wrongdoing, crime, or corruption based on FACTS. When we look at the actual piece Becerra and his team refer to, dated June 19, 1925, it doesn't claim to be any of those things. It merely quotes an unsupported opinion by one of John Leonis's enemies on which the Times ventures no opinion of its own as to its truthfulness. Becerra retails this stuff as fact eighty-one years later, with all the principals long dead, maybe thinking no one will bother to go back and read his source. Sorry, fella. The article is headlined "Vernon Run by One Man Is Protest." The "foe" Becerra doesn't name was John T. Gaffey and the occasion was a long-simmering court battle over a piece of land that Vernon had wanted to annex. Gaffey was not a resident of Vernon but was a wealthy real estate developer in San Pedro. He was married to the richest woman in California, Arcadia Bandini, heiress of a Spanish land grant and worth some $8 million. Vernon ultimately did not get the land.

 

Gaffey was prominent in area politics, having served briefly on the LA City Council and the Board of Equalization. But he was also convicted in 1915 of overcharging the residents of Palos Verdes for their water, which he controlled, and compelled to make restitution, so he was no saint. No reputable reporter would present Gaffey's unsubstantiated outburst during a land fight as fact, but Becerra does just that. The Times back in 1925 also asked John Leonis to respond:

 

"When Leonis was told of Gaffey's statements, he laughed and declined comment. 'Just let him have his say; I don't care to answer him.'"

 

Note that Gaffey in the quote from the Times does not claim to have given Leonis such a paper, or even to have witnessed anyone else do so, nor does he say from whom he heard this story. This makes Becerra's effort to slip the quote in as allegedly part of a factual "expose" a con job.

 

The 1943 Legal Case

 

The first time the issues that presented themselves in the last few years came up was in 1943, thirty-eight years into Vernon's existence. Not exactly a story of perpetual and unrelieved mismanagement and scandal. Becerra reports that a county grand jury indicted six Vernon leaders, including John Leonis, on charges of voter fraud and that four were convicted while Leonis and one other were acquitted. It would have been more useful to the present debate over Vernon's future to have examined more closely the legal debate in the 1943-44 case. The Vernon functionaries were defended by John W. Preston, a former justice of the California Supreme Court. The charges for each of the accused hinged entirely on the pretty much undisputed fact that the six regularly voted in Vernon while living elsewhere, much the same situation recently charged against Vernon mayor Leonis Malburg and city administrator Bruce Malkenhorst, Sr. The court verdict, delivered in January 1944, was strangely split in seemingly identical situations. The police and fire chiefs, a city councilman, and the deputy city clerk were all convicted. They were given token fines of $500 each and permitted to keep their city jobs. They did not move into the city. Leonis, who had become mayor in 1941 on the death of James Furlong, and Thomas J. Furlong, the city clerk, both had the charges dropped outright, with the approval of the prosecutor as well as the judge (there was no jury).

 

From left: James Furlong and his son, James Jr., Robert Furlong, and Thomas J. Furlong


There was no dispute over the fact that Leonis lived at 647 S. Hudson Avenue in Hancock Park, while Furlong, along with his son, Robert Furlong, who would succeed Leonis as mayor in 1948, lived on Van Buren Place in the West Adams section of Los Angeles.

 

So why were the charges dropped? In a January 19, 1944, editorial, the Times said that the judge had agreed with the defendants that Vernon was basically not a residential city and that "technical residence" through working there on a daily basis was sufficient to establish voting rights. Thus the issues that seem so clear to the Times and local politicians in 2010 were not at all clear to the legal system when they first came into a courtroom, in 1943. The Times in its 1944 editorial objected, not that the setup in Vernon was illegal or should be abolished, but merely that a nonresident officialdom risked getting out of touch with the town it administered:

 

"Since Vernon is a 'city in which nobody lives,' except technically, it has in effect been run by carpetbaggers. This is not a healthy situation. The decisions in regard to the Mayor and the City Clerk are presumably good law. But it would seem to be good practice to require the principal officials of any city to reside in it actually and not merely technically. Nobody can know what is going on in a town unless he spends most of his time there; staying there just in business hours is not enough."

 

John Leonis was far from the feudal lord of Vernon that the Times painted him during the 1943 legal case or Becerra does today. He became mayor only reluctantly despite serious illness in 1941. He tried, before he retired in 1948, to persuade the Vernon city council to let him build a gambling casino, like the ones then in Gardena, on a piece of land he owned that had been a slaughterhouse. He was opposed by council member Judith Furlong Poxon, James and Thomas Furlongs' sister, who had been a founder of the famous Vernon-based Poxon Pottery company. Judith won and Leonis didn't get his casino. (July 10, 1994, interview by Jennifer Charnofsky with Father Philip Conneally, a nephew of Thomas J. Furlong's wife, Kate Conneally Furlong.)

 

Leonis died in 1953. He had been succeeded as mayor in 1948 by Robert Furlong, the son of Thomas J. Furlong, who was reelected repeatedly until his death in 1974 and never the subject of any scandal.

 


Later Legal Challenges to the Vernon Officials

 

 

The courts occasionally returned to the Vernon conundrum in the years that followed. Not persistently and uninterruptedly as the Times writers try to imply but more like once in a generation. And until 2009 their efforts were even less conclusive than the 1943-44 trial.

 

Thirty-four years passed after the 1944 case before the issue of nonresident officials voting in Vernon was raised again. By this time the mayor was Leonis C. Malburg, John Leonis's grandson, who was to become the focus of the 2005 scandal, still in office then and only the town's fourth mayor. A Los Angeles County Grand Jury in December 1978 indicted Malburg along with City Administrator Bruce Malkenhorst, Sr., and City Attorney David Brearley. The case was intimately tied to a dispute with the 101-member Vernon Fire Department, who were on strike. One of the firemen, Carlton Claunch, filed to run for the Vernon city council and began a lawsuit against Malburg, charging him with holding the office of mayor illegally because he didn't live in the city. The indictment against Malburg was for voting in Vernon while living in his grandfather's former home in Hancock Park; against Malkenhorst and Brearley for having allegedly held up renewing a contract with the Vernon fire fighters until they agreed to withhold support from Claunch and to repudiate his lawsuit. The charges were not criminal and if they had resulted in conviction would have removed the defendants from office but did not include any threat of jail time.

 

In the end the court decided that the whole thing was part of the dispute over the fire fighters' contract and dismissed the cases against all three, which never went to trial. A contract was signed in November and the dispute with the fire fighters was said to have been amicably resolved. Not much there to stir the scandal pot.

 

I would add that the judge could not have seriously believed that Malburg, who had inherited $8 million from his grandfather, really lived in an apartment over an office building in Vernon rather than in his 7,371 square foot Italianate mansion on Hudson Avenue in Hancock Park. Back in 1944 the court had actually confronted the issue and ruled that “technical” residence by working there was legal for voting. The court in 1978 dodged it entirely, presumably not thinking it a good idea to shatter the government of an otherwise well-run town that was important to the economic health of the region over what was essentially a misdemeanor, especially as there was pretty much no residential section of Vernon.

WHAT CAN BE PUT ON THE PLUS SIDE?

Leonis Malburg

In its “Infernal Vernon” editorial the Times had opined that the city had been “mismanaged . . . for a century.” That judgment would have come as a surprise to its own editors who covered the Vernon beat over that hundred years.

In truth, apart from the sports coverage of the early years and the once-a-generation voting scandals that petered out without much issue, the Times’ rare coverage was almost all about new enterprises, investments, and the occasional fire or industrial accident. In October 1961 a piece on Vernon’s shrinking population treated the city with great friendliness, noting that it accounted for 10% of the employed population of metropolitan Los Angeles and contributed $9 million in annual taxes to the LA school system. It quoted a resident as saying “Living here is like living in a small country town. You know everyone. You feel you really have a voice in government. And you know your vote really counts.” This doesn’t fit well with the image of the recent past of a serflike handful of city employees afraid to open their mouths.

In July 1962 there was a still more adulatory article, headed “Industrial Park Idea Typified by Vernon” that lauded the idea of dedicated industrial parks devoted to industry and separated from residential areas, declaring Vernon “the pioneer, the granddaddy, and still the biggest of them all.” It praised the small city for “putting up modern public buildings, and … expanding its water and other public utilities systems.” The writer noted that the entirety of Vernon is zoned for industry and “There is not one hotel or motel in Vernon,” not to mention movie theaters or stores. But the Times saw that as a good thing then:

“Perhaps it is because of rather than in spite of these oddities in a municipality that Vernon is so ably fulfilling its chosen role of handmaiden to industry. It is a role which seems destined to become even more important as its facilities and the region develop.”

It was a decade later before the Times got back to the little town, this time with an article on how industry was being replaced by less profitable warehouses as factories aged and new ones wanted more space in outlying suburbs (July 20, 1975). It said “there are more of Fortune Magazine’s top 500 businesses in the city than in any other comparable area in the nation.” The writer reminisced a bit on the old sporting days, even having a good word for Baron Long’s Vernon Country Club, demonized by the Times back in the day and part of the stuff the present-day Times dismisses as scorned by neighboring towns:

“Baron Long’s sprawling Vernon Country Club became a gathering place for silent screen stars like Charlie Chaplin, Rudolph Valentino and Blossom Seeley.”

The 1975 piece had nothing but good to say about the place, how it had the only municipal health department in the county, “designed to help industry solve problems of food handling, noise, dust, fumes and internal environmental quality control.” And a police department that “claimed the average response time is under two minutes.”

Another twenty-five years on, the Time ran another general article about Vernon, in its April 4, 2000, issue. The subhead read: “Amid the factories and industrial odors of Vernon live 85 people who seem perfectly happy with their lifestyle.” Yes, elections are routinely canceled, but that’s “because incumbents rarely are challenged.”

This one is worth quoting at length to get a picture of the bucolic paradise the Times found there:

“Residents say that living in the 5-square-mile industrial city takes some getting used to. They have to put up with heavy freight trains that rumble through the city at all hours and the pungent fumes from factories, like the Farmer John pork processing plant and Kal Kan’s dog food factory. Still, Vernonites say they are a content group who share a sense of community rarely found in Southern California’s urban sprawl. What other city can hold an annual picnic that is attended by nearly every resident? How many cities have a mayor who can name almost every citizen?

“‘It’s like a big family here,’ said Isabel Saenz, who has lived in Vernon for 30 years with her husband, Edward, a water department employee. Their teenage granddaughter, Lorena Saldana, lives with them. . . .

“The utility fees are the lowest in the state and the subsidized rents are cheap, allowing some residents to save up to buy a house elsewhere. A three-bedroom house with wood floors, a backyard and a two-car garage is only $225 a month (if you don’t mind living a block from a railroad line). The commute for workers who live in the city is practically nil, and city employees work only Monday through Thursday.

“Maria Kirkland and her husband, Curtis, an electrical technician, recently moved from Fontana, where they paid $1,300 a month for a four-bedroom apartment. In Vernon, they pay $145 for a well-maintained one-bedroom apartment.”

Well, mismanagement, especially of the infernal variety, must be a bit in the eye of the beholder.

WHAT SHOULD WE DO WITH VERNON?

An important part of the Vernon old guard were swept away following the 2005-06 scandals. Leonis Malburg was forced from office, sued by Vernon for legal fees, and convicted on the voter fraud count, for which he received probation and the hefty fine of $500,000, though for a multimillionaire it is not going to break him. There is a new mayor in town for the first time since 1974. His name is Hilario “Larry” Gonzales.

City Administrator Bruce Malkenhorst, Sr., resigned, as did his son, Vernon city attorney Bruce Malkenhorst, Jr. These and others who bit the dust – Eric T. Fresch, former city administrator and deputy city attorney; Donal O’Callaghan, former city administrator and utilities director; Roirdan S. Burnett, city treasurer/finance director; Jeffrey A. Harrison, former city attorney – were named in an October 21, 2010, subpoena by California’s attorney general and new governor Jerry Brown. This was aimed in large part at investigating and seeking to reduce the huge pensions these recently deposed Vernon officials are now collecting, in Malkenhorst, Sr.’s case, $500,000 a year.

Brown, sensibly, declared, “It’s clear to me that we need a state authority to set some standards and curb these excesses.” Setting statewide standards for municipal pay is an excellent idea, particularly for a town like Vernon where, while the town remains prosperous, the electorate is essentially hand picked by the town officials, or Bell, where the officials operated in secret to loot the treasury.

Meanwhile a plethora of more extreme solutions are being debated to solve the Vernon problem. Probably the most widespread is a call to disband the city entirely. This has been backed by Los Angeles City Councilmember Janice Hahn, who has introduced a motion to that effect in the LA City Council. This solution has been endorsed by LA County District Attorney Steve Cooley, State Assembly Speaker John A. Perez, and state Senator Hector De La Torre of South Gate. No city in California has ever been disincorporated against the will of its residents, and in the nation as a whole there are only a handful of such cases, the best known where a landowner in Ohio incorporated a “city” to create a speed trap for motorists, hardly comparable to the Vernon situation. In any case such a move would require an act of the state legislature that would also require majority support in a general statewide election, as one city cannot unilaterally decide it wants to gobble up another. Los Angeles, which does not even have a common border with Vernon, is not the only candidate for such a merger. The contiguous towns are Huntington Park, Bell, Maywood, and the City of Commerce.

None of these are a very good match. Bell should be out of the question as its own government is in shambles. Huntington Park and Commerce at first seem plausible, the former with 61,000 residents, the latter with 13,000, so they wouldn’t have elections that could be captured by seventy outside plants. But here the positives end. Both have high poverty rates, with median income in Huntington Park at $29,844 and in Commerce at $34,000, posing a strong temptation to divert large amounts of funds from the Vernon part of the merger to use for pressing needs in the other partner. Nor does either town have the health, fire, or police resources that make Vernon safe for the dangerous industrial processes that are housed there.

Huntington Park has its own police department but depends on the county health department for fire and health coverage, the last mostly through a health service center in yet another city, Whittier. Commerce has no health, police or fire departments, depending on the county for all of this.

In Commerce the largest employers are a casino, LA County itself, Smart and Final, and the 99 Cent stores, hardly in a league to run Vernon’s demanding 1800-firm industrial base, many of which are Fortune 500 companies.

The Vernon business owners have been outspoken as angry at the huge salaries but quite understandably opposed to dissolution or merger of their city, given the virtually certain negative effects that would have on the level of police, fire, and health protections they could count on, not to mention the 40 percent boost in electric utility rates.

Still, it would seem very risky to leave Vernon with its present microscopic residential sector and large city income, especially if the probably illegal restrictions on residence and voting the old guard insulated themselves with are removed, leaving the town a sitting duck for fast buck takeover attempts.

Steve Freed, president of the Vernon Property Association, told the Times that “Many business owners feel that the only way the city of Vernon can truly have a representative government would be for the property owners to be allowed to vote in city elections.” That is not currently permitted in any California city. But it is not so out of reach as a solution as it might seem. The National Conference of State Legislatures in the October 2008 issue of its newsletter carried a lead article entitled “Nonresident Property Owners and Voting in Local Elections: A Paradigm Shift?” It reported that ten states – Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Wyoming – have authorized cities at their discretion to grant voting rights to non-resident property owners in local elections, though in some cases these are restricted to voting on taxation issues. It adds that there are taxpayer associations agitating for such nonresident voting rights in Florida, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont, and Wisconsin. The article concludes:

“‘Taxation without representation’ was the cry that started a revolution. More than 200 years later, it is still fueling a debate that could affect a shift in election law.”

The city of Vernon was long aware of the problem of its structure with little or no residential housing and hence no independent voter base. The town at its incorporation in 1905 became what is called a sixth class city, which means it has no authority to write its own statutes. In 1953 Robert Furlong, during his tenure as mayor, attempted to resolve the issue that later lay at the heart of scandals in the next century. He formed a committee of Vernon businessmen that proposed to the California State Assembly a constitutional amendment that would convert Vernon to a chartered city, which does have such authority, and that it explicitly include in the charter a provision that nonresident property owners be permitted to vote in city elections. Furlong argued that Vernon at that time, despite its small population, was the state’s eighth largest city in assessable wealth. The proposal was approved by the Assembly Committee on Constitutional Amendments. The bill was defeated in the Assembly in May 1955.

It would seem to me that if the political system decides to go further than Jerry Brown’s proposal for statewide regulation of municipal salary limits to curb the financial abuses in towns such as Vernon, that another effort to give cities the choice of establishing enfranchisement of nonresident property owners would be the least disruptive solution to the Vernon problem and the least potentially damaging to the regional economy. If legislators are uneasy about offering this option to all of California’s charter cities they could choose to narrow a piece of legislation to apply to Vernon alone, as the Assembly’s Constitutional Amendments Committee agreed to do in 1953, as Vernon is an almost unique case in California, most nearly matched only by the Los Angeles area City of Industry and Emeryville in Alameda County in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The stupidest and most risky solution is the resolution shepherded through the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors by Gloria Molina, which calls on the State Legislature to restrict city owned housing in Vernon to 10 percent of the total housing stock. As there is only one apartment building and a total of 26 homes the most likely outcome of this measure would be to open the wealthy little town to takeover attempts by grifters and con artists. There has already been one such attempt. This could guarantee that the next one succeeds. Believe me, they wouldn’t limit themselves to exorbitant salaries. The voting and high salary scandals have to be balanced against the huge infrastructural investment the people of Los Angeles County have in the Vernon industrial park and not to take a sledge hammer to the town to deal with a problem that has less drastic solutions. After years of investigation the only conviction that has emerged so far is of former mayor Leonis Malburg, for voting in Vernon while living elsewhere. The city’s replacement administrators have drastically reduced salaries, the treasurer topping out at $339,000 with the next highest at $233,000 for the city attorney. City council members make $68,000. These figures are comparable to LA senior officials. Granted LA is an infinitely larger and more important city, but Vernon’s per capita income is much higher than Los Angeles.

To put the furor in perspective, for all the Times’ fuming about a supposed hundred years of mismanagement, their proofs amounted to four $500 fines back in 1944, until we get to 2005. That says there was much that was always positive about the little industrial city, self-perpetuating leadership or not. It is not an accident that several years into the LA Times high hysterics about demon Vernon the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation voted Vernon its 2008 award as the most business friendly city in LA County with a population under 50,000. There are still 50,000 jobs that depend on how well that town functions. There are other ways to put a cap on the financial excesses of its officialdom, and even to submit them to a real electorate. But the supervisors’ notion is patently not the way.

* * *

Leslie Evans

Board member and Public Safety chair, Empowerment Congress North Area Neighborhood Development Council, a Los Angeles neighborhood council
Member and former civilian co-chair of the Los Angeles Police Department Southwest Division Community Police Advisory Board
President, Van Buren Place Community Restoration Association, in the West Adams section of Los Angeles
Webmaster for the West Adams Heritage Association

The opinions expressed are solely the author’s and do not reflect the views of the organizations, cited above, for identification purposes only.

Leslie Evans is also author of the memoir Outsider’s Reverie (Boryanabooks, 2010).

BY WAY OF DISCLOSURE:

In 1988 my wife, Jennifer Charnofsky, and I purchased a home where we have lived since on Van Buren Place in the West Adams section of Los Angeles. Researching the history of the house we discovered that it had been owned from 1922 until 1958 by the Furlong family of Vernon, first by Thomas J. Furlong, one of the three founders of Vernon, who served as Vernon city clerk from 1905 to his death in1950, when the house passed to his son Robert Furlong, who was Vernon’s mayor from 1948 to his death in 1974. Robert Furlong lived in the Van Buren Place house from 1922 until 1958. The Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission in 2000 created the Van Buren Place house Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument #678, under the name the Furlong House in honor of Thomas J. and Robert Furlong. In November 1994 Jennifer Charnofsky spoke to Leonis Malburg on the telephone as part of our research on the history of the house. Other than that neither of us has ever met or spoken to any present or former official of the city of Vernon. We have never had any financial interests, direct or indirect, that concerned Vernon.

Hard Times Ahead?

 Leslie Evans

An old friend on the East Coast, Al Shelly, sent me an email picking up on something I had written in my memoir, Outsider's Reverie, where I suggested, in contrast to the well-known Marxist economist Ernest Mandel, that the computer revolution provides the basis for a long wave of economic growth.

Al responded with a rather technical argument that I won't repeat here, saying he was more in agreement with Nobel Prize winners Paul Krugman and Joe Stiglitz, among the few big name economists who see a deepening depression ahead rather than a recovery. Al wrote:

 

"Since the Stimulus is now drying up, I have predicted that in a year, unemployment will be at 12%. That's assuming that the underlying situation (the investment collapse) doesn't get worse. Actually, I expect the underlying collapse to get worse, by degrees, over the next several years. So, I think that in, say, three years, we shall be looking at 15% or 20% or even 25% (a la 1932) unemployment."

 

Al seemed to suppose that my comment on computers meant that I am not sympathetic to Krugman and Stiglitz. Actually it is more the case that I do not see the current recession, even if it becomes a full-fledged depression, as directly related to the viability of IT technology as a growth engine. Below is my comment to Al.

 

* * *

I am not a technical economist, nor do I claim any ability to predict the economic future. I read Krugman and Stiglitz generally with pleasure, but don't stake out any special territory of my own in the debates.

What I do see in my limited way are these trends:

 

(1) The computer/knowledge based technologies do provide a systemic foundation for a wave of economic growth, if you accept the Kondratiev notions, comparable to those of the past.

 

(2) However, they are spreading their effect very widely in a world with inherited radical differences in standards of living. This is shaping up with rapid technological development in India and China and a rise in their standard of living, while creating a relative decline in the standard of living of the advanced countries due to an implicit slow wage equalization on a world scale. These IT technologies are working their way into the world economy at the same time, and in part because of them, that for the first time the national isolation of labor markets is breaking down in significant ways, pitting American workers into more direct competition with Indian, Chinese, Russian, etc., workers.

 

(3) American corporations have for several decades been intent on shifting manufacturing operations overseas to take advantage of high skill/low wage sectors in developing countries, leading to a relative shift in the US toward low paid service jobs, one of the few things that can't be outsourced. This, in contrast to previous highs in the business cycle, tends to increase the inequality in income distribution and at a faster rate.

 

(4) Thus while there is a high-tech US sector that remains prosperous, the overall place of the US in the world economy is in decline, marked by the displacement of industrial capital by finance capital, with all the speculative bubbles of recent years based on stock manipulation rather than on production of real values.

 

(5) The wealthy and the political right wing have responded to the relative international decline, now compounded by the financial crash of the collateralized mortgage bubble, by seeking through populist demagogy to throw overboard the middle class and the poor and champion the rampant growth of wealth of the small minority of the rich. This is something of the gated community mentality where the wagons of the aging whites are pulled in a circle, the supplies are brought in, and guns pointed outward. Not much of a real concept of a nation as a whole. So the federal goverment becomes largely an onerous expense, particularly as it spends money on sections of the population regarded as unworthy of survival. This is likely to lead over time to a crisis of legitimacy for the right.



Frankly while I support Obama and want to see the Tea Party and the Republican right restrained, I no longer believe that destroying the system wholesale as the Marxists envisioned would lead to anything but a ruthless dictatorship and general impoverishment. My sense is that the sheer volume of value vaporized in the crash, part in the fall in housing prices and part in the fall in stock values, will take five or ten years to work its way out, and this will be a period in which an unhappy middle and working class will be inclined to lurch from one demagogic fix to another, at the moment lurching far to the right.



More broadly I think that there are still larger impending problems we face that have not much to do with classic business cycles or even the Kondratiev waves. Rather, because of unrestrained population growth, mightily compounded by rapid industrialization that multiplies the economic and environmental impact of each individual on the globe's resource base, we are entering an era of resource wars and brutal competition amidst the threat of a general world decline in living standards. Global warming contributes to this in reducing arable land or the produce from it. The seas are being fished out. We are not so long from hitting peak oil, after which prices will begin to climb again. From the 1940s to the 1970s world oil reserves were dominated by the Seven Sisters: Standard Oil of New Jersey, Standard Oil of New York (now ExxonMobil); Standard Oil of California, Gulf Oil and Texaco (now Chevron), all US owned; Royal Dutch Shell; and the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (now BP). Today the largest oil companies are state owned by regimes more or less hostile to the United States: Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. That doesn't augur well for life in the US when the oil starts to get really expensive.



The retreat of the American electorate and its emergent dominant party, the Republicans, into anti-scientific religious obscurantism and flight from facticity to me seem to be signs of a loss of confidence in the future, which ironically will only hasten an American decline. It will be interesting to watch, though we are too old to see very much of how it plays out.

Freddy's Feed and Read

By Leslie Evans
Mark Watkins, the last owner of Freddy's Feed
and Read, 1998

This is about a place I never saw, and which has been gone for twelve years. Even longer ago, back in my Marxist days, in New York in the early seventies I was editor of a monthly magazine called the International Socialist Review. In 1973 we claimed a circulation of 6,851, a bit less than half from subscriptions and the rest listed as dealers and counter sales. The truth about this last is that almost all of the bundles went to branches of the Socialist Workers Party around the country and very few to bookstores. Now and then I would go downstairs in the party's Manhattan headquarters, where Flax Hermes, the blond athletic business manager, would show me the order lists. Among the handful of nonparty orders one stood out. It was called Freddy's Feed and Read. The name was odd enough but it was located in the unlikely town of Missoula, Montana.

They had a standing order for 10 or 15 copies of our militantly Marxist journal. I often tried to imagine what Freddy's could be like. I think the image that came to mind was Ron Crumb's Mr. Natural standing in front of a shelf of Marxist classics. This lingering romantic picture of a fusion of rural isolation and radical politics was somewhere in the back of my mind when in 1979 I volunteered to move from New York to Virginia, Minnesota, on the Mesabi Iron Range to take a job in the iron mines and help to run a tiny socialist bookstore.

 

Recently with the magic of the internet I thought I would try to find out more about Freddy's Feed and Read. How did it get there and did it still exist? Obviously it stocked radical stuff. One internet post said they hung a North Vietnamese flag in the store during the Vietnam War. Fairly brave in a small town in a red state. Montana voted Republican in every presidential election from 1952 to 2008, except for backing Lyndon Johnson in 1964 and Bill Clinton, for his first term only, in 1992.

 

Worse yet, Missoula, in the far west of Montana, is near the border with northern Idaho, the national capital of ultraright-wing survivalist militia nuts, where Rev. Richard Grint Butler built his still-extant anti-Semitic armed Aryan Nations compound at Hayden Lake in the early 1970s. Some years later and even closer there was John Trochmann's Militia of Montana, founded in 1994 at Noxon, Montana, just a bit northwest of Missoula near the Idaho border.

 

Missoula in 1970 had a population of 29,497, about twice the size of Virginia, Minnesota. The town is isolated in a mountainous valley of the same name. The name comes from a Flathead Indian word for "place of freezing water," referring to the Blackfoot River, which runs through the valley and bisects Missoula. Lewis and Clark passed through the valley in 1805, but the first white settlement didn't appear until 1860. It grew into a small logging town, followed inexplicably by the founding of the University of Montana there in 1895, which helps to explain how Freddy's could survive. Until the end of the 1970s when the timber petered out, the town was mostly divided between the university and the loggers.

 

Freddy's Feed and Read opened in 1972 in a storefront at 1221 Helen Avenue just a block west of the university, which itself is nestled up against the mountains at the east end of town. I never found out who Freddy was. The store was created by a group of local radicals, some university figures, and a few investors who called themselves collectively Our Gang, Inc. At first it only sold books, then it added a small organic market, and in later years a mostly vegetarian restaurant. It lasted twenty-six years, much longer than the International Socialist Review or our ill-fated Iron Range bookstore, closing finally in 1998.

 

My internet search turned up 205 hits for "Freddy's Feed and Read." A New York Times piece from May 12, 1996, titled "The All Too Wild West," set the stage:

 

"We stopped in Missoula for lunch at a place called the Mustard Seed. Missoula is a college town -- the University of Montana is there . . . . At Freddy's Feed and Read, a combination bookstore and deli, I picked up a copy of 'The Journals of Lewis and Clark.' But the shelves were pretty sparse -- and so was the entire town, for that matter, which seemed to consist mostly of above-ground municipal parking lots. The streets were a four-lane grid, unnervingly empty in the middle of the day."

 

Reports from Dark Acres

 

Not too helpful. I hit pay dirt with a 2006 reminiscence by Bill Vaughn headed "Reports from Dark Acres."

 

"By the mid-1970s," Vaughn wrote, "Missoula had become one of those towns like Eugene, Madison and Chapel Hill where hordes of baby boomers finished college but refused to leave. And why should we? You simply couldnt find the people and the things youd come to love in places that didnt have student ghettoes. You bought your bongs and incense and roach clips at the Joint Effort, your organic veggies and tofu at the Good Food Store, and your ramen and your beer and your pinko tracts at Freddys Feed and Read."

 

Vaughn had been one of the hard core in his day. "I'd spent my twenties in this dusty warren of offices, obsessed with class struggle, hallucinogenic drugs, and the imminent collapse of monopoly capital. But our lonely campaign of agitprop and radical publishing had been rudely ignored in the crush of our greedy, reactionary countrymen as they boogied down the Disco Highway toward that golden city where the bourgeoisie claimed there would be plenty of cash for everyone."

 

He describes his effort to organize an antiwar demonstration in front of Missoula's Federal Building in May 1972 to protest Nixon's mining of Haiphong Harbor. Only three people showed up; himself, his girlfriend, and his best friend. Then five tough looking characters appeared, four men and a woman.

 

"The toughest-looking one made his way through the traffic. I got ready to fight. But when he came closer and I saw that his jaw was the size of a gorillas I got ready to run. 'What the fuck is this?' he said. 'Who the fuck are you?' I said. He flicked away his cigarette and went to his pocket. I flinched. What he produced wasnt knuckles or a knife, however, but a leaflet Id printed on an ancient flatbed press in the basement of Freddys Feed and Read, a leftist book store that also sold groceries to stay in business. 'Youre cordially invited to World War III,' the banner said. 'You guys the demonstration?' I unclenched my fist. 'Yeah. So far.' He called across the street. 'This is it!'"

 

The four men were Vietnam vets. They and the woman constituted a commune they called the Krik twenty miles out of town. Vaughn and his friends united with the Krik to found Missoula's own underground newspaper, "Borrowed Times," which lasted until 1980. It drew around it, he writes, " a circus of malcontents - anarcho-feminists, crypto-Wobblies, wildcat unionists, Euro-trash homosexuals, Stalinist poets, Maoist fly fishermen, people who would become lawyers."

 

This was fascinating but more or less in line with what I had expected to find. As I searched further, however, Freddy's persona began to enlarge.

 

A post on The Stanger Forums from October 2009 reminisced about a score of places around the United States and elsewhere the author had visited, including:

 

"Montana has those puppy hill climb mountains so looking down at Missoula as in a basin was always a pleasure. I lived with my dear sweet across from the President's mansion in a nice basement apartment with our black and white cat Chaplin. Managed a half-finished painting that was grand. Freddy's Feed and Read was a place I could volunteer and do something while Kathy went to school and held a job. That is where I found and read Martha Gellhorn. She was still alive then and she responded to my letter. It was postmarked Belize City."

 

This was in a standing feature called Eggnog's Corner. A bit more searching disclosed that Eggnog is Mac Crary, son of Ryland Wesley Crary. Ryland had been a World War II Navy veteran and author of several books on education and human rights. Eggnog says that when he was a child a gang of his father's enemies beat him so severely he was left brain damaged and deaf. He sometimes signs himself the Deaf Poet. His posts are mostly deep in conspiracy theories, ranging from Homeland Security being responsible for 911 (wasn't that before Homeland Security was created?) and AIDs as a U.S. plot.

 

On March 13, 2009, Chicago author Keir Graff in his Likely Stories blog on the national Booklist Online website lamented the passing of independent bookstores. In the comments below, Joel Reese wrote, "R.I.P., Freddys Feed and Read." Unexpectedly, Graff not only knew what Reese was talking about but he had lived in Missoula as a teenager, where he attended Hellgate High School (yes, that was its real name). Graff responded, "Ah, Freddy's, where I read Jonah Hex on stools made out of tree stumps‰Û_."

 

I next turned up a poem by Mary Scriver, who signs herself Prairie Mary, posted in November 2007. It was a bit long but in part it read:

 

"Sharon is much braver than I am -- she lives in Missoula. For three years I visited Missoula twice a month, staying in a basement full of spiders. . . .

 

"Sharon is in Missoula -- where hippies have shacked up with old broke lumberjacks and mill workers who live in the little rental houses along the river that the lumber company provided and is about to sell out from under them. They met in 'blue collar' bars, which are very trendy among students and attract poets, though out-of-work displaced lumberjacks can get mean.

 

"Sharon is in Missoula -- where the Freddy's Feed 'n Read, a co-op for fine books and organic foods, is no longer and I'm still pouting about it. Commerce is dangerous even in Missoula."

 

Pastry chef Margaret Ambrose-Barton

Next came something that was really off in a different direction. A May 2008 piece in The Missoulian, the local town paper, was headed "Sweet success - Pastry chef Margaret Ambrose-Barton has made a career out of baking for Missoula's finest eateries."

 

"If you've dined out in Missoula over the past 17 years or so, chances are you've eaten one of Margaret Ambrose-Barton's fabulous desserts," it began. "A professional baker since 1991, when she graduated from Missoula's Vo-Tech Institute (now the College of Technology), Margaret bakes all the special occasion cakes, including wedding cakes, at Pearl Cafe and Bakery. She also provides desserts for Biga Pizza and The Shack."

 

After the breakup of her first marriage, as a single mother with two children Margaret took her pastry chef training, remarried to a mostly absentee husband who was a congressional aide in Washington, DC, and got her first job -- as pastry chef at Freddy's Feed and Read. A Marxist bookstore with a pastry chef?! She was there for seven years.

 

"'I worked from 3 a.m. until about 11 a.m., and I baked all the morning pastries and the desserts for the day,' she said, shaking her head in wonder at the schedule. 'I also baked my first wedding cakes then, which set the foundation for what I'd be doing over the coming years.'"

 

Christianbook.com supplied yet another axis. They carried a post about the book "Sidewalks in the Kingdom: New Urbanism and the Christian Faith" by theologian Eric Jacobsen. Booklinks' review comments, "Jacobsen sees the city as a hopeful place, where community, tradition, and beauty come together on a human scale -- a vision that an eclectic mix of architects, city planners, and sociologists has recently promoted as the New Urbanism." What does this have to do with Freddy's? The Christianbook site ran an interview with Jacobsen, who is evidently a native of Missoula:

 

"Christianbook.com: Briefly tell us what inspired you to write Sidewalks in the Kingdom.

"Eric Jacobsen: About two blocks from my house was a little bookstore/coffee shop called Freddys Feed and Read which had become an informal gathering spot for the neighborhood. After the owner died, Freddy's couldnt make it financially, so the owner of the building went looking for a new tenant who could continue the role that Freddys had played in our neighborhood.I wont get into the details here, but this process brought to light the fact that our neighborhood was zoned for residences only which meant that places like Freddys were illegal according to our current zoning codes. It turns out 60% of our neighborhood was non-compliant with current zoning codes. And yet, ours was the most desirable neighborhood in Missoula. This got me thinking why so many zoning codes make it illegal to build the kinds of traditional neighborhoods that a lot of people want to live in. Im not the only person to ask this kind of question ‰ÛÒ there is a whole slew of books reviving the notion of a traditional neighborhood ‰ÛÒ but at the time of writing Sidewalks in the Kingdom, the Christian community seemed to be completely left out of this conversation. I wrote Sidewalks to remedy that situation."

 

Environmental scholar J. W. Smith in his 1994 book The World's Wasted Wealth 2 thanks Fred Rice, manager of Freddy's Feed and Read, for encouraging him to write the book.

 

I found an online post by poet Greg Rappleye, winner of the prestigious Brittingham Prize in Poetry for 2000 for his book A Path Between Houses (University of Wisconsin Press). The dustcover describes the work:

 

"These are tough-minded poems about loss, and what comes afterwards - the difficult work of rebuilding a life. Greg Rappleye gathers his material across a vast American landscape, from the Florida Keys through the Nevada Desert to the California Coast, rocketing around the country with some strange friends - Odysseus, William Faulkner, Frank Sinatra, and private eye Jim Rockford. Rappleye is not afraid to implicate the self, building a heroic persona in the classic sense - a person in whom the flaws are as celebrated as the occasional triumph."

 

In his own post Rappleye celebrates the work of the late short story writer and poet Raymond Carver (1938-1988). Rappleye writes:

 

"I love all of Carver's work, but the poems in Ultramarine (Vintage Books, 1987) are particular favorites of mine. I bought the collection in 1989 in Missoula, Montana, at a great little bookstore called Freddy's Feed and Read, on my way to The Yellow Bay Writers' Workshop. This may be the book that persuaded me my future was in poetry, not fiction."

 

It seems that many lives were touched, and in unexpected ways, by the little remote bookstore cum deli.

 

End of the Line

 

"Final Feed, Last Read" was the headline in the November 15, 1998, Missoulian:

 

"Landmark Missoula bookstore Freddy's Feed and Read is closing after 26 years. A small letter placed in the window of Freddy's Feed and Read on Friday the 13th has been a shocking weekend read for fans of the alternative bookstore. Its message: The university area's one-stop shop for books by local authors and tofu shepherd's pie announced it is closing the doors after 26 years. 'Freddy's has always been a business swimming upstream,' said owner Mark Watkins. 'We've been struggling all year, but the culmination has come very quickly.' Too quickly for some, who learned of the news Saturday as they came to the neighborhood hub for their morning cup of coffee and to thumb through new stock.

 

"'I'm devastated--it's like a death in the family,' said Judith Holloway. She and her husband, Steven, have been customers since Freddy's opened in the early 1970s. 'It's a part of our daily lives.'

 

The final straw had been the opening of a Barnes & Noble chain store in Missoula. Freddy's responded with a last ditch effort to keep alive by enrolling with twenty-six other independent bookstores in a 1997 collective lawsuit against Barnes & Noble/Borders claiming the marketing giant gave secret discounts to its own stores that were denied to the independents. The independents called themselves the American Booksellers Association, which included the Ventura Book Store and the Midnight Special bookstore in Santa Monica, but such famous independents as Moe's in Berkeley, the Strand in Manhattan, and Powell's in Portland, Oregon, did not join. The case wasn't settled until 2001, when Barnes & Noble paid $2.3 million to reimburse the ABA's legal fees but included no damages.

 

The Missoulian's 1998 epitaph eulogy added, "It was a place that tried to keep up with its unique clientele, beginning as a bookstore, expanding into a bookstore with an organic grocery store and bulk food, to its current identity as a haven for local authors and customers who prefer meals prepared deli-style, with sinfully decadent desserts, Watkins said.

 

"'It is a really supportive environment for first-time authors and local writers,' said Deirdre McNamer, a Missoula author whose first book, 'Rima In the Weeds,' found a place at Freddy's. 'It was a warm feeling to go to a book signing there - a small moment of triumph in a place I hung out for years and poked through other people's first novels,' she said.

 

"It's the down-home quality of Freddy's that will be missed by retirees John and Margie Rasmussen. They bike to Freddy's from their South Side home almost every weekend to enjoy the intimate atmosphere."

 

When the store was gone a fight began over a pizza parlor request to finally change the zoning to allow it to take over the premises. The Missoula Independent described the hearing:

 

"It was an evening pregnant with childhood reminiscences of the beloved bookstore and grocery, replete with nostalgic accounts of nickel-priced cookies sold out of a glass jar on Freddy's counter, children thumbing through comic books, and university radicals lounging around smoking cigarettes while planning the next socialist utopia."

 

The once-revolutionary enterprise had mellowed to become a sentimental icon revered for its homey memories. It bore more than a passing resemblance to Jimmy Stewart's bank in It's a Wonderful Life, providing inspiration to authors, poets, and pastry chefs.

 

The city council rejected the pizza parlor. The next tenant at 1221 Helen Avenue was Quarter Moon Books. They were succeeded by the Bear's Brew Coffee House, and finally the property is today shared by the Java U coffee house and the Secret Seconds thrift store.

Missoula author Deidre McNamer's
Rima in the Weeds

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goodbye, Zacky

 

My wife Jennifer drove us to the vet while I held him in my arms. He hated the vet. I always took him, when it was unavoidable, in a cat carrier, and he screamed all the way. Today I held him in my arms instead. He nestled there quietly, holding his head up to look out at a world he last saw almost twenty years ago. Jennifer told them what we wanted. I sat with him quietly, then they called us into one of the exam rooms, took his weight, just a little over seven pounds, to see how much of the drugs they would need. He screamed for the first time when they picked him up and took him into a back room, to insert a catheter into his right front leg. He was silent when they brought him back, thin, with his once beautiful fur an unkempt disordered tangle.



The name we had given him was Zachary, though we always just called him Zacky. He came to the door one day in September 1990, lost and hungry, a young handsome classic tabby, black and gray with the distinctive circular pattern on his sides like a target. We took him in, meaning to find him a home elsewhere. The vet when we had him examined said that he was about nine months old, so he was probably born in January 1990. We convinced a neighbor across the street to take him. Happily for us, though not for her, Zacky scratched her and she developed cat scratch fever, a large swelling like a goiter on her neck, and she insisted that we take him back.

Zacky proved to be brave and adventurous. He had stopped in for a meal, not agreeing to become a prisoner for life, but that is what happened to him. For years he tried valiantly to escape, to go back to whatever journey had brought him to us in the first place. When a door would open he would make a rush for it, now and then slipping past an unwary giant. I caught him several times as he reached the end of our long porch and was heading off into the bushes. Once he escaped and we went to bed unawares. In our dry arid Los Angeles climate his bad luck was to escape into a rain storm. In the morning we found him clinging spread eagled to the screen on the outside of a back porch window and let him back in.

It wasn't that he didn't like us. He did. And he became more affectionate as he grew older. He was the most lively member of our family. Margaret, a school friend of Jennifer's daughter, lived with us for a while that first year. She and Zacky would play a game. Our big 1910 Craftsman house, in the Craftsman manner, flows one room into another, making circles beloved of children and animals: from the living room into the dining room then into the breakfast room, through the kitchen back to the entry way and then the living room again, round and round. Zacky would chase Margaret round-robin through the course, then she would turn on him and he would take the lead with her in hot pursuit, round and round they went. Margaret was the first human Zacky bonded to, with a fierce loyalty that they both remembered many years later when she would occasionally visit.

He was the most acrobatic of our cats. In the dining room he would leap to the top of an old pine breakfront four feet off the ground, then wind up and from there to the narrow lintel over the big pocket doors, run along that, jump down to the top of a five-foot cabinet, then take a mighty leap to the top of an eight foot high built-in china cabinet. There he would strut as king of the mountain. He could somehow reach almost all the plate rails of our old house, where he would balance precariously while racing along near the ceiling, occasionally knocking a picture off the wall with a crash or breaking one of Jennifer's prize teacups. Once he got past the fire screen and climbed halfway up the chimney of the living room fireplace, tumbling down looking like a furry ball of soot.

For a long time I think he was to me just one more of our several cats, and he had the parallel feeling toward me. Jennifer decided that he should be my cat. She began to carry him in to our bedroom at bedtime and set him down next to my pillow. I was honored when he decided he liked the idea and came every night to jump into bed, most of the time telling me when he had decided it was bedtime. Before Zacky I used to read in bed for a few minutes before dozing off. He wouldn't put up with that. If I wanted his company there couldn't be any split screen or multi-tasking. Open a book and he would stalk off and go sleep somewhere else. I quickly gave up bedtime reading.

Over time we became hooked on each other. Zacky had big green eyes, calm and phlegmatic. For years he was top cat in our household, just, apparently, by some feline charisma, as he was kind hearted, never fought, welcomed new younger cats into the house or ignored them, but seemed to have the respect of all the others, who plainly deferred to him. I put a cat bed for him on my desk, surrendering a good part of it to his domain. Whenever I would walk into the room he would lift a paw to me in welcome.

Somewhere the years slipped away. Jennifer had cats long before she and I got together in 1982, and there were always three or four in our household, one generation succeeding another, as their short cat lives usually ended by the time they were thirteen or fifteen. Zacky outlived many of them. By the time he was sixteen in 2006 signs of old age began to appear. In human years he was already 80. I got sets of cat stairs so he could get to his bed on my desk, to climb into two of his favorite windows, and next to my bed. He understood immediately what they were for, and now at night he would wait for me to get into bed first, then climb up his stairs, stick his head over the edge to confirm that I was there, then climb in. He slept curled up in my arms. He was small for a cat, nine or ten pounds in his best years.

Near the end of the nineties he tested positive for feline leukemia and we thought he would die, but he miraculously threw it off. In 2005 he was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism and an enlarged heart, when again we thought it was the end. From that time he was on two medications I had to push down his throat daily. I stopped traveling then, as his care had become too complicated, I thought, for a cat sitter, leaving Jennifer to visit her oldest son in Cleveland by herself. I knew a fellow at UCLA before I retired who, with his wife, did the same thing for his aging sick cat.

As he became frail in his later years Zacky became still more affectionate. At night when Jennifer and I would watch a movie on television Zacky would come and sleep cradled in the crook of my arm during the program. About three years ago we got a small dog, and had to put our cats' food on top of the dryer to keep it away from the dog. Zacky was too old to get up there, even on a ramp that I built for the others. So began the necessity that I stay with him for every meal to guard him from other hungry household animals. During the night he would get up three or four times to eat, and I would get up with him; if I wasn't there he would have nothing to eat. I became quite used to it, at midnight, two, and four every morning. Now he would sit in my lap if I read a book, or ask to be picked up while I was working at my computer. Luckily I had retired in 2005 and was home most of the time, where I spent much of it with him. I rarely said no, becoming adept at typing Google queries with one hand while cradling him with the other.

I could see he had become stiff and walked with some difficulty. Sometimes he would lose his balance jumping off a footstool or a chair and land on his back. He was generally his phlegmatic self about these mishaps. He turned twenty this January, counted as ninety-six in human years. Yesterday I was reading in an easy chair in the living room. Zacky staggered down the stairs from the second floor and came toward me. I could see his back legs were almost paralyzed. I picked him up and put him on my lap. He sat quietly, but his hind legs twitched, and he lost control of his bladder. When I lifted him up he cried out in pain. That night I brought him to bed, laying out waterproof puppy training pads to protect the sheets, and we slept enfolded with each other one last time. He got up in the night as usual, even ate in my study, but twice cried out. It was time.

At the vet's the young woman doctor carried two syringes in her apron. Zacky sat very still on the examination table and made no protest as she fitted the first into the catheter opening in his front leg. As the fluid cylinder emptied he lay his head down on his paws. With the second syringe he stopped breathing. I stood there crying.



--Leslie Evans, May 16, 2010

Corin Redgrave and Gerry Healy

 

The death of actor Corin Redgrave April 6 produced an outpouring of rather airbrushed eulogies in the British media. Scion of the renowned Redgrave clan, major figures for four generations in British stage, screen, and later television, Corin had made his name in productions of Shakespeare and Noel Coward and appeared in such films as A Man for All Seasons, Excalibur, and Four Weddings and a Funeral. His father was the well-known film actor Michael Redgrave. His two sisters, of course, were Vannessa and Lynn Redgrave. Corin was a lifelong leftist, as is Vanessa. The British media on his death referred vaguely but positively to Corin's fight against injustice. BBC Radio 4 said Corin Redgrave had been "looking at all forms of injustice and oppression" and was "trying to make a better world". In fact Corin Redgrave with his better known sister Vanessa were decades-long members of the Workers Revolutionary Party, a Trotskyist sect run as a mad cult by Gerry Healy.

Observer columnist Nick Cohen takes the prettifiers to task in the April 29 London Standpoint:

"The story of Corin's and Vanessa's politics is so straightforward that only the wilfully blind can miss it. The Redgraves spent their adult lives serving a repellent totalitarian party led by a rapist and a friend not of 'human rights' and 'justice', as Radio 4 pretended, but of dictatorship and terror. The supreme leader was Gerry Healy, who kept the Redgraves and thousands of others in his power by deploying the classic cult tactic of spreading paranoia and fear about everyone outside his Trotskyist sect."

Cohen concludes:

"Radio 4 cannot tell the true story of the Redgraves' politics because, although Marxist-Leninism has long gone, a part of the poison of the Trotskyism of the 1968 generation lingers in the bloodstream of the wider Left ‰ÛÓ the propensity for Jew-baiting and conspiracy theory, the shrieking dogmatism, and, beyond all that, the self-censorship, which stops a broadcaster legally obliged to be objective dealing plainly with news that reflects badly on its class and kind."

Here is Nick Cohen's full post: http://www.standpointmag.co.uk/node/2975/full

The Workers Revolutionary Party at its height in the 1970s sponsored large pageants, had several playwrights in its orbit who wrote and produced plays that promoted its political line, had a sizable trade union adjunct, and published a daily newspaper, News Line. Among its most loyal supporters in addition to the Redgraves was Ken Livingstone, later mayor of London, who has been frequently accused of anti-Semitism, a charge made also against the WRP as a whole. Healy, for those who did not follow the degeneration of his organization in the 1980s, was exposed as on the payroll of Gadaffi of Libya and Saddam Hussein of Iraq, for whom his press promoted pro-Arab causes and campaigned for the destruction of Israel. In 1985 it was revealed that the two Arab dictators were subsidizing Healy's daily News Line as well as Ken Livingstone's Labour Herald, though Livingstone claimed he was unaware of this.

Healy also mounted a scurrilous campaign accusing leaders of the American Socialist Workers Party of secretly conspiring with Stalin's KGB to murder Trotsky. His organization collapsed in 1985 when a score of women members accused him of raping them. Healy, before his death in 1989, went on to found a new little cult called the Marxist Party. Corin and Vanessa Redgrave followed him even there, while Ken Livingstone gave the oration at Healy's funeral and wrote a favorable introduction to a laudatory Healy biography, dismissing all the evidence against him as a plot by MI5.

A more moderate British Trotskyist, Sean Matgamma, in 2008 told the London Evening Standard, "The WRP ceased to be a political organisation and was merely a group paid for by Islamic regimes. They were spying on dissident Arabs and Jews for Gaddafi and Saddam, here in London. The WRP was taking money from Libya to subsidise Livingstone's paper. He had an accommodation with the WRP. After they ran that piece in News Line, we said to Livingstone: 'That editorial was anti-Semitic - where do you stand on it? Should we shrug our shoulders and accept that anti-Semitism is a legitimate part of the Left?' Livingstone didn't answer." (Ken Dovkants in the 4/17/2008 London Evening Standard.)

Healy is satirized in the hilarious if in-group novel Redemption by Tariq Ali, where he appears under the name Frank Hood of the Hoodlums. Though Healy was an extreme example the propensity toward cultism and Jew-baiting unfortunately remains fairly strong among the remnants of the Trotskyist movement, some of whom have been able to convince themselves that jihadi Islamicist anti-Semites, because they hate the United States and israel, represent a positive force that should be supported.







Articles on Left-wing Anti-Semitism

 

One of the most disappointing trends in the past several decades has been the enthusiasm of many far left currents and organizations for Third World dictators, right-wing jihadi theocrats, and other such enemies of bearable human societies. I cannot help but recall that it was policies like this by the American government that in my youth drew me to the left in revulsion. The lodestone of this politics is a compass that always points to the United States as the preeminent evil in the world. Running a close second, however, is an obsessive hatred of Israel and by extension the great majority of the comparatively small number of Jews left on the planet, who are sympathetic to the Jewish state. To say this will immediately elicit the outcry, "You supporters of Israel just brand anybody who criticizes Israel as an anti-Semite to stifle any discussion of Israel's crimes."

I am a critic of Israel. I think the settlements should be dismantled, and deplore the turn of the Israeli electorate to the current right wing government. However, a large part of the far left, and its predecessors in the Soviet Union in the postwar period who invented that particular argument, have as their criticism that the state of Israel has no right to exist, or see only Israel's crimes but celebrate rockets and suicide bombers as liberation fighters. How intolerant of criticism you are! Just because I hail the people who say they want to kill you, or who circulate Nazi propaganda against you, you fling the anti-Semitism charge at me.

 

The anti-Israel line in its modern form originated in the postwar anti-Semitic campaigns of the Stalin regime in the Soviet Union, and its successors, intensifying after the June War of 1967 in which Israel miraculously survived an attack by three of its far larger Arab neighbors while the left favored an Arab victory with the avowed aim of destroying the Jewish state and expelling the Jews from the region.

 

A broader historical view would reveal that the socialist and Marxist movements were at their inception strongly anti-Semitic, viewing Jews as alien to European societies and emblematic of hated commercial relations that these groups despised. Marx in his famous article "On the Jewish Question" promised that Jews, who he defined collectively as "hucksters," would cease to exist after the socialist revolution. Proudhon, founder of French socialism and remembered for his aphorism that "Property is theft," prefigured Hitler by calling repeatedly for the physical extermination of the Jews. In this sense, while the far left opposed anti-Semitism when it came from their bitter enemies on the fascist right, and commonly defended assimilationist Jews as individuals, the movement in most of its branches historically has been a consistent and bitter opponent of Jewish nationalism, treating it as an enemy worthy of physical destruction. There was a period in the early years of the last century when there was a plausible argument between Marxists and the Jewish nationalists known as Zionists over the Marxist premise that the nation state was a reactionary hangover from the past and it was a bad idea to try to start a new one. Clearly the world has not validated the leftist position in that debate. Nations are more plentiful and stronger than ever. There is little vituperation from the socialist left aimed at an independent Armenia, or demands that the Armenians renounce their little state and content themselves to live in a democratic secular Turkey. Or denunciation of the various and highly nationalistic states that emerged from the collapse of Yugoslavia. Those examples could be multiplied many fold. Yet there is a pustulant malice at the idea that Jews, most of them natives of the region who were ethnically cleansed by Arab anti-Semites, should dare to have their own state, or have any legitimacy in their embittered struggle with the Palestinians and their allies.

 

As in many struggles over territory and national identity there are crimes and wrongful acts committed on both sides. The far left sees only those of the Jews. That is at the heart of the toxic attitude toward Judaism that has infected the far left from its inception and which it inherited but never reexamined from the anti-Semitic culture of Christian Europe over two millenia.

 

For those who would want to look more closely at this topic, or who may react in denial, I would suggest sampling some of the articles in the website entitled Left Wing Anti-Semitism A good starting point is David Cesarani's piece, "The Left and the Jews."

 

 

How the Anti-Democratic Iranian Left Paved the Way for Khomeini

 

[Following are remarks by Danny Postel at a November 5, 2009, conference in Chicago entitled "30 Years of the Islamic Revolution: The Tragedy of the Left" hosted by the Platypus Affiliated Society. Postel is a progressive activist in Chicago with a long-time interest in Iran. He is the author of Reading Legitimation Crisis in Tehran: Iran and the Future of Liberalism. His comments are important in highlighting the hostility toward democratic institutions of an important section of the Marxist left, which, as Postel says, "helped fashion the noose the Islamists ultimately hung them with." I am indebted to Norman Geras' Normblog for calling my attention to this conference.]


* **


In the conventional narrative of the Iranian Left the answer to our question has long been, "Yes." The 1979 Revolution was a failure insofar as it was hijacked by one faction of a broader coalition that included the Iranian revolutionary Left. The faction in question was the Islamist or Khomeinite faction, which, once it gained control, proceeded to decimate, destroy, murder, imprison, and drive into exile its erstwhile comrades. There is a lot of truth to this leftist narrative, but it is only part of the story. It is largely self-exculpatory and elides the role the Iranian Left played in its own immolation. An account of this self-defeat can be found in Maziar Behrooz's book, Rebels with a Cause: The Failure of the Left in Iran, a salutary and, indeed, definitive reconsideration of the history of the pre-revolutionary Iranian Left.

As Maziar explains, the Iranian Left, or at least certain key fractions of it, helped fashion the noose the Islamists ultimately hung them with. According to Behrooz, the Khomeinites were able to do this in large part because the Tudeh party, the Fadaiyan Majority, and many other Iranian Marxist parties, whatever their differences with the Islamists, shared with them a profound hostility toward liberalism. Like [Ruhollah al-Musavi] Khomeini's followers, dominant trends on the Iranian Left viewed democratic rights, civil liberties, and women's rights as no more than elements of what they described interchangeably as "western," "colonial," or "bourgeois" ideology.

On the basis of Behrooz's analysis of the critical failings of the Iranian Left, I would say we must revise the Iranian Left's usual answer to the question and answer it instead in the negative. No, the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran was not a tragedy for the Left, for tragedies befall innocence; they happen to people who have no idea of, and are not responsible for, the fate that awaits them.

This raises another question: Is it in fact a tragedy that the Stalinists and Maoists who made up the great majority of the left in Iran in the 1960s and 1970s did not take power? After all, virtually all Iranian leftists of the 1960s and 1970s were either Stalinist or Maoist. In light of this, I would argue that what followed in the wake of the 1979 Revolution was not so much a tragedy for the Iranian Marxist "Left" then in existence, as it was a tragedy for the project of the Left per se. For the genuinely leftist project of internationalism and human emancipation, the profoundly authoritarian, repressive, reactionary, and proto-fascist regime that emerged out of the Revolution and has ruled Iran ever since is certainly tragic but also, and more accurately, catastrophic. But what are the lessons to be learned?

There are both external and internal factors in the destruction of the Iranian Left. The external factors are obviously the brutality of the Islamists who took over and Iran's strategic position in the Cold War rivalry between the U.S. and USSR. These factors are certainly important, but Behrooz's book rightly zeroes in on the internal factors. Of these, he considers the Left's tunnel-vision anti-imperialism most essential. Khomeini's gang may have disdained professedly secular, rational socialists, but on the Left the argument went that, because they were anti-American and anti-imperialist, the Khomeinites were "objectively progressive."

We now know that the Left's was a demented, disfigured, ultimately catastrophic argument, one that had lethal consequences for those who propounded it. There was nothing progressive about Khomeini's anti-imperialism. It was authoritarian and regressive, as is [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad's anti-imperialism today. Whether Khomeini's rhetoric was truly anti-imperialist is open to debate‰ÛÓbut to the extent it was, it amounted to no more than an anti-imperialism of fools.

What were some of the consequences of the Iranian Marxist Left's view that the anti-imperialist, anti-American rhetoric of the Khomeinites was "objectively progressive"? As mentioned earlier, it led to a rejection of the demands for human rights advanced by feminists, democratic liberals, and nationalists. Rather than sympathizing with and advancing their demands, many on the Left in Iran in 1979 regarded feminism as a bourgeois colonial ideology. Because of this many Iranian Marxists sided with extreme reactionary forces within the new Islamic government as they repressed feminism, beating women and suppressing their demands. Similarly, when newspapers were shut down, many Iranian Marxists defended not their right to publish their views, but the regime's supposed responsibility to close them down! Here again the logic was the same: Liberal and nationalist newspapers were neo-colonial and bourgeois. Such actions, justified in the name of anti-imperialism, constituted a catastrophic turn down the dark ally of anti-liberalism. The Left mistakenly viewed liberalism as part of a toxic, global, colonial project rather than viewing it, as Marx himself did, as being necessary but insufficient‰ÛÓor, better, insufficient but bloody necessary‰ÛÓto the project of socialism and liberation.

Source: http://platypus1917.org/2010/02/18/30-years-of-the-islamic-revolution-in-iran/



The Threat of Agrarian Collapse

 Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed -- By Jared Diamond (New York: Viking, 2005)

If you thought human society risked collapse because of global warming, exhaustion of fossil fuels, and overpopulation, UCLA geographer Jared Diamond has a whole new list of things to worry about. Diamond is the author of the insightful Guns, Germs, and Steel, which theorized a nonracial explanation for European supremacy over the New World and Africa based on the availability of domesticable animals and grains and a greater exposure to and hence immunity to common diseases. In Collapse Diamond traces in exhaustive detail the ecological disasters that destroyed four ancient and medieval societies, and points to parallels in our own time as warning signs.Diamond's examples are comparatively small, isolated units living in fragile, unforgiving landscapes. The advantage of concentrating on such otherwise marginal peoples is that by their isolation it is easier to piece together the factors that led to their destruction. Diamond chooses the Polynesian people of Easter Island off the coast of Chile, the vanished Anasazi of the deserts of northeastern Arizona, northwestern New Mexico, southeastern Utah and southwestern Colorado; the Maya of the Yucatan Peninsula; and the Norse colonies in western Greenland.


While there are important differences in the factors that led to social failure between these examples, a common thread is deforestation, leading to a loss of building materials and fuel; extermination through over-hunting of local animals and birds used for food; and erosion and salinization of croplands as a consequence of the loss of woodland cover on hillsides.

A cardinal risk factor unearthed in Diamond's study is cultural expansion into territories that appear to be the same as the homeland but in fact have difficult to detect but crucial differences. Dust carried ashore by the Southeast Asian monsoons provides a natural fertilizer that renews croplands and encourages rapid growth of coconut palms and other trees on many South Pacific islands.

As Polynesian colonies spread further east across the Pacific toward South America, Diamond says, they eventually outran the monsoon effect. At Easter Island, located 2,200 miles west of continental Chile, the lack of monsoon-carried dust meant the land was poor and trees grew far more slowly than in the western Pacific. Harvesting wood at the same rate as in the monsoon area eventually denuded the island's forests with disastrous consequences. Colonized around 900 AD, there may have been 15,000 inhabitants at the height in the thirteenth century. By the time European ships arrived in 1722 there were 2,000 left, and these were quickly decimated by slave traders and small pox.

Searches through garbage middens reveal that for the early inhabitants dolphin was a major food source, with fish far scarcer than in most Polynesian societies. This was apparently because of the rocky coast that left few places to fish. The dolphins were caught at sea from ocean-going canoes. Over time the big trees used to make such canoes were all cut down. When the trees were gone, the diet changed as well.

"Porpoises, and open-ocean fish like tuna, virtually disappeared from the islanders' diet. . . . Land birds disappeared completely from the diet, for the simple reason that every species became extinct from some combination of overhunting, deforestation, and predation by rats" (p. 106).

With the trees, palm nuts also disappeared, removing another important food source. The latest carbon date for a palm nut shell found on the island is 1500. The population crashed in the century that followed. Crops also failed. "Deforestation led locally to soil erosion by rain and wind, as shown by huge increases in the quantities of soil-derived metal ions" (p. 108).

For the Norse colony in Greenland, again the land looked a lot like home, in this case Norway, but in fact the soil was far poorer. The colonists tried to replicate their home ecology, raising cattle and sheep, and growing crops. Founded in 984, the colony, based in two fjords on the southwest coast, lasted some 450 years. They prospered until the Little Ice Age set in after 1300. They then faced competition from the invading Inuit, saw crop failures from the deepening cold and the thin topsoil, and made fatal cultural mistakes, the most important of which was relying on sheep and cattle that could no longer be fed when the hay harvests failed, rather than on seal and fish as the Inuit did.

What bearing do these isolated local tragedies have for our globalized world? Diamond makes an analogy with the two Norse colonies in Greenland. In fact, he says, the more southerly one had a chance to survive, or at least its largest farms did, with great barns where they housed their cattle in the winter. The outlying areas evacuated and migrated to the better-off places in hopes of staving off the disaster. They succeeded only in swamping the life boat and all drowned together.

Diamond sees the globalized world of today as more subject to ecological shocks than the relatively self-isolated nation states of a century ago. He has been criticized for not having an economist's tools to weigh more accurately the growth of wealth as a balance against ecological costs. Cambridge economist Partha Dasgupta in a review last year in the London Review of Books pointed out that deforestation in Britain in the nineteenth century spurred that country to switch to coal and become the leader of the Industrial Revolution while well-forested France fell behind. Dasgupta asks "how should we recognise the trade-offs between a society's present and future needs for goods and services?" and scores Diamond for lacking a clear concept of sustainable development.

That is an issue beyond my qualifications to evaluate. There is, however, one striking point that Diamond makes. There is in the world today a world market in food grains. The principal suppliers of this market for some years have been the United States, Canada, and Australia. One ominous sign has been China's transition from grain self-sufficiency to become a major grain importer.

As the world's most populous country, China's relations to the world grain market can have an enormous impact. Historically China with its intensive, irrigated garden farming and extremely limited arable land has lived far closer to the edge than the countries of Western Europe and North America with their large tracts of rainfall farming.

Population growth, even with the government's one-child policy, is having powerful impacts on the country's capacity to feed itself. Diamond writes:

"By world standards, China is poor in fresh water, with a quantity per person only one-quarter of the world average value. . . . Of the water required for cities and for irrigation, two-thirds depends on groundwater pumped from wells tapping aquifers. However, these aquifers are becoming depleted, permitting seawater to enter them in most coastal areas, and causing land to sink under some cities as the aquifers are becoming emptied. . . . China's soil problems start with its being one of the world's countries most severely damaged by erosion, now affecting 19% of its land area and resulting in soil loss at 5 billion tons per year. Erosion is especially devastating on the Loess Plateau . . . and increasingly on the Yangtze River, whose sediment discharge from erosion exceeds the combined discharges of the Nile and Amazon. . . .

"Soil quality and fertility as well as soil quantity have declined, partly because of long-term fertilizer use plus pesticide-related drastic declines in soil-renewing earthworms, thereby causing a 50% decrease in the area of cropland considered to be of high quality. Salinization . . . has affected 9% of China's lands, mainly due to poor design and management of irrigation systems in dry areas. . . . Desertification, due to overgrazing and land reclamation for agriculture, has affected more than one-quarter of China, destroying about 15% of North China's area remaining for agriculture and pastoralism within the last decade." (pp. 364-65)

The World Watch Institute in a January 11, 2006, report said that China in 2005 consumed 32 percent of the rice output of the world, and that "If Chinese per-capita grain consumption were to double to roughly European levels, China alone would require the equivalent of nearly 40 percent of today's global grain harvest."

At the same time, Jared Diamond reports, Australia, one of the current pillars of world grain exports, is faced with its own erosion and salinization problems that are likely to move it from an exporter to an importer in the next decade. This spells a global food supply in which a single bad year will mean large scale famine in many countries.

At root the world as a whole is confronting a growing pressure on mostly limited resources, including agrarian ones that are most often overlooked, from both a growth in population and a simultaneous growth in per capita use of resources.

Skeptics can quibble, but their counter arguments have to rest on two risky assumptions: that new technology fixes will turn up in time to solve the growing food and energy problems, as the turn to coal did for the British 200 years ago, and that governments will be brave and energetic enough to confront their populations with unpopular demands to reduce population growth and conserve resources. Not to mention the opposition such measures face now from Muslim forces in the Middle East and Indonesia, and fundamentalist Christian forces that wield enormous power here in the United States, who oppose such measures on the ground that God will take care of it or take his followers up to heaven soon where it won't matter.

Jared Diamond himself is not a pessimist, or at least so he says. He points to the amazingly effective forest management efforts of the Tokugawa Shogunate in Japan after 1600 that protected the country's forests, even to the point of inventorying individual trees. And no doubt there is growing awareness of the rising risks and public and private projects to conserve and to find alternatives. We will see.

Sayyid Qutb: The Karl Marx of the Islamic Revolution

 "From Secularism to Jihad: Sayyid Qutb and the Foundations of Radical Islamism" -- Adnan A. Musallam. Westport, Connecticut: 2005. 261 pp.

"The Philosopher of Islamic Terror" -- Paul Berman. New York Times Magazine, March 23, 2003

 

By Leslie Evans


Sayyid Qutb (October 9, 1906-August 29, 1966), the Egyptian literary critic, philosopher, and theorist of the contemporary jihadist movement is only becoming a familiar name in the West in recent years, but his voluminous writings have had and continue to have enormous impact in the Muslim world. It is not an overstatement to say that it is hardly possible to understand the reasoning and goals of the Islamic militants without some familiarity with the outlook Qutb (pronounced KUH-tahb) enunciated.

A search of Amazon.com returns no less than seven books in English about Sayyid Qutb as well as collections of his writings and many of his own books in translation. The two works touched on here are only a random sampling of a very large literature which is again but a minute fraction of what exists in Arabic. These two are quite different in scope and attitude. Adnan Ayyub Musallam, a Palestinian native of Bethlehem, holds a doctorate from the University of Michigan and is currently professor of history, politics, and cultural studies at Bethlehem University in the West Bank. His generally sympathetic but critical biography concentrates on the evolving politics of Qutb's affiliations and thought. The quite brief and more critical piece by Paul Berman for the New York Times looks at Qutb's theology and helps to clarify his argument with Christianity and Western secularism.

Brilliant from his earliest youth, Sayyid Qutb was an unlikely figure to serve as the inspiration for a global revolutionary movement. Although for a brief period he was a member of the militant Muslim Brothers, where he served as an editor not as an organizer, he spent most of his life as a lone intellectual. Where Marx, the theorist of world communism, labored in the British Museum, Sayyid Qutb wrote his most influential works in an Egyptian prison, where he spent most of the last eleven years of his life, until his execution by the Nasser government in 1966. Even his turn to Islam in any serious way did not take place until he was past forty, yet in prison in his fifties he produced a controversial rethinking of the religion that reverberates around the world.

Qutb was born in the village of Musha, between Cairo and Aswan into a family of small landowners. He was sent to the local madrasa, the government school, rather than the still more religious kuttab, the Islamic school, but he won a contest between the two schools for the best memorization of the Qur'an. He recalled his life there in his only biographical work, "Child from the Village," recording local customs and superstitions. From that period he acquired a belief in the world of spirits that he carried with him all his life.

At fifteen Sayyid Qutb went to Cairo to live with an uncle. This was in 1921, in the midst of the 1918-22 nationalist revolt against British rule led by the secular Wafd Party of Sa'd Zaghlul. Qutb attended intermediate and high school in Cairo, then college, graduating in 1933 from Dar al-Ulam with a BA in Arabic language and literature and in education. Around that year his father back in Musha died and his brother and two sisters came to Cairo to live with him. At the age of nineteen he began to write and publish poetry. Musallam describes Qutb's poems as fascinated with death, travel in the spirit world, and idealization of a fantasy beloved. He also, however, wrote a poem in support of the Palestinian anti-Jewish uprising of 1936-39.

The Secular Literary Critic

Responsible for supporting his siblings, Qutb became a teacher in government schools, writing literary criticism on the side for various small magazines. In 1940 he got a job with the Ministry of Education. In a pattern common for Egyptian intellectuals, Qutb built his literary reputation while holding down a full-time government job. During the 1930s he came strongly under the influence of Abbas Mahmud al-Aqqad, a prominent journalist, literary critic, and poet. Al-Aqqad was a modernist supporter of the Wafd Party and secular nationalism, and these were Qutb's views as well into the 1940s.

Musallam quotes a reminiscence of Qutb in the 1930s penned many years later by the journalist 'Adel Hammuda, who said "there is no doubt he was audacious. . . . His words were sharp sometimes. His expressions were sticks of fire. . . . His pencil was a whip. The one who sees him does not believe that he is the same person who writes. . . . For with people he was milder than the breeze. . . . With the paper and the pencil, he was a hell which does not cool off." Similar sentiments were often voiced about George Orwell, who was gentle in person but vitriolic in print.

Sayyid Qutb was a prolific writer. He published some twenty books and monographs during his lifetime, or in a few cases posthumously. One of them, "In the Shade of Islam," by itself runs to fifteen or more volumes depending on the edition and language. Half a dozen of Qutb's works are available in English translation, but except for his youthful autobiography, "A Child from the Village," the rest are from his Islamic period and do not include the few volumes of his poetry from the 1930s or his literary criticism of the 1940s and two novels, "The Bewitched City" (1946) and "Thorns" (1947).

Sayyid Qutb is credited with being one of the first to write laudatory reviews of the work of Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1988 and who died in August 2006.

Qutb's transition into Qur'anic studies began as an extension of his literary criticism, with a study of artistic images in the Qur'an begun in 1939. Musallam recounts how Qutb when he was drawn back to the Qur'an he had memorized as a schoolboy was enthralled by its stories. A favorite was the tale of the Virgin Mary (Maryam in the Qur'an), her hostile reception by her family when she returned home with her baby and claimed to her incredulous relatives that it was not the product of sex with a human being. At risk of retribution for her apparent sin, Maryam is saved when the infant Jesus cries out from his crib, "Lo! I am the slave of Allah. He hath given me the Scripture and hath appointed me a Prophet." Sayyid Qutb himself dated his serious re-attraction to the Qur'an to the writing and publication of this work, published as "Artistic Portrayal in the Qur'an" in 1945.

Musallam makes the point that in Qutb's return to religion neither he nor al-Aqqad had ever been Western-style materialists. Al-Aqqad advocated a kind of nationalist rationalism but he remained a believer in Islam and rejected both Marxism and materialism. Qutb even more than al-Aqqad always retained a belief in the supernatural. In the 1930s, Musallam characterizes Qutb as a "Muslim secularist," not irreligious but inclined to see religion as a private matter. He did go so far, Musallam avers, as to have doubts about his faith. This was a view he would put behind him in the 1950s.

Musallam notes that Qutb's new interest in Qur'anic studies was part of a broad current among the liberal Egyptian intelligentsia in the 1940s "inspired by resentment against Western hegemony in Egypt and the Arab world and a gradual loss of faith in the popular appeal of liberal nationalist parliamentary ideals." This period also saw a decline in interest in the pre-Islamic civilization of the ancient Pharaohs, to which several periodicals had been devoted.

The death of Qutb's mother Fatimah in 1940 and the collapse of what seems to have been his only serious love affair, in 1942 or 1943, appear to have propelled Qutb to devote the rest of his life to religious studies. By 1946 in an article entitled "Schools for Indignation" (Madaris lil-sakht) his writing became openly theological. In this period he wrote admiringly of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1838-97), advocate of a pan-Islamist religious and cultural revival to counter European influence, as an example of the need for a spiritual dimension to political reform movements. He also began to look back to an imagined golden age of "the first towering flow" of Islam in the days of the Prophet and the first caliphs.

Moral puritanism emerged in Qutb's thought before his general rejection of the separation of religion and the state. Already by 1940 he repudiated his earlier somewhat bohemian ways, campaigning in his essays against broadcasting popular music on Egyptian radio. Musallam recounts that Qutb "asserts in his writings that such songs destroyed Egyptian social structure and personal character because they corrupted the virtues of men and women." He advocated the formation of a censorship committee "empowered to prevent, if necessary, the broadcasting of songs, the production of records and tapes, and the showing of films." He also called for new laws to prosecute singers of disapproved songs.

World War II further hardened Qutb's anti-Western views. Egypt had been essentially a British colony since 1882, and as such was attacked in the war first by the Italians and then by the Nazi armies under Rommel, who was under orders to break through Egypt to exterminate the Jewish population of Palestine and try to spark an Arab revolt (study of Nazi archival documents by Klaus-Michael Mallmann and Martin Cueppers of Stuttgart University reported by Agence France-Presse on April 13, 2006). Rommel penetrated deep into Egypt and the country endured severe hardships in the war. Qutb, according to Musallam, was particularly outraged by the arrogance of British troops stationed in Cairo.

A Growing Hostility to the West

The end of the 1940s saw Sayyid Qutb's transformation, as Musallam puts it, into "a stern moralist, an anti-Western thinker, and an anti-political, anti-literary establishment intellectual."

Much like the Manchu rulers of China in the last years of the Qing dynasty, Qutb advocated retention of Islamic and Egyptian religion and culture while adopting Western science and technology. Even here, however, he rejected Darwinism and biological materialism.

"By the mid 1940s," Musallam writes, "Qutb became fiercely anti-Western. In 1944, he attacked Western civilization and hailed its demise. In his view the West has failed and it is now the turn of the East to take over the leadership of the world and create by the power of its spirituality a new civilization." He condemned French colonialism from the days of Napoleon's invasion of Egypt to more recent French suppressions of nationalist movements in Syria, Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria. The British were excoriated as the colonial masters of Egypt, particularly for imposing a Wafd cabinet on the king in February 1942. And the Americans were censured for their support of Jewish immigration to Palestine.

In an article in al-Risalah (The Message) of October 21, 1946, Qutb wrote, "How I hate and despise those Westerners! All without exception: the British, the French, the Dutch and now the Americans who were at one time trusted by many. . . . And I do not hate or despise these alone. I hate and despise just as much those Egyptians and Arabs who continue to trust Western conscience."

At about this time Sayyid Qutb became more strongly concerned with reducing inequality, which led to his disillusionment with the existing nationalist parties such as the Wafd. He condemned the Egyptian upper classes for their privileges and their subservience to the British, as well as the press, broadcasting, and well-known literati figures both for defending the status quo and for disseminating material he regarded as immoral. Still, at this time his views have more of pan-Arabism about them than Islamism.

In the late 1940s Qutb appeared ideologically restless. Though not a member of any party or definite group, he was briefly but prominently associated with two different radical journals, The Arab World (al-'Alam al-'Arabi, a pan-Arabist monthly) and The New Thought (al-Fikr al-Jadid, a weekly published between January and March 1948 by a member of the radical Islamic Muslim Brothers). While exposed at this time to frequent solicitation from the Muslim Brothers, or Muslim Brotherhood or Ikhwan as it is also known, Qutb was not yet convinced that any existing Islamic organization was what he was looking for. He did see Islam as the alternative to communism, which was then on the rise among Egyptian nationalists. Qutb and the other editors and writers of the short-lived al-Fikr al-Jadid preached a fiery sermon of the need to feed, house, and clothe the Egyptian poor and to find new ways within traditional Islam to redistribute wealth and power for a more egalitarian society. Qutb called for taking a portion of the land of large landowners and distributing it to the landless peasants, forming cooperative societies, and adopting legislation ameliorating the conflicts between capital and labor.

The monarchy responded to these appeals by ordering Qutb's arrest. He escaped only because the prime minister, Mahmud Fahmi al-Nuqrashi, an old acquaintance from the Wafd days, ordered Sayyid Qutb's superiors in the Ministry of Education to send him abroad to America on a mission to study the U.S. educational system. He left for New York in November 1948, leaving behind the just-completed manuscript of his first fully Islamic political work, "Social Justice in Islam" (al-'Adalah al-Ijtima'iyyah Fi al-Islam). This book was published in an English translation by the American Council of Learned Societies in 1953 and remains the best-known work of Sayyid Qutb in English, though there are various editions involving numerous changes by both the author and translators.

In this work Qutb expounds the thesis that only the earliest days of Islam should serve as the model for successful social life. Musallam writes, "According to Qutb, as long as Muslims adhered to Islam (including its political and economic systems), they manifested no weakness and no tendency to abdicate their control of life. When they deviated from their religion, however, weakness overtook them." In Qutb's view the fatal drift away from true Islam began not with modern Western imperialism but already with the with Umayyad dynasty (661-750) only a few years after the death of Muhammad in 632. True Islam lasted for only 29 years. Islam, he contended, was corrupted by the tyrannical monarchy of the Umayyads. Here Qutb develops his idea of the utopian golden age of Islam marked by "charity and benevolence, mutual help and responsibility, tolerance and freedom of conscience and human equality, payment of the poor-tax and the alms." He regards the succeeding history of Islam as one long decline from these noble principles, even in the heyday of its expansion and intellectual vigor, culminating in its "final overthrow" at the hands of European colonization in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Qutb takes a firm stand in the debate that raged throughout the colonial world over how to relate to modernism. Where the Chinese in the 1920s became enamored of the slogan "Science and Democracy," Qutb in the 1940s urged Muslims to reject borrowings from Western ideas with the exception of technology. In economics Qutb advocated an Islamic welfare state that would redistribute income from the rich to the poor and offer universal health care and education. At the same time he rejected Western democracy as based in a human-oriented materialism no different in kind from communism.

Qutb in America, November 1948- August 1950

Sayyid Qutb sailed from Alexandria to New York in November 1948. During his brief stay in the United States he lived in New York; Washington, DC; Greeley and Denver, Colorado; and finally California, where he spent time in San Francisco, Palo Alto, and San Diego. As an outsider and sexual prude he felt revulsion at American society, particularly its overt sexuality (this, almost two decades before the free love movement of the 1960s). Musallam draws on Qutb's correspondence to illuminate this period of his life:

"[H]e found harried crowds resembling an excited herd that knew only lust and money. He describes love in America as merely a body that lusts after another body, or hungry animal that craves another animal, with no time for spiritual longings, high aspirations, or even the flirtation that normally precedes 'the final step.'" Qutb accused Americans he had observed of "absolute licentiousness." He was particularly offended by homosexuality and the failure of the government to enforce laws against it that were then still on the books.

Qutb was no more impressed by American music. Jazz, he wrote, "was created by the negroes to satisfy their primitive inclinations and their desire." He also disapproved of U.S. participation in the Korean War, which broke out in July 1950.

Musallam concludes, "Qutb's stay in the United States reinforced his earlier belief that the Islamic way of life was man's only salvation from the abyss of godless capitalism." When he left Egypt in 1948 Sayyid Qutb was critical of the militant Islamist society of Muslim Brothers founded by Hassan al Banna in 1928. The Brothers were so anti-British that they allegedly established relations with the Nazis in the 1930s. After the war they had turned to assassination in an effort to overturn the Egyptian monarchy. The government responded by banning the Muslim Brothers in December 1948. They retaliated by assassinating Prime Minister Nuqrashi Pasha the same month. Egyptian government agents then tracked down Hassan al Banna and killed him in February 1949. Sayyid Qutb, in his strongly alienated state in America, reacted angrily to U.S. and British news reports celebrating the death of the radical Islamist leader, and reconsidered his relations with the Brothers. On his return to Egypt in August 1950 he was met at the airport by a delegation from the Muslim Brothers.

Visions of an Islamic World Government

Qutb's writings in the period before the Nasserite coup in 1952 had a sharp anticapitalist edge, eloquently berating the rich parasites, the corrupt and immoral court, and mistreatment of the poor. He began to develop a pan-Islamist doctrine calling for a global struggle between three forces: capitalism, communism, and Islam. He more and more began to visualize Islam as a political power, not as a personalized religion, transcending national boundaries as a world government. Musallam summarizes:

"Islam must rule; it must not be confined merely to places of worship, to hearts, or to conscience like Christianity. The system of belief is not in itself valuable; it must be translated into a 'Shari'ah,' an all-encompassing law which governs personal, penal, civil, and commercial affairs." Qutb cited the admonition of the Qur'an 5:44: "Whoso judgeth not by that which Allah hath revealed: such are wrong-doers." That included all non-Muslims, and all Muslims content to practice their religion in private while ceding lawmaking to politicians and parties not based on the Qur'an. Qutb added that rejection of God's supremacy must be resisted if international harmony was to be achieved. For that to happen, Muslims must be entrusted with the welfare of humanity. "The most serious injustice," Qutb wrote in that period, "is luring people from the worship of God and forcing them to deify those rulers who empower themselves to legalize what God has prohibited and prohibit what God has allowed."

This was the beginning of his doctrine of world domination by Islam that has come to inspire militant Islamists around the planet.

"When dealing with its enemies Islam takes one of three courses: they may adopt the religion, or pay tribute or fight. . . . If the enemy rejects the religion and also refuses to pay tribute, Muslims must declare war (jihad) on those who obdurately stand between men and Islam's righteous and peaceful principles. If the enemies are defeated they are obliged to pay the tribute in return for which they become wards of the Islamic state." (Sayyid Qutb, Islam and Universal Peace, Indianapolis, 1977, pp. 73-74)

He called for a single Islamic state, becoming more and more hostile to nationalist Arab leaders, accusing them of playing into the hands of imperialism "by tearing up the Muslim nation into narrow national entities."

In 1951 Qutb began writing regularly for publications of the Muslim Brothers. He publicly hailed them for engaging in an armed struggle against the British, who still exercised what amounted to a protectorate over Egypt. The Muslim Brothers were organizing guerrilla units for battles with British troops stationed along the Suez Canal.

Several thousand of the Muslim Brothers had been imprisoned after terrorist actions at the end of the 1940s, but by May 1952 when martial law ended the society was again legal. After the July 1952 officers' revolution that ended the monarchy there was a period of uneasy collaboration between the Muslim Brothers and the new government, originally headed by General Muhammad Naguib but ultimately led by Colonel Gamal 'Abd al-Nasser.

The revolution had been planned, in part, at Sayyid Qutb's home and he knew many of the leaders, including Nasser, well. When the new government was formed Qutb was given an office in the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) building, where he was in charge of revising the school curricula. He was being considered for the post of Minister of Education. He now moved away from the pluralism within Islam he had advocated in the past and called for a strict dictatorship to defend the revolution. Initially tolerant of the communists, he supported executing two workers who took part in a communist-led strike in August 1952 at the Misr Fine Spinning and Weaving Company in Fafr al-Dawwar.

Naguib and Nasser's Revolutionary Command Council of the Free Officers came to power in alliance with the Muslim Brothers. But it was not willing to make post-revolutionary Egypt an Islamic state. The RCC soon purged from its own ranks officers too close to the Brothers. In January 1953, all political parties were dissolved except the Muslim Brothers, who were exempted as a religious organization. But the military government founded its own rival movement, the Liberation Rally. Qutb objected and resigned from his government post. That ended his chance to become Minister of Education.

About that time Sayyid Qutb accepted an appointment to head the Muslim Brothers' propaganda department, called the Propagation of the Message Section. In a statement written in prison in 1965 looking back he said he joined the Muslim Brothers because of their effectiveness "for confronting Zionist and imperialistic Crusader schemes about which I knew a lot especially in the period of my stay in America." This was language that would become more familiar to the outside world many years later from Qutb's intellectual descendants in Al Qaeda.

The Muslim Brothers became increasingly critical of the Naguib-Nasser military government, claiming it was insufficiently anti-British. After a January 1954 protest meeting by the Brothers the government declared the organization a political party and added it to the previous ban, briefly arresting many of its leaders including Sayyid Qutb. Shortly after, Nasser succeeded in reducing General Naguib to a figurehead president and consolidated power in his own hands. In October 1954 the Muslim Brothers attempted to assassinate Nasser during a rally in Alexandria. He retaliated by placing President Naguib, who he accused of complicity, under house arrest. The government sentenced Hassan Isma'il al-Hudaybi, the head of the Muslim Brothers, to life imprisonment, and hung six leaders of the Brothers' secret paramilitary section. The Brothers were then outlawed. Qutb was arrested in November 1954. The following year he was sentenced to fifteen years at hard labor. He remained in prison until May 1964 when his poor health secured his release.

A Decade in Prison: The Excommunication of Secular Society

Sayyid Qutb spent much of his prison time in hospitals for lung and heart ailments. During the decade behind bars he became increasingly radical. A key event was the shooting of twenty-one Muslim Brother prisoners in Liman Tura prison on June 1, 1957, when they refused to report to their labor assignment.

Qutb was permitted to write. While he was in prison, Musallam writes, he produced "many works that would eventually make him the leading ideologue of radical and jihadist Islamists. Indeed, Qutb's prison writings in 1954-1965 would become an integral part of Islamic resurgence in the next forty years."

Two central concepts, adapted from the Pakistani radical Islamist Abu al-A'la al-Mawdudi, became central to Sayyid Qutb's thought and later became the "common denominator among extremist factions in the Islamic awakening movements." These were al-Jahiliyyah (paganism), and al-Hakimiyyah (God's rule on earth). As you might guess, these are mutually exclusive opposites.

Jahiliyyah is an Arabic term with many overtones. It was used by Muhammad to describe Arab societies before Islam. But this was a period in which contention between the Byzantine Eastern Roman Empire at Constantinople and the Persian Empire had led to decimation of the trade routes to the east that had passed through Arabia. The Arab economy and civilization itself declined into a dark age. In Muslim history, Muhammad and Islam rescue Arabia from this darkness, the age of Jahiliyyah. Hence Jahiliyyah has extremely negative connotations. Sayyid Qutb adopted the term to mean secular society in general; all societies, including Muslim ones, that were not governed under Sharia law.

Sayyid Qutb's prison output was phenomenal. His first project, begun before his arrest, and continued in prison under a court order on a lawsuit by his publisher, who claimed they would lose money if it was not finished, was to complete his multivolume masterpiece, "In the Shade of the Qur'an" -- see below Paul Berman's comments on this work. Qutb went on to write six more books during his prison years. "In the Shade of the Qur'an" was a vast lyric verse-by-verse commentary on the whole of the Qur'an, today widely published in both print and online editions including partial publication in English.

Of the later six books the most widely read was "Milestones on the Road" (Ma'alim fi al-tariq, sometimes translated as Signs on the Path), first published in Cairo in 1964. This was the clearest statement of his later views rejecting compromise with Jahili states and institutions, and has become a core text of the jihadist movement. Here he proposed that all existing human societies, including those with Muslim majorities, were Jahiliyyah, pagan. The Islamic utopia was yet to be created. He wrote, "We may say that any society is a Jahili society that does not dedicate itself to submission to God alone, in its beliefs and ideas, in its observance of worship, and in its legal regulations. . . . Our foremost objective is to change . . . the Jahili system at its very roots."

This led him to one more concept, excommunication (takfir). Qutb called for the excommunication of all existing pagan societies and their replacement by Islamic ones reflecting al-Hakimiyyah. He called for "Jihad through sword" to achieve "the establishment of the sovereignty of God and His Lordship throughout the world, the end of man's arrogance and selfishness, and the implementation of the rule of the Divine Shari'ah in human affairs."

In a kind of mirror image of Leninism the once-mild-mannered literary critic proposed that the world Islamic revolution be led by an Islamic revolutionary vanguard (tali'ah). Like the Leninist denunciation of capitalism, Qutb poses a Manichean division in the world. In another work of his prison period, "The Religion of Islam" (1962), he makes this clear. There are two parties in the world, "that of God and that of Satan. The party of God stands beneath the banner of God and bears His insignia. The party of the Devil embraces every community, group, people, race, and individual who do not stand under the banner of God." In another of his works, "Islam, the Religion of the Future" (1965), he writes that "the civilization of the white man has already exhausted its restricted usefulness . . . because [it] did not issue from that Divine source and origin [but] was established on bases repugnant to the nature of life and human beings."

Qutb was released from prison at the end of 1964 at the behest of the then Prime Minister of Iraq, Abdul Salam Arif. He immediately joined an underground group of the Muslim Brothers. Musallam says that the group's aim was long-term education of the Egyptian people to prepare for the creation of an Islamic state. However, they made plans to assassinate Egyptian leaders in the event they were discovered. The plans were never carried out, but were discovered by the government. At the end of July 1965 the government began to arrest the Muslim Brothers, picking up Sayyid Qutb on August 9.

The group's leaders were charged with planning the assassination of Nasser and trying to overthrow the government. Qutb and his book "Milestones on the Road" figured prominently in the government's case. Despite protests by Amnesty International, Sayyid Qutb was sentenced to death and hanged on August 29, 1966.

Paul Berman on Qutb's Critique of Christianity

It was Paul Berman in his New York Time article who coined the apt comparison of Sayyid Qutb with Karl Marx, or as he put it, "the Karl Marx of Jihad." Berman in his brief essay began to explore Qutb's most substantive work, "In the Shade of the Qur'an." In print in Arabic for decades, an English edition is underway that is expected to run to fifteen large volumes. Berman at the time of his writing in 2003 had read the part that had already appeared in print, about half of the projected total.

"Shades" highlights the centrality of the law, or Sharia, to Islam. The Qur'an and its subsidiary literature like the Torah and the Talmud of Jewish holy writings, contains a vast body of legal opinion on every aspect of life by authoritative spokesmen of the religion. This is quite unlike the Christian scriptures, which are not law-centered. For staunch literalists and traditionalists within Islam it is this jurisprudential tradition that makes separation of church and state so unacceptable.

Berman writes of "Shades of the Qur'an:

"He quotes passages from the chapters, or suras, of the Koran, and he pores over the quoted passages, observing the prosodic qualities of the text, the rhythm, tone and musicality of the words, sometimes the images. The suras lead him to discuss dietary regulations, the proper direction to pray, the rules of divorce, the question of when a man may propose marriage to a widow (four months and 10 days after the death of her husband, unless she is pregnant, in which case after delivery), the rules concerning a Muslim man who wishes to marry a Christian or a Jew (very complicated), the obligations of charity, the punishment for crimes and for breaking your word, the prohibition on liquor and intoxicants, the proper clothing to wear, the rules on usury, money lending and a thousand other themes. . . . As he makes his way through the suras and proposes his other commentaries, he slowly constructs an enormous theological criticism of modern life, and not just in Egypt.

Qutb, he says, "wrote that, all over the world, humans had reached a moment of unbearable crisis. The human race had lost touch with human nature. Man's inspiration, intelligence and morality were degenerating. Sexual relations were deteriorating ''to a level lower than the beasts.'' Man was miserable, anxious and skeptical, sinking into idiocy, insanity and crime. People were turning, in their unhappiness, to drugs, alcohol and existentialism."

This is familiar ground, the well-known moral crisis of modern industrial society, grounded in the growth of urbanism, the expansion of scientific knowledge discrediting the earlier certainties of tribal religions, and the extensions of states and empires bringing together believers in many creeds and world views while abjuring the previous practice of imposing state religions, thus reducing these beliefs to mere private affirmations. Though many regret the loss of externally assured certainty, purpose, and protection, we generally get on with our lives. In contrast, every utopian or millenarian movement offers to repair the loss through its particular panacea. Each recites more or less that same litany of social disintegrative evils (although the religiously based utopians have their own list of sexual offenses secular utopians such as the communists usually do not share), then rides off on its own reformative hobby horse, from communism to the second coming of Christ, or in Qutb's case, Islamic world government.Qutb did put his finger on a cardinal difference between Islam and Christianity's attitude toward the world. Islam meant to rule in the here and now, while Christianity in agreeing to the separation of church and state conceded the function of rulership to someone else while viewing this world, as Berman puts it, as "something alien to spirituality or as a way station on the road to a Christian afterlife."As Qutb saw it, Berman writes, "Europeans, under Christianity's influence, began to picture God on one side and science on the other. Religion over here; intellectual inquiry over there. On one side, the natural human yearning for God and for a divinely ordered life; on the other side, the natural human desire for knowledge of the physical universe. . . . Everything that Islam knew to be one, the Christian Church divided into two." Qutb in a dramatic image called this separation of society and religion, of science and belief, of church and state as a "hideous schizophrenia."As might be guessed, the Jews come in for a particularly negative assessment in Qutb's cosmology. Beginning with the Egyptian captivity in the time of Moses, Berman summarizes, "the Jews acquired a slavish character, he believed. As a result they became craven and unprincipled when powerless, and vicious and arrogant when powerful. And these traits were eternal. The Jews occupy huge portions of Qutb's Koranic commentary -- their perfidy, greed, hatefulness, diabolical impulses, never-ending conspiracies and plots against Muhammad and Islam. Qutb was relentless on these themes. He looked on Zionism as part of the eternal campaign by the Jews to destroy Islam."Qutb rejected the United States not because of its deeds but because of its values and system of organization. He wrote: ''But in reality the confrontation is not over control of territory or economic resources, or for military domination. If we believed that, we would play into our enemies' hands and would have no one but ourselves to blame for the consequences.'' Qutb in "Shades of the Qur'an" repudiated "an effort to confine Islam to the emotional and ritual circles, and to bar it from participating in the activity of life, and to check its complete predominance over every human secular activity, a pre-eminence it earns by virtue of its nature and function.''

Berman comments: "The true confrontation, the deepest confrontation of all, was over Islam and nothing but Islam. Religion was the issue. Qutb could hardly be clearer on this topic."

Unluckily for non-Islamists who can look forward to having their every secular activity regulated by Sharia law, Qutb and his followers are strict constructionists, far more so than most of the Jews who adhere to the legal texts of Deuteronomy and the Talmud. Berman writes:

"Qutb cited the Koran on the punishments for killing or wounding: 'a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear.' Fornication, too, was a serious crime because, in his words, 'it involves an attack on honor and a contempt for sanctity and an encouragement of profligacy in society.' Shariah specified the punishments here as well. 'The penalty for this must be severe; for married men and women it is stoning to death; for unmarried men and women it is flogging, a hundred lashes, which in cases is fatal.' False accusations were likewise serious. 'A punishment of 80 lashes is fixed for those who falsely accuse chaste women.' As for those who threaten the general security of society, their punishment is to be put to death, to be crucified, to have their hands and feet cut off, or to be banished from the country."

Qutb often insisted that Sharia means freedom of conscience, though Berman qualifies this. "Freedom of conscience, in his interpretation, meant freedom from false doctrines that failed to recognize God, freedom from the modern schizophrenia. Shariah, in a word, was utopia for Sayyid Qutb. It was perfection. It was the natural order in the universal. It was freedom, justice, humanity and divinity in a single system. It was a vision as grand or grander than Communism or any of the other totalitarian doctrines of the 20th century. It was, in his words, 'the total liberation of man from enslavement by others.'"

 

The Jihadist Movement and Sayyid Qutb's Legacy

 

Sayyid Qutb's influence has continued to grow since his death. Adnan Musallam quotes prominent Lebanese intellectual Radwan al-Sayyid to the effect that "Milestones on the Road" is "the founding text for the jihadist Islam. From between the lines of that booklet, all groups in jihadist Islam, in the Arab domain at least, came out."Adnan Musallam lists some of the groups that publicly trace their ideological lineage to Sayyid Qutb and his Islamist permanent revolution. These include the Taliban, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines, and "Islamists in Europe and the former Soviet Republics" as well as the extremely violent Armed Islamic Group in Algeria and the Muslim Brothers of Syria.The military officers who assassinated Anwar Sadat in 1981 were members of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, one of two violent Islamic groups that grew out of the Muslim Brothers. The principal leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad is Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian physician who is the second in command and principal ideologist of Al Qaeda. In his autobiography published in a London Arabic newspaper in 2001-02 al-Zawahiri talks about the impact of Qutb in his own decision to become a jihadist.
 
In 1998 Al Qaeda formed an alliance with jihadist groups from the Middle East, Europe, Asia, and Africa called the International Islamic Front for Jihad against the Jews and Christians which, Musallam writes, "called on every Muslim to kill Americans and their allies in any country 'in which it is possible to do it.'"The other Egyptian offshoot of the Muslim Brothers imbued with Qutb's theology is the Islamic Group (Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya, also transliterated as Jamaat al-Islamiyya) led by the blind Sheikh Omar Abd al-Rahman. By far the most devastating of the Islamic Group's attacks occurred on November 17, 1997, in Luxor, when terrorists opened fire on tourists at an ancient temple, killing 58 and injuring 20 more.
 
The Council on Foreign Relations described the Islamic Group as "Egypt’s largest Islamist militant organization" and said it "has a presence both in Egypt and worldwide." The Islamic Group is said to have participated with Egyptian Islamic Jihad in the assassination of President Sadat. Sheikh Omar prior to the assassination issued fatwas excommunicating Sadat and calling for setting up an Islamic state through jihad. He was arrested in 1981 but released in 1984 and expelled from Egypt.Sheikh Omar spent much of the 1980s in Afghanistan where he reportedly worked closely with Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in the armed struggle against the Soviet Union. He moved to New York City in 1990. His New York followers were involved in the World Trade Center bombing in 1993. Shortly after, several were arrested for conspiring to blow up the United Nations, the Lincoln and Holland tunnels, the George Washington Bridge, and a federal building housing the FBI. Government prosecutors showed videotapes of defendants mixing bomb ingredients in a garage before their arrest in 1993. Al-Rahman was arrested in 1993 along with nine of his followers. In October 1995 he was convicted of seditious conspiracy and was sentenced to life in prison. He was also accused of soliciting the murder of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.Musallam quotes the Palestinian Islamic Jihad as describing itself as "the Islamic vanguard Sayyid Qutb talks about," and includes Hamas in the circle of Qutb's disciples.
 
The Islamist organization Hizb al-Tahrir, founded in Jerusalem in 1952 and active in various countries of the Middle East and also in Britain, has also come under the influence of Qutb's framing of the global issues.Musallam theorizes that had Qutb not spent so many years in prison his writings might not have been so embittered, and not provided so fruitful a basis for the jihadist movement. Nevertheless he summarizes Qutb's final work, "Components of the Islamic Conception," left unfinished and published only in 1986, as maintaining that Jahiliyyah "has no right to exist" and that "there is no meeting between Islam and al-Jahiliyyah." In regard to Christians and Jews, Qutb grants them the right to maintain their religion but only if they are submitted to Muslim rule and pay the Jizya, "the land tax imposed on infidels out of humiliation and servility."Musallam cites a criticism of Qutb's radical interpretation of the Qur'an by Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, "a noted Egyptian Islamist propagator," who accuses Qutb of selective quoting of only the "sword-oriented" verses of the Qur'an while ignoring many Qur'anic verses that call for peace with non-Muslims.Fawaz A. Gerges in his book "The Far Enemy: The New Definition of Jihad" (Cambridge University Press, 2005) describes Qutb's position as Islamic Permanent Revolution. Gerges writes:"More than anyone else, Sayyid Qutb . . . inspired generations of jihadis, including Al Qaeda's senior leaders, Osama bin Laden and his deputies, . . . theoretician Ayman al-Zawahiri, and thousands of others -- to wage perpetual jihad to 'abolish injustice from the earth, to bring people to the worship of God alone, and to bring them out of servitude to others into the servants of the Lord.' Far from viewing jihad as a collective duty governed by strict rules and regulations (similar to just war theory in Christianity, international law, and classical Islamic jurisprudence, or fiqh), jihad, for Qutb, was a permanent revolution against internal and external enemies who usurped God's sovereignty. He attacked Muslim scholars and clerics with 'defeatist and apologetic mentalities' for confining jihad to 'defensive war.' There is no such thing as a defensive, limited war in Islam, only an offensive, total war."

*    *    *

Excerpts from "Milestones on the Road" by Sayyid Qutb

The Right to Judge

 

It is not the function of Islam to compromise with the concepts of Jahiliyyah which are current in the world or to co-exist in the same land together with a jahili system. This was not the case when it first appeared in the world, nor will it be today or in the future. Jahiliyyah, to whatever period it belongs, is Jahiliyyah; that is, deviation from the worship of One Allah and the way of life prescribed by Allah.It derives its system and laws and regulations and habits and standards and values from a source other than Allah. On the other hand, Islam is submission to Allah, and its function is to bring people away from Jahiliyyah towards Islam. Jahiliyyah is the worship of some people by others; that is to say, some people become dominant and make laws for others, regardless of whether these laws are against Allah's injunctions and without caring for the use or misuse of their authority.Islam, on the other hand, is people's worshipping Allah alone, and deriving concepts and beliefs, laws and regulations from the authority of Allah, and freeing themselves from the servitude to Allah's servants. This is the very nature of Islam and the nature of its role on earth.Islam cannot accept any mixing with Jahiliyyah. Either Islam will remain, or Jahiliyyah; no half-half situation is possible. Command belongs to Allah, or otherwise to Jahiliyyah; Allah's Shari'ah will prevail, or else people's desires: "And if they do not respond to you, then know that they only follow their own lusts. And who is more astray than one who follows his own lusts, without guidance from Allah? Verily! Allah guides not the people who are disobedient."[28:50]; "Do they then seek the judgment of (the Days of) Ignorance? And who is better in judgment than Allah for a people who have firm faith"[5:50].The foremost duty of Islam is to depose Jahiliyyah from the leadership of man, with the intention of raising human beings to that high position which Allah has chosen for him. This purpose is explained by Raba'i Bin 'Amer, when he replied to the Commander in Chief of the Persian army, Rustum. Rustum asked, "For what purpose have you come?" Raba'i answered," Allah has sent us to bring anyone who wishes from servitude to men into the service of Allah alone, from the narrowness of this world into the vastness of this world and the Hereafter, from the tyranny of religions into the justice of Islam."

Page 6 of 7