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Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Last Word by Thom Nickels, ICON Magazine, August 2011

The Last Word from ICON Magazine, August 2011When the French Renaissance-style Bellevue-Stratford hotel opened in 1904, it was known as the most sumptuous hotel in the United States.
With electric lights installed by Thomas Edison, expensive marble in the lobby, a grand staircase that recalled the dizzying waltz in Flaubert’s “Madam Bovary,” and a ribbon-cutting ceremony conducted by Noel Coward, it’s no wonder that people would visit the lobby just to ponder the building’s grandeur.

The Bellevue’s architects, G.W. and W.D. Hewitt, also designed New York’s original Waldorf Astoria Hotel before it was demolished to make way for the Empire State Building.

In the beginning the Bellevue was two hotels, the Bellevue hotel on the northwest corner of Broad and Walnut, and the Stratford hotel on the S.W. corner of the same intersection.

The owner of both hotels, George Boldt, a Prussian immigrant who began his working career in Philadelphia by waiting tables, eventually merged the two hotels and built the Bellevue-Stratford. For decades the Bellevue hosted international celebrities, political conventions, and society charity balls. Then, in the late 1940’s and 1950s, with the rise of architectural modernism, many began to criticize the building’s “ostentatious” exterior details. One fatality of this revolution was the elimination of the hotel’s Beaux Arts awnings. While the 1950s saw many improvements in Center City like the destruction of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Chinese wall, the re-imagining of Society Hill and the construction of Penn Center, the era was also known for its advocacy of drop ceilings with harsh florescent lighting that were placed over ornate, inlaid plaster interiors. The Bellevue, fortunately, managed to escape wreck-o-ovations of this sort.

Boldts’ consolidation of two small hotels to create the Broad Street “Grand Dame” would be dicey proposition in today’s depressed economy.
Hotels the world over have taken a major hit as a result of an economic downturn that some experts attribute to behind-the-scenes tampering by the World Bank and the Trilateral Commission rather than anything related to President’s Obama’s so called “debt crises”—but that’s another story.

The Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (GPTMC) reported that the industry rate in the city experienced a drop-off in occupancy in 2008 and 2009 from a strong 2007.

Things took a brighter turn in 2010, when, according to Smith Travel Research, four million room nights were sold in Philadelphia in 2010, a jump from 3.74 million rooms sold in 2009.

The good news throughout the crises is that no Philadelphia hotels have had to close, although some layoffs were inevitable.

Few would argue that it would be a tragedy to lose an historic landmark like the Bellevue.

After all, in one of the hotel’s 1,000 rooms, Bram Stoker wrote “Dracula.” During the Jazz Age, Philadelphia high society danced on the same roof deck that they flooded in winter for ice skating and champagne. Those steeped in city history will also remember the shocking death of Main Line socialite Louise Schoettle in 1956 when Ms. Schoettle fell 37 feet to her death during a dinner party and dance. Straddling the railing of the “Flaubert” grand staircase to show friends how she slid down the banisters as a girl, Ms. Schoettle slipped over the edge.

The Bellevue, if anything, has been a survivor.

In 1976, a bacterium called Legionella Pneumophila got into the hotel’s hot water systems and, like a Stoker plot, spread throughout the hotel through aerosolizing devices such as shower heads and air conditioning vents. Hundreds of people attending an American Legion convention became ill and more than 30 died as a result.

Soon after the tragedy, Mayor Frank Rizzo wanted to demolish the hotel and build a convention center on the site. Not all Philadelphians agreed with the mayor’s proposal.

On November 12, 1976, the president of the Society of Architectural Historians, H. Reed Longnecker, wrote the mayor and pleaded with him to spare the hotel.

“Tearing down the hotel would represent tremendous waste. Presumably all the facilities at the Bellevue are in good condition. The immediate cause for this crisis is of course Legionnaires disease. As one Bellevue employee said on local television recently, ‘The disease came with the Legionnaires, and went with the Legionnaires.’ How will the demolition of the Bellevue look to generations to come?”

The, Bellevue, like the nation’s up and down economy, has been closed and reopened at various times in its history.

When Elizabeth Taylor visited Philadelphia in 1983, to do the play “Private Lives” with Richard Burton, it was known as the Fairmount. Today it is known as the Park Hyatt at the Bellevue.

James O’Keefe has been called everything from a morally deranged individual to a guerilla in the war against everything that is right, good and just in society.

The fey-looking Irishman is noted for his undercover videos of public figures that inevitably show them in an unflattering light. O’Keefe’s sting operations generally target (perceived) liberal institutions like Planned Parenthood, ACORN, and NPR. In 2009, O’Keefe dressed as a pimp (sunglasses and fur jacket) entered ACORN offices in Washington with a hooker in hoop earrings (also a plant). In that sting he attempted to expose 8 ACORN employees for their involvement in a child prostitution ring. O’Keefe’s operation failed (there were no child prostitutes), but in 2010 he scored a huge success when his operatives—listed online as Project Veritas—impersonated members of the Muslim Brotherhood and videotaped a meeting with NPR’s Ron Schiller. The meeting, which is now a classic on You Tube, shows Schiller espousing negative views on Republicans and the Tea Party. Schiller, of course, says nothing that the ordinary citizen doesn’t hear everyday. He was also careful to frame his comments as personal views, a sensible precaution that was no help to him at all once the video was posted on Project Veritas.

Shortly after the video went viral, NPR issued an apology, and Schiller, who sometime before had already decided to resign his job, resigned immediately. NPR, no doubt nervous because of its vulnerable position in a political landscape that wants it DOA (witness New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s killing of NJN public television) terminated its CEO, Vivian Schiller (no relation), in what appeared to be a self-abrogating purge.

O’Keefe later said that the Schiller sting was in retaliation for NPR’s firing of Juan Williams, excommunicated by NPR for “offensive” remarks about Muslims.
O’Keefe, of course, had only one aim: to add another lash in the public execution of NPR in order to make it ripe for the slaughter (its eventual dismantling) by the right wing, an action which would then leave the American public with only one news source-- the corporate, mainstream media. The corporate media, of course, only tells the public what it wants the public to know.

So how did a “nice” Irish guy turn out this way?

O’Keefe, who hails from Bergen County, New Jersey, was raised by mildly conservative parents. He joined the Boy Scouts, attaining (conformist) Eagle Scout status before enrolling in Rutgers University. In one student photo he can be seen aping his literary hero, G.K. Chesterton, when he chomps down on a large cigar. At Rutgers, O’Keefe initiated a crank “political correctness” campaign to ban the cereal Fruit Loops from the student cafeteria. O’Keefe wanted to see if Rutgers would take him seriously when he claimed that because the cereal had a leprechaun on its box it was an insult to Irish Americans. (The school was unresponsive).

While still a teenager, O’Keefe was approached by the Leadership Institute (a 501 © (3) located in Arlington, Virginia) and enrolled in the Institute’s “political technology” (aka, Intro to the Dark Side) program. Founded in 1979 by conservative activist Morton Blackwell, the Leadership Institute is part and parcel of the vast array of right wing think tanks supported by the likes of billionaires Richard Mellon Scaife, the Koch brothers and the Coors family empire.
In his post-student days, O’Keefe has proven to be a good drone by following the Institute’s mission to help place conservative activists in politics, government, and (most importantly), the media.

As both Adolph Hitler and George Orwell’s character in 1984, Winston Smith, knew very well, when you control the media or the Fifth Estate, you control everything.

And that’s why NPR is worth saving.

Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged was published in 1957 to zero critical acclaim. In fact, the reviews were so bad that Rand spent several days crying about the matter. The book’s moral message concerned an individual’s right to live life according to the dictates of self interest. Gore Vidal, certainly no slouch in the hedonistic self interest department, called Atlas Shrugged, “Nearly perfect in its immorality.” Despite the initial bad reviews, Rand’s book became a sort of bible for the corporate-Fortune 500 crowd, where executives found that Rand’s “free market” business principles could also be applied to life.

An early admirer of Rand’s was Alan Greenspan. Greenspan was also an early member of a Rand support group that met weekly in the writer’s New York apartment. Greenspan continued his ardent discipleship until 2008, when he suddenly announced that he was “wrong for years to assume that government regulation was bad for markets.”

The startling confession had Greenspan admitting that his libertarian views of the financial world had not worked out, which I can only assume is also a condemnation of Ayn Rand’s philosophy.

“I’ve been going for 40 years or more,” Greenspan lamented, “with very considerable evidence that it [free and loosely-regulated markets] was working exceptionally well.”

What many people don’t know is that Greenspan was warned early on that something was amiss with his financial policies, and if he didn’t change his ways there would be a national financial disaster.

The Cassandra in this case was Brooksley Born, former chairperson of the Commodity Fixtures Trading Commission (CFTC), an organization that oversees the futures and commodity options markets. In the early 1990s, Born campaigned heavily to convince Congress to regulate the risky derivatives market. Her prediction of a great downturn sometime in the future angered Greenspan, then Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin, and Larry Summers (all free-market devotees from the Reagan era who occupy top spots, sans Greenspan, in the Obama administration). All three men were so upset by Born’s determination to reinstitute regulations that they managed to get Congress to stop Born in her tracks. Born was prevented from putting a cap on the regulation of derivatives.

Born, who was the first female student to be made president of the Stanford Law Review, and who was briefly considered as a candidate for U.S. Attorney General under President Clinton (Janet Reno was named), was made to feel like an enemy of the United States.

Libertarian propaganda defines government as the root of all evil, conveniently forgetting that the era before and after WWII saw the greatest era of prosperity in the nation’s history. Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal helped get the nation out of its financial morass with the creation of the Social Security Act, by extending and revising the tax structure and by the creation of agencies like the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Wall Street did not save the Nation after the Great Depression, government did.
Who, after all, would trust Wall Street to save anyone much less regulate itself?

So, hats off to Brooklsey Born, a true American hero.

The “global warming is a myth” folks continue to march in step despite eerie evidence to the contrary: mega tornados in Oklahoma and Kansas in which many were left homeless; tornados over water in Massachusetts; boiler plate summers; the death of honeybees and bats; the disappearance of wildflowers, and the emergence of Antarctica winters. Greenpeace recently announced that one of the world’s most prominent scientific figures to be skeptical about climate change has confessed—yes, confessed-- to being bought off by more than $1 million in the past ten years by major U.S. oil and coal companies. The so called climate "skeptic" — Dr. Willie Soon — works as an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Since the year 2001, Dr. Soon has received cash from ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute, Koch Industries (here we go again) and Southern, one of the world’s largest coal-burning utility companies.