Sunday, December 28, 2014

A new year brings new published writings. Forthcoming publications in 2015.

“From Surveillance to Torture: The Evolution of U.S. Interrogation Practices during the War on Terror,” Security Journal (forthcoming Spring 2015).

 “Proletarian Literature from the Bottom Up: Workers and Poetry during the Rise of the CIO,” American Quarterly (forthcoming June 2015).

“Postage and Power: U.S. Nationalism and the 1970s ‘Bicentennial’ and ‘Americana’ Stamp Series,” Journal of Social History (forthcoming Fall 2015)

“The State Response to Occupy: Surveillance and Suppression,” in Todd A. Comer, ed., What Comes After Occupy? The Regional Politics of Resistance (forthcoming 2015).

“A White Man in the Colored Bronx,” in Teresa A. Booker, ed., Race and Urban Communities: An Interdisciplinary Approach (University of Akron Press, forthcoming 2015).

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Regarding FBI Official W. Mark Felt's (aka Deep Throat) Two Unpublished Manuscripts

In my recent book, Surveillance in America: Critical Analysis of the FBI, 1920 to the Present (2012), I devote a whole chapter to top FBI official W. Mark Felt, who we now know acted as Deep Throat during the Watergate crisis of 1972-1974. I detail how Felt led a secret faction at the FBI consisting of several other officials to undermine President Richard Nixon after Watergate and eventually to remove him from power.  The Felt faction worked with Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to break the Watergate story. However, if Felt had gone to Congress, instead of the press, to expose the Watergate break-in and associated crimes, the exposure would have occurred faster and probably would have led to Nixon losing the 1972 election.  In sum, Democratic candidate George McGovern would have been elected President.  By leaking slowly to the press, Felt helped Nixon win reelection.  
      Beyond that dramatic story, in my book I refer to two unpublished manuscripts written by Felt which have not seen the light of day.  In 1986, Felt submitted to the FBI for prepublication review and approval a book titled, An Unexpected Turn of Events.  In 1990, the FBI reviewed a second Felt manuscript entitled, Thirteen True Stories About the FBI.  The FBI reviewed both books and concluded that "no sensitive information" was revealed.  

      I have heard through the academic grapevine that scholars have made efforts to locate these unpublished manuscripts and have not been able to find them. These scholars have checked my sources in my Surveillance in America book to see how I know about them. 
      Information referring to these manuscripts are contained in the declassified FBI file on Felt.  I was the first person to request and obtain this FBI file under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) after Felt's death.  Soon after I received the Felt file, the FBI decided to put part of it on its own website (  Let me repeat, they put only part of it online. 

      I emphasis this fact because the FBI memos referring to Felt's two unpublished manuscripts are not contained in the Felt file that is posted on the FBI website.

      The FBI sent me a much larger file on Felt than they posted online -- about twice as large  I already have referred to this fact in a public lecture I gave in the summer of  2012 at the HOPE 9 conference in New York City.  My hour-long talk was video-taped and already has been posted on my blog.  Here is a link to the lecture ---
       The mystery of where Felt's two unpublished manuscripts are located never may be resolved.  But there should be no doubt that he wrote them and they went through the prepublication review process at the FBI.
Update -- A fellow researcher in FBI files tells me the FBI may retain copies in their files of both of Felt's unpublished manuscripts since they underwent prepublication review.  One strategy is to file FOIA record requests with the FBI on both manuscripts to see if they can be obtained through the declassification process.  

Monday, May 19, 2014

The "Greenberg" Movie and Me

For a couple of years, I have been reluctant to comment in print on Noah Baumbach’s movie, Greenberg (2010), which loosely is based on the relationship between my younger brother, Roger, and me.  As you may recall, the major characters in the film are Roger Greenberg, played by Ben Stiller, and Ivan Schrank, played by Rhys Ifans. The movie is set in Los Angeles in the contemporary period and follows their relationship as Roger recovers from a psychiatric condition and wants to do “nothing” and Ivan is uncomfortably struggling with issues of love and work.  The two characters, who once were close friends as musicians in a band, had not seen each other in a while. 
            Neither Roger nor Ivan in the film strictly is based on the real-life Roger or Ivan. But, Noah has created composite characters, drawing upon aspects of our personalities and life histories.  I have an older brother Michael in real-life and he, too, makes a cameo in the movie as the older brother of the Stiller character who has left country with his family on a vacation.  In fact, my older brother Michael often was absent from the real-life Greenberg family and had left the country for an extended period to study medicine overseas.  The real-life Michael never had close relationships with his two brothers, while Roger and me had a very close relationship for a long period.
            I have been reluctant to comment on the movie for a number of reasons.  First, I did not want to draw attention to myself or my family for strictly personal reasons.  It is highly unusual for a director to use the names of living people in a fictional film, and to base the movie in part on them.  Second, I did not want to interfere with Noah’s creation.  That is, I did not want to add a new layer of meaning to the film by exposing his characters, and making an association, with living people and their lives.  However, by now the movie is history, and no longer is a subject of conversation, so the time seems ripe to offer some comments on the ways the movie is true to real-life and also on the ways that the movie has impacted my life. I offer some “behind the scenes” details as well.  I hope Noah does not take offense at these comments, but it does not really matter since he never asked permission to use the Greenberg names in the film. Nor did he tell the Greenbergs about the film before it appeared.
            But I got wind of it ahead of time.  It was inadvertent, and something initially of a shock.  My girlfriend at the time, Nancy, had spent a Friday night at my apartment in the Bronx. In the morning, she went online on my computer to read the newspaper and several of her other favorite sites.  As a guilty pleasure, she occasionally would peruse the website of celebrity gossip columnist Perez Hilton.  She called it her “escape.”  Nancy is an American history professor, who studies immigration and ethnicity.  Her following of celebrity news is very far afield from her usual interests. 
            “Hey Ivan,” she says to me.  I am sitting in a lounge chair across from her in my bedroom.  “There is a movie coming out named Greenberg.
“What do you mean?” I respond.
“It is in production.  I am reading Perez Hilton,” she says sheepishly.
“What? What is it about?” I ask.
She says the director is Noah Baumbach.
I am surprised. “Noah Baumbach? I know him.”
Nancy begins to read the article out loud to me.  Perez reports the plans for the movie, which will star the actor Mark Ruffalo in the main role.
“There is a picture of Ruffalo,” she says. “He looks like you.”
I walk over to the computer and peek at the screen.  “Oh shit,” I say.  “There is an obvious resemblance.  I have seen some of Ruffalo’s movies.  I like the type of off-beat characters he often plays.
“Who else is in it?” I ask.
Nancy tells me, “They haven’t chosen a co-star yet.  It is set in L.A.”
“What’s the plot?” I ask. “Is Noah making a movie about me?” 
Nancy says, “There is a character named Ivan in the movie.”  She is in shock.  “Also Roger. Roger Greenberg.”  She knows that my younger brother is named Roger, although she has yet to meet him.
“Who plays Ivan?” I ask.  She tells me it is Rhys Ifans.  She relays his movie credits. Apparently, he has a big fan following, but I do not know his work well.
“Are you sure the name of the movie is Greenberg?
“Yes. Greenberg. One word.
“Oh my God,” I say.  “This is news to me.  I haven’t seen Noah in at least a decade.” I then begin to describe how I know Noah.  “You know, the name Ivan appeared in one of his other movies, as did the name Greenberg.  It was his film, The Squid and the Whale.”  Nancy, who I had been dating for about a year, is excited.  My emotions are mixed. What is happening?  What is the movie about?  What does the character Ivan say and do?  Roger and me?  I wonder if my brother knows about it.
            Noah’s parents and my parents used to be close friends while I was growing up during the 1970s.  My mother, Dolores, met Noah’s father, Jonathan, while they were undergraduates at Brooklyn College, CUNY, during the early 1950s.  At the time, my mother was married and my parents formed a lasting friendship with Jonathan that was solid for many years. Noah’s father and my parents earned doctorates and became college professors in the CUNY system.  Jonathan taught writing at Brooklyn College.  Dolores taught American history at Hunter College.  My father, Robert, taught English literature at Queens College.  They moved in the same intellectual circle in New York City.   When I was young, our families often got together socially, and the children became friends. Noah was several years younger than me and he was closer to my brother Roger.  Still, we had many dinners together and I must have impressed Noah in some way.  
            Over the years, Noah and I had very little contact, although Roger remained in touch with him.  Apparently, Noah heard details of my life from a close friend of my mother’s, Pat, who also remained close to Noah.  So my connection to Noah was made through Pat.  My mother used to tell me about Noah as she heard gossip from Pat.
            So, after I hear that the Greenberg movie is in production, I call both Roger and my mother to ask if they had heard about it.  No, they say. In fact, Roger, who had become a lawyer, was startled that his full name was being used.  He soon emailed Noah to inquire about the content of the film.  After Noah told him about the film, Roger reluctantly went along without making a fuss.  In fact, Roger, in a nod to me, asked Noah a favor.  My son, Andrew, was an undergraduate at UCLA not far from where the movie was being produced.  Could Noah let him visit the set or intern on the movie?  At first, Noah resisted this interference but eventually let Andrew come to the set and put him in the film as an extra, with some of his friends, in the long party scene at the end of the movie. Actually, Noah asked Andrew if he could round up ten of his friends to pose as party-goers in that scene.  He got paid $20 an hour and the long scene took a week to film.  My son was thrilled to be in the movie.
            When the movie premiered in New York, Noah asked Roger if he wanted to attend a special screening.  My brother turned down this invitation.  Why I'm not sure.  I have not spoken to Noah since the film came out.   
            My mother asked me if I liked the film and how I felt about my name and select details of my life being used.  I told her, “As long as the movie is first-rate, I don’t object. I don’t want to be associated with a mediocre film.  This is a first-rate movie.”  My reaction made its way back to Noah, probably via Pat, and I heard that Noah liked my response.
            In American culture, Hollywood movies often become bigger than real-life.  While Greenberg resembles an indie film more than a Hollywood film -- indie in content and sensibility, but Hollywood in its casting – its impact on my life has been curiously substantial.  I have been treated differently by friends, lovers, and work peers because of the film.  Now, I rarely discuss the film with people, but word of mouth gets around and, when I do discuss it, there often is that cliché of a reaction – “wow, you were in the movies…you are a star…are you more like the Ben Stiller or Rhys Ifans character?, someone made a movie about you.” 
            In real-life, I earned a doctorate in American history, taught college for a decade, and recently wrote two nonfiction books on civil liberties in America. Among my professor-type work peers, I have tried to hide any association with the film.  High-minded scholars probably would frown on such a film, and misunderstand me, since no character in Greenberg is an intellectual. Greenberg is not a film about, or for, intellectuals, although it is a very smart movie.  Noah already addressed in a critical way the intellectual world of writers and professors in The Squid and the Whale, which in large measure is a critique of his parents.  However, among my friends I have mentioned Greenberg and was interested in their reaction to the film.  I heard diverse responses.  Some friends liked the film and could not believe the movie explored the relationship between my brother and me.   Again, it is the Hollywood syndrome. “Wow, you are mentioned in a movie – how cool is that.”  Some friends were competitive or jealous and voiced negative reactions.  They did not like the film and wondered if I was angry that Noah had depicted Stiller as a former “mental patient.”  Another common reaction was for people to notice that my personality in real-life was a little bit of both Stiller and Ifans in the film – how could it be both?  I would explain these are composite characters and if someone asked Noah about them, he probably would deny they resembled either me or Roger in real-life.  There have been times when I acted in some way and a person says -- “Yeah, that is exactly what Stiller would have done.”  People compare me to the fictional creation.  They seem to see me as closer to the Stiller character because of Stiller’s practice of writing angry complaint letters and his anti-corporate attitude.           
            Noah's focus on my relationship with my brother rings true in some ways. For many years we were close – Roger and I used to drink together, go to Knicks basketball games together, and socialize at times with the same people.  That was when we were much younger.  Today, Roger and I have had a serious falling out – in much the same way the fictional characters have a falling out at the end of the movie.  But, my break with Roger came after the movie and was unrelated to it.  The tension between us got so bad that at one point that Roger even told his two young children that I had died.  What an extreme response.  When I told a close friend what Roger had done -- and said that I had passed -- she commented, “Oh, that is what Ben Stiller would have done.”  I laughed.   

Friday, May 2, 2014

On Privacy and American Intrusions

     Recently, the issue of personal privacy has come to the forefront in my scholarly studies and in the consideration of important issues facing my personal life.  I have written two critical books on surveillance and civil liberties in America -- and privacy has been a subject I considered only in a secondary fashion. Now, I want to begin to address it in more depth. 
    To begin, advances in technology within the last 20 years have put enormous strain on the preservation of privacy because government intelligence agencies (FBI and NSA) have demonstrated little hesitancy to eradicate individual privacy.  In their view, Americans have no inherent right to privacy.  Privacy easily can be swept aside as government gathers vast amounts of  information on the people.  
      I  surprise many of my peers by not owning a smart phone.  I never have purchased one.  Why?  In order to protect my privacy since smart phones can function too easily as a surveillance tool. Smart phones store so much information about people and their network of relations that it seems offensive to endorse this supporting apparatus of the Surveillance Society.  I insist to stand outside the Surveillance Society.  It is the same reason I never have used GPS technology in my car.  I would rather get lost than give up data to government about my movements.   
     A few days ago, I was sitting at a table drinking coffee in Whole Foods in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland, and took out my cell phone to answer a call.  A person nearby noticed the phone was not smart, and remarked: "He must be a Fed."  Consider that comment.  Silver Spring shares the border with Washington, DC, and many people living there work for the federal government.  I hear from good sources that workers in sensitive positions in the U.S. government are not allowed to own smart phones because it is deemed a security risk.  I guess the person seated near me thought I was one of them.  But if he looked more closely, he also would have noticed that I sport a tight beard on my face.  No one who works for the federal government is allowed to have a beard.  I guess beards are viewed as subversive to law and order and a Godly society.          
     Let me try to define Privacy so the dimensions of this inquiry are clear. Privacy can be defined as “acting without being observed in any way” or the “right to be let alone.”  It also involves the individual’s control over their personal information and how it is communicated to others.  When government spies on people and groups, it invades their private space and makes part of it visible. How much becomes visible depends on how much surveillance is directed at subjects.  FBI and NSA spying, due to dramatic technological advances, can eradicate a great deal of privacy.  The government can snoop into many spheres of people’s lives, including online spaces.
            Individual freedom and autonomy is at stake.  When privacy is under attack, liberty suffers as subjects of surveillance are forced to live in closed, visible spaces with little place to hide from the outside world.
            Of course, the problem of surveillance and the loss of privacy and freedom is not new.  In the past, totalitarian and authoritarian governments imposed surveillance in order to maintain their power and control.  However, we do not expect democratic governments also will impose surveillance in such a way as to threaten the autonomy of the individual. 
            Why would constitutional democracies, where government rule is based on the consent of the people, spy on the public in massive ways?  Policymakers often say privacy is invaded in order to achieve security.  They argue that striking the right “balance” between privacy and security is a legitimate goal.  At the present moment, they say, the balance is tilted toward security because of the high level of danger facing the nation. This argument is insufficient because today’s Surveillance Society, itself, is thoroughly unbalanced.  In fact, this balance metaphor has become a rhetorical device used by mainstream political leaders to maintain and enhance their power. Today, many of America’s elected politicians hold widespread suspicion of the people.  This suspicion is based on fears the people will rebel and kick them out of power; that is, the people will cast aside existing power arrangements in favor of new ones.  Government uses suspicion to maintain the status quo, suppressing popular sovereignty.  The stated reason for official surveillance – to fight terrorism – is a cover for these other control goals. 
            America is a class society with the highest level of economic inequality in the world.  There are very rich people and very poor people and a shrinking middle class straddled in between.  The Surveillance Society formed in America at a time when the class divide was expanding. This is one reason the ruling class, more than others, fears Edward Snowden.  His whistle blowing has the potential to unsettle the exercise power in America.
            No one wants their data to be showing.  But just as people with wealth have more free speech than others, the privileged economic class, too, has more privacy.  While it is true that bulk "metadata" collection makes few distinctions based on class because it conducts a broad sweep of everyone, the follow-up security investigations that are subject-based, once authorities locate “suspicious” patterns, are more likely to cast lower income people as suspects for their political activity.  The struggle against surveillance, and to preserve privacy, should become an urgent priority for everyone.  How long before we all live in a dystopian world.  Not just me, but you, too. .

Monday, March 31, 2014

I just finished a new book manuscript entitled: "Everyone is a Terrorist Now: Suspects and Surveillance in Post-9/11 America."

The manuscript is about 300 pages (excluding Index and Bibliography). 


Introduction: Usual and Unusual Suspects
So Few Terrorists
Chapter Overview

Chapter 1: Protest as Terrorism
What is Terrorism?
Studying "Suspicious" Behavior
Spying on OWS
Online Media Surveillance
Video Surveillance and Human Informers
The Police Crackdown

Chapter 2: Your Data is Showing
FBI Data Mining
NSA Mass Surveillance
Is Snowden a Hero?
Blowing the Whistle
Can Privacy Be Saved?

Chapter 3: Complaints about Terror Screening

Chapter 4: Arab and Muslim Americans under Attack
Mapping New York’s Muslims
Mistrust of Police
Privacy Deficit
Suspects and Immigration Policy

Chapter 5: Torturing Suspects
FBI Surveillance and Counterinsurgency
The Politics of Torture
Interrogation Techniques
No Legal Accountability
Interrogations at Home
The American Public Responds to Torture
Recent Guidelines

Chapter 6: Liberating the Terrorist Suspect
Terrorist Watch List
Deadly Silencing: The Kill List
The Idea of Emancipation
Emancipation from the Bottom Up

Monday, March 10, 2014

Ethnic Conflict in Greenwich Village (NYC) during the 1970s

A few years ago, I spend about two hours with my girlfriend, Nancy, at the annual Italian American San Gennaro Feast in Greenwich Village in Manhattan. The Feast or Festival used to anchor the Little Italy neighborhood that now virtually is gone, a victim of gentrification. I tell Nancy I always went to the Festival as a child living nearby at 110 Bleecker St. in New York University (NYU) housing during the early 1970s. The Festival has been a yearly event since immigrants from Naples launched it in 1926.
I remember vividly a few things about that evening.
Halfway through we stop at the Spring St.Tavern for a beer. I begin to tell stories of growing up near Little Italy and my encounter with neighborhood kids from the hood. "They wanted to fight us. We would run away." The rival Jewish and other kids from NYU housing faced off against the young toughs from Thompson St. We were friends with them in some ways. They wanted to play football and hockey against us. They always challenged us. We never challenged them to a game. Once, we played a street hockey game against the Little Italy crew and I played goalie. I must have been about 12 years old. It was a close game but they won: They had some excellent sharp shooters. As goalie, I testify that their players shot the rubber puck harder than our guys. I was a little scarred. But our guys were as fast or faster on their roller skates. I remember a few people looked on to watch the game. I believe the final score was 5 to 4. The game took place on an open paved lot that today houses a large gym facility for NYU.
We also used to play touch football, and sometimes tackle football without any pads, on a nearby green lawn at the Silver Towers.  Several times a week after school, about eight of us would gather for some tossing of the ball.  A few times, some of the Italian kids in the hood would come by and challenge us to a football game.  We always tried to wiggle our way out of that game. Once or twice we ran away.  Hockey was one thing; football was another.   In hockey bodies collide in an impersonal manner.  In football, touching or tackling is more intimate. The bodies come too close together.  It seemed dangerous.
During the conversation with Nancy, I hear a white woman sitting near me with a friend commenting on my discourse. She says, "They all wondered what happened to those kids. They really tortured you guys. Do you know what they became?" Nancy and I look at her but remain silent. Nancy says to me, "Do you know what just happened?" Yes, I am aware of it. This woman appeared to have grown up in Little Italy and is familiar with my story. She knows of the conflict between the youth of Little Italy and the youth of NYU housing nearby. What did these Italian-American kids become? For that matter, what did the children of NYU faculty and staff become?
After we left the bar, we walked down Mott St. and encountered the Festival’s Clown, who eggs on the crowd to throw at him and drop him into a container of water. The Clown's face is made up; it is impossible to make out his skin color or other defining features. "This is about male aggression," I say to Nancy, "Let's watch." A young Latino man says next to me, "Oh, shit." Nancy notices the Clown is race-baiting a Latino thrower to fuel his anger so he throws really hard. The young Latino man hears Nancy refer to race and says, "Yes. Just wait till later. We are going to fuck them up. You can't talk to us like that." Nancy is horrified and begins to walk away. I mutter to her lowly, "There's going to be a mini-race riot."
I also tell Nancy, who is an expert in Italian-American history, of the occasion when a group of about 50 youth from Little Italy are focused on my older brother Michael in front of my building. They were mocking him. It looked like violence might break out. I ran inside my building, nervously took the elevator to our apartment (#11B) and told my father: "Hurry. You got to come down downstairs. Michael is about to get beat up real bad." On the street, my father talks the crowd out of violence and retrieves Michael and me from the situation. When the three of us reenter our building, we breath a big sigh of relief. My father was in shock. I believed I saved my brother from a group beating.
There are many other stories to tell. In those years, ethnic tension was real in the neighborhood. There is an affinity to what Jonathan Rieder found among Italian and Jewish youth in the mid-1970s Brooklyn neighborhood of Canarsie: They generally did not mix. Some of the NYU kids were told by their parents not to stray too far into the Italian hood. My parents made no such prohibitions. I had an Italian-American friend despite the ethnic conflict. He once invited me to his apartment. I remember the disapproval of the boy’s mother when she asked about me, realizing that an outsider was inside her home. It was my only visit.
            I heard rumors on more than a few occasions that the Italian hood youth roughed up African Americans who strayed into their turf.  A friend tells me, “Did you hear, two black guys were riding their bikes down Houston St. and got beat up near Thompson St.?  Their bikes were stolen.”
These youth lived in an area where the Gambino crime family had its roots.  Of course, most residents were not in the Mafia, but the crime family’s reach undoubtedly affected the culture and politics of the neighborhood.  It was the era of Martin Scorsese’s magnificent movie Mean Streets (1973), where small-time Italian American hoods, played expertly by Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel, struggle to survive in the same Little Italy.  Scorsese grew up in the neighborhood and the film is drawn extensively from personal memories. Of course, I did not know this inner world, but the depiction of gritty danger in the film fits with how I remember interactions with my Italian American neighbors.  There is a very good description of the film by Lucia Bozzola: “Scorsese's exceptional grasp of the texture of day-to-day life, the rhythm and cadences of street talk, and cinema's visual and aural possibilities makes Mean Streets one of the pivotal films of the 1970s…”  The reviewer Mark Deming also evokes the cultural feeling of the neighborhood.Charlie [Harvey Keitel] seems to have one foot in the present and the other in turn-of-the-century Sicily, and the soundtrack, which combines the rickety Italian folk melodies of the Feast of Gennaro with classic jukebox rock-and-roll (drawn from records in Scorsese's own collection, complete with scratches), plays this duality for all it's worth.”
            I also experience race difference while I attend a “rough” junior high school, I.S. 70, located on 17th St. between 7th and 8th Avenues.  It was called “rough” because more than half of the student body was working-class African American and Puerto Rican.  (They did not use the term Latino back then.)  Some other white friends I knew went to private school to avoid the minorities.  My parents were firm advocates of public education.  Private schooling was anathema to them.  It promoted the wrong values hanging around only privileged, rich, white kids. In the schoolyard at I.S. 70, I ventured to play basketball with the black and Puerto Rican kids.  I was a decent player.  It helped that I was tall.  Entering those basketball games was an assertion of toughness and coolness.   I could hold my own with the “rough” crowd.  It was not only race difference but class difference.  The white kids at I.S. 70 had mostly middle-class backgrounds.
            It is hard to imagine today that I.S. 70, in the neighborhood known as Chelsea, was then a poor area.  The extraordinarily expansive New York housing stock of the 21 St. century had not touched such areas back in the pre-gentrified 1970s.
 In later years, I strongly value my public school education, as it opens my eyes as a child to black and Hispanic cultures and nurtures a lasting multiculturalism.  One effect is that I start to do street graffiti with some friends in Manhattan.   We put our “tags” on buildings and subway cars with magic markers.  I never graduated to spray paint.  My tag names were BJ 45 and Sweeney.  BJ were the initials for the middle names of Benjamin and Joseph that my younger brother and I had been assigned at birth.  The practicing of transgressing – keeping an eye out to write your tag without a police cop seeing you – proved fun and exciting.  Traveling the subways in New York City, I constantly was amazed at the colorful and elaborate spray-painted words and images on passing trains.   
            My older brother used to call me “Chico” because he said my skin was darker than most whites.  He had a strong racial sense of humor.  He would hold out his hand palm side up and say, “Slap me five.”  Then he would turn his hand over so the palm faced down and add in a rhyme, “On the Nigger side.”   He would let out a big laugh.  I did not approve of his use of the word Nigger.  It offended me.  Still, the idea that white people are colored in some ways is a current topic of interest thanks to DNA tests demonstrating complex family backgrounds.  The popular television show hosted on PBS by Harvard Prof. Henry Louis Gates, African American Lives, traced the genealogical backgrounds of well-known people using DNS testing documenting diverse cross-race ancestries.     
            At the about the age of 12, I began to be conflicted about my own Jewish identity.  My mother was an atheist, although she hides this view from us.  Rather, she just expressed no religious enthusiasm whatsoever.  My father, too, was secular in his viewpoint.  I don’t really know if he believed in God as an adult.  He did attend synagogue as a child.  The conflict for me arose when my parents decided not to enroll me in Hebrew language training in preparation for a Bar Mitzvah.  They did not want to deal with a Rabbi and institutional Judaism.  I do not recall significant protest on my part for not having a Bar Mitzvah. I still remained in Jewish subcultures, but not to the exclusion of others. My parents had many close Jewish friends, and so did I.  But, still, at the age of 13 I had rejected a critical component of religious faith.
            Some of my Jewish peers joked I really was not Jewish.  This sentiment not only hurt my feelings.  It created some confusion.  When I attended other children’s Bar Mitzvahs as a guest, I felt out of place.  I tried to hide the fact that I did not have a Bar Mitzvah of my own.  With a name like Greenberg, most people assumed my Jewish identity was strong.  In fact, as one of my father’s professor friends explained to me, I had roots as a Kohen – a priest in the religion dating to ancient times, when this status was conferred on Aaron, the brother of Moses, and his sons as an everlasting covenant.  The authority of a Kohen included responsibility for teaching on the law.  The Kohen line has been passed from father to son for more than 100 generations.
            I experienced very little anti-Semitism in New York City during the 1970s.  It was a very tolerant setting for Jews.  In fact, in 1974 the city elected its first full Jewish mayor, Abe Beame.  Beame was succeeded as Mayor by Ed Koch in 1977, who also was Jewish and had been my Congressman from Greenwich Village.  The very high level of race and ethnic diversity in New York City certainly produced an urban setting that might be marked by a high degree of intergroup conflict.  Such conflict was probably worse during the 1980s than during the 1970s. At least, several big cases exposing intergroup conflict erupted then.  Koch was mayor at the time.  Progressives thought he had not worked hard enough toward uniting the city’s many population groups.  Indeed, to some extent he proved to be a divisive figure in his response to these cases raising, rather than lowering, ethnic and racial tension.  But in my world of the 1970s, my Jewish peers were pleased “one of the tribe” (Beame, Koch) led the city.  It made one feel more included in the life of the city, and the country as a whole.

Friday, February 7, 2014

A short article I just wrote, "Putting 'American Hustle' in Proper Historical Perspective"

There is a lot of buzz at the present moment about American Hustle, which has received ten Oscar nominations.  While the film is characterized by excellent acting, it provides poor historical context to fully understand the FBI's ABSCAM investigation of the late 1970s.  The viewer is led to believe the investigation of members of Congress on bribery charges inadvertently fell into the lap of the bureau, instead of being part of a major FBI program aimed at "public corruption."  In 1978, President Jimmy Carter named a former federal judge, William Webster, to the FBI director's post and Webster made public corruption an early priority, doubling the number of cases in this area to about 1,000 within his first year in office.  In addition to investigating members of Congress, the FBI went after other elected officials -- governors, state legislators, and mayors... 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

My new article, "Impossible Unity: Adjuncts and Tenure-Track Faculty," appears in New Labor Forum (Winter 2014).

On the Contrary:
  • Ivan Greenberg
Impossible UnityAdjuncts and Tenure-Track FacultyNew Labor Forum
In 2005, an estimated 42.6 million Americans (about 31 percent of the U.S. workforce) toiled as contingent workers outside full-time, regular year-round employment. And the problem is getting worse. By 2020, more than 40 percent may work under insecure conditions: underpaid and without job protection as well as lacking many benefits such as health insurance, pensions, and vacations with pay. Unionizing this large segment of the workforce has proved difficult. Only about 6 percent of part-time employees are union members, compared to 12.5 percent for full-timers. As the labor movement increases efforts to reach these workers, questions remain about the best organizational forms to represent them. Should contingent workers join locals that enroll full-time employees in their industries or should part-timers form their own independent unions? Can solidarity exist between full-timers and part-timers within the same organization?...