Saturday, November 30, 2013

Remembering `Downtown'-`Aquarian Weekly' Editor James Rensenbrink (1932-2013)

In the Spring of 1990 the office of the “East Coast Rocker”/”Aquarian Weekly”’s sister publication in the East Village, “Downtown”, was located in a small rented back room inside somebody else’s store at 151 First Avenue, near E. 10th Street. And it was in that tiny back room--filled with a lot of clutter, piles of back issues and current issues of “Downtown”, a typewriter, a radio and a few telephones, desks and chairs--that I first met Jim Rensenbrink.

A few weeks earlier I had picked up a free copy of “Downtown” in the doorway of some Lower East Side restaurant. And--after noticing a “Writer for `Downtown’ wanted” ad on one of the counter-cultural weekly newspaper’s inside pages--I mailed “Downtown” a copy of a column I had written to mark the 20th anniversary of the March 6, 1970 West Village Townhouse explosion (in which three members of the Weatherman faction of Students for a Democratic Society were killed) that a college student newspaper had recently published. A few days later, Jim contacted me and invited me to meet with him after 5 p.m. at the “Downtown” office.

Jim was sitting alone behind one of the desks reading and editing some copy when I arrived at the “Downtown” office. But after a few seconds, he noticed I was standing in front of his desk. And when he finally looked up, I introduced myself and reminded him that he had asked me to come meet with him.

Wearing jeans (and not a suit-and-tie like the editor of “The Nation” magazine had worn when I had visited that magazine’s plush office a few years before), Jim looked more like an aging hippie, beat poet or New Left professor—with a gray and white beard, but hair on his head that had been cut short—than like either a publisher/editor/owner of a youth market-oriented entertainment/arts weekly or a shrewd small businessman. And when—still wearing his glasses—Jim stood up, he revealed himself to be a lot taller than most of the other poets, writers and counter-cultural journalists I had previously met.

Jim—among his various other earthly material-world identities—was an anti-Establishment, politically radical green environmentalist, an anarcho-pacifist cultural and political revolutionary, poet-writer-journalist. And he wanted to use his “Downtown” newspaper to provide a media outlet in the 1990’s for Downtown Manhattan poets, artists and writers whose anti-war counter-culture rebel voices could not be found on the pages of mainstream corporate newspapers like “The New York Times”, plastic hip capitalist publications like “Rolling Stone” magazine, or weekly newspapers like the “Village Voice”, that claimed to be “alternative” in 1990, yet was then owned by billionaire New Jersey real estate developer Leonard Stern.

So after our chat in the “Downtown” office indicated that Jim and I pretty much agreed that an authentically hip counter-cultural weekly newspaper like “Downtown” should both include articles that Lower East Side readers would not find in the “Village Voice and promote radical democratic change in the United States, I offered to write an expose of the “Village Voice”’s then-owner: Billionaire Leonard Stern. And, before departing from the “Downtown” office, I asked Jim how long the article I was going to write should be, and Jim replied: “As long as you need to write it.”

In 2013, if a writer wants to write an article for Lower East Side readers that they would not find in the “Village Voice”, he or she can just post it on a blog and link it to his or her Facebook, MySpace or YouTube page or some other internet blog, comment form or social network page on the web. And if a Lower East Side reader wants to read an article like an expose’ of the Village Voice’s current ownership in 2013, he or she can often just type “expose `Village Voice’” inside google, yahoo or metacrawler search and eventually find such an article to read on the internet.

But in 1990 alternative places to allow readers to find articles that did not appear in newspapers, magazines, books or self-published leaflets and zines were rare. So if an article or poem wasn’t accepted for publication in some newspaper, magazine book or self-published as a leaflet or a zine, the rejected article or poem would often just end up in the bottom of a writer’s desk drawer. And that’s why Jim’s willingness to publish in “Downtown” the kind of anti-Establishment writing and poetry that the underground counter-cultural press of the 1960’s had been willing to publish—but the now-corporatized “alternative” newspapers of the 1990s like “Rolling Stone” magazine and the “Village Voice were by then unwilling to publish—helped fulfill an important counter-cultural need for both writers and readers in the East Village during the 1990s.

After I researched, wrote and shoved inside Jim’s “Downtown” office mailbox the expose’ of then-“Village Voice” Owner Leonard Stern later in the Spring of 1990, Jim seemed to be taking a long time to publish it. So about three months after my initial chat with Jim, I spoke with him again briefly over the telephone in the Summer of 1990 and he indicated, in a businesslike tone, that he planned to publish the article in September 1990. Then—to my surprise—Jim highlighted the “Boss of The `Voice’: A Look At `Village Voice’ Owner Leonard Stern” article in a big way on the front page of “Downtown”’s September 12, 1990 issue.

Apparently pleased by the reception “Downtown”’s “Boss of the `Voice’" article received from readers, Jim seemed very eager to discuss with me what the next “Downtown” article I wrote should be about, when I next visited the “Downtown” office to pick up the paycheck for the article that was in my “Downtown” mailbox. And we both agreed that I would next do an expose’ of “Time” magazine’s corporate connections for one of “Downtown”’s October 1990 issues.

During the next few months, the administration of George Herbert Walker Bush prepared to launch its 1991 Gulf War I attack on Iraq—on behalf of the special economic interests of the Kuwaiti royal family and U.S. transnational corporations—which initiated over two decades of U.S. military intervention and deadly economic sanctions in Iraq that have caused millions of Iraqi deaths between 1991 and 2013. So in our periodic discussions in the “Downtown” office between October 1990 and December 1991 when I visited there to pick up my paycheck, Jim and I also agreed that—besides writing more monthly articles about the hidden corporate connections of different U.S. mass media conglomerates—I should also sometimes write articles exposing the economic motivation for the endless U.S. military intervention abroad in countries like Iraq during the 1990s. Then, in November 1991, Jim decided to include a news briefs and comments column, “Brief”(which later evolved into a report and comment on power elite connections in the U.S. column, “Connections”), that I wrote in each issue of “Downtown”, until it ceased to be owned and edited by Jim in early 1997.

Unlike many other U.S. newspaper and magazine editors, Jim was a non-interventionist editor who didn’t try to substitute his own voice for the original writer’s voice when he edited copy, and who didn’t require writers to rewrite their articles over and over again, until they conformed to some pre-existing, already-established, often conventional and mainstream-defined plastic editorial standard. He was also a morally courageous rebel editor who was not afraid to print articles that expressed unpopular, dissident opinions, exposed unpleasant truths and hypocritical politicians, or challenged the criminal or immoral actions and policies of the U.S. power elite and U.S. power elite institutions. And he was an editor who opposed all forms of literary censorship, whether or not the censorship expressed itself in the form of state censorship, political censorship, commercial censorship, corporate censorship, academic censorship, fundamentalist religious-based censorship or self-censorship.

Unlike many other U.S. newspaper and magazine editors, Jim also sought neither the approval of the politically and economically powerful “1 percent” nor wealth; and he had no desire for personal celebrity or material goods. In the 1990s his main motive for publishing “Downtown” on a shoe-string budget and non-profit basis seemed to be altruistic and authentically philanthropic; and he once mentioned to me that if he ever felt that publishing “Downtown” was no longer a valid way to both serve artists, writers and the counter-cultural community of the Lower East Side and promote politically radical environmentalism and personal and collective liberation in the USA, he would gladly cease being its publisher/editor and “just spend my time writing poetry and enjoying nature.”

A check of all that Jim wrote and published in his various counter-cultural newspapers in the late 1960’s, 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s probably would make it obvious to most people that Jim left behind a journalistic legacy that was special and unique; and that Jim, himself—as the negative political and economic drift of early 21st-century U.S. history revealed—provided a prophetic warning in the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s of what U.S. society was turning into, as well as a prophetic vision of what could be done to avoid a future environmental/political/economic/moral catastrophe, if people in the USA—the “99 percent”--eventually rise up in revolt against their Wall Street Corporate Oppressors.

And besides his novel, “The Basketball Player”, Jim also left us poems like his “Snakebit” poem, which contained the following text:

“Who would have thought that the Germans would acquiesce?
Who would have thought that the Austrians would confess?
Who (but begrudgingly) gave Diamond Lil a nod
When she told the cowboys she believed in God?

“Who dare write letters to a pious pope,
when their veins and arteries are screaming for dope?
Who dare read the Bible in the month of May,
when the sex of Divinity is blooming with play?

“Disciples are wandering; the Messiah is dead.
The scientist proposes new drugs instead.
The Germans are telling their girlfriends the news.
What’s left to believe in; what deodorant to use.”

James Rensenbrink Presente!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Black Worker Unemployment Rate Increases To 13.1 Percent In October 2013

The official “seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate for all Black workers (youth, male and female) increased from 12.9 to 13.1 percent between September and October 2013; while the total number of jobless Black workers in the United States increased by 25,000 (from 2,402,000 to 2,427,000) during the same period, according to recently released Bureau of Labor Statistics data. In addition, between September and October 2013, the official jobless rate for Black female workers over 20 years-of-age jumped from 10 to 11.5 percent; while the number of unemployed Black female workers over 20 years-of-age increased by 143,000 (from 946,000 to 1,089,000) during the same period.

The official “seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate for Black youths between 16 and 19 years-of-age increased from 35.1 to 36 percent between September and October 2013; while the number of Black youths between 16 and 19 years-of-age who still had jobs dropped by 43,000 (from 487,000 to 444,000) during the same period. In addition, between September and October 2013, the jobless rate for white youths between 16 and 19 years-of-age increased from 19.3 to 19.4 percent; while the number of white youths between 16 and 19 years-of-age who still had jobs decreased by 5,000 (from 3,695,000 to 3,690,000) during the same period. And the number of unemployed white youths between 16 and 19 years-of-age increased by 6,000 (from 882,000 to 888,000) between September and October 2013.

The official “not seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate for Latino youths between 16 and 19 years-of-age jumped from 25.8 to 27.4 percent between September and October 2013: while the number of Latino youths between 16 and 19 years-of-age who still had jobs decreased by 10,000 (from 831,000 to 821,000) during the same period. In addition, the number of unemployed Latino youths between 16 and 19 years-of-age in the United States increased by 30,000 (from 289,000 to 309,000) between September and October 2013; while the number of Asian-American workers in the United States who still had jobs decreased by 163,000 (from 8,218,000 to 8,055,000), according to the “not seasonally adjusted” data.

According to the “seasonally adjusted” data, the total number of unemployed Latino workers in the United States (male, female and youth) increased by 25,000 (from 2,228,000 to 2,253,000) between September and October 2013; while the official jobless rate for all Latino workers (male, female and youth) increased from 9 to 9.1 percent during the same period. In addition, between September and October 2013, the official “not seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate for Latino male workers over 20 years-of-age increased from 7.4 to 7.8 percent; while the number of unemployed Latino male workers over 20 years-of-age increased by 49,000 (from 1,026,000 to 1,075,000) during the same period.

The official “not seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate for Latina female workers over 20 years-of-age was still 8.1 percent in October 2013; while the number of unemployed Latina female workers over 20 years-of-age was still 800,000 during that same month.

The official “seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate for Black male workers over 20 years-of-age was still 13 percent in October 2013; while the number of Black male workers over 20 years-of-age who still had jobs decreased by 18,000 (from 7,307,000 to 7,289,000) between September and October 2013. In addition, the number of Black male workers over 20 years-of-age still in the U.S. labor force decreased by 122,000 (from 8,499,000 to 8,377,000) between September and October 2013; while the number of white male workers over 20 years-of-age still in the U.S. labor force decreased by 251,000 (from 64,323,000 to 64,072,000) during the same period.

The number of white male workers over 20 years-of-age who still had jobs decreased by 280,000 (from 60,408,000 to 60,128,000) between September and October 2013; while the official “seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate for white male workers over 20 years-of-age increased from 6.1 to 6.2 percent during the same period. In addition, the number of unemployed white male workers over 20 years-of-age in the United States increased by 29,000 (from 3,915,000 to 3,944,000) between September and October 2013.

Tthe number of white female workers over 20 years-of-age who still had jobs decreased by 183,000 (from 51,285,000 to 51,102,000) between September and October 2013; while the number of white female workers over 20 years-of-age still in the U.S. labor force decreased by 218,000 (from 54,279,000 to 54,061,000) during the same period. In addition, the official “seasonally adjusted” jobless rate for white female workers over 20 years-of-age was still 5.5 percent in October 2013.

The official “not seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate for Asian-American workers in the United States was still 5.2 percent in October 2013; while the “not seasonally adjusted” number of unemployed Asian-American workers was still 443,000 during that same month.

Between September and October 2013, the official “seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate for all youths between 16 and 19 years-of-age increased from 21.4 to 22.2 percent; while the official jobless rate for all female workers over 16 years-of-age in the United States increased from 6.7 to 6.9 percent during the same period. In addition, the official unemployment rate for all male workers over 16 years-of-age in the United States was still 7.6 percent in October 2013.

Between September and October 2013, the number of all female workers over 20 years-of-age who still had jobs decreased by 327,000 (from 65,582,000 to 65,255,000); while the number of all female workers over 20 years-of-age in the U.S. labor force decreased by 229,000 (from 69,936,000 to 69,707,000) during that same period. In addition, the official “seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate for all female workers over 20 years-of-age increased from 6.2 to 6.4 percent between September and October 2013; while the official number of unemployed female workers over 20 years-of-age in the United States increased by 97,000 (from 4,354,000 to 4,451,000) during the same period.

The official “seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate for all U.S. workers increased from 7.2 to 7.3 percent between September and October 2013; while the official total number of unemployed workers in the United States increased by17,000 (from 11,255,000 to 11,272,000) during the same period. In addition, the total number of people still in the U.S. labor force decreased by 720,000 (from 155,559,000 to 154,839,000) between September and October 2013; while the official “seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate for all male workers over 20 years-of-age was still 7 percent in October 2013.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ November 8, 2013 press release:

“…The unemployment rate, at 7.3 percent, changed little in October. Among the unemployed, however, the number who reported being on temporary layoffs increased by 448,000. This figure includes furloughed federal employees who were classified as unemployed on temporary layoff…(Estimates of the unemployed by reason, such as temporary layoff…do not sum to the officially seasonally adjusted measure of total unemployed…)…

“The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was little changed at 4.1 million in October. These individuals accounted for 36.1 percent of the unemployed…The civilian labor force was down by 720,000 in October…The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers) was little changed at 8.1 million in October. These individuals were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job…

“In October, 2.3 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force. These individuals…wanted and were available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey…Among the marginally attached, there were 815,000 discouraged workers in October…Discouraged workers are persons not currently looking for work because they believe no jobs are available for them…

“…Federal government employment continued to trend down…Clothing and clothing accessories stores lost 13,000 jobs…In October, employment showed little or no change…in…mining and logging, construction, wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing, information, and financial activities.

“Federal government employment declined by 12,000 in October. Over the past 12 months, federal government employment has decreased by 94,000. Federal employees on furlough during the partial government shutdown were still considered employed…”