Today, Monday October 21 at 9:30 am, hundreds of Puerto Ricans will scream and shout at hundreds of (mostly) white people.
The shouting will occur in front of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) at 11 West 53rd street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. It will be the Puerto Rican contribution – the Boricua critique – of the new and shiny MoMA.
One of the largest and most influential art museums in the world, MoMA now becomes larger and more influential with a $450 million renovation, and a Board of Trustees that reads like a “Who’s Who?” of the US power elite.
Sharon Percy Rockefeller. Emily Roth Pulitzer. Ronald S. Lauder. Jerry I. Spyer. The Rockefellers and Pulitzers need no introduction. Ronald Lauder, the son of Esteé Lauder, has a net worth in excess of $4 billion. Spyer is well-known to New Yorkers: they walk past his name every day, in foot-high bold lettering, on dozens of luxury construction sites all over the city.
Yet today October 21, Puerto Ricans will protest over another name on this board: a man named Steven Tananbaum.
Up here in El Norte, Tananbaum is known as a billionaire philanthropist who also sits on the Council of Foreign Relations.
He’s known as the founder and Chief Investment Officer of Golden Tree Asset Management — where he supervises 26 partners, more than 250 employees, and over $31 billion of other people’s money.
He’s known as a devoted husband and family man. A stay-at-home type with a home so big, that it requires a helicopter to photograph it.
He’s well-known in Florida, with a condo in Palm Beach.
But the character of billionaires and bums and everyone in between, cannot be found in sponsored bios or blaring headlines.
It is found in silence and small details, in the dark, when no one is looking.
Let’s examine a few of those dark details, in the life of Steven Tananbaum.
THE MoMA SCHOOL OF MONEY: ART, LBOs and PUERTO RICO
The MoMA Board of Trustees is a public relations machine. It frames its members as altruists: all tirelessly and selflessly donating their time, to bring art to the masses.
But for Tananbaum this board is much more. It is also the perfect business school: exposing him to new horizons of planetary profit.
Horizon #1 – Leveraged Buyouts
On the MoMA board, Tananbaum sits next to Marie-Josée Kravis.
Marie-Josée is a Canadian economist who served on the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. In 2005 she was named president of the MoMA Board of Trustees, and became president emerita in 2018. She is also the wife of Henry R. Kravis.
So what? Who the hell is Henry?
Henry R. Kravis co-founded Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR), the company that turned “leveraged buyouts” into a national business model.
What the hell is a leveraged buyout?”
It’s a ruthless way of generating billions in quick profits.
Throughout the 1980s and 90s, KKR hunted all over the US for wounded companies…bought them fast…killed them…dismembered them…then sold each dead part to the highest bidder. Very often the “highest bidder” was not in the US…and millions of US jobs were outsourced out of the country, permanently, so that Henry Kravis could become a multi-billionaire.
While sitting on the MoMA board, and by great coincidence, the leveraged buyout became a business template for Tananbaum.
He now works aggressively in the LBO sector, and even arranges LBO loans.
Horizon #2 – Fine Art
Many millions of dollars can be made overnight, if you are a shrewd art buyer with the nerves of a riverboat gambler.
Tananbaum had the money and the nerves but needed the info – and he got it by the bushel, on the MoMA Board of Trustees.
What better place in the world, to find out which painters are on the decline? Which sculptors are about to get “hot”? Who is making, forging, buying, selling, the most profitable art in the entire world?
Armed with this knowledge, plugged into the MoMA hotline of inside information, Tananbaum proceeded to plunder the world of fine art.
He approached Jeff Koons, known as “the most expensive living artist in the world,” and purchased three multi-million dollar sculptures from him. Now he’s suing Koons for faster delivery; and the right to duplicate, re-issue and sell Koons’ sculptures.
Horizon #3 – Puerto Rico
Horizon #3 is an entire race of people.
Another MoMA board member – Daniel Ochs – was snapping up Puerto Rico municipal bonds, and Daniel showed Tananbaum the ropes…
Daniel’s bonds were triple tax-exempt (no federal, state or municipal taxes). Under federal law, Puerto Ricans are prohibited from filing for Chapter IX bankruptcy – and are thus are unable to protect themselves or re-negotiate their payment.
An entirely separate source of revenue – the Puerto Rico Sales Tax – had been created to pay, and to guarantee the payment, of these Puerto Rico bonds.
The sales tax would be a whopping 11.5%, the highest sales tax anywhere in the US. This tax would be applied to the highest-priced products in the US, thanks to the Jones Act.
If any Puerto Ricans complained, the US Congress was sending down a “Financial Control Board” to commandeer the entire island’s economy, close their schools, cut their pensions, and force Puerto Ricans pay their so-called “debt.”
In this way, the municipal bond pirates could all “invest” a few pennies…demand a full dollar’s return…and the US government would operate as their collection agency!
The things you learn on the MoMA Board of Trustees!
AND THAT IS WHY THEY ARE SHOUTING
Tananbaum is not sentimental. He monetizes things. He bets on their life and death.
Right now he’s betting on the death of Puerto Rico.
The COFINA bonds purchased and promoted by Tananbaum are all illegal. They exceed the legal debt limit of the Commonwealth government, and violate Section VI of the Constitution of Puerto Rico.
But Tananbaum does not care about legality; he invokes it only for economic expedience.
He does not care about 300 schools closing in Puerto Rico; hundreds of thousands losing their pensions; or an entire island paying an 11.5% sales tax, in order to ensure a billion-dollar profit for…
Because for Tananbaum and most of Wall Street, Puerto Rico has become a punching bag…a feeding troth…a place to grab a fortune, no matter whom and how many it hurts.
A place where fine citizens can become psychopaths – leading characters in a Caribbean version of Westworld or The Purge – before heading back to the mainland with a clear conscience (albeit the conscience of a psychopath) to resume their “real” roles among “real” human beings.
Tananbaum knows that to the US, Puerto Rico is an invisible island. He knows that whatever crimes he commits in that island, whatever pain he inflicts on its people, the US public will still view him as a public servant…a dedicated philanthropist…a patron of the arts.
And that is why hundreds of Puerto Ricans must shout today – loudly, nobly, with great passion.
Because if they don’t, the Tananbaums will sink their teeth deeper.
They will suck and gobble, divide and multiply.
Blood dripping down their faces.
As Puerto Rico becomes a giant P5 – a Public Private Partnership for the Plunder of Puerto Rico.
And then it becomes Macondo.
For a history of the War Against All Puerto Ricans, read the book…
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