RIP Elliot Tiber, One of the Capitalists Who Created Woodstock

Elliot Tiber has died at 81. He was an interior decorator and aspiring artist, but he became best known for his role in creating the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival in 1969 and for his books and a 2009 movie about the experience. I wrote about the book and movie Taking Woodstock in Liberty magazine in 2010. That article isn’t online, so I republish it here:

The movie Taking Woodstock, directed by Ang Lee, led me to the book of the same name by Elliot Tiber. I knew of Woodstock as a hippie happening a bit before my time. What I found interesting about the movie and the book was the portrayal of the Woodstock Festival, “Three Days of Peace and Music,” as an impressive entrepreneurial venture. 

In 1969 Tiber was a 33-year-old gay designer living in Manhattan, while spending his weekends trying to save his parents’ rundown Catskills motel. One weekend he read that some concert promoters had been denied a permit in Wallkill, N.Y. He came up with the crazy idea of inviting them to hold the festival on his parents’ property. Lo and behold, they showed up to check it out. Taking the lead was 24-year-old Michael Lang, who went on to become a prominent concert promoter and producer. 

The Tiber (actually Teichberg) property wasn’t suitable, but Elliot drove Lang and his team down the road to Max Yasgur’s nearby farm. At least that’s Tiber’s story; other sources say he exaggerates his role. He did play a key role, however, in that he had a permit to hold an annual music festival, which up until then had involved a few local bands. 

There’s a wonderful scene, better in the movie than in the book, when Lang and Yasgur negotiate a price for the use of the farm. We see it dawning on Yasgur that this is a big deal. We see Elliot panicking that the deal will fall through, and that without the festival business his parents will lose their motel. And we see Lang’s assistant reassuring Elliot that both parties want to make a deal, so they’ll find an acceptable price, which indeed they do. 

And then, with 30 days to transform a dairy farm into a place for tens of thousands of people to show up for a 3-day festival, Tiber describes (and Lee shows) a whirlwind of activity. “Within a couple of hours, the phone company had a small army of trucks and tech people on the grounds, installing the banks of telephones that Lang and his people needed.” Helicopters, limousines, and motorcycles come and go. A few hundred people are erecting scaffolding, stage sets, speakers, and toilets. The motel keepers are trying to find rooms and food for the workers and the early arrivals. The local bank is eagerly providing door-to-door service for the mountains of cash flowing into bucolic White Lake, N.Y. 

Meanwhile, there are a few locals who don’t like the whole idea. In Tiber’s telling, they don’t like Jews, queers, outsiders, or hippies. Maybe they just didn’t like a quiet village being overrun with thousands of outsiders. In any case they had a few tools available to them. A dozen kinds of inspectors swarmed around the Teichbergs’ motel. The town council threatened to pull the permit. Tiber writes, “Why is it that the stupidest people alive become politicians? I asked myself.”  At the raucous council meeting Lang offered the town a gift of $25,000 ($150,000 in today’s dollars), and most of the crowd got quiet. Max Yasgur stood and pointed out that “he owned his farm and had a right to lease it as he pleased.” That didn’t stop the opposition, but in the end the concert happened. 

The psychedelic posters and language about peace and love – and on the other side, the conservative fulminations about filthy hippies (see John Nolte’s movie review at BigHollywood.com – can obscure the fact that Woodstock was always intended as a profit-making venture. That was the goal of Lang and his partners, and it was also the intention of Tiber, Yasgur, and those of their neighbors who saw the concert as an opportunity and not a nightmare. The festival did rescue the Teichberg finances. It ended up being a free concert, however, which caused problems for Lang and his team. Eventually, though, they profited from the albums and the hit documentary Woodstock. 

In his book Tiber also details his life split between Manhattan’s scene and his parents’ upstate struggles. He tells us that as a young gay man in the ‘60s he encountered Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Marlon Brando and Wally Cox, and Robert Mapplethorpe. 

Tiber writes, “One of the great benefits of Woodstock—a benefit that, to my knowledge, has never been written about—was its sexual diversity.” But I think the fact that there were gay awakenings at Woodstock—and three-ways and strapping ex-Marines in sequined dresses—would surprise people less than the realization that Woodstock was a for-profit venture that involved a lot of entrepreneurship, hard-nosed negotiation, organization, and hard work. Taking Woodstock (the book, but better yet the movie) is a great story of sex, drugs, rock-and-roll, and capitalism. 

Stop Treating South Korea Like a Helpless Dependent

Despite the success of America’s post-World War II policy, its advocates act as if it is an abysmal failure. No matter that the ROK took advantage of Washington’s defense shield to develop into one of the world’s most important, largest, and advanced economies. The U.S. must continue to protect the South from the latter’s decrepit northern neighbor.

For instance, analyst Khang Vu offers no argument that South Korea is vital for America. He refers to another Korean war posing “an adverse prospect for future U.S. administrations.”

Immigrant Olympians

Many noticed the refugee team competing in the 2016 Rio Olympics but few noticed the immigrants on the American team.  As far as I can tell, 47 out of the 554 American athletes were born in another country although some of them are probably the children of American citizens born abroad.  Thus, 8.5 percent of American Olympians were born in another country.  However, immigrants are underrepresented among Olympians because 13.3 percent of the U.S. population is foreign-born.  Despite being underrepresented as a whole, immigrants are more likely to be in some sports rather than others.

Immigrants are overrepresented in sports to the left of the red line while they are less likely to be Olympians in sports to the right, compared to their percent of the U.S. population (Figure 1).  There are no immigrants representing the United States in archery to weightlifting on the right-hand side of Figure 1.  It’s also important to note that many of the sports where immigrants are overrepresented have the fewest number of athletes.  For instance, there are only two American synchronized swimmers and six American table tennis players.  

Figure 1

Foreign Born as a Percentage of Each U.S. Team

Source: TeamUSA.org Sortable Roster

These foreign-born athletes also come from countries on every continent (Figure 2).  Kenya, China, and the United Kingdom are the top three countries of origin. Charles Jock, who will run the 800-meter race for the United States, actually lived in a refugee camp in Ethiopia for a time as a child before settling in the United States with his family.

Figure 2

Foreign Born Athletes by Country of Origin

Country of Origin

Number of Athletes

Kenya

5

China

4

United Kingdom

4

Australia

3

Bulgaria

2

Cuba

2

Japan

2

Poland

2

Russia

2

Albania

1

Brazil

1

Canada

1

Denmark

1

Eritrea

1

Ethiopia

1

France

1

Germany

1

Hong Kong

1

Italy

1

Mexico

1

Montenegro

1

Netherlands

1

Nigeria

1

Philippines

1

Somalia

1

South Africa

1

Switzerland

1

Trinidad and Tobago

1

Turkey

1

Ukraine

1

Source: TeamUSA.org Sortable Roster

Foreign-born Americans competing in the Olympics come from all over the world but are concentrated in a handful of sports.  Unfortunately, there is not enough public information about the athletes who are the children of immigrants - like Steven Lopez who is competing in Tae Kwon Do.  Regardless, many immigrants are competing for the U.S. Olympic team in Rio.

Toss Turkey Out Of NATO

Turkey’s brief democratic moment is ending. The rise of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Development and Justice Party (AKP) in 2002 signaled the collapse of the militarized secular republic created by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The recent failed coup effectively killed the semi-liberal democracy that briefly replaced Kemalism.

NATO is an anachronism and Ankara’s membership even more so. Today Turkey undermines U.S. and European security. As Ankara moves toward an authoritarian one-party state, a civil divorce would be best for all parties.

Can the Fed Raise Interest Rates?

I chose my title carefully. I will focus on what is possible for the U.S. central bank to achieve rather than what they might want to accomplish or may attempt to effect.  I examine three possible senses in which the Federal Reserve could not raise interest rates, or would not be able to raise them to the extent they wish.

First, the Fed might face financial headwinds working against attempts to raise short-term, domestic interest rates. Second, there might be undesirable consequences to raising these interest rates that render it practically impossible to pursue higher rates. Third, it might be technically impossible to raise rates.

The major financial headwinds are the actions of other central banks. There are now more than 20 central banks in the world that have instituted negative short-term interest rates (including all of the Eurozone). The trend has been for more central banks to go negative, and for those already in negative rate territory to go deeper. In some of these countries, yields are negative out to 10 years and even beyond.

Were the Fed to attempt to hike short-term interest rates another 25 basis points, it would be moving against the tide of global central bank policies. The European Central Bank’s overnight deposit rate is -40 basis points. The Fed is paying 50 basis points on reserves, so that is a positive spread of 90 basis points. Were the Fed to raise the rate to 75 basis points, there would be a positive spread of 115 basis points.

In the near term, a Fed rate hike would attract capital flows into dollar assets. That would put upward pressure on the value of the U.S. dollar and off-setting downward pressure on short-term U.S. interest rates. It is difficult to go up when the world is headed down.

Donald Trump’s Shrinking Pool of Foreign Policy Advisors

The GOP establishment backlash against Donald Trump continues. Last night, Senator Susan Collins of Maine became arguably the highest ranking Republican officeholder to publicly proclaim that she would not support Trump. Over the weekend, outgoing GOP Congressman Scott Rigell (VA-2) declared for Gary Johnson and William Weld, former GOP governors now running on the Libertarian Party ticket. Another lame-duck Republican, Richard Hanna (NY-22) had previously affirmed his support for Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, GOP Congressman Adam Kinzinger (IL-16) has also come out against Trump, although he hasn’t signaled who he will be supporting.

Yesterday, 50 former Republican national security officials piled on, trashing Trump’s views. In a scathing letter, the officials warned that Donald Trump “would be the most reckless president in American history” and collectively proclaimed that they would not be voting for him in November.

Trump wasted no time attacking the entire group. He said that the signatories should be blamed “for making the world such a dangerous place” and dismissed them as “nothing more than the failed Washington elite looking to hold onto their power.” Indeed, given that Trump has been running against Washington from the very first day of his campaign, he likely welcomes the scorn from these quarters.

This is hardly the first letter opposing Trump on account of his foreign policy views. Bryan McGrath assembled an early #NeverTrump letter here, and, more recently, Ali Wyne drafted a letter signed by mostly academics, 250 and counting, here. It appears that the vast majority of this country’s foreign policy experts want no part of the billionaire real estate developer/reality TV star.

Candidates vs. NAFTA

Even after twenty years, the North American Free Trade Agreement remains highly controversial.  Donald Trump claims that NAFTA has “destroyed this country economically,” apparently unaware that the U.S. economy is still pretty fantastic.  He has promised to pull out of the landmark free trade agreement between the United States, Mexico, and Canada unless he can renegotiate it. 

Hillary Clinton has also promised to renegotiate NAFTA.  Trump has erroneously claimed that Clinton only came out against NAFTA after he made an issue of it.  She made the same promise during her 2008 presidential campaign.  Trumps also claims (much less erroneously) that Clinton will probably back out of any promise to renegotiate NAFTA after she’s elected.

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