California is a "Developing" Economy, and Guess Who's Developing It?, or Blum's Business with the Bechtels.

Past chair of the UC board of Regents, Richard Blum, has been an ongoing target of student and worker protests, and for good reason. Although he created a center at UC Berkeley for the study of global poverty, his policies as a UC Regent have been cited by workers as creating poverty in California by keeping pay at campuses low and making UC unaffordable to working families. Students have been equally upset with Blum's votes and opinions on increasing student fees. As chairman of the search committee, Blum literally hand-picked Mark Yudof to succeed Robert Dynes as UC President. All in all Blum has been a guiding force in privatizing the UC since his appointment 7 years ago. Just as he specializes in leveraged buyouts and privatization of publicly traded companies, Blum seems to be practicing his same basic business philosophy on the university.

Blum likes to portray himself as an enlightened liberal businessman. He's friends with the Dalai Lama. He sits on the boards of the Carter Center and the Wilderness Society. He gives tens of thousands of dollars to liberal Democratic causes and candidates. He backed Obama's campaign for the presidency (literally, he's wearing the blue scarf in this photo).

But at the same time this is a man who made windfall profits off the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by investing in companies like URS and Perini, two multi-billion dollar contractors. This is a man who has invested in companies owning high-tech maquiladoras on the US-Mexico border where military components are built for the DoD.

Blum's personal wealth is immense. Invested primarily through his equity group, Blum Capital, his dollars trace a complex web through a multitude of companies and funds.

Years ago when UC students were challenging the Regents as managers of the nation's two nuclear weapons development laboratories Blum became a target of protests yet again. His majority ownership stake and Vice President position at URS Corp. directly tied him, financially, to the nuclear weapons establishment. At the time URS was being paid by the Los Alamos nuclear weapons laboratory for construction and engineering services. This blatantly clashed with his role as a UC Regent, supposedly overseeing weapons lab as a public servant and deliberating on the future of UC-Lab relationship in an objective manner. Students revealed Blum's for-profit interest in Los Alamos through this corporation and forced him to quietly sell off his stocks and resign his position at URS. Reporting on this link by Keay Davidson at the SF Chronicle was so embarrassing that UC's Counsel had to issue a statement denying that this was a conflict of interest.

In the end the UC partnered with the Bechtel Corporation to put in a bid for the two nuke labs (http://lanl.gov and http://www.llnl.gov), successfully winning new multi-billion dollar management contracts. Blum divested from URS and denied any personal stake in the nuclear weapons enterprise. But two years after the UC-Bechtel partnership took over at Los Alamos a funny thing happened. Blum's former company URS bought a smaller construction firm named Washington Group International. WGI just so happened to be a junior partner in the UC-Bechtel team running Los Alamos (http://www.lansllc.com/about.htm). Thus while Blum made a modest exist from URS, URS made a big entrance into the US nuclear weapons complex as a de-facto co-manager of Los Alamos Laboratory. Blum's friend and URS colleague Martin Koffel explained the purchase saying "[it] positions us strategically in markets we think have very aggressive long-term growth profiles. That includes power and a very important prospect is nuclear."


In opposition to these shady deals that were stacking up between 2003 and 2007, UC students dug deep into Blum's business dealings, as well as those of other UC Regents and UCOP executives. What we found deeply bothered us (here's just one example). We did this research and fought this battle not only because we oppose the militarism, environmental racism, and imperialism that is synonymous with the UC's weapons labs, but also because we firmly believed, and still believe, that UC's management of the weapons labs since 1943 has had a most toxic and corrosive effect on the UC's governance. It affects all aspects of UC, from decisions on student fees to research policies, to the bonding of grounds and buildings and the selection of Chancellors and UC Presidents.

We adopted a simple but disturbing thesis: because UC runs highly secretive weapons labs; because these two labs are in fact as large in budgetary, employment, and physical terms as the average UC campus; because of the profits, secrecy, and power that is invested in the Regents as managers of the political-economy of nuclear weapons spending; the UC as a whole, under the leadership of its Regents, and Office of the President, became as much like a massive arms manufacturing corporation as a university. What shared governance we ever thought we had was hollowly betrayed by the fact that a few men, appointed by the governor to twelve year terms, wielded so much power. A tight knit, self-selecting group of men who have always controlled the core committees of the UC Regents (finance, investments, long range planning, and DOE labs) have dominated the Board's overall agenda. In recent years men like Blum, Gerald Parsky, and now Russell Gould, have steered the UC down a path that has advocated privatization through fee increases and all kinds of fishy links with business corporations. Through their alter-egos as bankers, lawyers, and capitalists extraordinaire, they have worked to buffer the state's regressive tax and spending policies, and helped devise the very austerity measures currently being hoisted upon the people of California across all public sectors, not just within the university.


One of the Regents' most important partnerships with a corporation is their for-profit Limited Liability Company formed with the Bechtel Group. In 2005 UC and Bechtel bid for the Los Alamos Lab's management contract. Eventually another UC-Bechtel LLC was created to manage the Lawrence Livermore Lab, LANL's twin ~$2 billion nuke facility.

At the time the reasons why the Regents were so willing to team up with Bechtel were perfectly clear. Bechtel was a Bush administration favorite, and with unrivaled connections in the Departments of Energy, Defense, and State, Bechtel consistently gets lucrative contracts.

But the personal and financial links that made this partnership happen weren't so clear. Subsequent research showed that then UC Chair Gerald Parsky had close links to the inner circle at Bechtel, most obviously through his mentor, George P. Shultz, the former Bechtel president (and still senior adviser) who ran Reagan's State Dept. and Nixon's Treasury Dept. Parsky worked for Shultz in the Nixon and Ford White Houses and later was handed a job at a prestigious Los Angeles law firm, again with help from Shultz. Shultz has kept busy in recent years as a professor at Stanford, a Hoover Institute fellow, and a key player in the Schwarzenegger administration's economic planning, and an important proponent of the "war on terror." So Parsky had a major friend at Bechtel through Shultz.

Thus when former UC President Robert Dynes' calendar was acquired by this researcher last year it was little surprise to see that Shultz's former lieutenant Gerald Parsky made the personal introductions between Dynes and Riley Bechtel. Over coffee at 50 Beale Street, Bechtel's San Francisco headquarters, the partnership was born.


But now the story gets even more complex, the threads more difficult to follow, the information even more disturbing.

It appears that Richard Blum has been a for-profit business partner with the Bechtel family and its closest associates for many years now, giving the UC-Bechtel link even more coherence. This relationship seems to have gotten off the ground in 1997 when Blum Capital and the Fremont Group bought into a little known company called Kinetic Concepts to the tune of $875 million. Kinetic Concepts is a medical technologies manufacturing company now valued at $2.4 billion. Blum Capital purchased 26% of the company while Fremont got a 40% stake.

Fremont Group is the Bechtel family's capital investment vehicle.

Fremont Group's major shareholders include the Bechtels, but also George P. Shultz (and a roster of many unnamed, secretive investors including members of the Saudi elite). Not to be out buddied by Parsky's connections to the "Bechtelians," Blum is not only doing business with them, he also appointed Shultz to the board of his UC Berkeley Center for the Study of Developing Economies. In addition to pooling their money together, Blum also steers the "liberal" Brookings Institution with other Bechtel-connected executives like the Fremont Group's president and CEO Alan Dachs.

Blum and the Bechtels have millions riding on Kinetic Concepts. Last year the company made an interesting comment in its Annual Report about the possibility of healthcare reform legislation coming before the Congress:

"The demand for our products is highly dependent on the policies of third-party payers such as Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance and managed care organizations that reimburse us for the sale and rental of our products. If coverage or payment policies of these third-party payers are revised in light of increased efforts to control healthcare spending or otherwise, the amount we may be reimbursed or the demand for our products may decrease."

Kinetic Concepts is actively lobbying the White House to shape healthcare reform legislation. A recent AP article reports that "Joel Johnson, a lobbyist with close ties to Rahm Emanuel, appears to have met with his friend one-on-one in May," and that "Johnson, a partner at the Glover Park Group, lobbies for several health interests including United Healthcare Services Inc. and Kinetic Concepts Inc., a medical products maker." Kinetic Concepts has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the last two years on lobbying to ensure that reforms do not cut into their profits. You can browse their lobbying activity here.

Tom Daschle, Obama's first choice for Secretary of Health and Human Services, the man who was supposed to drive healthcare reform through the Congress, was also briefly a business partner of Richard C. Blum's. They sat alongside one another on the board of the largest commercial real estate firm in the world, CB Richard Ellis for a stint after Daschle left the Senate. Daschle later resigned from CBRE in 2008 in connection with his troubles gaining confirmation as HHS Sec.

Blum still controls CBRE.

And like any good political power broker and friend, Blum did invite Daschle to be on the board of his Berkeley Developing Economies center. Healthcare reform legislation very much resembling a handout to the insurance industry is making its way through Congress. The UC Regents just increased student fees by 32%. "Developing economies," eh?


Today on Demcracy Now! Naomi Klein stated that although Copenhagen's climate talks are occurring 10 years after Seattle's trade talks, the point of the upcoming street protests is not to disrupt the delegates, as was achieved with the WTO ministerial meeting in 1999. She claims that activists instead want heads of state to make an agreement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

However, is it this simple? Is any agreement better than no agreement? Are there possible state-led solutions that would make the problem worse?

A Reuters report today quotes an unnamed "US official" saying that the United States team "will propose an emissions reduction target" complimentary to legislation currently making its way through the Congress. The House bill proposes a 17 percent cut from 2005 levels by 2020. The Senate bill calls for a 20 percent cut. Many believe these goals are far too conservative. And how will they be achieved?

The US Congress is working on establishing a cap and trade scheme that will create a financial market for pollution credits and offsets, supposedly using "the market" to solve the problem. Cap and trade has very little support from independent economic and scientific analyst who favor a straight carbon tax.

Cap and trade schemes, however, will create huge opportunities for profit; Large financial corporations, oil companies, coal companies, and other defenders of the status quo support the kind of legislation that is likely to be passed by the US Congress within the year.

Taking this approach to Copenhagen could prove disastrous for the world by setting up an ineffective mechanism to reduce carbon emissions while simultaneously creating a financial carbon bubble the economic and ecological consequences of which could be catastrophic.

Perhaps a complete disruption of the talks would be productive if states are set to approve a global carbon market? May the protesters in Copenhagen be discerning!


More on anti-nuclear imperialism: California's nuclear nexus

In the coming December issue of Z Magazine Will Parrish, Nick Robinson and I are publishing an in-depth article detailing the historic origins of anti-nuclear imperialism.

We locate this strategy's intellectual and political foundations within several California based-institutions which are themselves deeply embedded in the Golden State's nuclear and arms manufacturing industries - thus the "nuclear nexus." We hope this piece isn't read as a conspiracy theory, but rather as a sociological account of how nuclear policy is made, by whom, and for what ends. This is power structure research.

From the weapons laboratories at Los Alamos and Livermore to the University of California, Stanford and its Hoover Institute, and corporations like Bechtel, we trace personal and institutional linkages developed over many decades and refashioned during the post-Cold War/9-11 transition. The current fad among elites to speak about nuclear disarmament is, we claim, part of a coherent strategy to de-emphasize nuclear weapons in US military force projection, so as to actually strengthen the United States in global diplomatic and military confrontations. Many moderates and conservatives will probably ask, "isn't this a good thing?" We think not. We identify the US as an empire and believe that the healthiest outcome of its current crisis of legitimacy and power will be a controlled decline, including a numerical and qualitative reduction of its nuclear armaments.

Among our main goals in writing this article is an attempt to redirect the politics of the US antinuclear field. To date too many NGOs, academics, and grassroots activists have been far too eager and uncritical in their invocation of the Hoover Plan, now Obama's plan in gestation for "nuclear disarmament."

Specifically, too many opponents of nuclear weapons have given the weapons laboratories, military, and allied corporations far too much leeway in preempting any rational, democratic policy to downsize and disarm the arsenal. The nuclear complex has been modestly successful in recent years circumventing any possible democratic process by pursuing expensive, long-term infrastructural investments in the bombplex of the future. We hope that antinuclear forces will begin to care more about the concrete plans underway at LANL, LLNL, Sandia and other sites, and pay less attention to the simplistic and abstract musings of elder US imperialist-statesmen.