We're Sorry

I was reading through the FY2010 Department of Defense Authorization Act today (don't ask why) and I found this odd little section, an apology of sorts. Note the disclaimer toward the end. Is an apology without any self-requirement to act actually an apology?

apology to native peoples of the united states
    Sec. 8113. (a) Acknowledgment and Apology- The United States, acting through Congress--
      (1) recognizes the special legal and political relationship Indian tribes have with the United States and the solemn covenant with the land we share;
      (2) commends and honors Native Peoples for the thousands of years that they have stewarded and protected this land;
      (3) recognizes that there have been years of official depredations, ill-conceived policies, and the breaking of covenants by the Federal Government regarding Indian tribes;
      (4) apologizes on behalf of the people of the United States to all Native Peoples for the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by citizens of the United States;
      (5) expresses its regret for the ramifications of former wrongs and its commitment to build on the positive relationships of the past and present to move toward a brighter future where all the people of this land live reconciled as brothers and sisters, and harmoniously steward and protect this land together;
      (6) urges the President to acknowledge the wrongs of the United States against Indian tribes in the history of the United States in order to bring healing to this land; and
      (7) commends the State governments that have begun reconciliation efforts with recognized Indian tribes located in their boundaries and encourages all State governments similarly to work toward reconciling relationships with Indian tribes within their boundaries.
    (b) Disclaimer- Nothing in this section--
      (1) authorizes or supports any claim against the United States; or
      (2) serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States.



    "Fuck the po-po's,
    The president too,
    Any military branch,
    And the veteran troops,
    Gotta make sure any nigga ready for combat,
    And pick up where the Black Panthers stopped at...."
    —The Show, Freedom Land

    The veil of authority and legitimacy shielding most urban police forces against popular suspicion and distrust simply doesn't exist in New Orleans. Hardly anyone likes or trusts the po-po. Rather than being a matter of mutual-dislike solely between the city's working class communities of color and the boys in blue, wariness with the police force crosses many class and race boundaries. Sure, there's your typical correlation set between income-level/whiteness/residential address and the likelihood that one "trusts" the police, but unlike other major metropolitan areas where the vast majority of whites and the vast majority of middle class residents identify with the badge of authority, in the Greater New Orleans region this isn't the case at all.

    Why? It's a long story that I can't delve into here entirely, but here's an attempt. It has a lot to do with the takeover of city government, including the police department, by black elites in the 1980s; subsequent white flight into the burbs (Jefferson, St. Bernard, St. Tammany Parishes); the redrawing of patronage and corruption networks that cut many formerly enfranchised white elites out of the game; empowerment of a new cohort of white and black "businessmen"; and of course the maintenance of the city's (now majority) black working class as a super-exploited and hyper-marginalized pool of reserve labor.

    By the 1980s the city's white elite, still in control of the banks, factories, real estate, and other significant pools of capital, were being forced to work with the new black comprador regime in City Hall. This arrangement would ultimately produce a bureaucratic corps of black middle class civil servants and a small but politically potent group of black capitalists and political operatives. And of course it would pave the way for massive profits and accumulation of power among the white business elites willing to play by the new post-Apartheid rules.

    Meanwhile the white middle class, long having a monopoly on the city's white collar jobs, badges of authority, and official titles, was feeling threatened by the sudden darkening of the police force —one symbol among many that stoked their fears of losing privilege and power in all public spheres. In this way many whites and many middle class citizens, came to distrust the NOPD, even though they lost nothing in the end except their direct control over the public purse and state apparatus.

    After much internal strife and Civil Rights Movement agitation the NOPD was transformed from a highly corrupt, all-white force, to a still highly-corrupt and newly "diverse" force of black and white men who, in the formulation of Max Weber, claimed a monopoly on the "legitimate use of violence within a given territory." This claim of legitimacy would never stick so well in New Orleans though. Afterall, it was in the 1980s that some officers would also claim a major share of the city's drug trade and other vice crimes, at levels exceeding any past examples of the force's corruption. It was precisely this racial transition to a police force with black officers, commanders, and chiefs that produced the now complex and unpredictable lines of distrust between the NOPD and the citizenry at large. Ok, enough said, cause this history is far too complex to fully interrogate here.

    The actual point of this piece is to reflect a little on the war currently raging between the people of New Orleans and the NOPD.

    With a legendary record of corruption and violence, one that escalated against working class blacks in the 1980s and 1990s, it would be difficult to argue that the NOPD hasn't been at war with the city's impoverished black communities. Murders, set ups, drug rings, arms and drug dealing, prostitution, protection rackets, assaults, trumped charges, false imprisonment... the NOPD has done it all around public housing and throughout the heavily black and low-income 9th Ward and Central City. In addition to participating in organized crime, it has been the department's penchant for treating all working class black New Orleanians as "thugs" to be roughed up and disrespected that has engendered so much suspicion and built up so much resistance against the force. So it's no surprise the vast majority of people don't trust the po-po and steer clear of them when possible.

    In Uptown, where the city is majority white and middle class, the story's different. The NOPD are never seen beating and pillaging off of St. Charles Ave. or around the University (unless it's a "thug" or other suspicious pedestrian who happened to wander too far down around Audubon. And up there citizen's distrust of the police is manifested differently, for very different reasons. It ain't "fuck the po-leece!" Rather, it's the fondness for privatized security that reveals the white middle class's turn away from the NOPD. It's not that these enfranchised citizens fear or despise the police for the violence the department directs at some race and class segments of the population —for the NOPD don't beat up on white Uptowners or allow cocaine to be sold to their children. Rather, it's a proprietary thing; Uptowners distrust the police precisely because the force is so deeply embedded in the city's vast and dark underworld of drugs, vice, and violence. And can such a corrupt force really be relied on to protect, during those times of crisis, the wealth of the propertied class?

    That said, it's still not uncommon to see off-duty NOPD being hired to guard posh Uptown social events, and it can hardly be said that the main directive of the NOPD, when they're not brutalizing the poor for kicks or profits of their own, is to maintain a social order that sanctifies and defends the accumulation of private property and wealth in those Uptown mansions. (It might be necessary here to note too that some of that Uptown wealth constitutes the foundation of the city's vast dark underworld of drugs, vice, and violence. After all, is it not true that, as Balzac has been paraphrased, that "behind every great fortune there is a great crime!")

    This war between New Orleanians and their police department is being waged on several fronts right now. The most active front concerns the police murders and shootings that took place in the days following Hurricane Katrina. The feds have been investigating the slayings of Ronald Madison, James Brissette, Henry Glover, and Matthew McDonald (several among many shot by the police during Katrina's aftermath). In the case of Madison and Brissette —both of whom were killed by the NOPD on September 4th on the Danziger Bridge in a hail of bullets from a team of officers that wounded for additional citizens— a former Lt., Michael Lohman, has pled guilty in federal court to a count of conspiring to obstruct justice.

    Lohman's plea comes after the seven officers who shot Madison and Brissette were exonerated by a state court in 2008, in a trial that was widely perceived in New Orleans to be a formality of injustice, a kind of modern day Emmet Till affair. Indeed, when the officers arrived in 2007 to Central Lockup, on charges of murder and assault brought against them by a grand jury, they were rallied around by hundreds of fellow NOPD officers who fraternally sent a message across the entire town, 'don't fuck with the force,' and 'we look after our own.' It was a chilling display for anyone who thought Madison's and Brissette's families had been wronged. Indeed, it was a chilling display for anyone every wronged by the NOPD, and that's a very long list.

    Lohman's plea reopens the possibility of indictments that will lead to convictions of the officers who actually pulled the trigger on Madison and Brissette, and who may have perpetrated other crimes during those hot and sweaty days after Katrina. Those were days in which cops were encouraged by their commanding officers and partners not to write up incident reports, or merely to state "miscellaneous," and "NAT" - necessary action taken.

    NOPD Chief Warren Riley reacted to Lohman's plea calling it "a shock to me and the entire department." The city's traditionally police-friendly newspaper, the Times-Picayune, rightly judged the significance of the plea with a headline reading, "Retired officer's guilty plea in Danziger Bridge case a blow to a struggling NOPD."

    This and other "blows" against the NOPD come after years of popular agitation for federal intervention and stepped up local resistance against police brutality and corruption, much of it stemming from the wild abuses that were so apparent in the aftermath of Katrina. Among the most instrumental in pressing for justice have been the victim's families who have tenaciously hung on and pushed forward even while internal NOPD investigations, and local and state courts dismiss their claims of civil rights violations. Beyond the Katrina murders in which family and friends have braved out intimidation and obfuscation by local authorities, families of those murdered and brutalized after the chaos of 2005 have put more pressure on the department. Adolph Grimes III's family, for example, continues to support an ongoing federal probe into his slaying at the hands of nine plain clothes officers in early 2009.

    Another means by which New Orleanians have been fighting back against police brutality and impunity has been through artistic subversion. After Katrina a slew of songs were dished out by rappers like Lil' Wayne and Juvenile, through the 2 Cent project featuring Mack Maine, The Show, Dee-1, K. Gates, Young A, Nutt tha Kid, and Dizzy, through Dizzy's own solo projects, the 504 Boyz, and many others, in which the NOPD's brutal attacks on storm survivors were recalled and condemned. Admonitions of police abuses such as Lil' Wayne's resonated with popular experiences during the storm and affirmed ongoing forms of resistance to NOPD predation;
    "nigga shot dead in the middle of the street,
    I ain't no thief,
    I'm just tryin' to eat,
    man fuck the po-lice,
    and President Georgia (Bush)!"
    As the feds were just beginning to look into Madison's slaying Dee-1 rapped on Freedom Land:
    Maybe I'll go to jail if I say this,
    But the po-lice is crooked like teeth without braces,
    Racist, hypocritical, and I ain't too political,
    But dawg, this is pitiful...."
    On the same track Mack Maine lamented:
    "They even shot one of my people that was innocent,
    That said he wasn't have'n it,
    Look what they did to Ronald Madison,
    Rest in peace to Ronald Madison...."
    It should come as no surprise that the police state has struck back against many an emcee. Just yesterday Juvenile was busted by the St. Bernard Sheriff's Department for possession of Marijuana. The cops, according to news reports, turned up at a house that served as a recording studio for Juvie and his friends after a neighbor smelled the smoke and called in. Juvie and crew were subsequently searched and arrested by a narcotics squad. Never mind that Juvenile is a major economic provider for New Orleans, being one of its most high profile artists, and that possession of marijuana is a victimless crime. The cops found a few buds as sufficient cause to put him in cuffs and parade him off to jail. It brings to my mind a triplet rhyme off his 1999 album Tha G Code:

    "It's niggas like you that be givin' niggas like me up
    I'm tryin' ta figure if you work for tha police or what
    You plobly hangin' 'round a nigga 'cause you need a buck...."

    That album's title and cover was telling. The cover featured Juvenile crouching in a driveway of the Magnolia, one of New Orleans' public housing developments torn down after Katrina in the name of "poverty de-concentration". Evidence markers litter the ground. An NOPD SWAT vehicle is parked nearby and a horse-mounted NOPD officer looks on. Tha G Code alluded to across the album's tracks refers to a gangsta code of norms and honor, which includes not talking to, or dealing with the police, who are not not just depicted as the enemy of local outlaws, but as persecutors of the entire community. The po-lice appear on Juvenile's albums as just another powerful gang presence terrorizing the streets.

    Lil' Wayne is already in prison of course, having surrendered himself on February 9th after being convicted on gun possession charges stemming back several years. As rap's most prolific motormouth, Mr. Carter has an amazing body of work that includes more than a few reference to the corruption and brutality of the police. Right up there with Juvie, he's one of New Orleans' most popular bards. His croon can be heard just about everywhere in the N.O., for just as dis-like of the police crosses many racial and class boundaries, so does appreciation of Weezie F. His unflinching treatment of the NOPD in many songs again reflects popular sentiments and resistance to the force, especially among his black working class fans.

    "Free Lil' Wayne" mixtapes are a hot commodity these days in rap's vast bootleg submarkets. There was even a "Reclaim the Streets" party in the French Qaurter in November last year at which revelers hung banners demanding Weezie's liberation, as well as the freedom of Baton Rouge rapper Lil' Boosie who has been imprisoned on marijuana charges. The partygoers posted this explanation on their blog afterwards:
    "This was a lively rolling New Orleans street party highlighting the imprisonment of hometown hero Lil Wayne and Baton Rouge’s Lil Boosie as examples of how the police and prison industrial complex do not work. There are a thousand reasons to love the best rapper alive; besides inspiring and keeping a much-needed focus on New Orleans, Lil Wayne (along with Atlanta’s Gorilla Zoe) was also instrumental in breaking Goblin Awareness into the hip-hop mainstream. He and Boosie have brought happiness, hope, and strength through music to people around the world. Think about it: how does putting them in prison make anyone safer? Furthermore, why is marijuana illegal? Why do we allow people to tell us what is or isn’t permitted? And Weezie’s arrest was bullshit… “attempted weapons possession?” What does that even mean?… Where was the NRA or other mainstream so-called “rights”
    groups to stick up for him?"
    All of this is occurring in the context of a major struggle over the shape and powers of the New Orleans Independent Police Monitor. The NOPD and the powerful Fraternal Order of Police have been waging war against this office which they fear could bring more than a few of their own to justice. This war against even the concept of an independent police investigative watch dog has been so effective as to delay the establishment of the office for seven years since it was approved by voters in 2001. So far they and other powerful conservative authoritarian forces have managed to de-fang the position of Independent Police Monitor, so much so that the office's powers are limited to merely reviewing completed investigations carried out by the NOPD's own Public Integrity Bureau.


    Disaster Capitalist University

    [by Will Parrish & Darwin Bond-Graham, courtesy of the AVA]

    This past July, following the California State Legislature's decision to strip $813 million from the University of California's Fiscal Year 2009-10 budget, the UC's 26-member Board of Regents voted unanimously to declare “a state of financial emergency.” Such a “state of emergency,” the university's official by-laws state, should accompany an “imminent and substantial deficiency in available university financial resources.”

    The Regents also voted to grant special “emergency powers” to UC President Mark G. Yudof. Yudof promptly marshaled his new and vaguely defined authority to lay off hundreds of workers, impose pay cuts and furloughs on remaining university staff, and propose a 32 percent increase in student fees which the Regents approved in November.

    At the same meeting, Regents Chairman Russell Gould announced the formation of a new UC Commission on the Future. Its de facto function has been to further the privatization of the university. Notably, Gould is one of California's most prominent financiers, a man who served as vice chairman of Wachovia Bank during its growth as one of the leading subprime mortgage lenders in the United States. He and Yudof serve as the commission's co-chairmen. In Gould's words, the commission's task is "nothing short of re-imagining" the University of California.

    In her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine, journalist Naomi Klein describes the rise of a political and economic system she calls “disaster capitalism,” under which the preferred method of reshaping the world in the interest of multinational corporations is to systematically exploit the state of fear and disorientation that accompanies moments of great shock and crisis. Among the main prototypes Klein offers for this insidious form of economic and social engineering are Augusto Pinochet's Chilean regime, installed by the CIA in 1973, along with the US invasion and occupation of Iraq and the US government response to the crisis of Hurricane Katrina. During these disastrous moments, leaders typically invoke "states of emergency" and heap special powers on themselves to ram through unpopular and unnecessary measures.

    The function of a rhetorical emphasis on emergencies and disasters, Klein notes, is to legitimate actions that would normally be rejected by the vast majority of the population. “Economic shock therapy,” a term frequently used by the International Monetary Fund to describe large-scale privatization of publicly owned assets, is the inevitable course that results from this strategy.

    The State of California's political elites and business leaders have taken to using this language of crisis now whenever discussing the UC. In the past few decades, state funding of the university has suffered steady erosion. The UC now receives more funding than ever from private corporations and the federal government (the latter being in most instances pretty much the same as the former). Its various revenue streams range from student fees to several billion dollars in medical hospital revenue to private grants and donations, to its own hedge fund-like investments portfolio, to atomic bomb dollars from the Department of Energy.

    Thus, despite the state budget cuts, the UC's overall revenue reached an all-time high of $19.42 billion in the 2009-10 academic year, and the Regents' claim that the UC faces an “imminent and substantial” funding deficit is inaccurate, to say the least. According to both the university's own financial documents and Moody's bond rating agency, the university had access to over $8.3 billion in unrestricted investment funds it was holding in reserve at the time.

    The university has undergone a neo-liberal-style “structural adjustment” at the behest of the UC Regents, and this transformation has been accelerated during Yudof's tenure as president. Under the leadership of California's economic elite, the UC has become the leading prototype for a "disaster capitalist university."

    Since the mid-1990s, administrative salaries have absorbed a dramatically increasing share of the university's overall budget. According to a study by UC Berkeley Professor Emeritus of Physics Charles Schwartz, the number of UC administrative positions increased by an almost unbelievable 118 percent from 1996 to 2006, as compared with a 34 percent increase in faculty positions and 33 percent increase in students over the same period. As a result, there are currently 3,600 UC employees who make more than $200,000 a year, many of them through administrative positions.

    An even more damning revelation was made public this past October when UC Santa Cruz Professor Bob Meister published his scathing analysis of the UC administration's use of student tuition dollars as collateral for construction bond debts. In addition to his PhD in economics, Meister serves as Chairman of the Council of University Faculties – essentially, a faculty union with representatives on all 10 of the university's campuses. He knows what he's talking about. According to the Regents' own data and policy documents, the primary use of student fee revenue since 2004 has been as collateral for bonds to fund campus construction projects. In this "modified credit swap," students are forced to take out "subprime" student loans, often charging six percent interest, so the university can borrow money at a reduced rate to construct new facilities like – to take one example -- the Blum Center for Developing Economies at UC Berkeley, which UC Regent Richard C. Blum's own construction company, URS Corporation, was contracted by the university to build.

    And those subprime student loans? They're often owned by big banks like Wachovia and other financial outfits that many of the UC Regents and their business partners are shareholders or executives of. So the whole cycle begins and ends with massive public and student debts, both of which increase as the Regents partake in further undermining the tax base while looting the public sector, again ratcheting up the crisis rhetoric.

    UC Los Angeles instructor Bob Samuels has observed that “Moody's even slipped into its bond rating for the UC system the need for the [UC] to restrain labor costs, increase student fees, diversify revenue streams, feed the money-making sectors, and resist the further unionization of its employees,” Samuels concludes that, “like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or World Bank, the bond raters tie access to credit to the dismantling of the public sector and the adoption of neo-liberal ideology.”

    To understand fully why the University of California's internal finances are being subjected to “economic shock therapy,” much like a Third World debtor nation under the thumb of the IMF, it's necessary to know a bit about the history and function of the university's power structure. Although it is nominally a public institution, the UC is not owned and governed by the State of California. Rather, it is the UC Regents who call all the shots. The Board of Regents is a corporate entity formed in 1879 for the explicit purpose of thwarting a populist social movement of small farmers who demanded that the the university become more responsive to their needs.

    "During a tumultuous decade in California history," historian John Aubrey Douglass has written, "many saw the new University of California as serving the interests of the upper classes, focusing on classical 'gentlemanly training' and replicating the Yankee private institutions of the East. The detractors of the university demanded that, as an instrument of social and economic development, the university primarily serve the training and research needs of agriculture and industry, the stated 'leading objective' of the institution under statutory law."

    During the California constitutional convention of that year, a clique of mostly San Francisco-based financiers and industrialists managed to defeat the democratic demands of farmers and small business owners. The crowning achievement of this elitist coup was the establishment of the UC Board of Regents, a corporate entity that owns and operates the university. To maintain their power against all opposition the Regents gave themselves twelve year tenures that are explicitly meant to insulate them from any political pressures. The UC thus became what Douglass calls "a fourth branch of state government."

    Since then, the leading sectors of the California economy have self-appointed individuals who represent their economic interests on the Board. The Regents mold UC policies in broad ways that benefit capital's leading monopoly sectors. The current going price for an appointment – probably the most prestigious one at the governor's disposal, it should be noted – seems to be $50,000, bare minimum. Give the Gov. this sum, and you too could be a Regent.

    Until relatively recently, that meant that Regents would promote policies designed to build cutting edge economic sectors in and around the UC campuses. So, for much of the Board's history, they've acted as Karl Marx's ideal government: an executive board of the “bourgeoisie,” working if not for the interest of every industry, at least most. In recent years, the Board of Regents has become dominated by financiers, however. As with the economy at large, these wizards of hedge funds, credit markets, venture capital, real estate speculation, and all the other games played with billion dollar pots of money, have begun to run the university itself as a $19 billion dollar speculative bubble with ample opportunities for enormous growth through “volatility.”

    These new alpha Regents specialize in leveraged buyouts and privatization of publicly traded companies, and they have long practiced this same basic business philosophy on the university.

    In recent years, the most prominent among this cadre has been Richard Blum. As we detailed in last week's AVA, Blum's five-decade career as a finance capitalist has been distinguished by the levels of skill and panache he has applied to the time-honored task of siphoning off public money into one's own corporate coffers, as well as those of one's financial and political allies. Blum, who is married to US Senator Dianne Feinstein, is one of the leading power-brokers in the Democratic Party within both California and the United States.

    Notably, it was Blum who virtually hand-picked President Yudof for UC President, having chaired the selection committee that oversaw Yudof's appointment. At a March 2008 press conference heralding the Yudof hiring, the San Francisco Chronicle noted that Blum seemed “visibly ecstatic.” In April, the Chronicle quoted Blum again, saying of Yudof, "we disagree on almost nothing. If I were giving Mark a grade, I would give him an A-plus.”

    Another prime example of the university's “investors' club” (the title of an upcoming series by investigative reporter Peter Byrne) is Gerald Parsky, a San Diego venture capitalist who reportedly commutes daily by jet to Los Angeles. As a Republican Party powerhouse, Parsky was so influential during his 1996-2008 tenure on the Regents that the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) dubbed a particularly influential faction of the Board “The Parsky Clique.” In addition to being president of Los Angeles-based Aurora Capital, recent additions to Parsky's resume include acting as senior economic advisor to John McCain presidential campaign and as chairman of the Schwarzenegger administration's Commission on the 21st Century Economy. Just as Parsky helped steer the UC toward ever-greater privatization throughout his tenure as a Regent, his commission issued a series of recommendations on reforming the state's tax and revenue system in a manner more favorable to big business, even prompting some observers to label the Parsky Commission's proposals “California's Shock Doctrine.”

    Current Regents Chairman Russell Gould is another financier and California Republican Party heavy. In addition to his role at Wachovia Bank, he served as California Director of Finance in the Pete Wilson administration in the 1990s. After that, he served a stint as assets managers of the $5.5 billion J. Paul Getty Trust Fund, a charitable organization founded with money from the Getty oil fortune. The Gettys are neighbors of one Richard Blum and Dianne Feinstein in San Francisco's uber-bourgeoise Pacific Heights neighborhood, where Mr. and Mrs. DiFi purchased a $16.5 million palatial estate in 2005.

    (As an aside, the Getty Trust was run in those years by one Barry Munitz, former chancellor of the California State University System. From 1984 to 1991, Munitz was vice president of Maxaam Corporation under Charles Hurwitz, as the company clear-cut the lands and livelihoods of California North Coast residents. Munitz has since been a leading force behind shaping the California Business Roundtable's public education policy agenda, which strongly favors neo-liberal privatization.)

    Another Regent, Paul Wachter, acts as Gov. Schwarzengger's personal financial adviser. Regent George Marcus is a lead organizer of The Real Estate Roundtable, the main political voice of real estate capital in the United States. Regent Judith Hopkinson, whose tenure recently ended, is a retired executive of Ameriquest Capital Corporation, a big mortgage company that is partly responsible for precipitating the current economic crisis: Ameriquest lent billions in sub-prime loans to families across the US knowing full well they would have trouble making payments down the line as rates increased. And the list goes on.

    One of the primary enterprises Richard Blum has presided over in recent years is the real estate corporation CB Richard Ellis. With projects in nearly 100 countries, CBRE is the largest brokerage firm on the planet. In a notable example of how Blum's own particular business interests have become increasingly enmeshed with those of the university, during the course of his tenure as a Regent, CBRE has contracted with at least eight of the UC's 10 campuses over the past decade. Most often, the company has consulted with these campuses to produce glossy reports highlighting the beneficial economic impacts on the immediate regions that host them, as well as that of California in general. The UC's San Francisco, Davis, Berkeley, San Diego, and Riverside campuses have all paid CBRE to produce precisely these kinds of economic development treatises.

    Each of these CBRE reports marshals a wide range of statistical data to promote a particular vision of the UC's role in California's larger economy and society. While paying occasional lip service to the UC's contributions to “the richness of California culture,” the reports overwhelmingly emphasize the UC's role in fostering high-tech business enterprise, premised on a decidedly Reagan-esque view of the inherent superiority of top-down economic spending. The core purpose of UC San Diego, according to one CBRE report, is to fuel “the expansion of the skilled labor pool for high-tech businesses and biotech businesses in San Diego.” UC Irvine is “an economic engine powering prosperity” owing to its various big business spin-offs and the high-tech start-up companies founded by its faculty.

    The implicit conclusion is that the university's complete subordination to monopoly capital is the primary reason for its existence, and that anything the UC could do for biotech, aerospace, real estate, and finance capital, it should do. In this way, the shift to privatization of the university's finances, including student fees that are redirected to pay for campus construction projects, goes hand-in-hand with the efforts of state and business elites to render the university a wholesale servant of California's neo-liberal economic machinery. Under this model, State funding is seen as akin to "local matching funds," sweetening the investment pot much like the role federal highway funds play in road projects, the main purpose being not to make the university affordable for students, but rather to expand the university's physical footprint and build fancy new research centers that will create all manner of techno-gadgetry to inflate the next bubble.

    The UC Regents, in other words, have come to conceive of UC campuses almost entirely as incubators for a constellation of mini-Silicon Valleys: alliances of venture capitalists, real estate speculators, and high-tech entrepreneurs writ large upon large and overlapping swaths of California. It stands to reason that the UC's leadership would be enamored of the region of the United States that is home to more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the country, but which has also seen one of the sharpest declines in real wages among its working class. Silicon Valley also leads the way with the most temporary workers per capita, the highest level of economic inequity between genders, and the greatest concentration of toxic Superfund sites in the United States. Neo-liberalism in a nutshell.

    Even so, the Regents and UC's executives have long spoken in excited tones about spreading the model. The UC's newest campus, UC Merced, was sold entirely on the premise that it would produce a critical mass of biotechnologists, nanotechnologists, engineers, and other wizards of the ruling high-tech religion that mythically creates economic booms that lift all boats. Currently, though, the Central Valley is experiencing some of the greatest levels of unemployment and highest home foreclosure rates in the country. UC Santa Cruz, traditionally the arts and humanities campus of the UC system, was transformed during this era into what some administrators happily called the "Silicon Beach." Much like with the global neo-liberal economy it has done so much to advance, the great majority who don't already possess ample resources are left under this model to fend for themselves.

    Laytonville native Natalie Rose-Engber is one local resident whose has borne the impact of the ongoing structural adjustment of the university, as of California's economy in general. She was also one of the students involved in opposing the Regents in their treatment of the university like their own private business enterprise during her time as a student.

    Rose-Engber grew up at the Black Oak Ranch, better known as “The Hog Farm,” the famed intentional community with outposts in Laytonville and Berkeley. In 2007 and 2008, she was one among perhaps a few hundred UC students who often made the trek to the remote corners of the UC system where the Regents held their "public" meetings. Students would speak during the notoriously brief public comment periods, hold rallies, and occasionally disrupt the proceedings when all else failed -- and all else invariably did.

    “The Regents would just be sitting there typing on their computers and not listening to any of the students,” Rose-Engber recalls. “But, of course, they're almost all multi-millionaires and directors of multi-national corporations. What do they know about being a student who's saddled with mountains of debt they'll spend the rest of their life paying off?”

    Rose-Engber's debt is roughly $40,000. That same sum of money, a little more than one generation prior, would have been enough to buy a first home. Though she says her time at UCSB was an invaluable part in shaping who she's become, Rose-Engber wonders what her future has in store, having assumed such a large debt burden during a period of protracted economic decline and widespread joblessness. There are tens of thousands of young Californians who are annually being saddled with similarly crushing debts at UC and the CSU campuses, a condition that forecloses on their future choices, making virtual indentured servants of many of them.

    As with every other region of California, Mendocino County is now experiencing a surplus of university grads whose futures are constrained by heavy debt. Extrapolating from the UC's enrollment and retention data, approximately 275 students hailing from this area have been enrolled at one or another of the UC's 10 campuses at any given point in the last decade. During the past four years alone, that group collectively paid or borrowed more than $7 million in university fee money. Had they attended the university eight years before, they would have paid less than $3 million. For comparison's sake, the extra $4 million-plus that the Regents have extracted from local students and families would be enough to cover more than half of Mendocino County's present budget gap.

    As student fees continue to skyrocket, it is well to keep in mind that Blum is a part owner of a pair of for-profit education companies. Blum Capital Partners owns a large stake in Career Education Corporation, the world's second largest private “diploma mill” corporation, which runs more than one hundred for-profit schools across the country, while also making tens of millions of dollars in sub-prime loans to its students. Blum Capital also owns a 19 percent stake in ITT Educational Services, Inc., another for-profit school that makes millions off student loan debt. Blum, the UC Board of Regents' resident siphoner-in-chief of public funds, purchased more than 220,000 new shares in the firm soon after the UC Regents approved the University of California's latest fee increase this past November.

    If the UC is prioritizing various toxic combinations of science and industry at the expense of students, then what are those projects? Examples abound. In June 2006, the UC announced an agreement with the world's second largest oil company, British Petroleum, whereby it will receive half a billion dollars per year over 10 years, principally for research into genetically modified elephant grass and other transgenic plants that are candidates to produce alcohol for non-fossil car fuel. The project is housed as a facility on campus called the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI).

    This is one of UC Berkeley's largest current applied research programs, and it naturally comes straight from the disaster capitalist playbook. The project is justified under the pretense of helping to solve two major crises - global climate change and its twin bogeyman, oil depletion. In reality, biofuel monoculture has become perhaps the leading cause of dispossession of small farmers in the Global South, as well as the destruction of important ecosystems such as the Amazon Basin rain forest. “If the governments promoting biofuels do not reverse their policies,” journalist George Monbiot has warned, “the humanitarian impact will be greater than that of the Iraq war. Millions will be displaced, hundreds of millions more could go hungry.”

    Berkeley's biofuels institute will only further enable multi-national corporations to penetrate, reorganize, poison and despoil the lands, livelihoods, and psyches of Amazon Basin and other cultures. The net impact of the EBI on the environment – that is, the actually existing ecosystems of South America, Indonesia, et al. – will be decidedly negative. On the day of the contract signing, then-UC President Robert Dynes heralded it as “a great day for Mother Earth.”

    Both Dynes and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Director Stephen Chu, now duly installed as the Obama administration's secretary of energy, referred to this project as a “new Manhattan Project.” It was a fitting designation, although the original Manhattan Project never quite ended, and it has only gained ground under a president who sold the world on “hope” and “change.” The UC continues to co-manage the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore nuclear weapons compounds, which have designed every nuclear weapon in the US arsenal dating from the annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as part of for-profit partnerships with the world's largest construction and engineering firm, Bechtel Corporation. The UC-Bechtel contracts are worth as much as $80 billion in revenue over the course of their 20 year lifespans, a hefty chunk of change when you're concerned with your bond ratings.

    On February 1, the Obama administration unveiled a budget in which both of the UC's weapons labs would receive a massive funding “surge.” The proposed funding increase of 23 percent at Los Alamos would be the facility's largest since 1944. Much of that funding is for a new factory to produce plutonium bomb cores, the explosive triggers of modern thermo-nuclear warheads, for the expressed purpose of outfitting the first new nukes to be developed since the end of the Cold War. The investments are sold as the need to “maintain the US nuclear deterrent” in a time of rapidly escalating threats, allegedly, from Iran, North Korea, and potentially even nuclear-armed terrorists.

    Again, crisis begets opportunity if you're properly positioned in the most privileged circles, so it's fitting that one of the two junior partners in the UC-Bechtel management team should be Richard Blum's now-former company, URS Corporation. At the time Blum became a Regent, URS already had a $125 million contract to perform construction and engineering at Los Alamos. It was a natural extension of his general business philosophy that Blum would have been eying wholesale ownership of the weapons lab at the time.

    That in mind, perhaps a little Q & A is in order. Which entities now run the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore weapons labs? The University of California, Bechtel, and URS Corporation, along with a couple of other junior partners. Which UC Regent had a lucrative financial partnership with the Bechtel family, via a $3.5 billion medical technology supplies company named Kinetic Concepts, that precedes the UC-Bechtel weapons lab partnership by eight years? Richard Blum. Who was URS Corporation's primary financier and vice president for three decades? Richard Blum. Which UC Regent was among a select group of policy wonks who participated in a nuclear weapons policy conference in Oslo, Norway, in 2007, organized largely by a long-time Bechtel executive, George Shultz, who has been instrumental to securing the weapons labs' recent funding increases? We won't even bother answering that last question – this exercise has become entirely rhetorical.

    From its inception, the University of California has been an institution inherently bound up with the course of American empire. It was the 18th century British philosopher George Berkeley's poem “America: A Prophesy” that inspired the university's early trustees to adopt him as their flagship campus' namesake. The poem's final stanza perfectly captured their vision of the university's larger social role, that of intellectual hub for ever-expanding American capitalism, which was itself to herald an end of history liberal utopia. Notably, the same stanza also helped occasion the idea of “Manifest Destiny,” the widely held belief in the mid-19th century that a Protestant God had divinely ordained the United States to expand westward to conquer and subdue the American Indians and the “wilderness” they inhabited.

    “Westward the course of empire takes its way;
    The first four Acts already past;
    A fifth shall close the Drama with the day;
    Time's noblest offspring is the last."

    The poem's last line provides a fitting epithet for the university, as for so many institutions instrumental to the era of US economic dominance now passing in a financial meltdown. These days, the course of global capitalist empire is one of precipitous flux and decline. The UC's particular difficulties are a microcosm of wider economic and ecological difficulties facing virtually all large-scale organizations during this time of deepening crisis for capitalism generally, and for California with its status as primary exemplar of American culture and politics specifically. California's decline is best symbolized in the personas of the elite finance capitalists who now control the world's factories, mines, forests, firms, and universities - men whose cannibalistic search for ever-expanding profits has led them to destroy the social and ecological underpinnings of the entire economy. Another obvious cause for decay is American imperial overreach, which has been hastened by a pair of exorbitant military occupations.

    While the aggressive and opportunistic plans of the UC Regents and their hatchet man, President Yudof, are the most immediate cause of the university's rapid descent, it is this larger context that demands greatest attention from students, faculty, workers, and the people of California. It is highly improbable that the UC and institutions like it will ever return to an idyllic era of reliable state financial support. There will never again be low fees, an ever-expanding roster of PhDs, or increasing and diverse student enrollments. The UC is an unsustainable institution that developed as part of a wildly unsustainable period of American economic expansion. We are now in an iteration of the world capitalist economy's unraveling, and as an integral part of this economy, the university is coming undone right along with it.


    Police Murders, Katrina, Justice

    If you ask a lot people in New Orleans about police brutality and corruption they'll give you a personal story, they'll tell you about themselves, or a cousin, a brother, a sister, a close friend who got shafted by the NOPD, stuck in jail for an extended period, with no or bunk charges, beat up for talking back, or disabused in some demeaning way. The department has a long, documented history of abuses and corruption. This includes everything from random assaults to cold-blooded murders, small time drug dealing to protecting warehouses full of cocaine. If you look at enough of these cases a pattern emerges: the closer they get to poor people's neighborhoods, around public housing and areas of town like the 9th Ward, Central City, and eastern Algiers, the more corrupt and summarily violent the police tend to get. The only thing longer than the NOPD's record of documented abuses is their unofficial wrap sheet ("rap sheet") kept updated by the city's vast word of mouth networks. Regular folks do not trust the cops, and for good reason.

    Community activists from New Orleans' most over-policed neighborhoods have been trying to expose the brutality of the NOPD for decades by drawing from the experiences and knowledge-base of working class communities, and connecting this information to official channels of justice. It's been a Herculean effort with few clear victories. Post-Katrina this situation seems to have changed. I say "seems" because there's actually some major problems with the way in which many of the NOPD's Katrina-related murders are being handled by the mass media and federal government, ways that don't bode well for shifting our politics toward a more systematic kind of justice that would include regular folks.

    The federal investigations into several high-profile Katrina killings, along with the murder of Adolph Grimes have been getting more play in the press. This situation is something of a first for New Orleans. The veil of seemingly impenetrable impunity around many authorities in the Crescent City has been pierced and the possibility of more than a few cops going to jail for their crimes seems real.

    The work done by AC Thompson and company deserves a shout out, for it's now at the center of this police inquiry.

    But here's something that's been bugging me the whole time: it took an article in The Nation to prompt the FBI to investigate the murder of Henry Glover?


    So is this truly how word of Glover's gruesome killing got around to the FBI? If so, what does this say about the FBI? What hole in the sand have they been sticking their heads in? More so, what does this say about the press, especially the local media who knew about the story since 2005 but chose not to investigate? And what does this say about our media in general?

    Again, if you ask virtually anyone in New Orleans' working class neighborhoods about the behavior of the cops after Katrina they'll tell you stories of shootings, beatings, and all manner or brutality. (They'll also tell you many cops were helpful and respectful, but the universally militarized atmosphere was overwhelming, and it made individual attitudes somewhat irrelevant.) So how is it that this widely possessed body of knowledge never translated into some kind of action by the federal authorities? Why was it necessary for The Nation and Propublica to publish an article before the countless number of stories about police brutality and murder, including William Tanner's compelling testimonial, were taken seriously by federal investigators?

    In my eyes there's an obvious answer. Poor people of color have very little standing as victims, witnesses, and plaintiffs in this nation's "justice system," except perhaps when they are employed to criminalize and incarcerate one another. When they have evidence of misdeeds by powerful organizations and individuals, as is the case with respect to the NOPD's Katrina killings, they are systematically ignored and intimidated into silence, especially by local media and authorities whose tendency is to sweep things under the rug and protect the powerful. Equally, poor people of color have little access and influence over the national media discourse. They are quite often the subject of its analysis, but virtually never agents shaping that discourse. It's always been this way. It still is this way. Their opinions, experiences, and demands are not equivalent to those of more enfranchised groups.

    There's also the matter of the FBI. During the Civil Rights Movement (1954-1965) blacks caught hell in the south but were routinely told by federal officers, from the FBI through the Justice Department on up to the President, that federal intervention just couldn't happen. The rule, more often than not, was for the feds to turn down calls for assistance and investigation. We tend to think otherwise because of histories that lionize the federal state for sending troops to de-segregate high schools or for putting resources into several high-profile murders of activists, but the sad truth is that the federal government has always been unresponsive to the calls of black communities when grave injustices are perpetrated by local officials and vigilantes.

    And so it seems to be exactly the case with respect to William Tanner's testimony regarding the murder of Henry Glover. "But wait," you say, is not the FBI investigating? Sure, but according to Propublica's AC Thomspon and the Times Picayune's Brenden McCarthy and Laura Maggi this comes only after The Nation published Thompson's investigation into the murders. So we have two issues here. If we believe the reporters, the FBI is clearly in severe dereliction of duty. As I've already noted, Glover's murder was well known amongst New Orleanians from the very beginning and the agency should have been on top of this case by early 2006 at the latest. And judging from the stories I've personally been told, there are other killings that deserve scrutiny.

    But there's something else going on here that's also very troubling, and it has less to do with cops and feds and more to do with the dysfunctions of journalism. The simple truth is that contrary to what the reporters working on this story now claim, the Nation didn't break this story with Thompson's article, and as good a piece of reporting as it was, it was by no means path breaking and it did not bring very many new facts to light.

    William Tanner's testimony was out there in the public eye a year earlier for all to listen to. It was the People's Hurricane Relief Fund that provided Tanner with his first public forum in which to tell this chilling tale. At their 2007 International Tribunal on Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, held in New Orleans, PHRF assembled an international panel of conveners and judges to investigate, record, and report on official government crimes conducted during and after the storms. Tanner's testimony was one of the most shocking and worthy of follow up, but sadly the national media and local media (including the Times Picayune) refused to cover the Tribunal.

    The media blackout of the Tribunal was just a part of the larger media blackout of local, grassroots struggle against official crimes and abuses in the wake of Katrina. It was another example of how poor people of color are given very little standing as victims, witnesses, and plaintiffs in this nation's "justice system," except perhaps when they are employed to criminalize one another. When they have evidence of misdeeds by powerful organizations and individuals, poor people tend to be ignored. And in this case, when an organization led by people of color convened what was the single most important fact-finding inquest into state crimes during and after Katrina, the media simply didn't come and report, and the FBI sent no representatives.

    So now we have this fairy tale of justice in the works whereby the great white knight of the FBI has come riding into town to save the impoverished masses from a few bad apple cops, and all of New Orleans is supposed to thank The Nation?

    Both The Nation and Propublica, and the journalists leading the charge on their behalf are undoubtedly motivated to expose the truth and help obtain justice for the families who lost their sons, husbands, and fathers. But in their haste to claim this story as their own their other motives peek through: Propublica is probably interested in riding this story to a large foundation grant. The Nation surely sees its role as the news maker here as a lucrative one that will increase its readership. Neither motivation is bad per se. However, in the context of the Katrina murders and this ongoing dynamic that silences certain voices while privileging others, the journalists here who have done so much good work to amplify grassroots knowledge and demands should pay some credit where it's due, starting with PHRF. Furthermore, The Nation and Propublica don't so much deserve a pat on the back as the Times Picayune and other local media shapers deserve a kick in the ass for ignoring and suppressing this story from early on.


    The Man Behind California’s “Developing Economy”

    ...or perhaps the title to this article should read, "one of the men...." Nevertheless we feel the person in question here is a great example of California's (and therefore America's) ruling class.

    In this week's Anderson Valley Advertiser ("America's Last Newspaper") Will Parrish and I have written the first of a four part series on Richard C. Blum and Dianne Feinstein's vast political and economic empire.

    We titled it "Richard Blum: The Man Behind California's Developing Economy."

    If you want to read it please consider getting a subscription to the AVA. It's a fantastic little newspaper filled with some of the best muckraking reporting and analysis anywhere.

    In the name of accuracy and education we're publishing some further reading and references below.


    Selected references used in “California is a Developing Economy, and Guess Who's Developing it?”, Anderson Valley Advertiser, February 3:

    Paragraphs 1-4:

    * Blum Center for Developing Economies Web Site

    *Upton Sinclair's book The Goose Step

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


    * .23 percent of the population own 50 percent of the land is from Susan George, How the Other Half Die, Penguin Books, p. 24.

    *“85 percent of urban dwellers in the Third World are consigned to living on illegal squats in hellish shanty towns under conditions of grinding poverty” is from Winter King, “Illegal Settlements and the Impact of Titling Programmes,” Harvard Law Review, vol. 44, no. 2, September 2003, p. 471.

    *Regarding Haiti, see, for example, “Our Role in Haiti's Plight” by Peter Hallward


    *“The Court-Approved Lies of Charles Hurwitz” by Mark Scaramella

    *“Those White House Coffee Klatches: Who Went, What They Got” by Jeffrey St. Clair and Alexander Cockburn

    *Bay Area Coalition for Headwaters


    *“The Feinstein Files” by Peter Byrne

    *“Senator's Husband's Firm Cashes In On Crisis” by Chuck Neubauer

    *“They Pledged Your Tuition” by Bob Meister


    *“Amid Protest, Key Panels Urge Los Alamos Bid” by Keay Davidson

    *“Bankrupt State of California Starts Selling Office Buildings”