Festival Events: 2010 Chicago Labor & Arts Festival

Watch this space for new listings of events for the May, 2010 Chicago Labor &Arts Festival. This calendar is intended to promote events that reflect the goal of celebrating the joys and struggles of working class people, and promoting the efforts of artists to respond to the social crises we face. Most events are planned independently of the Festival Committee and are the responsibility of the sponsoring organizations.

THIS EVENT:  April 30


Come celebrate May Day with Tom Morello and the One Big Union!

Tom Morello/ Getty images

Start: Apr 30 2010 – 8:00pm
End: May 1 2010 – 12:00am


Bottom Lounge

1375 W. Lake St

Chicago, IL

Details here:  http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=476463775084


THIS EVENT:  May Day Weekend

A Century+ of May Days: Labor and Social Struggles International Conference

In Chicago during May Day weekend 2010, the Institute of Working Class History is holding a conference to discuss, debate and analyze labor and social struggles (both past and present).  For registration, schedule and other information see here.


THIS EVENT:  April 30 and May 1


From My Nature is Hunger, by Luis Rodriguez

[Starting with April 1 we begin a series of poems, leading up to Jack Hirschman’s visit to Chicago in May, sponsored by the Chicago Labor & Arts Festival.    The first, by Luis J. Rodriguez, is excerpted from a longer poem and taken from The People’s Tribune‘s “Fists on Fire: Poetry from the Heart of the Revolution”  — Lew Rosenbaum]

Nightfall: Poems to Ponder in War and Uncertainty

When prisons become the fastest growth industry
Our minds and hearts become the imprisoned
When the past of blood and conquest is denied
The land gives back this blood in torrents
When war is the only imagination of the people
The people’s imagination becomes an insurrection
When we sacrifice lives, including our children’s
Evil becomes as common as breathing
When truth scares us to apathy
Our only truths come from the most fantastic lies
When enemies are whoever our leaders say they are
We won’t know an enemy from a rainbow
When power and wealth drives social policy
All policies are subject to poetic death
When my son asks, do I have to go to war?
A father’s duty is to war against war first
When people say peace is the absence of conflict
They have no idea what they’re talking about
When war forces us to die outside of ourselves,
We have to learn to live from inside our bones.

Stevie Wonder and Luis Rodriguez during Stevie's show on Thursday, July 31, 2008 on KJLH-FM, 102.3, Los Angeles. Luis talked about current issues and even sang Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" with Stevie on keyboards. Photo from Luis Rodriguez' web site


I see the lost youth of America
finding their way
with plenty to fight for, not just against.
Thousands marching across the land,
walking out of schools, putting up signs,
and talking the ears off their friends.
Rigorous, animated and brave
instead of sad and silent down the hallways.

The above poems are excerpts from a longer poem published in My Nature is Hunger by Luis J. Rodriguez

Biography of Luis J. Rodriguez: Luis J. Rodriguez has emerged as one of the leading Chicano writers in the country with fourteen published books in memoir, fiction, nonfiction, children’s literature, and poetry. Luis’ poetry has won a Poetry Center Book Award, a PEN Josephine Miles Literary Award, a Paterson Poetry Book Prize, among others. His children’s booksAmerica is Her Name and It Doesn’t Have to be This Way: A Barrio Story-have won a Patterson Young Adult Book Award, two “Skipping Stones” Honor Award, and a Parent’s Choice Book Award. A short story collection, The Republic of East LA, and a novel, Music of the Mill, came out in 2001 and 2005, both from Rayo Books/Harper Collins. A a poetry collection, My Nature is Hunger: New & Selected Poems, appeared in 2005 from Curbstone Press/Rattle Edition. Limited-edition hand-made art books and broadsides of Luis’ poems have also been made by C & C Press of Pajaro, CA for sale to collectors, universities, libraries, and other institutions, including Seven, Two Women/Dos Mujeres, and Making Medicine. Read more from Luis Rodriguez’ web site .  .  .

Posted in Poetry. 1 Comment »

Automation and Robotics News — update from Tony Zaragoza

[Note:  This issue of automation and robotics news includes an archives link.  That link will now be included in the menu bar to the right of your screen for easy access — Lew Rosenbaum]

Automation and Robotics News–March 28, 2010

Highlights: Postal automation in England, Stimulus money for robots, Automation in China, Rio Tinto robot mining, automation and solar cells, NYC computerization: costly privatization and control of workers, robotic space shuttle, and Online grocer powered by automation.

Archives: http://academic.evergreen.edu/z/zaragozt/arnews.htm


Boeing’s robo-copter flexes its muscle

Jonathan Skillings, Mon Mar 15 2010

Unmanned A160T Hummingbird demonstrates ability to conduct autonomous resupply operations, a preview of front-line operations of the not-too-distant future.


Britain: Communication Workers Union sells out postal workers

By Tony Robson, 16 March 2010

Postal workers should vote decisively against acceptance of “Business Transformation 2010 and Beyond,” the agreement worked out between Royal Mail (RM) and the Communication Workers Union (CWU). The CWU called off the national strike last year and has enforced a no-strike agreement ever since. For the past four months it has participated in closed door meetings with management—chaired by Trades Union Congress representative Roger Poole. Its agreement to the confidentiality clause and the drawn out nature of the talks is because RM remains unchanged in its main objectives. The problem for the CWU has been how to package an agreement antithetical to its members’ interests. Secrecy is being followed by deception. CWU Deputy General Secretary Dave Ward said in announcing the agreement, “We have always said that we couldn’t face away from change. The agreement recognises the reality of automation, competition and the financial challenges facing the company, but it does so in a way that puts the interests of CWU members at its heart. Both sides have committed to improving industrial relations and ensuring a more positive working relationship in the best interests of everyone at Royal Mail.”

# Brazil surgical robot fixes heart in Latin America first

Sydney Morning Herald – Mar 19, 2010

Brazilian surgeons used a multi-armed robot to repair a hole in a woman’s heart in the first operation of its kind in Latin America, they told AFP Friday.

Underground Robot to Blow Up Bunkers

Gizmodo.com (blog) – Mar 15, 2010

The US Defense Threat Reduction Agency wants a robot capable of navigating underground—drilling through soil and rock—to deliver an explosive load.

Stimulus Bill Helps Pay for Robots

Posted 15 Mar 2010 at 15:58 UTC by Rog-a-matic

To encourage small businesses to invest in equipment, stimulus bills over the last couple of years have offered the “Section 179” rules. This allows a business to accelerate depreciation on equipment which deducts from their income and therefore reduces their tax burden. Rick Heflin of the 17-employee Custom Electronics Company of Maryland was faced with the question when his tax bill came up and decided to go for a new pick-and-place system. The robot can place 4000 parts per hour and improves the firm’s throughput.

# In search of low labor costs, or automation

By Stephen Moore, March 26th, 2010

China has long been seen as a nation with a massive labor force available at world beating rates, but might that be changing? Factories in export-oriented Southern China are facing labor shortages as migrant laborers return home and realize that the grass is just as green. Driven by booming domestic demand, jobs are easier to come by and though the wages may be lower, the cost of living is a fraction of what it is in the city. With skilled staff at a premium, one European machine builder with a manufacturing operation in China recently told Plastics Today that it now is almost as cheap to find a decent injection machine operator in Malaysia – at a shade over $210 per month – as it is in Shanghai at rates ranging from $235–-290 per month. That comes as a surprise given that outside of the city/state of Singapore, Malaysia has the highest labor costs among any Southeast Asian nation. So will we ever see a mass exodus of manufacturing from China to lower cost locales like Indonesia and Vietnam? Most likely the answer is a resounding “No.” For one, domestic demand in China for all manner of commodities is growing and it makes sense to serve the local market with local production. Second, companies probably often over-estimated the cost advantage of Chinese labor, and will start looking at ways to replace labor, just as they have done in higher labor-cost regions.  Sure, labor costs were a fraction in China of what they are in the West, but they might only represent a small portion of overall costs for some processing operations, and productivity might be a fraction of what it was at the processor’s home base. These savings could be wiped out by higher logistics and electricity costs, for example. Thirdly, plastics processors are realizing more and more that no matter how low labor costs might be, removing the human factor from the production flow generally leads to higher quality products. After all, robotic take-out guarantees constant cycle times and no fingerprints or scratches on the products. Prompted by higher labor costs and worker shortages, Chinese manufacturers of such commodity products as cigarette lighters are reportedly now turning to automation and finding that, if coupled with the right quality of injection machine, and then productivity can be significantly enhanced. At the higher end of the scale, foreign-owned or -managed medical molders in China already boast the same level of automation as back home. Purveyors of automation equipment could be looking forward to monster returns come April when Chinaplas opens its doors in Shanghai.

# Robots, space technology run Rio Tinto’s mining miracle

28 Mar 2010, 1300 hrs IST, AGENCIES

DAMPIER (Australia): The heavy clank of machinery rings out across a seemingly deserted Outback mine site as an invisible <http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/international-business/Robots-space-technology-run-Rio-Tintos-mining-miracle/articleshow/5734740.cms>satellite signal fires Rio Tinto’s production line into motion.  Massive stackers and reclaimers begin the task of sifting through rust-coloured piles of rich iron ore, readying them for the rail journey hundreds of kilometres from mine to port.  It’s an industrious scene — with hardly a living being in sight. “People frequently ask whether we have anyone working here at all,” one miner at Rio’s Dampier operations said.  “Due to automation and stuff most people are pretty well tucked away from the heat. There’s not a lot of manual workers.” Automation has long been a part of the mining industry, but advances in satellite, motion-sensor technology and robotics have made the stuff of science fiction a fact of everyday life. Machines which scoop the ore, dump it on a conveyor belt and hose it down are now controlled from the air-conditioned comfort of Rio Tinto’s Perth operations centre, 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) away from the arid mine pit. Hundreds of specially trained operators who once directed machines from on-site offices watch and direct the action from afar using satellite technology, with surveillance cameras feeding into some 440 monitors.

# Robots Do the Work of Multiple Solar Labs

Alyssa Danigelis | Thu Mar 25, 2010 03:00 PM ET

The National Renewable Energy Lab, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, has some new deputies in its push to develop cheaper, more efficient solar cells. Meet the NREL bots. In the shiny Process Development and Integration Laboratory (PDIL) on NREL’s Golden, Colorado campus, six special robots are assembling, measuring, and analyzing photovoltaic cells.

# Juan Gonzalez: NY Pays 230 “Consultants” $722M Per Year for Computer Project 7 Years Behind Schedule

In a cover story for the New York Daily News, Democracy Now! co-host Juan Gonzalez reports New York City is “paying some 230 ‘consultants’ an average salary of $400,000 a year for a computer project that is seven years behind schedule and vastly over budget. The payments continue despite Mayor Bloomberg’s admission the computerized timekeeping and payroll system—called CityTime—is ‘a disaster.’”


# Computer-Controlled Swarm of Bacteria Builds Tiny Pyramid

Erico Guizzo // Thu, March 25, 2010

Researchers at the NanoRobotics Laboratory of the École Polytechnique de Montréal, in Canada, are putting swarms of bacteria to work, using them to perform micro-manipulations and even propel microrobots. Led by Professor Sylvain Martel, the researchers want to use flagellated bacteria to carry drugs into tumors, act as sensing agents for detecting pathogens, and operate micro-factories that could perform pharmacological and genetic tests. They also want to use the bacteria as micro-workers for building things. Things like a tiny step pyramid.

#Upcoming Robot and AI Movie List

Posted 18 Mar 2010 at 03:56 UTC by The Swirling Brain


#Getting the Most Out of Foundry Robots

March 17, 2010
It is easy to typecast foundry robots. True, they are the tough ones, able to lift heavy loads in harsh, hot environments. But foundry robots are fully capable of playing other roles as well.  Industrial robots prove the ideal solution for a wide range of foundry jobs – from material handling to dispensing, finishing and painting. Find out how foundry robots are well-suited for many different applications.


# Phantom of the Operating Shuttle?

Posted 16 Mar 2010 by The Swirling Brain

Dvice.com reports about a mysterious Robotic Shuttle that will be launched April 19th. This is the first time I’ve even heard of such a shuttle replacement. I mean, I thought NASA dumped the idea of a shuttle completely and went for the super Apollo type mission to go to the Moon or Mars? So at a time when mothballing the old Space Shuttle debate is going ballistic, what happens? Well, it looks like the Air Force pulled a fast one and went ahead and had it’s own space shuttle secretly built by Boeing Phantom Works. The new autonomous robotic Space Shuttle is dubbed the X37B.


Drone Attacks Are Legit Self-Defense, Says State Dept. Lawyer

Nathan Hodge, March 26, 2010

America’s undeclared drone war has been controversial, for any number of reasons: Pakistani politicians have cried foul over “counterproductive” strikes. Critics worry they may create more popular support for militants. And civil liberties groups have asked whether, in effect, it amounts to a program of targeted killing. Now the State Department’s top legal adviser has offered a rationale for the ongoing campaign: Legitimate self-defense. In a keynote address last night to the American Society of International Law, State Department legal adviser Harold Koh said it was “the considered view of this administration” that drone operations, including lethal attacks, “comply with all applicable law, including the laws of war.”
Read More


# Automation Powers U.K. Grocer


HATFIELD, England—In a sprawling warehouse north of London, Web grocer Ocado Ltd. is making an expensive effort to bring high-tech methods to Internet operations that are often low tech elsewhere. British online grocer Ocado Ltd. is eyeing a possible IPO that could come this summer. A key element of the pitch to investors is the company’s futuristic central warehouse in Hatfield, England. WSJ’s Paul Sonne reports. Most online grocers fulfill Web orders by gathering goods from the shelf of a local supermarket and then loading them in a truck for delivery. But Ocado has developed a highly automated, centralized operation that dispatches products to 65% of British postal codes from a single warehouse.  The operation is spread across 23 acres of floor space on an old airfield. Ocado has built a complex, automated system that gathers items using its own algorithm-driven system. Baskets travel along a 10-mile maze of conveyor belts, stopping at bagging stations where workers follow a computer’s directions, loading products and shipping off 90,000 orders a week with close to 99.9% accuracy. Ocado labors in the long shadow left by companies like Webvan, a San Francisco-based online grocery start-up that was founded in the late 1990s and extended its footprint rapidly using venture capital but went bust in 2001. Around that time, three former Goldman Sachs & Co. bankers started Ocado in a one-room office near London’s Victoria Station. Now, after 10 years of steady growth, the company is considering what could be one of the biggest IPOs on the London Stock Exchange—estimated at up to £1.1 billion ($1.65 billion)—in the next two years.

Tell Me: Why Do We Need the Publishing Industry? — John Edgar Wideman Self Publishes His Latest Book

[For years Rock And Rap Confidential has been asking us to remind them why the recording INDUSTRY is necessary.  This when recording is becoming cheaper and distribution is becoming cheaper and musicians are consistently cheated out of their royalties and . . . and similar issues are common in the publishing industry.  Probably as few or fewer writers make their money to survive from writing their novels or essays as musicians from making music.  And the history of publishers and royalties is no more honorable than that of the recording industry. Many have opted to publish their own work, but, unlike the recording industry, they have had to contend with a much more entrenched method of publication and distribution than that which greets the musician.  Plus the performance of music is a different phenomenon than the reading of nearly anything — poetry perhaps excepted; but that even may be a false exception, since it’s hard to separate early poetry from music, and the reaction to modern poetry is often as much the lyricism and sound of the language as much as the verbal content of the work.  The result of these distinctions, however, is that self publishing words suffers from a stigma that self publishing music does not.  John Edgar Wideman now steps forward to publish his latest book himself, and one of his concerns hits home.  Traditional publishing does not get his work to the audience he wants to reach.  His new work is experimental:  a writer whose novels have always been spare, concise, he trims the stories in this collection to as small as a one paragraph sudden fiction. Issued in hard cover and paper at the same time, the cost in paper is $13.99.  This is one book I am excited about this year, because of who is writing it and why he is choosing the format of writing and the method of publishing. The following interview, with Caroline Kellogg for the Los Angeles Times, is intended to whet your apetite.  — Lew Rosenbaum]

John Edgar Wideman takes a hand in publishing

He’s self-publishing his latest book, ‘Briefs: Stories for the Palm of the Mind,’ with help from the firm Lulu.

John Edgar Wideman's new book will be self published with Lulu

By Carolyn KelloggMarch 29, 2010

John Edgar Wideman is the kind of writer who can do whatever he likes. Best known for his 1984 memoir “Brothers and Keepers” and his fiction cycle “The Homewood Trilogy,” he’s won two PEN/Faulkner awards, been a National Book Award finalist and received a MacArthur “genius” grant.

He has a tenured appointment at an Ivy League university. His agent, Andrew Wylie, is one of the most powerful in the business.

So why is Wideman self-publishing his latest book, “Briefs: Stories for the Palm of the Mind”?

“Why not?” Wideman asks with a quiet smile on a Sunday afternoon in Santa Monica. In town for a staged reading from “Briefs,” Wideman sits by the window in an ad hoc greenroom as actors from “The Wire” and “Do the Right Thing” warm up nearby.

For this new book, Wideman has entered into an agreement with Lulu, the largest self-publisher in the business. In addition to “Briefs,” a collection of short shorts, or microfictions, his first three novels are also being reissued through Lulu.

A few well-known writers, including Paulo Coelho, have already published with Lulu, but Wideman is the first to sign on as part of the new Lulu VIP Author program.

It’s quite a move. Although self-publishing has been around for as long as books have been made, it has generally remained on the fringes, in part because it inverts the classic business model: Instead of getting money for their work, authors pay to publish their books.

Because of this, self-publishing tends to be seen as the final recourse for those whose work isn’t good enough for a regular publisher. But with the industry in flux, self-publishing may be losing its stigma.

A rush of stories

Wideman is a perfect case in point, for “Briefs” is no book of last resort. Featuring 100 stories, which range in length from a few pages to a single paragraph, the collection is a mix of memories, reflections and narrative. Its opening story, “Witness,” appeared in O, the Oprah Magazine.

“Stories, in a way, are about time,” Wideman says. Now 68, he holds up his hands to indicate how much of his time has passed — and the smaller span that lies ahead. “What’s that mean?” he asks. “I’ve lost the best of what I have? Or is there something that I can look forward to in another scale, as life crystalizes?”

Following in the footsteps of Richard Wright, who began to write haiku near the end of his life, and taking inspiration from Yasunari Kawabata’s “Palm-of-the-Hand Stories,” Wideman is miniaturizing. He’s taking “the same ambitions” he’s always had and writing them into drastically smaller works.

As much as these stories grow out of Wideman’s current circumstances, they’re also built to connect with busy, distracted readers. “In the pace and rhythm of life we have around us today,” he says, “it’s a struggle to get a private minute. For me, the private minute is what it’s all about. It’s what a powerful culture like ours tends to crush.”

And yet, for all that Wideman wants readers to find focus in his micro-stories, his main concern ultimately is that of a writer trying to take control of his own work. “Most people write,” he notes, “because they want independence. And that independence is threatened when you have to kowtow to the means of production.”

A squeeze

For Wideman, innovative writing has been squeezed out by the blockbuster trend in publishing. Celebrities and politicians get huge advances from publishers who hope to cash in on gossip and scandal with big returns.

“The publishers weren’t the bad guys,” he says. “It was just the kind of nature of things. But I felt frustrated by that.”

What’s interesting about this is that Wideman is an author with access, as his awards and publishing record attest. “I think I’ve done quite well, frankly,” he acknowledges, for “a poor boy from Pittsburgh.”

Pittsburgh has always played a significant role in Wideman’s writing, especially his upbringing in Homewood, a chronically depressed part of the city. In “Brothers and Keepers,” he traces the psychic toll of poverty on his family, contrasting his own experience — he attended the University of Pennsylvania on a basketball scholarship — with that of his younger brother Robby, who was drawn, inextricably, to criminal activity.

To some extent, he suggests, this has even played a part in his decision to self-publish. “Where I come from, nobody can afford to buy books,” he says. “I’ve always been frustrated by questions of audience.”

With Lulu, Wideman hopes he can do a better job of reaching readers. Self-publishing means that he can control what happens to the pieces in his book. If he wants to put them in subway cars or serialize them in a magazine or pass them out in schools, he can.

What he’s giving up

Yet while he’ll have some help with this from Lulu — in addition to his VIP author status, his son Daniel works there — going independent means giving up the infrastructure that a traditional publisher provides.

There is, at the largest level, the issue of availability. Publishers have agreements with retailers; Lulu doesn’t have the same clout.

In theory, books published by Lulu are available on Amazon.com, but “Briefs” has not shown up yet. A Lulu representative declined to comment on whether Lulu books will be available through Apple’s upcoming iBookstore, designed to launch with its iPad on Saturday.

That’s the trade-off between a traditional publisher and self-publishing with a company like Lulu: independence for service. Wideman can take his book where he likes, but it may fall to him to do it. Who else will get his stories out to readers, traditional or otherwise?

“The idea of talking individually to readers is quite appealing,” he says. “But I’m not going to become a huckster, either.”

carolyn.kellogg@ latimes.com

Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times

Food Inc. Screening presented by Neighborhood Writing Alliance

[If you are reading this before the evening of March 31, please also remember the release party for NWA’s latest Journal of Ordinary Thought issue Whistle Talk — Lew Rosenbaum]

Trinational Conference in Defense of Public Education

The 9th Tri-national Conference in Defense of Public Education

will be held in

Montreal, Quebec, Canada, May 7 – 9, 2010

See trinationalcoalition.org

The conference will be co-hosted by FNEEQ-CSN (Federation Nationale des Enseignantes et Enseignants du Quebec) & CSQ (Centrale des Syndicats du Quebec), and will be held on the campus of UQAM (Universite du Quebec a Montreal), which is located in Downtown Montreal.

Since NAFTA created new links between Mexico, the U.S. and Canada in 1994, education union activists from the three countries have met at a conference every two to three years.  The purpose has been to deepen understanding of the impact of the neo-liberal policies exemplified by NAFTA on public education and to find ways to work together in mutual support of public education in the three countries.

This 9th conference provides another opportunity to join in this process.  While the context in each of the three countries is obviously different, we always find that there are also many similarities.  The links formed through these conferences have been important in providing mutual solidarity in times of crisis, as well as in expanding knowledge of the realities of education in our neighbouring countries.

The conference has generally had speakers from each of the three countries present on common themes, to get a transnational perspective on the issues.  Discussion then focuses on looking for the patterns and exploring ideas about common or supportive actions that might be taken in relationship to the issues.

Funding for the conferences has come from two sources.  Registration fees have covered costs of translation, since the conferences are usually conducted in English and Spanish through simultaneous translation. This year, the conference will also be translated into French. Grants from unions in Canada have provided funding to ensure that a significant number of teachers from Mexico can participate in the conference. If you or your organization is prepared to make a donation, please contact Alexa LeBLanc.

Conference Information:

If you need any assistance at all, please contact our conference planners at: trinational2010@gmail.com


Ninth Conference: Trinational Coalition for the Defense of Public Education

(Canada, the United States and Mexico)



May 7-9, 2010

UQAM, 405, rue Ste Catherine Est,

Salle Marie Gérin-Lajoie, Local J-M400 (Niveau Métro)

Montreal, Québec

Running a University Like a Hedge Fund — by Will Parrish and Darwin Bond-Graham

[Thanks to education activist Steve Miller for sending this article, published first on line in Counterpunch— Lew Rosenbaum]


March 1, 2010

Mr. DiFi Cashes in on Crisis

Who Runs the University of California?


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 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.

The State of California’s political elites and business leaders routinely use the 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 this meant that Regents would promote policies designed to build cutting edge economic sectors in and around the UC campuses, but they’d make sure to throw some of the university’s gravy to less sexy and profitable sectors of the economy. So for much of the Board’s history they’ve acted as Karl Marx’s idea of government: an executive board of the bourgeoisie, working if not for the interest of every industry, at least most of its monopoly sectors, and taking care not to destroy too many of the smaller fry. 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.

The most prominent among this cadre has been Richard Blum. As we detailed in our last CounterPunch article, 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 Maxxam 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 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 overall pot for the real investors, 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 “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”, associated with the name Wavy Gravy and just north of Laytonville. 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.

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 per cent 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 most 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). In keeping with the “public-private partnership” funding model that currently prevails, the State of California put up “matching funds” in the form of $73 million in construction bonds to help smooth the way for the EBI’s landing on the Berkeley campus.

This is one of UC Berkeley’s largest current applied research programs, and it naturally comes straight from the “crisis” 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.

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. 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 amidst the world capitalist economy’s unraveling, and as an integral part of this economy, the university is coming undone right along with it.

Will Parrish is a writer and organizer living in Laytonville, CA.

Darwin Bond-Graham is a sociologist who splits his time between New Orleans, Albuquerque, and Navarro, CA.

Readers can contact Will Parrish at wparrish(a)riseup.net and Darwin Bond-Graham at darwin(a)riseup.net. They originally prepared this series for theAnderson Valley Advertiser, one of the very few real newspapers in America and probably soon the last one left standing.