Monthly Archives: May 2009

i’ve calmed down (marginally) since yesterday, and i’ve had the chance to discuss the issue with people, and so i’ve decided to sort of refine, perhaps even clarify, what i said in my previous post.

i don’t think it’s exactly a good idea for the legislature to take control of the uc system. they can’t even deal with the problems they have, and adding a 10-campus system and its problems–not to mention the extra layer of bureaucracy–would not do anyone any good.

regardless, i think it says something serious (and seriously disturbing) about the Regents’ standing among the people of California that anyone at all is even suggesting that control be handed over to a legislature that no one trusts. a friend of mine brought up the point that while we have figures on the legislature’s approval rating, we don’t have any for the UC. it’d be interesting to see what those figures would be. at this point, it’s basically two equally fucked-up institutions duking it out to see who is going to control what remains of the state’s higher education system.

from the official UC response to yesterday’s news report:

California might have trouble marketing its bonds in the current fiscal crisis, but UC has a AA1/AA rating. The state budget may have fallen over a cliff, but UC has managed its resources prudently in a tough environment. It has been able to preserve its world class status — a thrumming engine of educational opportunity, scientific advance and economic stimulus — even as it has absorbed a steady onslaught of cuts dictated from Sacramento.

Even with pinched budgets, UC still can attract top leaders to its 10 campuses and five medical centers, and can do so despite the easily verified fact that we compensate them well below the national average for comparable institutions.

i nearly fell out of my chair when i read that this morning. i’m pretty sure that i have a drastically different defintion of “prudent” than what’s in use above, for the bajillion reasons i’ve laid out in my previous rants about the current drama.

so, to sum up (and hopefully i won’t have any more diatribes on this topic for a while): i don’t think that the legislature could or should take control; i don’t think that if they did, they would do any better with the system than the regents are. but i’m hoping that the just broaching the idea is enough to make the regents realize that people aren’t going to stand for this crap much longer, and that they need to get their shit together.


hot on the heels of last week’s election results, the deepening of california’s fiscal crisis, and the news that the cal grant program would likely be losing a lot of funding, comes the news that the california legislature wants to have some actual control over the uc system and its board of regents. to which i say, about damn time. now, i’m not a huge fan of the california legislature, most of whom couldn’t find their asses with both hands and a flashlight, but if an institution that fucked up can realize that the uc system is out of control, you know you’re in trouble:

The Senate and Assembly bills have Republican and Democratic co-sponsors who say they are fed up with what they call the exorbitant salaries and perks paid to UC executives at a time of budget crisis and the university’s resistance to public disclosure, feedback and accountability.

If approved by two-thirds of the Assembly and Senate, the proposed amendment would be put before the voters – its outcome decided by a simple majority vote.

As proposed, it would remove the autonomy of the UC Board of Regents and allow the Legislature to enact statutes affecting UC policy – similar to the Legislature’s oversight of the larger California State University system.

Even though the state provides funding to UC, the university’s president and governing Board of Regents have sole authority to conduct daily operations and set policies with limited public oversight.

the regents? they’re less enthused, obviously:

Richard Blum, a member of the Board of Regents, dismissed the value of the Legislature’s input.

“So are we led to believe that the state government being run in Sacramento is an example of how we’re going to make the university even better? I don’t think so,” Blum said. “The university is better run today under President Mark Yudof than any time in the recent past. …

“Our forefathers back in the 1860s had a great vision when they decided to make the University of California an independent land grant institution that was basically there to deliver the best public education for the students of our state,” Blum said. “The system has grown to where it is the envy of the world.”

He cited UC’s superior academic rankings, its national prominence as a research institution, and its accessibility to low-income students.

“The problem is that California has consistently underfunded the UC system,” Blum said. “If you look at it on a constant dollar basis, the amount of contribution for each student by the state has dropped in half and has been made up by us having to raise tuitions.”

now, Blum here does have a point – it’s not like the state government is doing a bang up job at the moment, or at any time in the recent past. but as i’ve pointed out before, it’s disingenuous for the Regents to blame all of this on the loss of state funding. has state support of UC dropped alarmingly in the past ten years? absolutely, and that’s something we should all be concerned about. but the Regents have done nothing to mitigate these problems except raise fees. this year they’ve also started talking about furloughs, cut backs, and salary reductions (although who, exactly, those will effect is not yet clear, my money says it won’t be the people at the top). at the same time, they’re paying administrators insanely high salaries.

i was talking this over with a friend the other night. we both attended UC schools, and we both work for UC now, so this is an important issue for us. in fact, we were discussing the fact that we’re damned glad we went to school when we did, because it would cost us nearly twice as much to be a student now. and of course we don’t want to lose our jobs, nor do we want to face salary reductions. but we’d feel a lot better about it if we somehow felt that the burden of this crisis was being shared equally. but how can you expect your employees or the taxpayers to support you when you blatantly tell them that the UC president is worth so much more than the average worker? because honestly, i’m not seeing it. has the system really gotten so much better in the past year? is Yudof really worth that $800K? the Regents talk a good game about needing the best and brightest to steer the ship, but what about the thousands of workers who make that ship run? if we can’t offer decent wages to the rank and file, how are we going to attract the best and brightest there? is it enough to have (allegedly) top of the line administrators if we can’t hire decent workers? or any workers – with staff and salary reductions, will we have anything left for the administrators to administrate? 

bottom line here, we’re in crisis at every level in this state. and that means sacrifices have to be made – by everyone. for the uc regents to completely disregard the people they supposedly serve – the ones who pay their salaries via tax dollars – is exactly the kind of arrogance that alienates people. you’d think with all that money they’ve allocated for marketing the university, they’d have figured out some simple PR measures.

State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, said Tuesday that the UC regents and executives have been acting “absolutely above the law.”

“Enough is enough,” said Yee, a graduate of UC Berkeley and a frequent critic of those running the university system.

“Their arrogance and autocratic attitude has got to stop. This is a public institution, it’s not a private club for anyone. We’re leaving it to the regents to run the UC, but it ought to be responsive to the people and the state Legislature.”

damn straight.

let’s face it – the rest of the country loves to make fun of california, a place they see as being full of prima donna hollywood types and flighty hippies who care more about saving butterflies than the economy. we’re the people who legalized pot, who can’t deal with even the slightest bit of weather, who party while our towns are burning down

and, well, we do leave ourselves open for that kind of thing. but i meant what i said about california being a microcosm – the problems we face are the problems the nation faces. so today, in the face of the NYT calling us ungovernable, i bring you an interesting piece on how california got so fucked and why the rest of the country should care.

especially in california. some days, it’s easy to sympathize with the raging elitists who framed our constitution, since the people clearly don’t know what the fuck they’re doing.

my friend and i were discussing this very topic on election night, as the results were coming in. he delivered the following sage (if surly) assessment of the situation:

i am just pissed off at voters who vote for every ridiculous bond measure but throw a hissy fit when they are asked to pay for it. where the fuck do they think the state gets its money?!? granted we should be getting more of our federal tax monies spent in california, but come on people. i am just going to be even more pissed when californians start complaining about cuts to vital services. california is full of tax and spend liberals (minus the tax) and no tax no spend conservatives (minus the no spend). how stupid are we?       

my own assessment was just as surly, although slightly less sage:

we are a microcosm.  we are everything wrong with this country.  we want it all, we want it now, and we don’t want to sacrifice for it. this is what the age of entitlement has brought us.

days like this, i try really, really hard to keep the fine words of winston churchill in mind:

Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

(The Official Report, House of Commons (5th Series), 11 November 1947, vol. 444, cc. 206–07)

for the record, i believe it’s kind of useless to use terms like “socialist” and “fascist” these days, since 95% of the people throwing them around couldn’t define them if asked. but given all the hubbub on the right over Obama’s “socialist” policies, i’m finding the recent spat between Obama and Cheney to be kind of amusing. from Cheney’s speech earlier today:

If fine speech-making, appeals to reason, or pleas for compassion had the power to move them, the terrorists would long ago have abandoned the field. And when they see the American government caught up in arguments about interrogations, or whether foreign terrorists have constitutional rights, they don’t stand back in awe of our legal system and wonder whether they had misjudged us all along. Instead the terrorists see just what they were hoping for – our unity gone, our resolve shaken, our leaders distracted. In short, they see weakness and opportunity.

the whole speech is very par for the course for Dr.Doom, implicitly arguing, as he usually does, that the only way to beat the terrorists is to sink to their level. why hold ourselves to higher standards if those guys just won’t play fair?

more to the point, though, this excerpt, along with pretty much everything Cheney has ever said, strikes me as perilously close to fascist thinking. one of the best books i’ve ever read is Robert O. Paxton’s The Anatomy of Fascism (2004), an interesting look at the ideologies, actions, movements, and regimes behind a frequently misunderstood (and misused) word. and in the past few years, as i’ve become more politically aware, i keep harkening back to the book. particularly on days like today, when Cheney’s speech puts me in mind of some particularly relevant passages from Paxton (p. 41):

… fascism is more plausibly linked to a set of “mobilizing passions” that shape fascist action than to a consistent and fully articulated philosophy. At bottom is a passionate nationalism. Allied to it is a conspiratorial and Manichean view of history as a battle between the good and evil camps, between the pure and the corrupt, in which one’s own community or nation has been the victim. In this Darwinian narrative, the chosen people have been weakened by political parties, social classes, inassimilable minorities, spoiled rentiers, and rationalist thinkers who lack the necessary sense of community. These “mobilizing passions,” mostly taken for granted and not always overtly argued as intellectual propositions, form the emotional lava that set fascism’s foundations:

  • a sense of overwhelming crisis beyond the reach of any traditional solutions;
  • the primacy of the group, toward which one has duties superior to every right, whether individual or universal, and the subordination of the individual to it;
  • the belief that one’s group is a victim, a sentiment that justifies any action, without legal or moral limits, against its enemies, both internal and external; 60
  • dread of the group’s decline under the corrosive effects of individualistic liberalism, class conflict, and alien influences;
  • the need for closer integration of a purer community, by consent if possible, or by exclusionary violence if necessary;
  • the need for authority by natural leaders (always male), culminating in a national chief who alone is capable of incarnating the group’s destiny;
  • the superiority of the leader’s instincts over abstract and universal reason;
  • the beauty of violence and the efficacy of will, when they are devoted to the group’s success;
  • the right of the chosen people to dominate others without restraint from any kind of human or divine law, right being decided by the sole criterion of the group’s prowess within a Darwinian struggle.

obviously, these are a broad set of definitions and not every situation that we might (justly or unjustly) label “fascist” is going to fit all of them. and i’m not trying to say that the US has a fascist government – or even that we had a fascist government under Bush and Cheney. i’m just saying that Cheney’s speeches show some distressing tendencies, and that maybe more people ought to pay attention to the fucked up shit he says instead of worrying about Obama’s decidedly non-socialist “socialist” policies. 

so everyone knows by now that michael savage got banned from entering the UK. when i first heard about this, i honestly didn’t give a damn. but now there’s this:

Conservative radio host Michael Savage of San Francisco has had some very tough words for Hillary Clinton in the past. But now he’s appealing to the U.S. Secretary of State to take up his case as a human rights violation after the the United Kingdom’s Home Secretary Jacqui Smith banned him from the U.K.

Savage told The Chronicle in an interview this morning that “I’ve been very harsh on Hillary and Bill (Clinton) over the years. But precisely for this reason, she should take my case. It would show that she can rise above partisan politics … because Jacqui Smith is in violation of the European Union’s laws themselves.”

Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center is representing Savage on the matter and made the formal appeal in a letter to Clinton today. The letter urges her to immediately “call upon the government of the United Kingdom to rescind the artibrary and capricious decison” to put the outspoken right wing host on a “least-wanted list” with militant Muslim clerics, convicted Russian skinhead murderers, terrorists, and neo-Nazi organizers.

Thompson told the secretary of state that the banning of Savage — whose radio show reaches nearly 400 stations in the United States and an estimated audience of 8-10 million, according to industry publications — is both “arbitrary” and “suspicious” given that his show is not even broadcast in the U.K.

now, there is a semi-reasonable point in the midst of all this stupidity, and it’s why i didn’t really care when this story broke – savage’s show isn’t even broadcast in the UK, so why should they be so concerned about banning him from visiting? and why should we care? and, as john richardson points out, why single savage out? he’s hardly the only hate-filled rightwing pundit on american airwaves these days.

and then there’s the real stupidity here: this might be weird, and it might be questionable, and it should maybe make us think about issues of censorship and when is free speech too free, etc. however, i don’t see how the UK’s actions could possibly be construed as violating savage’s human rights. they’re a sovereign nation, and they are can allow or disallow whoever the fuck they want into their country. they don’t want some crazy loud-mouthed american visiting them, it’s totally within their rights to forbid him entry. he is not affected at all. he is not being censored, not really. i’m sure any interested britons could find him easily enough online. his human rights are not in peril; i’m not even totally convinced his civil rights are in peril. 

which leads me to only one conclusion: i have just written 500 words on shameful famewhoring. i probably should have found a better way to spend my time.