Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Banco Español de Crédito Occupied in Barcelona

Since last Saturday, the old headquarters of the Banco Español de Crédito in Barcelona has been occupied by a group calling itself the "Movimiento 25 de Septiembre." They plan to continue the occupation until Wednesday, September 29, when a general strike will take place across Spain.

(video via)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Corruption of the UC Regents

An eight-part investigative report on the UC Regents and their financial conflicts of interest, written by Peter Byrne, is being published in the Berkeley Daily Planet. The first part appeared yesterday:
Our eight-month investigation reveals that some members of the regents’ investment committee, who are also Wall Street heavy-hitters, have modified long-standing investment policies in a way that benefited their own financial holdings. The fallout: multiple conflicts of interest.

The changes can be traced to 2003, when regents Gerald Parsky, Richard C. Blum, and Paul Wachter—all financiers by trade—took control of UC’s investment strategy. Sitting on the board’s investment committee, the three men steered away from investing in more traditional instruments, such as blue-chip stocks and bonds, toward largely unregulated “alternative” investments, such as private equity and private real estate deals. According to UC internal reports, the dramatic investment change has led to an “overweighting” of investments in private equity. One concerned regent has likened the change to “gambling in Las Vegas.”

The changes did not stop there.

By-passing the university treasurer’s in-house investment specialists, the regents investment committee hired private managers to handle many of these new kinds of less-regulated transactions. This action theoretically placed some distance between the personal financial holdings of regents and the investments made on behalf of the UC endowment and retirement funds. But it also served to increase management costs, and to limit the transparency around UCs investments, since these “external” managers are not subject to the same public disclosure laws that apply to university operations.

Unfortunately, many of these deals, while potentially lucrative, have lost significant amounts of money for UC’s retirement and endowment funds, which were worth $63 billion at the end of 2009. (These losses ultimately reduce the amount spent on education, since the endowment supports teaching activities.) And the non-transparency of these private deals enabled multiple conflicts of interest to arise without challenge.

Specifically, our investigation shows that, under the new regime on the investment committee, UC placed $2 billion into a series of private deals and publicly held enterprises with significant ties to the business activities of four regents: Wachter, Blum, Sherry Lansing, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Read the whole thing, and keep an eye out for the rest of the series.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Update on Office of Student Conduct's Attempts to Stifle Campus Activism

Now that the fall semester has begun, the Office of Student Conduct (OSC) at UC Berkeley is once again hard at work trying to punish students for their involvement in last year's protest actions. No matter that the Code of Student Conduct's timeline has long passed. Officially, a hearing must occur within 75 days of the initial violation, but the timeline has been "suspended" -- ironically, the excuse was that the furloughs imposed by the administration due to budget cuts meant they didn't have enough time to follow their own regulations.

At this stage, what are called "pre-hearing conferences" and the "hearings" themselves have been scheduled. The pre-hearing conferences, in which procedural issues are supposed to be dealt with and evidence is exchanged, were supposed to take place last week, while the hearings are supposed to go forward on Wednesday and Thursday of this coming week.

However, serious problems have appeared in OSC's strategy.

First of all, OSC violated their own rules by scheduling both "pre-hearing conferences" and "hearings" collectively. That is, they wanted to prosecute students together in order to avoid having to coordinate dozens of separate hearing panels. However, the Code of Student Conduct [pdf] states that "All charged students must waive their rights to confidentiality before the hearing may be consolidated" (p. 12). No student has signed a waiver of confidentiality -- OSC simply decided that they didn't have to follow their own rules. When confronted with these arguments during the pre-hearing conferences, OSC officials claimed that they would "somehow" figure out a logistical fix to maintain student confidentiality during the hearings, but they have refused to either change the scheduled time or recognize the potential problems involved with having the same panel oversee multiple cases of students allegedly involved in the same events in a single day -- it will be impossible to see each case individually.

(Furthermore, because OSC scheduled all the pre-hearing conferences for the same time in spite of the fact that no waiver of confidentiality had been signed, they were only able to complete a few. So far, no attempt has been made to reschedule the rest.)

Second, OSC is having problems figuring out which version of the Code to use to prosecute student activists. As @callie_hoo tweeted the other day,

Here's the deal. Last fall, when the protests in question took place, one version of the Code was in effect, but in December OSC took that version off their website -- it was missing for over a month -- while they revised it in order to make it, well, more "effective." Now, at the pre-hearing conferences, OSC officers had difficulty telling students affirmatively which version of the Code they were using. They claimed to be operating under the current version of the Code -- i.e. a version that did not exist when the alleged violations took place -- but using pieces of the old version at will. In other words, OSC has decided that they have the ability to cut and paste, to literally string together a "new and improved" Code from current and previous versions, in order to get something they like. It is difficult to imagine anything more arbitrary and vindictive.

Third, and more generally, the hearing process is quite obviously skewed in the interest of OSC and the prosecution. OSC forms a three-person panel to judge each case, composed of one faculty member (the chair), one student, and one administrator. OSC serves as the "prosecutor" in each case. But OSC also exercises the supposedly "neutral" job of "interpreting" the Code if any difficulties arise: in the pre-hearing conference, an OSC official -- who also serves as "prosecutor" in other cases -- advises the faculty chair regarding the requirements of the Code. In other words, OSC both prosecutes under the Code and at the same time serves as the final arbiter about what the Code actually says. Needless to say, OSC always interprets the Code in its best interest.

These are just some of the substantial and substantive problems with the process. In light of such serious flaws, the university would do well to remember that every other body on campus, including the ASUC (student government body), the UC Berkeley Faculty Association, over a hundred independent faculty members, the RAZA Recruitment and Retention Center, and even the ACLU of Northern California, have all demanded that UC Berkeley drop the charges and stop its attempts to stifle campus protest.

The Buzz in Buenos Aires


Saturday, September 18, 2010

No Shame

Bob Samuels:
After the UC Regents voted to increase employee contributions to the pension plan, they quickly moved to the next important business, which was to vote for special compensation packages for some of the highest paid people in the system. As State Senator Leland Lee wrote in a press release, the regents voted for executive salary increases totaling $6 million, and they also approved the plan to hire more administrators for a an additional $2.4 million annually. My favorite example of executive excess is UCLA Medical Center CEO David Feinberg who got a $400,000 raise and will now make $1,330,000 per year.

So after another budget presentation about the huge UC deficit, which may require another round of student fee increases, the regents and senior management must have gone to their second brains in order to approve a series of obscene compensation packages. I simply do not understand how they can justify cutting the benefits and total compensation of most of the employees, while they immediately move to increase the pay and benefits of the highest earners.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Massive Action Planned for September 16 [Updated]

As of today, occupations in Buenos Aires have spread to 28 high schools, four faculties of the University of Buenos Aires, three institutos terciarios (sort of like community colleges), and three campuses of the National University Institute of Art. Protests are planned for September 16, the 34th anniversary of "La Noche de los Lápices" (Night of the Pencils), when the military dictatorship kidnapped ten high school students, locked them away in illegal detention centers, and tortured them. Six of the students were disappeared; only four survived. The anniversary is traditionally marked by protest actions, and as students are currently mobilized a massive day of action is expected.

Update (Thursday 8:53 pm): Thousands of students and teachers participated in a massive march in Buenos Aires tonight. Chanting "Macri, basura, vos sos la dictadura" (Macri, trash, you're the dictatorship!), they burned effigies of the head of the city government. Some videos of the march are here.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Only Violence Is Violence Against the State

Birgeneau and Breslauer on last year's campus protests:
[Senior Editorial Board of the Daily Cal]: Continuing on the idea of unrest and going back to protests, there was a lot of mistrust between students and administration and campus officials after last year's various protests. Part of that was objection to the way police forces acted during the Wheeler Hall protest. Now that the Police Review Board has released its report and knowing that there is a protest scheduled for Oct. 7, what is the course of action for campus officials now, on that date, and in preparing for that date?

Birgeneau: George, you can talk about this, in part. So we learned ourselves from the Wheeler Hall protest, and students will have noted that there was nothing comparable that happened in any of the protests after that, and that there was essentially no violence after that. Good example of that was the hunger strike which occurred at the end of the semester, which I think in the end was handled probably as well as it could have been. We have a crisis management team and we also have a committee, by the way, that's looking at the recommendations of the Brazil report, again, to help us in terms of how we implement those recommendations. I would say, sort of my point of view, probably the biggest failure on the Wheeler Hall thing was communicating with the people outside of Wheeler Hall adequately and making sure that people understood what was happening. And of course, things were not helped by the fact that the first serious injury was to a policeman who was out of work for two and half months. So that set a tone for violence, which was really unfortunate. George, want to add to that?

Breslauer: I would just add to that, that occupation of buildings is not something that we can take lightly or tolerate. And if that is the form that protest takes, we may have no choice but to - and if it is intransigent - use police force in as discreet a manner as possible, as nonviolent a manner as possible, to end the occupation of buildings. On Nov. 20 last year, we were, throughout that day, sort of haunted by the fact that there were 3,800 students, in a week close to final examinations, that weren't allowed to take their classes in Wheeler Hall that day because of that occupation. And to whom do we owe the greater responsibility? And this is something we're...

Birgeneau: The Code of Student Conduct is absolutely clear. Especially in an era of high fees, the university's ultimate responsibility is to allow students to take the classes that they've paid for. That's unambiguous in the Code of Student Conduct and that's the responsibility of the faculty and of the administration to ensure that students are able to attend their classes. And, again, we hear a certain amount of noise from people who are unhappy about certain aspects of how things were handled, but we got huge numbers of e-mails from students who were very unhappy about their inability to attend class or having their classes disrupted. Students come here because they want to be educated. It's our obligation to ensure that students can obtain the education that they've paid for.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

School Occupations Spread in Buenos Aires

According to the Argentine daily Clarín, the number of occupied high schools in Buenos Aires has climbed to 27. In addition, university students at the Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA) have occupied four faculties in solidarity. Today, students at all levels blocked streets in protest, and held open classes in public spaces. For example, students from the Faculty of Social Sciences at UBA held an impromptu class at a busy intersection, using their desks to block traffic. The students are once again planning to march to the Ministry of Education tomorrow, despite the fact that the Minister Esteban Bullrich says he will refuse to receive them.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

High School Students Strike, Occupy in Buenos Aires

High school students have occupied more than 20 high schools in the city of Buenos Aires, demanding among other things much needed structural improvements to the school buildings (see video) as well as financial aid to students with economic need. The occupations began almost a month ago, and have paralyzed the city's school system, as many teachers seem to have come out in support of the students as well.

On Monday, students marched to the Ministry of Education, where the minister received them and presented them with a plan to address their infrastructural demands. But the plan was rejected because many schools were offered insufficient funding, while others were entirely left out.

Many students blame the head of the city government, Mauricio Macri of the conservative PRO party, for his privatization agenda.

For more information (in Spanish), see Indymedia Argentina and the Buenos Aires daily Clarín.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Occupation & Walkout at University of New Orleans

From occupyla:
Today, several students decided to take back control of their university from big business and little bureaucrats, reclaiming a single building of University of New Orleans’ campus for they, the tuition-payers, themselves.

Despite what benevolent administrators, politicians (student or otherwise), or the police may say, we know that this financial crisis is not ours, and that we will not pay for it. We know that this “depression” effects us disproportionately and we refuse to allow those who are already hurt to be injured any further. If there will be cuts, they will be from the very top.

We would like to state how overwhelmingly impressed we were with the organized Walk Out that also took place today. Y’all are amazing. Despite the fact that no one “led” the march or “organized” the rally, the students found no trouble whatsoever in finding common ground surrounding the slow and systematic demolition of the only public university available to them in the city of New Orleans.

Unfortunately, after being forcefully removed from a university building by violent, angry campus cops wielding batons and pepper spray, and after the beatings and arrests of two of our fellow students, and after Chief Harrington put a student in a headlock and wrongfully accused him of assault, the faculty, staff, and students alike were able to finally witness the police undeniably affirm our all of our accusations -- the university and its administration empower their goons, not their students, in order to better serve private interests at the cost of public education.

Please keep our two imprisoned comrades in your thoughts. Please contact the UNO Campus Police and let them know how nasty you think Chief Harrington is for sicking his officers on students.

Again, UNO made us proud today. We can’t wait to see how students will organize themselves this semester, this year, forever.

This was only the first.