Richard Blum: Godzilla Regent
by Will Parrish, March 17, 2010
Blum at UC Berkeley
Darwin Bond-Graham contributed to this story.
On March 9, Blum Capital Partners executives held a meeting at the Cavallo Point Lodge at Fort Baker, in Sausalito (Marin County). Current and former campus workers from UC Berkeley, UC Davis, and UC Santa Cruz — joined by several student supporters — were on hand to challenge Richard Blum on the poverty he promotes in his capacity as a UC Regent. Blum, who fashions himself as a global anti-poverty crusader by way of his Blum Center for Developing Economies at UC Berkeley, has had a primary hand in shaping the policies that have led to deep pay cuts and widespread employee layoffs at UC campuses. Moreover, as a leading finance capitalist and political influence peddler on a global scale, he and his ilk have played a strong role in causing the ongoing global economic meltdown — and the various financial austerity measures it is leading to.
The accompanying picture from the university worker action is courtesy of Hank Chapot, an American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299 organizer and reader of our now-completed AVA series on Blum, California's neo-liberal economy, and the resistance to it taking place at University of California campuses. Chapot described the purpose of the action in a post to Indybay.org: “AFSCME advocates for rehiring the workforce, stopping student fee increases, ending the privatization scheme and wants Blum and the Regents to stop playing on Wall Street with California citizen-owned assets.”
For what it's worth, I know from experience the degree to which these kinds of personalized demonstrations raise Blum's ire. I was part of a contingent who organized a disruption of the UC Regents meeting at UC San Francisco in May 2005, as a protest against the university plutocracy's decision to partner with Blum's long-time investment buddies at the Bechtel Corporation (“more powerful than the US Army,” as Jeffrey St. Clair has called them), in a bid to manage the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore nuclear weapons labs on behalf of the US Energy Department.
During the protest, a UC Santa Cruz student read out a study on Blum's conflict of interest as a UC Regent overseer of the Los Alamos laboratory and majority owner of URS corporation, the San Francisco-based construction firm that had a lucrative contract with Los Alamos at the time. The next day, a picture of Blum looking dapper and vulture-like adorned the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle, accompanied by a story by science writer Keay Davidson regarding our protest. Davidson took a particular interest in Blum's URS-Los Alamos-UC conflict of interest in the story, quoting Blum as calling the information we revealed a “crock of shit.” Blum claimed to have vetted his existing financial ties to Los Alamos with the UC's legal counsel upon joining the Regents to make sure he wasn't violating the university's conflict of interest policies.
The following day, Blum took time out of the Regents meeting to issue a damage-control statement, which entirely contradicted what he had told the Chronicle the day before. According to this version of events, Blum wasn't even aware of URS' financial ties to Los Alamos, until the students rudely brought it up the day before (implication: he's too rich and important to notice when his company secures a paltry $125 million contract from the federal government.) The fact that Blum had blatantly lied about an important university financial matter in a public forum went unnoticed by the press — except for the typically somnolent SF Chron, which quite uncharacteristically featured another front page story on the subject the next day.
A couple of years later, I helped organize a protest where more than 100 UC students and alumni disrupted a Regent meeting in San Francisco, with 13 of us getting arrested. As the university police moved in to put choke-holds on us, Blum mouthed something to the effect that our decision to disrupt the meeting makes us accomplices to the political agenda of Al Qaeda. His wife had just helped shepherd the so-called “Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Act of 2006” through Congress, which essentially criminalizes Thoughtcrime, so maybe Blum was harboring visions of locking us up in Quantanamo at that moment. In any case, the following exchange ensued:
UC Santa Barbara Student: “You're worse than a hundred Al Qaedas, Blum!”
Blum: “FUCK YOU!”
Later that day, as Blum stormed out out of the building on the UC's Mission Bay campus where the Regents meeting was held, he stopped on the way to his awaiting limousine to grab Darwin Bond-Graham — the co-author of the recently completed AVA series — violently by the arm.
“Can't you see that I'm with you?” Blum adamantly implored. With that, he got in the waiting limo and sped away, leaving everyone in the vicinity utterly perplexed. Darwin was too dumbfounded to offer a response — who wouldn't have been?
Two months later, at yet another Regents meeting, Blum engaged in a war of words with a group of student and alumni protesters. In this case, he actually interrupted the public comment period of the meeting to respond to a student's comment. “I'm tired of you people coming here and making reckless allegations about me, when you clearly don't have any of your facts straight,” he said at one point in his rebuttal.
Darwin's turn in the public comment period came a few minutes later. “We have the facts, Mr. Blum,” he began, in a calmly assured tone that must have been extremely unsettling to the person he was addressing. With that, Darwin recited a catalogue of extremely precise information concerning Blum's various tangled webs of financial muckety muck. Blum had little choice but to bear Darwin's impromptu presentation in stoney silence. He could muster no response.
“Blum just got served,” a student to the side of me observed.
More important than all that is this update on our “WE Make the Crisis” story from two weeks ago in the AVA: The organizing efforts of California's students, teachers, instructors, professors, and educational workers continue to gain momentum. In what may be the next in this academic year's series of big protests, students at UC Irvine have called for a national day of action against the neo-liberal privatization of higher education on May 4th, the 40th anniversary of the Kent State Massacre.