Category Archives: Global Corporate U.

Chart of the day: Univ. of Calif. workers go hungry

From Food Insecurity Among University of California Employees, a report from the Occidental College Urban & Environmental Policy Institute

The Los Angeles Times reports:

Seven in 10 University of California workers in clerical, administrative and support services struggle to put adequate food on the table, according to a new Occidental College study.

The study, set for release Monday, found that 45% of 2,890 employees surveyed throughout the 10-campus UC system went hungry at times. An additional 25% had to reduce the quality of their diet.

The problems persisted even though most of those surveyed were full-time employees with college degrees and average earnings of $22 an hour.

Peter Dreier, an Occidental professor of politics who conducted the study with two colleagues and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 2010, said the results were startling.

“This is a systemwide problem; it exists on every campus,” Dreier said. “This is not a handful of people who happen to be down on their luck. They need a living wage so they can afford to feed their families.”

Nuclear waste blast: Nation’s most costly mess

We begin with an excerpt from a 24 April 2014 post:

Valentine’s Day was anything but happy for workers at the at the Department of Energy’s New Mexico Waste Isolation Pilot Plant [WIPP] near Carlsbad Caverns. At 11:14 p.m., alarms shrieked warning of a radiation release from an exhaust vent moving air out of the underground storage facility.

Part of the waste stored in the interim facility [no permanent repository has yet been approved as each site, in turn, proved vulnerable to leaks] hailed from the nearby Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where University of California  scientists work with others to build next generation nuclear weaponry.

What happened that day was an explosion caused by [really] organic cat litter used to fill out drums containing deadly radioactive waste.

The blast and subsequent fire released plutonium, the deadliest substance on the planet, and reminded us that in our hubris, we have yet to devise safe ways of containing the products of the military/industrial. academic complex.

And now we’re discovering that the Valentine’s Day disaster [previously] is the most costly yet in the nation’s always-troubled nuclear program.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Energy Department officials declined to be interviewed about the incident but agreed to respond to written questions. The dump is operated by Nuclear Waste Partnership, which is led by the Los Angeles-based engineering firm AECOM. The company declined to comment.

Federal officials have set an ambitious goal to reopen the site for at least limited waste processing by the end of this year, but full operations can not resume until a new ventilation system is completed in about 2021.

The direct cost of the cleanup is now $640 million, based on a contract modification made last month with Nuclear Waste Partnership that increased the cost from $1.3 billion to nearly $2 billion. The cost-plus contract leaves open the possibility of even higher costs as repairs continue. And it does not include the complete replacement of the contaminated ventilation system or any future costs of operating the mine longer than originally planned.

An Energy Department spokesperson declined to address the cost issue but acknowledged that the dump would either have to stay open longer or find a way to handle more waste each year to make up for the shutdown. She said the contract modification gave the government the option to cut short the agreement with Nuclear Waste Partnership.

It costs about $200 million a year to operate the dump, so keeping it open an additional seven years could cost $1.4 billion. A top scientific expert on the dump concurred with that assessment.

UC Berkeley purge: The chancellor has resigned

University of California Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks has handed in his academic robes, the victim of campus sexual harassment and other scandals as well as a petition campaign by faculty members.

And that’s after the spent $200,000 trying to polish his image [below].

From the Washington Post:

UC-Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks announced his resignation Tuesday, a week after Linda Katehi stepped down as UC-Davis chancellor. Both leaders had been embroiled in multiple controversies.

Dirks faced questions about whether Berkeley was too lax in response to sexual harassment allegations against faculty and how the school would surmount steep budget troubles. The Los Angeles Times disclosed last month that he was under investigation for possible misuse of public funds for travel and the personal use of a campus fitness trainer without payment. The Daily Californian student newspaper also reported that the university had spent $9,000 for an emergency exit near Dirks’s office as a security measure in case of protests. All of this undermined the three-year tenure of a historian and anthropologist who sought to rejuvenate undergraduate education at Berkeley and boost public support for higher education’s great public flagships.

“Definitely a significant number of faculty had lost confidence in him,” Robert Powell, a political scientist and chair of Berkeley’s faculty senate, said Wednesday. “The reasons vary depending on different people you talk to.”

Dirks, who took office in June 2013, said he plans to step down when a successor is ready to take his place. When he exits, his tenure as chancellor is likely to have been the shortest at UC-Berkeley in a half century. Edward Strong served in the job for four years, from 1961 to 1965, and Glenn T. Seaborg for three, from 1958 to 1961.

UPDATE: More details from the Los Angeles Times:

In recent weeks, however, pressure for Dirks to resign has escalated. A petition expressing loss of confidence in his leadership was recently signed by more than 45 distinguished professors, including former Academic Senate leaders, members of the National Academy of Sciences, department chairs and heads of research units.

“There was a whole series of really bad steps which shows he’s cut himself off and is unresponsive to the campus community,” said Michael Burawoy, co-chairman of the Berkeley Faculty Assn., who signed the petition.

However, Judith Butler, a professor of comparative literature, expressed concern that maneuvers like the petition occurred among a small group without open discussion by the full faculty. “The real question is who was this small group working in the summer and do they really represent the faculty?” she asked. “I’m not convinced.”

She declined, however, to give an assessment of Dirks’ effectiveness.

Former Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau called the news of Dirks’ resignation “a sad day for Berkeley.”

Butler, a faculty member we respect, raises an interesting point.

Who were the faculty members who wanted Dirks gone?

Dirks came from the humanities, unlike his predecessor Birgeneau, a physicist.

The University of California has been reshaping itself in the corporate model, which is why we have dubbed it Global Corporate University. The priority has been on seeking ways to create revenue by funding research for corporations to buy, both in the hard sciences [witness the Amyris debacle] and in the business school.

Was Dirks, who traditionally emphasized the importance of the humanities, a field that doesn’t produce all that lucrative intellectual property or churn out tomorrow’s business executives, a man out of place at Cal?

It’s worth pondering.

The university’s costly image spinning

We can’t read the full story in the subscriber-only San Francisco Chronicle story, but they do let you read the first paragraph, to which we’ve added another paragraph from the story we found in a news aggregator:

As UC Berkeley prepared to eliminate hundreds of jobs and take millions of dollars in loans to help balance its flagging budget, the campus also paid more than $200,000 to “improve the chancellor’s strategic profile nationally and internationally,” The Chronicle has learned.

The decision to pay outside consultants of the last year to burnish Chancellor Nicholas Dirks’ global image is seen by some faculty as the latest in a series of missteps — including his kid glove treatment of star employees who sexually harassed students and colleagues and his uneven handling of the campus; $150 million budget deficit — that led to Dirks’ decision to step down. The companies agreed to “increase exposure and awareness of Dirks’ vision for higher education, elevate the chancellor as a “key thought leader” and “form key partnerships” so that potential donors would understand his philosophy.

The news about the image polishing confirmed suspicions we raised in a blog 16 March post, reprinted in full below [emphasis added]:

The curious case of the missing monobrow. . .

Coming to Berkeley from Columbia University, where Nicholas B. Dirks had served as executive vice president and dean of the faculty of  Arts and Sciences, the new chancellor of the flagship campus of the University of California underwent an amazing transition.

Here’s the image the folks at Cal’s PR department sent out when 8 November 2012 when announcing his appointment:

BLOG Dirks

And here’s an image of Dirks captured from the apology video just posted:

BLOG Dirks after

So what happened to the monobrow, a furry feature evident in countless photos [for instance] taken before his transplantation to the Golden State from the urban wilds of the Big Apple?

And then there are the eyeglasses. In all but two of the images we found doing a Google image search, Dirks wore his specs at a genial, approachable half staff, yet in the apology video he gazes out from behind glass, the lenses interposing themselves between seer and seen.

And what’s the deal with the flowers, the white blooms often associated with funerals and death?

Maybe its our old anthropological training kicking in, or simply the observation skills honed during five decades of journalism, but our sense is that in coming to image-conscious California Dirks fell into the hands of media handlers.

Jack Ohman: Katehi One. . .

As noted yesterday, University of California, Davis Chancellor Linda Kathei [previously] submitted her resignation Tuesday after a scathing investigation report for the UC Board of regents determined that she had misled the UC President, former Homeland Security Secretary Janey Napolitano, about her lucrative side job as a member of the board for the for-profit DeVry University and downplayed her social media politicking.

But it took the Sacramento Bee editorial cartoonist to note the ironic timing of Kathehi’s skedaddling: It came on the anniversary of another famous resignation, also in disgrace:

BLOG Linda

And for any readers who might have missed it, here, via CBS, is the image that inspired Ohman’s graphic:

Amyris warns on funding, layoffs; aids military

Amyris Inc. [previously and extensively], the much-ballyhooed genetic engineering spinoff created by UC Berkeley with the promise, never fulfilled, of creating cheap, cleaning burning fuel from plant cellulose, has yet to make a nickle, and in it’s latest quarterly report for the Security and Exchange Commission has warned of money woes, possible layoffs, and research cutbacks.

But there’s one notable bright spot: The company is working to create genetically engineered microbes for the Pentagon.

First the bad news, from the Emeryville-based company’s latest Form 10-Q filing:

The Company has incurred significant operating losses since its inception and believes that it will continue to incur losses and negative cash flow from operations into at least 2017. As of June 30, 2016, the Company had negative working capital of $108.3 million, an accumulated deficit of $1,066.0 million, and cash, cash equivalents and short term investments of $2.5 million. The Company will need to raise cash from additional financings or strategic asset divestments as early as the third quarter of 2016 to support its liquidity needs. These factors raise substantial doubt about the Company’s ability to continue as a going concern. The financial statements do not include any adjustments that might result from the outcome of this uncertainty. If the Company is unable to continue as a going concern, it may be unable to meet its obligations under its existing debt facilities, which could result in an acceleration of its obligation to repay all amounts outstanding under those facilities, and it may be forced to liquidate its assets.

As of June 30, 2016, the Company’s debt, net of discount and issuance costs of $44.7 million, totaled $181.4 million, of which $80.0 million is classified as current. In addition to upcoming debt maturities, the Company’s debt service obligations over the next twelve months are significant, including $21.0 million of anticipated cash interest payments. The Company’s debt agreements contain various covenants, including certain restrictions on the Company’s business that could cause the Company to be at risk of defaults, such as the requirement to maintain unrestricted, unencumbered cash in defined U.S. bank accounts in an amount equal to at least 50% of the principal amount outstanding under its loan facility with Stegodon Corporation (or “Stegodon”), as assignee of Hercules Capital, Inc. As discussed below, the Company has received a waiver of compliance with such covenant through October 31, 2016. A failure to comply with the covenants and other provisions of the Company’s debt instruments, including any failure to make a payment when required would generally result in events of default under such instruments, which could permit acceleration of such indebtedness. If such indebtedness is accelerated, it would generally also constitute an event of default under the Company’s other outstanding indebtedness, permitting acceleration of such other outstanding indebtedness. Any required repayment of such indebtedness as a result of acceleration or otherwise would consume current cash on hand such that the Company would not have those funds available for use in its business or for payment of other outstanding indebtedness. Please refer to Note 5, “Debt” and Note 6, “Commitments and Contingencies” for further details regarding the Company’s debt service obligations and commitments. The Company also has significant outstanding debt and contractual obligations related to capital and operating leases, as well as purchase commitments.

In addition to the need for financing described above, the Company may take the following actions to support its liquidity needs through the remainder of 2016 and into 2017:

Effect significant headcount reductions, particularly with respect to employees not connected to critical or contracted activities across all functions of the Company, including employees involved in general and administrative, research and development, and production activities.
Shift focus to existing products and customers with significantly reduced investment in new product and commercial development efforts.
Reduce production activity at the Company’s Brotas manufacturing facility to levels only sufficient to satisfy volumes required for product revenues forecast from existing products and customers.
Reduce expenditures for third party contractors, including consultants, professional advisors and other vendors.
Reduce or delay uncommitted capital expenditures, including non-essential facility and lab equipment, and information technology projects.
Closely monitor the Company’s working capital position with customers and suppliers, as well as suspend operations at pilot plants and demonstration facilities.

Implementing this plan could have a negative impact on the Company’s ability to continue its business as currently contemplated, including, without limitation, delays or failures in its ability to:

Achieve planned production levels;
Develop and commercialize products within planned timelines or at planned scales; and
Continue other core activities.

Furthermore, any inability to scale-back operations as necessary, and any unexpected liquidity needs, could create pressure to implement more severe measures. Such measures could have an adverse effect on the Company’s ability to meet contractual requirements, including obligations to maintain manufacturing operations, and increase the severity of the consequences described above.

But the Pentagon came calling with cash

In a story we missed last September, the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Project Agency coughed up $34.5 million from the agency’s Living Foundries program.

And just what is that program?

Find out, after the jump. . . Continue reading

UC Davis Chancellor resigns after ethics probe

The chancellor of the University of California, Davis [previously], has quit her job in the wake of a scathing ethics investigation report.

In addition to enriching herself while serving on the public payroll, Linda Katehi was also the campus boss when one of her police officers, subsequently dubbed the “Pepper Spraying Cop,” unloaded an industrial sized can of pepper spray on peaceful; protestors during the Occupy movement days, earning her endless ridicule in the media.

From the Los Angeles Times:

UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi resigned Tuesday after a three-month investigation into whether she violated University of California rules on nepotism, misused student fees and lied about her role in social media contracts.

Her attorney, Melinda Guzman, announced the resignation, which UC President Janet Napolitano has accepted. Katehi will stay on as chancellor emeritus and a university faculty member.

Guzman said the investigation cleared Katehi of all charges.

“Linda Katehi and her family have been exonerated from baseless accusations of nepotism, conflicts of interest, financial management and personal gain, just as we predicted and as the UC Davis Academic Senate found within days of this leave,” Guzman said.

But a UC spokeswoman said the investigation found the chancellor had “exercised poor judgment, not been candid with university leadership, and violated multiple university policies.”

As the Times reported last month, “Katehi had taken paid board positions with the DeVry Education Group, which is under federal investigation for allegedly defrauding students, and John Wiley & Sons, a college-textbook publisher. Katehi had received permission for the textbook company position but not the DeVry board seat from the former and current UC presidents.”

UC Davis Police Lt. John Pike resigned after another scathing investigation, headed by William Bratton, the former police chief of both New York City and Los Angeles, but not before becoming a meme, complete with his own website, Pepper Spraying Cop.

Here’s one of our favorite offerings from the site:

BLOG Pepper

When a GMO bacterium almost killed the planet

We have long maintained that genetically modified organisms may be the most dangerous of all human creations, dwarfing in potential nuclear weapons, overpopulation, and all the other sundry horrors that haunt our nightmares.

And we’ve already come perilously close.

From The Big Picture:

How One GMO Plant Nearly Took Down the Planet…

Program notes:

The very same day that President Obama signed the DARK Act into law – the USDA confirmed that 22 of Monsanto’s unapproved GMO wheat plants were growing in a field in Washington State. No one knows how it got there – and that should raise alarm bells.

The universe beneath out feet

Stephen Nottingham is a biologist and writer. He has a doctorate in the field of agricultural entomology and is one of Britain’s most ardent advocates of agroecology [previously], the science of working with rather than against nature to produce the food and other plant and animal products that keep us and our civilization alive.

The fundamental element of agroecology is the earth itself, the soil that gives rise to most of those foods and goods, and if it is anything else, the soil beneath our feet is a vast and complex ecosystem, and must be considered whenever we release new genetic creations into our environment..

In his book Genescapes: The Ecology of Genetic Engineering, Nottingham writes:

Agricultural soil typically contains around 600 million bacteria, approximately three miles of mycorrhizal fungal hyphae, about 10,000 protozoa, and between 20 and 30 beneficial nematodes, in a teasponful. . .Elaine Ingham, author of the Oregon Klebsiella sstudy, has critized tests routinely performed by the EPA to evaluate genetically engineered microorganisms for environmental release, in which they use microcosms containing sterile soil. The results cannot provide any information about how the GMO will behave in the field, in terms of effects on soil ecology or on other organisms. In addition, no realistic data on exchange of genetic information between different bacteria can be obtained in sterilized soils.

Genetic exchange with GMOs is now a given

The genetically engineered organisms do exchange their artically manipulated genes with other organisms is a given, though one mightily resisted by the corporations which sell them.

UC Berkeley’s Ignacio Chapela, a friend of the blog, was fired because of his research showing that genes from Monsanto’s herbicide-resistant corn had infected the native corn varieties of Mexico, the nation which gave the world one of its major staple food crops.

His ouster followed a well-financed campaign by the company, using false fronts and academic shills.

It took a lawsuit to win Chapela tenure, and subsequent research has confirmed his findings.

Herbicide-resistant genes have also jumped into weeds, creating new breeds of so-called superweeds and prompting a search for ever more powerful plant killers.

Given that nature had countless billions of ready recruits, we can be certain of one thing: The arms race will never end as corporations seek to maintain their exorbitant profits and maintain their deadly grip on the planet’s food supplies.

Back to that Klebsiella planticola experiment

Dr. Ingham, a soil micobiologist and author of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Soil Biology Primer, was a professor at Oregon State University in 1992 when she supervised the experiments that discovered the deadly nature of the microbe just weeks before it was scheduled for approval for release.

Here’s what she wrote about the discovery, via San Francisco State University:

Field burning of plant residues to prevent disease is a serious cause of air pollution throughout the US. In Oregon, people have been killed because the cloud from burning fields drifted across the highways and caused massive multi-car crashes. A different way was needed to get rid of crop residues. If we had an organism that could decompose the plant material and produce alcohol from it; then we’d have a win-win situation. A sellable product and get rid of plant residues without burning. We could add it to gasoline. We could cook with it. We could drink grass wine-although whether that would taste very good is anyone’s guess. Regardless, there are many uses for alcohol.

So, genes were taken out of another bacterium, and put into Klebsiella planticola in the right place to result in alcohol production. Once that was done, the plan was to rake the plant residue from the fields, gather it into containers, and allow it to be decomposed by Klebsiella planticola. But, Klebsiella would produce alcohol, which it normally does not do. The alcohol production would be performed in a bucket in the barn. But what would you do with the sludge left at the bottom of the bucket once the plant material was decomposed? Think about a wine barrel or beer barrel after the wine or beer has been produced? There is a good thick layer of sludge left at the bottom. After Klebsiella planticola has decomposed plant material, the sludge left at the bottom would be high in nitrogen and phosphorus and sulfur and magnesium and calcium-all of those materials that make a perfectly wonderful fertilizer. This material could be spread as a fertilizer then, and there wouldn’t be a waste product in this system at all. A win-win-win situation.

But my colleagues and I asked the question: What is the effect of the sludge when put on fields? Would it contain live Klebsiella planticola engineered to produce alcohol? Yes, it would. Once the sludge was spread it onto fields in the form of fertilizer, would the Klebsiella planticola get into root systems? Would it have an effect on ecological balance; on the biological integrity of the ecosystem; or on the agricultural soil that the fertilizer would be spread on?

There’s a whole lot more, after the jump. . . Continue reading