Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Fobbit/The Yellow Birds (Book Review)

I’ve been wondering for some years when we would see a great novel capturing something of the experience of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Journalistic, and some fictional accounts abound, but those that I have read lack something.  Often it seems that there is still more good writing being done about Vietnam than about either of the conflicts in which the U.S. initiated over ten years ago (for example, Karl Marlantes’ Matterhorn, published in 2010).  Perhaps in part this is because the place in or lesson to our culture from these two wars is still so unsettled.  There remain many people with a strong interest in claiming that we won a great moral or civic victory in Iraq, or that we are fighting for something other than a military-industrial complex and our President’s poll numbers in Afghanistan.  Perhaps it is because these wars are raw for those who fought them, and forgettable to the public that signed off on them.

This week, by chance, I read two novels which, a generation from now, I believe will serve as cultural artefacts of Iraq in the way that The Quiet American, Going After Cacciato, A Rumor of War, and The Things they Carried recalled the Vietnam War.  David Abrams Fobbit and Kevin Powers’ The Yellow Birds take very different approaches to the war in Iraq, but capture something potent, in their own way, of the conflicts.

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Fobbit sends up the inanity of the war, the army, and its protocols through the day-to-day lives of a group of soldiers holed up in a Forward Operating Base and their counterparts patrolling the streets of Baghdad.  The book does not have a conventional plot (perhaps mirroring the conduct of the war itself), and unfolds as a series of snapshots from the perspectives of several characters, most of whom are pitiable rather than likeable. 

There is Lt. Col. Vic Duret who is plagued by indecision (he makes his appearance trying to work out how to deal with a suicide bomber who refuses to die) and knows it.  His every attempt to take command draws him deeper into trouble with his superiors and his men, who hold him in contempt.

There is Staff Sergeant Gooding, who mans a Fobbit office, writing press releases which become increasingly colourful as he seeks to satisfy his own literary ambitions, the grammatical demands of his superior, and the propaganda needs of the Pentagon.  A suicide bombing which kills several quaintly-named “Local Nationals” is transformed into the following after hours of meticulous re-drafting: “Dozens of brave Iraqi security forces put months of coalition-backed training to the test today as they responded with lightning-like speed and efficiency to an unwarranted terrorist attack in an al-Karkh neighbourhood around 11 a.m.  Iraqi police and Baghdad emergency response teams were first on the scene after an explosion went off near an Iraqi Army patrol combing houses in the area looking for caches of weapons and insurgent propaganda material in an ongoing effort to defeat the enemies of democracy in the region.  The daring Iraqi security forces immediately cordoned off the area to ensure no Iraqi citizens were killed or injured by potential subsequent blasts.  One U.S. soldier was killed in the attack” (74).

He and his superiors fight their own petty war against directives from above, and Abrams constructs side-splitting e-mail chains in which various representatives of the powers-that-be debate whether to call their opponents “insurgents”, “terrorists”, or “criminals” (162).  Gooding and his team obsess, like the administration they served, over spinning the war, and are over the moon when they find a seemingly-perfect, self-sacrificing, courageous soldier to hand to CNN to an interview.  Their plans unravel when, before they can arrange the interview, the solider in question has his legs blown off by an IED and is sent to Germany.  The Fobbits agonise not over the fate of their hero, but over a missed PR opportunity.  For their nemesis is not the “terrorist” or “insurgent” or “criminal”, but “the New York F****** Times” (360).

They suffer another reverse when the two-thousandth war death (supposed to be cause for celebration) turns out to be the inept Captain Shrinkle, banished to fold towels in the Fobbits’ gym after innumerable battlefield mishaps, who is blown to smithereens while sunbathing at the infamous “Australian Pool”, where he has, in the entrepreneurial spirit of the glory-starved Fobbits, created a new identity as a British archaeologist cleaning up after the Yanks’ mess (332).

The book is full of such farce, and its force comes from its ability to lure readers into having a good laugh at the absurdity of it all before pulling them up short with a scene of jarring violence, or a reminder of the disconnect between a public having its laughs after the fact and the people who were expected to enforce our collective folly on the ground.

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The Yellow Birds is a very different book.  Where Fobbit begins with farce (with soldiers in casualty section trying to navigate the bureaucratic labyrinth that allows them to declare a dead soldier dead), Powers’ novel begins with foreboding.  “The war tried to kill us in the spring ... While we ate, the war fasted, fed by its own deprivation.  It made love and gave birth and spread through fire.  Then, in summer, the war tried to kill us as the heat blanched all color from the plain”.

The novel revolves around the disintegration of a Private Bartle because of an event involving a fellow soldier (Murphy), the contours of which become clear as the novel flicks back and forth between the training camp, Al Tafar in Iraq, and the home-front after Bartle’s war ostensibly draws to a close.  Powers’ characters embody experiences, and are less sympathetic or entertaining as individuals than the Fobbits.  However, this novel captures the agony rather than the absurdity of war. 

The soldiers at Al Tafar desperately devise routines, right down to the banal phrases they toss at one another before going out on patrol.  If they survive long enough, these routines become talismans for safety, which amount to immortality in the parallel world in which they live at Al Tafar.  Their awful, gnawing war, involving endless forays from a camp into fields and alleys becomes sacred for them, although it’s not clear whether it is sacred because it is awful, or awful because it is sacred.  Bartle becomes fixated by the realisation that the death he dreads day and night is impersonal.  “I believe unswervingly”, he reflects, “that when Murph was killed, the dirty knives that stabbed him were addressed ‘To whom it may concern’.  Nothing made us special” (14).

The other central character in Yellow Birds is Sergeant Sterling, who unlike Murphy and Bartle has served in Iraq before.  He warns Murph and Bartle starkly, “People are going to die.  It’s statistics” (39).  He says as much, one suspects, so that we understand, when he blankets a car driven by an old woman—perhaps she is out shopping—with fire. 

Sterling enjoins his men to “find that nasty streak” (42).  “It was their idea ... Don’t forget that.  It’s their idea every time.  They ought to kill themselves instead of us” (42).  The practise of war mirrors the theory, and the politics that send men in their thousands rolling into action and digging feverishly for that “nasty streak”, because finding that fool’s gold is all, Powers seems to be suggesting, that enables them to survive.  The other illusionary comfort is fate, and Powers’ characters develop a secular way of trying to inject fate and destiny into their world.  Murph, Bartle fancies, knew what was coming to him.

Powers’ other unique creation in the novel is the almost stage-like setting: the orchards, the fringes of the town.  It is minimal, and there is a stolid permanence to the ground.  These men’s war is fought o well-trodden ground.  They’ve fought over it often enough that they know all the bends in the road, the walls, “there an upended dumpster we could use for cover”, the orchards, and the clearing before the city.  It’s not unlike the movie set that the war propagandists create on their visit to the camp (“Go ahead.  Pretend we’re not here” (86)), “with the camera crew and the colonel’s half-assed Patton imitation” (88).  Nor is it so dissimilar to the sanguinary trenches which in our historical consciousness supposedly embody a way of war located firmly in the past—when soldiers fight aimlessly over the same ground, gaining a few yards today, losing them tomorrow.

For all the mobility of our push into Iraq, for all the power of the campaign waged to “shock and awe”, that war wasn’t so different from any other.

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In some respects, the two novels embody the two critiques of the war.  Fobbit will hearten liberals who think that it was a war waged in the wrong way, and that if only we had dropped bombs and launched an imperial occupation with better intentions, it would all have turned out all right.  Yellow Birds might make the more disturbing claim that war is by its nature obscene and hellish, and that the consequences are not contingent on good intentions.

Both authors spent time in Iraq, Abrams in 2005, and Powers in 2004 and 2005.  Their books, which came out nine years (has it been so long?) after the U.S. first launched the war of aggression it is now so keen to forget, act as a reminder and a reproach to the nation, best encapsulated in Powers’ novel, when Bartle arrives back in the U.S. and stops at an airport bar. 

‘“Coming from or going to?” the bartender asked.  “Coming from”.  “Which one?”  “Iraq”.  “You going  back after?”  “Don’t think so.  Never know”’ (105).

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David Abrahams.  Fobbit.  A novel.  New York: Black Cat, 2012.

Kevin Powers.  The Yellow Birds.  New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2012.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Corruption and Colonialism in Kenya


On 4 March, Kenyans will hold their second major election (and the first general election) since the violence-marred re-election of Mwai Kibaki as President in 2007.  The first election took the form of a referendum on a new constitution, which was passed by a large margin in August of 2010.  Aimed at devolving power, settling the land question, and curtailing corruption, among other things, the constitution was said to herald the dawn of a Second Republic. 

Kenyans rally for a new constitution in Uhuru Park during August of 2010
For many Kenyans, 2012 will be a test of whether the country can live up to the promise of that constitution at a time when a major presidential candidate is wanted by the International Criminal Court, when his key challenger should probably share that dubious distinction, and when graft remains a central problem for the state and society.  In terms of personnel, the new republic looks a lot like the old one.  One presidential candidate is Uhuru Kenyatta.  He is the son of the country’s first president and dictator, Jomo Kenyatta, who established the office of the president and its inhabitants above the law.  The other is Raila Odinga, son of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Jomo Kenyatta’s political rival during his increasingly dictatorial rule. 

It is Uhuru Kenyatta who is charged with committing crimes against humanity by inciting ethnic violence in Kenya’s last general election.  He supported Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu politician, against Raila Odinga, a Luo leader.  Many believe that the election was rigged in favour of Kibaki, and incensed Odinga supporters set upon Kikuyu living in the Rift Valley, setting off waves of retaliation in which all national leaders played a sorry part.  Most Kenyans believe that in the interests of securing a power-sharing agreement to halt the violence, Kibaki and Odinga were exempted from the ICC investigations that followed, but Kenyatta, one of Kibaki’s political attack-dogs, was not so lucky.
videoPolitical discourse is strikingly different to that in the United States, where people associate themselves based on ideology.  Most Kenyans still vote along ethnic or tribal lines, and the biggest issues during elections tend to be things like “capacity building”, “good governance”, “services delivery”, and “ending corruption”—buzzwords which capture everything and mean nothing.  [Above, Prime Minister Raila Odinga addresses a crowd at a rally.]

For Americans, corruption and tribalism are probably the two things most associated with Kenya, and while it is nothing new for the U.S., as the global superpower, to feature in a Kenyan election, it was somewhat novel last year for Kenya to feature in a U.S. election. 

Republican Party politicians took to invoking Kenya’s history to attack President Obama, whose father was Kenyan.  “Birthers”, a group of people who have a decidedly rocky relationship with reality, worked themselves up into a righteous ire, convinced that Obama was actually born in Kenya.  Political leaders cynically exploited this paranoia on the part of the electorate, none more skilfully than Newt Gingrich, who accused Obama of harbouring a Kenyan, anti-colonial” mindset.  He and Mike Huckabee invoked the Mau Mau war, the anti-colonial rising against the British in 1950s Kenya which imperial propagandists re-wrote as “one of the diseases of Africa”, refusing to acknowledge its economic and social roots in the colour bar, economic inequalities, and squatter class created by colonialism.*

By invoking Mau Mau nearly sixty years on, Republicans were hoping to tap into a latent racism which associates the supposedly irrational violence of the Mau Mau rising with the corruption of modern Kenya and pin these things on the President.  In so doing, they replicated the historical falsifications committed by the neocons’ official historian Niall Ferguson, who in his writing on the British Empire explains that the rule of law and good governance were two of the many gifts bequeathed to colonised people by the British.  As the British debated how to deal with the anti-colonial movement in Kenya, one parliamentarian explained that “the first objective must be to restore the rule of law, one of the greatest gifts we ever brought to the African continent”.**

videoBut if the attempt to smear Obama with the “anti-colonial” label in a country which gained its independence in a violent anti-colonial war of its own doesn’t make sense, it is also disturbing that Republican propagandists and imperial apologists have managed to so distort the relationship between colonialism and the ills of modern African societies.  It has become typical in right-wing circles, academic and popular, to pooh-pooh the significance of colonial rule for explaining things like corruption and violence in contemporary Africa.  Too much time has passed, they say, and liberals are just blinded by their anti-colonial biases, and seek to blame everything on colonialism.  [Above, pomp and circumstance as President Mwai Kibaki arrives at a political rally.]

It is certainly true that events since the 1950s and ‘60s have introduced other variables into African political contexts, and that these contexts differ drastically from one country to the next, but I have few doubts that in Kenya at least, the character of colonial rule has direct bearing on corruption in Kenya today.  Take the governments created on African reserves in Kenya by the British.  As in most colonial contexts, the British found people on the ground who were willing to cooperate with their rule in exchange for empowerment in local politics in society.  These were the people, writes UCLA anthropologist Robert Edgerton, “whom the British first appointed as chiefs”.  He goes on:

“In traditional Kikuyu culture there was no position of authority like that of a ‘chief’ ... Nevertheless, many among the British newcomers assumed that every African society must have chiefs, more or less as European societies did.  A few realized that even if the Kikuyu did not recognise chiefs, they nevertheless could not be ruled effectively without the help of men who had the authority to speak for and control them.  And so ‘chiefs’ were appointed and charged with the responsibility of maintaining order, collecting taxes, recruiting labour, and dealing with minor offenses. 
“As we have seen these chiefs were not men of prestige or standing in Kikuyu society, nor were they elders—most were simply opportunists who were eager and able to enforce British rule ... The chiefs’ power derived from the armed might of the British, who authorized them to govern by force if need be.  Their wealth came from their ruthlessness.  Accompanied by an armed entourage of ‘tribal police’ these early British-appointed chiefs extorted money from virtually everyone in their district, appropriating livestock, demanding plots of land, and ordering attractive women to sleep with them ...
“In time, the flagrant use of force was replaced by more subtle, but no less enriching forms of abuse, such as taking bribes for actions involving court cases, land disputes, forced labour or taxation”.***

The British system of indirect rule basically institutionalised an authoritarian and highly personalised style of rule based on corruption and extortion.  Lest defenders of European colonialism be tempted to believe that chiefs were somehow unrepresentative of British rule, it should be pointed out that they were not the only source of corruption in colonial administrations.  In my own research I frequently run across examples of European officials who illegally hoarded  and sold ivory, abused their positions to accumulate wealth in animal products, hunted illegally, served as go-between for large-scale poaching rings, and routinely abused their power vis-à-vis their “charges”, by physically violent and economically extortive means.  I have no reason to believe that wildlife departments were somehow exceptional.

Thus, for over six decades corruption wasn’t just something that happened on the sly.  It was the order of the day.  It was law.  It was a method—indeed, the method—of rule and governance.  Independence did not those who most actively resisted and critiqued colonial rule incorporated into government.  Many of the personnel and many of the methods of rule remained in place.  The old practises persisted because they continued to enrich people, because they were useful to politicians who appealed to tribally-based electorates, and because the years of dictatorship resembled those of colonial rule.

Raila Odinga (who contested the presidency in 2007 and is doing so again this year) addresses the 'yes' rally before the 2010 constitution was passed.  To his left, seated and wearing a blue tie, is President Mwai Kibaki, who is termed-out this year.

The British bequeathed quotidian corruption to Kenyans, and deeply-rooted and institutionalised abuses take time to root out, particularly when they remain profitable for those in power, many of whom grew up in the British system.  Younger Kenyans are more outspoken than their elders in condemning corruption, and although its everyday practise has abated some since the years of dictatorship, which ended only in 2002, it will undoubtedly take one or more generational shifts to extirpate more completely from the body politic.  I have friends who have left government and private sector posts rather than participate in officially-sanctioned graft, but it is telling that they do not yet feel safe speaking out. 

In one sense, it will make very little difference who wins Kenya’s presidential election in less than two weeks’ time.  Many Kenyans believe that in this case reading the process rather than the results as such will be most telling when it comes to evaluating how far the country has come since the end of British rule in 1963.

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* See, for example, Tabitha Kanogo, Squatters and the Roots of Mau Mau, 1905-1963.  Athens: Ohio University Press, 1987.

** House of Lords Debate, 29 October 1952, vol. 178, cc 1091-1142, Lord Tweedsmuir.

*** Robert B Edgerton, Mau Mau: An African Crucible.  New York: Ballantine Books, 1989, 40-41.  For more on the Mau Mau war and Kenya since independence, see the following: Caroline Elkins, Imperial Reckoning: the Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya (New York: Henry Holt, 2005); Daniel Branch, Defeating Mau Mau, Creating Kenya: Counterinsurgency, Civil War, and Decolonisation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009); David Anderson, Histories of the Hanged: Britain’s Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2005); E s Atieno Odhiambo and John Lonsdale, Mau Mau and Nationhood: Arms, Authority and Narration (Oxford: James Currey, 2003); Greet Kershaw, Mau Mau from Below (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1997); Daniel Branch, Kenya: Between Hope and Despair, 1963-2011 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011).  Good journalistic and fictional accounts of the period from the ‘50s to the present include: Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Micere Githae Mugo, The Trial of Dedan Kimathi; Ngugi wa Thiong’o, A Grain of Wheat; Ngugi’s memoirs, Dreams in a Time of War and In the House of the Interpreter, and his magnificent Wizard of the Crow; Michela Wrong’s It’s Our Turn to Eat.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Progressives’ Pyrrhic Victory in California

California Democrats have been in celebration mode since last November.  “Back from the Brink”, crowed a January article in the New Republic, its by-line cheering progressives for having done “the impossible”. 

Observers might be forgiven for thinking that they have done something significant, like overhauling the state’s broken system of governance, or restoring funding to our higher education sphere to honour the state’s Master Plan, or using their newly-won supermajority to push through transformative social or environmental legislation.

Turns out that they did something much less ambitious and more fleeting, and that they did it in a manner calculated to make trouble for the Golden State down the road.  Turns out “the impossible” just means that they “balanced California’s books”. 

But let me be generous and allow deluded Democrats to tell their side of the story first.  In the words of David Dayen, author of the article cited above, “the answer [to California’s budgetary ills] is quite simple.  Progressive Democratic activists identified the straitjacket of rules that had the state tied up in knots, and devised a systematic plan to change them.  Through massive organizing, they transformed the electorate and sidelined Republican obstructionists”.  Dayen identifies one source of the straitjacket on state government: Prop 13, which neutered discretionary use of property tax, enshrined minority rule, and unilaterally centralised governance in the state.

Nothing that happened in 2012 loosened that straitjacket.  By winning a temporary supermajority, which they could lose in two years, or which could disintegrate under the weight of internal bickering, Democrats were indeed able to marginalise Republicans.  But the absurd supermajority requirement for raising revenue remains (no such restriction operates when it comes to making devastating cuts).  For the time being, much funding remains centralised (something which there has never been a sensible statewide debate on—there is much value in a universalistic approach to some basic education standards and guidelines).  Prop 13 remains intact.  We are still working with an electoral system that doesn’t permit for more than two parties even though growing numbers of Californians are dissatisfied with the lukewarm liberalism of the Democrats and the foaming fundamentalism of the Republicans.  If Dayen’s progressives have a plan to change all of this, they’re primary success has been in keeping it a secret.

So what actually changed, besides the fleeting supermajority?

Democrats now seem to think that going to the ballot box for revenue is a smart and sustainable option.  It is neither.  It is not clear that the electorate has undergone some long-term transformation, as Dayen claims.  People voted (by a reasonable but by no means enormous margin) for the Governor’s Prop 30 (which raised taxes on the wealthy and sales taxes very slightly—amounting to a maintenance of earlier revenue levels rather than a real increase) after being pushed to the brink.  They voted for Prop 30 because they were told that it represented a serious “fix” for the state’s troubles.  I’d love to be proved wrong, but I don’t think that voters are going to be enthusiastic about having to “save” the state in this manner every couple of years.  It’s a method of governing which makes for chronic instability in the budget and, more importantly, devastating uncertainty in the lives of people who depend on the public sphere in one way or another—children, students, the elderly, the poor, those who ride public transport, those who work in the public sphere.  It is unclear that the very real coalition that Dayen identified in his article will mobilise to “save schools” in every election, something which will be necessary if Democrats are too spineless to do anything with their hard-won supermajority. 

Prop 30 was nothing more than a band-aid, which remedied none of the state’s real ills.  It did nothing to check Prop 13.  It did nothing for revenue over the long-term.  It did nothing to settle the contradictions built into our system—a system in which voters can mandate a spending project in one initiative and shut down the revenue which would be needed to fund such a project in another.  It did nothing to settle the question of what kind of society we would like to build—one in which individuals scrape out a living against the unyielding bedrock of a hostile market or one in which we pool our resources, do our best to distribute them in an equitable fashion, and enjoy the benefits which accrue from this communally-minded approach.

Dayan also fails to acknowledge that none of this, the pollsters tell us, would have been possible if Governor Brown had not spent two years subjecting the state to a gruelling round of cuts.  Democrats made their “comeback” on the backs of damaging, irresponsible, anti-social cuts to health and welfare services, higher education, and local governments.  Those who depend on services for the disabled have been made to suffer for years, those who depend on public libraries have found many of them shuttered.  Universities had experienced a decade of decline—the University of California now derives a mere 11% of its funding from the state general fund—before the public began caring.  And now, even though the Governor and legislature are not providing any increased funding for UC, leaving students and their families to carry the burden, Brown suddenly wants to micromanage the system.  So only people who live in the closed-off world of Sacramento political machinations could regard the election as a “victory” in anything other than party-political terms.

Social democracy shows no signs of making a comeback in California.  There is no indication that the state will launch a re-investment in its universities.  There are no signs that we will heed the President’s call and launch a bold drive to reinvigorate Pre-K-12 education. 

If Democrats in California have anything to be proud of, it is perhaps of their deceitful qualities, inasmuch as their “comeback” was shepherded by a Governor who behaves more or less like a Republican: embracing austerity, eviscerating the public weal, treating the budget as an end in itself rather than a tool, and now shirking the responsibility of advancing a comprehensive, affirmative framework for our state.

There are some signs from the Senate leader that Democrats are contemplating some structural reform.  Shortly after the election, a friend sent me a story suggesting that the party leadership is looking into addressing the state’s democratic deficit, noting that someone in government appears to have read California Crackup—the must-read book by Mark Paul and Joe Mathews which details the extent of California’s structural crisis and outlines a set of concrete solutions.  But if Democrats did read this important treatise on California’s democracy, they missed the key point.

Paul and Mathews point out that structural reform is nothing new in California.  Each election, voters and special interests add an annexe to the monstrous edifice that is California’s governing structure, and each of these annexes contains not only the good intentions (and sometimes not even those!) of its sponsors, but also a host of unintended consequences which ricochet around the state for years to come, impacting other spheres of society and governance, creating a totally unworkable system.

For reform to work, Paul and Mathews write, it has to be systematic and comprehensive.  Fiddling here and there—as suggested by the Democratic leadership—will not do.  California can’t afford to allow Democrats to rest on their laurels.  The progressive grassroots need to make it clear that structural reform is a necessity rather than a luxury if we are to make any progress in healing the state.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Progressives Admonish University of California Healthcare Quackery

Over the nine years I’ve been at the University of California, system-wide administrators based in UCOP’s Oakland headquarters have gained a reputation for being tone-deaf, tight-fisted except when it comes to their own salaries, corporate-minded, and generally pretty indifferent to the plight of students who have seen tuition skyrocket as California disinvests from its prize institution, an object of envy to people across academic, industrial, entrepreneurial and democratic circles around the world. 

The latest example comes in their handling of healthcare matters.  One of the many improvements made by “Obamacare” (at least from the standpoint of those not invested in anti-social healthcare profiteering or in the weakening of working people) was the erasure of annual and lifetime benefits.  This, like other reforms, is designed to reorient healthcare conversation and practise towards the welfare of the public rather than the needs of a profit-driven market.  Radical as this idea has been in the United States—spawning comical invocations of “death panels” and bureaucrat surgeons—it will presumably become as uncontroversial over time here as it has in other socially-responsible countries around the world. 

UC, however, has declined to terminate these limits, and has refused to provide the preventative care also mandated by law.  Instead, UC is looking to increase the healthcare payment that all students make by 25%, a not-inconsiderable sum on top of already-unconscionably high fees.  As student representation on campus has requested, UC should be able to juggle its responsibilities to students in the short-term in such a way as to make the provision of such care manageable over the long-term.

Because of its status, UC compliance is voluntary.  But it says something about the market-oriented, uncaring people at the top of this system that their knee-jerk reaction to any budgetary difficulty is to exploit their power to pummel students.  University of California’s administrative leadership clearly does not see themselves as providing guidance for a community, or as tasked with looking out for the interests of community-members.  Instead, they appear to regard the University as a money-making venture which can somehow survive and prosper as a public institution with a public mission even though it actively undermines the capacity of undergraduate students, graduate student researchers, and graduate student instructors to go about their work by driving up costs whenever the opportunity presents itself, thereby degrading the university’s status as an institution of learning. 

Today the out-going President Mark Yudof and his staff got a wake-up call when Nancy Pelosi and other members of California’s congressional delegation wrote to complain of UC’s exploitation of the very people whose well-being engenders their raison d’être.  Hopefully they will reflect on their responsibility to their students and respond accordingly.