When an H-Bomb Dropped near Albuquerque

Albuquerque has long had a nuclear legacy. One part of it was the time when a hydrogen bomb was accidentally dropped in Albuquerque.

On May 22, 1957, a B-36 bomber was flying from Biggs Air Force Base in Texas to Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico, carrying a Mark 17 hydrogen bomb. (1) The plane flew into turbulent air at 1,700 feet as it was. To steady himself, the navigator grabbed a lever on the plane, the lever that released the twenty-one ton bomb. It crashed through its bay doors and landed four and a half miles south of the control tower. The plane, losing twenty-one tons, lurched over a thousand feet in the air. The shocked pilots announced to the control tower that they dropped a nuclear bomb.

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The drop caused conventional explosives in the bomb to detonate on impact in an uninhabited area. The weapon parts were not in place so there was, thankfully, no nuclear explosion. It created a crater 12 feet deep and 25 feet wide and killed a cow, but no human fatalities. There was minor radioactive contamination.

The Mark 17 was the first thermonuclear weapon to be carried aboard a plane. It was 24.5 feet long and 5 feet in diameter. It had an estimated yield of 10 megatons, 600 times that of the Hiroshima bomb. It was then the most powerful weapon in the U.S. arsenal.

This story was not known until the Albuquerque Journal did a story on it in 1986 after a Freedom of Information Act request. The old military documents it received mentioned this drop. Some of the details still remain classified, but with the documents and interviews with some of the participants, it recounted both the horror and humor of this moment.

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To just think that in my hometown, a hometown for now millions of people, a thermonuclear bomb was literally dropped on it. New Mexico itself has a long military and nuclear legacy, and it still lingers in it. The state is the site of the development of the first nuclear weapon, the first test of this new weapon, and the subsequent development of them in the two nuclear laboratories, Los Alamos and Sandia. It also has its aftereffects. The contamination of Navajo lands and water from uranium mining. Even in Albuquerque there is slight plutonium contamination of the soil from these early nuclear development projects from Kirtland. One major place it still hold this legacy is the storage at Kirtland of thousands of nuclear warheads, which I will explore further.

Source:

Bartimus, Tad and Scott McCartney.  Trinity’s Children: Living Along America’s Nuclear Highway. Albuquerque, NM. UNM Press. 1991. (Chapter 3: City of Secrets.)

Posted in Air Force, Albuquerque, Kirtland Air Force Base, Los Alamos, Nuclear, Sandia National Laboratories | Leave a comment

Another Presidential Search at UNM in the Midst

Full disclosure here, I have moved back to Albuquerque, so have been covering the news here a bit more, even though I try to stay away. One thing that is happening now is another presidential search at UNM. It seems the last president, Robert Frank, which I have written about before, did not work out for the Regents, and UNM cannot seem to hold on to its CEO’s. Here I will examine this and look at the prospects for the next presidential search.

I wrote before about the presidential search process, and in particular the one that chose Robert Frank. I predicted he would win for being not a token minority and for his antagonistic stance against faculty as his previous university. This prediction came real, as Frank was nominated for the regents.

By all accounts before it seems that Frank and the Regents were getting along fine at UNM. In 2013 the regents paid Frank a bonus with his $360,000-plus salary, due to increased graduation and retention rates. But in early September 2016 Frank announced that he would not renew his contract and would end his term in May 2017, when his contract ended. But the Regents accepted his resignation early, and he ended his term in December 2016. One of his provosts, Chaouki Abdullah, became interim president.

Before this, Frank had his retirement planned out. The Regents offered him a $350,000 job at the Health Sciences Center in a new position specifically created for him. This was a time of large state budget cuts, but they were willing to throw money at an administrator. It can also be related to the recent action that put the Health Sciences Center more under direct control of the Regents.

There was other signs of tension when in November 11, 2016 an internal audit was done against Frank. It was about Frank over-reimbursing the university for expenses, $5,500 of $227,000 spent. There were other reports around this time of missing money at UNM, and as Frank paid the money back, it was a tempest in the teapot in the bigger scheme of things.

There was another outside review by attorney Alice Kilborn that found that Frank created a hostile work environment. It found that Frank was “impatient, bitingly sarcastic, condescending, and rude to members of his office staff and to other individuals within the university.” The 10-page report also said Frank was short-tempered and bad mannered. The methodology was put into question, as they talked to eight faculty and staff, out of 1,250 faculty and 3,000 staff. But the Regents before this also hired Frank a job coach to help improve his communications skills. The local media hinted at these conflicts with Frank and the Regents as a reason for his early dismissal. There was also conflicts with Gov. Susana Martinez and her staff hinted at.

 The career of Robert Frank, as other recent presidents at UNM, show the real power in the university resides within the regents, who have absolute control on the university and has the president serve at its whim. The president before Frank, Louis Caldera, was also fired early after reported conflicts with the Regents.But this is a conflict within the ruling elites. Frank does not have the concerns of the common people at heart. In fact, the Journal in an editorial praising Frank for his accomplishments listed one of them as his increase in public-private tech transfer at UNM and support for entrepreneurship, both of which were “essential for UNM to become a more competitive university.” In other words, serving business interests.

In all cases, the Regents spent huge sums of money to conduct the search and to hire the president. I have talked about the importance to the university president before, and that many people are unaware that it is written in law that the Regents have sole authority to choose the president. Yet they will put on this facade that the Presidential Search is an open process where the community has a say in choosing the president. What will be interesting as this process goes forward is showing how it exposes the power over the corporate university.

 

Posted in Presidential Search, University of New Mexico | Leave a comment

Facebook in Los Lunas

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Facebook recently announced that they will build a new data center in Los Lunas, New Mexico, just outside of Albuquerque. They beat out West Jordan, Utah as a competitor by offering better incentives. Nearly every power broker in New Mexico is praising the move, but it reveals another example of neoliberal economics in a poor state.

The new Facebook center will be located 1/2 mile west of I-25, south of Route 6 in Los Lunas. This new center claims it will be the most energy efficient data center in the world, running on 100 percent renewable energy, by services to be built by state utility company PNM. This one is nice, as data centers, farms for servers and the like, use vast amounts of electricity. As the modern world depends more in information technology and the internet, it helps to know what the real costs are in terms of electricity and the environmental costs from it.

The company and state politicians state it will bring hundreds of construction jobs, dozens of long term operations jobs, and hundreds of millions of dollars of new investment. The mayor of Los Lunas said more precisely it would bring up to 300 temporary construction jobs and at least 50 long term operations jobs. Construction was scheduled to begin October 2016 and the center will be operational in 2018. The big story was the generous incentives given by both competing sites, and ultimately by Los Lunas.

Los Lunas passed an IRB, or Industrial Revenue Bond, measure of up to $30 billion. Another $10 million was from a Local Economic Development Act (LEDA) measure, and up to $3 million in Job Training Incentive Program funding. They also got their property taxes waived for the next 30 years in exchange for annual payments of between $50,000 and $100,000 a year. Facebook would also get 75 percent reimbursement of the gross tax revenues they receive, capped at $1.6 million. No one knows exactly if this will pay off, but it is typical in the age of neoliberalism, where the public pays for private gain.

West Jordon, Utah also offered Facebook big tax incentives to locate their, but it was ultimately rejected. They offered a $250 million, 20 year tax incentive, but the taxing entities rejected it, and local officials protested that it was too generous.

The governor of New Mexico, Susana Martinez, began courting Facebook back in August 2015. In the neoliberal economy, the state competes with others to bring in industry.

Another giveaway was the water. West Jordon debated the request for 5 million gallons of water per day required by Facebook to be held in reserve for the then 230 acre, 3.3 million square foot project. The water is used for the evaporative coolers to keep the servers from overheating. The LEDA funds in New Mexico are allocated to purchase water rights. Los Lunas also approved an agreement that would allow Facebook to have access of up to 4.5 million gallons a day. Both Utah and New Mexico have desert climates, with water a scarce resource, and in their bid to attract industry they will give away this resource for them.

Another argument they gave is that the project would help local contractors. But the main contractor is Fortis Construction, based in Portland, Oregon.

Another important aspect of this deal is the amount of secrecy involved. As the Albuquerque Journal reported, “At Facebook’s request, only certain public officials were authorized to speak about any aspect of the project, and dozens of government employees signed nondisclosure agreements. One Utah media outlet delayed breaking the Facebook story for months so as not to jeopardize the state’s chances of securing the data center.” Both projects went under shell companies and code names. In Los Lunas the IRB was first approved for a parent company Greater Kudu LLC, the name in its request. It was named Project Antelope, which a Greater Kudu is. Utah went under Project Discus, and conversations with Facebook and state officials were kept private under their request. These deals are more common, but they don’t want them to come under the light.

Deseret News quoted Dave Swenson, an economist at Iowa State University, saying “the only winner here is Facebook.”

“Two cities were pitted one against each other, offering massive subsidies for an extraordinarily profitable company,” Swenson said. “Honestly, West Jordan dodged a bullet, and the state of Utah dodged a bullet. They would have committed to spending an extraordinary amount of money for a negligible increase of productivity in their regional economy.”

New Mexico is a poor state, often ranking near the bottom, if not at the bottom, in poverty. The economy is dependent on government jobs and extractive industries, the latter taking a hit lately with the decline of oil and gas jobs. Thus it is susceptible to giving away these public subsidies for private investment. Many compared the deal to the one with Intel, which the state and Rio Rancho gave away billions in tax breaks for the company to locate in the growing suburb. Now it may reduce its operations if not close altogether due to decreased demand for their computer chips as mobile devices become the preferred computer. I have written about other IRB’s given to Phillips and Eclipse, which did not perform as expected. A website gives data on nearly $4 billion in subsidies to private industry in New Mexico. Public subsidy for private gain.

The example of Facebook of how economies of neoliberal capitalism work would be an argument for a more socialist economy. Where the resources would be owned by the people, where communities would have say in what resources are given to industry, and companies could not just up and leave a community, devastating it. But as long as capitalism plays out, the economy will be at the mercy of these concentrated entities of corporations. After all, in a theoretical capitalist economy, companies would make it on their own without any assistance. But that is not the way it works, and economics should be more democratic to benefit the many over the few.

Sources:

Baca, Marie C. “It’s official: Facebook breaks ground in New Mexico next month.” Albuquerque Journal. September 15, 2016.  https://www.abqjournal.com/844876/facebook-picks-los-lunas-for-its-data-center.html

McKeller, Kate. “West Jordan falls to New Mexico’s sweetheart deal for Facebook data center.” Deseret News. September 14, 2016. http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865662425/Facebook-chooses-New-Mexico-over-West-Jordan-for-data-center.html

“Facebook chooses New Mexico over Utah for its newest data center.” https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/sep/14/facebook-data-center-new-mexico-utah?cmp=oth_b-aplnews_d-1

Reichbach, Matthew. “Facebook announces data center coming to New Mexico.” NM Political Report. September 14, 2016. http://nmpoliticalreport.com/93449/facebook-announces-data-center-coming-to-new-mexico/

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Three Ways Donald Trump and Gary Johnson are Similar

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This year, 2016, is an unusual election year, as the Republican nominee for president of the United States is reality TV star Donald Trump. His inflammatory rhetoric has angered many parts of the American population, but also attracted other parts. His campaign has even had effects internally in the Republican Party, where many are unsettled with the prospects of Trump as their nominee. With Hillary Clinton the two nominees make up the least liked candidates in recent history.

With this, third-party efforts are getting more attention, specifically that of Gary Johnson. He won the Libertarian Party nomination for their presidential candidate, and he was also their nominee in 2012. The state of this years election makes Johnson a bigger factor in this election than the one before. Being from New Mexico, I thought to give an overview of what his previous elected office was like. Looking into this, I found many similarities to Donald Trump.

1. Lack of experience as a virtue:

Gary Johnson entered politics in 1994 running for the Republican nomination for governor of New Mexico. He was a self-made millionaire owner of a construction company, and held no political office before. Johnson used this lack of political experience as an asset, emphasizing his role as an entrepreneur. Campaigning as a conservative with a libertarian bent, he promised to run government like a business to make it more efficient. Also campaigned as an outsider, with a slogan “People Before Politics.” He beat other experienced politicians in the party primary. He ran against three term Democratic governor and political machine Bruce King, and in a rare happening against Green Party candidate Roberto Mondragon. In this three-way race Johnson won the governor’s office in a plurality.

Johnson’s first term was divisive against the state legislature, but he was reelected four years later against Democratic nominee Martin Chavez, then mayor of Albuquerque. It was in his second term that he became known for advocating legalization of drugs, the highest elected official to do so.

Back in 1998, Alan Ehrenhalt wrote in Governing magazine about how successful state governors are those who came into office with experience. (1) He made a list of those governors at the time he considered successful, which spanned the political spectrum. They included two features: “1), set out a coherent policy agenda and accomplished most of it, or 2), projected a consistent image of competence and authority.” He also stated that they are “prudent and sensible managers who leave no doubt that somebody capable is in charge.” Basically, governors who were successful had served in government for a very long time, even those right-wing governors who wanted to dismantle government. Governing a state is difficult in its own peculiar way, involving “threading ones way through a maze of complex institutions and personalities, bending them to ones will and doing that without the benefit of any real instruments of autocratic power.” The best governors, according to Ehrenhalt, pick up things that can only be learning in state legislatures. How they work, who the key members are, and how to work them.

Ehrenhalt also gave a criteria for “worst” governors:

“He’s a successful self-made businessman, disdainful of government and uncomfortable with politics, accustomed to having his way in the private entrepreneurial world. He doesn’t know many legislators, or want to know them. His main interest in the bureaucracy is in humbling it. He has no desire for a long career in politics – he just wants to come in, straighten things out and return to private life before he’s contaminated. He’s very smart and articulate. He’s just not very smart about the things governors need to know.”

This was written back in 1998 with Governor Johnson in mind, but it can also describe Trump too.

The article further states “[T]hree and a half years into his term, he has succeeded mainly in establishing a condition of almost permanent warfare with the legislature, the bureaucracy and the court system, and vetoing nearly half the bills sent to his desk for signature.” He further states that Johnson “…hasn’t exactly succeeded at establishing authority on enacting an agenda.” A positive side of the possibility of Trump getting into office.

2. Simplistic ideas, and always being right:

Johnson is quoted as saying, “My whole life, I’ve been a success because I possess a lot of really good ideas, and I’m able to implement those ideas.” As governor, “none of my good ideas get anywhere.” He was not into compromising, an essential to politics. He was known for vetoing more bills in his first term than any other governor in history.

Johnson’s three major policy areas were education, prisons, and  gambling on Native American lands. On these he offered simple solutions to these problems. For education he pushed vouchers, taking the legislature into special session for not considering vouchers. For prisons he was a major advocate of privatization. Many more riots happened in the prisons due to the mismanagement of the corporations contracted to run the prisons in the state. For legalized gambling, already a tense issue with the state and the tribes, Johnson made unilateral compacts with the tribes, but the state Supreme Court later ruled them illegal.

A recent article in Jacobin gives an overview of the legacy of Gary Johnson in New Mexico.(2)

Trump also is campaigning as an outsider, to “Make America Great Again.” Simplistic solutions like building a border wall, etc. Intentionally vague and often contradictory stances.

Like a certain candidate this year, Johnson was also known for speaking his mind. On his second term, he advocated legalization of drugs, specifically marijuana and heroin. While drug legalization is a worthy policy goal, Johnson relied on flimsy evidence and personal anecdotes. Parents at one school attempted to get a court order to stop him from speaking to their kids. State Senator Bill McKibben said Johnson’s “attention span can be measured in nanoseconds.”

3. Not taken seriously, and using politics as entertainment:

And that brings to Johnson being seen as entertainment. His “goofy demeanor” inoculated him from public backlash. His naiveté and impatience endeared him to voters. He took breaks from his governing to train in the triathlon. Some did not like his drug legalization stance, but agreed he was a great guy to be around, like a friend. In the New Republic, Charles Duhigg said this about Johnson: “Johnson was great entertainment – and that, it seems, is all New Mexico voters want from their governor, no matter what kind of havoc he wrecks on their state.” (3)

Trump, as a reality TV star, knows the value of entertainment, and he has received free media coverage because of this. He was not a really good businessman, as often he went into bankruptcy and scammed investors out of their money in his overspending. The most valuable asset Trump realized he had is his name, which he made into a brand. Especially with The Celebrity Apprentice, where he played a successful CEO. He used this audience to build his political career, along with good old-fashioned demagoguery.

In a recent Washington Post article on Trump, it talked about how many of his supporters do not actually believe he will do the more outrageous things he has campaigned for, such as building a wall and making Mexico pay for it. (4)

“We’re going to build a wall, and it’s going to be a real wall – It’s going to be a wall that’s going to make that ceiling look quite low, and it’s fairly high. And it’s going to get built fast, and it’s going to look beautiful because someday they’ll call it the Trump Wall. Who the hell knows.” – An actual quote from Donald Trump.

Many think this and proposals about banning Muslims are just metaphors, or just said to get attention. Supporters interviewed say Trump’s pledges are things like “malleable symbols” and “rhetorical devices.” One supporter said “I think he’s making a stand and wants to be a little bit more outrageous with it to draw attention to the ideology that he wants to stand for things that people aren’t standing for. And, honestly, I think he’s a marketing genius.” Johnson and Trump, knowing how to work the media.

Conclusion

I don’t need to go on about what a racist and misogynist that Trump is. Or how he has mobilized white supremacy and white nationalism like never before, bringing up the specter of fascism. Other articles have done just this. One day before the election, it looks like Hillary Clinton will win with a slight majority in the popular and electoral vote. We will see. For Johnson, his famous “What is Aleppo” moment put a major damper in his campaign.

The factors that led to the rise of Gary Johnson in a state level are also at play with Donald Trump at a national level. Both gave little experience as an asset, proposed simplistic solutions, and played on entertainment in politics to the point they could say outrageous things and not be taken seriously. For Johnson, being a two term governor gives him more political experience in this one, which gives him years more experience than Trump. Also Trump is more dangerous with his demagogic appeals and propensity for violence and scapegoating. We need a new political system that takes politics for people seriously, which would require a revolutionary transformation that would be resisted. Until then, the politics of resentment represented by those like Johnson before and Trump now will continue.

Sources:

1. Ehrenhalt, Alan. “It Pays to Know Where the Bodies Are Buried.” Governing Magazine. June 1998. pp. 5-6.

2. Tabor, Nick. “Gary Johnson’s Hard Right Record.” Jacobin. https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/09/gary-johnson-libertarian-president-new-mexico-governor-record/

3. Duhigg, Charles. “Tokin’ Reformer.” The New Republic. April 3, 2000. p. 14.

4. Washington Post article: Johnson, Jenna. “Many Trump Supporters Don’t Believe His Wildest Promises – And They Don’t Care.” Washington Post. June 7, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/many-trump-supporters-dont-believe-his-wildest-promises–and-they-dont-care/2016/06/06/05005210-28c4-11e6-b989-4e5479715b54_story.html

Posted in Electoral Politics | Leave a comment

9/11 and the Universities: The Academic Right Strikes Back – Postscript

Over a year after 9/11, and exactly a year after the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act, Kristine McNeil in The Nation Magazine (1) reported that it had brought “an ever-growing enemies list from our nation’s thought police.” It started with the ACTA report, which purported “to advocate the preservation of academic freedom and dissent while being all about suppressing both when the views expressed conflict with blind support for US foreign policy.” The ACTA report was just the start of organized attacks on the Left and the anti-war movement in the universities by these organizations of the Academic Right. Another target of this was solidarity with Palestine.

One blacklisting project that started in the post-9/11 era was Campus Watch, a part of the right wing Middle East Forum. It is led by Daniel Pipes, a prominent anti-Arab propagandist. It first listed names of professors and their quotes of professors who were critical of Israel, similar to the Defending Civilization report from ACTA. After it received criticism it changed its format. Some feared that it would use its information to invoke the USA Patriot Act to charge some of its opponents with terrorism.

The purpose again was to stifle debate on foreign policy in Iraq and in the Israel-Palestine conflict. With the growth of the anti-war movement, the issue of Israel and Palestine was becoming prominent. Also, Pipes and his ilk, in their attacks on the studies of Islamist movements, attempted to direct them into a more pro-Bush administration agenda.

A main target was Middle East Studies, intending to turn these programs int a tool to be used by the American military. Edward Said came under attack. Others had their patriotism attacked.

The project still exists today. You can go to the site yourself at campus-watch.org to read its hysterics. They have also directed their attacks at students and others in the campus community for supporting the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestine.

The Zionists have long targeted their enemies. In the 1970’s the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) formed the Political Leadership Development Program, enlisting students to collect information on pro-Palestinian professors.

In the years to come, more attacks on campus happened. David Horowitz continued his blitzkrieg on American campuses, releasing a book about 101 professors he deemed treasonous.  Ward Churchill was forced from his job for critical words on US foreign policy right after 9/11, but attacked years later.

Another group that formed was founded by William Bennett, the Americans for Victory Over Terrorism. The did a survey of college students on terrorism, war, and Americanism.

These were all part of the broader right wing agenda. The Project for a New American Century rose to prominence. The Heritage Foundation has always been a driver of the conservative movement. Others include the Defense Policy Board and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. All promoted the expansion of the American empire. The universities were targeted because of its potential for dissent and also for the resources used for official policy for state and corporate power.

For every defeat we have victories in the struggle. To get enemies shows that the movements were being effective. These reactionary attacks on the community of higher education will continue. Having a sense of history will make progressive better prepared to fight them.

Sources:

  1. McNeil, Kristine . “The War on Academic Freedom.” The Nation. November 11, 2002. https://www.thenation.com/article/war-academic-freedom/.
Posted in Universities | Leave a comment

9/11 and the Universities: The Ideology of ACTA

The mission of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, published on their website, is as “a nonprofit educational organization committed to academic freedom, excellence and accountability on college and university campuses. It supports programs and policies that encourage high academic standards, strong curricula, and the free exchange of ideas.” (1) Yet this free exchange of ideas does not extend to criticism of the United States history or its foreign policy. Nor to any studies that are not that of western civilization.

ACTA on paper encourages colleges and universities to adopt strong, liberal arts based core curricula. Their writings encourage the teaching of American history and Western civilization. It claims that instruction in Western Civilization has suffered due to the increased influence of multiculturalism. In their Defending Civilization report and other writings, they also bemoan the increase in courses after 9/11 on Islam. Their view is a precursor to the Islamophobia that became prevalent after the attacks, blaming Islam itself for it. To bring a better understanding of the religion that many Americans were ignorant about and see it in an objective way did not feed into the hate that ACTA promoted against Muslims. It would seem for an organization that would promote better standards in education, they would be in favor of educated people having more knowledge of many cultures not their own. Of course ACTA’s and the American Right’s bigotry was contrasted to the mood in general in American society as a whole. The bestseller lists became stacked with book titles about Islam itself and the situation in Central Asia. It is also good to reflect on ones own culture and society, point out the wrong in it, and work to make it right. ACTA does not only want Western civilization taught but to have it emphasized as superior.But yet ACTA’s agenda was to preach the superiority and blind acceptance of their version of Western Civilization. It also wants the histories of non-white peoples erased too.

ACTA, in its McCarthyist state of mind, sees its academic foes as internal enemies within the United States to fight. They state “…the threat to academic freedom comes from within. The barbarians are not at the gates; they are inside the walls.” (2)

It brought up the bogeyman of political correctness on college campuses, and states “ACTA is working to engage alumni and donors, trustees and state leaders in this fight,” further explaining “[T]rustees set policy and have a fiduciary obligation for the academic, as well as financial, well-being of their institutions.” (2) So while it warns about decline of standards, it accepts the hierarchical model of the corporate university, where trustees use their power to bring the rest of the campus in line.

If their ideology is the promotion of the superiority of Western civilization, the strategy is using the undemocratic means of university governance for their own aims. ACTA is in favor of trustees taking a more active role in university governance, including on things like curricula and core requirements. They have the power to but usually do not. ACTA wants to use trustees to shape its reactionary agenda for education.

Their own writings show that ACTA accepts the model of the corporate university. In their statement on Higher Education Accountability they state:

“The president of a college or university, as the chief executive officer, has two principal duties: to ensure that the institutions product is a good one, namely a strong education for the students, and to manage the institutions resources as effectively as possible. Trustees, as the board of directors, cannot take for granted that these results are being achieved. They must hold the administration accountable for results, thus answering to the shareholders of the higher education enterprise – students, parents, alumni, and taxpayers who deserve the best possible education at the lowest possible cost.” (3)

For this, ACTA has set up programs specifically for university trustees. With the problems of higher education being internal, ACTA believes that outside help is necessary in solving them, and their organization is it. They state, “[T]rustees are the key. Exercising final responsibility, trustees are in a position to provide a fresh perspective, a healthy balance, and an openness to new solutions.”(4). Thus, ACTA offered many resources to trustees in American universities, hoping to spread right wing power in these institutions. They include the following:

*Institute for Effective Governance: launched in 2001, IEG is an alternative membership organization for active trustees, operating under the auspices of ACTA. A quote from their founding statement gives their pro-corporate stance:

“In recent years corporate boards have become less beholden to management. By demanding increased accountability, productivity and efficiency these trustees have helped spur America’s renewed competitiveness in the world economy. The time is ripe for a similar revolution in higher education governance.” (5)

*ATHENA Roundtable: standing for Alumni and Trustees for Higher Education Accountability. They hosted a conference in Washington DC titled “Can This Nation Long Endure: Strengthening History and the Core Curriculum.” They see a threat to the United States itself from a lack of Western Civilization taught in education.

*Trustees for Better Teachers: set up to have trustees influence teacher education “so that teachers receive an education that is content-based, grounded in the liberal arts, and emphasizes knowledge and learning rather than ideology and attitude manipulation.”

As stated before, ACTA conducts trainings for trustees, before in New York, and then in Florida. In 2001, ACTA was chosen by then governor Jeb Bush (then-President George W. Bush’s brother) to train 145 of his newly appointed college and university trustees in that state. There are 11 universities in the state of Florida, and the new laws made each school’s board of trustees autonomous, with a seven-member “superboard”, which would oversee all state education from kindergarten to grad school, “and requires a governance system that enforces system-wide accountability.” Training for new trustees was mandated, and ACTA was chosen to do that. (6) The ramifications of the change, which many observers termed both unnecessary and unwarranted, was not yet felt then, it was feared it would when contracts would come up between university employees and their Boards of Trustees. The new system would force unions on campus to bargain with each autonomous Board of Trustees separately, undermining their bargaining power.

ACTA’s calls for “accountability” in terms of curriculum and governance was only to serve to cut access and redesign curriculum along right wing and corporate lines. Along with their recent attacks on dissent of the Bush Administration and academic freedom more broadly, their final goals were to be the reconstruction of universities to further roll back democracy on campus.

As Annette Fuentes states in The Nation in 1998,

“With the authority to hire and fire chancellors and college presidents, as well as to set educational policy, the boards wield enormous power. Across the country, conservative Republican governos have appointed trustees who are their political allies rather than independent advocates for the university system. These political proxies – often backed by the National Association of Scholars and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, groups that oppose affirmative action and multicultural studies – are enacting sweeping changes in the mission of public higher education to provide wide access.” (7)

The problems with campus governance were not limited to the right wing takeovers of their governing boards. It was part of the system of university governance itself, which I have written about here extensively. With a governance system that rests all important decision-making power in Boards of Regents and Trustees that are unelected and unaccountable to the people it governs, it feeds the strategy of groups like ACTA to regress higher education. This is why many pushed for campus democracy before.

Sources:

  1. http://www.goacta.org/
  2. http://www.goacta.org/freedom.htm (accessed December 1, 2001)
  3. http://www.goacta.org/accountability.htm (accessed December 1, 2001)
  4. http://www.goacta.org/trusteeprograms.htm (accessed December 1, 2001)
  5. Founders, Institute for Effective Governance, quote from http://www.goacta.org/accountability.htm
  6. “Florida Joins Accountability Movement.” Inside Academe (ACTA Newsletter). Spring/Summer 2001. Vol. VI, No. 3.
  7. Fuentes, Annette. “Trustees of the Right’s Agenda.” The Nation. October 5, 1998.
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9/11 and the Universities: The Origins of ACTA

Who is ACTA?

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni was one of the leading conservative groups waging attacks on the universities. It had ties to powerful right wing ideologues and funded by their foundations. With their money and power built up in the years before 9/11, they were in an opportune spot to take advantage of the tragedy to further their attacks on higher education.

The main figure in ACTA was Lynne Cheney. Wife of Dick Cheney, who before becoming vice president was secretary of defense and a congressperson in the 1980’s. Lynne Cheney was appointed to the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1986 under the Reagan administration, and stayed there through the Bush administration, resigning in 1993. She used her position to lead the right wing assault against the broad Left and ”perfected a method of attack that depends more on hyperbole than accuracy.” The Nation magazine described her as a “right wing warrior who used her post at the NEH to fight the Republican culture wars of the eighties.” (1). Cheney was an ideological warrior for the right, with William Bennett, who served before her in the NEH, saying she would be “hard to muzzle.” She resigned after Clinton’s election, served at the American Enterprise Institute, where she wrote op-ed hit pieces and later co-hosted on the defunct CNN show Crossfire Sunday (she on the right). In 1994 she led the attack against the National History Standards, which would have given more emphasis on history that was often overlooked in the patriotic correctness of before, even got the Senate to vote to defund the project 99 to 1. This was a model of what her attacks on education would bring in the future.

In 1995, through the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, the National Alumni Forum was founded, with the help of Cheney and Jerry Martin (who worked in the NEH with Cheney, and became acting chairman when she left in 1993, through 1995). The mission of the NAF was to “organize alumni support for academic freedom and challenge practices and policies that threaten intellectual freedom and undermine academic standards.” (2) Its purpose was to organize conservative alumni to influence university agendas and curriculum through their donations to their alma maters. They had a model in Lee Bass, who withdrew a $20 million gift from Yale University in 1995 when it did not expand its Western Civilization curriculum as he wanted.

In 1998 the NAF changed its name to the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. ACTA’s founders also included many conservative Democrats like Joe Lieberman and former Colorado governor Richard Lamm, but it’s board consisted of a who’s who of right wing intellectuals and activists. (3) It continued to attempt to get alumni to influence university policies, and published materials to help them in that. (4) But as its name change showed, they also realized the power of trustees to wield power on universities. They wanted trustees to insert themselves more into the political affairs of campus, and Mr. Martin initiated a training program for activist trustees in 20 states. (5) They had much success in New York, where they got a conservative governor to appoint conservative trustees, who used their positions to promote right wing agendas. That state suffered attacks at CUNY and SUNY by the chapter of ACTA there. (6). Annette Fuentes, an adjunct professor at Columbia University School of Journalism , said at the time “conservative appointees hold increasing sway over public higher education.” This model spread to other states too, who had similar means of appointing trustees through the state governor. In Virginia, Gordon Davies, the director of the state Council on Higher Education from 1977 to 1997, said that appointments got more ideological under governor George Allen, with more ultra right and religious right appointments. This was part of the broader right wing attacks on higher education. Ward Connerly appointed by Republican governor Pete Wilson in California to the Board of Regents, led the campaign to abolish affirmative action in the state universities there in 1995. Connerly sat on the ACTA board in 1998.

Money Talks

The rise of ACTA was the result not just of its people with power and ideology, but of the money from well-funded network of right wing foundations dedicated to transforming the political climate of the United States. There has been many studies done in the late 90’s by progressive researchers on the right wing foundations and their influence in public policy. (7)

After the 1960’s the right wing realized that their movement would be a war of ideas, and they mobilized their resources accordingly, using their foundation networks to pour millions of dollars into a broad range of conservative political organizations. Their sheer size and concentration, and their willingness to promote a highly politicized agenda, are remarkable, and far surpass comparable funding from liberal and progressive foundation, especially since the latter funding is less toward ideological battles. Funding is especially focused on battles in education, as the organizations they fund have long promoted the “political correctness” hysteria as a cover for their attacks on democratic education.

Five foundations stand out: the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Koch Family Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Scaife Family Foundation, and the Adolph Coors Foundation. The Bradley Foundation is the most influential and most ideological. With a half a billion dollars in assets, the Bradley Foundation is the richest right wing foundation in the country. While being the 51st largest foundation overall, it focused its funding specifically to right wing groups to transform the political agenda, especially in education. In Wisconsin, groups it funded succeeded in making the state a battleground over public education, attempting to turn the school to a voucher program to privatize education. (8)

For ACTA and the NAF before it, it got start-up money and general operating support from the Olin and Bradley Foundations. The Olin Foundation gave $100,000 to start up NAF in 1994, and gave a total of $450,000 to the NAF from 1994 to 1998. The Bradley Foundation contributed $50,000 each year to NAF each year from 1995 to 1997, $150,000 in total. After ACTA was formed, it got a total of $870,000 in grants from 1997 to 2000. (9).

The money and power that ACTA acquired was used to wage a war on higher education in the United States, and institutionalized it in the wake of 9/11 to wage an offensive against dissent. It’s policies were not changed after 9/11, only magnified. In the next post, I will explore ACTA’s ideology, especially in terms of campus governance.

Sources:

  1. Wiener, John. “Hard to Muzzle: The Return of Lynne Cheney.” The Nation. October 2, 2000.
  2. https://www.goacta.org/news/alumni_organize_to_preserve_free_speech_and_free_thought_at_colleges_and_un
  3. In 2000, a presidential election year, it had the unique position of having connections to both parties in the race through Cheney and Vice Presidential candidate Lieberman.
  4. In 1998 they first published an instruction manual “The Intelligent Donor’s Guide to College Giving,” which gave instructions such as the following: Step 1, Define Your Goals; Step 7: State your instructions in no uncertain terms; and Step 12: Get what you paid for. It advised against long term gifts because donors would not be around to control them. They stated “If you spelled out clear conditions and the university does not abide by them, get your money back. You should be prepared to go to court if necessary,” and “The best protection is to make only short-term gifts.” They also quoted Yale Provost Frank Turner as saying, “The much-maligned ‘strings’ attached to restricted funds are in truth the lifelines that link colleges and universities to the marketplace of ideas within a democratic society.”
  5. Arenson, Karen W. “Group Fighting Political Correctness on Campus Delights in Ties to Both Parties.” New York Times. August 24, 2000.
  6. Fuentes, Annette. “Trustees of the Right’s Agenda.” The Nation. October 5, 1998.
  7. These include the following: Stefancic, Jean and Delgado, Richard. No Mercy: How Conservative Think Tanks and Foundations Changed America’s Social Agenda. Temple University Press. Philadelphia. 1996. Campus Wars section pp. 108-135.; Covington, Sally. “How Conservative Philanthropies and Think Tanks Transform US Policy.” Covert Action Quarterly. Issue 63. Winter 1998. available at http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Democracy/ConservThinkTanks.html; Covington, Sally. Moving a Public Policy Agenda: The Strategic Philanthropy of Conservative Foundations, prepared for the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, 2001 S Street, NW, Suite 620, Washington, DC 20009, 202/387-9177. It covers the three-year period from 1992-94. http://www.desmogblog.com/sites/beta.desmogblog.com/files/clearreport00004.pdf;  and “Buying a Movement: Right-Wing Foundations and American Politics.” Executive Summary. People for the American Way. At http://www.pfaw.org/media-center/publications/buying-movement.
  8. “Anatomy of a Movement: Wisconsin Vouchers and the Bradley Foundation.” October 8, 1998. http://www.weac.org/resource/1998-99/nov98/anatomy.htm [accessed May 25, 2000]; and Wilayto, Phil. The Feeding Trough : the Bradley Foundation, “The Bell Curve” & the Real Story behind W-2, Wisconsin’s National Model for Welfare Reform : an Investigative Report. A Job Is a Right Campaign, Milwaukee, WI. 1997.
  9. from www.mediatransparency.org: Olin Foundation: $310,000 from 1997 to 2000; Bradley Foundation: $410,000 from 1997 to 2000; Sarah Scaife Foundation: $100,000 from 1999 to 2000; Earhart Foundation: $50,000 from 1999 to 2000
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