North Bay Voice


Weill_croppedRetired Citigroup CEO Sanford Weill (right) will receive an honorary doctorate, along with his wife Joan, from Sonoma State University on the afternoon of May 12.

Some SSU students, faculty, and staff are upset by this degree, describing it as “dishonorable.” As someone who has taught at SSU for the last four years, I have been interviewing members of our academic community about this matter.

Weill was CEO of Citigroup, the largest of the “too-big-to-fail” banks bailed out by taxpayers. Last year he gave $12 million for SSU’s new Green Music Center (GMC). At issue are how Weill got that money and what strings were attached to his passing that money on to SSU.

A major purveyor of toxic mortgages, Citigroup required $45 billion in government investment and a $300 billion guarantee of its bad assets to avoid bankruptcy.

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“Sandy Weill is a greedy man,” says Melanie Sanders, a graduating senior of SSU’s Hutchins School. “He is a symbol of a nation’s economy becoming increasingly unbalanced and building the accounts of the ultra-rich on the backs of the very poor. Half of my school loans are with Citigroup. I once took out $15,000 in student loans. Now $29,365 is due.”

Such doubling, or even more, of student loans is no longer unusual. It used to be called usury and was considered at least immoral; it was often illegal as well. Weill, Citigroup and other big banks create debt bondage to banks. The national student debt recently reached $1 trillion, larger than all the credit card debt in the U.S.

“I am financially broken by his former company and unlikely to recover. I am compelled to protest this award. I must now call my grandma and explain that I will be protesting at my graduation ceremony. I am personally offended that he will be at my graduation and receiving a degree,” Sanders added. SSU is offending many by this decision.

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snowpack01What do the Sierra snowpack and the state’s economy have in common? There is less to both than Californians would like.

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May Day 2012, a.k.a. International Workers Day, was honored with parades, rallies and marches across the country and around the world on Tuesday, including in Santa Rosa. KRCB reporter Danielle Venton was on hand to observe the activites, and filed this report late in the afternoon.

tribalColorful native dancers (below)  were part of the festivites in Roseland, before the procession wound its way to Julliard Park. The day's events also included a  series of public actions coordinated by Occupy Santa Rosa, including protests at a pair of downtown banks, and a flash mob "nap in," to call attion to and oppose Santa Rosa's restrictions on sleeping in public places.

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Tanya

JaredCarrJared Carr, a Santa Rosa Junior College student, defeated dozens of other community college students in northern California to tie for the region’s top place in MESA’s third annual Math Challenge. Carr will receive a medal for his achievement.

Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) conducted the 60-minute test that is modeled after the American Mathematical Association of Two-Year College’s Student Math League test. Almost 190 MESA students in teams of five or more participated from 21 MESA community college campuses.

mesa_logo“The Math Challenge allows students to gain recognition for their problem solving skills and helps alleviate the stress that often comes with test preparation,” said Tiffany Reardon, who oversees the MESA Community College Program. “It gives them tips and the confidence to perform at their best in future exams.”

MESA is an award-winning academic enrichment program that provides educationally disadvantaged students with the tools to earn bachelor’s degrees in math-based fields. With tutoring, mentoring, study sessions, transfer counseling and study centers, MESA provides an environment that allows students to succeed and navigate the transfer system more easily. the program currently has programs in 33 community colleges. 

AB_ParadeI love marching in a good parade. It evokes pleasant memories of boyhood on military bases, being an integral part of that community, and then joining the Army myself. This year’s Apple Blossom Parade was a real treat, especially since there were so many new groups participating.

I was invited to march with four different groups:  Occupy Sebastopol, Transition Sebastopol, Spiral Food Coop, and the Sebastopol Grange. I relate to all four. Which to march with?

Fortunately, they marched close together. The Occupy contingent gathered the earliest, 8 a.m., for the parade scheduled to start at 10. Since I am up before sun-up each morning on my farm, I decided to check them out first. I ended up mainly with them.

We marched in front of the HubBub Band, which includes Occupy activists. They invited us to an after-parade party at Hop Monk Tavern’s new beer garden, where we continued celebrating.

Members of Occupy Santa Rosa (OSR) and Occupy Petaluma joined us. OSR, according to the New York Times, had the sixth largest opening in the U.S. on Oct. 15 with a rally of some 3,500 people.

Our contingent was a family affair with 35 participants, ranging from toddlers to an 89-year-old. We had fun and were well received.

AB_Parade_2We wore signs of “good apples,” such as local businesses, and “bad apples,” such as the giant Monsanto Corporation that spreads industrial agriculture.

When signs made by the Downtown Association began appearing in merchant windows reading “Occupy Wall Street by Buying Local,” we felt that our central message was being understood by many.

Clusters of applause from viewers greeted us as we marched. When we passed the first stand the person on the microphone read our submitted material.

One blemish was when a man at the second stand distorted our message and ridiculed, mocked, and insulted Occupy, rather than read what we wrote about ourselves. He alleged that we were trying to take over Sebastopol, which is certainly not our goal. Only when he was confronted from the street did he back down and begin acting gentlemanly.

Nostalgia for the good old days can be comforting. But with so many people being foreclosed on and evicted from their homes, loosing their jobs, and going into deep debt for college educations, those days are over. It is time to shout out against the growing inequality of wealth between the 99% and the 1%.

Occupy’s chants included “Banks Got Bailed Out, We Got Sold Out.” And we echoed the Downtown Association—“Occupy Wall Street, Buy Local Now.”

Occupy Sebastopol opposes CVS and Chase Bank invading our downtown. They are major corporations already present in Sebastopol, who would like to further centralize power here. That would mean more money leaving our community, rather than circulating here. We support local banks and credit unions. We already have enough big banks downtown and two pharmacies.

CVS and Chase do not exemplify “Go Local.” They exemplify Wall Street and drain our limited funds away.

After the parade we received the following personal appreciative email from one of those on the reviewing stand: “Thank you for your energy, commitment and beauty!”

We do not expect everyone to agree with how we view direct democracy. We do feel that Occupy Sebastopol is an integral part of our small town. We plan to stay here and exercise our rights of free speech and assembly, as guaranteed by the First Amendment.

When commissioned a military officer I swore an oath to defend my country and its Constitution from external and internal threats. I keep that pledge, which is part of why I am in Occupy.

Occupy Sebastopol’s next events include marching in Petaluma’s annual Butter and Eggs Parade April 28, where they plan to have a twelve foot chicken, which may be retired to my farm. On May 1 we will participate in a Labor Day action with OSR and Latino groups in Santa Rosa.

(Shepherd Bliss farms, teaches college, and writes. He can be seen marching in the parade in the photo above and reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Thanks to Jina Brooks of Occupy Santa Rosa for providing the illustrations for this article.)


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