The deep-going drought in California presents a fundamental challenge to the ecological status quo in which agribusiness trumps the needs of ordinary people relying on water for their dietary and sanitary needs. Does the right of a billionaire farmer to have his pomegranate or pistachio plantations irrigated trump that of a working person having a glass of water or being able to flush his or her toilet? It so happens that Stewart Resnick–the billionaire in question–is on the board of Bard College, an institution with enormous pretensions to social responsibility and Green values.
But his ties to Bard are small potatoes compared to UCLA, where he is a member of the executive board of the UCLA Medical Sciences, the advisory board of the UCLA Anderson School of Management and the advisory board of the Lowell Milken Institute for Business Law and Policy at UCLA School of Law. The name Lowell Milken might ring a bell. He was the younger brother of securities crook Michael Milken with whom he worked at Drexel-Burnham and like his brother was charged with racketeering. Michael cut a deal with the prosecutors. He’d plead guilty if they let his kid brother go free—just the sort of person you’d want a business law department to be named after.
Stewart Resnick is a latter-day Noah Cross. If you’ve seen “Chinatown”—for my money, one of the 10 greatest movies ever made in the USA—you’ll remember that character as a water utility CEO who conspired to divert precious water resources to agribusiness. Resnick has made huge donations to the Democratic Party in California to make sure that the tap is never turned off for his irrigation pumps. And all the while Resnick and his wife Linda unleash a steady barrage of advertising and PR trying to make the case that their agribusinesses ranging from pomegranates to Fiji bottled water are good for the planet.
In doing some research for this piece, I stumbled across an article in the August 8, 2009 Financial Times that is mind-boggling in its failure to acknowledge the double-dealing of people like Resnick. Interestingly enough, it is a profile on UCLA’s most famous professor: Jared Diamond. Diamond wrote a book called “Collapse” that warned about the looming environmental crisis. His solution called for developing partnerships with companies like Chevron. In a December 5, 2009 op-ed piece in the NY Times, Diamond wrote: “Not even in any national park have I seen such rigorous environmental protection as I encountered in five visits to new Chevron-managed oil fields in Papua New Guinea.” Chevron, of course, is the same oil company that is fighting tooth and nail to prevent Ecuador from collecting on damages to farmland and water supplies from Texaco’s drilling (Chevron took over Texaco some years ago and is unwilling to be responsible for its liabilities.)
The Financial Times reports:
As he moves between fridge and table, he [Diamond] launches into his pomegranate story. “Pomegranate was one of the first fruits domesticated in the world. It was domesticated in the Fertile Crescent around 4000 BC,” he says. “A friend of mine, a very successful businessman, bought farm acreage in the central valley of California, which is the most productive agricultural area in the US. And there happened to be 100 acres of pomegranates, about which he knew very little. So he started learning about them and discovered how healthy they are, that they are full of vitamins and full of antioxidants and that they may be a treatment for prostate cancer.”
The friend, Stewart Resnick, had the capital and commercial acumen to spread the message to the US consumer. Thus did the pomegranate boom begin, and the fruit make its way to the refrigerators of 21st-century America. The story somehow captures Diamond. We have the awe of ancient civilisations, the physical explanation of the fertile soil of ancient Mesopotamia and modern California, and the accident of his friend’s financial resources and ingenuity. In this way, all things, big and small, come to pass.
I suppose if you are going to promote Chevron, the logical next step is to promote Stewart Resnick’s POM juice, an ubiquitous product on grocery store shelves. I wonder if Diamond got paid for making this commercial or whether he did it out of gratitude for all the millions that the Resnicks have lavished on UCLA. You’ll note that Diamond qualifies POM as a cure for prostate cancer with the careful “may be”. He probably knew that the authorities were about to shut down the Resnick’s bullshit advertising campaigns that centered on its “miracle” cancer-curing powers, a claim that has about as much scientific value as copper bracelets relieving the pains of arthritis, etc.
Seven days ago San Francisco CBS News reported on a major lawsuit that challenged agribusiness’s right to divert water for pistachios, pomegranates, etc. while ordinary people go thirsty.
But there is one place where there’s no shortage of water. The bountiful pomegranate, almond and pistachio fields of Paramount Farms are as green as ever.
You wouldn’t know it because you can’t see it. But there is a huge underground water reservoir on the south end of the Central valley, near Bakersfield. It’s four times as big as Hetch Hetchy reservoir.
It’s called the Kern Water Bank. And it’s majority controlled by two of the state’s biggest agribusinesses: Paramount Farms, a division of Roll International, and Tejon Ranch Company.
So guess who owns Roll International? Bingo. You got it. The fucking Resnicks. That’s the holding company for their agribusiness empire. An alliance of environmentalists is suing to break the stranglehold of Roll and Tejon on the water supplies while the Resnicks can be expected to use their influence on the courts and the politicians to maintain the status quo.
It is also of strategic importance for the Resnicks to have UCLA on their side. Just as the Koch brothers spread their millions around to get economics departments to preach the values of deregulation and a balanced budget, so do the Resnicks effectively bribe one of the country’s most prestigious universities (big-time Marxists Robert Brenner and Perry Anderson teach there) to get them on Roll International’s side.
Yesterday I got the latest news on the Resnick shenanigans from Chronicle of Higher Education, a trade paper that I have been reading ever since I went to work for Columbia University in 1991. I started reading it to keep track of IT developments but soon learned that it was a good source for news on how academia is exploited by the rich and the powerful to suit their needs. Every so often it reports on Leon Botstein’s dodgy deals, like hosting a seminar on the advanced philosophical theories of a nitwit jeweler in New York who must have donated a small fortune for that privilege.
Unfortunately, the article “For UCLA, Pomegranate Research Is Sweet and Sour” is behind a paywall but I would be happy to send a copy to anybody who requests one. The Chronicle reports:
“Drink to Prostate Health.” “The Antioxidant Superpill.” “Take Out a Life Insurance Supplement.” Pomegranates are a superfood, or at least that’s what ads told us for years in newspapers and magazines.
Those ads have now vanished. They were banned as part of a lengthy battle between the couple behind Pom Wonderful, the company responsible for the ads and the federal government. Tangled up in that dispute, in more ways than one, is the University of California at Los Angeles.
In an opinion issued last year, the Federal Trade Commission found that 36 ads and other promotional materials for Pom Wonderful products, many of which cited UCLA studies and quoted UCLA experts, were false or deceptive. An order now prohibits Lynda and Stewart Resnick, Pom’s owners, from making any disease-related claims about Pom or any product of their holding company, Roll Global, during the next 20 years unless they have substantiated those claims through at least two well-controlled, randomized clinical trials. The Resnicks appealed the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit last August.
The continuing legal battle has highlighted the complications that can arise when people have multiple relationships with a university, as the Resnicks do with UCLA.
The couple has given generously to various parts of the university. They’ve provided money to UCLA scientists to do research. They have engaged some of those same researchers to act as advisers. They paid the chief of the UCLA Health System more than $120,000 from 2010 to 2012. Two of the Resnicks’ expert witnesses at the FTC trial were from UCLA.
Last summer the university created the Resnick Program for Food Law and Policy in the university’s School of Law, through a $4-million gift from the couple. The program’s founding executive director, Michael T. Roberts, worked as special counsel at Roll Law Group, part of Roll Global, for five years.
It is not uncommon for industry donors and university researchers to have more than one connection. But, says Josephine Johnston, a research scholar at the Hastings Center, an independent institution that studies bioethics, she cannot recall hearing of a relationship as multilayered as the one between the Resnicks and UCLA. Such relationships “could actually create some kind of bias or impaired judgment” in researchers, she says, but even if they don’t, “they raise this question about how independent and trustworthy the institution is.”
Well, obviously the institution is neither independent nor trustworthy. As is the case with all other sectors of the economy, the modern university is very much a corporate entity with tentacles from the Resnick’s or the Koch’s reaching into ever pore of its body.
The article continues:
Another UCLA scientist who has played more than one role with the Resnicks’ companies is David Heber, an emeritus professor of medicine and public health, and founding director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition. He is on the Pistachio Health Scientific Advisory Board for Paramount Farms, a Roll Global company. He said in an email message that he is paid an annual honorarium of $2,500 for that role.
Dr. Heber also participated in studies on Pom products and pistachios, was quoted in promotional materials for Pom, and served as one of the Resnicks’ expert witnesses.
No one at UCLA Health Sciences agreed to be interviewed for this article, although a few researchers and Ms. Tate responded to questions by email.
Gosh, only $2500 to promote the Resnicks’ snake oil. I know call girls who would be insulted by such a low-ball offer.
Then there is David T. Feinberg, who is president of the UCLA Health System and chief executive of the UCLA Hospital System. The Chronicle report states:
Last May in Maryland, several students from the organization [Students Against Sweatshops] confronted Dr. Feinberg as he stood on stage to give a speech at the national conference of the Society of Hospital Medicine. One of them read a letter objecting to his and UCLA’s financial relationship with Pom.
In state disclosure forms, Dr. Feinberg, a psychiatrist, indicated that he received between $10,001 and $100,000 from the Stewart & Lynda Resnick Revocable Trust in 2010 and again in 2012, and more than $100,000 in 2011, for his role as a “consultant/adviser.”
Government is for sale. The media is for sale. Higher education is for sale. All these bastards are no different then the Chinese or Bangladeshi officials getting pay-offs from American corporations to look the other way when a sweatshop is a firetrap or workers are getting paid for 8 hours work when they are putting in 12. But at least you understand that a Bangladeshi or a Chinese bureaucrat is taking bribes on a straightforward basis. The dollars that Nike or Walmart lays on him is meant to pay for a BMW and a country house. But in the case of these UCLA professors and administrators lining up at the Resnick trough, there is the claim that they are fighting prostate cancer or saving the planet. Dante should have created a 10th circle in Hell just for them.