Enjoy tonight’s debate, but beware rampant anti-intellectualism

85As the countdown for tonight’s Republican debate enters its final hours, American politics—and to a greater extent–America stand at a crossroads. After nearly seven years of Barack Obama’s stoicism and “Mr. Spock” approach to governing, a cast of characters so illogical, over-emotional, and downright anti-intellectual will grace the stage in Cleveland, Ohio. They will no doubt castigate Obama’s legacy as president, lambasting every policy, executive action, and statement ever uttered by the two-term president. For this group of candidates, they are not looking toward the future, but a way to bring the nation to a screeching halt before putting the car in reverse.

The prospect of reversing the nation is truly terrifying. The country remains at the precipice on a host of defining issues that could make or break these United States. Climate change, unabated economic, social, and racial inequality, and the prospect of continued ground wars in west Asia must be addressed by Obama’s successor and thus far, every Republican firmly stands in opposition to any progress made over the last six and one half years.

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Modern Indentured Servitude: the “Student Loan”

“We were so young, so in love, and so in debt.”

(Michelle Obama)Photo88792

Do we raise the interest rate on student loans or do we keep the interest rates down on on so-called student loans? In the past couple weeks, lots has been discussed–and it seems once again that those “the student loan issue” is being discretely brushed off.

Congress is still facing this issue that directly impacts 37 million Americans and indirectly effects us all.

Student debt is nearing one trillion dollars. 37 million Americans owe around $1,000,000,000, 000.00

I started college in the late 90’s. I had a scholarship that covered a more than half of my tuition, my parents assisted how they could– but wasn’t enough and so the dreaded FAFSA was filled out, submitted, and approved.

I was going to get student loans. It sounded…practical.

At 18 years old, taking out a loan was new thing. And it scared me. Sitting in on the first (required by the lenders) informational–well, hell, what do I call it? Class? Info session? Whatever you call it, those who get student lines have “counseling” (yes, the industry calls it that) sessions about student loans.  I held on to every last word.

In my adulthood, this. Was. Serious. I remember learning that my loan payments would essentially be put on hold as long as I was in school–graduate school included. I entered college already assuming I would be attending grad school (although I admit I hadn’t thought how to pay for that), so I thought something along the lines of, “Okay, I’ll be a professional when I need to pay this back. That should be okay. It might delay buying a house or having a baby, but only for a year or two.”

salliemaeIsn’t it hilarious how naive I was at 18?

I could just turn that into a sharing post–“How naive were you when you were 18?”

Really. Laugh. I am. It’s so sadly funny I seriously thought like that. I’m rather disappointed in my 18 year old self for not thinking things like:

  • What if the economy crashes?
  • What if you can’t find a job easily?
  • What if you’re discrimated against?

Et cetera and so on.

I mean, I actually believed student loans were helpful to students. I didn’t realize how corrupt they are. How wrong it is to make people go into debt to go to school. The idea that universal education at the higher levels should be free hadn’t crossed my mind–yet.

Mind-blowing quote:

“Making all public higher education free in the United States would cost between fifteen and thirty billion dollars.

That’s roughly what this country spent on air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan last year.”

Let’s pause and use our educated minds to think back to the Jamestown colony, and whatever else you may remember about the history of early settlers in what is now the United States.  Bound_300x200

Many of the colonists (i.e., of British or European descent) came over to the “New World” as indentured servants. For the cost of the voyage over (which was approximately the equivalent of the 4-5 years pay), the servant was provided with food, accommodation, clothing and training as they worked for the next 2-7 years (depending on the contract) as they worked off their debt. For their work, the servant received not wages, but credit toward paying down the cost of the voyage over.

Don’t forget this was a time when debtor’s prisons were around, so it’s not hard to figure out what happened to those servants who didn’t uphold their part of the bargain.

Indentured servitude is often called “white slavery” and to much extent, the comparison is apt.

Via:

The Company clearly felt that [beaten workers running away] threatened the continued survival of their enterprise, for they reacted forcefully to this crime. In 1612, the colony’s governor dealt firmly with some recaptured laborers: ‘Some he apointed to be hanged. Some burned. Some to be broken upon wheles, others to be staked and some to be shott to death.’

[Don’t you just love olde-tyme spelling?]

While this sort of physical torture is not occurring over student loans, (that I’m aware of), there remain multiple similiarities between historic indentured servitude and modern-day student loans, or “modern day indentured servitude.”

Similarities:1343878168318_8335741

  • Indentured servants fluxed in numbers, but up to 2/3 of (white, European) immigrants came to the New Land as such. Approximately 60% of American students any given year will rely on student loans to further their higher education.
  • Indentured servants were predominately young and also of the working class or just  plain ol’ poor.
    Many students (but not all!) who receive student loans are young. And many are working class or poor. (But this is America, so we don’t like to talk about class.)
  • Indentured servitude and student loans rely on the idea/myth of mobility. It seems this country was fed the lie of the boot straps from the very beginning!
  • Given the nature of the debts, neither historic nor modern day indentured servitude were/are secured by property. Both were/are debt secured by personhood.
  • Indentured servitude and student loans both take a small (relative to the lender) amount and augment it thanks to rounding error  works some black magic to make this initial amount into a significant burden that will follow the person around for 30 year.
  • Both have extremely limited legal recourse.

And let’s talk about the limited legal recourse, shall we? Most debt is dischargable or at least worked into a more suitable payment plan during a bankruptcy proceeding.

Sutdent loans? Nope. Or rather:

NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!

Student loans are immune to bankruptcy. You cannot discharge your modern indentured servitude by filing bankruptcy.  This means that student loans don’t

“have a natural protection for the consumer receiving credit (a protection, the original synthetic put option, that our Founders were aware of enough to make sure it was provisioned for in the Constitution).”

Washington, we have a problem. A very serious problem that could break the economy (again).

It’s already (figuratively) killing the young.

More reading:13426-312-Infographic on Student Loans_r6

We’re #1 ..er..

America.

Wealthiest nation in the world.

It’s no wonder our middle class is number one in the world!

middle class

As the chart above clearly shows, America’s median income is the best in the…

Wait…WHAT??

We are not number one?  Or two, ten, or twenty?

According to this, America is #27.  Our middle class is being beaten by the likes of Germany, Canada, and Switzerland.  Topping the list is Australia.

But how can this be?  Our economy produces hedge fund managers that earn more per hour than the average family earns in two decades!

Surely, that kind of wealth is trickling down!!

So, why aren’t we drenched?  Hell, at least misted?

  • Healthcare:  We continue to pay more while becoming no more healthy.  And becoming seriously ill lands many in bankruptcy court.
  • Minimum Wage:  Our wage is indecent in comparison to the likes of Canada ($9.75), New Zealand ($11.18), and Australia ($16.45).  So much for claiming the top spot, again, right?  Not to mention that many other developed nations provide a month of guaranteed paid vacation time on top of paid sick days.
  • Wall Street:  Has gone wild.  Enough said.
  • Tax Structure:  Our code favors the wealthy with loopholes, tax havens, ridiculously low capital gains taxes, etc.
  • Higher Education:  The more you know, the more you owe.  In America.  Our counterparts are offering higher education practically tuition-free.

So, yeah.  No drenching, no mists, no trickles.

I think we were… PUNK’D!

deregulation

Financialization.  (Note when the two began to split.)

Financialization means the increasing role of financial motives, financial markets, financial actors and financial institutions in the operation of the domestic and international economies.   – Economist, Gerald Epstein

Financialization was labeled the most important factor in our stagnant middle class.  Deregulation of the 80’s has given rise to a whole host of problems.

  • It “made shareholder value the ultimate goal.”
  • Hedge fund growth began destroying the “productive wealth” in the economy.
  • “Too big to fail” institutions were created, and basically granted license to gamble with the economy.
  • Barely regulated world markets became responsible for financing globalization.

Why don’t we know how throughly we were played? Good question.

Wealth dominates the mediaThe idea of conservative media or main stream media is foolish.  There is but one media.  Corporate media.  And do we honestly believe that the guys ripping us off will tell us that they are doing so?  Pfft.  Just go back to fake scandals and Hollywood hook-ups, if you please.

Here’s another good question.  Why aren’t we working, with due diligence, to reverse this?

Wealth dominates our politics, it is true.  Corporate lobbyists are boldly buying representatives and co-authoring legislation.  They are using their extreme wealth to their advantage.  Who needs or wants a level playing field when pulling in the kind of dough they do?

They are buying the team, the field, the equipment, the concession stand, and referees.  But that is not all they are buying.  It seems they have also purchased quite a few fans.

There are actually those among us who don’t realize or acknowledge that they have been, are being, and will continue to be fleeced in this economy.  They believe more corporate freedom is an appropriate action.  They believe, and loudly regurgitate, policy that will only serve to keep them from ever seeing the trickle they so patiently await.  To do anything else would make you a “taker”.    They have difficulty separating who built that from who purchased that.

Looks like there is nothing left to do, but sit in the stands and clap.

Uhm, .. no.

The first thing we can do is recognize this for what it is.  Class warfare.

Next, we need to forget about changing the minds of the purchased fans.  If the past few years haven’t demonstrated the damage deregulation causes, nothing will.  The information about corporate greed destroying the economy is out there, and it is plentiful.

Protest what is being done.  You don’t necessarily have to stand in a picket line.  Petition.  Support local businesses over big box chains.  Start a garden.  Use the services of a local credit union in lieu of a banking institution.

Most importantly, instruct and supervise your elected officials, while keeping an eye out for their replacement.

  • Republicans:  we will not tolerate your policies of carrying the rich on the backs of the poor.
  • Tea Party/Libertarians:  Atlas Shrugged is fiction.
  • Democrats:  the pretty words are nice, but the time has come to try on a backbone, thank you very much!
  • Progressives:  Come out, come out..wherever you are.

They need to know this is our game, too.  Comply or face ejection.  Period.

Because… We’re #27… is  pathetic!  As a standing and a chant!

Invest in your local community

In addition to advocating equal rights and being a feminist activist, I’m also a big believer in buying local as much as possible.

Here’s a pretty infographic that explains how important buying local is [hint: it’s an investment in your community!]:

buying_local_infographThat’s not all, though.  Here’s a little reading for you, too.

Capitalism is Broken

A few weeks ago I talked a little bit about the “American model of Capitalism” and its obsession with infinite growth.  Truth be told, it’s not a problem unique to America.  It is in fact a major failing of Capitalism in general.  Today I’d like to take a look at how Capitalism encourages behaviors that are detrimental to society at large.

Citizen A starts a small business.  For the sake of this exercise let’s say it’s a barbeque restaurant.  He provides a quality product and excellent customer service and the business is quite successful.  He hires some employees and is able to serve a nice segment of his community.  Now he’s got a solid, stable business that earns him a comfortable living and employs several people in the area providing them with a decent wage and a enjoyable standard of living.

Now he has a choice.  He can be happy with what he’s accomplished and enjoy his success.  Or he can want MORE.  Unfortunately the Capitalist model encourages entrepreneurs to want more.  In fact it creates an environment of competition and greed in which wanting more ad infinitum is just a natural part of the system.

So citizen A opens a second restaurant across town.  Only now his restaurant competes with citizen B’s barbeque restaurant.  Maybe citizen A’s restaurant has better food and better service and they crush citizen B’s business, taking all his customers.  Citizen A opens more restaurants all over the country until he has cornered the market on barbeque.

“Well, what’s wrong with that?” You might ask.  “The market decided who was successful and citizen A won.”  Yes, you could say that, except that citizen A never really needed to expand into citizen B’s territory.  What was the point other than to increase his own wealth?  That growth was not only unnecessary but more importantly, it comes at the expense of everyone else.

At some point, in the name of profit and growth, citizen A will begin reducing wages and benefits to his growing number of employees.  He will begin cutting corners on his product and services because delivering quality goods and services to an increasing number of customers is expensive.  His growth destroys the potential for other citizens to own their own businesses leaving them with no alternative but to enter the workforce as an underpaid employee of someone who has fallen into the infinite growth paradigm.

Again you might say, “Who are you to say how successful I can or can’t be?”  Well how do you define success?  Citizen A was already successful before he decided that he needed to have five barbeque restaurants in every city.  Greed is an inherent human trait and Capitalism rewards greed.  In fact, the fundamental nature of the system is to reward a select few in exchange for exploiting the majority; especially when left unchecked and unregulated.

What’s the alternative then?  We’ll discuss that next time.