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I’m disgusted

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Student Loan Bonanza

Illustration by Victor Juhasz

Over the last five years I’ve become more and more disgusted by both our federal government and our financial industry as a result of our entire country, and government, becoming financialized. All that matters now is how much profit can be made, regardless of the consequences to human lives, and protecting the worse financial actors from the recent financial meltdown that caused a worldwide recession.

A couple of days ago, Matt Taibbi, wrote a lengthy piece in Rolling Stone Magazine about the student loan scandal that threaten our nation’s economy.

Ripping Off Young America: The College-Loan Scandal
The federal government has made it easier than ever to borrow money for higher education – saddling a generation with crushing debts and inflating a bubble that could bring down the economy

I didn’t read this story two days ago when it was published. I wish I had since my voice now will make little difference – everyone’s moved on to the next scandal or reality show highlights. 

However much Taibbi’s rhetoric seems over the top, his actual story is accurate. A couple of years ago, the Higher Ed. journal he mentions published a story on the rapidly rising cost of a college education.

Although the journal didn’t go into the whole funding of students loans issue, the publication did lay most of the blame on institutions that went on a spending binge during the last decade, which universities defended as needing to do to “attract students”. According to the schools, competition among colleges required spas, hot tubs, outrageously expensive sports stadiums, cafeterias rivaling the best restaurants, and so much more. 

Money was cheap so colleges spent lavishly, expecting the public through taxes, to pick up the bill even as students were being saddled with higher tuition costs. Not long after that journal article came news of the UC Berkeley Chancellor being given a million dollar salary and a completely renovated (real) mansion (at the UC system) multi-million dollar expense. Within months, news broke of other chancellors receiving million dollar incomes…and other expensive perks. Like the dramatic increase in C-suite salaries, competition, you know. 

Then as the states’ began to deal with massive lost revenues following the financial crash, states cut back on higher educational funding, putting even more pressure on students in yet higher tuition costs. Even now under Obama’s Administration, as Taibbi notes, the federal government expects to make billions of dollars in profit off of student loans, especially since students cannot discharge those loans under bankruptcy. Nor were students and parents informed or warned of the hazards and total costs of those government backed loans. Now, we have millions of our young people’s lives being destroyed by the cost of loans they never understood and never expected.

To those of us who were paying attention, the inability of discharge student loans in bankruptcy is old news. The GOP Congress, under Bush 2, pushed it through, even though huge numbers of groups and people lobbied against it at the same time they turned over the student loan program to banks. What happened under that GOP sponsored and driven legislation is that student loans became one of only two financial obligations that cannot be erased in bankruptcy. The other is taxes owed. 

Taibbi is also correct about the degree requirement for even low skill workers. When I worked for Oracle back in the ’90s, even our receptionists were required to have 4-year degrees. Why, I have no idea; it’s not like someone answering the phone and forwarding calls needs an elevated education. 

Yet, in our increasing “information” economy, a degree has become a necessity…unless you agree with the recent GOP mantra that only some should attain a degree while the vast majority should forego college. To become what: checkers at Walmart or burger flippers at McDonalds? Even getting into a qualified tradesman program (not hyped for-profit ripoff programs), like plumbing or carpentry which cannot be outsourced, that actually trains apprentices and helps them with jobs are few and far between.

I keep asking but no one answers, why do we citizens continue to permit our entire economy to be financialized to the detriment of millions of families, both now and in the future? Why do we allow ourselves to be conned and lied to and abused? Why aren’t we fighting back not only with our votes but with our power to demand changes in electoral laws that protect our interests, rather than just the interests of the powerful, wealthy and connected?

As long as the voting public unwisely protects the lobbyists and wealthy donors who have far more power, influence, donor money, and ability to get their preferred message listened to and across to legislators, average Americans, and our future generations, will be nothing more than insignificant chess pawns.

It’s obvious that Obama is not really going to stand up for you. Neither will anyone on the GOP bench. Supply side, neo-liberal economics which has destroyed our jobs and our economy is all the GOP offers. And Obama’s Administration is not a whole lot better. Obama is not a progressive or a socialist or liberal. He’s center right on almost every issue. Even Republican TR was more progressive and more concerned about average Americans and new businesses and against the excesses of Wall St than Obama has been.

But nothing…absolutely nothing…will change until we voters demand that the entire campaign financing system be rebuilt from the bottom up. Corporations, so-called non-profit Super-PACs and unions are not people as all of our founders concluded and should not have First, Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. They are nothing more than legal fictions, which our greatest legal minds stated long ago. Moreover, TR eloquently wrote when money became heavily involved in the political process, corruption occurred either by bribery of legislators or by legislators blackmailing companies. In both cases, the public loses even as legislators grow more wealthy.

The current system of financialization of our entire economy and political bribery and blackmail are killing our country and destroying the lives of our children and grandchildren. Just throwing these “bums” out and replacing them with another set of bums changes nothing since the incentives remain the same. Nothing will change but the faces. If America is to recover, the voters must demand new and strict new election donor laws, including a Constitutional Amendment and prohibitions on party gerrymandering, that puts power back into hands of voters again.

As voters, parents and workers, we must demand real change that protects our interests. Ask and demand all legislative candidates promise in their first term to promote election changes that prohibit lobbying donations and lobbyists writing legislation, make all campaign donations even to SuperPacs transparent and online within 24 hours, and a Constitutional Amendment that eliminates all non-human entities First, Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights.


Written by Valerie Curl

August 17, 2013 at 3:54 PM

My letter to the President

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President ObamaBREAK UP THE MEGA-BANKS! Read “13 Bankers.” Limit bank size to $100 Mil and support the Volker Rule. SUPPORT Prof. Lessig’s Change Congress proposals. Give Congress back to the people, rather than fostering complete ownership of the US economy and Congress by oligarchies.

Andy Jackson bucked the Senate (aka the Millionaires Club – sound familiar? ) and Biddle to decrease the power of bank oligarchs. TR took on JP Morgan’s railroad monopoly to ensure competitiveness in the American economy and won; then he went on to break up the monopoly of Standard Oil, ushering in an era of growth.

FDR took on the banks who caused the Great Depression with their unbridled speculation and created a regulatory system that kept the financial system sound for most of the following 60 years.

The Dodd bill before the Senate is a sham in far too many respects. It does little to prevent the kind of crisis experienced on Loyd Blankenfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs2008…and contains far too many “carve outs,” exceptions, and regulatory discretion (so how did that work out over the last decade?) Numerous studies show that any bank with more than $100 mil in assets does nothing – zip – to increase global competitiveness, encourage real economic growth, or make our financial system globally competitive and safe. On the contrary, studies how, megabanks actually harm our financial and business health.

Mr. President, if you really care about business, the U.S. economy, and average working-class people, you will demand a much better, much stronger bill than the current Dodd bill. You will over-rule those in your administration who argue for the near status quo, with only few minor tweaks. Those people do not argue for the people of the US. They argue for the oligarchs. They still remain captured by the ideology of “whatever is good for banks is good for the economy.” Biddle and JP Morgan argued the same ideology, but time proved them wrong. Monopolies and regulatory “carve outs” and slanted tax structures that provide for corporate welfare harm the overall economy and depress entrepreneurialship.

If you care about “putting the people first,” you will support Prof. Larry Lessig’s Change Congress ideas and the campaign finance bill put forth by Sen. Byron Dorgan.

Either this country belongs to the oligarchs – those people mentioned in Citibank’s 2007 financial analysis – or it belongs to the “People.”

You have to take a stand. Are you with the people who want – and deserve – opportunity or are you with the oligarchs who have bled the country to satisfy their own, albeit greedy, interests?

We, the People, demand government be given back to the people by definitively breaking the campaign financing link between oligarchs and elected officials, and to set our entrepreneurial community and economy free from the risk and speculative forces dominating Wall St. We demand open and free competition among and within industrial sectors. We demand the elimination of corporate welfare through our tax code and the basic entrepreneurial right, free of monied influence to determine policy and legislative code.

If you cannot or will not do these two things, then how are we, the American people, to believe in you?

If you cannot – or will not – give the American people back our government, free from overwhelming lobbyist influence and money in which the appearance and actuality of control by oligarchs controls policy, you betray your trust amongst the People. And in that failure, you give rise not just to Republicans in the next election but to continued crises and the economic decimation of the People.

Mr. President, we, the People, deserve better than to be captured by oligarchs.

Election reform needed NOW!

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Lobbying powerhouse, K&L Gates, is already advising corporations on how to contribute and affect elections without having to face public scrutiny…or public knowledge.

Just because a corporation may make an independent direct advocacy expenditure doesn’t mean that it should. Since the entity or entities financing independent expenditures must be disclosed, a corporation leading the way against a particular candidate risks alienating a significant block of its potential customer or shareholder base. Moreover, upon the first major corporate-funded public communications airing, media coverage is likely to focus on the corporation’s involvement in the campaign rather than the content of any advocacy.

Therefore, most corporations will probably proceed cautiously. If such independent expenditures are made, groups of corporations within an industry may form coalitions or use existing trade associations to support candidates favorable to policy positions that affect the group as a whole. While corporations that contribute to these expenditures might still be disclosed, this indirect approach can provide sufficient cover such that no single contributing entity receives the bulk of public scrutiny.

Corporations could further lower their profile in such cases by not making contributions specific to a particular expenditure by that third-party corporation. Such independent expenditures can also take the form of advertisements in “under-the radar” sources, such as ideologically-based talk radio, web-based ads or phone banks. Since state and local laws preventing corporate political expenditures will also likely be repealed as a result of Citizens United, small corporations may also become involved in state and local races through regional media.

In other words, K&L Gates recommends that companies use organizations like the Chamber of Commerce – and many others that undoubtedly will spring up – to run ad campaigns for or against a candidate thereby saving themselves any scrutiny or public backlash.

Madison, Jefferson and even the Federalist Hamilton would be screaming in the media, showing their outrage over the perversion of the electoral process which they envisioned. Free speech is one thing but quite another when the monied “person” doing the speaking is hidden behind an innocuous sounding front group.

Join Larry Lessig and the millions of American voters who demand “open” election advocacy and less dependence upon lobbyist and special interest money.

Written by Valerie Curl

February 18, 2010 at 12:39 PM

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