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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

Hate The Government? How You Can Fix It.

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Political Offices Up for Sale CartoonThe Economist, having looked at the American political situation, found it depressing. Increasingly the federal government, via Congress, is unable to resolve the challenges and problems facing the American people and economy. Gridlock has become the norm as both sides, fearing electoral backlash, dig more deeply into their positions.

Republicans fear not just Tea Party opponents, but the “conservative” ratings sent to GOP voters by Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, the libertarian Club for Growth, and now the Heritage Foundation.

Democrats, while having a more open tent, still fear the backlash of AARP, unions, and the progressive far left.

And in between both parties is a meteor sized crater of corporate and union money ready to finance candidates and policies that serve only their interests.

The divisiveness is hardly new, but it is increasingly structural. As the battle for billions of campaign dollars heats up, neither side dares grant the other any modicum of success, or risk the ire of its donors by appearing to compromise. Gerrymandered districts mean that most congressmen fear their partisans in the primaries more than their opponents in the general election. Ever more divisive media feed the activists’ prejudices. So, at worst, a bitter contest could merely reinforce the gridlock, with a re-elected, more leftish Comrade Obama pitted against a still more intransigent Republican Congress.

If this political situation is to be resolved, American voters in each state must demand of their state’s legislatures that districts are determined by non-partisan panels rather than being gerrymandered by politicians for party gain. Additionally, Americans must demand their elected officials support a Constitutional amendment that gets money out of politics. To quote Republican Teddy Roosevelt, “Let individuals contribute as they desire; but let us prohibit in effective fashion all corporations from making contributions for any political purpose, directly or indirectly.” The same holds true for trade unions and SuperPacs.

Corporations (and unions too) are not people and, therefore, should not be allowed to use their financial clout to purchase legislation and legislative elections. As President Grover Cleveland wrote, “Corporations, which should be the carefully restrained creatures of the law and the servants of the people, are fast becoming the people’s masters.” Through their ability to influence elections and legislation via massive media campaigns, using highly tested messages for maximum effectiveness, and influential lobbying via donations, they are once again fast becoming the people’s masters.

If Americans don’t like their government as the 9% Congressional approval record shows, the people have only to change the way the political game is currently played through safe, party dominated, gerrymandered districts that guarantee the elections of party extremists rather than moderates. And they must push to remove the corrupting influence of money in politics by requiring every candidate to support an Amendment that bars any donation from a non-human entity.

A free market requires a free, open playing field. That playing field is not possible when a player can virtually buy legislation or a legislator to protect his business, industry, or union from market disrupters or competition. Nor is the public at large served well when money is used to enable public policies that may harm the public, commons, or commonweal.

A third party won’t solve these problems, but a genuine effort of the voters can. There is nothing inherently wrong with our two party system that some public demanded tweaking of the system cannot fix. If you hate the way government works right now, then you can demand the necessary changes to make it work again for you…not just the monied few.

Written by Valerie Curl

November 7, 2011 at 9:53 AM

America For Sale

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Dylan Ratigan has been using his show for the last year to point out the failure of politics and American businesses. Recently, he’s begun devoting his time and energies working on a Constitutional Amendment to remove the money from politics.

The fact is the “Occupy Wall Street” protests are a reaction to the perverse, corruption of our political system. If we the American people do not stand up and demand this Amendment, our country will continue to be sold to the highest bidder.

Sign the petition here for the Amendment – and pass the word to everyone voter you know.

Written by Valerie Curl

October 3, 2011 at 1:37 PM

It’s about “Pay to Play”

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We all know that Congress no longer really reflects the views and desires and policy needs of the average American voter. We all know special interests buy legislation through lobbying donations, and a variety of special interest and political PACs.

Newt Gingrich

Democrats and Republicans alike sup at the “pay to play” table that Newt Gingrich introduced into the House.

But for the first time, the history of this change has been documented in a new report (pdf) by Thomas Ferguson, INET Conference Bretton Woods.

As means to this end, leaders staged more and more votes not to move legislation, but to score points with some segment of the public or signal important outside constituencies. For the same reason, they sometimes made exemplary efforts to hold up bills by prolonging debate or, in the Senate, putting presidential nominations on hold. Meanwhile, they set formal or informal quotas for congressmen and women – here even conservative Republicans stoutly defended equal rights – for member contributions to the national congressional committees. The national fundraising committees, in turn, poured resources into elections to secure and hold majority control.17 Contests for relatively rare “open seats” that had no incumbent running or races in which incumbents looked unsafe received particularly heavy attention, since those were most likely to sway the balance of forces inside each chamber.

Allusions to Congressional “Leviathans” had been flying around for some years;
here, at last, the real thing was taking shape: centralized parties, presided over by leaders with far more power than in recent decades, running the equivalent of hog calls for resources, trying to secure the widest possible audiences for their slogans and projecting their claims through a mass media that was more than happy to play along with right thinking spokespersons of both parties.18 The members, in turn, scrambled to raise enough money to meet the quotas the leaders set as the price of securing influence in the House or the Senate.

I’m not sure how this “pay to play” scenario can be changed, given the SCOTUS ruling on Citizens United and its current, apparent leanings against Arizona’s public financing law, but it’s clear the American public must demand a change in campaign finances that reflect their interests, not just those of large donors.

Written by Valerie Curl

April 14, 2011 at 9:55 AM

Will Republicans really cut spending?

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But where?

Ever since President Obama’s election, Republicans have howled about cutting the deficit [I keep wondering why this concern wasn’t evident during the years they controlled Congress and the Presidency] and that government spending must be cut. However, when asked they don’t really have any ideas.

I’ve not seen this video before of complied responses to the question of where to cut spending. I found it amusing for its obscuration. I wonder how the TEA party, the spiritual descendants of the Goldwater movement, will view the reality of their electoral efforts.

It’s worth keeping in mind that:

1) TARP has already ended and Treasury has recouped most of the money it loaned and will continue to recoup its investments until its shares are sold. So, it’s hard to end a program that has already ended.

2) The stimulus program has nearly ended, and those programs that continue do still provide much needed jobs in the areas where those programs exist, repairing highways, bridges and levees as well as invest in new “green” companies and research and development to compete with China and Germany.

So, where is their big cut? Their real big planned cut is their ongoing effort to defund the one aspect of the health care bill that actually will reduce costs, which in my opinion should be the major goal of health care legislation. They want to eliminate the committee that analyzes health care costs, outcomes, and determine how to reduce health care costs across the board.

Maybe I’m naive but I don’t think so. What I see is nothing more than political posturing on deficit spending in an attempt to win the election…to satisfy their corporate sponsors, perhaps?

We have a lot of problems in this country, from one bubble to another for the last thirty years. We need serious politicians who understand the challenges facing the U.S. economy and our people, not people who play political games to promote their party or support their moneyed donors.

People have to start demanding better answers on where and how to create jobs for the 21st Century while at the same time reducing our deficit and debt. Obscuration is not an appropriate response.

Written by Valerie Curl

October 8, 2010 at 6:07 PM

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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