Sunday, November 29, 2009

Debt Burdens

I graduated from Queens College of the City University of New York in 1967. My instructors all were either tenured or in tenure-track positions — I was never taught by an adjunct. Except for very nominal registration fees, the cost to me was zero.

Queens College still is a bargain. In-state, full time students pay about $5000 a year in tuition, and many qualify for some sort of financial aid. If they're living with their parents, it's manageable — less so for those who must be self-supporting. What I'm wondering, though, is why we no longer can afford to provide free post-secondary education?

Two thirds of those attending college depend on loans to pay their way through, and the average debt upon graduation is over $23,000. Starting out in a job that pays $35,000 a year, such a level of debt is an incredible burden. Starting out in an economy that might not provide any job at all makes the burden far greater. Graduates in bad financial straights may defer payment, but interest continues to accrue.

The result is young people putting their lives on hold. Student debt is one reason for delaying marriage and children. It's also a reason to hang onto essentially crappy jobs — just to keep up with the loan payments. Taking a risk means risking bankruptcy — a bankruptcy where student loans and credit card debt are not forgiven.

We are wasting a hell of a lot of talent by strangling it with debt. If I could get my hands on the throat of a bank that has been collecting government subsidies for offering high interest student loans, I would squeeze. Hard.

I don't have solutions. We are at a point where the evil rich should be hammered into pulp by the collective (Yes! Collective!) baseball bats of virtually everybody else, but don't expect anything from Timmy Geithner, whose asshole is open to the fucking of anybody with sufficient assets.

The New Deal wasn't about economics. It wasn't about socialism. It was about morality. It was about doing the right thing. Now, all of that is lost. Had Roosevelt been able to push through a national health care program, you can bet nobody would be trying to dig up the money to pay for coverage so as to avoid paying fines. Frankly, I think the whole "compromise" with single payer is sickening.

Welcome back to the 19th century. Bend over, working people. There's a lovely assortment of shafts all ready to fuck you — hard.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Obama and the Generals

This morning's New York Times suggests that the Obama administration is ready to send 25,000 to 30,000 new troops to Afghanistan. I rather hope that's a trial balloon, and that the actual number will be less — especially since I took 20,000 in a betting pool.

I figured he'd split the difference between the proposals by McChrystal (40,000) and Biden (0), but who knows? Perhaps the political winds blow more powerfully from the generals than from the Democratic Left — and those assholes who call themselves "moderates" [moderate (n): doesn't know shit from Shinola) have been putting on the pressure to "cooperate" with "the men on the front lines."

For a variety of idiotic reasons, large numbers of Americans think out elected leadership is obliged to do whatever the Generals tell them is "necessary." Obama, who is, as far as I've been able to see so far, a totally political creature, feels he must make due obeisance to that moronic premise.

Maybe I've said this before, but here's what it comes down to: the military can't conceive of any solutions other than military solutions. They're handicapped — the special education boys of the American elite. Lyndon Johnson was afraid to go up against them, and look where that got us. Obama looks like he's about to go down the same road. 20,000 — or 30,000 — won't be enough. Anticipate further escalation in short order.

Needless to say, "national security" will take precedence over any domestic programs that might actually do some good for the American people — not that anything Obama's been doing for the average American has had any impact whatsoever. Wall Street is doing fine, and the companies that were "too big to fail" are even bigger now. As for the rest of America, well...

If Michele Obama were to take on the role of Marie Antoinette, she wouldn't be saying, "Let them eat cake." She'd be saying, "Let them eat shit."

Thursday, November 19, 2009


The stock market is doing great, especially the financials. GDP was up last quarter. The recession is over — right?

Technically. Maybe.

The stock market is doing well because corporate earnings are up — but not because of increased sales, because of decreased costs. When you fire half your workers and force those who remain to work twice as hard, costs are way down, and suddenly you're profitable again. With the Fed holding interest rates at rock bottom levels (should you happen to be a large corporation and not an individual consumer), it is much cheaper to replace labor with new capital.

So far, though, all we've seen is the supply side. The demand side doesn't look nearly so rosy.

Henry Ford is remembered for his decision to pay his workers well enough so that they could afford to buy his company's cars. Somewhere along the line, that idea was forgotten. As unemployment continues to rise and wages continue to be depressed, demand for everything but luxury goods has to decline. The Wall Street execs may continue to buy their $15 million condos and $18 thousand wristwatches, but who's going to be buying the Fords?

In the meanwhile, regulatory reform looks like it's going nowhere. Flush with taxpayer subsidized profits, the banks have successfully lobbied the teeth out of proposed legislation that still might not pass. It looks pretty certain that derivatives will remain largely unregulated, and that capital requirements won't be increased enough to significantly reduce risk. Chris Dodd's plan to consolidate regulation into a single agency (that is not the Fed) is dead in the water, because no Congressional committee supervising the current assortment of agencies will be willing to give up its power. I suspect a good deal of his populist stand is an attempt to get us to kind of forget about the extra-favorable treatment he got from Countrywide Finance.

As for Obama, Emmanuel, and company — I don't think they're too anxious to give up the vast contributions coming in from those generous folks at Goldman-Sachs and the like. Don't look for leadership from the White House.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


As of this writing, nobody has interviewed Nadal Malik Hasan, the Ft. Hood shooter. Nevertheless, I think I'll stick my neck out and make a prediction. From what I've heard and read so far, I suspect that Hasan had a lot more in common with Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris — the teenagers responsible for the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School — than with Mullah Omar or Abu Nidal.

An army post. A high school. In groups. Outsiders. Makes sense to me.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


I don't have much to say about yesterday's elections, although I suspect that John Corzine's tenure at Goldman-Sachs didn't do him much good. Hell, even fat-cat Mike Bloomberg didn't do as well as everybody who counts the money expected.

Actually, I was thinking about the non-election in Afghanistan. If there were something less prestigious than "third world," I guess Afghanistan would qualify, and if there is a country more corrupt, well...

Okay — so what is corruption? In Afghanistan, the men with wealth and power buy and coerce their way to more wealth and more power. Hmmm... does that sound a little familiar? And if your Supreme Court says that strong-arming the political class with vast infusions of money is not corrupt — that, in fact, it is free speech — does that make it any less corrupt?

Obama told Karzai he has to clean up the Afghani government. Yeah, right. Let's see if Karzai takes any action against his brother — or, if family ties are too strong, Abdul Rashid Dostum, or Muhammed Qasim Fahim. Wake me up when it happens. I need a long nap — a very long nap.

You also can wake me up when the government steps in to stop Goldman-Sachs from buying tax exemptions — at deeply discounted prices — from Fannie and Freddie.

Face it: capitalism and corruption are inseparable, and it doesn't matter if the source of wealth is opium or derivatives, nor if the country is first world or third. All hail the plutocrats!