Thursday, August 31, 2006

Payday Lenders Target our Armed Forces

USA Today:
As many as one in five members of the armed services are being preyed on by loan centers set up near military bases that can charge cash-strapped military families interest of 400% or more, a new Pentagon report has found.

“We're seeing a growing trend of folks who are not eligible to deploy because of financial problems,” says Capt. Mark Patton, commander of Naval Base Point Loma in California. Patton says debt problems can cost some servicemembers their security clearances.

This is just brilliant. I thought soldiers were supposed to be safe on their home base.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Filipino Student Txtivists: An Adventure Story

They organize protests via cell phone text messages.

"When Estrada was ousted, we realized the power of texting,"
said Palatino, the slight, well-spoken president of a
national youth party. "Since then we have never stopped
using it to advance our causes."
At 1:45, Palatino's phone pinged again, this time with the

A smile crossed his face. With a few more taps of his
thumbs, he forwarded the command down the text brigade
ranks. He sent it to those on his phone list, and each who
received it did the same. In seconds, about 1,000 students
were in the street, stopping traffic and sending cars and
bicycle taxis scattering.
Two students quickly hooked up a public address system to
the battery of a vehicle. One by one, leaders climbed on top
of it to fire up the crowd. Palatino demanded that President
Arroyo do more to end the killings and allocate more money
for universities.
"Books, not bullets!" he shouted.

We American kids really need to get on this. Where's our national youth party? Where's our texting armies? All of y'all Facebook people, what's up??

Times continued great coverage of class, economy

I think it's great the Times made this the lead story today:

The median hourly wage for American workers has declined 2 percent since 2003, after factoring in inflation. The drop has been especially notable, economists say, because productivity — the amount that an average worker produces in an hour and the basic wellspring of a nation’s living standards — has risen steadily over the same period.

As a result, wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of the nation’s gross domestic product since the government began recording the data in 1947, while corporate profits have climbed to their highest share since the 1960’s.

Update:a followup story:
The nation’s median household income rose slightly faster than inflation last year for the first time in six years, the Census Bureau reported yesterday.
The rise, however, had little to do with bigger paychecks — in fact, both men and women earned less in 2005 than 2004. Rather, census officials said, more family members were taking jobs to make ends meet, and some people made more money from investments and other sources beyond wages.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Dazzling Demographics

Some 55 million youngsters are enrolling for classes in the nation’s schools this fall, making this the largest group of students in America’s history and, in ethnic terms, the most dazzlingly diverse since waves of European immigrants washed through the public schools a century ago.

They're the Millennials. And they're coming to getcha.

Love and Loans

Headline: Getting married? Now you can register for student loan relief

via this website.

Friday, August 25, 2006

A Couple of Katrina Stories

From TomPaine, on public housing; from Village Voice, on neighborhood rebuilding (bunch of photos there by me and some awesome ones from Bart Everson, a blogger, community activist and all around nice guy.) I also interviewed Maitri V-R and Karen Gadbois, two more New Orleans community activists who blog.

On the wider front, some good stories in the Times and Times Magazine, some great ones in the Times-Picayune , and this one's from Reuters.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Fair and Balanced?

You can catch me in a Fox News documentary this Sunday night, the 27th, at 8 PM Eastern (note new time). The title is
Why Does College Cost so Much--And is it Worth it?

The star is, um, Newt Gingrich. Yup, that Newt.

They filmed me in the basement of a local cafe where i sometimes bring my was a long time before i could go back there. : )

Monday, August 21, 2006

Diagnosis: Deficit Addiction

For the past few decades the federal government has been racking up massive amounts of debt without frightening away lenders thanks to a sterling reputation of debt repayment. Those days, however, may be gone as we stand at the precipice of the retirement of the Baby Boom Generation and our political leaders are increasingly unable to prepare for the impending crisis. Today, as yet another fiscally irresponsible and reckless session of Congress winds down, we find ourselves confronting a half-trillion dollar war (so far); a massive, multibillion dollar Gulf Coast rebuilding effort; a looming energy crisis; a $260 billion deficit and an $8.5 trillion national debt. But the real challenges lay ahead, toward the obligations to this nation's citizens, and the magnitude of the problem should give even the most reckless of congressional members pause.

----Isn't the deficit basically an example of intergenerational imperialism? Generations X, Y, and those beyond us are subject to taxation without representation.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Excellent Essay on the Meaning of Student Debt

From Dissent, via Alternet.

DEBT IS NOT just a mode of financing but a mode of pedagogy. We tend to think of it as a necessary evil attached to higher education but extraneous to the aims of higher education. What if we were to see it as central to people's actual experience of college? What do we teach students when we usher them into the post-welfare state university?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

College Rankings

And whether we're doing them right, in the NYT business section:

So do we spend too much time worrying about college rankings? Or not nearly enough?

Not so long ago, college administrators could respond that they seemed to be doing just fine. American universities have long attracted talented students from other continents, and this country’s population was once the most educated in the world.

But it isn’t anymore. Today the United States ranks ninth among industrialized nations in higher-education attainment, in large measure because only 53 percent of students who enter college emerge with a bachelor’s degree, according to census data. And those who don’t finish pay an enormous price. For every $1 earned by a college graduate, someone leaving before obtaining a four-year degree earns only 67 cents.

Last week, in a report to the Education Department, a group called the Commission on the Future of Higher Education bluntly pointed out the economic dangers of these trends. “What we have learned over the last year makes clear that American higher education has become what, in the business world, would be called a mature enterprise: increasingly risk-averse, at times self-satisfied, and unduly expensive,” it said. “To meet the challenges of the 21st century, higher education must change from a system primarily based on reputation to one based on performance.”

Friday, August 11, 2006

Privatizing Higher Ed

The Commission on the Future of Higher Education published its final report yesterday. I'm down in New Orleans, so I haven't had a chance to read it and will post when I have. The Times focuses on the calls for increased federal grants (great), standardized tests (!) and federal monitoring (!!) of colleges (David Horowitz and his uber-Orwell "Students" for Academic "Freedom" must be thrilled).

ON the tests, I'll quote a correspondent from my email inbox:

I'm totally against state standardized tests. It will erode the integrity of higher education just like it
has to early education. The government needs to learn that it can't stick it's nose into everything. Let
the market determine the strengths and weaknesses of our higher education system and allow it to adjust
accordingly or perish.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

MSNBC Covers MyRichUncle

What's striking to me about this story is that basic facts about the student loan program are being covered as news--that students have a choice of lenders, for example, or that lenders are insured by guarantee agencies and in turn by the federal government.
People don't understand this stuff, because it's demonically complicated, and that may be the biggest way that students suffer.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Unfair Internships--The Blog

Someone has set up a blog to examine the "Unfair Internship" issue. From the FAQs:

What’s an “unfair internship”?
It’s an entry-level position with normal responsibilities that benefit the employer but called an “internship” so as to avoid paying an entry-level salary or any salary at all.

What’s a “fair internship”?
It’s an internship that should be called an apprenticeship: the intern receives a lot of coaching (more than a regular new staff), his presence is more of a burden than a benefit for the organization. If the intern receives an entry-level salary, with normal responsibilities, it’s a job by another name.

It includes resources on what to do if you see that your internship is illegal under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
It also has a fair assessment of my NYT piece. I want to clarify one point: I stated in the piece that internships are not real jobs, only simulations.

Some internships involve real work. In that case, I think the intern should be fairly compensated as this blog argues.
Some internships do not involve real work. They involve busywork, and lots of staring at computer screens. In that case, I think the intern should quit.

Starbucks Labor Revolutionary Canned

My post is over at Huffington Post.
A couple of commenters point out that Starbucks jobs are better than your average retail job. They pay around $7 an hour and you can get health benefits. True, but I still support the Starbucks workers' fundamental right to organize.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

What's the real federal deficit?

USA Today says, according to an audited financial statement produced by the government's own accountants, it's more than twice as much as the official $318 billion figure--$760 billion. That's not including Social Security & Medicare--it's mostly because of the cost of federal employee pensions& retiree benefits.

Am I a dork because I think an article discussing& simplifying federal budgets and accounting methods is really cool?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Catch-22,000

This Alternet article, sent my way by Liberal Arts Dude, is a seriously eloquent and illuminating testimony from one type of person most hurt by student loans. It seems this young woman, who now owes over $70,000, had just the wrong combination of low family income, high achievement, high aspirations, and an enduring belief that more and more education would vault her over the wall into the mythical "middle class" where hours are shorter, salaries bigger, and debt no big deal:

"To be fair, I made the choices that put me in this situation. I attended an expensive university 3,000 miles from home. I stayed at that school, even though I could get a cheaper education elsewhere. I studied an impractical subject that I loved, then continued my studies at an obscure foreign university. I wasn't always aware of financial consequences.

Yet I made my choices based on the values I had been taught -- that helping others is more important than making money for yourself, meaningful career is more important than net worth, and brains, determination, and charisma are the key ingredients of success. I realize now that I subscribed to the fantasy of an equal society, when in fact everyone's options arise from class, race, gender, and a thousand other subtle differences in our experiences, assumptions, and privileges...What is writ large in corporate bankruptcies, withering federal programs and industrial outsourcing is writ small in stories of impossible choices and shattered educational dreams. The real tragedy is not that America's young people can't afford their college education -- the tragedy is that they are told their entire lives that education is their birthright and a chance to social mobility, and then are forced to watch that birthright crumble under the weight of unbearable debt."

I think this girl is totally right, and it's terrible what happened, but she also made mistakes that others can learn from. I so wish I could give everybody this news:

1. You likely don't need a graduate degree to do what you love, unless what you love is to practice medicine. (this girl decided to enter a master's program in "social change.")

2. Your first job is probably going to suck. You stuck out school for four years, so give the first job a chance for 2 years [she was "burnt out" after 6 months as a union organizer and "retreated" (her words) back to school. Big mistake.]

3. Big student loan debt is a big deal.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

US Economy Worse Than Europe's

When it comes to income inequality and employment for disadvantaged populations. That's according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research :

Is the U.S. a Good Model for Reducing Social Exclusion in Europe?,” by economist John Schmitt and researcher Ben Zipperer, found that the United States fares worse than Europe on a range of social and economic indicators, including most measures of poverty, health, education and crime rates.. the U.S. is the most unequal of the major OECD countries, with a higher Gini coefficient, lower relative incomes among poor households and a bigger gap between rich and poor. The report notes that:
- The U.S. has a smaller share of low-income workers that make it to higher income levels than any other OECD country. This contradicts the widespread belief that American workers have a much greater chance of getting ahead than do European workers.

In totally unrelated news, House Republicans pulled a major slime move this week, passing a $2 minimum wage increase BUT tying it to a repeal of the estate tax, which helps a tiny percentage of the very very rich. NYT: Democrats criticized the decision as a cynical charade intended
to give Republicans the appearance of supporting an increase in the
minimum wage through a bill that would not clear the Senate because of
opposition to an estate tax change aimed at extremely affluent

"In all my years here, this is the height of hypocrisy," said
Representative Sander M. Levin, Democrat of Michigan, who said
Republicans considered a raise in the minimum wage only out of fear of
losing House seats in November. "If you really cared, you would have
acted long ago. This is not an election-year conversion; it is an
election-year trick."