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Nederlog

Jun 30, 2016

Crisis: Political Corruption, Student Debts, Trump, Common Dreams
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Introduction

1.
Supreme Court Eliminates Political Corruption! (By
     Defining It Out of Existence)

2.
Who Is Getting Rich Off the $1.3 Trillion Student Debt
     Crisis?

3.
Revealed: How Wall Street and the Government Profit
     From Student Debt

4. Donald Trump Vows Torture (Again): 'I Like
     Waterboarding A Lot'
5. The plight of Common Dreams

Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Thursday, June 30, 2016.

This is a crisis log. There are 5 items with 4 dotted links: Item 1 is about how the US Supreme Court deals with political corruption: By embracing it while denying it exists; item 2 is about the enormous student debt in the USA, as is item 3 (though both fail to mention that many students are less critical than they would have been without debts); item 4 is about loony Trump's repeated
taste for torture (but: he may be the next president); while item 5 is about the plight of Common Dreams, that is one of my favorite websites, who are in financial difficulties, it seems from being too much for Sanders (?1?!). It would be a very great pity if they disappear, and would be another major blow against real journalism.

1
.
Supreme Court Eliminates Political Corruption! (By Defining It Out of Existence)

The first item today is by Jon Schwarz on The Intercept:
This starts as follows:

Three out of four Americans think government corruption is widespread. Donald Trump became the Republican nominee for president in part by claiming he couldn’t be bought. Bernie Sanders almost grabbed the Democratic nomination away from one of the most famous and powerful people on earth by decrying the influence of big money.

Yet by overturning the bribery conviction of Bob McDonnell, the former governor of Virginia, the Supreme Court this week just extended its incredible run of decisions driven by the concern that America has too many restrictions on money in politics.

Back in 2010, the majority held in Citizens United that corruption should be defined only as straightforward bribes. Do big donors to “independent” Super PACs get a receipt saying “Received: $5 Million in Return for Cutting Your Taxes”? No? Then according to the decision, the donation did “not lead to, or create the appearance of, quid pro quo corruption,” and that’s all that matters.

Now in the unanimous McDonnell decision, the Court held that a lower court’s interpretation of quid pro quo defined the quo too broadly, because for McDonnell to run interference for his generous donors with state officials didn’t actually qualify as an “official decision.”

In fact, as the New York Times writes:

Mr. McDonnell, a Republican who served from 2010 to 2014, was charged with using his office to help Jonnie R. Williams Sr., who had provided the McDonnells with luxury products, loans and vacations worth more than $175,000 when Mr. McDonnell was governor.

But according to the Supreme Court (unanimously) that was not corruption...

I don't know what the Supreme Court understands by the term "corruption", but it certainly can't be a definition like the ordinary one. Here is - for example - the start of the Wikipedia lemma (minus note numbers):

Corruption is a form of dishonest or unethical conduct by a person entrusted with a position of authority, often to acquire personal benefit. Corruption may include many activities including bribery and embezzlement, though it may also involve practices that are legal in many countries. Government, or 'political', corruption occurs when an office-holder or other governmental employee acts in an official capacity for personal gain.

The McDonnells profited privately for at least $175,000 worth because McDonnell was governor of Virginia. But not according to the Supreme Court, who use a completely different English than the English I learned.

Aahh well...

2. Who Is Getting Rich Off the $1.3 Trillion Student Debt Crisis?

The second item is by Amy Goodman and Juan González on Democracy Now!:

This starts as follows:
We continue our conversation looking at student debt. A stunning 42 million people now owe $1.3 trillion in student debt. A new investigative report published by Center for Investigative Reporting peels back the layers on this trillion-dollar industry. The article, titled "Who Got Rich Off the Student Debt Crisis," follows what happened after the federal government relinquished direct control of the student loan program and opened it up to banks and profit-making corporations.
Note that "42 million people" is more than 10% of the total American population, and this comprises the most intelligent part: Most of them now have enormous loans, that will not only limit their own futures, but that also -  probably - will limit the public utterings of most social criticisms they have.

I think both consequences - getting rich from students' debts and shutting up intelligent and educated critics - were quite intentional, but only the first point is covered in this article (and the next).

Here is one of the writers of the report, interviewed on Democracy Now!:
JAMES STEELE: What we found was that, if you go back to Lyndon Johnson, the whole idea of the student loan program was to provide a way for people—poor, minorities, so forth—to give them a way to go to college, and it was to provide the loans. And it was administered largely by the federal government, though banks were involved. But by the late 1990s, through the privatization of Sallie Mae and the signal that sent, they turned over this extremely important function, largely, to private industry—Sallie Mae, banks, other financial institutions, private equity companies—not just the issuing of loans, but also the servicing of the loans and, maybe more importantly, those that collected delinquent loans.
In other words, this was done - again - by Bill Clinton and his government (of big bankers like Robert Rubin). This is how it works out financially now:
JAMES STEELE: (...) I think the average debt right now is probably around $35,000. All the data on this is not always the best data, and it seems like the data is behind where people really are. So it’s roughly around $30,000, probably a little higher. That’s undergraduate; graduate is much, much higher than that. But here’s what goes on. If you put your loan in forbearance, meaning, for some reason or another—you’ve lost your job, you’re sick—you can’t make a payment, it’s in forbearance. But the interest begins to accumulate. So we talked to many, many students, who had actually once had, let’s say, $50,000 of debt by the time they left college, now owe $90,000 and $100,000, but during that period may have paid $50,000 or $60,000, because of the interest and the penalties, things of that sort. So the interest is such a crucial factor. This is why it’s $1.3 trillion overall. It’s past credit card debt. It’s the great go-go growth industry of the whole debt collection field.
Incidentally, I had 6 years of student debts in Holland (made in the late Seventies and early Eighties) which amounted to fl. 42,000 (in guilders not euros) but - after great lots of legal correspondence and a court case, that I won - this stopped the Dutch state from taking it (which would have killed me) and in the end, when I was in my early fifties, the whole debt was cleared without my having to pay anything [1].

I do not think that those who studied in Holland in the 2000s, when the education provided was at best half of what I got, while the costs to the students were very much higher, will get off "as easily" [2] as I was,
because the Dutch also jumped on the chance of getting rich from students
and shutting up most of them forever, but I am less well-informed about the modern rules.

But I do know they are much less fair than the ones I had, precisely because it is both financially profitable and politically pleasant to force enormous loans on all students without rich parents.

3. Revealed: How Wall Street and the Government Profit From Student Debt

The third item is by Emma Niles on Truthdig:

This starts as follows (and continues the previous item):

It’s no secret that student debt is one of the biggest crises young Americans face today. And you’ve probably heard some of the numerous accusations against Wall Street for its part in the debt crisis. But a new report on Reveal News, produced by The Center for Investigative Reporting, shines a light on the outrageous profit made from student debt by big banks, private investors and even our own government.

The authors, James B. Steele and Lance Williams, use anecdotes to illustrate the struggles of living with student debt. “My loans are a black cloud hanging over me,” says one woman who owes more than $90,000. But they also report the stories of those who profit—such as an elderly executive whose golf course and several houses were paid for with money he made off the student debt industry.

Incidentally, in case you owe $90,000 and were to repay it by paying back $500 dollars a month (which is half my monthly income, and would be completely impossible for me) it will still take you 15 years to repay the loan.

And again I say that one of the main reasons for both the enormous student loans and the fact that these loans are the hardest to get rid off is to shut up the most intelligent and best educated people in the USA.

Here are Steele and Williams quoted:

Student loans are virtually the only consumer debt that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy except in the rarest of cases—one of the industry’s greatest lobbying triumphs.

At the same time, societal changes conspired to drive up the basic need for these loans: Middle-class incomes stagnated, college costs soared and states retreated from their historical investment in public universities. …

The calculus for students and their families changed drastically, with little notice. Today, there is a student debt class like no other: more than 40 million Americans bearing $1.3 trillion in debt that’s altering lives, relationships and even retirement.
(...)
The profit arises from the government’s ability to borrow money at a low rate and then lend it to students at a higher rate, thus charging students more than is necessary to recoup its costs.

The main points to get from this are in the first and last paragraphs: Student loans are almost impossible to get rid off (not even your bankruptcy will finish them), which in fact also says something about the government's desire not to be criticized (I think), while the profits are generated by the fact that the government can borrow at virtually no costs, but charges students far more
than is necessary to repay the loans.

In brief: it is a very sick system, that appears to have been designed on purpose to make the bankers richer and to shut the students up from uttering any criticism.


4. Donald Trump Vows Torture (Again): 'I Like Waterboarding A Lot'

The fourth item is by Andrea Germanos on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows, and is here for two reasons of which the first is that I very much dislike Trump:

Donald Trump has reaffirmed his backing of torture.

Speaking at a campaign rally Tuesday in St. Clairsville, Ohio, he said of the terrorist group ISIS, "We have to fight so viciously and violently because we're dealing with violent people."

"What do you think about waterboarding?" he asked the crowd. "I like it a lot," he said to cheers. "I don't think it's tough enough."

I am not amazed at all, for the man is a lunatic. But he may be elected president of the USA.

There is more in the article, but there also is another reason it is here:

5. The plight of Common Dreams

First of all: I really like Common Dreams, which is something that I found out
after I decided on June 10, 2013 to pay much more attention to politics than I
had done before on my site (that was mostly philosophical, till then).

The main reason to do so is that I learned that day from Edward Snowden that
everybody is being spied on by very many secret services, and by many  dataminers, and that the secret services would and could do almost anything to get access to one's computer (if it has internet connection), and thus make secret dossiers on anyone.

Since then, I wrote nearly every day on the crisis, and wrote over a 1000 files about it. In fact, this is most of what I did, the last 3 years, for I also had quite bad and quite painful eyes nearly all the time. (My eyes are still not OK,
but were a lot better this year than from 2012-2015.)

I did write almost every day about the crisis (1) by reading every day more than 30 websites, mostly somewhat or rather alternative (for the main media are simply too dishonest, too partial, or too much propagandizing these days) (2) by selecting articles that I found interesting enough to give my own opinions about, and (3) by reviewing the articles (on average: around five each day) while (i) quoting relevant parts (ii) giving my comments on these quotes, and (iii) providing clear links to the articles and their authors, so that everyone could find them and read them.

And one of the things I found is that
Common Dreams is either the best or one of the best of the many sites I read every day: It is progressive, it is - really - leftish, it is fair, it is objective (mostly), it looks well, and it (unlike nearly all other sites) has a very fine license, the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Also, it is written almost completely by women. And now I find this on their site and in their articles (and I quote):

We can't do it without you

     

I say! In fact, they need $50,000 (or half of that) in order to survive. That is over 4 times my yearly income, and also I am so distrustful of computers [3] that I never got as far as arranging that I can pay by computer (not in 20 years of internet) - but this is quite serious.

I really hope they can find the money, simply because they are very good. I don't have it, and the very little I have I can't pay to them.

Here is part of the reasons they are in trouble (from the "Read more here..."):

Dear Reader,

It’s always been hard to keep afloat as an independent voice in the news media.

But right now it's particularly hard. We need your help.

(..)

Here’s just a sampling of what some of our larger donors have been writing to us:

"I have been a supporter (including substantial financial support!) for many years. Why have you wasted so much space on Bernie Sanders? What has he ever accomplished?”

"I had donated to you before, but no more -  I guess I’m not a Progressive. I am a Hillary supporter.“

"I have donated generously to CD for years but now I'm with Hillary.”

“I would love to throw you a few bucks as I have done in the past, but I am a Hillary fan. Contributing at this time will not be possible.”

Our survival has always been touch and go. We can’t afford to lose any of our funding base. If we are to survive we must find new donors and we must ask those who are still with us to step up. If you have appreciated our campaign coverage and want progressive, independent media to survive, we need your help now.

I don't like Hillary Clinton, but I also don't see why Clinton fans could not spend something to save one of the very few remaining real news sites from going down for ever. (They're called "Common Dreams": Surely Clintonites have quite a few things in common with Sanderites?!)

Then again, how many voters did Bernie Sanders have? 19 million? 21 million? Anyway, something like that. Where are they? If 1 in a 1000 of them gave $10 it would give Common Dreams at least $190,000.

Aahh well... (again). [An expression of incoherent anger on my part...]

----------------
Notes

[1] Incidentally, this means that I got around 7000 guilders a year to study on - which was considerably less than the amount of dole very many people got around the same time (for there was some sort of economical crisis then), which again was considerably less than the minimum amount of money people got if they worked (at anything whatsoever).

So for all the time I received a students' loan I could have been in the dole (for I was ill) and would have received more money from the dole - none of which I would ever have to repay. (And in fact I still think students who are poor should get dole in order to study, for plenty of others got dole without doing anything for it. But this idea is so radical that I know of no one else who had or has it...)

[2] In fact, the system of student loans that I got is long past, but it was somewhat fair in principle, and included a clause that saved me from having to pay anything back because I was (and am) ill.

The reason I did get a very bad treatment
from the state's student loans - I did not get a loan in 1976, and should have; I did get a loan in 1977, which was terminated after 3 months, so I had to work again in 1978; I got 15 years of monthly warnings and threats that all I owed would be taken, and lots more - was especially utter incompetence and extreme laziness in the official bureaucracy that ran it.

[3] Yes, indeed. I was rather early with acquiring a computer (in 1987) and also with getting on internet (in 1996), but since one of the very first things I got to see from internet was in a special browser for internet communications, which showed me that there were, already in 1996, thousands or millions of anonymous users who told others things like "You goddamned insane idiot! Die, die, die! Asshole!" without any offense to them, immediately cured me from using my real name wherever I could avoid it.

And I anyway did not want to use my real name, simply because I had had four years of murder threats by softdrugs dealers that the police absolutely refused to do anything about, also not when the same dealers were arrested with 2 kilos of heroine and 1 kilo of cocaine (in 1990).

And that was in 1996. Twenty years later, I think computers are extremely dangerous, and may well be the way towards neofascism, simply because the secret services either do know or can know everything about anyone with internet connection.

These days I still use a computer (having had one for 29 years), but I don't have a cellphone and refuse to buy one; I don't have a webcam and refuse to buy one; I can't pay anything on line and refuse to arrange it so that I can; I am on Linux because I completely distrust Windows, Apple and Android; and I
dislike most computing I do because I dislike the internet, which I do especially because it is a freeway for the secret services and the dataminers, and I see both as strong forces for neofascism.

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