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He’s at it again

I’m not linking to David Brooks, but here’s the relevant quote:

“…as baby boomers spend lavishly on themselves and impose horrendous costs on future generations.”

I figured someone would take him out in the comments, and several people did:

Re: …baby boomers spend lavishly on themselves at horrendous cost to the next generation. Seriously.

What generation has put as much money into the federal government coffers…paying for our parents’ retirement…including all the mothers who never worked and contributed no dollars to Social Security…and when our parents lived years beyond our grandparents’ lifespans, who paid for all the costs that their Social Security checks would not cover? What generation has put more of their own dollars into the educational system than boomers…graduating ourselves in record numbers and our children as well, with no help from the federal government because we made “too much” as middle and upper/middle-class wage earners to qualify for any financial considerations.

We didn’t even have the benefit of tax-free health care accounts or educational savings accounts to help us with the double-burden of sending our kids to college while caring for aging parents. There are 2 generations that owe us big time…and this is from the mouth of a liberal Democrat, so I can’t imagine how Republicans feel!

In the Reagan 80s, our generation got hit with a huge jump in payroll taxes that was supposed to keep Social Security and Medicare secure. See how well that worked out? Here’s another:
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Netroots Nation 2011

I only go to NN when someone else is picking up the tab, but fortunately, I’ll be there this year. (It’s in Minneapolis.) I have to say, if you can afford it, it’s well worth the trip. You get to meet a lot of your favorite bloggers, but more important, you get to meet and talk with activists from all over the country, who are more than happy to share their strategies.

If you’ve been feeling like you want to get involved but you’re not sure where to start, this is a great place to begin. (Plus, you know, fun!) Check out Adam Bonin’s Daily Kos post today:

During the conference, there are scores of blogger-generated panel discussions bringing together grassroots activists with leaders and experts in their fields. Simultaneously, it’s a social conference — putting faces to names you’ve only seen only, an annual reunion of this large and dispersed community taking place at parties, in the exhibit hall and hotel lobby, all over the place.  We’ve had pub quizzes and karaoke contests, batting practice at PNC Park and raucous concerts, dance parties and a Teamsters-led barbecue.  It is fun.

This year, Russ Feingold will be our Thursday night keynote speaker, and we’ll be rolling out more big names in the next few weeks.  (Yes, Sen. Franken will be back.)  What we need is you.

If you’ve never been before, well, we’ve all been first-time participants. Don’t be afraid. We take care of first-timers and lurkers, and within your first hour in the Twin Cities you will find your friends. As always, we’ll hold regional and affinity caucuses to make sure you find the communities where your friends are. And you should strongly consider helping Netroots for the Troops, a group of dedicated volunteers we’re honored to have with us who dedicate their time towards fundraising for, and at our conference packing hundreds of care packages for our armed forces around the globe.

It has been my honor for the past three years to serve as Chairman of the Netroots Nation Board of Directors, and to help guide our full-time staff to delivering for you an incredible experience. We will not let you down.

If you’ve joined us before, now is the time to sign up to join us in the Twin Cities in June. If you’ve never been, what’s stopping you?

Please register today, and book your hotel, and we’ll see you in Minneapolis June 16-19. If you have any questions, ask away.

More progress

With the help of my friend, I emptied my storage unit yesterday.

I have this other friend who insists that the very fact of my having a storage unit means I’m a hoarder. I’m not.

“Hoarders always say that,” he says sagely. “You’re in denial.”

Arggh. No, I’m not. Here’s what was in the (mostly empty) unit:

  • One small space heater. (The kind of thing you don’t need — until you do.)
  • One tub of miscellaneous Christmas crap. (I like Christmas.)
  • One empty guitar shipping box. (It was all moldy, I tossed it.)
  • One small cooler. (Handy for day trips, it has a shoulder strap.)
  • Legs to my electric piano. (Tossed them. I use a keyboard stand.)
  • One bicycle.
  • That’s it.

    So the drugs are working, because I’ve been wanting to clean that unit out for at least six months. The mental sticking point was the bike which, because it has a big basket attached, is a real pain in the ass to wrangle into the back of an SUV. (My back is now killing me, but hey.)

    I’m getting dangerously close to the point where I won’t have anything else hanging over my head and I’ll just have to start writing. Hmm.

    Oh, wait. I can start playing the guitar again instead! Whew, that was close.

    By the way? Added bonus to getting organized: I now have all my song lyrics in one place. This is no small thing, since I can’t perform without them.


    Via Naked Capitalism:

    I wrote to radiation expert Dr. Chris Busby to ask him if he thought people living outside of Japan should take any actions to try to reduce their radiation exposure:

    Epidemiologist Dr. Wing thinks people outside of Japan shouldn’t do anything to attempt to reduce radiation exposure: Leading Epidemiologist: Instead of Trying to Avoid Japanese Radiation, Put Your Energy Into Demanding a Saner Energy Policy

    But the French anti-nuclear NGO CRIIAD says that pregnant women and infants should take steps to reduce exposure: French Nuclear Group Warns that Children and Pregnant Mothers Should Protect Themselves from Radiation

    I’ve also researched the scientific literature, and found that antioxidants can help a little:Can Vitamins or Herbs Help Protect Us from Radiation?

    What’s your advice for people outside of Japan?

    Continue Reading »

    Warrantless surveillance

    My, we are turning into quite the little police state, aren’t we?


    Allen West.

    “When better women are made, Faber men will make them.”


    Huh? What? The same administration that has crapped on working people in favor of the bankers is positioning itself as an “insurgent” campaign? As if people haven’t noticed the difference between the sales pitch and the delivery? You can tell these people don’t get outside the Beltway very often:


    We really seem to be having a lot more than usual. Gee, I wonder why?

    Plain cuckoo bananas

    Fundie politicians.

    Why is college so expensive?

    “What kind of incentives motivate lenders to continue awarding six-figure sums to teenagers facing both the worst youth unemployment rate in decades and an increasingly competitive global workforce?”

    Why, I’m glad you asked that question! Turns out that education loan-backed derivatives are yet another investment bubble that helps drive up the cost of education — and We The People are already on the hook for reimbursement when they crash:

    Even with the Treasury no longer acting as co-signer on private loans, the flow of SLABS won’t end any time soon. What analysts at Barclay’s Capital wrote of the securities in 2006 still rings true: “For this sector, we expect sustainable growth in new issuance volume as the growth in education costs continues to outpace increases in family incomes, grants, and federal loans.” The loans and costs are caught in the kind of dangerous loop that occurs when lending becomes both profitable and seemingly risk-free: high and increasing college costs mean students need to take out more loans, more loans mean more securities lenders can package and sell, more selling means lenders can offer more loans with the capital they raise, which means colleges can continue to raise costs. The result is over $800 billion in outstanding student debt, over 30 percent of it securitized, and the federal government directly or indirectly on the hook for almost all of it.

    If this sounds familiar, it probably should, and the parallels with the pre-crisis housing market don’t end there. The most predatory and cynical subprime lending has its analogue in for-profit colleges. Inequalities in US primary and secondary education previously meant that a large slice of the working class never got a chance to take on the large debts associated with four-year degree programs. For-profits like The University of Phoenix or Kaplan are the market’s answer to this opportunity.

    While the debt numbers for four-year programs look risky, for-profits two-year schools have apocalyptic figures: 96 percent of their students take on debt and within fifteen years 40 percent are in default. A Government Accountability Office sting operation in which agents posed as applicants found all fifteen approached institutions engaged in deceptive practices and four in straight-up fraud. For-profits were found to have paid their admissions officers on commission, falsely claimed accreditation, underrepresented costs, and encouraged applicants to lie on federal financial aid forms. Far from the bargain they portray themselves to be on daytime television, for-profit degree programs were found to be more expensive than the nonprofit alternatives nearly every time. These degrees are a tough sell, but for-profits sell tough. They spend an unseemly amount of money on advertising, a fact that probably hasn’t escaped the reader’s notice.

    But despite the attention the for-profit sector has attracted (including congressional hearings), as in the housing crisis it’s hard to see where the bad apples stop and the barrel begins. For-profits have quickly tied themselves to traditional powers in education, politics, and media. Just a few examples: Richard C. Blum, University of California regent (and husband of California Sen. Dianne Feinstein), is also through his investment firm the majority stakeholder in two of the largest for-profit colleges. The Washington Post Co. owns Kaplan Higher Education, forcing the company’s flagship paper to print a steady stream of embarrassing parenthetical disclosures in articles on the subject of for-profits. Industry leader University of Phoenix has even developed an extensive partnership with GOOD magazine, sponsoring an education editor. Thanks to these connections, billions more in advertising, and nearly $9 million in combined lobbying and campaign contributions in 2010 alone, for-profits have become the fastest growing sector in American higher education.

    If the comparative model is valid, then the lessons of the housing crash nag: What happens when the kids can’t pay? The federal government only uses data on students who default within the first two years of repayment, but its numbers have the default rate increasing every year since 2005. Analyst accounts have only 40 percent of the total outstanding debt in active repayment, the majority being either in deferment or default. Next year, the Department of Education will calculate default rates based on numbers three years after the beginning of repayment rather than two. The projected results are staggering: recorded defaults for the class of 2008 will nearly double, from 7 to 13.8 percent. With fewer and fewer students having the income necessary to pay back loans (except through the use of more consumer debt), a massive default looks closer to inevitable.

    Unlike during the housing crisis, the government’s response to a national wave of defaults that could pop the higher-ed bubble is already written into law. In the event of foreclosure on a government-backed loan, the holder submits a request to what’s called a state guaranty agency, which then submits a claim to the feds. The federal disbursement rate is tied to the guaranty agency’s fiscal year default rate: for loans issued after October 1998, if the rate exceeds 5 percent, the disbursement drops to 85 percent of principal and interest accrued; if the rate exceeds 9 percent, the disbursement falls to 75 percent. But the guaranty agency rates are computed in such a way that they do not reflect the rate of default as students experience it; of all the guaranty agencies applying for federal reimbursement last year, none hit the 5 percent trigger rate.

    With all of these protections in place, SLABS are a better investment than most housing-backed securities ever were. The advantage of a preemptive bailout is that it can make itself unnecessary: if investors know they’re insulated from risk, there’s less reason for them to get skittish if the securities dip, and a much lower chance of a speculative collapse. The worst-case scenario seems to involve the federal government paying for students to go to college, and aside from the enrichment of the parasitic private lenders and speculators, this might not look too bad if you believe in big government, free education, or even Keynesian fiscal stimulus. But until now, we have only examined one side of the exchange. When students agree to take out a loan, the fairness of the deal is premised on the value for the student of their borrowed dollars. If an 18-year-old takes out $200,000 in loans, he or she better be not only getting the full value, but investing it well too.

    In other words, it might all be a lot cheaper if we just paid for education outright.

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