Italian protesters take on police during mass march against austerity
October 20, 2013

Violence broke out between police and demonstrators in Rome on Saturday as tens of thousands took to the streets to protest Italy’s new budget.

Fifteen protesters were arrested and at least 20 police officers were injured, according to the Corriere della Sera newspaper. 

“We are laying siege to the city!” chanted the crowd, as a small minority pelted the police and government buildings with water bottles and eggs. 

A group of protesters turned over garbage bins and set some of them on fire in front of the Economy Ministry. 

Police say they confiscated tear gas canisters and rocks from some of the radicals in the predominantly youthful crowd and found chains stashed away along the route of the march. 

Organizers estimated that 70,000 people took part in the protest, while authorities placed the number closer to 50,000. 

“With this budget the government is continuing to hurt a country which is already on its knees,” said Piero Bernocchi, leader of the left-wing COBAS trade union that was behind the demonstration. 

“Even after austerity has proven to be disastrous, with debt rising, the economy crumbling, and unemployment soaring, they still continue with these policies.” 

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Enrico Letta - who is presiding over a fractious Left-Right coalition - presented the 2014 budget that immediately came under a firestorm of criticism from both sides of the political spectrum. 

Left-wingers criticized the document for freezing state sector pay and pensions, while right-wingers and businesses said it failed to stimulate growth with insufficient cuts to Italy’s oppressive corporate taxes.

Source

Chilean Student Movement years into the struggle and moving forward strong; things heating up big time in June
June 26, 2013

Democratic marches took to the street in mass and hooded protesters hurled Molotov cocktails at a police station in the Chilean capital on Wednesday ahead of a nationwide student demonstration.

Protesters also stoned cars, looted a restaurant to use chairs for barricades and burned tires, blocking rush hour traffic along some of Santiago’s main roads.

"They are not students, they are criminals and extremists," Interior and Security Minister Andres Chadwick alleged at a press conference. "They’ve acted in a coordinated and planned way to provoke these acts of violence."

Teachers, dock workers and copper miners have said they will join students in Wednesday’s national protest to demand education reform.

Chile is the world’s top copper producer and its fast-growing economy is seen as fertile ground for investors. But it is also plagued by vast income inequality and a costly education system that many say is unfair.

"This has to do with discontent that is deeply rooted in many sectors of society. But we’re the first ones to sympathize with people who are innocent victims of this violence, because there’s no way to justify these types of clashes," Andres Fielbaum, president of the University of Chile student federation told state television.

The march, timed ahead of Sunday’s presidential primaries, is aimed at demanding wider distribution of Chile’s copper wealth and reform of the education system that would put the state back in control of the mostly privatized public universities.

Student leaders want to change the tax system so the rich pay more and so that there is less social inequality in Chile.

Chilean student protests are often infiltrated by small but violent instigators alongside genuinely angry anarchists who throw rocks, firebombs and even acid, while police in riot gear respond with water cannons, tear gas and massive-scale brutality.

Two years of student marches often paralyzed Chile’s major cities and stoked expectations of change, but the dispute over education reform remains a key electoral issue ahead of the Nov. 17 presidential election.

Source

From Chicago to LA, students mass for racial justiceMay 26, 2013
1. Chicago Students Stage Citywide Boycott to Protest School Closings
On Monday, May 20, the Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools organized a citywide boycott so that students could join a three-day march in protest of school closures. More than two hundred students participated from high schools across the city. In the morning, students met at Williams Elementary, which the school system ordered to be put on lockdown. From there, we marched three miles downtown, where 26 activists were occupying City Hall in an act of civil disobedience. The action ended with a large rally at Daley Plaza, with speakers ranging from teachers union president Karen Lewis to third grader Asean Johnson. On May 22, as activists occupied the central lobby, Chicago’s unelected board of education voted to close 50 schools. Students and allies are overwhelmingly upset—but the fight for these schools is not over.
—Israel Muñoz
2. After Thousands Walk Out, Philly Student Union Heads to Chicago
I was one of the 2,000 Philadelphia students who walked out of school on Friday, May 17, to assert a student voice in the face of school closings and disinvestment. By Saturday, I was in Chicago joining the struggle against school closings there. Chicago’s closings, like Philadelphia’s, are primarily in black and Latino neighborhoods. After marching through the north, west and south sides of the city, I spoke alongside students from Chicago at Daley Plaza. Next, we marched and held hands around City Hall—where teachers and community members were arrested for sitting in. Students from Philly, Boston, Baltimore and Detroit came to support Chicago’s fight. As students, we will continue fighting in every city until we have the schools we deserve.
—Sharron Snyder
3. Sparked by the LAPD, USC Mobilizes Against Racial Profiling
On May 4, the Los Angeles Police Department deployed 79 officers in riot gear to shut down a peaceful graduation celebration attended primarily by black and Latino students at the University of Southern California. Nine student leaders were arrested, six spent the night in police custody and others were herded off the block and physically assaulted. Charges against arrested students are still pending and await court proceedings on May 30. This incident, along with a string of similar happenings, sparked what has become known as the #USChangeMovement. On May 6, more than 200 students, faculty and local residents sat-in at Tommy Trojan to protest and exchange stories of discrimination and racial profiling at USC and in the greater Los Angeles area. On May 7, more than 1,000 people attended an on-campus discussion with students, the LAPD, the USC Department of Public Safety, the HR Commission and USC senior administration members to seek answers and draft joint solutions. USC students are propelling citywide movement to end racial profiling, excessive force and selective law enforcement—all while embracing peace, intellect and understanding.
—USChangeMovement
4. In South LA, Students Defend Community Schools
In October 2012, Crenshaw High School received notice from LA superintendent John Deasy that the school would undergo a “transformation” starting this summer. Under the transformation, more than half of Crenshaw’s teachers—many of whom are older, black or active in the union—have been rejected from returning. The conversion of Crenshaw into three magnets means students have to reapply—likely pushing many out. This move comes at a time when Crenshaw has been showing improvements through its innovative Extended Learning Cultural Model, which prioritizes culturally relevant education and project-based learning. Connecting Crenshaw with recent upheaval at other black and Latino high schools in South LA, the Crenshaw community has been organizing against the transformation. As part of the Coalition for Educational Justice, Taking Action and the school’s Sierra Club, we’ve given presentations and developed a survey to ask our fellow students about their experiences at the school. The data from the 500 students we’ve collected will be presented at a forum on May 28 for students to voice their opinions about school transformations all over South LA.
—Jonathan Alvarado, Keeja Stewart, Tauheedah Shakur, James Law and Erick Galvan
5. In Sacramento, Trans Justice Hits the Senate
On April 29, dozens of Gay-Straight Alliance club activists joined together in Sacramento for Queer Youth Advocacy Day to rally for middle schools and high schools where all students can succeed. We spoke to legislators about the School Success and Opportunity Act (AB 1266), which makes sure California schools know that transgender students have the full right to participate in all school programs. Students shared their experiences of how not being included with students of the gender they identify with can have disastrous consequences such as forcing them to drop out of school. Others talked about school districts that do allow them to participate fully, like LA Unified, which shows that implementation of this bill is possible and positive experiences can come from it. The bill has now passed through the assembly and is headed for the senate, where we will continue to advocate to keep all students in school.
—Keanan Gottlieb and Logan Henderson
6. Across California, Students Put the School Police State on Trial
When students in California have problems like not getting to class on time, fighting or breaking school rules, schools handle these situations with suspensions, expulsions, and school police tickets that hit youth of color hardest. For the past five years in LA, the Community Rights Campaign has built a student movement that organizes on buses, in our neighborhoods and at city hall and the school district board. We led a fight against the top school police citation—$250 truancy and tardy tickets—and won big changes to that policy last year. We have now joined with other youth and community groups, allies and advocates across the state around a new legislative agenda. Last year we passed five bills to reform zero tolerance policies. This year, in response to the post-Newtown push for more police in schools, we are trying to pass AB 549, a bill that would help limit the role of police in school districts and prioritize funding for counselors, intervention workers and other mental health services. The bill will be headed for a full assembly floor vote if it clears its final committee hearing this week.
—Carlos Elmo Gomez
7. Investments on Check at Middlebury
On Nakba Day, in solidarity with global demonstrations for Palestinian rights, a coalition including Palestinian, Israeli, and American Jewish students staged a checkpoint at Middlebury to call on the college to divest from companies doing business with Israel. At Middlebury, Justice for Palestine has united with an array of campus groups, including environmentalists calling for the college to divest from fossil-fuel companies, to make the call. Politicized by the trustees’ failure to honor their initial commitment to vote on divestment in May, students are refusing to budge from an intersectional analysis of oppression in divestment organizing—for which four students were arrested in March and five were nearly expelled in the fall—and are gearing up for escalation.
—Jay Saper
8. A New Union at Penn
On March 28, after a year of planning and relationship building, subcontracted dining hall workers at the University of Pennsylvania went public with the Justice on the Menu campaign, demanding higher wages and more paid sick days. Alongside student allies in the Penn Student Labor Action Project, workers held a large rally in March, launched a website and video and were featured almost weekly in the campus newspaper this spring. Students also collected over 1,100 signatures in a petition delivered to University President Amy Gutmann. The semester ended with a successful unionization process with Teamsters Local 929 for workers at Falk Dining Commons. As contract negotiations take place in the coming months, students and workers will continue pushing for improved job standards and working conditions on campus.
—Penny Jennewein and Leslie Krivo-Kaufman
9. How Long Will Sallie Mae Profit Off Student Debt?
On May 9, twenty students from the United States Student Association, the Student Labor Action Project and allied organizations met with US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to discuss the DOE’s relationship with Sallie Mae, the largest private owner of student debt in the country. Sallie Mae made $84 million in profit on federal loan servicing contracts last year alone. The students came to the table to pressure Secretary Duncan to break Sallie Mae’s contract or incentivize the companies processing federal loans to enroll debtors in programs like Income Based Repayment that prioritize helping people with student debt get back on their feet. On May 30, students from across the country are going to Sallie Mae’s shareholder meeting in Newark, Delaware. We plan to pressure Sallie Mae to open up about their relationship with ALEC and their process for paying their top executives.
—John Connelly
10. How Long Will Students Wait for Arne Duncan?
On June 1 and 2, student debt advocates from across the Midwest are coming together in Chicago to discuss a national student debt campaign, the first of a series of regional meetings to tackle educational debt. The campaign’s focus and strategy will be hammered out this summer with participating organizations. Based on existing conversations, the initial goals and strategies revolve around a commitment to quality higher education as a public good that should be affordable and accessible to all. Three areas to advance this long-term goal include: providing support to borrowers currently paying off the existing $1 trillion in debt; addressing causes of declining affordability and quality, including changes to state funding and financial aid policies; and addressing the role of Wall Street and the growing financialization and privatization of higher education without the burden of financial hardship.
—Nelini Stamp
Source
Student power!

From Chicago to LA, students mass for racial justice
May 26, 2013

1. Chicago Students Stage Citywide Boycott to Protest School Closings

On Monday, May 20, the Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools organized a citywide boycott so that students could join a three-day march in protest of school closures. More than two hundred students participated from high schools across the city. In the morning, students met at Williams Elementary, which the school system ordered to be put on lockdown. From there, we marched three miles downtown, where 26 activists were occupying City Hall in an act of civil disobedience. The action ended with a large rally at Daley Plaza, with speakers ranging from teachers union president Karen Lewis to third grader Asean Johnson. On May 22, as activists occupied the central lobby, Chicago’s unelected board of education voted to close 50 schools. Students and allies are overwhelmingly upset—but the fight for these schools is not over.

—Israel Muñoz

2. After Thousands Walk Out, Philly Student Union Heads to Chicago

I was one of the 2,000 Philadelphia students who walked out of school on Friday, May 17, to assert a student voice in the face of school closings and disinvestment. By Saturday, I was in Chicago joining the struggle against school closings there. Chicago’s closings, like Philadelphia’s, are primarily in black and Latino neighborhoods. After marching through the north, west and south sides of the city, I spoke alongside students from Chicago at Daley Plaza. Next, we marched and held hands around City Hall—where teachers and community members were arrested for sitting in. Students from Philly, Boston, Baltimore and Detroit came to support Chicago’s fight. As students, we will continue fighting in every city until we have the schools we deserve.

—Sharron Snyder

3. Sparked by the LAPD, USC Mobilizes Against Racial Profiling

On May 4, the Los Angeles Police Department deployed 79 officers in riot gear to shut down a peaceful graduation celebration attended primarily by black and Latino students at the University of Southern California. Nine student leaders were arrested, six spent the night in police custody and others were herded off the block and physically assaulted. Charges against arrested students are still pending and await court proceedings on May 30. This incident, along with a string of similar happenings, sparked what has become known as the #USChangeMovement. On May 6, more than 200 students, faculty and local residents sat-in at Tommy Trojan to protest and exchange stories of discrimination and racial profiling at USC and in the greater Los Angeles area. On May 7, more than 1,000 people attended an on-campus discussion with students, the LAPD, the USC Department of Public Safety, the HR Commission and USC senior administration members to seek answers and draft joint solutions. USC students are propelling citywide movement to end racial profiling, excessive force and selective law enforcement—all while embracing peace, intellect and understanding.

—USChangeMovement

4. In South LA, Students Defend Community Schools

In October 2012, Crenshaw High School received notice from LA superintendent John Deasy that the school would undergo a “transformation” starting this summer. Under the transformation, more than half of Crenshaw’s teachers—many of whom are older, black or active in the union—have been rejected from returning. The conversion of Crenshaw into three magnets means students have to reapply—likely pushing many out. This move comes at a time when Crenshaw has been showing improvements through its innovative Extended Learning Cultural Model, which prioritizes culturally relevant education and project-based learning. Connecting Crenshaw with recent upheaval at other black and Latino high schools in South LA, the Crenshaw community has been organizing against the transformation. As part of the Coalition for Educational Justice, Taking Action and the school’s Sierra Club, we’ve given presentations and developed a survey to ask our fellow students about their experiences at the school. The data from the 500 students we’ve collected will be presented at a forum on May 28 for students to voice their opinions about school transformations all over South LA.

—Jonathan Alvarado, Keeja Stewart, Tauheedah Shakur, James Law and Erick Galvan

5. In Sacramento, Trans Justice Hits the Senate

On April 29, dozens of Gay-Straight Alliance club activists joined together in Sacramento for Queer Youth Advocacy Day to rally for middle schools and high schools where all students can succeed. We spoke to legislators about the School Success and Opportunity Act (AB 1266), which makes sure California schools know that transgender students have the full right to participate in all school programs. Students shared their experiences of how not being included with students of the gender they identify with can have disastrous consequences such as forcing them to drop out of school. Others talked about school districts that do allow them to participate fully, like LA Unified, which shows that implementation of this bill is possible and positive experiences can come from it. The bill has now passed through the assembly and is headed for the senate, where we will continue to advocate to keep all students in school.

—Keanan Gottlieb and Logan Henderson

6. Across California, Students Put the School Police State on Trial

When students in California have problems like not getting to class on time, fighting or breaking school rules, schools handle these situations with suspensions, expulsions, and school police tickets that hit youth of color hardest. For the past five years in LA, the Community Rights Campaign has built a student movement that organizes on buses, in our neighborhoods and at city hall and the school district board. We led a fight against the top school police citation—$250 truancy and tardy tickets—and won big changes to that policy last year. We have now joined with other youth and community groups, allies and advocates across the state around a new legislative agenda. Last year we passed five bills to reform zero tolerance policies. This year, in response to the post-Newtown push for more police in schools, we are trying to pass AB 549, a bill that would help limit the role of police in school districts and prioritize funding for counselors, intervention workers and other mental health services. The bill will be headed for a full assembly floor vote if it clears its final committee hearing this week.

—Carlos Elmo Gomez

7. Investments on Check at Middlebury

On Nakba Day, in solidarity with global demonstrations for Palestinian rights, a coalition including Palestinian, Israeli, and American Jewish students staged a checkpoint at Middlebury to call on the college to divest from companies doing business with Israel. At Middlebury, Justice for Palestine has united with an array of campus groups, including environmentalists calling for the college to divest from fossil-fuel companies, to make the call. Politicized by the trustees’ failure to honor their initial commitment to vote on divestment in May, students are refusing to budge from an intersectional analysis of oppression in divestment organizing—for which four students were arrested in March and five were nearly expelled in the fall—and are gearing up for escalation.

—Jay Saper

8. A New Union at Penn

On March 28, after a year of planning and relationship building, subcontracted dining hall workers at the University of Pennsylvania went public with the Justice on the Menu campaign, demanding higher wages and more paid sick days. Alongside student allies in the Penn Student Labor Action Project, workers held a large rally in March, launched a website and video and were featured almost weekly in the campus newspaper this spring. Students also collected over 1,100 signatures in a petition delivered to University President Amy Gutmann. The semester ended with a successful unionization process with Teamsters Local 929 for workers at Falk Dining Commons. As contract negotiations take place in the coming months, students and workers will continue pushing for improved job standards and working conditions on campus.

—Penny Jennewein and Leslie Krivo-Kaufman

9. How Long Will Sallie Mae Profit Off Student Debt?

On May 9, twenty students from the United States Student Association, the Student Labor Action Project and allied organizations met with US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to discuss the DOE’s relationship with Sallie Mae, the largest private owner of student debt in the country. Sallie Mae made $84 million in profit on federal loan servicing contracts last year alone. The students came to the table to pressure Secretary Duncan to break Sallie Mae’s contract or incentivize the companies processing federal loans to enroll debtors in programs like Income Based Repayment that prioritize helping people with student debt get back on their feet. On May 30, students from across the country are going to Sallie Mae’s shareholder meeting in Newark, Delaware. We plan to pressure Sallie Mae to open up about their relationship with ALEC and their process for paying their top executives.

—John Connelly

10. How Long Will Students Wait for Arne Duncan?

On June 1 and 2, student debt advocates from across the Midwest are coming together in Chicago to discuss a national student debt campaign, the first of a series of regional meetings to tackle educational debt. The campaign’s focus and strategy will be hammered out this summer with participating organizations. Based on existing conversations, the initial goals and strategies revolve around a commitment to quality higher education as a public good that should be affordable and accessible to all. Three areas to advance this long-term goal include: providing support to borrowers currently paying off the existing $1 trillion in debt; addressing causes of declining affordability and quality, including changes to state funding and financial aid policies; and addressing the role of Wall Street and the growing financialization and privatization of higher education without the burden of financial hardship.

—Nelini Stamp

Source

Student power!

Upcoming United States actions:

May 18th: ‘Operation Green Jobs’ March from Philadelphia to Washington, DC organized by the Poor People’s Economic and Human Rights Campaign.

May 18th to 23rd: the  Home Defenders League Week of Action against the banks and foreclosures in Washington, DC.

May 18th to 20th: there is a  weekend of protests against the closure of schools in Chicago.

May 22nd:  Stop the Frack Attack People’s Forum in Washington, DC.

May 25th: Protests against Monsanto everywhere

May 25th to June 3rd: March from Philadelphia to Harrisburg against prison spending.

June 1st:  Get on the Bus For Bradley Court Martial Trial  with buses leaving from Baltimore, MD, Washington DC, New York City and Willimantic, CT.

June 14th to 16th:  Trade Justice Action Camp in Bellingham, WA by the Backbone Campaign

June 24th to 29th: is the beginning of “ Fearless Summer” that starts “ an epic summer of actions.

Source

Reblog with your own additions to the list.

Obama student loan policy reaping… wait for it… $51 billion profitMay 14, 2013
The Obama administration is forecast to turn a record $51 billion profit this year from student loan borrowers, a sum greater than the earnings of the nation’s most profitable companies and roughly equal to the combined net income of the four largest U.S. banks by assets.
Figures made public Tuesday by the Congressional Budget Office show that the nonpartisan agency increased its 2013 fiscal year profit forecast for the Department of Education by 43 percent to $50.6 billion from its February estimate of $35.5 billion.
Exxon Mobil Corp., the nation’s most profitable company, reported $44.9 billion in net income last year. Apple Inc. recorded a $41.7 billion profit in its 2012 fiscal year, which ended in September, while Chevron Corp. reported $26.2 billion in earnings last year. JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo reported a combined $51.9 billion in profit last year.
The estimated increase in the Education Department’s earnings from student borrowers and their families may cause a political firestorm in Washington, where members of Congress and Obama administration officials thus far have appeared content to allow students to line government coffers.
The Education Department has generated nearly $120 billion in profit off student borrowers over the last five fiscal years, budget documents show, thanks to record relative interest rates on loans as well as the agency’s aggressive efforts to collect defaulted debt. A spokesman from the Education Department did not respond to a request for comment. A Congressional Budget Office spokesman could not be reached for comment after normal business hours.
The new profit prediction comes as Washington policymakers increasingly focus on soaring student debt levels and the record relative interest rates that borrowers pay as a potential impediment to economic growth. Regulators and officials at agencies that include the Federal Reserve, Treasury Department, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Federal Reserve Bank of New York have all warned that student borrowing may dampen consumption, depress the economy, limit credit creation or pose a threat to financial stability.
At $1.1 trillion, student debt eclipses all other forms of household debt, except for home mortgages. It’s also the only kind of consumer debt that has increased since the onset of the financial crisis, according to the New York Fed. Officials in Washington are worried that overly indebted student borrowers are unable to save enough to purchase a home, take out loans for new cars, start a business or save enough for their retirement.
Policymakers also are worried about the effect that high interest rates on outstanding student debt may have on the broader economy. Congress sets interest rates on federal student loans, with rates fixed on the majority of loans at 6.8 and 7.9 percent.
But as the Federal Reserve attempts to lower borrowing costs for everyone from households and small businesses to large corporations and Wall Street banks, student borrowers have not been able to benefit.
Compared to a benchmark interest rate — what the U.S. government pays to borrow for 10 years — student borrowers have never paid more, increasing the burden of their student debt as wage increases and yields on investments and bank accounts fail to keep up with the relative increase in student loan interest payments.
President Barack Obama recently asked Congress to tie federal student loan interest rates to the U.S. government’s borrowing costs. In a possible sign of congressional intent, leading Democratic senators on Tuesday proposed legislation that would keep existing interest rates on some student loans for the neediest households fixed at 3.4 percent, rather than allowing them to revert back to their original 6.8 percent rate.
The legislation, dubbed the “Student Loan Affordability Act” and proposed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), aims to help a small subset of future student borrowers who take out loans over the next two years. The bill does nothing for existing student debtors.
"Today’s figures from the CBO underscore the urgent need for Congress to prevent the July 1 interest rate hike and address the crushing debt placed on students," said Tiffany Edwards, spokeswoman for Democrats on the House Education and Workforce Committee.
Rohit Chopra, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau official overseeing the regulator’s student debt efforts, has warned policymakers to not focus solely on future borrowers.
“The whole student loan problem is a problem that should be of deep concern to this body,” said Richard Cordray, CFPB director, during testimony last month before the Senate Banking Committee. “These are young people that we should care a great deal about.”
“They’re the ones with the ambition, aspirations and dreams, and they’re getting saddled with debt that they don’t understand,” Cordray said of student borrowers. “It’s holding them back and it’s making them unable to rise and succeed and become leaders in our society.”
He added: “It’s a significant problem and we’re going to be doing everything that we can to address it at the bureau.”
The CFPB has been focusing on helping existing borrowers refinance high-rate debt or modify the terms of their loans. In a report earlier this month, the CFPB lamented that borrowers are unable to refinance their obligations after they have graduated from college and secured well-paying jobs.
"Corporate entities, homeowners, and many others have been able to refinance debt at quite low rates, and student loan borrowers are wondering why they can’t do the same," Chopra said.
The CFPB suggests that increased concentration in the student loan market may inhibit refinancings and debt workouts. Lenders and the Education Department profit when borrowers pay higher rates than they otherwise would in a normally-functioning market.
Unlike traditional lenders, though, the Education Department’s profits are barely dented by loan defaults. For loans made in 2013 that eventually default, the department estimates it will recover between 76 cents and 82 cents on the dollar. Bankruptcy rarely discharges student debt.
The Education Department’s collection efforts are aided by loan default specialists, including NCO Group Inc., a company owned by JPMorgan.
Source

Obama student loan policy reaping… wait for it… $51 billion profit
May 14, 2013

The Obama administration is forecast to turn a record $51 billion profit this year from student loan borrowers, a sum greater than the earnings of the nation’s most profitable companies and roughly equal to the combined net income of the four largest U.S. banks by assets.

Figures made public Tuesday by the Congressional Budget Office show that the nonpartisan agency increased its 2013 fiscal year profit forecast for the Department of Education by 43 percent to $50.6 billion from its February estimate of $35.5 billion.

Exxon Mobil Corp., the nation’s most profitable company, reported $44.9 billion in net income last year. Apple Inc. recorded a $41.7 billion profit in its 2012 fiscal year, which ended in September, while Chevron Corp. reported $26.2 billion in earnings last year. JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo reported a combined $51.9 billion in profit last year.

The estimated increase in the Education Department’s earnings from student borrowers and their families may cause a political firestorm in Washington, where members of Congress and Obama administration officials thus far have appeared content to allow students to line government coffers.

The Education Department has generated nearly $120 billion in profit off student borrowers over the last five fiscal years, budget documents show, thanks to record relative interest rates on loans as well as the agency’s aggressive efforts to collect defaulted debt. A spokesman from the Education Department did not respond to a request for comment. A Congressional Budget Office spokesman could not be reached for comment after normal business hours.

The new profit prediction comes as Washington policymakers increasingly focus on soaring student debt levels and the record relative interest rates that borrowers pay as a potential impediment to economic growth. Regulators and officials at agencies that include the Federal Reserve, Treasury Department, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Federal Reserve Bank of New York have all warned that student borrowing may dampen consumption, depress the economy, limit credit creation or pose a threat to financial stability.

At $1.1 trillion, student debt eclipses all other forms of household debt, except for home mortgages. It’s also the only kind of consumer debt that has increased since the onset of the financial crisis, according to the New York Fed. Officials in Washington are worried that overly indebted student borrowers are unable to save enough to purchase a home, take out loans for new cars, start a business or save enough for their retirement.

Policymakers also are worried about the effect that high interest rates on outstanding student debt may have on the broader economy. Congress sets interest rates on federal student loans, with rates fixed on the majority of loans at 6.8 and 7.9 percent.

But as the Federal Reserve attempts to lower borrowing costs for everyone from households and small businesses to large corporations and Wall Street banks, student borrowers have not been able to benefit.

Compared to a benchmark interest rate — what the U.S. government pays to borrow for 10 years — student borrowers have never paid more, increasing the burden of their student debt as wage increases and yields on investments and bank accounts fail to keep up with the relative increase in student loan interest payments.

President Barack Obama recently asked Congress to tie federal student loan interest rates to the U.S. government’s borrowing costs. In a possible sign of congressional intent, leading Democratic senators on Tuesday proposed legislation that would keep existing interest rates on some student loans for the neediest households fixed at 3.4 percent, rather than allowing them to revert back to their original 6.8 percent rate.

The legislation, dubbed the “Student Loan Affordability Act” and proposed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), aims to help a small subset of future student borrowers who take out loans over the next two years. The bill does nothing for existing student debtors.

"Today’s figures from the CBO underscore the urgent need for Congress to prevent the July 1 interest rate hike and address the crushing debt placed on students," said Tiffany Edwards, spokeswoman for Democrats on the House Education and Workforce Committee.

Rohit Chopra, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau official overseeing the regulator’s student debt efforts, has warned policymakers to not focus solely on future borrowers.

“The whole student loan problem is a problem that should be of deep concern to this body,” said Richard Cordray, CFPB director, during testimony last month before the Senate Banking Committee. “These are young people that we should care a great deal about.”

“They’re the ones with the ambition, aspirations and dreams, and they’re getting saddled with debt that they don’t understand,” Cordray said of student borrowers. “It’s holding them back and it’s making them unable to rise and succeed and become leaders in our society.”

He added: “It’s a significant problem and we’re going to be doing everything that we can to address it at the bureau.”

The CFPB has been focusing on helping existing borrowers refinance high-rate debt or modify the terms of their loans. In a report earlier this month, the CFPB lamented that borrowers are unable to refinance their obligations after they have graduated from college and secured well-paying jobs.

"Corporate entities, homeowners, and many others have been able to refinance debt at quite low rates, and student loan borrowers are wondering why they can’t do the same," Chopra said.

The CFPB suggests that increased concentration in the student loan market may inhibit refinancings and debt workouts. Lenders and the Education Department profit when borrowers pay higher rates than they otherwise would in a normally-functioning market.

Unlike traditional lenders, though, the Education Department’s profits are barely dented by loan defaults. For loans made in 2013 that eventually default, the department estimates it will recover between 76 cents and 82 cents on the dollar. Bankruptcy rarely discharges student debt.

The Education Department’s collection efforts are aided by loan default specialists, including NCO Group Inc., a company owned by JPMorgan.

Source

April 16, 2013 - from my email:

Hey folks!

May Day is fast approaching and a bunch of student groups are in the process of organizing a citywide student convergence!  Plans are in the works for some campus-specific actions & events in the lead-up to May Day, a Free University hosted by Free Cooper Union on May Day, followed by a citywide convergence afterwards!
The first convergence planning meeting was last Sunday at Cooper Union.  There was a great vibe and a ton of enthusiasm about showing solidarity with labor by using May Day as an opportunity to strengthen and build the student movement in NYC.  
There’s still a lot of work to get done!  If you’d like to get involved, email me offlist and I’ll add you to the May Day student convergence listserv (nycstudentconvergence@googlegroups.com), which we hope to use beyond May Day for future citywide student events and coordination.
At the last meeting, the group decided to leave the final decisions about the structure of the day to next week’s meeting in order to go back to their respective campuses and to give more time for folks that couldn’t make the first meeting to give input.  The next planning meeting for the May Day Student Convergence will be at:
April 21st, Sunday, 1pm-3pm 
Washington Square Park
Please RSVP to the event page and share with friends: https://www.facebook.com/events/417425228353105/
If you or your group wants to be involved in the planning of the convergence, contact me off-list and we’ll coordinate.
Best,
Matt
mtinker86@gmail.com

A Facebook friend of mine sent me this video and asked for my thoughts
April 16, 2013

My response was so long, I thought it a waste not to post here. Response starts below:

Well, you may not have known what you were getting yourself into when you asked for my thoughts cos I have a whole essay’s worth of thoughts – lol!:

On our financial system: our financial system for sure doesn’t make any sense – it is unstable and crisis is built into our capitalist system. Among other problems, competition & unsustainable growth are built into the system – there is no way our system can continue for very long without serious reforms or absolute fundamental change (which is really what needs to happen). Competition is great, but the problem with competition is that somebody eventually wins. And when they do, power & money & the ability to accumulate more of both concentrates in the hands of a few, driving the disparity, subverting regulation, and eventually leading to economic disaster.

I can imagine a few alternatives & solutions to this problem and I have in-mind what I believe would be the most possible/likely-to-succeed/least-bloody solution, but ultimately, I’ll jump on board to pretty much anything that answers the problems created by our capitalist system if it becomes popular enough & has strong enough of a possibility of success & doesn’t involve hurting lots of other people.

On RussiaToday as a news source: RussiaToday, like all large news providers (save for Democracy Now, if you want to count that), is biased toward the agenda of the powers they are beholden to. For us in the United States, that’s the corrupt corporate interests that govern our system.

For RussiaToday, that’s Russian state interests. They use real information & real facts, but often frame them in misleading or hyperbolic ways. Amidst major crises, they report facts early and incorrectly often. They feature U.S. stories predominately featuring violence, brutality, and crisis in the U.S. They intentionally try and foster negative feelings about the U.S. and give extensive coverage to news relevant both to the American left and to libertarian/Ron-Paul people – the two largest ‘dissident’ communities in the U.S. That’s their U.S. audience – people who could cause problems for U.S. state interests.

As part of that community, it’s a great & powerful resource. Lots of good information covered extensively about police brutality & our military-industrial-complex that doesn’t get that kind of coverage otherwise. At the same time, when they cite statistics or post stories about how the U.S. government is finally coming ‘for your guns’, I kind of just roll my eyes and tune them out and wait to see if I see it reported on DemocracyNow or TruthOut or SocialistWorker or AlJazeera (which has it’s own problems). So… I find them to be a good source for conglomerated news stories that a ‘dissident’ or a leftist might be interested in, but it’s always important to me, when reading RussiaToday, that I find other sources to confirm what is being reported.

Recommended related sources:

Sorry for the really long response!

-Robert

the-lone-pamphleteer.tumblr.com: Sundown in AmericaApril 4, 2013
Rarely do journalists reporting on the state of the American or world economy write with the accessibility and honesty of David A. Stockman in his recent New York Times opinion piece, called “State-Wrecked: The Corruption of Capitalism in America.” The former Republican Congressman and Office of Management & Budget director during the Reagan administration has the experience with financial markets and central economic planning that most critics of the system lack, and it makes his column seem both more reliable and more frightening than the alarmist pleas of many other doomsday prophets.
With carefully explained figures and simplified (yet, to my knowledge, accurate) descriptions of the history of twentieth century American capitalism, Stockman takes us through the eras of mistaken governmental policies, avoiding the typical biases that pervade in financial opinion writing:
“The culprits are bipartisan, though you’d never guess that from the blather that passes for political discourse these days.”
Stockman’s willingness to criticize Republicans and Democrats alike is refreshing, as when he points to 1933 as the origin of our current “state-wreck,” when “when Franklin D. Roosevelt opted for fiat money (currency not fundamentally backed by gold), economic nationalism and capitalist cartels in agriculture and industry,” but then only a few paragraphs later emphasizes Richard Nixon’s “sin [arguably] graver than Watergate”: ending the convertibility of gold to the dollar, essentially defaulting on the nation’s debt obligations and launching a “four-decade spree during which we have lived high on the hog, running a cumulative $8 trillion current-account deficit.”
Many of his claims, though controversial, strike me as correct: World War II did more to end the depression than the New Deal; the only reason Alan Greenspan’s monetary policies—keeping interest rates too low for too long and flooding Wall Street with freshly minted cash—didn’t set off inflation was that domestic prices for goods and labor were crushed by the huge flow of imports from the factories of Asia; we’ve been living on borrowed time, spending Asia’s borrowed dimes; beginning under Reagan, and especially under Bush, the GOP basically “embraced Keynesianism—for the wealthy”; that the overblown fear of another Great Depression in 2008 was concocted by Wall Street to force a panicked bail-out from Washington; and—perhaps most frighteningly—that the 10-year deficit is actually $15 to $20 trillion—much larger than the $7 trillion that even “deficit hawks” like Paul Ryan would have us believe (Stockman explains that this disparity is partially made possible by the Congressional Budget Office’s projection of 16.4 million jobs over the next decade, compared with only 2.5 million in the last ten years).
I find myself convinced by Stockman’s column not only because of his seemingly accurate portrayal of the many mistakes made by government and industry alike, but also because he seems genuinely concerned with the stark and widening inequality created by the broken system. He sounds like Bernie Sanders when he says that Paul Ryan’s “proposal for draconian 30 percent cuts over a decade on the $7 trillion safety net—Medicaid, food stamps and the earned-income tax credit—is another front in the GOP’s war against the 99 percent.”
Like many critics of the harshly unequal outcomes of the supposed “recovery,” he invokes mind-boggling figures: real median family income growth has dropped 8 percent; the real net worth of the bottom 90 percent has dropped by 25 percent; the number of food stamp and disability aid recipients has more than doubled, to 59 million (which is one in five Americans).
In the 1980s Stockman was a true believer in Chicago School neoclassical economics and the trickle-down theory. Unlike most of his peers, however, he’s willing to look, 30 years later, at the disastrous outcomes and know how misguided that ideology was.
Stockman is no Kissinger, warning of the future of an empirical China in America’s image. Instead, he recognizes that just as America will soon follow Greece and Cypriot’s lead, the rest of the world won’t be far behind:
“The greatest construction boom in recorded history—China’s money dump on infrastructure over the last 15 years—is slowing. Brazil, India, Russia, Turkey, South Africa and all the other growing middle-income nations cannot make up for the shortfall in demand. The American machinery of monetary and fiscal stimulus has reached its limits. Japan is sinking into old-age bankruptcy and Europe into welfare-state senescence. The new rulers enthroned in Beijing last year know that after two decades of wild lending, speculation and building, even they will face a day of reckoning, too.”
He joins other pragmatic truth-tellers, like former Comptroller General David Walker, in calling for drastic reforms, but is more than pessimistic about the potential to realize them, writing that “the way out would be so radical it can’t happen.” I disagree with Stockman on what appears to be a faith in truly free and functioning markets that could save the global economy while decreasing inequality—especially because he doesn’t address how constant growth could be compatible with an ecologically sustainable future—but I am willing to concede that many of his measures would be improvements over the status quo. I also agree that they’re completely unfeasible as a matter of politics.
So what are we left with? How do we proceed? Is there any way to stop this latest bubble, “inflated by an egregious flood of phony money from the Federal Reserve rather than real economic gains,” from bursting and leaving us in ruins? I don’t know, but Stockman’s closing line leaves me with chills: “If this sounds like advice to get out of the markets and hide out in cash, it is.”
— Written & submitted by the-lone-pamphleteer.tumblr.com whom you should follow. 
Please send your own original content for review & publishing on The People’s Record at thepeoplesrec@gmail.com & feel free to write us with any ideas for regular columns, podcasts, cartoons/comics or similar such content. 
Or if you’re interested in helping us curate & post regular international protest news content from other sources (we’ll have to trust you first cos of passwords, etc) for The People’s Record on our Facebook page, our Twitter account, our Tumblr, Instagram or other sites that you think we should be on, let us know so we can get that process started.

the-lone-pamphleteer.tumblr.com: Sundown in America
April 4, 2013

Rarely do journalists reporting on the state of the American or world economy write with the accessibility and honesty of David A. Stockman in his recent New York Times opinion piece, called “State-Wrecked: The Corruption of Capitalism in America.” The former Republican Congressman and Office of Management & Budget director during the Reagan administration has the experience with financial markets and central economic planning that most critics of the system lack, and it makes his column seem both more reliable and more frightening than the alarmist pleas of many other doomsday prophets.

With carefully explained figures and simplified (yet, to my knowledge, accurate) descriptions of the history of twentieth century American capitalism, Stockman takes us through the eras of mistaken governmental policies, avoiding the typical biases that pervade in financial opinion writing:

“The culprits are bipartisan, though you’d never guess that from the blather that passes for political discourse these days.”

Stockman’s willingness to criticize Republicans and Democrats alike is refreshing, as when he points to 1933 as the origin of our current “state-wreck,” when “when Franklin D. Roosevelt opted for fiat money (currency not fundamentally backed by gold), economic nationalism and capitalist cartels in agriculture and industry,” but then only a few paragraphs later emphasizes Richard Nixon’s “sin [arguably] graver than Watergate”: ending the convertibility of gold to the dollar, essentially defaulting on the nation’s debt obligations and launching a “four-decade spree during which we have lived high on the hog, running a cumulative $8 trillion current-account deficit.”

Many of his claims, though controversial, strike me as correct: World War II did more to end the depression than the New Deal; the only reason Alan Greenspan’s monetary policies—keeping interest rates too low for too long and flooding Wall Street with freshly minted cash—didn’t set off inflation was that domestic prices for goods and labor were crushed by the huge flow of imports from the factories of Asia; we’ve been living on borrowed time, spending Asia’s borrowed dimes; beginning under Reagan, and especially under Bush, the GOP basically “embraced Keynesianism—for the wealthy”; that the overblown fear of another Great Depression in 2008 was concocted by Wall Street to force a panicked bail-out from Washington; and—perhaps most frighteningly—that the 10-year deficit is actually $15 to $20 trillion—much larger than the $7 trillion that even “deficit hawks” like Paul Ryan would have us believe (Stockman explains that this disparity is partially made possible by the Congressional Budget Office’s projection of 16.4 million jobs over the next decade, compared with only 2.5 million in the last ten years).

I find myself convinced by Stockman’s column not only because of his seemingly accurate portrayal of the many mistakes made by government and industry alike, but also because he seems genuinely concerned with the stark and widening inequality created by the broken system. He sounds like Bernie Sanders when he says that Paul Ryan’s “proposal for draconian 30 percent cuts over a decade on the $7 trillion safety net—Medicaid, food stamps and the earned-income tax credit—is another front in the GOP’s war against the 99 percent.”

Like many critics of the harshly unequal outcomes of the supposed “recovery,” he invokes mind-boggling figures: real median family income growth has dropped 8 percent; the real net worth of the bottom 90 percent has dropped by 25 percent; the number of food stamp and disability aid recipients has more than doubled, to 59 million (which is one in five Americans).

In the 1980s Stockman was a true believer in Chicago School neoclassical economics and the trickle-down theory. Unlike most of his peers, however, he’s willing to look, 30 years later, at the disastrous outcomes and know how misguided that ideology was.

Stockman is no Kissinger, warning of the future of an empirical China in America’s image. Instead, he recognizes that just as America will soon follow Greece and Cypriot’s lead, the rest of the world won’t be far behind:

“The greatest construction boom in recorded history—China’s money dump on infrastructure over the last 15 years—is slowing. Brazil, India, Russia, Turkey, South Africa and all the other growing middle-income nations cannot make up for the shortfall in demand. The American machinery of monetary and fiscal stimulus has reached its limits. Japan is sinking into old-age bankruptcy and Europe into welfare-state senescence. The new rulers enthroned in Beijing last year know that after two decades of wild lending, speculation and building, even they will face a day of reckoning, too.”

He joins other pragmatic truth-tellers, like former Comptroller General David Walker, in calling for drastic reforms, but is more than pessimistic about the potential to realize them, writing that “the way out would be so radical it can’t happen.” I disagree with Stockman on what appears to be a faith in truly free and functioning markets that could save the global economy while decreasing inequality—especially because he doesn’t address how constant growth could be compatible with an ecologically sustainable future—but I am willing to concede that many of his measures would be improvements over the status quo. I also agree that they’re completely unfeasible as a matter of politics.

So what are we left with? How do we proceed? Is there any way to stop this latest bubble, “inflated by an egregious flood of phony money from the Federal Reserve rather than real economic gains,” from bursting and leaving us in ruins? I don’t know, but Stockman’s closing line leaves me with chills: “If this sounds like advice to get out of the markets and hide out in cash, it is.”

— Written & submitted by the-lone-pamphleteer.tumblr.com whom you should follow.

Please send your own original content for review & publishing on The People’s Record at thepeoplesrec@gmail.com & feel free to write us with any ideas for regular columns, podcasts, cartoons/comics or similar such content.

Or if you’re interested in helping us curate & post regular international protest news content from other sources (we’ll have to trust you first cos of passwords, etc) for The People’s Record on our Facebook page, our Twitter account, our Tumblr, Instagram or other sites that you think we should be on, let us know so we can get that process started.

Richard Wolff comes back to PBS’ Bill Moyers for Part II
March 23, 2013

Richard Wolff on Cypress:

Absolutely! That Cypress story is extremely important.

Even though it’s a very small country and people might not pay attention because it’s so small. Here is the austerity program of raising taxes and cutting government spending, taking a qualitative new step: to help bail out a capitalism that hasn’t worked in Europe and that has crippled this little country of Cypress. The step taken to try and fix the problem is to literally reach into the private insured bank accounts of people in the local banks in Cypress and take money out of it to pay for fixing this broken system.

For all working people, not just in Europe in the United States and the rest of the world too, this should be a wakeup call if you still need one.

We’re in a situation where the most dire, unexpected, unimaginable steps are being taken to fix (capitalism) a system that keeps resisting being fixed so that we are required now to dip into people’s checking accounts and literally TAKE the money.

Q: Student loan debts are overwhelming me and many others. What does Professor Wolff think would happen to the economy if those debts could be forgiven under personal bankruptcy? Is that even possible?

Well the law in the United States specifically prevents you from using bankruptcy to erase your student loans. Bankruptcy does allow you to erase other kinds of debts but the student loan system was set up to prevent that – so students are in an especially bad place by virtue of this.

In our history as a country, we’ve never before done this. We’ve never required college students to take anything remotely like this kind of debt. We’re requiring students to acquire HUGE amounts of debt just to get bachelor’s degrees, let alone more advanced degrees at the same time that we offer the graduates the poorest job market & prospects in a generation. That’s a one, two punch. You have to borrow more than you can afford to face a job that will not allow you to ever pay it off. Hence this person’s very intelligent question – how is this going to work?

We’ve solved a problem in our society – how to educate the next generation – and let me tell you this is a very important matter. We economists believe that the single most important factor shaping the future of any economy in the world, including the United States, is the quality and quantity of the educated, trained labor force that it produces. Colleges and Universities are where we do that. But if we’re crippling an entire generation with debts they cannot support and jobs that will not encourage them to continue in their studies, we are as a nation, shooting ourselves in the foot going forward. It’s a demonstration of the dysfunctionality of our system.

And then the question comes, could we forgive our student’s debts? Well, it’s an interesting idea. But how do you go to the people who can’t afford their credit card debts or their mortgage debts, they’re all hurting. And the students have a special claim – I acknowledge that. We need those students – I understand it. But we have to go to the root of a society that allows unspeakable wealth to accumulate in the hands of a tiny minority, while condemning an entire generation of students to a set of burdens. We don’t want them to have those burdens; we need what they can produce for our society.

Moyers: But what does this young woman do who says that she is overwhelmed by her debt?

Many students are not aware that they actually have some ways to help them.

But the more broad answer is that you need a social movement. If there were masses of students saying “this is intolerable,” saying it loudly and saying it publicly – peacefully for sure, but making it clear…then the powers that be would begin to realize that there are millions of students (upward of 15-16 million people going to colleges & universities in the United States). You’re talking about a well-educated constituency that, if they were organized and mobilized, you would begin to get the response of dealing with their crisis more effectively than what we have now. 

Watch the video of the entire Part II interview here.

Read more about Wolff’s organization to combat capitalism here.  

Follow that organization on Tumblr here.

The sickening cost of health care: Why Americans pay the highest health care costs in the worldMarch 18, 2013
Health care costs in the United States continue to skyrocket, with dire consequences ranging from personal bankruptcies to the growing national debt. Yet the even more outrageous fact is that these inflated costs—the highest in the world—produce health outcomes that trail countries which spend far less.
In a Time magazine special report titled "Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us," published in February, investigative journalist Steven Brill pulls back the curtain to expose the price-gouging and profiteering that explains why health care in the U.S. costs so much.
Brill’s article details the devastating impact that health care costs—which are behind six in 10 personal bankruptcies—have on working-class people. As Time managing editor Richard Stengel pointed out, Brill “inverts the standard question of who should pay for health care and asks instead: Why are we paying so much?”
Barack Obama used the urgency of this crisis to press Congress to pass his health care law. But the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act does little to address rising health care costs.
On the contrary, it will almost certainly make things worse by requiring the uninsured to get coverage from for-profit companies and providing subsidies from taxpayer revenues to pay the premiums. Rather than challenging industry giants, Brill writes, “Obamacare enriches them. That, of course, is why the bill was able to get through Congress.”
Meanwhile, outsized health care costs—which continue to rise faster than inflation—are a central reason for big government deficits, which the very same politicians then use as a pretext to push for cuts in “entitlement” programs like Social Security and Medicare, by reducing payments for the former and raising the eligibility age for the latter.
However, as Brill points out, Medicare, the government’s universal health care system for the elderly, is one of the few bright spots in the current system. Whatever its flaws, caused by cuts and restrictions over the past few decades, it is still far more efficient than private insurance, it offers universal coverage while even Obama’s health care law will leave tens of millions of people uninsured—and it has mechanisms to keep costs down.
If Medicare, instead of being cut, was expanded to cover everyone and to provide even better care than it does now, it would save about $380 billion per year by cutting down on administrative waste, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine—and on top of that, it would actually improve health care.
Over ten years, that’s just about the same amount—$4 trillion—that Barack Obama’s deficit reduction commission proposes to save, with massive cuts to entitlement programs that dwarf proposed increases in taxes.
It’s true that government spending on Medicare has been rising much faster than inflation and is a major cause of government deficits. Medicare spending, after adjusting for inflation, increased fivefold from $110.2 billion in 1990 to $554.3 billion in 2011,according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). And that was after it nearly tripled in 10 years from $37.4 billion in 1980.
In fact, according to Congressional Budget Office figures, protected increases in health care costs are behind most of the expected growth in government debt.
While a significant part of this increase is the result of a growing and aging population, much of the increase in Medicare spending is being driven by increased health care costs overall. The CMS reports that total per capita health care spending in the U.S., adjusted for inflation, more than tripled from $2,854 in 1990 to $8,680 in 2011. Health care accounts for nearly one-fifth of the GDP in the U.S..
Other advanced industrial countries such as Germany have a significantly higher percentage of their populations over age 65. Yet they spend much less on health care than the U.S.—and achieve better outcomes.
In “Bitter Pill,” Brill examines hospital bills to expose how extreme price inflation generates massive hospital industry profits, while driving health care costs sky-high—a price that is ultimately paid by consumers.
According to Brill, hospitals charge patients different amounts for the same equipment and procedures, depending on what kind of insurance they have. While Medicare and Medicaid pay a set amount for each item, various insurers negotiate the rates they pay. Many insurers negotiate a discount off the “chargemaster”—a hospital’s list of charges for everything from aspirin and gauze to major procedures and cancer drugs that cost tens of thousands of dollars each.
Because hospitals use the chargemaster as a starting point in negotiations, these prices are much higher than the items actually cost. To cite one example, Brill points out a hospital that charges $24 for a niacin pill which costs about 5 cents in an ordinary pharmacy: a markup of 47,900 percent.
Hospitals also gouge patients by charging multiple times for the same procedure. In the article, Brill quotes Patricia Palmer, who is paid to negotiate with hospitals on behalf of patients to lower exorbitant bills:

First, they charge more than $2,000 a day for the ICU, because it’s an ICU and it has all this special equipment and personnel. Then they charge $1,000 for some kit used in the ICU to give someone a transfusion or oxygen…And then they charge $50 or $100 for each tool or bandage or whatever that there is in the kit. That’s triple billing.

For the un- or underinsured, tragic illnesses can be a financial catastrophe. The terminally ill can even be forced into an impossible choice: whether to extend their lives and leave their families with a crippling debt, or give up time with their families to avoid burdening them financially.
This was the choice faced by Steven D., who Brill profiles in his article. After being diagnosed with terminal cancer, Steven’s wife Alice, who earns about $40,000 a year, racked up over $900,000 in debt to pay for treatment to keep her husband alive for an extra 11 months. Although Alice was able to get Medi-Cal (Medicaid) coverage and hired an advocate to negotiate with the hospital, she still ended up owing $142,000, more than three times her yearly salary. Not only did she have to cope with losing her husband, but she was left financially crippled as well.
When pressed by Brill, hospital administrators weren’t able to give a plausible explanation for the chargemaster rates, except to say that they are only a starting point and patients aren’t actually expected to pay them. The grim irony is that it is the uninsured patients—those among the least likely to be able to afford it—who are charged full chargemaster prices. And many don’t know negotiation is an option.
Full article

The sickening cost of health care: Why Americans pay the highest health care costs in the world
March 18, 2013

Health care costs in the United States continue to skyrocket, with dire consequences ranging from personal bankruptcies to the growing national debt. Yet the even more outrageous fact is that these inflated costs—the highest in the world—produce health outcomes that trail countries which spend far less.

In a Time magazine special report titled "Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us," published in February, investigative journalist Steven Brill pulls back the curtain to expose the price-gouging and profiteering that explains why health care in the U.S. costs so much.

Brill’s article details the devastating impact that health care costs—which are behind six in 10 personal bankruptcies—have on working-class people. As Time managing editor Richard Stengel pointed out, Brill “inverts the standard question of who should pay for health care and asks instead: Why are we paying so much?”

Barack Obama used the urgency of this crisis to press Congress to pass his health care law. But the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act does little to address rising health care costs.

On the contrary, it will almost certainly make things worse by requiring the uninsured to get coverage from for-profit companies and providing subsidies from taxpayer revenues to pay the premiums. Rather than challenging industry giants, Brill writes, “Obamacare enriches them. That, of course, is why the bill was able to get through Congress.”

Meanwhile, outsized health care costs—which continue to rise faster than inflation—are a central reason for big government deficits, which the very same politicians then use as a pretext to push for cuts in “entitlement” programs like Social Security and Medicare, by reducing payments for the former and raising the eligibility age for the latter.

However, as Brill points out, Medicare, the government’s universal health care system for the elderly, is one of the few bright spots in the current system. Whatever its flaws, caused by cuts and restrictions over the past few decades, it is still far more efficient than private insurance, it offers universal coverage while even Obama’s health care law will leave tens of millions of people uninsured—and it has mechanisms to keep costs down.

If Medicare, instead of being cut, was expanded to cover everyone and to provide even better care than it does now, it would save about $380 billion per year by cutting down on administrative waste, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine—and on top of that, it would actually improve health care.

Over ten years, that’s just about the same amount—$4 trillion—that Barack Obama’s deficit reduction commission proposes to save, with massive cuts to entitlement programs that dwarf proposed increases in taxes.

It’s true that government spending on Medicare has been rising much faster than inflation and is a major cause of government deficits. Medicare spending, after adjusting for inflation, increased fivefold from $110.2 billion in 1990 to $554.3 billion in 2011,according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). And that was after it nearly tripled in 10 years from $37.4 billion in 1980.

In fact, according to Congressional Budget Office figures, protected increases in health care costs are behind most of the expected growth in government debt.

While a significant part of this increase is the result of a growing and aging population, much of the increase in Medicare spending is being driven by increased health care costs overall. The CMS reports that total per capita health care spending in the U.S., adjusted for inflation, more than tripled from $2,854 in 1990 to $8,680 in 2011. Health care accounts for nearly one-fifth of the GDP in the U.S..

Other advanced industrial countries such as Germany have a significantly higher percentage of their populations over age 65. Yet they spend much less on health care than the U.S.—and achieve better outcomes.

In “Bitter Pill,” Brill examines hospital bills to expose how extreme price inflation generates massive hospital industry profits, while driving health care costs sky-high—a price that is ultimately paid by consumers.

According to Brill, hospitals charge patients different amounts for the same equipment and procedures, depending on what kind of insurance they have. While Medicare and Medicaid pay a set amount for each item, various insurers negotiate the rates they pay. Many insurers negotiate a discount off the “chargemaster”—a hospital’s list of charges for everything from aspirin and gauze to major procedures and cancer drugs that cost tens of thousands of dollars each.

Because hospitals use the chargemaster as a starting point in negotiations, these prices are much higher than the items actually cost. To cite one example, Brill points out a hospital that charges $24 for a niacin pill which costs about 5 cents in an ordinary pharmacy: a markup of 47,900 percent.

Hospitals also gouge patients by charging multiple times for the same procedure. In the article, Brill quotes Patricia Palmer, who is paid to negotiate with hospitals on behalf of patients to lower exorbitant bills:

First, they charge more than $2,000 a day for the ICU, because it’s an ICU and it has all this special equipment and personnel. Then they charge $1,000 for some kit used in the ICU to give someone a transfusion or oxygen…And then they charge $50 or $100 for each tool or bandage or whatever that there is in the kit. That’s triple billing.

For the un- or underinsured, tragic illnesses can be a financial catastrophe. The terminally ill can even be forced into an impossible choice: whether to extend their lives and leave their families with a crippling debt, or give up time with their families to avoid burdening them financially.

This was the choice faced by Steven D., who Brill profiles in his article. After being diagnosed with terminal cancer, Steven’s wife Alice, who earns about $40,000 a year, racked up over $900,000 in debt to pay for treatment to keep her husband alive for an extra 11 months. Although Alice was able to get Medi-Cal (Medicaid) coverage and hired an advocate to negotiate with the hospital, she still ended up owing $142,000, more than three times her yearly salary. Not only did she have to cope with losing her husband, but she was left financially crippled as well.

When pressed by Brill, hospital administrators weren’t able to give a plausible explanation for the chargemaster rates, except to say that they are only a starting point and patients aren’t actually expected to pay them. The grim irony is that it is the uninsured patients—those among the least likely to be able to afford it—who are charged full chargemaster prices. And many don’t know negotiation is an option.

Full article

Possibility of empowered left amid populist upswing in Italian elections
February 25, 2013

Italians voted for a second and final day in a general election on Monday with a surge in protest votes increasing the risk of an unstable outcome that could undermine Europe’s efforts to end its three-year debt crisis.

Opinion polls give the centre-left coalition led by former Industry Minister Pier Luigi Bersani a narrow lead but the race has been thrown wide open by the prospect of protest votes against austerity and corporate and political scandals.

"I’m sick of the scandals and the stealing," said Paolo Gentile, a 49-year-old Rome lawyer who said he had voted for the 5-Star Movement, an anti-establishment protest group set to make a huge impact at its first general election.

"We need some young, new people in parliament, not the old parties that are totally discredited," he said.

Most of the voters interviewed outside polling stations by Reuters on Sunday and Monday expected the next government would quickly collapse, thwarting efforts to end an economic crisis.

"I’m very pessimistic, I don’t think that whoever wins will last long or be able to solve the problems of this country," said Cristiano Reale, a 43 year-old salesman in Palermo, Sicily. He said he would vote for the far left Civil Revolution group.

A bitter campaign, fought largely over economic issues, has been closely watched by financial markets, nervous about the return of the kind of debt crisis that took the whole euro zone close to disaster and brought technocrat prime minister Mario Monti to office in 2011.

ANTI-EURO FORCES

"There are similarities between the Italian elections and last year’s ones in Greece, in that pro-euro parties are losing ground in favor of populist forces,” said Mizuho chief economist Riccardo Barbieri.

"An angry and confused public opinion does not see the benefits of fiscal austerity and does not trust established political parties."

(TPR NOTE: That’s because the only people who benefit from austerity are the rich. It’s one more way the rich are able to siphen money from the poor, creating wide-spread poverty and chaos, while collecting marginally higher numbers for themselves, which will never have an effect on their quality of life because they are already so rich that it doesn’t matter.)

Projections based on the vote count will be issued through the afternoon and the final result should be known late on Monday or early Tuesday.

An extremely close Senate race is expected in several battleground regions and this could delay the final result..

The election result is likely to be the most fragmented in decades, with the old left-right division disrupted by the rise of 5-Star, led by fiery Genoese comic Beppe Grillo, and by Monti’s decision to run at the head of a centrist bloc.

"It will be a vote of protest, maybe of revolt," said Corriere della Sera, Italy’s largest newspaper, on Monday.

It noted that for the first time the winning coalition is unlikely to get more than a third of the votes, making it harder to govern and likely opening weeks of complicated negotiations.

It is unclear how Grillo’s rise will influence the result, with some pollsters saying it increases the chances of a clear win for the centre-left, led by Bersani’s Democratic Party (PD), because 5-Star is taking votes mainly from Berlusconi.

After the first day of voting on Sunday, about 54 percent of voters had cast their ballots, a sharp fall on the level of 62.5 percent seen at the same stage in the last election in 2008.

If the trend continues on Monday it will confirm the disillusion of voters with a discredited political class.

CALL TO ARMS

The 5-Star Movement, backed by a frustrated younger generation increasingly shut out of full-time jobs, could challenge former premier Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PDL) party as Italy’s second largest political force.

"Come on, it isn’t over yet," was Monday’s front page headline in Il Giornale daily, owned by Berlusconi’s brother, a call to arms to get out the vote.

The 76-year-old Berlusconi, has pledged sweeping tax cuts and echoed Grillo’s attacks on Monti, Germany and the euro in an extraordinary media blitz that has halved the lead of the centre-left since the start of the year.

Support for Monti’s centrist coalition meanwhile has faded after he led a lackluster campaign and he appears set to trail well behind the main parties.

After drawing hundreds of thousands of supporters to its final campaign rally on Friday, Grillo has said he fears voting fraud to try to block a massive breakthrough, telling his supporters to wet the lead in the pencils they use to vote to prevent the crosses being rubbed out.

Whatever government emerges will inherit an economy that has been stagnant for much of the past two decades and problems ranging from record youth unemployment to a dysfunctional justice system and a bloated public sector.

If Bersani wins, it is far from clear that he will be able to control both houses of parliament and form a stable government capable of lasting a full five-year term.

Source

From an email:

Hey comrades,

Recently, a campaign to target Sallie Mae’s central, detrimental role in the student debt crisis has began to build great traction. Conversations have been sparked amongst various collectives and organizations as to how everyone can participate to effectively target Sallie Mae and how together, this can be an avenue to make strong demands and envision alternatives on fundamental issues like free public higher education, racial justice, and equal access to education for immigrants.

Organizers at Jobs with Justice and Student Labor Action Project have already begun to coordinate efforts against the already beleaguered corporation by organizing workers in Sallie Mae call centers, to pressuring the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for tougher regulation to pursuing legal recourse for Sallie Mae’s redlining practices.

Here in New York, folks from New York Students Rising, Strike Debt, Occupy Student Debt Campaign, and All in the Red have been discussing what it would look like to continue to focus on Sallie Mae together in the context of building a broad-based coalition.  

We’d like to open up the discussion to organizers and activists across New York City (there will be a national call following this) to unpack what this could look like locally and nationally in the coming months. Please send this to anyone in and around NYC who may be interested and indicate your availability on this Doodle if you’d like be a part of the call: http://www.doodle.com/8tz3w6nwc7a63xvd

Best, Matt Tinker, (479-366-8609) #allinthered

Janna Powell (484-695-1204) #allinthered

In my humble opinion, All in the Red is one of the most promising new economic-justice/education groups you can choose to be involved with in the U.S. They are creative & smart & serious about testing innovative organizational tactics. 
  • All in the Red fights for accessible debt-free education for all!
  • Through visionary tactics, surprising actions, and creative networking, we resist corporate ownership of our schools and the commodification of knowledge.
  • By combining artistic and organizational innovations with grassroots direct action, we strive to create dynamic experimental spaces of connectivity and collaboration–incubators for new forms of creative protest.

Source

Student-loan delinquency skyrocketing, hitting “Danger Zone”January 31, 2013
Most of us are have seen headlines about the burgeoning student-loan crisis. As of August, for instance, student loans had topped $914 billion — an increase of $10 billion in less than half a year, even as most debt was falling around the country. Still, we do not appear to have hit rock-bottom. A new report shows that student-loan delinquency rates have gone through the roof in recent years and that, even more troubling, we may be entering a “danger zone” in which the entire U.S. economy is at risk.
The report from FICO Labs shows that student-loan delinquencies saw a 22-percent increase in the past several years; the overall delinquency rate is now more than 15 percent.
The LA Times has more:

The worsening deliquency rate comes as loan balances surge. The average student-loan debt jumped to $27,253 last year, up 58% from $17,233 in 2005. By contrast, average credit-card and auto-loan balances declined during that period.


“As more people default on their student loans, their credit ratings will drop, making it harder for them to access new credit and help grow the economy,” [FICO Labs head Andrew] Jennings said. “Even people who stay current on their student loans are dealing with very large debts, which reduces the money they have available to spend elsewhere.”

Source
Strike Debt has created a Debt Resistor’s Manual that you can read here.
It’s side project, Rolling Jubilee, has raised $552,682 to abolish $11,058,465 in debt.

Student-loan delinquency skyrocketing, hitting “Danger Zone”
January 31, 2013

Most of us are have seen headlines about the burgeoning student-loan crisis. As of August, for instance, student loans had topped $914 billion — an increase of $10 billion in less than half a year, even as most debt was falling around the country. Still, we do not appear to have hit rock-bottom. A new report shows that student-loan delinquency rates have gone through the roof in recent years and that, even more troubling, we may be entering a “danger zone” in which the entire U.S. economy is at risk.

The report from FICO Labs shows that student-loan delinquencies saw a 22-percent increase in the past several years; the overall delinquency rate is now more than 15 percent.

The LA Times has more:

The worsening deliquency rate comes as loan balances surge. The average student-loan debt jumped to $27,253 last year, up 58% from $17,233 in 2005. By contrast, average credit-card and auto-loan balances declined during that period.

“As more people default on their student loans, their credit ratings will drop, making it harder for them to access new credit and help grow the economy,” [FICO Labs head Andrew] Jennings said. “Even people who stay current on their student loans are dealing with very large debts, which reduces the money they have available to spend elsewhere.”

Source

Strike Debt has created a Debt Resistor’s Manual that you can read here.

It’s side project, Rolling Jubilee, has raised $552,682 to abolish $11,058,465 in debt.

For the first time in the history of the United States, the delinquency rate on student loans is higher than the rate of all other consumer loans, including credit and car loans. According to the latest data from the New York Federal Reserve, total student loan debt stands at $956 billion.January 21, 2013 
A new infographic from CollegeStats.org puts the U.S. student loan dilemma into perspective.
In November, the Fed’s Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit showed a “red flag” and that there was a growing problem because 11 percent of student loans were 90 days or more past due. The infographic showed that the delinquency rate rose by about five percent since 2005.
Most borrowers are under the age of 30, but for the past eight years, the number of Americans over the age of 30 attending school has been steadily rising (the research did not show the demographics of student loan debt or the default rate).
Since 2005, student loan debt has been exceeding credit card, auto loan and other consumer debt. The average student loan balance (2012) has surpassed the $20,000 mark, but with the delinquency rate rising there are ramifications for the borrowers: the federal government can garnish up to 15 percent of an individual’s income and Social Security disability and retirement income, collection charges of up to 20 percent can add an additional nine years to a 10-year loan and it will hurt the borrower’s credit score. 
A new survey by Financial Fit showed that 25 percent of parents say they have not factored college affordability into their search for getting their child into a college or university. The study also found that 46 percent are unsure how much debt their child is willing to take on and more than one-third are unsure how much debt they are willing to commit to.
An overwhelming majority of respondents said they would be willing to sell a car, get a second job or increase their debt so their child can attend a post-secondary institution, even though the enormous tuition rate is too expensive.
“Families are told ‘don’t look at the sticker price—it’s not real,’ and they believe it because it’s true,” said Frank Palmasani , a veteran guidance counselor and former college admissions director, creator of the Financial Fit™ program, in a press release.  “But that doesn’t necessarily mean that a school is going to be affordable. Under a blanket of false security, students spend junior and early senior year selecting colleges, testing, and applying, all the while falling more and more in love with their top pick, which may well be unaffordable.”
Early last year, Moody’s economist Cristian deRitis warned that student loan debt defaults could lead to a wave of credit downgrades in the future across the country and this could hurt households from accessing credit for things like a home or an automobile.
Since 1978, the cost of college tuition in the U.S. has soared by 900 percent.
Source

For the first time in the history of the United States, the delinquency rate on student loans is higher than the rate of all other consumer loans, including credit and car loans. According to the latest data from the New York Federal Reserve, total student loan debt stands at $956 billion.
January 21, 2013 

A new infographic from CollegeStats.org puts the U.S. student loan dilemma into perspective.

In November, the Fed’s Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit showed a “red flag” and that there was a growing problem because 11 percent of student loans were 90 days or more past due. The infographic showed that the delinquency rate rose by about five percent since 2005.

Most borrowers are under the age of 30, but for the past eight years, the number of Americans over the age of 30 attending school has been steadily rising (the research did not show the demographics of student loan debt or the default rate).

Since 2005, student loan debt has been exceeding credit card, auto loan and other consumer debt. The average student loan balance (2012) has surpassed the $20,000 mark, but with the delinquency rate rising there are ramifications for the borrowers: the federal government can garnish up to 15 percent of an individual’s income and Social Security disability and retirement income, collection charges of up to 20 percent can add an additional nine years to a 10-year loan and it will hurt the borrower’s credit score. 

A new survey by Financial Fit showed that 25 percent of parents say they have not factored college affordability into their search for getting their child into a college or university. The study also found that 46 percent are unsure how much debt their child is willing to take on and more than one-third are unsure how much debt they are willing to commit to.

An overwhelming majority of respondents said they would be willing to sell a car, get a second job or increase their debt so their child can attend a post-secondary institution, even though the enormous tuition rate is too expensive.

“Families are told ‘don’t look at the sticker price—it’s not real,’ and they believe it because it’s true,” said Frank Palmasani , a veteran guidance counselor and former college admissions director, creator of the Financial Fit™ program, in a press release.  “But that doesn’t necessarily mean that a school is going to be affordable. Under a blanket of false security, students spend junior and early senior year selecting colleges, testing, and applying, all the while falling more and more in love with their top pick, which may well be unaffordable.”

Early last year, Moody’s economist Cristian deRitis warned that student loan debt defaults could lead to a wave of credit downgrades in the future across the country and this could hurt households from accessing credit for things like a home or an automobile.

Since 1978, the cost of college tuition in the U.S. has soared by 900 percent.

Source