03 May 2007

On Student Debt

I attended a small soiree last week at my University (I suppose the proper word is a picnic—but that sounds so Midwestern). At one point, there were 5-6 of us (faculty and students) talking, and the delicate subject of student debt was introduced. A very charming women, wife of a faculty member, mentioned several local organizations that teach and advise college kids how to live within their means. One student added that he visits several websites daily that offer advice on spending habits. The conversation soon turned to how students get into debt as well as the use and abuse of credit cards.

After listening to this interesting conversation, I immediately inhaled 4-5 hot dogs and pondered the discussion (no actual connection between the conversation and my gluttony though).

Anyway, here is my problem with the entire student debt issue. While it isn’t a bad idea to help young people with money management, maybe we need to inch a little closer to the real problem—the source. Maybe we should teach about capitalism first—about the absolute desire and need of the capitalist classes to exploit these kids, and why the American system works that way. Maybe if my naive students knew more about the system they are about to become part of, they would have a better understanding of why college costs are so high, why salaries are so low, why the job market looks so bleak, and why they are getting unsolicited credit cards in the mail every day!

But what we tend to do in this country is blame the "undisciplined spender" even though the entire structure is organized to get money from these students and saddle them with lifelong debts. Let's not fool ourselves, it's planned that way! Many of my students are spending $20-25,000 a year for their college degree. And that price rises each and every year. What kind of job should they expect? You all know the answer to that—the pay will not be very good. In fact, most of my students are going to be burdened with heavy debts for years and years.

And while they are building up these debts, they still get credit cards in the mail—what a great country this is! These kids are also bombarded with capitalist cues to buy…buy…and buy even more. They all have cars and all the electrical gadgets one can imagine. But I guess that is the point of capitalism, they keep making products we don’t need, and we keep buying those products—while slipping further and further into debt.

Yet our Puritanical society too often views debt as a personal flaw. And then when I say negative things about capitalism (which happens often), my students generally take offense. They have been taught by their conservative parents that the system is just fine—individuals screw up. But of course they can get help—they can learn how to control their spending at some seminar. We continually hide our heads in the sand and support this corrupt economic system that only benefits the rich.

Maybe we should start telling our young people about capitalism and how flawed it really is. Let’s go to source of the debt problem instead of expecting them to feel shame. American capitalism is putting these kids in a real bind—and they still refuse to acknowledge the culprit. They still blindly accept the system and spout ridiculous crap about our freedoms and what a great country we live in.

Teaching them about the evils of capitalism will do two important things—it will help them understand exploitation and how they are a necessary part of it. And second, maybe they will be able to understand the primary systemic problem—that capitalism needs to keep forcing people into debt, and it needs a blind obedience from a generation of young spenders to stay alive.

Maybe we can kill it someday—but we must get these young spenders to understand how they are aiding and abetting the monster.

01 May 2007

Mission Accomplished Day!

Hey folks, it's "Mission Accomplished Day" in America. Yes, George W. Bush has given us a new holiday to celebrate, a day of commemoration.

As you probably all know, it was on 1 May 2003 that our fearless leader went on that aircraft carrier and declared victory in Iraq--or mission accomplished.

Since that wonderful declaration of victory, thousands of American and Iraqis have been killed, and the war itself has become a unmitigated disaster for the United States. Our "great" nation is hated abroad, the public has finally turned against the war, the Republican political majority has vanished, and Bush has proven himself to be a fucking idiot--something we all knew from the beginning.

But the Mission Accomplished faux pax needs to be "celebrated" each and every year. When that cocky bastard stood on that aircraft carrier he thought he had actually pulled it off. All the lies and falsehoods in order to take us into that illegal war--Bush thought a quick victory would stifle any dissent. The troops would be home before anyone had a chance to look into the lies.

Well, he was clearly mistaken and we need to make him pay this year......and every year thereafter. Mission Accomplished Day has two purposes. First, to remind us what an incompetent leader and prick that Bush really is. The picture with the thumb in the air says it all doesn't it?

But there can be a more practical and fun celebration for this day. It's the one day of the year when, thanks to our president, we can tell grandiose, bald-face lies and smile about the whole situation. That's right, on May 1, we now have the right.....no, the duty to simply make things up. We need to all find a bad situation in our life and declare that everything is okay!

How might this work--let's look at some examples.

-You have been working on that new deck for over a year, but it remains unfinished. There is lumber strewn all over the yard and the kids cannot even use the back door because the "new deck" project has been a disaster. You should never have promised your wife that you would build it; you are in over your head. But wait.....it's May 1st. That means the deck is actually finished. On Mission Accomplished Day you take the family out on the deck and declare the project completed! That's all it takes.....mission fucking accomplished.

-You are a professor and that stack of ungraded papers is now at least 5' high. There is no way you can finish--students are clamoring for their grades, they want their papers returned. What are you going to do? Its May 1st--those papers are done, they are all graded. Go to class and tell them mission accomplished you little shits!

-You've been working on a written project for the boss now for months, and your have made no progress. You know this report will never be finished but you don't know how to tell the boss. No need to--it's Mission Accomplished Day.....the god-damned report is done.

You get the point, what a great holiday! Now the negative side of all this is that the joy will not last long; sooner or later your family, your students, and your boss are all going to find out what a fuck-up you really are. But on this one day, on Mission Accomplished Day--you can hold your head up high and be proud of what you have done (although it's all a fucking lie).

Even when they find out and you are proven to be a worthless piece of crap, you can look back with pride on that one day when everyone chose to believe you were actually competent. They all know different now, but you will always have Mission Accomplished Day. The liberal media and the dirty hippies can never take that one away from you.