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Steve Fraser: The National Museum of Industrial Homicide

8:01 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

An American Flag projected on the New York Stock Exchange

Wall Street seems intent on 'hollowing out' the American working class.

A week after the election, I folded myself into the front seat of a small rental car and left Washington, D.C., for the highlands of southwestern Virginia. The destination on my GPS device read Radford University, a small public college located an hour’s drive from the West Virginia border. Radford’s picturesque campus is nestled into a double bend of the New River, a north-flowing body of water believed to be older than mankind. The Blue Ridge Mountains loom on the smoky horizon to the east, the Allegheny Mountains to the west.

I’d been invited to Radford to talk about the rising cost of college and why storytelling (of the type published here at TomDispatch) matters in the fight to rebuild a quality, affordable higher education system in America. At stake was the abandonment and hollowing out of public colleges by a generation of anti-government politicians, and the burden borne by young people who need that degree, albeit one with shrinking value in an anemic job market. But the students I met on campus — better-off and poorer, younger and older, some the first in their families to try for a degree — didn’t need to hear my spiel. They lived it every day.

One student told me about enrolling in a private college after high school, then dropping out because he couldn’t pay the tuition. So he joined the Marines and did two tours in Iraq to assure himself of government money for college when he got back, if he got back. Another nodded knowingly when I mentioned the “Himalayan-sized mountains of debt” accrued by so many collegians today. He later said he was already resigned to a near-lifetime effort to pay off his student loans. That was just the way it was, he assured me; others agreed. Afterward he shook my hand, thanked me for visiting, then walked out into the night. The folks at Radford had invited me to share what I’d learned as a journalist covering higher education; yet I absorbed at least as much as the students I was supposed to enlighten about what it is like for those struggling in our underfunded, stretched-thin, public education system.

The downsizing of higher education by states facing budget crunches in bad times is no aberration. It’s been a long, slow burn, the legacy of a hardline brand of conservatism that champions defunding government and giving private interests, including Wall Street, ever more control over American life. Conservative activist Grover Norquist, a fixture in the ongoing “fiscal cliff” talks in Washington, once infamously said of government that he wanted to “reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” There you have it. That kind of thinking, as historian and TomDispatch regular Steve Fraser, author of Wall Street: America’s Dream Palace, points out, has blighted not just public universities but also the blue-collar heart of America, leaving a trail of broken communities struggling to rebuild and reimagine the lives they once had. Andy Kroll

The Archeology of Decline
Debtpocalypse and the Hollowing Out of America
By Steve Fraser

Debtpocalypse” looms.  Depending on who wins out in Washington, we’re told, we will either free fall over the fiscal cliff or take a terrifying slide to the pit at the bottom.  Grim as these scenarios might seem, there is something confected about the mise-en-scène, like an un-fun Playland.  After all, there is no fiscal cliff, or at least there was none — until the two parties built it.

And yet the pit exists.  It goes by the name of “austerity.” However, it didn’t just appear in time for the last election season or the lame-duck session of Congress to follow.  It was dug more than a generation ago, and has been getting wider and deeper ever since.  Millions of people have long made it their home.  “Debtpocalypse” is merely the latest installment in a tragic, 40-year-old story of the dispossession of American working people.

Think of it as the archeology of decline, or a tale of two worlds. As a long generation of austerity politics hollowed out the heartland, the quants and traders and financial wizards of Wall Street gobbled up ever more of the nation’s resources. It was another Great Migration — instead of people, though, trillions of dollars were being sucked out of industrial America and turned into “financial instruments” and new, exotic forms of wealth.  If blue-collar Americans were the particular victims here, then high finance is what consumed them.  Now, it promises to consume the rest of us.

Scenes from the Museum

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Tom Engelhardt: A Subprime Education in a Subprime World

6:41 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

A graduate tightly holds onto his cap.

Photo: James Almond / Flickr.

Class of 2012, greetings! It’s a deceptively glorious day, even under this tent in the broiling heat of an August-style afternoon in mid-June on this northeastern campus.  Another local temperature record is being set: 98 degrees.  And yes, let’s admit it, the heat, the sun, the clearness of the azure blue sky stretching without a cloud to the horizon, the sense of summer descending with a passion, it’s not quite as reassuring as it might once have been, is it?  I suspect that few of you, readying yourselves to leave this campus, many mortgaged to your eyeballs (some for life no matter what you do), and heading into a country on edge, imagine personal clear skies to the horizon.

And while we’re admitting things, let’s admit something else about the heat today, as you bake under your graduation gowns: whether or not you have the figures at your fingertips, whether or not you know the details, who doesn’t sense that this planet is on edge, too?  I mean, here you are, the class of 2012, and like the classes of 2011, 2010, and so on, you are surely going to spend your first months out of college enduring one of history’s top ten heat years.

As so many Americans have noticed, this was a spring for the record books just about everywhere in the continental United States.  And keep in mind that at the moment we also seem to be making a beeline for a potentially record-setting summer, the months of your job hunt for a future, and maybe the hottest year in American history as well.

And records or no, this year is no anomaly.  Look at a temperature map of the United States, 1970-2011, and every state — every single state — is, on average, hotter now than it was four decades ago.  Imagine that.

And now, imagine this.  If climate change is the main culprit and the burning of fossil fuels is threatening to turn Hell, which you were once supposed to visit after death for your sins, into a pit stop on planet Earth, and if you want to do something about it, brace yourself.  What you’re up against is the power of the richest, most profitable corporations in history at a time when the sky’s the limit, not just for carbon dioxide, but for the infusion of private and corporate money into what we once called democratic (with a small “d”) politics.

In other words, the giant energy corporations that rake in tens of billions of dollars every quarter and whose lifeblood is the burning of fossil fuels are essentially capable of buying more or less anything they want in Washington.  That includes continuing massive subsidies — via “your” Congress (via your tax dollars) — of their unbelievably profitable operations.

And what exactly can you buy?  How many lawyers, lobbyists, and politicians can fit in your less than spacious pockets?  Okay, you don’t want your world, and that of your children, hotter than hades?  That’s understandable, but tell it to ExxonMobil.  It has money to burn and specializes in mobilizing some of those billions in profits to employ ranks of lawyers, hordes of well-organized lobbyists, klatches of politicians, and even its own armed mercenary warriors.  If the planet burns as well, so be it.

What Goes Up Must Come Down

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Bill McKibben: Why the Energy-Industrial Elite Has It In for the Planet

7:47 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

Stupid Elite Could Learn From This Kid (photo: cayusa, flickr)

Stupid Elite Could Learn From This Kid (photo: cayusa, flickr)

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Two Saturdays ago, I was walking with a friend in a park here in New York City.  It was late January, but I was dressed in a light sweater and a thin fall jacket, which I had just taken off and tied around my waist.  We were passing a strip of bare ground when suddenly we both did a double-take.  He looked at me and said, “Crocuses!”  Dumbfounded, I replied, “Yes, I see them.”  And there they were, a few clumps of telltale green shoots poking up from the all-brown ground as if it were spring.  Such a common, comforting sight, but it sent a chill through me that noticeably wasn’t in the air.  Even the flowers, I thought, are confused by our new version of weather.

Later that same week, as temperatures in the Big Apple crested 60 degrees, I was chatting on the phone with a friend in Northampton, Massachusetts.  I was telling him about the crocuses, when he suddenly said, “I’m looking out my window right now and for the first time in my memory of January, there’s not a trace of snow!”

Of course, our tales couldn’t be more minor or anecdotal, even if the temperatures that week did feel like we were on another planet.  Here’s the thing, though: after a while, even anecdotes add up — maybe we should start calling them “extreme anecdotes” — and right now there are so many of them being recounted across the planet.  How could there not be in a winter, now sometimes referred to as “Junuary,” in which, in the United States, 2,890 daily high temperature records have either been broken or tied at last count, with the numbers still rising?  Meanwhile, just to the south of us, in Mexico, extreme anecdotes abound, since parts of the country are experiencing “the worst drought on record.”  Even cacti are reportedly wilting and some towns are running out of water (as they are across the border in drought-stricken Texas).  And worst of all, the Mexican drought is expected to intensify in the months to come.

And who can doubt that in Europe, experiencing an extreme cold spell the likes of which hasn’t been seen in decades — even Rome had a rare snowfall and Venice’s canals were reported to be freezing over — there are another set of all-too-extreme anecdotes.  After all, in places like Ukraine, scores of the homeless are freezing to death, pipes are bursting, power cuts are growing, and maybe even an instant energy crisis is underway (at a moment when the European Union is getting ready to cut itself off from Iranian oil).

That’s just to begin a list.  Read the rest of this entry →