Boing Boing 

Figuring out Greece

This helped: Three Things To Read About Greece .

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Thousands of American kids are getting free university educations in Germany

German higher education is essentially free, even for foreign students, and many courses are conducted entirely in English.

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How and why to default on your student loan


Lee Siegel defaulted on his student loans because it was "absurd that one could amass crippling debt as a result, not of drug addiction or reckless borrowing and spending, but of going to college" just because "he had the misfortune of coming from modest origins."

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Anti-austerity parties soar in Spanish elections as Greece threatens default


Two new, anti-establishment parties (including one that grew out of the indignados movement -- a kind of Spanish precedent to Occupy) took key seats in regional and municipal elections in yesterday's Spanish election, which is a kind of dress rehearsal for the upcoming national elections.

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Class of 2015: most indebted in history


A report (issued by a college savings business, caveat lector) says that the US graduating college class of 2015 has more debt than any other class in history.

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Judge who invented Ferguson's debtor's prisons owes $170K in tax


Judge Ronald J Brockmeyer -- who filled Ferguson's coffers by fining its poorest residents and sent them to inhumane, overcrowded prisons when they couldn't pay a few hundred dollars -- stands accused of fixing fines for his cronies, and owes $170K in unpaid taxes.

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Debt, a photo project

DebtPortrait22

Spurred by her own financial hardship experiences, photographer Brittany Powell embarked on "The Debt Project," a series of formal photo portraits of myriad Americans in debt accompanied by their handwritten debt stories and, eventually, audio interviews. Powell is hoping to complete the project with funding from a Kickstarter campaign.

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David Graeber and Thomas Piketty on whether capitalism will destroy itself

Graeber wrote the magisterial Debt: The First 5,000 Years; Piketty, of course, wrote the essential Capital in the 21st Century -- in a must-read dialog, they discuss their differences and similarities and offer views on whether capitalism will collapse.

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The more your job helps people, the less you're paid (and vice-versa)


In this spectacular, long interview with Salon, David "Debt" Graeber builds on his bullshit jobs hypothesis and points out the horror of modern American work: if your job does some good, you are paid less; jobs that actively hurt people are paid more; and no one seems to want a world where no one has to work anymore. But have no fear: it ends on a high note: a proposed "revolt of the caring classes."

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Free science fictional graphic novel about the student debt conspiracy


Christopher Kosek writes, "'The Default Trigger' is a 52 page, free (with a pay what you want version available) digital graphic novel about student loan debt, the shadowy figures lurking in the background who watch over our struggles and their insidious conspiracy to keep this cycle going. It's written and illustrated by me, Christopher Kosek. Plot (with spoilers): When a recent college grad, Joseph Doakes, defaults on over $100k in student loans,"

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Debt collectors illegally hound people who don't owe money

A third of people who complain about debt-collectors who break the law say they don't even owe the money under discussion. Of the victims who complained to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau about being hounded for money they don't owe, two thirds say they never owed it, and a third say they had already paid it off. Debt-collectors call wrong numbers or hassle people with names similar to those of debtors. They call them at work and at home, and use threats and obscene language when they're told they've got the wrong person. One offender, CashCall Inc, is being sued over its practices, and was separately ordered to refund $14M in debts it collected through fraudulent robo-signing.

Meet Educational Credit Management Corporation, the arm-breakers of the student debt racket


A private contractor to student debt-holders has a special legal department that goes to bankruptcy court to argue that student loans shouldn't be discharged in bankruptcy, ever. The Educational Credit Management Corporation contracts to the Department of Education, on whose behalf it argues (for example) that debtors who go bankrupt fighting pancreatic cancer should still have to pay back their student loans in full, because "Survival rates for younger patients tend to be higher."

Student debt is the most pernicious kind of debt. It's debt that you take on when you're a teenager, and it's the only debt that can be taken out of your Social Security check. But as bad as the student debt racket is (and it's bad -- no, I mean really bad), I hadn't quite clocked how depraved its bagmen and enforcers could be.

They've been censured by courts for their strongarm tactics, bills have been introduced to make them behave, but they seem unstoppable. Why not? The precarious job-market has convinced Americans to go into $1 trillion worth of student debt, and when that collapses, it'll make subprime look like small change. So, realistically, who's ever going to stop thug bill-collectors from torturing people with terrible illness, or caring for severely disabled loved ones, or facing other unimaginable hardship, in order to bleed whatever they can for the debt-holders who're depending on that trillion bucks being repaid?

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Student debt and tuition hikes: destroying the lives of America's children


In Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi takes a long, in-depth look at the scandal of student loans and tuition hikes, a two-headed parasite sucking America's working class and middle class dry as they plunge their children into a lifetime of ballooning debt in the vain hope of a better, college-educated future. The feds keep backing student loans, and the states keep cutting university funding, so the difference is made up by cranking up tuition and shifting the burden to future grads. Meanwhile, the laws that prohibit discharging student debt in bankruptcy, combined with ballooning default penalties (your $30K debt can rocket to $120K if you have a heart-attack and are bedridden and can't make payments) and the most ruthless, unsupervised, criminal collection agencies means that tens of millions of Americans are trapped in a nightmare that never ends -- student debt being the only debt that can be taken out of your Social Security check. Matt Taibbi is a national treasure, and Rolling Stone does us all a service by keeping him working.

If this piece moves you and you want to learn more, Don't miss "Generation of Debt," an important pamphlet on the subject from UC students.

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Bank forecloses on wrong house, changes locks, steals tons of stuff, won't compensate owner in full


On Popehat, Ken details the astounding story of Katie Barnett, whose home was burglarized by agents of the First National Bank of Wellston, Ohio, who mistook her house for one that they were foreclosing upon. The bank broke into her house, changed the locks, and got rid of many of Barnett's possessions.

The local police refuse to get involved, and the bank's CEO, Anthony S. Thorne, is refusing to reimburse her in full for her possessions, which were stolen and destroyed by his company. Thorne says that because Barnett can't produce receipts for all of her goods (because who does that?) (and also, even if she had, they'd have been in her burglarized house), and because her recollection of her stuff doesn't match the "inventory" of the bungling bank employees who stole everything she owned, he will not pay her full compensation.

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Interview with Suicide Girls about Homeland, the sequel to Little Brother

My next novel, Homeland (the sequel to Little Brother) is out in a few weeks, and I recently sat down with Nicole Powers from Suicide Girls for an interview about the book and the issues it raises, especially the student-debt bubble:

When it was just rich people going, it wasn’t about just getting a better job, because you were already rich, you already had the entré into the better job. You could already do unfunded apprenticeships and your parents’ friends were the people offering you the unfunded apprenticeships. You had a good five ways within the system. But now it’s a market transaction, and once it’s a market transaction we start applying cost benefit analysis to it. We start saying, well if the university degree earns you so many pounds, then it makes sense to start talking about you paying so many pounds. And if the objective here is to take people whose lifetime income expectancy was so many pounds, and make it a little bit higher –– which is what we call social mobility –– then why shouldn’t that be a virtuous cycle and they pay back into it. That way the university can expand the number of students they take on and all the rest of it, right?

The problem with that is that it’s become a Ponzi scheme, especially in America. We haven’t quite gotten there here. But in America, you have this crazy thing where it is somewhat true and it’s also universally received as true, that you can’t get a good job without a university degree. It’s also the case that universities, including many state colleges –– that are actually owned by the public –– can act as loan originators, which is to say they lend you the money but where those loans are then backed by the federal government. They can lend you any amount of money because there’s no risk to them because the government will take the loan off their hands. Those loans are then further secured by the federal government when they float them as bonds. So you have this weird perverse incentive where the universities, the more they charge the more they get –– which is a bit weird right? Because in real market economies, the more you charge the more you get up to a point, and then people start going, wait a second, that’s not worth it anymore, and they stop paying in. But if I tell you that you can’t get a job unless you get a degree, and then I tell you that no matter how much the degree costs I can get you a loan for that much, all of a sudden you start getting takers for those crazy propositions and that starts to look like a bubble, like a pyramid scheme.

Cory Doctorow: Homeland

Why the stuff you don't see at the museum matters

Chicago's Field Museum isn't just a science museum. It's also a research center, especially for archaeologists and anthropologists who come to the museum to make use of its extensive collections of artifacts — only a tiny fraction of which is on public display at any given time. Unfortunately, the museum is currently up to its neck in debt, and part of the current administrators' plan to deal with that problem is to restructure the research department and cut back on curators and staffing there.It's hard to understand why this has the archaeology community so on edge unless you really understand what the Field Museum has in those vast Indiana-Jones-inspiring storage collections. Here's Michael Smith, an archaeologist who studies the ancient Aztecs, explaining why the Field Museum is so important to his work and that of his colleagues.

The photo above shows an Aztec flute in the museum. I have excavated many small fragments of these objects in Aztec domestic middens, but never an entire example. When one just has the animal's ear, or a segment with a hole, or a fragment of the mouthpiece, it is hard to figure out just what these are pieces of. It is through study of the whole flutes in the Field Museum or other museums that I learned to interpret the tiny fragments of musical instruments, and of many other unusual items, from my excavations. Or consider our knowledge of Aztec music. Scholars such as Adje Both have reconstructed aspects of Aztec music by studying flutes like this and by playing them (and recording the tones and doing analyses of the sound diagrams). Museums are the only places with the resources for such research, and the Field Museum is one of the most important in the U.S. and the world.

Read a Chicago Tribune story on the Field Museum's debt problem.

Rolling Jubilee: Occupy raising money to buy up, and wipe out, debts


David "How to Sharpen Pencils" Rees describes the Rolling Jubilee, a project from Occupy Wall Street to buy up, and zero out, other peoples' debts:

Now OWS is launching the ROLLING JUBILEE, a program that has been in development for months. OWS is going to start buying distressed debt (medical bills, student loans, etc.) in order to forgive it. As a test run, we spent $500, which bought $14,000 of distressed debt. We then ERASED THAT DEBT. (If you’re a debt broker, once you own someone’s debt you can do whatever you want with it — traditionally, you hound debtors to their grave trying to collect. We’re playing a different game. A MORE AWESOME GAME.)

This is a simple, powerful way to help folks in need — to free them from heavy debt loads so they can focus on being productive, happy and healthy. As you can see from our test run, the return on investment approaches 30:1. That’s a crazy bargain!

Now, after many consultations with attorneys, the IRS, and our moles in the debt-brokerage world, we are ready to take the Rolling Jubilee program LIVE and NATIONWIDE, buying debt in communities that have been struggling during the recession.

We’re kicking things off with a show called THE PEOPLE’S BAILOUT at Le Poisson Rouge on Thursday, November 15. It will also stream online, like a good ol’-fashioned telethon!

I just put in $100, which will erase $3000 worth of someone's debt.

The People’s Bailout