This is the first part of a two part series on ‘Obama’s 20/20 plan’ for higher education.
In this first part we will critically examine the initial ‘leg’ of the two part plan. In the second part, we will examine the second ‘leg’ of the ‘trousered’, Obama plan. In the second part, we will also critically examine the Lumina Foundation (the ALEC related former Sallie Mae, “USA Group”). I will also put forth some strategies available to fight this whole pernicious business of privatizing and the turning over to Wall Street, all forms of education in the US.
Both parts are insidious and devastating for any public educational interests.
From President Barrack Obama’s speech to the University of North Carolina students, April 2012:
“We only finished paying off our student loans off about eight years ago. That wasn’t that long ago. And that wasn’t easy – especially because when we had Malia and Sasha, we’re supposed to be saving up for their college educations, and we’re still paying off our college educations” (1) (http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2012/04/behind-obamas-definition-of-wealth-and-paying-off-student-loans-2/).
Student loans and debt peonage
For those that are looking for solutions to the problem of rising debt levels for student loans and the consequent debt peonage from a bought and paid for government devoted to disinvestment in public education and allegiance to Wall Street, they face a difficult dilemma. Seven million college students are now on track to see their federal loan rates double this year unless Congress acts ahead of a July 1st deadline, the date when government subsidized Stafford loan rates are due to increase from 3.4% to 6.8%. So what is the political class doing to ‘fix’ the problem and relieve the back breaking doubling of interest rates that will mire students further in debt? Easy: what their corporate paymasters tell them to do.
First, let us take a look at the proposal to staunch the student loan debt cancer from the Obama administration that works to cultivate a well-groomed image regarding caring about working students, their families and the growing debt they are forced to bear in order to capture a commodified diploma they can cash in at the ‘casino cage’ for “good jobs”.
It is important to note that Obama is busy pushing “market based solutions” to the market based problem, not investment in public education. Market based solutions, or better said, unregulated capitalism, is of course what got us into this mess in the first place, but never mind this: Obama is beholden to Wall Street and therefore it is no surprise that he and his corporate democratic cronies are calling for tying debt to the exigencies of Wall Street “solutions” while shunning any investments in public education.
To stall and appear as if they are actually working for students and their families, the Obama administration and congressional corporate Democrats are calling for a two-year extension of the current percentage rate on student loans, they say, in order to allow lawmakers time to find a long-term fix when they renew the Higher Education Act (2) (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2013/05/22/house-student-loan-rates/2351199/). This is all burlesque – the politics of the soft shuffle.
The perfidious Obama administration, beholden as it is to Wall Street and investment capital, profited off the corporate Democrats 2007 law which was passed as part of their economic stimulus. This law was pegged as an effort to gradually lower the 6.8% fixed interest rate on student loans and then slowly let it rebound over a four-year period. Few remember this, if they even ever knew it.
Again, in 2012, Congress passed another extension of the lowered 3.4% rate because the economy, they said, was still recovering. Sweeping the problem under the rug like a recovering addict, as students faced mammoth increases in debt, was a clever way to please Wall Street and beguile the public. But more than this, the whole elaborate stalling ruse became part of the 2012 presidential debate. This cunning, dithering strategy then allowed Obama to campaign against ‘corporate Republicans’ on hefty student loan rates, as he howled against corporate Wall Street and the rising student loan debt in his whistle stops on college campuses. This was of course planned subterfuge on his part in a deceitful effort to appeal to youth voters in order to get re-elected. He never meant one word of what he hollered about. It was all picture perfectly designed to enthrall a tired and fatigued public.
But what about the corporate Republicans? What is their ‘plan’ to deal with the doubling of the Stafford student loan rate and the stench of rising debt? We got a whiff of the Republican plan on May 9, 2013 when John Kline, a corporate Republican Senator from Minnesota, introduced House bill, (3) H.R. 1911: the Improving Postsecondary Education Data for Students Act.
Shrewdly entitled, “Smarter solutions for Students”,
the Orwellian named, corporate Republican plan would tie loan student loan rates to the interest rate on a 10-year Treasury note, plus add 2.5% more in interest. Section 2 of the bill adds a new section to the Higher Education Act of 1965:
- New Stafford student loans issued after July 1, 2013 will have an interest rate equal to the high-yield Treasury notes plus 2.5%; the rates will be capped at 8.5%.
- New PLUS loans – issued mainly to graduate and professional students – will have an interest rate equal to the high-yield Treasury notes plus 4.5%; the rates will be capped at 10.5% (4) (http://www.congressionaldish.com/h-r-1911-increase-interest-rates-for-students/).
The bill, not unexpectedly, passed on May 23, 2013 with a 183 votes in the house — and, not surprisingly, 46% of corporate democrats supported it. Obama has threatened to veto the measure and this of course has given the Republicans the ammo they need to peg the president and his corporate party as ‘not caring about students and their families’. They’re right – for like the rancid corporate Republicans, Obama cares only for Wall Street and the one percent.
To counter the Republican strategy, the Obama administration issued an administration statement on May 22, 2013, before the vote. To face down the doubling of interest scheduled for July 1st, in his 2014 budget, the president called for tying college loan rates, determined by the federal government, to market-based interest rates as well, but with a twist.
In the administration statement, Obama’s position was clear:
“Under the President’s proposal, the rate on new Federal student loans would be set each year based on the Treasury’s actual cost of borrowing and, would remain fixed for the life of the loan so that borrowers would have certainty about the rates they would pay. The President’s proposal also would expand the “Pay As You Earn” repayment option to ensure that no student borrower is required to pay more than ten percent of his or her discretionary income on student loans” (5) (http://www.washington.edu/federalrelations/files/2013/05/SAP-on-H.R.-19112.pdf).
House Education and Workforce Chairman, John Kline countered, describing the corporate democratic compromise best:
“No one wants to see student loan interest rates double on July 1. The president put forth a plan in his budget to address the problem with a market-based solution, and my Republican colleagues and I worked in good faith to offer a proposal that largely mirrors the president’s” (6) (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2013/05/22/house-student-loan-rates/2351199/).
Well said. For what Kline understands is that both the Obama administration and the Republicans are beholden to Wall Street and any solution they put forth will be tied to the ruthless Wall Street controlled financial economy of debt. Investing in public education or offering students interest free loans to attend college is simply out of the question.
Obama agrees with using debt to buy a diploma, for as noted, he himself told students at the University of North Carolina that he knows what it is like to struggle with student loan debt because, according to the President, he and his wife didn’t pay off their student loans until eight years ago. This is the Clintonesque, “I feel your pain” rap that hides the rapaciousness of disinvestment in public education and is choreographed to make the corporate democrat plan palatable.
Obama supports student loans as opposed to universally free education, just like he supports corporate health care instead of universally free health care. Why? He works for Wall Street, that’s why. He is little more than the civilian face of a caustic military government run by corporate criminals who are mugging the American public and especially youth, in broad daylight.
Monetizing and financializing students and college degrees is good for the criminal banking mafia that loans students money at usurious interest rates and then uses their goons, collection agencies, to intimidate and even “go after students” by garnishing wages, harassing them with threatening communications, taking their Social Security if they live long enough and if it is still a viable program, and even reducing them to a form of social death if they do not pay. Students in debt know that if they default on their loans, they can’t rent apartments, are prohibited for entering the economy and often end up homeless.
The only difference between the corporate democratic president and his corporate colleagues and Republican adversaries that voted for HR 1911 is the amount of interest on the loans they will allow to fill Wall Street’s trenchant trough.
The Obama 20/20 plan for education: funneling students into the laps of Wall Street and debt peonage
Try and google “Obama’s 20/20 plan for education” and you will come up empty. But if you google “Lumina Foundation and Student learning outcomes” you will see it pegged as “Achieving the Dream”, more corporate doublespeak and, as we will see in part two, the source of the ‘plan’. As we will also examine later in part two, the Obama 20/20 plan was crafted by the ALEC tied Lumina Foundation, the kitchen cabinet of the Department of Education.
But the Obama 20/20 plan does exist. You can find it by googling: “Obama and graduation rates” and there you can see the August 9th, 2010 report by the Christian Science Monitor that spells out the dreadful plan in entirety (7) (http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Education/2010/0809/Obama-aims-to-lift-college-graduation-rates-but-his-tools-are-few). So what is it?
Obama’s 20/20 plan for education is nothing more than a sophisticated ruse to funnel students into the lap of Wall Street shylocks and of course hog tie them to student loans for the rest of their lives while promising them “good jobs” in an era of deliquescing work.
Obama’s 20/20 plan seeks to accomplish two things:
1. One, it seeks to increase graduation rates from colleges to at least 60% by 2020. As if a college degree is currency for anything but debt peonage.
Obama wants to use federal funding as an incentive in a (8) race-to-the-top-styled program for higher education that will put more taxpayer dollars into the strong boxes of the wealthy. In 2010, Obama first outlined his administration’s goal to boost the country’s college graduation rate to 60 percent by 2020. At that time Obama announced he would create a $55 million grant program for public and private colleges that want to develop or expand “innovative” initiatives (Ibid).
“Innovative initiatives” are those that limit student access to public education in favor of diploma mills, create massive open online classes or MOOCs that shove thousands of students into one class with one professor (9) (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/05/education/moocs-large-courses-open-to-all-topple-campus-walls.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0) , on -line (this means of course rewarding those sticky-wicket, for-profit colleges like the University of Phoenix (UOP), criminal Kaplan University, DeVry Institute and the other host of for profit cancer college cartels that sell diplomas as commodities) (10) (http://www.dltruth.com/thread-1333.html). It also means fewer teachers in non-profit and public colleges and universities, more unemployment for public educational workers and significant additions to the national debt.
These innovative initiatives are all being pushed as part of a mendacious ploy to increase college affordability and access. College affordability and access are key propagandistic words said over and over again to induce the public into a trance. College is not only unaffordable under the corporate-regime, but access is being reduced to a toll-booth system (11) (http://www.dailycensored.com/das-williams-orporate-democratic-assemblyman-and-chair-of-the-education-committe-for-ca-supports-a-two-tiered-educational-toll-booth-system-for-community-college-access-which-will-cost-246-per-unit/) and as to education, this is not even the issue. It is all about ‘buying that diploma’ through debt financing and has nothing to do with increasing critical literacy or providing true education.
2. Obama’s 20/20 plan also seeks to increase student learning outcomes (SLOs) using standardized testing beginning in high school where Darwinian counselors will be used to hand pick those who will enter the corridors of educational power and those who will not. Be it a community college or Stanford, the plan is the same — to have ‘standards’ laced to industry needs as the rubric by which teachers are then tethered and forced to use them to ‘assess performance” — not learning. It is basically a school-to-work racket with one component missing, as we will scrutinize in this, part one — there is no work.
This is another vicious version of the ‘Race to the Top; the plan Arne Duncan’s henchman at the DOE violently imposed on K-12 education but it is now is aimed directly at the heart of ‘higher learning’, which is little more than higher earning for Wall Street as venture capitalists are now set free to come up with more federal and state subsidized outcome based educational products and gimmicks to sell to unsuspecting colleges, universities and students. Actually, it is more like Race to the Slop for Wall Street and the money changers.
All of this, the higher graduation rate racket and the ‘SLOs’, are being pushed, or better said, ‘marketed’ to students who have little chance of getting any employment under capitalism. Technology is replacing workers, including teachers, and constantly moving jobs overseas under phony trade deals, which has seen America bereft of anything resembling productive work, let alone the need for a financialized college degree. The profoundly troubling problem is that we, as taxpayers, pay for this corporate largess when we should be investing in public education in a real effort to educate Americans to think critically.
Let’s take a look at the first leg of Obama’s 20/20 program — ‘increasing graduation rates by 20/20’. This concept is based on the assumption that a “diploma”, now nothing more than a commodity that has little to do with education, is a ticket to a good job, high salaries and the American dream of consumption and more consumption. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the opposite is true; it is an American Scheme.
Increasing graduation rates means increased debt and the corporate democrats and Obama know it. This is what Wall Street is paying them to do as it works assiduously to capture the entire $650 billion dollar educational industry – and it is doing a very good job.
Unemployment, precarious workers and the ‘college diploma’
The Center for College Affordability and Productivity (12), concluded recently, in a detailed report, that while college-educated Americans are less likely to collect unemployment many of the jobs they have aren’t worth the ridiculous price of their debt-financed diplomas or the life-long debt servitude that comes with it.
The report went on to note that of 41.7 million working college graduates in 2010, about 48 percent work jobs that require less than a bachelor’s degree, and 38 percent of those polled didn’t even need high school diplomas.
Authors, Richard Vedder, Jonathan Robe and Christopher Denhart, stated that the US could be overeducating its citizens and they asked if too many public dollars are spent on producing graduates that the nation’s economy doesn’t need (ibid). Good question. Especially when public dollars are funneled into the coffers of for-profit colleges and subsidized Wall Street debt, as I noted in a recent article (13) http://www.dailycensored.com/student-loans-the-financialized-economy-of-indentured-servitude/).
In October 2011, 74.5 percent of the 1.3 million 2011 recent college graduates were employed, according to data from the Current Population Survey (CPS). This means that 25.5% were not employed, calling up vicious statistics from the 1929 Great Depression where 25% of the population had no jobs at all (14) (http://bls.gov/opub/mlr/2013/02/art1full.pdf). This, however, is the new normal students are asked to endure.
Between October 2007 and October 2009, the employment–population ratio of recent college graduates declined by 8.4 percentage points. A considerable share of the decline can be attributed to male recipients of bachelor’s degrees, whose ratio fell by 17.8 percentage points over that period (ibid).
According to (14) Vedder, in an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education:
“If you get a degree in business administration, you may not necessarily walk into a middle-class life. There’s a good chance you may end up being a bartender” (15) (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/29/underemployed-overeducated_n_2568203.html).
That’s all good news for the debt merchants and bad news for the US economy, not to mention the toll in human lives.
Recent bachelor’s degree recipients made up almost all of the recent graduates employed in the leisure and hospitality industry where no college degree is required to become a hostess, a bartender, a waiter, a car lot attendee, a bus boy, work the front desk of a hotel or clean rooms for minimum wages (16) (http://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2013/ted_20130405.htm).
The reason for the downward trend in employment for college graduates, or anyone for that matter, is simple, yet it flies in the face of conventional wisdom: financial capitalism does not create jobs, it destroys them. What it does create, however, is grueling, lifelong debt and low-paid, menial work if any work at all. The truth is that more and more college graduates are becoming butlers and valets for the one percent — and they are paying mightily for it.
The cybernetic revolution, disinvestment, and the growing surplus disposable labor: the new financialized economy of debt
As I reported at Dailycensored.com in April of this year, the current cybernetic revolution is displacing workers at speeds even the Autobahn in Germany couldn’t boast of.
Under capitalism, as the ‘forces of production’, technology, moves further and further ahead of the ‘relations of production’, people and their class relations, what is being created is a world without jobs – the end of the thumb – the end of work.
History is proliferated with technological transitions that have made much work redundant. Many of these transitions threatened the mass unemployment of one type of worker or another. This was true whether it was buggy whip makers or, more recently, travel agents and secretaries. Yet what’s different about cybernetic information-processing jobs is that the transitions owed to technology are proceeding much faster than changes in class structures — the relations of production (17) (http://www.dailycensored.com/pity-the-poor-luddite-the-end-of-work-under-capitalism-and-the-rise-of-the-surplus-labor-army/).
The new cyber technology that remains in the hands of the one percent who seek greater and greater profits by removing human labor as the ‘cost of production’, now means fewer and fewer jobs. We are being hosted to a future of no more teachers, no more industrial workers, no more service industry workers, no more construction workers, and the end of even knowledge workers; for the replacement of knowledge workers with cyber-software and artifical intelligence is proceeding at alarming rates and the benefits are accruing to a tiny percent of the one percent. Nothing trickles down under financial capitalism where debt rules the day except misery – profits and opportunities only trickle up.
This means we are witnessing the creation of what is called a “surplus labor army”, or too many workers and not enough jobs. This is very good news for the capitalist class who enjoys lower labor costs, for as more people compete for the same jobs, the capitalists pay less and profit more.
Erik Brynjolfsson, co-author of a recent book about cyber disruption and the new Race to the Bottom, (18) Race Against the Machine, states that:
“Sixty percent of the jobs in the US are information-processing jobs. It’s safe to assume that almost all of these jobs are aided by machines that perform routine tasks. These machines make some workers more productive. They make others less essential” (19) (http://www.businessinsider.com/how-the-internet-is-making-us-poor-2013-3).
The turn of the new millennium is when the automation of middle-class information processing tasks really got under way, according to (20) an analysis by the Associated Press based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Between 2000 and 2010, the jobs of 1.1 million secretaries were eliminated, replaced by internet services that made everything from maintaining a calendar to planning trips easier than ever. In the same period, the number of telephone operators dropped by 64%, travel agents by 46% and bookkeepers by 26%. And the US was not a special case. As the Associated Press noted, “Two-thirds of the 7.6 million middle-class jobs that vanished in Europe were the victims of technology, estimates economist Maarten Goos at Belgium’s University of Leuven.”
Economist Andrew (21) McAfee, Brynjolfsson’s co-author, has called these displaced workers (22) “routine cognitive workers.” Technology, he says, is now smart enough to automate their often repetitive, programmatic tasks. “We are in a desperate, serious competition with these machines.”
Larry Kotlikoff, a professor of economics at Boston University, concurs noting that:
“It seems like the machines are taking over all possible jobs” (ibid).
Take a look at the historical declining share of labor now that we have entered the cybernetic age; its stunning.
So how does the disappearing worker fit into Obama’s assumption that more graduates from college means a better life, better wages, and a guarantee of more high-paying jobs? It doesn’t; it contradicts it; but then this is all part of the Orwellian, Barnum and Bailey circus that is being sold to an unwitting public by Wall Street and the cyber-kings, like Bill Gates and the Lumina Foundation who see heady profits and power in their future horizons.
As machines become more sophisticated, and associated costs of humans (medical expenses, lawsuits, etc) continue to rise, robots will make more sense for a great many repetitive tasks.
As reported at Singularityhub.com, in an article entitled, “A robot stole my job, automation in the recession back in 2010”:
“Once the economy begins to recover, many workers – particularly in manufacturing sectors – find their jobs have been replaced by robots. Jobs that aren’t lost directly to US automation are lost to overseas competition, both from foreign workers and (you guessed it) foreign robots. This mostly impacts blue collar workers, who cannot easily shift into growing industries like technology or biomed” (24) (http://singularityhub.com/2010/12/15/a-robot-stole-my-job-automation-in-the-recession/).
The US is not alone in seeing the dramatic rise in human disposability and surplus labor. Terry Gou, the CEO of Foxconn, the company based in Taiwan that makes the iPad2, the I-phone, HP, Dell, Nokia, Sony, and many other top brands (the electronics giant is singlehandedly responsible for (25) nearly half of all such technological production in the world!), recently told its employees that they would be replacing human workers with one million robots over the next three years. These robots would handle many basic manufacturing tasks such as spraying, welding, and assembly (26) (http://singularityhub.com/2011/08/02/worlds-largest-electronics-manufacturer-foxconn-wants-1-million-more-robots-in-3-years-bye-bye-human-labor/).
Martin Ford, in his book The Lights in the Tunnel, argues that the move to a (27) robot based economy will ultimately require enormous shifts in government and economics as the majority of humanity no longer performs what could be traditionally called ‘work’. So what does this all mean?
Edward Leamer, the director of the UCLA Anderson Forecast, (28) told the LA Times as earlier as 2010:
“If you have nothing to offer the job market that cannot be supplied better and cheaper by Robots, Far-away Foreigners, Recent Immigrants or Microprocessors, expect it to be exceedingly difficult to find the job to which you aspire, and plan on doing low-wage service work at the end of a long and painful road of diminished aspirations, no matter what your diploma may suggest” (29) (http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/money_co/2010/12/mismatch-skills.html).
Leamer went on to write that what this signifies is that the only industries ready to absorb workers are repair and maintenance, personal and laundry services, religious, grant-making, civic, professional and other organizations, and private households. Nothing one would need a debt ridden college diploma for (30) (ibid).
But wait, you say, what about those “knowledge workers” we were told about? You know — the new cyber workers needed to run the robots and control the machines?
Well, advances in hardware and software mean it’s possible to automate more and more of these white-collar jobs as well, and to do so more quickly than one can imagine. Just think about those airline workers whose job checking in passengers have been gobbled up by self-service kiosks or the computer programmer who is now replaced with software.
According to researcher Andrew McAfee:
“What we are seeing—and this was pretty much unanticipated—is that the people at the top of the skill, wage, and income distribution are working more hours. The automation of knowledge work is way, way farther along. It’s really hard to get computers to do things that your four-year-old can do, like walk across the room and pick up a pen, and recognize it as a pen. So the physical world presents a lot of challenges to digital technologies.
The data available to help a robot is big data, and it’s exploding. The sensors have been progressing along a Moore’s Law trajectory. And the physical pieces of a robot, the actuators and so on, have gotten a lot better too. So it seems the ingredients are all in place for the robots to start getting into the economy” (31) (http://www.technologyreview.com/news/428429/when-machines-do-your-job?nopaging=1#ixzz2V5a2GX2).
Add to this the distressing levels of de-industrializing the US and one can see there is and has been and continues to be a war against American workers, as more and more jobs are outsourced to cheap wastelands of labor like China (32) (http://ejournals.library.vanderbilt.edu/index.php/ameriquests/article/view/127/136). Of course, this has been going on for some time and we can see the toll in America’s share of labor and productive output as a result.
Is this really the marvelous world of the cartoon from the 60’s and 70’s, the Jetsons (33) (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0055683/) that many of us were told would happen if technology crowned the world; or is this a dystopic Brave New World that Aldous Huxley imagined, only this time under the panoptic, Foucaultian eye of Orwellian repression?
One thing is for sure: adding more debt ridden young people with college diplomas on their tool belts to the “human market for labor’ will not halt the disappearance of human labor. Only a radical change in the way we produce and reproduce our lives will do this and under capitalism, this radical change is not possible.
Certainly Wall Street and the captains of industry know this. In which case, why is the Obama 20/20 plan being pushed as an antidote to low paid, disappearing labor? To find the answer to this question brings us to the second prong of the Obama 20/20 plan which we will cover in part two.
Part two will critically examine the student learning outcomes (SLOs) ( Race to the Top for higher education) that the Obama administration has formulated, with the help f the Lumina Foundation and Bill Gates, for all colleges and universities in the US along with exactly who is authoring the Obama 20/20 plan and the role of Wall Street in exacting both debt and the destruction of education from US soil.
(18). Race Against the Machine
(22). “routine cognitive workers
(28). told the LA Times