The Moral Conundrum behind the Student Loan Process

Patricia Garza 

Image © ajschwegler

The question of what to do about college student loans in the US has long been debated, even before things started getting really ugly for college grads. There’s more urgency in the debate since the US reached the sad milestone of accruing over $1 trillion dollars in debt from student loans—surpassing the among of collective credit card debt held by people in country.

Some analysts say that potential college students need to be more educated about the brass tacks of the lending process. The idea is that students might make smarter financial choices if they’re better informed about types of loans, interest rates, payment plans, private vs. federal funding, and so forth. A smart college freshman might avoid repaying a $60,000 loan if they knew more about what’s at stake, right?

Maybe so, but many people aren’t convinced. While a crash course in student loans could certainly benefit many college kids, it doesn’t seem like improper education is what’s to blame for the mess that millions of college grads find themselves in. Student loans are an inevitability for millions of students who lack the financial resources to pay their way through an institution whose tuition costs the equivalent of a luxury car every semester, not to mention living expenses. The logic behind the loan education argument seems to be that no one in their right mind would agree to build up so much debt for a college education, especially if they enter a field that offers not much in the way of salary.

But the fact of the matter is that millions of college students are taking out their loans knowing full well about the repercussions and what’s at stake. Students who take out student loans essentially sign away their financial freedoms, understanding that repaying the loans will be a top financial priority for many, many years after graduation.  Read more of this post

No Bar On Roseanne`s Presidential Campaign…

 John Curran 

Image © monterey media

Mitt Romney`s acceptance speech at the Republican Convention illustrates how far American politics has descended into pastiche as an excitable audience intermittently bellowed “USA”, as if spectators at a sports event urged on by a candidate inanely smiling like a second rate chat show host. This was pantomime politics; the audience occasionally hissing in unison, an organised response in this era of stage managed politics. Given the circumstances it seems natural to send in the clowns, or at least a comedian, so enter Roseanne Barr, who is campaigning to become President of the United States on a socialist and anti-war policy plank predicated on the notion that a woman`s place is in the White House.

Barr, the most serious comedian in this Presidential race resurrected her political challenge after failing to win the Green Party nomination; she is now running for the Peace and Freedom Party on a Barr/Sheehan ticket. `Roseanne for President` is no joke and she is no court jester, refusing to apologise for proposing a radical agenda. Socialism, she reminds us, is not an agenda to merely help out Wall Street, it is time she argues that public money found its way into the pocket of Joe/Joan `six-pack` on Main Street.

Much of the attention concerning the Barr/Sheehan campaign has focussed on their proposal to legalise marijuana, but the platform covers an array of issues concerning domestic and foreign policy and constitutional change. For example the party is calling for Ballot Access in all 50 states.

Barr employs her energy and intelligence to good effect and her considerable wit is less rapier and more akin to a weapon of mass destruction. Highly articulate and quick on her feet she surely would be a match for anyone in debate. She is running a shrewd campaign, the Peace and Freedom party are appealing to national sentiment urging prospective voters to be an American and not an American`t. The campaign website is sophisticated, Roseanne knows how to communicate to the masses and she gets her message across clearly, concisely and of course, with humour.

There is a strand of isolationism running through the ticket, natural given the anti-war stance this party takes. But the Peace and Freedom Party has an international outlook, the campaign website gives pride of place to the terrible incident recently in Marikana, South Africa, “Where forty- five mineworkers were killed in what the South African press called a bloodbath that recalls the worst massacres of the apartheid epoch.”  Lest we forget, these workers were killed campaigning for improvements in wages and conditions in a British owned enterprise. It is unlikely that any of the leading Presidential candidates will give prominence in their campaign literature as Barr/Sheehan have to the massacre on the 16 of August.  Read more of this post

Is Socialism on the Rise?

Alex Clackson 

Image © Hossam el-Hamalawy حسام الحملاوي

As the economic crisis in Europe continues to make life challenging for ordinary citizens through high unemployment rates and cuts in the public sector, people are starting to wonder whether the capitalist system, which Europe has trusted so well over so many years, is the answer to today’s woes. Over the last five years, the economy of Europe, the United States and other parts of the world has been anything but stable. Just when the population thought the recession of 2008 was coming to an end, the world was hit with another one just a few years later. In the United Kingdom, the unemployment rates for young people are soaring and the recent cuts to the public sector have angered the citizens to the point where the Coalition government no longer have the trust of the British youth. As the new generation searches for answers to today’s economic and social problems, the concept of socialism seems to be making a return.

Even though socialist principles are only starting to make an appearance, it is an extraordinary revival of a theory which was considered dead and buried after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Many scholars and politicians in the 1990s proclaimed capitalism to be the outright winner of the battle of the political and economic theories on how to organise and live on our planet. And while capitalism is still currently standing on its feet, the recent economic and social troubles are hitting it hard and it seems it is only a matter of time before capitalism receives a knockout blow. Whether socialism will step up to prove to the world that it can save our planet is highly debatable and too early to say. But the recent polls in America certainly show that people are willing to give Marx another try.  Read more of this post

Afghanistan: Will it Survive After the USA Withdrawal?

Alex Clackson 

Image © DVIDSHUB

As the United States plans to leave Afghanistan in 2014, two main questions arise. Firstly, have the USA managed to achieve any substantial goals in increasing security and stability and in the last ten years and secondly will Afghanistan be able to survive after the occupation of the country comes to an end in 2014?

Unfortunately the answer to both questions is no. While the Taliban and other terrorist organization activity is low at the moment, it is only a matter of time before they make a return after the USA has pulled out from Afghanistan. The question here though is political, not military. It is a question of depriving the Taliban of their most powerful weapon, which is the claim that they are defending Afghanistan and their enemies are non-Muslim foreigners. A swift withdrawal of Coalition forces from the front line would be a very painful test for the Afghan military, though they would be free to choose their battles. The central problem with President Obama’s strategy for the war in Afghanistan has always been his deadline. The Taliban claim that we have the watches, but they have the time. And the President has already compromised our war effort(s) by setting deadlines for troop withdrawals that are unconnected to the end state his strategy seeks to achieve.

But the reason why Afghanistan may be heading toward anarchy is not simply due to the Afghan National Army’s lack of military preparedness to fight an insurgency without foreign support. Rather, some of the most challenging problems that the government must face once the U.S. leaves will be economic. Today, the United States and its allies provide the government of Afghanistan with the vast majority of its operating budget. American taxpayers have not only built up schools, hospitals, government ministries, and the Afghan National Army and police force; they have also paid the salaries of those who man these institutions. Further, U.S. military and foreign assistance operations in Afghanistan support many thousands of soldiers, foreign aid workers, and contractors, who pump millions of dollars into the local economy.  Read more of this post

Top Ten Reasons Why America Needs to Care About Greece’s Crisis

Marcela De Vivo 

Image © robertgourley-photo

It has become well-known that Greece is in a state of economic difficulty. In fact, it is estimated that the government debt is at 125% and steadily rising. However, since Greece is thousands of miles away, why should Americans worry about the complications that Greece is facing regarding their budget? There is no simple answer, as there are numerous reasons that should alarm us about the predicament in Greece. Let’s deliberate the top ten reasons why Americans should not disregard that fact that we may be facing a very serious crisis.

Wall Street

Everything tends to revolve around Wall Street. In fact, since many Americans are becoming worried about the Greek crisis, stocks have started to slip. As time goes on and Greece continues to face hardship, the stock market continues to fall at an alarming rate. Simply put, a large majority of investors are worried about the huge debt that Greece has accumulated and are not investing in stocks.

Contagion

What if this problem spreads to other countries? For example, Spain could be the next likely culprit to be faced with a large budget problem. Americans could be faced with disaster. Europe happens to be one of America’s largest trading partners; therefore, numerous areas of American economics are affected.

Resolution

One of the biggest uncertainties is what will happen if there is not a clear resolution in Greece. Big investors tend to be comforted by the fact that a solution is at hand or that there is an easy fix.  With the Euro Zone lacking a unified political system for the sixteen countries that share common currency, this could become a large and never ending dispute. Read more of this post

Are Israel’s days numbered?

Alex Clackson 

Image © Maxnathans

The saga between Israel and Palestine has been ongoing for many decades now, resembling a long dark corridor with no end in sight. For many years, through the financial and military support from the United States, Israel has been able to develop and prevent any moral or physical assault from Palestine and its allies. However, over the last few years we have seen a slow, but sure change in opinion. Through non-mainstream media and organizations like BDS (a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel) and finally individual human rights activists, the world is waking up to the realisation that Israel is not the perfect liberal state among the “dangerous” Arab nations as it wants to be seen. As Norman Finkelstein has said in his most recent book, “Even the American Jews are turning their backs on Israel.” It is becoming clearer that the only life support system the Israeli machine can rely on is the American Israel lobby.

Despite the fast changing opinion on the Jewish state, Israel continues to act in a way which further pushes it away from the support Israel is so used to receiving from the Western powers. The Palestinian’s quest for a state of their own has been as futile as ever, as the Israelis continue to build on land that is supposed to form the basis of Palestine. Nearly three years ago Mr. Netanyahu said he accepted the principle of two states, Jewish and Palestinian, existing side by side in peace and security. But he has since shown precious little appetite for putting that principle into practice. Despite admonitions from the State Department, Netanyahu’s government has continued to approve and/or legalize settlement constructions in Jerusalem and the West Bank following the expiration of a freeze on settlement construction in September, 2010.

Even the Israeli politicians are starting to understand the thin thread the Jewish state is walking on.  In an interview published in the Times of Israel, Dan Meridor, the Israeli minister delivered harsh words to his colleagues who have overseen the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Meridor warned that the current calm in relations with the Palestinians might be producing “an illusion” among Israelis “that this is sustainable in the long term. It is not. It is an anomaly. We need to change it.”

In addition, the deputy prime minister of Israel has urged the government to freeze further settlements “across the line of the [settlement] blocs or the fence or whatever you call it,” a reference to the Israeli West Bank barrier which is partially built along the 1949 armistice line, or “Green Line.”  Read more of this post

Obama vs. Romney: the world is watching

Daniel Crump 

Image © Rivarix

Matters of foreign policy do not tend to be first on the list of a voter’s priorities coming up to an election, especially in times of economic turmoil. When US voters go to the polls in November they will be asking themselves when unemployment is going to fall, whether the health care system will continue to be of benefit to them and how much money they will have in their pockets once they retire. Perhaps, then, the sensible move on the part of the contenders is to downplay talk of foreign issues and concentrate on the economy.

However, history has taught us that many a presidency has come to be defined by a set of decisions related to manoeuvrings on the world stage. Kennedy’s record was arguably saved from the humiliation of the Bay of Pigs by his firmness during the Cuban Missile Crisis. What respect George Bush Sr. may have lost in failing to capture Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War, he made up for with his role in German Unification in the early 90’s.

Are we asking the right question?

In the run up to November’s vote, it is perhaps unhelpful to ask whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney would best serve the US’s interests on the world stage. The question people ought to be asking is whether a first term president is preferable to one in his second term. This is the case for two main reasons. Firstly, a President’s first term in office has always been more about dealing with the footprint left by the previous administration than about imposing his own foreign policy vision. Secondly, foreign policy is by nature reactionary. No matter how concise a doctrine exists at the outset, there are certain events that one can simply not prepare for.

To argue the first case, we need only go back four years when Obama officially inherited two wars from George Bush Jr. It was clear, despite his commendable desire to ease tensions with Iran, that his Middle Eastern policy was going to be dictated by how the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan played out. It is certainly no secret that Iranian involvement in the Iraq War was one of the biggest obstacles the President was going to have to overcome if peace between Tehran and Washington was reachable. U.S officials insist that the training of Militant Shiite groups in Iraq by Iranian forces has been a huge challenge for the US army. Iran is said to view Iraq as a potential buffer zone from any future invasion, most likely by the US’s main ally, Israel. Similarly, George Bush’s unavoidable presence in Afghanistan was always going to make Obama’s relationship with Islamabad one on permanent knife edge.  Read more of this post

Pakistan, India and the Bi-Polar World Order

Daniel Crump

Image © Omer Wazir


Fukuyama’s ‘The End of History’ essay may not have correctly predicted everything it was supposed to, but one realisation certainly holds true to this day: Realist manoeuvrings and proxy inter-state wars have always been an inevitable feature of a Bi-Polar world. With the fall of the USSR, and the US’s securing of uncontested, top dog status, inter-state warfare has fallen to its lowest level since World War II, making this the most peaceful period of modern history.  The explanation being that in a world with two competing super powers, fragile alliances are held together by mutual enemies.

Although not yet a Bi-Polar world by most people’s evaluations, the rising influence of China will undoubtedly lead to nations asking serious questions of themselves and who they choose to associate with. This week, while the US ambassador to Pakistan stepped down for what Washington insisted was for personal reasons alone, The Chinese ambassador to Pakistan met with President Zardari to discuss matters of mutual cooperation and bilateral trade.

In recent years, Ambassador Munter may well have held the least coveted role in international relations. Following the arrest of a CIA contractor in Lahore and the US led mission to capture and kill Osama Bin Laden, Munter has had to deal with the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers in November 2011 when the US strayed across the border from Afghanistan. His resignation may appear, after all this, to be the icing on a rather stale and crumbling diplomatic cake.

A Difficult Friendship

The most worrying aspect of these recent events is the fact that they do not come as much of a surprise to anyone. The US and Pakistan have quite a history of sharing mutual enemies and their relationship has, therefore, always been one of convenience and insincerity. Whether it was Nixon and Kissinger using Pakistan’s friendship with China to make Sino-US inroads, or Pakistani support of anti Soviet groups in Afghanistan, the US has always been able to find some beneficial reason to keep Pakistan within arm’s length.

The most recent chapter of this tale has certainly been the trickiest yet. Shortly after 9/11, President Musharraf ended his alliance with the Afghan Taliban while officially entering the Bush Administration’s War on Terror. Since 2001, Pakistan has handed over 5000 members of Al Qaeda to American authorities and received nearly $10 Billion in aid for its troubles. Despite this closeness, Pakistan has constantly been accused of ‘looking both ways’ when it comes to terrorism. Pakistan’s Inter-Services-Intelligence Agency (ISI) has been accused of training and sponsoring groups that the Americans claim to be fighting across the border in Afghanistan. Indeed, it was Pakistan’s Intelligence Agency that was instrumental in bringing the Taliban to power in Afghanistan in the mid 90’s with a view to setting up a favourable regime in a neighbouring country. With the US planning to withdraw a substantial number of troops from Afghanistan in 2014, all bets are off as to what condition Pakistani – US relations will be in if the Taliban were ever to re emerge in Afghan political life. Read more of this post

It wasn’t supposed to be like this

Daniel Crump 

Image © Que Comunismo

Initially, South America’s near continent-wide economic expansion meant great advantages for the rest of the Western world. In the opening decade of the century, with Argentina largely at the mercy of the IMF, South America was led mostly by governments that the West could do business with. For better or worse for the people of South America, this meant that the West had stronger trading partners, a decline in drug related violence and yet another example of liberal, free-market economics becoming the default setting for any nation that wished to exist within the international community.

This was also a time when we knew how to differentiate the good guys from the bad. Across the border from Colombia, and 90 miles off the coast of Florida, lay Latin America’s answer to the Axis of Evil. With the menacing prospect of further international terrorism following September 11th, US President George W Bush was able to maintain a healthy distance between Pro and Anti US Latin America. Nowhere was this more evident than between neighbours Colombia and Venezuela. The Bush administration was able to manipulate this relationship by placing US military bases on Colombian soil which were, in the US’s own words, designed as a launch pad for military operations against Anti US Latin American Governments.  South American politics seemed to fit so neatly into the US world-view.

Fast forward to the present day and something rather unexpected seems to have taken place; South American governments are increasingly beginning to think for themselves. Last month’s Organisation of American States (OAS) Summit was the biggest indication yet of the diverging paths taken by South and North America. At the discussion table were measures such as the legalisation of the drugs trade, British claims over ‘Las Malvinas’ and Cuba’s absence from the summit talks. With better relations between Colombia and Venezuela and an increasing desire to settle internal matters through UNASUR rather than the OAS, South America is speaking with its own voice and making its own decisions. The most significant development of South American integration is surely the growing contribution of the Continent’s left-wing bloc.

South American Integration

During the Bush Administration it was clear that the OAS took the majority of decisions affecting the American region. The Organisation was largely designed to satisfy North American goals such as the fights against terrorism and the illegal drugs trade. Cuba was suspended from talks between 1962-2009 and there appears to be no pressing need to reinstate them.

Since then, both the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) have gained a more influential voice. ALBA stands for a rejection of trade liberalization and free trade agreements, preferring to project a vision of mutual economic aid transfers, bartering and social welfare. UNASUR is becoming ever more effective at curbing the influence of the US in South America by resolving the Colombian Venezuelan conflict and agreeing to prohibit US military bases in Colombia being used for military purposes outside of Colombian soil. Read more of this post

Are you with U.S or against US?

Daniel Crump 

Image © eltiempo.com

Some may view the behaviour of the US secret service agents this week in Colombia as a further sign of the growing discontent between the US and the rest of Latin America. The sheer audacity of these professional individuals, tasked with securing the safety of President Obama, carries with it an ugly reminder of the disrespect that characterised US attitudes towards Latin Americans in a period of time thought to be long resigned to history.

A recurring theme at this year’s Organisation of American States (OAS) was the ever- growing divide between North and South America, ranging from issues such as the British claim over the Falkland Islands, to the de-criminalisation of the drugs trade. This is in line with the economic dissociation that has seen the decline of US influence in the region and the gains made by China as a result. Chile and Peru, along with Brazil, the economic powerhouse of the continent, now have closer trading links with the Chinese than the US, with Colombia and Argentina likely to follow suit. Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based think-tank stated in a pre-summit report that ‘”Most countries of the region view the United States as less and less relevant to their needs and with declining capacity to propose and carry out strategies to deal with the issues that most concern them.”

For instance, South American leaders argue that the legalisation of drugs would put a large dent in the profits made by the trade and help to reduce drug related violence that has crippled South American economies and deprived them of much needed foreign investment. Predictably, any hopes of US enthusiasm for the policy were soon dashed, but Obama did concede that the United States is the region’s biggest consumer of illegal drugs and has a responsibility to reduce demand.

Also, on the 30th anniversary of the conflict, Argentina’s request for a negotiation of the Falkland Island’s sovereignty from Britain was supported by a handful of leaders including Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro who said ‘there should be no colonial possessions in our America’. Again, the US opposed this sentiment.

Perhaps most significant of all was the debate surrounding the makeup of the organisation itself. Rather unsurprisingly, Cuba was ostracised from proceedings as it has been since the birth of the OAS. A more surprising development was the Bolivian President Eva Morales’s claim that this ought to be the last OAS summit without Cuba. Latin America is largely united in their opposition to the US trade embargo of Cuba, and the absence of Castro provoked Ecuador to boycott the summit altogether. Read more of this post

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