Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Media Summon Inflation Specter to Oppose Student Debt Forgiveness

President Joe Biden’s student debt cancellation plan may not be full forgiveness, but it can still have a life-changing impact on millions of people. Almost 20 million may see their debts wiped clean, and more than 40 million are directly affected. The plan is a step forward for debtors and activists who have spent decades struggling to abolish student debt and make higher education, long promised as the path out of poverty, affordable for everyone.

It represents an opportunity for America’s poor to imagine futures without instrumentalized and alienated labor. Without diseases of despair. Unpunished by debt. A future America’s ruling class has worked hard to prevent.

Bloomberg: Larry Summers Says Student Loan Debt Relief Is Inflationary

Bloomberg (8/22/22)

So, naturally, corporate media outlets like the Wall Street Journal (8/23/22), Financial Times (8/25/22), CNBC (8/24/22), Vox (8/25/22), CNN (8/24/228/25/22), CBS (8/25/22) and Bloomberg (8/22/22) have thrown everything but the kitchen sink at it, trying to convince their audience there’s not enough to go around. Their primary weapon: the inflation bogeyman.

Regurgitating the views of conservative economists and politicians, corporate media are warning debt relief is inflationary, and even that it will transfer wealth upwards. These arguments are another example of how news media use the specter of inflation as a rationale for disciplining workers: Sorry, that’s it. There’s nothing left. No surplus. So how much are you willing to share? Don’t look over here at my huge pile of cash. The arguments trafficked by much of the corporate media in the aftermath of Biden’s debt relief announcement expose a reflexive hostility to social progress, and the use of government to improve the lives of ordinary people instead of benefiting corporations and wealthy individuals.

‘Inflation Expansion Act’

WSJ: Student Loan Forgiveness Is an Inflation Expansion Act

Wall Street Journal (8/23/22)

From headlines decrying Biden’s debt relief plans as pouring gas on an “inflationary fire” (Financial Times8/25/22) and dubbing the policy an “Inflation Expansion Act” (Wall Street Journal8/23/22), to citing manipulative studies by pro-austerity think tanks, the corporate media response to debt relief has stoked fears that providing much-needed relief to student debtors would increase demand, thereby exacerbating inflation.

If gains for working people will necessarily be nullified by corporate price hikes, maybe media should be questioning whether an economy where that’s the case should be reshaped. But media’s claims haven’t even been consistent on their own terms. Debt relief is not nearly as inflationary as media rhetoric suggests, even by the estimations of their most hawkish sources.

For example, the Financial TimesCNBCVoxCNNCBS and The Hill (8/24/22) all cited “America’s foremost pro-austerity think tank” (American Prospect8/26/22), the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which estimates Biden’s cancellation could cost the federal government $360 billion over ten years, driving spending and increasing inflation. Marc Goldwien, senior policy director at CRFB and “America’s foremost spending scold” (American Prospect8/26/22), made the rounds across the corporate news media to share this estimate.

American Prospect: Marc Goldwein and the Limits of Deficit Scolding

Max Moran (American Prospect8/26/22): “According to Goldwein, we couldn’t cancel student loans in 2020 because the boost to the economy would be a paltry $115–$360 billion. But we also can’t cancel student loans in 2022 because the boost to the economy would be a whopping, inflationary (gasp!) $70–$95 billion!”

Biden’s student debt relief plan “is going to worsen inflation and it is going to eat up all the deflationary impact of the Inflation Reduction Act,” Goldwien claimed in the FinancialTimes (8/25/22). Vox (8/25/22) quoted Goldwien saying Biden’s plan will “raise prices on everything from clothing to gasoline to furniture to housing.” Assuming that CRFB’s estimate is accurate—even though there is much reason not to think so—what the estimate actually says is a far cry from Goldwien’s claim that prices will increase.

Economists like Paul Krugman, far from a hero of the left, as well as Mike Konczal and Alí Bustamante of the Roosevelt Institute, pointed out how even CRFB’s estimate shows at most a 0.3% increase in inflation, which wouldn’t “reverse” or even “dent” larger deflationary trends like the Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes, or even restarting student debt payments, as Biden intends to do at the start of the new year. Krugman explains that given the “fire-and-brimstone” inflation fearmongering, like the talk of “throwing gasoline on the fire” in the Financial Times (8/25/22), the reader might assume debt relief could cause another “major bout of inflation.” Even according to their own sources, this is far from true.

On top of this, the central argument in Goldwien’s case and across corporate media—that debt relief will spur demand—rests on the assumption that canceling people’s debt will incentivize them to buy things for which there is not enough supply to keep prices stable. Heidi Shierholtz, president of the Economic Policy Institute, took to Twitter (5/12/22) to shut this argument down: The latest version of the claim “we can’t have nice things because inflation” is the idea that we can’t cancel federal student debt.… But folks, there is currently a pause on federal student loan repayments, which means that people with this debt don’t currently have debt payments. So even if somebody’s debt is entirely canceled under a new policy, their monthly costs won’t decrease relative to what they currently are. This will dramatically limit any impact on new spending and hence provide no upward inflation pressure relative to the status quo.

That corporate media would boost bad-faith arguments against a policy that represents such a sea change in people’s lives, as well as in the government’s role of helping working people, demonstrates a deep adherence to frameworks of austerity and neoliberalism. As Krugman pointed out in a separate Twitter thread (8/29/22), “what we’re seeing looks more like a visceral response looking for a rationale than a reasoned critique.”

Moreover, these arguments ignore evidence that current inflation is not a result of too much demand, but rather of corporate greed. As FAIR (4/21/22) has previously documented, corporate media have a penchant for putting “far more emphasis” on the contributions to inflation by policies that improve working people’s lives than on “the role of corporate profit-taking.” Despite troves of evidence that corporate monopolies are purposely exacerbating inflation by using the pandemic-related supply chain crisis as cover to needlessly raise costs on consumers—and make record profits doing it—corporate media have once again elected to opine on the inflationary effect of social spending.

‘Take from working class’

That student debt relief is inflationary is not the only argument corporate news outlets have peddled since Biden announced his plan. Critics of student debt relief have also framed the plan as a regressive giveaway to the wealthy, as well as unfair to those who have already paid off their debts.

The same Financial Times article (8/25/22) reported, “Canceling debt is not wholly progressive, given the poorest members of society are less likely to have gone to university.” CBS (8/25/22) noted Sen. Ted Cruz’s view that “what President Biden has in effect decided to do is to take from working-class people.” The New York Times’ morning newsletter (8/25/22) claimed student debt relief “resembles a tax cut that flows mostly to the affluent.”

Newseek: Borrowers With Paid-Off Debt Feel Punished by Biden for Doing 'Right Thing'

Contrary to Newsweek‘s headline (8/24/22), polling finds a majority of past student borrowers support forgiveness of at least some student debt.

Never mind that if forgiving student loan debt were truly regressive, Cruz would be all for it. The reality is that student debt disproportionately impacts Black and brown and low-income borrowers (Roosevelt Institute, 9/29/21). Cancelation would go a long way towards addressing the racial wealth gap and addressing wealth inequality.

Newsweek headline (8/24/22) reported that “Borrowers With Paid-Off Debt Feel Punished for Doing ‘Right Thing.’” The Wall Street Journal (8/23/22) claimed debt relief “insults the millions who paid their loans back.”Astra Taylor, an organizer with the Debt Collective, told Democracy Now! (8/25/22) that this criticism was “so cynical”: First off, I am one of the millions of people who did have to pay their debts. I paid it in full. I do not want anyone else to have to suffer just because I did. Social progress means that other people do not have to suffer through something that previous generations did. And the fact is, polling shows that most people have that attitude.

Student debt was designed as a barrier to keep Black, brown and low-income people from attaining a college education (Intercept8/25/22Boston Review9/1/17). Partial debt relief makes self-determination for America’s most oppressed and exploited groups that much more possible. By trying to convince voters that debt relief will cost them, and that a more egalitarian society is impossible, corporate media are defending America’s ruling class from an educated working class.

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Saturday, September 10, 2022

After Queen's Death, Victims of British Imperialism Share Why 'We Will Not Mourn'

"This is Queen Elizabeth's legacy. A legacy of colonial violence and plunder. A legacy of racial segregation and institutionalized racism."
Brett Wilkins

photo credit: Bill Smith
As millions of Britons and admirers the world over mourned Queen Elizabeth II's death Thursday, others—especially in nations formerly colonized by the British Empire—voiced reminders of the "horrendous cruelties" perpetrated against them during the monarch's reign.

"We do not mourn the death of Elizabeth, because to us her death is a reminder of a very tragic period in this country and Africa's history," declared Julius Malema, head of the left-wing Economic Freedom Fighters party in South Africa.

"Elizabeth ascended to the throne in 1952, reigning for 70 years as a head of an institution built up, sustained, and living off a brutal legacy of dehumanization of millions of people across the world," he continued. "During her 70-year reign as queen, she never once acknowledged the atrocities that her family inflicted on native people that Britain invaded across the world," Malema noted. "She willingly benefited from the wealth that was attained from the exploitation and murder of millions of people across the world."

"The British royal family stands on the shoulders of millions of slaves who were shipped away from the continent to serve the interests of racist white capital accumulation, at the center of which lies the British royal family," Malema added.

Larry Madowo, a CNN International correspondent from Kenya, said during a Thursday broadcast that "the fairytale is that Queen Elizabeth went up the treetops here in Kenya a princess and came down a queen because it's when she was here in Kenya that she learned that her dad had died and she was to be the queen."

"But that also was the start of the eight years after that, that the... British colonial government cracked down brutally on the Mau Mau rebellion against the colonial administration," he continued. "They herded more than a million people into concentration camps, where they were tortured and dehumanized."

In addition to rampant torture—including the systemic castration of suspected rebels and sympathizers, often with pliers—British forces and their local allies massacred unarmed civilians, disappeared their children, sadistically raped women, and clubbed prisoners to death.

"And so," added Madowo, "across the African continent, there have been people who are saying, 'I will not mourn for Queen Elizabeth, because my ancestors suffered great atrocities under her people that she never fully acknowledged that."

Indeed, instead of apologizing for its crimes and compensating its victims, the British government launched Operation Legacy, a massive effort to erase evidence of colonial crimes during the period of rapid decolonization in the 1950s-'70s.

"If the queen had apologized for slavery, colonialism, and neocolonialism and urged the Crown to offer reparations for the millions of lives taken in her/their names, then perhaps I would do the human thing and feel bad," tweeted Cornell University professor Mũkoma wa Ngũgĩ. "As a Kenyan, I feel nothing. This theater is absurd."

Aldani Marki, an activist with the Organization of Solidarity with the Yemeni Struggle, asserted that "Queen Elizabeth is a colonizer and has blood on her hands."

"In 1963 the Yemeni people rebelled against British colonialism. In turn the Queen ordered her troops to violently suppress any and all dissent as fiercely as possible," he tweeted. "The main punitive measure of Queen Elizabeth's Aden colony was forced deportations of native Yemenis into Yemen's desert heartland."

"This is Queen Elizabeth's legacy," Marki continued. "A legacy of colonial violence and plunder. A legacy of racial segregation and institutionalized racism."

"The queen's England is today waging another war against Yemen together with the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and the UAE," he added.

Melissa Murray, a Jamaican-American professor at New York University School of Law, said that the queen's death "will accelerate debates about colonialism, reparations, and the future of the Commonwealth" as "the residue of colonialism shadows day-to-day life in Jamaica and other parts of the Caribbean."

Numerous observers noted how the British Empire plundered around $45 trillion from India over two centuries of colonialism that resulted in millions of deaths, and how the Kohinoor—one of the largest cut diamonds in the world, with an estimated value of $200 million—was stolen from India to be set in the queen mother's crown.

"Why are Indians mourning the death of Queen Elizabeth II?" asked Indian economist Manisha Kadyan on Twitter. "Her legacy is colonialism, slavery, racism, loot, and plundering. Despite having chances, she never apologized for [the] bloody history of her family. She reduced everything to a 'difficult past episode' on her visit to India. Evil."

An Indian historian tweeted, "there are only 22 countries that Britain never invaded throughout history."

"British ships transported a total of three million Africans to the New World as slaves," he wrote. "An empire that brought misery and famine to Asia and Africa. No tears for the queen. No tears for the British monarchy."

Negative reaction to the queen's passing was not limited to the Global South. Despite the historic reconciliation between Ireland and Britain this century, there were celebrations in Dublin—as a crowd singing "Lizzie's in a Box" at a Celtic FC football match attests—and among the Irish diaspora.

"I'm Irish," tweeted MSNBC contributor Katelyn Burns, "hating the queen is a family matter."

Welsh leftists got in on the action too. The Welsh Underground Network tweeted a litany of reasons why "we will not mourn."

"We will not mourn for royals who oversaw the protection of known child molesters in the family," the group said.

"We will not mourn for royals who oversaw the active destruction of the Welsh language, and the Welsh culture," the separatists added.

Summing up the sentiments of many denizens of the Global South and decolonization defenders worldwide, Assal Rad, research director at the National Iranian American Council, tweeted, "If you have more sympathy for colonizers and oppressors than the people they oppress, you may need to evaluate your priorities."

This article originally appeared at CommonDreams.org. Originally published on September 9th 2022. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. 

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Wednesday, September 7, 2022

'Can't Be Allowed': Alarm as Mississippi Gov. Floats Privatization of Jackson Water System

"The response to a water crisis can't be turning the city water supply into a for-profit industry."


Water pressure has been restored in Jackson, but residents of Mississippi's capital still lack safe drinking water and now must contend with the threat of privatization—an idea floated by Republican Gov. Tate Reeves and denounced by critics on Monday.

Although "the risk with respect to quantity of water has not been eliminated, it has been significantly reduced," Reeves said at a Labor Day press conference in the city. "People in Jackson can trust that water will come out of the faucet, toilets can be flushed, and fires can be put out."

While the immediate, flood-induced emergency appears to have been contained, Reeves made clear that when it comes to addressing the Jackson water system's longstanding issues, he is "open" to allowing a profit-maximizing corporation to take over a life-sustaining public good.

"Privatization is on the table," the governor said. "Having a commission that oversees failed water systems as they have in many states is on the table. I'm open to ideas."

The underfunded and understaffed O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant is now "pumping out cleaner water than we've seen for a very, very long time," said Reeves, citing local health officials. The governor expressed hope that the boil-water notice affecting more than 150,000 people since July 29 could be lifted within "days, not weeks or months."

"We know that it is always possible that there will be more severe challenges," he added. "This water system broke over several years and it would be inaccurate to claim it is totally solved in the matter of less than a week."

Flooding—made more common and intense by the fossil fuel-driven climate emergency—was the proximate cause of the recent loss of water pressure in Jackson, but disinvestment, the ultimate cause of the city's ongoing water crisis, can be traced back decades.

As Judd Legum noted Tuesday:

The integration of public schools in the 1960s prompted an exodus of affluent whites from Jackson, eroding the city's economic resources. Jackson's declining economic fortunes also prompted the departure of middle-class Blacks, causing an overall population decline. The city went from over 200,000 people in 1980 to less than 150,000 people today. More than a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line. Mississippi is the poorest state in the nation, but Jackson is even poorer than the state as a whole. Per capita income is just $21,906.

But while the city's population and tax base shrunk, it still has 114 square miles of aging water infrastructure to maintain. The state, dominated by Republicans, has been largely unwilling to help a city populated by Black Democrats. In 2021, for example, intense storms left Jackson residents without drinking water for a month. The city asked the state for $47 million in funding for emergency repairs. Mississippi allocated $3 million.

On Monday, Reeves acknowledged that "there are indeed problems in Jackson that are decades old, on the order of $1 billion to fix." The governor failed to mention, however, how the GOP's refusal to provide financial support at the scale required has helped perpetuate the dangerous status quo.

Reeves' privatization proposal, first reported by the nonprofit outlet Mississippi Free Press, was quickly met with condemnation on social media.

"This can't be allowed to happen," tweeted Josh Potash, an educational strategist at Slow Factory, a social and environmental justice NGO. "The response to a water crisis can't be turning the city water supply into a for-profit industry."

Civil rights attorney Sherrilyn Ifill wrote on social media, "Beware privatization." She pointed to a 2019 report by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which found that the growing privatization of water infrastructure impedes "the human right to affordable, clean water."

According to Mississippi Free Press: "Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba has repeatedly said he opposes totally privatizing the water system by selling it to a private company. But on August 8, he said that he would consider a 'maintenance agreement' with a private company for operations and management of the system to alleviate staffing shortages."

Reeves, meanwhile, repeatedly criticized the city in his Monday remarks, "citing its longtime water billing issuesstaffing issues at the water plant, and a failure to provide the state or the federal government with a plan to fix the water system," the outlet added.

This is familiar territory for Reeves. Following the February 2021 freeze that left Jackson residents without safe water for a month, the governor said that the city needs to do a better job "collecting their water bill payments before they start going and asking everyone else to pony up more money."

However, Legum pointed out, Jackson's struggles to collect fees for water and to raise enough revenue to pay for routine maintenance can be attributed to Siemens, a multibillion-dollar corporation of the kind that Reeves has baselessly suggested could alleviate the city's water crisis.

As Legum explained:

In 2010, Siemens began pitching Jackson officials to hire the company to install all-new automated water meters and a new billing system. Siemens would also "make repairs to the city’s water treatment plants and sewer lines." Where would cash-strapped Jackson get the money for such a project? Siemens assured Jackson that the project would more than pay for itself. Jackson would have to pay Siemens $90 million—the largest contract in city history—but Siemens promised the new system would generate "$120 million in guaranteed savings" in the first 15 years, according to a lawsuit later filed by the city.


According to the city's lawsuit against the company, "[m]ore than 20,000 water meters were installed incorrectly or were unable to transmit meter readings to the system." That was about one-third of all meters in the city. Worse, the new meters "were also incompatible with the new billing system." Siemens, it seems, "had never paired the water meter and separate billing systems together, using Jackson as a '$90 million test case for an unproven system.'"

"In the end," Legum wrote, "Jackson was stuck with a $7 million annual bond payment [through 2041], a $2 million monthly shortfall in water fees, and a system of water meters that was not working."

Reeves, for his part, appears poised to forge ahead with little regard for history or democracy.

"I think there is an overwhelming desire for the leadership, those who represent Jackson and those who do not, to take action," said the governor.

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This article originally appeared at CommonDreams.org. Originally published on September 6th 2022. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. 

Please support and visit 
The BROOKS BLACKBOARD's website,  our INTEL pageOPEN MIND page,  and LIKE and FOLLOW our Facebook page.
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