Tag Archives: college

Banks or Loansharks?

To hear banks and their defenders tell it, student loan recipients have a moral obligation to return full payment plus exorbitant interest rates to their lenders. But what about the responsibility of lenders not to overcharge or to issue loans to people too young to understand their implications?

You Can’t Have a Drink at Age 17 But a Bank Will Lend You $57,000

Perhaps because they don’t think about it very hard, a lot of people blame those who default on student loans for reneging on an obligation that they under took freely. But let’s not forget, high school seniors at the age of 17 are required to sign loan agreements for up to $57,000. We don’t trust them to rent cars. We don’t issue them credit cards. How can we hold them responsible for decisions that they are not mentally able to handle?

Scramble the Jets! A Young Black Man is in Trouble!

President Obama suggested that My Brother’s Keeper, a broad coalition of backers of local and national leaders in philanthropy, business, government, faith communities, and media that meets periodically at fancy resort hotels to discuss the challenges facing boys and young men of color, might have saved Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old, from being shot to death by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer.

Obama Says His Silly NGO Would Have Saved Michael Brown

This is an early release due to the timely nature of this cartoon:

President Obama suggested that My Brother’s Keeper, a broad coalition of backers of local and national leaders in philanthropy, business, government, faith communities, and media that meets periodically at fancy resort hotels to discuss the challenges facing boys and young men of color, might have saved Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old, from being shot to death by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer.

My Brother's Keeper Scrambles Into Action

SYNDICATED COLUMN: No College, No Job. College is Expensive. Is It Any Wonder Students Turn to Porn?


Everybody’s talking about — scratch that. Culture is too atomized for everybody to be talking about anything.

Lots of people who don’t usually cop to knowing about, much less watching, porn — writers at high-end intellectual magazines, columnists for The Washington Post — are talking about Belle Knox, the Duke University freshman who embraced her outing as an adult film actress in an eloquent, feminist theory-imbued attack against slut-shaming.

Social media has responded as you’d expect: lots of mean slut-shaming that proves Knox’s point that “We deem to keep women in a place where they are subjected to male sexuality. We seek to rob them of their choice and of their autonomy. We want to oppress them and keep them dependent on the patriarchy.”

Tabloids and gossip sites are reveling in their usual witches’ brew of judginess and salacious intrigue.

Big corporate media is reacting like George C. Scott finding out his daughter is a whore. Considering that the average age of a journalist is Old Enough to Be Knox’s Mom or Dad, knee-jerk Talibanality comes as little surprise, though quite unpleasant to watch.

About that Post columnist:

Ruth Marcus, Old Enough to Be Knox’s Grandma and apparently a freelance psychologist, calls Knox a “troubled young woman.”

If Marcus hates the sin and not the sinner, it’s hard to tell. Her column drips with condescension and contempt.

“Methinks the freshman doth protest too much,” writes Marcus. Because, you know, like, 18 years old is mature enough to decide which Arabs to shoot, but not to have sex for money.

“Even more heartbreaking is listening to Knox’s still little-girlish voice describing how she’ll tell her parents. ‘I don’t want to,’ she told the Duke Chronicle last month, in the whiny tone of a child told to go to bed.”


Marcus goes on. Who could stop her? “She mentioned rough sex, which requires an unpleasant discussion of what kind of pornography we’re talking about here and the increasingly violent nature of the Internet-fueled pornography trade. These are not your father’s Playboys. Letting a man ejaculate on your face is not empowering under anyone’s definition of the term. It’s debasing.”

Two things.

One: bukkake predates the Internet. If Marcus doesn’t know that, or how to Google, she should have spoken to or been edited by someone who does.

Two: what’s sexy and what’s empowering are purely subjective. Knox describes feeling “fear, humiliation, shame” — not from her work, but from neo-Puritan assholes on the Internet giving her a hard time. “Doing pornography fulfills me,” she writes.

Part of respecting women — of being a feminist — is taking them at their word. Thus, in the absence of evidence that Knox is lying or insane, I choose to believe her.

So. Why did Knox become a sex worker? Her answer: “If Duke had given me the proper financial resources, I wouldn’t have done porn. My story is a testament to how fucking expensive school is.”

Media gatekeepers are ignoring it, but this is the real/big story.

Each year in the United States, 12 million freshmen take out student loans. By the time they graduate (or not), they wind up owing $26,000 — plus several times that amount in compound interest payments. In many cities, that’s more than the cost of a house.

Duke University charges Belle Knox $61,000 a year in tuition, room and board. I don’t care how many hours she could have put in at Starbucks; the only way a typical college kid can generate $250,000 in cash over four years is to think outside the box.

Knox isn’t alone. Many college students work as prostitutes.

When I attended Columbia University, I met many students who cut moral and legal corners to make their bursar bills.

I knew students who were call girls, including one who brought her clients to her dorm room to save on hotel rooms. Topless and nude dancers weren’t rare at Columbia. A close friend took advantage of his room’s southern exposure to grow pot plants; he sold his stash out of a deserted Butler Library stack full of 17th century Italian folios. Another pal was banking six figures as a cocaine dealer (it was the ’80s.)

I discovered that one of my classmates was sleeping in the park. There was nothing left after he paid tuition.

One of my buddies, now a minor success in Silicon Valley, had a unique racket. He climbed outside locked campus buildings using grappling hooks. Yes, like a ninja. He entered the chemistry and physics department storerooms through the windows. He then sold the chemicals — including radioactive stuff — to an oily man who worked at the mid-Manhattan consulate of a nation that did not get along with the U.S.

I won’t mention the guy who sold his poo in the Village.

Reagan slashed student financial aid during my freshman year. To pay my way sophomore year, I broke laws.

If I knew then what I know, I wouldn’t have done it. Going into debt or risking jail to pay exorbitant tuition at an “elite” school like Duke or Columbia is insane. You can get an excellent education at any number of cheaper, no-name schools. You can save tens of thousands of dollars by attending a community college for two years, then transferring for junior year; the name on the diploma is what matters.

But that’s the point. I was 18. Like Knox. There’s a reason the military recruits 17- and 18-year-olds. They don’t know anything. I still can’t believe when my mom drove me to the bank to sign the student loan agreement. I was 17. Seriously? I couldn’t vote or drink.

I thought Manhattan was Long Island.

Americans hear a drumbeat of “unless you attend college, your life will suck” propaganda the first 18 years of their lives. Their parents say it. Their teachers say it. Their guidance counselors and the media say it. The college/university industry spends millions to advertise the message that the more you spend on tuition, the more you’ll earn during your lifetime.

The President says it too.

Everyone says college is a must and that expensive college is better than cheap college. Of course Belle Knox and young Ted Rall and 20 million new suckers every year believe it.

Ruth Marcus concludes: “Knox’s pathetic story wouldn’t be worth examining — exploiting? — if it didn’t say something deeper about the hook-up culture run amok and the demise of shame.”


Belle Knox has nothing to be ashamed of.

The real sluts are the cash-whore trustees of Duke University, who are sitting on top of a $6 billion endowment, and the overpaid college and university officials who have jacked up tuition at twice the inflation rate year after year.

(Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)


SYNDICATED COLUMN: Nick Lowe Ruined My Summer. Then He Changed My Life.


Overplaying is a crime.

It is as tragic and as wrong as the contempt that lovers sometimes allow to transform their partner from an object of passion into a monster whom they behold only with scorn.

As a tween I couldn’t get enough of the Beatles; now I can’t run fast enough from any speaker spewing their music. What changed? Not Ringo plus those three other lads — if anything, they sound cleaner and crackle-pop-free and remastered through the sound equipment I can afford as a middle-aged adult. Objectively, they’re still a great band.

It’s all me.

Mostly to blame are countless DJs and their corporate masters at the hundreds of radio stations I’ve heard play the Beatles thousands of times. Add the breathless hype with which every unearthing of an alternative version of a lost demo is greeted — there was a reason those versions weren’t originally released.

As with chocolate and water and everything except sex, repetition begins as obsessive joy and ultimately turns everything sour.

But I’m guilty too. When I discovered the Beatles, I played them over and over until I knew every note and every word. As I did when I found out about Blondie. Did the same thing to the Ramones. And the Dead Kennedys. And Barcelona. And Ganymede.

But it’s different with the Beatles. You can overplay a song or a band without dead-ing them to yourself. I still feel happy when I hear the Ramones.

Overplaying is a zillion times worse when someone else does it to you. Free will is what makes it different. There’s a big gap between self-indulgence and — there’s no better word — torture carried out by others.

I have suffered two epic episodes of Being Overplayed To.

The first took place Thanksgiving weekend of 1982, when I was a sophomore at Columbia. Most students went home to their families; since I was a broke scholarship kid, I stayed at school. I shared a two-bedroom one-bathroom suite with an Israeli guy who, before he took off Wednesday afternoon, left a 45-rpm single of Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ “Come On Eileen” on auto-repeat. He locked his door, and left.

My solidarity with the oppressed people of Palestine was never fiercer.

As though it happened yesterday and hot oil were dripping on my eyes, I recall every note and every word of that accursed song as though it were Thanksgiving 1982 all over again: “Come on Eileen / Oh, I swear what he means / At this moment you mean everything / You in that dress / My thoughts I confess / Verge on dirty / Oh, come on Eileen.”

Objectively a great song. A great song that makes me want to die.

I made it all night Wednesday, all day Thursday and all night Thursday. By Friday morning, having heard “Come On Eileen” more than 600 times (“Come on Eileen / Oh, I swear what he means”), a crazy idea presented itself. There was no other way: I climbed down to the steam tunnels beneath the building, found the circuit breakers for my dorm, killed the power for a minute, and turned it back on again.

Song over. Years of recovery began.

A second, worse musical trauma was vested upon me by two roommates during the summer of 1984. We were fans of, among other things, the British pub rockers Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe. So when Lowe — to the extent that he is known in the States, people may recall “Cruel to be Kind,” and the Elvis Costello track “(What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding” was originally his) released the most raucous LP of his career, “Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit,” it was occasion for celebration at our various short-term sublets.

Unfortunately for me, I was the only one in the apartment with a job. The lion’s share of celebrating therefore fell to Dan and Chris, who stayed up until three or four in the morning, drinking and smoking and blasting Lowe’s Tex-Mex-meets-?-and-the-Mysterians apocalypse “Half a Boy and Half a Man” you guessed it, over and over.

Rarely if ever did we they ever make it to side one, track three, “Maureen,” a paean to a “skinny little hill of beans.” Another objectively great song.

Dan and Chris had an understanding. I would go through the motions of going to sleep at midnight, setting the alarm for six am. Dan and Chris would blare “Half a Boy and Half a Man” for an hour. I’d go out and yell at them. They’d turn it down. Ten minutes later, back to full volume.

This was our life.

Over the last three decades, I have continued to hold the work of Nick Lowe dear. I have replaced my vinyl LPs with CDs. I have seen him live. I have even tolerated Lowe’s current, late-period, slow (i.e. dull) lounge period. But there was one LP I never replaced. One CD I never bought. The thought of hearing “Half a Boy and Half a Man” again triggered the same feeling as reading one of those Facebook messages from an ex-girlfriend who wonders if you’re divorced yet, as though you had broken up by accident.

Until a few weeks ago. I was at Amoeba Records, the best music store in the U.S. There it was: a used copy of “Cowboy Outfit” for $24.99. (It’s out of print and hard to find.)

I hesitated. Was I ready? Finally, I decided that this was one of those existential “what kind of person am I?” dilemmas. Am I someone stuck in the past, who allows the traumas of the first Reagan Administration to scar me for life? Or someone ready to move on?

I bought the CD.

It sat on my stereo cabinet. Then, last night, I put it on.

Damn it’s good.

(Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)



College Finance Education

I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times about issues related to California and the Southland (metro Los Angeles).

This week: A bill before the California legislature to address soaring student loan debt would require high school students to take a personal finance class.

True Debate Fun

At the second presidential debate on Long Island, 20-year-old college student Jeremy Epstein asked President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney what either of them could say to his worries that he wouldn’t be able to find gainful employment after graduation. Neither of them had anything to say–but that didn’t stop them.