Friday, December 24, 2010

The Winter Solstice Festival

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    The Winter Solstice Festival by Tony Palermo
    Everybody knows that in December, people celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah (and now, the newly minted African-American holiday, Kwanzaa),  but how many realize just how closely related these different celebrations are?  There's a bit of controversy lately about "Happy Holidays" versus "Merry Christmas" but these supposedly separate celebrations are actually connected to the Winter Solstice. As metaphors they remarkably share a message thousands of years older than their respective religions. Furthermore, the explanation for these similarities is more Ice Age than New Age. What's a solstice? First, let me explain the solstice; From June to December, the number of daylight hours gradually decreases. In Los Angeles, in June, I get a daily dose of 13 hours and 30 minutes of daylight. By December 21st, it is down to 9 hours, 45 minutes of daylight. Today, we know this decrease has to do with the angle of the Earth in relation to the Sun. Not to get too technical, but the Earth's axis has a 23-degree tilt--it's not level like a toy top. As the planet revolves in its year-long cycle, that tilt causes parts of the globe to be closer to or farther from the Sun. This distance and the way the sunlight covers the Earth creates our seasons, so winter in the Northern hemisphere is summer in the Southern hemisphere and vice versa. To modern man, armed with this scientific knowledge, the Winter Solstice isn’t much, but it used to be a very big deal. Thousands of years ago, people noticed the days getting shorter and the sun traveling lower in the sky. They were alarmed. Many thought this was the end of the world. In Northern Europe at Winter, there would be up to 35 days without any glimpse of the Sun. As the Sun waned, people saw everything dead and dying. Without sunlight, there would be no plants, no animals and soon, no humans. In the spiritual realm, many thought the darkness brought out ghosts, trolls, and evil spirits. It was frightening. Imagine our modern world experiencing a 35-day eclipse! In the Northern Hemisphere, the Winter Solstice occurs every December 21st. It marks the beginning of winter and is the shortest day of the year, but more importantly, it marks the point where the number of daylight hours begins to increase. In Ireland, Newgrange is a huge circular stone structure similar to Stonehenge. Newgrange is a marker for the Winter Solstice. It is built to allow a shaft of sunlight to penetrate its central chamber only at dawn on the Winter Solstice--a giant celestial clock, built over 5,000 years ago. To put it in perspective, please note that the Egyptian pyramids are only 3,000 years old. Hopi and Pueblo Indians in pre-historic America constructed similar structures called kivas. Throughout the world, ancient peoples marked the solstice and were reassured that daylight would not end. Solstice means “the Sun standing still.” It signaled the return of the Sun and gave hope to early man. This was a cause for celebration and much of our winter holiday comes from solstice festivities--many aspects of which are related to fire and light and the rebirth of hope. Solstice festivals have been observed around the globe throughout history. The re-birth of the Sun Some 4,000 years ago, the Egyptians and Syrians celebrated the Winter Solstice as the “birth of the Sun.” The Egyptians even depicted the new-born Sun as an infant whose mother was the great goddess called the Heavenly Virgin. The priests would emerge from shrines at midnight on the Solstice to shout, “The Virgin has brought forth!  The light is waxing!” Two thousand years later, this story was adapted as the birth of Christ, with Jesus replacing the very similar Persian Sun god, Mithras. So why is the solstice on December 21st and Christmas held on December 25th? The New Testament specified no date for the birth of Jesus, so about 366 C.E., the Roman empire state church selected December 25th--the Roman calendar's Solstice--which was already a traditional "God's Birthday" across the empire for the many religions it contained. Having Jesus born on the Solstice also lent him credibility. It helped convert pagans to Christianity, since the new god was a version of their old god (Mithris, Saturn, Mordoc, Horus, Sol, Apollo, Osiris, etc .) Of course, this similarity to other gods of light and eternal life is truer than most Christians realize. Hanukkah too! The Jewish rabbinical holiday of Hanukkah is another Winter Solstice celebration. Hanukkah commemorates the rebuilding of the Temple after Judah Maccabee defeated King Antiochus. A menorah was found, but there was only enough oil to keep the lamp lit for one day--miraculously, it lasted eight days! The Hanukkah “festival of lights” is clearly a metaphor for the Solstice’s lengthening of the light--the return of the Sun. Few Jews recognize the connection between their holiday and the pagan Solstice festivals or Christ's birthday. Everyone has so focused on the literalness of the events (menorahs, divine births) that they fail to see through the metaphors to the truly cosmic relevance of the Solstice. The Sun god and menorah miracle derive from the Solstice, and on one level signify ancient man’s need for the Sun to survive, but these symbols of light predate either religion and have a deeper spiritual message--they symbolize life after death. Light = Life The story of Jesus presents this Solstice metaphor particularly well. Christians celebrate Christ’s nativity as a rescue from the darkness of the Fall of Man (Adam and Eve, the apple, etc.). The Catholic interpretation is that after banishment from the Garden of Eden, the souls of  the dead cannot go to Heaven, but must wait in Purgatory (a/k/a Limbo). It required a savior to allow those souls into Heaven. Christ is the savior providing a "way" for all to enter Heaven after death. The Solstice provides hope for the rebirth of Spring after the “death” that is Winter--in other words, life, in this world, and Christ provides for a rebirth in the next world. However, over the millennia, people stopped interpreting their religions metaphorically and instead began seeing them as historical events, holy in themselves. This obscured the connections to the Solstice, but they can easily be uncovered again. Take the Christmas tree, for example. A Judeo-Christian-Pagan Rite As Christianity spread, it appropriated many pagan symbols, most of which are no longer seen as metaphors. Pagan Romans brought evergreens into their homes for Solstice celebrations. Like the Solstice’s promise of Spring-time, evergreens symbolized immortality--they don't turn brown in Winter. These became the Christmas trees of Europe and connect to the immortality promised by Christ. Christmas tree ornaments are stand-ins for the apples Northern European pagans tied to trees to remind themselves that the life giving Spring and Summer would return. The pagans also placed candles in the branches of their trees, similar to the Hanukkah menorah and hearkening back to the Solstice bonfires and Yule logs of everyone from the Ancient Egyptians and Greeks, to the Druids and the Norsemen. The Christmas tree is far more pagan than Christian and directly tied to the Solstice--although it also echoes the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden, and the Cross, but those interpretations came later, as justifications for these obviously pagan symbols. The use of holly and mistletoe are similar borrowings from pagan Solstice festivals. The Santa Claus Angle So too, has the character known as Santa Claus been merged into the Christian celebration. Many pagan cultures had a character who would visit at the Solstice to bring gifts. A Yule elf with magical reindeer was one such being, clothed in the traditional red, black, and white costume--the colors of life, death, and rebirth. “Old Nick” was a Danish sea god, and the early Christian bishop, Saint Nicholas, was attributed a power over storms and possessed a magic cauldron to resurrect the dead (a power both very pagan and also Christ-like). The visitor came at night and left gold coins in stockings and shoes. In the Netherlands, he was called "Sinter Klaas"--a name later Anglicized to "Santa Claus." The old Danish gift-bringer known as Julemanden has elves as helpers, arrives in a sleigh drawn by reindeer and sports a sack of goodies on his back. Santa is most famously portrayed in the anonymous early 19th century poem “A Visit From Saint Nicholas,” popularly known as “The Night Before Christmas.” Santa Claus appears totally of pagan origin. Charles Dickens’ "Ghost of Christmas Present" from his "Christmas Carol" story is clearly another version of this Santa character--right down to his jolly laughter. The Real "Real Meaning of Christmas" Some people bemoan the modern celebration of Santa Claus and gift giving as straying from “what Christmas is all about.” To them, Santa Claus is an interloper crashing the celebration of the birth of Christ. But if you see the two characters as manifestations of the Winter Solstice, they are very closely related. Like the return of the Sun, both Santa and Jesus Christ are gift givers with miraculous powers whose coming is hoped for and celebrated every year at the Solstice. Christ was considered the son of God, but also God, himself. Traditionally, God and Santa Claus are both depicted as wise old men with white beards who know if people have been bad or good and judge them--dispensing or withholding gifts. Those gifts could be a toy, another good harvest, or life after death. If you are bad, Santa Claus brings you a lump of coal. If you lead a bad life, the Christian God sends you to Hell, the land of coal. But don't fret, because, doesn't coal produce light when lit?  And light is what the holiday is really all about--a light of redemption, another chance. In ancient societies, light meant life--without it, there was none. The light symbolized the afterlife, Heaven, Valhalla, Nirvana, Happy Hunting Grounds, even reincarnation. Today, people who have had near-death experiences report seeing a bright light. The Winter Solstice marks the re-birth of the Sun. The return of light means there is always hope. And our celebrations validate faith. Believing in Santa Claus is no child's deception, no more so than believing in God is an adult's deception. They are both articles of faith. The shared message of the solstice festivals of Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa--that life will go on--is more universal than their Jewish, Christian, or African origins would lead you to believe. As long as there are children, there will be a Santa Claus. As long as there are people, there will be a God. And as long as there is a Winter Solstice there is the promise of life renewed. The Winter Solstice festival is the world's greatest holiday, a celestial celebration. From cavemen to spacemen, it's been the same festive occasion. So have a happy Solstice! Don't belittle it. When you say "Happy Hanukkah," "Merry Christmas," "Season's Greetings," or "Happy Holidays," the Solstice is what we've really been celebrating all along. They all reflect a moment of hope amidst a time of darkness. So walk into the light and shine on!   Some other solstice links:  

    The Founder of Modern Christmas by Tony Palermo
    Our modern Christmas celebration is only about 160 years old and can be directly traced to the appearance of Charles Dickens’ 1843 story, A Christmas Carol. At the time Dickens’ Carol appeared, few celebrated Christmas; few employers gave workers the day off; there were few family reunions, little seasonal charity or goodwill towards men; no Christmas turkeys, no feasts, no office parties, no Christmas trees, and not much of a jolly elf in red. The history of the holiday will astound modern day revelers who think our way of celebrating dates back very far. In England, before the coming of Christianity, over 1500 years ago, there had been a strong paganism. They celebrated the Winter Solstice with Yule bonfires,  feasts, and tales of ghosts and fairies. The Winter Solstice was a scary time in Northern Europe--dark days brought out fears of the end of the world and evil spirits. (See my Solstice essay above for more. ) In the 6th century, Pope Gregory I asked English bishops to merge the pagan celebration with Christ’s nativity to aid in converting the populace and this cross-cultural tradition flowered for centuries.  Here were the “Twelve Days of Christmas” (December 25th to January 6th--Christ’s “official” birthday), manorial feasts, feudal games, the Lord of Misrule, holly (fairy catchers), mistletoe (the golden bough) and other pagan rites, all woven into a festive/faithful “Christmas” stew. However, the Calvinistic puritans of the 17th and 18th centuries disdained all celebrations and especially anything related to pagan rites. Their dour fundamentalism didn’t see the relation of the Yule and Nativity. America's cherished Pilgrims hated Christmas and fined those who celebrated it.  By 1800, the Puritans of England had largely reduced Christmas to a staid religious holiday--resembling the modern Easter--church and some gifts for children. This is the so-called “true meaning of Christmas,” but it actually reduces the ancient Solstice festival to such a meager glory as to be miserly. Another factor in smothering the old English celebration was the mass migration of country folk to the cities of industrializing Britain. Uprooted from their traditions and mixed with people from all over, the newcomers’ country traditions died out and Christmas was purged of jollity. By 1800, the "good old days" were gone and a solemn religious holiday knelt in its place. A nostalgic Sir Walter Scott recalled the ancient mysteries of the old feasts in his 1808 Marmion. American author, Washington Irving, visited England in the early 1800s and found some that still remembered the old Yule celebrations. In his 1820 Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., Irving wrote of “Christmas at Bracebridge Hall” detailing the long forgotten customs of a "merrie English Christmas." These accounts contributed to William Sandys’ Selection of Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern (1833) and Robert Seymour’s The Book of Christmas (1837). They, in turn, shaped a vogue for medievalism in the 1830s that hearkened to a merrier England and a society undivided between rich and poor. Movements arose to counter the Calvinists and Evangelicals’ spartan Christmas and it fell to Charles Dickens to turn the Yule-tide with his short book, A Christmas Carol, in 1843. Dickens took Ebenezer Scrooge, a modern, puritan miser, to task for his stern practicality and disdain of frivolity and charity. Scrooge's "Bah, humbug!" regarding Christmas, was a caricature of  the Calvinist rantings. Dickens' “Ghost Story of Christmas” used memory, example and fear to show Scrooge how to really “keep Christmas”--with charity, goodwill, family togetherness, holiday, feasts, parties, and children’s games. The book was immensely popular--so much so that it re-invented how Christmas was celebrated. After reading Dickens’ Carol, Scottish writer, Thomas Carlyle, ordered a turkey and invited some friends for Christmas dinner. Dickens’ Christmas book was translated into a dozen languages and became famous world-wide--an instruction manual for our modern Christmas. Nearly all aspects of the way we celebrate modern Christmas stem from the popularity of Dickens book--the feasts, office parties, games, carolers, family get-togethers, geese (turkeys), gifts. The wonderful anonymous 1822 poem, A Visit by St. Nicholas, popularly known as “The Night before Christmas,” fluffed up Washington Irving's earlier St. Nick. Who in turn, was later echoed by Dickens’ jolly Ghost of Christmas Present--his horn of plenty is both Santa's pipe and bag of toys. The beard, the flying, the spreading of goodwill were further popularized by Dickens' benevolent ghost. Only the Christmas tree is missing from Dickens’ story, but that is because it had just been introduced to England, from Germany, by Prince Albert in 1841, and hadn’t been widely adopted, yet--and wasn't in the American "Visit" poem either. Some people object to Dickens’ Carol  for it’s lack of references to religion, but they fail to see it's many metaphors. Tiny Tim stands in for Christ--Tim’s crutch is his cross, his death redeems Scrooge,  his creed is  “God bless us, every one”; Marley’s ghost and the chained phantoms are damned souls to whom Christ is unknown; Scrooge is a "wise man" who travels far before bestowing his gifts, etc. Dickens was too much an artist of symbol and myth to tell his story any more directly than he did. Those who can’t see Christ in this Christmas story, have perhaps a bit too much fundamentalism clouding their eyes. Over the years, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol  has become a cultural-text and people only dimly recall the actual story. They think it a quaint entertainment for children--just another stray bit of folklore contributing to the holiday. Look again and you will see many of our "timeless" traditions of Christmas--all popularized in the last 150 years. Man’s imagination invents a fascinating mythology that allows us to transcend our existence and Christmas is one of our greatest inventions. “God bless us, every one!”
      Seek out Charles Dickens' original story or the wonderful 1951 British film, A Christmas Carol, starring Alastair Sim. Also noteworthy is the Americanized version, the 1946 Jimmy Stewart film, It’s a Wonderful Life --where a spirit shows a modern day Scrooge a terrifying vision of Christmas yet-to-come. The 1962 animated version, Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, is remarkably faithful to the story and boasts a great Jules Styne score. The 1984 A Christmas Carol starring George C. Scott is similarly faithful, but a bit too General Patton-esque in Scrooge’s meanness--a good version nonetheless. The 1999 Patrick Stewart version is however a disappointment, due to some ridiculous visual effects (Why a tornado? Why an earthquake? Is that a heart attack or a laugh?),  and yet another depiction of Scrooge as a heartless monster--if Scrooge is so evil, how can we believe in his redemption? This is the so-called "Scrooge problem." My own 1998 radio adaptation resolves this by making Scrooge not evil, but mis-guided--a cynical, wise-cracking Newt Gingrich; practical beyond anything--spouting the virtues of workhouses and treadmills and not wanting to make "idle people" merry. His ill-humor is silenced by the memory and regret evoked by the three spirits. I also supply the graveyard with the return of the Phantoms that Jacob Marley showed Scrooge out his window--now that is enough to scare Scrooge into changing his ways--plus he is redeemed by the death of Tiny Tim just as Christ's death redeems the souls from Purgatory. It's a marvelously deep work. Try to forget the endless parade of bowdlerized Scrooge’s in commercials, parodies, or botched retellings, most notably, the syrupy MGM Christmas Carol (1938) or  the musical Scrooge (1970), or Bill Murray’s Scrooged (1988).  If you think you know the story from these travesties, get yourself to a book or video store and see what you’ve been missing. God save us, every one, from the Ignorance & Want of these mis-begotten children of Dickens' original fable.

The poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas, has long been attributed to Clement Moore--a dour, kid-hating moralist who claimed authorship 20 years after the poem was submitted anonymously to a New York state newspaper.  However, lately there is a dispute that attributes the poem to child author Henry Livingston Jr. (1748-1828). The subject is covered in Don Foster's book, Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous (New York: Henry Holt, 2000) 

TONY PALERMO is an audio theatre producer, performer, and educator living in Los Angeles, California.
He performs professionally, conducts workshops, and produces programs for hire.
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Heard on TV

U.S. Government Piles on $2 Trillion in Additional Debt in 2010

U.S. Government Piles on $2 Trillion in Additional Debt in 2010

According to a U.S. Treasury report released Tuesday, the U.S. government fell $2 trillion deeper into debt during fiscal 2010 as government debt and promised federal benefits increased, bringing the nation’s 2010 deficit to more than $13.5 trillion compared to $11 trillion in 2009.  Reuters reports:
The Financial Report of the United States, which applies corporate-style accrual accounting methods to Washington, showed the government’s liabilities exceeded assets by $13.473 trillion. That compared with a $11.456 trillion gap a year earlier.
Unlike the normal measurement of government intake of receipts against cash outlays, accrual accounting measures costs such as interest on the debt and federal benefits payable when they are incurred, not when funds are actually disbursed.
The report was instituted under former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, the first Treasury secretary in the George W. Bush administration, to illustrate the mounting liabilities of government entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
The government’s net operating cost, or deficit, in the report grew to $2.080 trillion for the year ended September 30 from $1.253 trillion the prior year as spending and liabilities increased for social programs. Actual and anticipated revenues were roughly unchanged.
The cash budget deficit narrowed in fiscal 2010 to $1.294 trillion from $1.417 trillion in 2009. But the $858 billion tax cut extension package enacted last week is expected to keep the deficit well above the $1 trillion mark for another year.
This latest Treasury report should put pressure on the incoming Republican majority in the House of Representatives in January.
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner responded to the new report by saying that the U.S. faces “significant and persistent challenges” as the budgetary shortfalls from programs like unemployment insurance, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid continue to rise.
“We must balance our efforts to accelerate economic recovery and job growth in the near term with continued efforts to address the challenges posed by the long-term deficit outlook,” Geithner said in today’s report.

Bush Memoir Sells 2 Million Copies in 2 Months — Nearly as Many as Bill Clinton Sold in Six Years

Bush Memoir Sells 2 Million Copies in 2 Months — Nearly as Many as Bill Clinton Sold in Six Years

The world may have underestimated the publishing power of George W. Bush, the UK’s Daily Mail suggested Thursday. “For someone who mangled words on a regular basis, it’s an impressive feat,” the Mail noted after the former president’s publisher announced his memoir “Decision Points” has sold an astonishing two million copies since it was released in early November.
Bush’s “Decision Points” hasn‘t even been released in a paperback edition yet and already it’s approaching 2.2 million copies — the number of copies President Bill Clinton’s “My Life” has sold since its release in 2004.

“Decision Points” offers readers a look inside President Bush’s time in office, as well personal memories from his childhood, family life and predictions on hos history will judge him.




December 22, 2010

It's the Christmas season, so godless liberals are citing the Bible to demand the redistribution of income by government force. Didn't Jesus say, "Blessed are the Health and Human Services bureaucrats, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven"?

Liberals are always indignantly accusing conservatives of claiming God is on our side. What we actually say is: We're on God's side, particularly when liberals are demanding God's banishment from the public schools, abortion on demand, and taxpayer money being spent on Jesus submerged in a jar of urine and pictures of the Virgin Mary covered with pornographic photos.

But for liberals like Al Franken, it's beyond dispute that Jesus would support extending federal unemployment insurance.

This has absolutely nothing to do with the Bible, but it does nicely illustrate Shakespeare's point that the "devil can cite Scripture for his purpose."

What the Bible says about giving to the poor is: "Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." (2 Corinthians (9:7)

Being forced to pay taxes under penalty of prison is not voluntary and rarely done cheerfully. Nor do our taxes go to "the poor." They mostly go to government employees who make more money than you do.

The reason liberals love the government redistributing money is that it allows them to skip the part of charity that involves peeling the starfish off their wallets and forking over their own money. This, as we know from study after study, they cannot bear to do. (Unless they are guaranteed press conferences where they can brag about their generosity.)

Syracuse University professor Arthur Brooks' study of charitable giving in America found that conservatives give 30 percent more to charity than liberals do, despite the fact that liberals have higher incomes than conservatives.

In his book "Who Really Cares?" Brooks compared the charitable donations of religious conservatives, secular liberals, secular conservatives and "religious" liberals.

His surprising conclusion was ... Al Franken gave the most of all!

Ha ha! Just kidding. Religious conservatives, the largest group at about 20 percent of the population, gave the most to charity -- $2,367 per year, compared with $1,347 for the country at large.

Even when it comes to purely secular charities, religious conservatives give more than other Americans, which is surprising because liberals specialize in "charities" that give them a direct benefit, such as the ballet or their children's elite private schools.

Indeed, religious people, Brooks says, "are more charitable in every measurable nonreligious way."

Brooks found that conservatives donate more in time, services and even blood than other Americans, noting that if liberals and moderates gave as much blood as conservatives do, the blood supply would increase by about 45 percent.

They ought to set up blood banks at tea parties.

On average, a person who attends religious services and does not believe in the redistribution of income will give away 100 times more -- and 50 times more to secular charities -- than a person who does not attend religious services and strongly believes in the redistribution of income.

Secular liberals, the second largest group coming in at 10 percent of the population, were the whitest and richest of the four groups. (Some of you may also know them as "insufferable blowhards.") These "bleeding-heart tightwads," as New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof calls them, were the second stingiest, just behind secular conservatives, who are mostly young, poor, cranky white guys.

Despite their wealth and advantages, secular liberals give to charity at a rate of 9 percent less than all Americans and 19 percent less than religious conservatives. They were also "significantly less likely than the population average to return excess change mistakenly given to them by a cashier." (Count Nancy Pelosi's change carefully!)

Secular liberals are, however, 90 percent more likely to give sanctimonious Senate speeches demanding the forced redistribution of income. (That's up 7 percent from last year!)

We'll review specific liberals next week.

Needless to say, "religious liberals" made up the smallest group at just 6.4 percent of the population (for more on this, see my book, "Godless").

Interestingly, religious liberals were also "most confused" of all the groups. Composed mostly of blacks and Unitarians, religious liberals made nearly as many charitable donations as religious conservatives, but presumably, the Unitarians brought down their numbers, making them second in charitable giving.

Brooks wrote that he was shocked by his conclusions because he believed liberals "genuinely cared more about others than conservatives did" -- probably because liberals are always telling us that.

So he re-ran the numbers and gathered more data, but it kept coming out the same. "In the end," he says, "I had no option but to change my views."

Every other study on the subject has produced similar results. Indeed, a Google study of philanthropy found an even greater disparity, with conservatives giving 50 percent more than liberals. The Google study showed that liberals gave more to secular causes overall, but conservatives still gave more as a percentage of their incomes.

The Catalogue for Philanthropy analyzed a decade of state and federal tax returns and found that the red states were far more generous than the blue states, with the highest percentage of tightwads living in the liberal Northeast.

In his book "Intellectuals," Paul Johnson quotes Pablo Picasso scoffing at the idea that he would give to the needy. "I'm afraid you've got it wrong," Picasso explains, "we are socialists. We don't pretend to be Christians."

Merry Christmas to all, skinflint liberals and generous Christians alike!


Shocking! Vid Shows Man Leaping From Balcony in Front of Romanian Parliament

Shocking! Vid Shows Man Leaping From Balcony in Front of Romanian Parliament

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — A Romanian television engineer apparently distraught that budget cuts had reduced benefits for his autistic teenage son dived more than 20 feet (about seven meters) from a balcony onto the floor of Romania’s parliament Thursday, then shouted “Freedom!” as emergency workers took him out on a stretcher.

The man’s cry echoed those heard during the 1989 revolution that toppled communism – a revolt in which 1,300 people died. Romanians are commemorating the 21st anniversary of an uprising in which authorities shot unarmed protesters.
Shortly after Prime Minister Emil Boc greeted lawmakers, Adrian Sobaru hit the floor with a thud that reverberated through the chamber. No one else was injured, and Sobaru’s injuries were reportedly not life-threatening.
His dramatic gesture shocked lawmakers, some of whom wept. Boc looked startled and, along with other lawmakers, rushed over to Sobaru. Speaker Mircea Geoana briefly postponed the session.
Boc called the incident a tragedy, said he was shocked, and appealed for calm in what he called “these tough times.”
Doctors are treating Sobaru’s jump as an attempted suicide. A video shows him standing on a balcony above the area in which lawmakers were sitting, then diving off. Photos show him wearing a white T-shirt bearing the words “You’ve pierced us. You‘ve killed our children’s future. But you can’t take our FREEDOM.”
The first line was a reference to President Traian Basescu who, upon winning the presidential race in 2009, said, “I’ve pierced them,” using a well-known line from a Romanian movie. Calls to Sobaru’s phone went unanswered. He is scheduled to have surgery for facial fractures.
Colleagues said the only thing that appeared to trouble the easygoing teetotal 41-year-old was coping with the needs of his 15-year-old autistic son. Boc’s government, which relies on an International Monetary Fund loan to help pay public wages and pensions – and must meet the fund’s demands to reduce the deficit – had slashed benefits by 15 percent in July.
“He was private about this but we knew it was a problem,” Ilie Suciu, coordinator at the news department of public television station TVR, where Sobaru worked, told the Associated Press.
Another colleague said Sobaru had shown no abnormal behavior.
I worked with him for 20 years. He is normal person, a man of integrity,” said Lucia Hossu Longin, a producer who made documentaries about the horrors of the Communist era. “What he did reminds me of when people threw themselves out of the window during interrogations in the 1950s. It is an accumulation of exasperation,” she told Antena 3 television.
The session resumed without opposition lawmakers, who walked out when their request to reschedule a motion of no-confidence motion in the government was not approved. The opposition needed 236 votes to topple the government – which survived because not a single vote was cast in favor of the motion.
Romania is mired in recession and the government recently cut public sector wages by one-quarter. And the sales tax was increased from 19 to 24 percent, as the government worked to keep the deficit at 6.8 percent in 2010. The country’s economy is expected to decline by 2 percent this year, after contracting by 7.1 percent in 2009. The cuts have angered many Romanians.
The public television station TVR said he jumped “for personal reasons,“ and said the station had given him material support for ”health problems he had in his family.”
Sobaru sustained face wounds, and other non life-threatening injuries, said Catalin Carstoiu, manager at the University Hospital. He will undergo surgery and psychological counseling, Carstoiu said.

Alina Wolfe Murray in Bucharest also contributed to this report.
This story has been updated with new information from the Associated Press.

Guilty as Sin - Devildriver

Song: Guilty As Sin
Band : DevilDriver

There’s dead leaves on the dirty ground
That’s how I know you’re not around
To be with me
I stroke your hair, kiss your lips,
Kiss the ground, but you’re not around
And you’re nowhere to be found

I’m innocent and you’re guilty of the charges that are coming in
Guilty as sin
My heart is hit, even when, you are far away
I look to the sky, and ask the clouds to rain

I'm so sorry my wings can't be clipped
But I’m heading for the moon and it's eclipsed
I'm so sorry my wings can't be clipped
But I’m heading for the moon and it's eclipsed

Blood on my bed
Is now blood on my hands
When I was so far away
The guilt in your voice,
The mistaken word,
When I was nowhere to be found

You’re innocent and I’m guilty of the charges that are coming in
Guilty as sin
Your heart is hit, even when, I am far away
You look to the sky, and ask the clouds to rain

I'm so sorry my wings can't be clipped
But I’m heading for the moon and it's eclipsed
I'm so sorry my wings can't be clipped
But I’m heading for the moon and it's eclipsed

I’m ready for the moon
I’m ready for the moon
But I’m heading for the moon and it's eclipsed

Why can’t we get it together?
Get it together
Why can’t we get it together?

I'm so sorry my wings can't be clipped
But I’m heading for the moon and it's eclipsed
I'm so sorry my wings can't be clipped
But I’m heading for the moon and it's eclipsed

I’m ready for the moon
I’m ready for the moon
But I’m heading for the moon and it's eclipsed

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Reduce the Rate: Rev. Jesse Jackson Joins Movement Against Crippling Rates on Student Loans

March 12, 2009

Reduce the Rate: Rev. Jesse Jackson Joins Movement Against Crippling Rates on Student Loans

Amid massive government bailouts of the nation’s banks, we speak to the Reverend Jesse Jackson about Reduce the Rate, his new campaign urging the Obama administration to slash the interest rates on crippling student loans. We also speak with Alan Collinge, founder of Student Loan Justice and author of The Student Loan Scam: The Most Oppressive Debt in U.S. History—and How We Can Fight Back. [includes rush transcript]
Rev. Jesse Jackson, Civil rights leader and founder of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. He recently started the website
Alan Collinge, founder of and author of the new book The Student Loan Scam: The Most Oppressive Debt in U.S. History—and How We Can Fight Back.

Rush Transcript

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JUAN GONZALEZ: As the Obama administration continues to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to bail out the nation’s banking system, a growing movement is calling on the government to do more to help students struggling to pay for college.

According to the College Board, the average cost of four years at a private college is now a staggering $136,000. Four years at a public university, on average, will set you back $57,000. In order to pay for the rapidly increasing tuitions, students were forced to borrow a total of $85 billion during the last school year, up from $41 billion ten years ago. The average student now leaves college with $20,000 in debt.

This is an excerpt from the forthcoming documentary Default: The Student Loan Documentary, a film by Serge Bakalian and Aurora Meneghello.

    FORMER STUDENT 1: The Citibank Student Loan Corporation would send me these notices, and they’d say, “This is just to notify you of your interest rates.” And then they started sending me ones saying, “This is just to notify you of a change in your interest rates.” And it was like—it was like watching the odometer on a car. FORMER STUDENT 2: I remember thinking, “What happened to the nine percent? Where did this 17 percent come from?” and seeing the number, something like $900-something a month for my private student loan and immediately realizing that was more than I make in a month. ALAN COLLINGE: The most recent estimate is that the amount of outstanding student loan debt in the country is approaching $40 billion, with a “b.” And that is only the federally guaranteed student—defaulted student loan debt that is out there. We’re not counting the private loans in that, which is probably another $5 billion to $10 billion, and growing quickly. FORMER STUDENT 2: The original loan amount was $45,974. And this last statement I received on December 16, 2007, indicates that the outstanding balance is $73,789. So it has accrued just shy of $30,000 in interest. FORMER STUDENT 1: If you look at it in the roundhouse figures, OK, it was $30,000 to go to UNR for three years. They now say that I owe about $90,000. So it’s tripled. They can seize Social Security. They can seize tax refunds. They can garnish your wages. Like if I get hit crossing the street by a bus and I end up in a wheelchair, they can seize my disability.

AMY GOODMAN: The documentary Default: The Student Loan Documentary. More information about the film is available at the website defaultthe

We’re joined now by two guests who have been closely following this issue. The Reverend Jesse Jackson is with us in our firehouse studio, the founder of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, longtime civil rights activist, has launched a campaign called Reduce the Rate, urging the Obama administration to slash the interest rates on student loans. And Alan Collinge joins us from Seattle. He’s founder of and author of the new book The Student Loan Scam: The Most Oppressive Debt in U.S. History—and How We Can Fight Back.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Tell us about this campaign. It’s good to have you back, Reverend Jackson.

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Well, really we have made a fundamental shift from grants to loans. And these are very oppressive loans. The more you go to school, the worse off you are. Talking about students who are in $150,000 in debt, they marry a classmate, $300,000 in debt, and so you have the combined burden of the loan, and then you have compounded interest. If you don’t start paying back after six months, then you’re facing default and garnishment. If 20 percent of your school cannot pay back, it can face the loss of accreditation. It only gets worse.

And so, we feel that students should get the same deal banks are getting. If they can get, on the top, zero to one percent loans, students should get zero to one percent loans, and it is a transparent flow of the moneys. When you, in that sense, restructure the student loan process—more grants and less loans—it helps the student, it helps their parents, it helps the school, it helps community. I mean, the help just never stops coming.

And so, we have launched a website, Students should begin rebelling and marching across the country. Students have accepted this as like normal. It’s normal, but it is not right. And it is a point of rebellion. So we’re urging students across America who want to reduce the rate and have more grants and less loans, let’s begin to have marches, use last year’s energy in the presidential campaign, demand a new deal.

President Obama wants students, in fact, to get a better deal. Were it not for his hit book, we’d have a president today with a student loan. His hit book allowed—he and Michelle both, a presidential—Harvard Law School graduates—were still owing on their loan until two years ago. So think about those who are in a less fortuitous circumstance. So I’m anxious to urge students around America, don’t just sit there and take that hit. Let’s fight back.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what about the role of the government in this? Sallie Mae, the organization that guarantees a lot of these loans, they apparently—as I understand it, their fee income, for Sallie Mae, went up about 228 percent, while their loan portfolio only increased by 78 percent in the early parts of the decade.

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Well, they’re getting free and charging a fee. On the one hand, the TARP moneys, zero to one percent, they are—that should—students should get the same deal banks are getting. On the other hand, the federal government can borrow money at three percent and sell student loans at six. So they’re really scalping tickets, they’re scalping loans. The money that they make from that deal finances the Pell Grants. You would think the Pell Grant is some generous investment. The fact is, the Pell Grant money is the money made from the gap between what the federal government borrows for and what it does with students.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break, and when we come back, we’ll also be joined by Alan Collinge, who is now devoting his life to this issue. Starting out simply with a student loan, now he’s written the book The Student Loan Scam What is Sallie Mae? How did it come to be? Who is profiting? And, of course, Reverend Jesse Jackson will stay with us. Stay with us, as well.


AMY GOODMAN: Just before we go back to our guests, some of the voices of the students in this discussion. The American News Project recently interviewed a group of young people working at Mother Bear’s Pizzeria in Bloomington, Indiana, home of Indiana University. This is what some of them had to say about the student debt.
    FORMER STUDENT: I’m no longer in school. I ran into some issues, money issues, so I had to leave. And my original idea was to start working here and totally make enough money to go back to school, but it’s harder than you think, because you still have to pay for being alive. I think that a lot of parents who were planning for their kids’ education didn’t save enough. The cost of tuition and books and all that stuff shot up. Like, you’re figuring, if you had a kid twenty years ago, and you were like, “Oh, well, I have to save this much plus a little extra for inflation,” and then you look at the prices of school, like now versus twenty, twenty-five years ago, it’s insane. It’s insane. STUDENT: You know, you hear that—especially in an election year, you hear all this [expletive] about, you know, the American dream. Well, what’s the American dream when, you know, now I’m paying—I just was talking to my buddy about it—I think I’m paying $800 a month—yeah, $800 a month—in loans and debt just for school alone. And I manage a pizza place. My little sister’s visiting. Hi, sister. I haven’t seen her— STUDENT’S SISTER: Hi. STUDENT: Good to see you. I haven’t seen her in a couple months. Actually, funny, haven’t seen her in a couple months, because she stopped going to college, moved back in with her parents because of the expenses of living down here. So, you make the decision. You can stick it out like me and be $60,000 in debt, give or take. Or you can just get a full-time job and then like get your education, you know, further down the line. I guess that’s the economics of going to college, is you’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t.
AMY GOODMAN: And thanks to the American News Project for going to Bloomington, Indiana. Well, Alan Michael Collinge joins Reverend Jesse Jackson right now. He wrote The Student Loan Scam: The Most Oppressive Debt in U.S. History—and How We Can Fight Back. Alan’s joining us from Seattle.

Alan, what happened to you? And then tell us about your research.
ALAN COLLINGE: Yeah, it’s good to be with you, Amy. I originally borrowed $38,000 for my undergraduate and graduate education at the University of Southern California. Upon graduation, I got a fairly prestigious but fairly low-paying job at California Institute of Technology. Well, I left that job just prior to September 11, 2001. I found myself briefly sort of unemployed, underemployed, about a year or so, and I applied for what’s known as a “hardship forbearance” through my lender, by which I would be able to withhold payments for six months or a year while I got on my feet financially. Well, unfortunately, instead of granting my forbearance, my lender, who happened to be Sallie Mae, put my loan into default. And so, very quickly, within a little over a year, my loans had ballooned to $80,000 with penalties and fees. And by 2005, I was being billed for well over $100,000.
And this is despite my best efforts through every step in the process to negotiate what I considered to be a fair and reasonable payment plan for the debt. And, I mean, this really caused me to wonder why I had such little power, as compared to other forms of consumer debt. And so, in researching the topic, I found out that, you know, nearly every standard consumer protection that we take for granted with every other type of loan in the nation is simply nonexistent for student loans. They used to exist, but thanks to the lobbying influence of Sallie Mae, Citibank, the Consumer Bankers Association and others, the most standard consumer—
AMY GOODMAN: Alan, can you explain what Sallie Mae is?
ALAN COLLINGE: Yeah, you know, a lot of people are wrongly in the understanding that Sallie Mae’s a part of the federal government. They are not. They started in 1972 as a government-sponsored entity; that is true. However, Sallie Mae privatized starting in 1995. And today, they are a completely for-profit entity with no formal ties to the government.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, explain who profits? Continue with the story.
ALAN COLLINGE: Yes. Well, in the absence of bankruptcy protections, for example, statutes of limitations, truth in lending requirements, refinancing rights, fair debt collection practices, in many cases, and also state usury laws, the industry finds that it can be far more profitable when a loan defaults rather than a loan remaining in good stead. And this is also due to congressionally mandated collection powers that, in the words of Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren, would make a mobster envious.
So they—and I think this was mentioned earlier in the trailer for the documentary—they can garnish wage, tax return, Social Security, disability income, all without a court order. Not only that, but they can suspend professional licenses. They can have-–well, this causes security clearances to be denied. And this is in addition to all the sort of pain that a delinquent borrower would face with any other type of debt.
So, under the current system, lenders like Sallie Mae make a lot of money if you can pay your loan and everything goes smoothly. However, they can make a lot more money, particularly the large lenders like Sallie Mae, Nelnet and others, when a student defaults on his or her loan. And the reason is that they sort of get a second bite of the apple. So when a loan defaults, the lenders are paid nearly full book value, principal and interest, but upon default, the loan is literally exploded with just massive penalties and fees. And so, lenders like Sallie Mae, who also conveniently own collection companies, can come back for a second bite of a much larger apple.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Does Sallie Mae function like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? Are they basically buying up loans that others originally make, or do they originate their own loans? How does that work?
ALAN COLLINGE: Yeah, they’re very similar. And Sallie Mae began as simply a warehouse of loans, much like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. However, over time, they sort of took over the industry, both vertically and horizontally, frankly, to where they were not only sort of repurchasing loans, but also originating loans, consolidating loans, and most recently, Sallie Mae has, and others have, begun to take advantage of what’s known as the private student loan market. Private student loans are not guaranteed by the federal government and typically are used as a bridge between what the universities are charging now and what the federal loan limits allow. These loans typically have very high interest, on par with credit cards.

But again, not only are federally guaranteed student loans astonishingly absent of bankruptcy protections, but in 2005, the industry convinced Congress—how, I don’t know—to remove bankruptcy protections from private loans. So, these private loans are very dangerous, and we have the student loan industry and Congress to thank.
AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Jackson, talk more about the bankruptcy issue.
REV. JESSE JACKSON: Well, the students, you know, really are seduced into the loans. I was talking to students from Northwestern last week, and they’re just kind of signing off, you know, assuming when they get out of law school, they can kind of pay it back. But now, I mean, those jobs don’t exist, so they can’t pay it back. And they marry each other, which doubles the burden and their compounded interest, and so that’s a big piece of this.
And then, of course, if you don’t pay it back, you can use bankruptcy laws to get out of your foreclosed house, but not out of the federal loan. So there’s more stringent standards on students who are trying to pursue an education even than those that face the home forfeiture crisis. And students, I have found, accept this as kind of the price I pay for pursuing education.
Not long ago, you could be a first-generation student in college and marry and mate, combine a bank account and buy a home first generation. Now you marry into debt. You’re worse off by getting an education than by not getting one. It makes more sense, in this sense, to get an associate degree at a community college and have a trade—sewing, laying line for Verizon—than it does to go to a four-year university.

And so, our basic appeal is, let students have the same deal banks get. And that alone would be a massive cut. Cut the middle person out, and let students have direct access to the money, and have some civilized—and, for example, if you become a doctor and you have a big loan, if, when you graduate, you serve in some indigent community, you can work it off in that way. If you become a lawyer—because now if they’re going to law school or med school, it’s just prohibitive. You come out wearing $250,000 worth of debt.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Reverend Jackson, I’d like to ask about the responsibility of the colleges and schools which these students are attending to counsel them on this whole loan process, because my understanding is that in interviews with some college students that basically they’re encouraged to take out as much money, sometimes even more than just the tuition for the school. They’re basically encouraged to take out huge loans. And what is the responsibility of the colleges?
REV. JESSE JACKSON: Part of this—a lot. Part of the scandal that Andrew Cuomo unveiled was this kind of university manipulation with the banks, for example. That has to be dealt with, as well.

But it’s now time for a comprehensive look at this. The President asked for students to pursue an education, come out and do community service. You cannot afford to do community service, unless you tie in working off the loan with community service, for example. But I think most Americans have no idea.
I’m looking at teachers who are paying off student loans, whose children are now paying off student loans, intergenerational student loan debt, mortgaged student education, as opposed to even a house. Children are the future. And so, why would one go to med school or go to law school or pursue an MBA? You come out with a debt that you cannot afford to pay. And the chances are that you will default, are so great, you end up with a low credit score, and you’re working from a hole the rest of your life just because you pursued an education.
AMY GOODMAN: Alan Collinge, you write that Sallie Mae operatives troll the blogosphere to go after students?
ALAN COLLINGE: Yeah, you know, since I’ve started this as a grassroots effort, I’ve met a lot of sort of anonymous resistance on the internet. And it’s a little disturbing. You know, these people come up, and they’ll print all manner of misinformation, untruths. And it’s really disconcerting. But I think it’s important to note that, you know, for instance, there was a 60 Minutes episode on precisely this issue a couple of years ago. Sallie Mae refused to show up for the interview, and so I think that really says it all right there.

And I also would like to say that, you know, Reverend Jackson hits the nail on the head. You know, this is a debt burden that no other generation has had to face. You know, thirty years ago, Reverend Jackson rightly pointed out that people could pay for college, you know, working an odd job over a couple of summers. Well, those days are long gone. You know, as a nation, we owe $600 billion in student loan debt. And so, in the absence of a draft, what else, what other compelling issue is there more compelling to get the students out there and fighting for their economic future?
REV. JESSE JACKSON: We can lose a greedy bank more than we can lose a generation of needy students. I mean, the banks are self-inflicted wounds. Students, in their innocence, are trying to borrow money, are trying to get a scholarship, to do the right thing. They want to be productive, and this is a very counterproductive measure.

And I would think students who are listening might contact us at Let’s begin to mobilize campus by campus, turning our agony, our protest, our votes, into demanding that there be a complete restructuring of access to student loans, and I might add, less loans and more grants in the first place.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Alan Collinge, what’s been the response? You’ve called yourself the complaint box of the student loan movement. What’s been the response to your exposés in recent years?
ALAN COLLINGE: Well, it’s been tremendous. And, you know, the most powerful thing that I can point to is really the thousands of stories that I’ve received from people from age eighteen to age eighty who have been—I mean, literally, their lives have been literally destroyed by their student loans. It’s amazing, but, in fact, you know, we’ve documented dozens, many dozens, of people who have literally fled the country as a result of this debt, people whose family members have committed suicide and so on. I mean, it’s been tremendous. And it’s just a shame that the students don’t really get this issue until it’s too late, frankly. And so, I’m hoping that shows like this and others in the future will serve to alert the students while there’s still time to change the system, while they’re still in school, before they take out the loans.
REV. JESSE JACKSON: Alan, I’m meeting you for the first time on this program, anxious for us to connect today and expand the base. I met with students from Northwestern last week, 150,000, 170,000 in a common place. And many of them want to do public service law. They cannot afford to do it. Others thought they were going to get a law job; they’re not going to get that job. But the good news is, when we fight together, we can win these battles. And so, I’m anxious for us to meet together when this session’s over. And so, thank you for being the link today, Amy.
JUAN GONZALEZ: The facilitator.
REV. JESSE JACKSON: The facilitator.
AMY GOODMAN: Some of the facts are absolutely amazing. Just looking at, when you see that between ’95 and 2005, Sallie Mae set aside $3.6 billion in stock for its employees. The Sallie Mae CEO bragged to shareholders in 2003 annual report their record profits that year were attributable to collections on defaulted loans, and other student loan companies report similar trends. The student loan industry has grown to rival the credit card industry?
REV. JESSE JACKSON: As bad as that is, the federal government itself borrows money at three. It sells to—the students—the money made from a student loan interest pays for the Pell Grant. So it’s like, you know, you give me $1,000, and I buy you a ring. I’m not doing anything. You bought the ring with the money you gave me. So in many ways that we think the Pell Grant is something generous set aside to invest in students, it is a result of a for-profit deal between the federal government and the Federal Reserve.
AMY GOODMAN: What has Obama done about this? Have you talked to him about it?
REV. JESSE JACKSON: Well, I have not talked to him. He has made some steps in this direction. But I am convinced that a mass action movement by students across the nation, congressional district by district, senate by senate, will have the massive impact. I think these are his inclinations. He is just coming out from under the burden of a student loan debt himself, so I think he gets it. But I think our massive protest and mass education—I mean, parents who are under this burden—the Speaker of the House in California, Karen Bass, her daughter and son-in-law were killed in a car accident. They are now trying to force her to pay that loan off, and she is in that burden. I mean, the stories just get more draconian the more you get into it. And so, I think that a massive student movement will be the dose, the medicine we need to change the environment, to educate people about just how wrong this is, and it can be changed. And the propitious moment is, if you can bail out AIG and bail out the big banks, why not invest in our students now?
AMY GOODMAN: Alan Collinge, we want to thank you for being with us. The Student Loan Scam is the name of his book, The Most Oppressive Debt in U.S. History—and How We Can Fight Back.
REV. JESSE JACKSON: He must autograph my book. I want—this is my book now, you know.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s his book. But Reverend Jackson, I’d like you to stay with us.

Push Back To The Student Loan Scam

Push Back To The Student Loan Scam

by Morgana (writer), On Top, August 07, 2009

Ways to push back to the student loan scam.
As consumers are less likely to keep their opinions to themselves, be tenacious, loud, consistent, persistent, and strong in your citizen activism/push back.  The trick to any successful negotiation is knowing how to do it.  The way to push back to the student loan scam is first to know the facts.
Add your story at SLJ’s website.  Keep detailed records.  Get names and keep dates, times and telephone numbers.  Scan your loan documents and upload them, with your correspondence, at SLJ and other sites.  Expose the names of the schools, Financial Aid Officers and Financial Aid Directors that steered you into student loans they got kickbacks for, taking financial advantage of the very population the schools profess to support. Join the SLJ PAC.
Use the media, blog, write letters to the editor, add comments to on-line newspaper, radio and TV sites such as Fortune, Village Voice, NPR, 60 Minutes, etc.  Ken Moser, president of the Adam Smith Society of California,, published a scathing commentary on the lack of free-market forces in the American student-loan monopoly.
Elected representatives have a legal and moral duty to serve their constituents.  Act like a corporate lobbyist.  Regularly write or e-mail your elected State and Federal representatives your story.  Tell them that Congress acted immorally when it retroactively removed consumer protections, bankruptcy protections, statute of limitations, and refinance rights from student loans, and as did states that revoke professional licenses for student loan defaults.  Suspending professional licenses for student loan default is damagingly counter-productive.  What’s the sense in taking away a doctor’s license for a student loan default leaving them only places like McDonald’s Hamburgers to work at?  Assuming McDonald’s would even hire as more and more companies pull credit before hiring.  Even more egregious is when the loan was paid off and the lender is later double dipping because they can when the statue of limitations was removed.  That removal gave the student loan lenders and collectors a perverse incentive to collect again.  How many people have receipts from last year let alone 20, 30, 40 years ago?
Bankruptcy protection affords citizens with insurmountable debt a legal mechanism for resolving their debts and then continuing on to be productive citizens.  The vast majority of citizens that file for bankruptcy do so for reasons and circumstances beyond their control.  Higher education provides America with a vast public benefit. That alone is worth consumer protection, bankruptcy protections, statute of limitations, and refinance rights.
Federal law allows for cancellation of student loan debt when the borrower is permanently and totally disabled.
That means all disability income, including Social Security Disability, is exempt form collection.  The Social Security Disability Award Letter is per se evidence.
Federal law allows for cancellation of student loan debt under the ability to benefit clause.
Examples are:
1.      When a school admitted the student without satisfying the application’s prior requirement for ability to benefit from the training or education.  Such as no high school diploma, GED or taken an ATB test.
2.      The school signed the student’s name to the loan application and/or promissory note without the student’s written permission.
3.      The student had a physical, mental or legal status or condition at the time of enrollment in school that would bar them from employment in their field of study.
4.      The student was or is a victim of identity theft.
5.      The school closes before the course is completed with no graduation.
Check out your State’s laws.
In Nevada,  if the alleged debt is older than 6 years old, per NRS 11.190 Periods of Limitations, collectors are barred for recovery.
The FDCPA exemption is currently wrongly only for nonprofit companies.  For-profit companies are still bound by it.
It is illegal for a for-profit company to:
1.      Threaten to have you arrested or jailed.
2.      Threaten to take your Social Security Income, Social Security Disability income or other protected income.
3.      Threaten to take your household furniture.
4.      Threaten to cause physical injury to you or your property.
5.      Threaten members of your family.
6.      Threaten to send false information about you to credit reporting agencies.
7.      Use obscene, profane or threatening language.
8.      Misrepresent the character, amount or legal status of the debt.
9.      Make empty threats to scare you.
10.  Pretend to work for a credit reporting agency.
11.  Pretending to work for a government agency.
12.  Falsely claim to be an attorney or to work with attorneys.
13.  Send fake legal papers to confuse you.
14.  Tell you to ignore real legal papers.
15.  Call you or anyone else repeatedly with intent to annoy, harass or annoy.
16.  Call you after you have sent a cease letter.
17.  Call or contact you without disclosing that they are debt collectors trying to collect a debt.
18.  Collect interest, fees, collection expenses, or other charges that are not authorized by your original payment agreement.
19.  Solicit post-dated checks with the intent to threaten to expose you to criminal charges.
20.  Solicit post-dated checks then threaten to or deposit them early.
21.  Contact you by postcard, or contact you on any way that would disclose to a third party that they are debt collectors.
22.  Claiming to be with the Department of Education and are not.
23.  A collection company attempting to initiate loan rehabilitation.
24.  Collectors attaching unannounced fees to the debt.
25.  Collector’s discussing the borrower’s financial situation with family members, co-workers, employers, doctor, secular or religious counselor.
26.  Calling or contacting in any way a borrower at work, church, or recreational activities after being told not to.
If your state allows it, document your phone conversations by letting them know you are recording the conversation, do so, and then up-load them.
Avoid dealing with Guarantors and 3rd Party Collection Companies.
Demand that your loan be transferred to the true guarantor of the loan, like the U.S. Department of Education.
Bankruptcy courts are required to use a three-prong test for determining student loan bankruptcy discharge.
1.      Would the borrower be able to maintain a minimal standard of living if forced to repay the loan?
2.      Is there evidence that the hardship is likely to continue for a significant portion of the loan-repayment period?  Such as illness, loss of employment or permanent and total disability.  Being awarded Social Security Disability is per se proof.
3.      Did the borrower make good-faith efforts to repay the loan before filing bankruptcy?  For those borrowers that are caught up in the nightmare of having paid off their loans 20, 30, 40 years ago but no longer have the receipt, and the loans were just recently added to their credit reports after not being there for the last 20, 30, 40 years, that is per se fraud on the part of the collection companies.
U.S. Bankruptcy Court Massachusetts Joel B. Rosenthal stated, “The forgiveness of debt outside of bankruptcy results in a taxable event.  Such removes from this Court’s consideration the very issue Congress entrusted to the court, namely the repayment of the debt would impose an undue hardship.”
Private student loans are dischargeable in bankruptcy when used for anything other than the cost of attendance at school.
If you took out a private student loan and used the money for anything other than the cost of attendance at school, then by law, this amount is treated like any other debt in bankruptcy and is fully dischargeable.
Be a whistle-blower.
If you work for a company breaking the laws, be a whistle-blower.  SLAPP, Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, protects you, and has three times punitive damages.
Graphic from
 Thank you Craig B. for your research here.

What to Expect: Windows 8

What to Expect: Windows 8

With rumored release dates and features, the buzz has already begun about Microsoft’s 'riskiest upcoming product'

It started with an accidental posting on Microsoft's Dutch website saying Windows 8 was two years away from hitting the market. Then there were a few slides at the recent Microsoft Professional Developers Conference suggesting the next release of the Windows Server OS, which typically arrives just after a desktop edition debuts, was due in 2012. To add to the titillation, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, when interviewed at the Gartner Symposium, said the next version of the Windows desktop would be "Microsoft's riskiest upcoming product."
Ballmer says Windows 8 is a big risk for MicrosoftWe know Microsoft is not afraid of taking risks, even when it brings ridicule. I've said it before and I'll say it again -- although Vista (pre-SP1) earned a bad reputation for a variety of valid reasons, it was a necessary risk that Microsoft took to provide better security now, in Windows 7, which is built on Vista. Meanwhile, Vista will go down in history as one of the worst OS releases due mainly to a media frenzy launched by InfoWorld that trashed the OS mercilessly and an inexperienced public that bought into the negative press.
[ Get all the details you need on deploying and using Windows 7 in the InfoWorld editors' 21-page Windows 7 Deep Dive PDF special report. | Stay abreast of key Microsoft technologies in our Technology: Microsoft newsletter. ]
Is that what Ballmer is referring to when he says the next version of Windows is risky? Will Windows 8 be the next OS to take a bullet for the future of computing that we'll embrace with the Windows 9 to follow? Hopefully, history won't repeat itself so soon.
One thought is that Windows 8 will be only x64 and x128 (yes, you heard me), positioning Windows 7 as the last 32-bit OS. As crazy as that sounds, everything moves forward eventually. It wouldn't surprise me if the next flavor of Windows is 64-bit only. If it offers a 128-bit flavor, that would ensure Windows 9 will fully support 128. But this doesn't seem to be the big "risk" that Ballmer hinted at.
I'm more inclined, and excited, to think that the risk that Ballmer is speaking of relates to features. It's obvious the economy may not be ready for a new version of Windows that might require enterprises to spend money on more hardware upgrades. Also, those who upgraded from Windows XP to Windows 7 will not be eager to move to Windows 8 unless the features are compelling enough.
I believe the big risk Ballmer hinted at is whether the release will be significant enough to encourage the transition for XP stragglers and Windows 7 users alike. Given how good Windows 7 is, I'd have to be really impressed to make that move personally.

What Windows 8 may featureWhat are the rumored enhancements? PC World reports three potential form factor "center of gravities" related to "lap PCs" and tablets, workhorse PCs, and family hub PCs. The lap PC will have tablet features, the workhorse PC is the traditional desktop or laptop system, and the family hub PC is your next evolution of Windows Media Center, where it ties your TV and other media devices.
One possible feature is called "My PC Knows Me," which will use a proximity sensor to detect your movements in a room and, for example, wake up your PC. When you sit at your system, it will scan your face and log you in. Multiple user accounts won't be a problem -- it will instead switch between users. I see this as an interesting parental control. Even if Junior discovers Mom's username and password, he won't be able to get around the facial-recognition-based parental controls.
Another new feature in Windows will be the equivalent of Apple's forthcoming Mac App Store or the iTunes store. Microsoft has already been working on this with Windows 7 and Vista in the form of the Games for Windows Marketplace, which is installed in PCs via Windows Update and will roll out in mid-November.
With the recent emphasis on Office 365, the productivity-oriented successor to Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Standard Suite (BPOS) cloud server suite that integrates with Windows Small Business Server 2011 Essentials (code-named Aurora), it is logical to imagine tight integration with Windows 8 as well. Some rumors say Microsoft will call its next operating system "Windows 365," which would further support the speculation that the desktop will be linked to its cloud offering.
One rumored change for Windows 8 is in the updating of key kernel OS files through the cloud servers. In doing so, Microsoft could ensure systems are updated (supposedly without reboot) with the enhanced files. Plus, this could help prevent piracy. In the event a connection with the Internet is broken, backup kernel files will be used until the Internet connection can be reestablished.
What else? According to leaked documents, as reported by Computerworld's Preston Gralla, we can look forward to improved energy efficiency, faster startup, and better help and support (although you don't have to read leaked documents to expect those updates). A push-button reset is mentioned, which would allow you to reinstall Windows without losing documents and applications. There is also mention of enhanced identity management that allows user identities to exist in the cloud and move with users as they go from PC to PC. These, too, are not incredibly futuristic in nature and should almost be expected in the next version of Windows.
My advice to Redmond: Take your time on this one. Windows 7 is doing just fine in the marketplace. Windows XP is slowly being retired where budgets and workload needs allow. The damaged reputation over Vista (earned or not) is beginning to fade, just as it did for Windows ME before it. Make sure the next flavor of Windows gets our mouths watering. Delay the release for as long as necessary until that is the case. We'll wait.
This article, "What to expect from Windows 8," was originally published at Read more of J. Peter Bruzzese's Enterprise Windows blog and follow the latest developments in business software and Windows at


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