Who Should Forgive Who?

Photograph Source: Roger Blackwell – CC BY 2.0

The pundits, and talking heads, and liederers of the vestigial Left, and other shakers and bakers of our drive-through fried chicken culture are seemingly in choral agreement: Avuncular Joe’s forgiveness of student loans is up there with some of Vatican II’s sublime attempts at rapprochement with today’s relativized values. The long suffering, and bleeding, and New Centaur-ians beating you with truncheons and compounding usury is over. You’ve been given limited absolution Your Hail Marys have been answered. You’re back in the sleepy fold, taking in, absorbing the bread and wine of Empire, feeling transubstantiative again. Amen.

Verily, one finds it difficult to criticize the Feel Good event of Biden and the Department of Ed gifting some student debtors up to $10,000, following a needs-based test that considers household income, and up to $20,000 for those who were eligible for a Pell Grant (meaning, you were very poor, and some 27 million Volk). Meanwhile, many students are luxuriating in the spa-like feeling of relief they’ve felt in the suspension of student loan repayments that have come with the Pandemic Pause. That Pause will last through Christmas. You can hear Phew! everywhere in America. Well, everywhere poverty is.

A Guardian explainer further clarifies the latter Phew! feeling:

Interest rates will remain at 0% until repayments start. Under an earlier extension announced in April, people who were behind on payments before the pandemic will automatically be put in good standing.

0%! Oh, Aunt Molly. But the best bit is to be returned to “good standing.” And if your are lucky and/or good, you will find a way to become what the banks call a “deadbeat,” meaning you’re one of those filthy swine who pays back his loan on time and keeps them from earning mountains of interest income off you. They want you to fall behind or default, for then they own you.

The Catholic Church has a similar, though less onerous arrangement, gifting you absolution that provides you with a chance to begin the new week over with a clean slate. But if you turn goody-two-shoes, really turn your back on Satan, then you won’t need to come back, which is bad for pew numbers, and, hence, tithe-like obligations (think: basket going around). Joe would know all about this, depending on his degree of lapsed and Church-going.

Anyway, the 2022 MidTerm elections over, Christmas in the rear view mirror, where you think you see debt-chasers following you, hoping you’ll screw up, run a light, have a blow out, the good times are over. Interest will leave the 0% zone and shoot back to market figures that can range from 2-9%, with private loans at the higher end. An August 22 Business Insider piece provides an example of a typical refinanced student loan:

In 2021, the average student loan debt per borrower is $39,351, which means an average monthly payment of $393, according to recent statistics from EducationData.org. That’s about $400 per month added to your budget for 10 years. That, with few exceptions, you can’t get out of paying back in any way.

Those ex-student debtors who can’t keep up with their usurious interest-gathering repayments, face default and its inimical consequences, and will return at the first of the year to seeing that Uncle Sam will allow them to continue on a while longer, meaning they can still buy or rent stuff and spaces on credit until they fail again to keep up with payments, and are seen as that other definition of deadbeat, something like Mitt Romney’s “47%” definition:

So, in one scenario, a bank considers you a “deadbeat” if you pay back your loan without accruing interest (and, therefore, no profit for them), and, in another scenario, you’re a “dead beat” if you don’t pay back — probably because you can’t and they’ll make you pay for it by ruining your life. The Man lowers the boom.

When the boom is lowered, your credit report finks on you, and you can’t lease an apartment; can’t get a loan for a new car or rent one; can’t get a cellphone contract; can’t get an Internet plan; can’t travel far (no credit card); and, can’t get another student loan, in case you need to upgrade your educational credentials. In short, fall behind on your payments and go into default, and your life of borrowed profligacy, as you knew it, is over. No more Walter or Wilma Mitty fantasies. Take that-a-that-that. No Americans know what the effects of economic sanctions on a life better than these debt slaves do. Iran, Venezuela, China, Russia, and student loan slaves have all been there with the economic sanction. At home, it’s part of America’s war on poverty. Get it?

Uncle Joe’s giveaway bonanza, or what he gloatingly refers to as the Biden Student Loan Forgiveness Plan, is really aimed at recent, younger, and upper middle class graduates, when you think about it. Mid 20s to mid 30s. If all you owe is $10,000, then your debt will be wiped out. If you’re really poor and qualified for a Pell Grant, Joe wants to wipe away $20,000 in debt. But that’s not all you’ll owe, so you’ll be paying that $300 per month for the rest, let’s say. Hell, if you’re a recent Black graduate who owes, say, $20,000, and get arrested for sneezing in the general direction of a Chauvin-ist “pig,” and is forced to plea bargain for a light 10 year sentence, you’ll be unable to pay your student loan, and come out a defaulted debt slave owing maybe $100,000, no job, can’t go back to school (can’t get a loan). Can you say, recividism?

That was a snarky set-up gag, but it gets realer. In a recent Guardian op-ed, “I’m 65 and have $300,000 in student debt. I and other older debtors are going on strike,” Lystra Small-Clouden makes the obvious clear: Long-time and long-of-tooth student debtors will not have their catastrophic outstanding loans addressed. She opines,

Most people think of the student loan crisis as a problem affecting young people. As a 65-year-old woman, however, I am actually among the fastest-growing demographic of student debtors. We know that this debt won’t go away – for us or Americans of any age – unless we stand up and fight it. That’s why we’re prepared to strike.

I can personally attest to Small-Clouden’s demographic indicator. I know someone who accrued $30,000 in student loan debt, went into default and stopped paying, after years of trying to keep up with payments, and now owes the feds some $130,000. The $100,000 is profit the bank wants for that philosophy degree. Small-Clouden and my acquaintance belong to a different club — not “dead beat” but beaten-to-death by debt.

There is no escape from this student debt-owing. If you were an ex-student who managed to declare bankruptcy to discharge your overwhelming debts to banks — credit cards, especially — you cannot discharge your student loans. You never really start over. You don’t get back your credit rating that allows you to get lifestyle necessities (see above). You live like a refugee (apologies to Tom Petty).

And this is where it gets interesting. Nobody did more than Avuncular Joe to prevent bankruptcy protection for people swamped under by debt. According to Politico reporter Ben Schreckinger, writing in The Bidens: Inside the First Family’s 50 Year Rise to Power, when Joe’s embroiled son Hunter worked for the Delaware-based credit card giant MBNA from 1996-98 (and as a paid consultant afterward), Senator Biden slammed the door on Volk attempting to escape their debt. He writes:

Throughout this period, Joe was a steadfast supporter of MBNA’s top legislative priority, the Bankruptcy Reform Act, which made it harder forAmericans to declare bankruptcy, and thereby shed credit card debt. Consumer advocates fiercely opposed the legislation. Joe went to great lengths to advance it, inserting it into a foreign relations bill in 2000, when he was ranking member on that committee. The gambit fell short, but Joe kept at it…In total, Joe voted for the bill four times between 1998 and 2005, when it finally passed. Joe has said that neither the bank’s payments to his son, nor its gifts to his campaigns, nor even the fact that he represented the bank’s home state played any role in his support for the legislation.

Indeed, MBNA was the world’s largest credit card issuer and Delaware’s largest private-sector employer at one stage. And worth noting for how odd it is, MBNA employed several former FBI employees, including Louis Freeh, the ex-director. MBNA, along with other credit card companies, were the subject of a “Secret History of the Credit Card,” PBS Frontline report in November 2004.

But beyond MBNA and its place in a state that is a tax free zone for corporations — indeed, there are more registered corporations in Delaware (1.8 million) than there are people (just over 1 million) — Joe Biden himself has every reason to be forgiving. Joe Biden was once a “deadbeat.” Serious debt. Before Barack Obama took him on as his Veep, Biden’s cash flow had dried up like today’s Yangtze River. He owed a substantial amount of debt — even more than Small-Clouden’s sizable whomp resulting from her pursuit of a doctorate. As Politico put it back in May 2009, not long after the Obama inauguration,

Vice President Joe Biden may be able to use his $220,000 annual salary to start paying down as much as $465,000 in debt.

Ouch. You know, that’s the kind of debt that can keep you from getting a security clearance, as it can lead to compromising situations (the Russians call it ‘kompromat’) where you might do things for money, like sell secrets, or secret nuke plans from the White House, or arrange for the ear of the president to be tickled by waggling honey bees with copious amounts of ‘comb’ to offer.

Of course, not long after his Biden’s Veeping, Obama gave him the Ukraine portfolio, and Joe’s sex-drugs-rocknroll-driven son, Hunter, suddenly landed a plum job on the board of Burisma Gas Holdings, at $50,000 per month. Burisma is owned by a corrupt money-laundering’ oligarch, Mykola Zlochevsky. It was discovered during the first impeachment of Trump that Burisma was a major shareholder in Sunrise Energy Resources, a corporation registered in Delaware. Joe’s other portfolio. Shhh.

But more importantly, it also put Uncle Joe in the playersphere of world class corrupt oligarch Igor Kolomoisky, whose media might aired actor and President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Servant of the People — a teacher rants against corruption and they make him president, fuck him — and was Z’s moneybags man during the actor’s rise to real power as leader of the Servant of the People Party. Z had no previous political experience. His media handler told Vice News that Z’s political naivete was an “asset” and that they just wanted him as president to “monetize” the government. What can you say? They were more honest and brazenly upfront about their motivations in antebellum Ukraine.

Chances are most Volk won’t come across moneybags willing to wipe away their student debts out of the goodness of their heart.

There are technical aspects to Biden’s promise worth noting too. His Forgiveness is an executive order, like Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation — it can be reversed with the next executive (like Trump did in the early days of his presidency, knocking back all kinds of Obama fiats), and that may not be Biden or Kamala Harris. If it’s a Republican, you can almost bet on the Forgiveness being Unforgiven by GOP outrage, some of whom are already snarling at the giveaway. Indeed, if the Democrats lose both the House (at the cusp of likely) and the Senate (plausible), Avuncular Joe, who so many Republicans blame for what happened to DJ (Hunter and Burisma) that Joe could be defenestrated from the White House — impeachment plus conviction. Of course, he has corporatist Delaware to fall back upon.

Plus, an application for Forgiveness will not be available until October (expect more MSM hullabaloo about Joe’s sainthood come the Surprise month before the election), and, it seems, approved applications for relief may see canceled debt as soon as December, leaving extra jingles in the pocket for Christmas shopping. Hell, expect, with your new freedom, to be inundated by credit card offers as your worthiness rises in the eyes of demigods like the sun over the sea at dawn. But be wary, gladhappy clapstormers.

In a recent Substack piece Matt Taibbi alluded to a previous Happy Moment that went badly; another promise that was more gimmick and politics than substance and deep sympathy for plight. He referred to “New Government Data Exposes Complete Failure of Education Department’s Income-Driven Repayment Program,” a March 2021 piece at the National Consumer Law Center site, which reveals how the IDR program lured millions into believing they would be free, debt-free at last, thank God, free of school debt at last only to be exposed as naifs. The NCLS tells us,

Approximately two million student loan borrowers are currently trapped in undergraduate debts more than two decades old, and, according to U.S. Department of Education (Department) data obtained by the National Consumer Law Center, just 32 borrowers have ever qualified for loan cancellation through the federal government’s income-driven repayment (IDR) program. Enacted by Congress more than 25 years ago, IDR promises low-income borrowers a path to debt relief after 20 or 25 year of monthly payments. Flawed program design, shoddy and illegal student loan servicing practices, and chronic mismanagement by the Department have all contributed to the complete collapse of the most important anti-poverty program under the control of the federal government’s student loan arm, according to a new policy brief by the National Consumer Law Center and the Student Borrower Protection Center.

Well, goddamn! if that wouldn’t make an atheist of you. Keep Hope alive so that we can beat the snot out if some more.

Yeah, old Uncle Joe has shown how a Good Catholic operates. He’s a corporate priest who hands out limited absolution, forgives just enough to keep you coming back, and then later you find out the wafer was fine but the dipping wine was an off-putting but kosher Manischewitz, and the absolutions have been recalled and you have to go back Saturday say all your sins all over again. Yeah. The New Testament, the Bible’s paean to the Power of Love over Romans, except for the last bits in the Book, when the 9-eyed goats show up and a vengeful Christ’s gone a-hunting and spares no one (student debt or not), now becomes, in the renaissance V2 version, Good News For Modern Man (rolls his eyes).

God might get around to forgiving some of us Volk, who knows? But who will forgive Joe Biden for raising high our hopes only to see them dashed by monstrous insincerity? While we’re at it, who will forgive God for such ‘aesthetic’ indifference? You?

John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelancer based in Australia.  He is a former reporter for The New Bedford Standard-Times.