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Give me education or give me debt!

By Ken Johnson

Community college helps to bridge the chasm between the American dream and the American reality.

The United States, more than most other countries, prescribes a narrative over the lives of its citizens: grade school, university, career, retirement, and then an uncomfortable death at an unfamiliar hospital, doped up on morphine.

In most of the country, high-school graduates are expected to go to college, and about 70 percent of them do, according to Pew Research Center — that’s up 20 percent from 1970.

Many jobs that didn’t previously require a university degree, such as salesperson or pilot, now require some sort of degree. And that’s a little weird because a bachelor’s degree in history has nothing to do with flying a plane.

Even if someone manages to find a job that doesn’t require some sort of degree, people with degrees look down their noses at people without degrees, especially in cities like Bellingham.

A college degree might as well be the star on the belly of a sneetch.

So a university degree is a status symbol, as well as a prerequisite for landing a job. On the surface, that doesn’t seem like such a bad thing: a liberal arts education can provide context to an otherwise confusing life and help people become more informed citizens. It seems like that, if everyone was educated, there would be fewer problems in the world — fewer Donald Trumps.

Except that college is dangerously expensive.

In 2017, according to Pew Research Center, there was over $1.3 trillion in American student debt, and the average recipient of a bachelor’s degree was over $25,000 in collegiate debt. Roughly half of the people who have bachelor’s degrees do not think that the benefit of the degree outweighs the financial cost. That’s a 50 percent college-regret rate.

And some organizations, such the Huffington Post, have found a connection between student loans and suicide.

Is a liberal arts degree really worth all that?

No. It’s not.

Especially when the reason why anyone would get a liberal arts education is considered. I mean, think about the phrase “liberal arts.” In Latin “liberal” is generally synonymous with “freedom” or “the pursuit of a freeman” — think about the word “liberty.”

I’m not a linguist, but the point I’m trying to make is that a liberal arts education is all about being free. It’s about being able to think for yourself and engage with the world on your own terms.

But there is absolutely nothing liberating about being crushed and churned around in a Sisyphean cycle of debt.

So on one hand, a liberal arts education is a nice thing to have, but on the other hand, getting one ruins lives.

That brings me to community college: the happy medium between an irreparable credit score and being able to name the impacts of climate change.

Community college has two main benefits: it’s cheaper, and everybody is accepted.

There is a special kind of dumb hypocrisy in wanting everyone to go to college, but then turning away a lot of potential students, because, however high an acceptance rate is, some people are still being denied.

Community college is pragmatic where most American universities are elitist. The realization that community colleges have made is that most Americans are not 18 years old and wealthy.

Some people need to work while they’re in school. Some people grow old, not Neil Patrick Harris, but some people.

Community college has flaws and in no way fixes everything. It’s kind of like putting a band-aid on a gunshot wound… it helps, a little.

It keeps the good part of going to university — the education — and mitigates the bad parts — the debt and self-loathing.

Community college should expand, and it should become free.

I’m no financial analyst, but maybe we should spend money on educating people before we spend money on shiny Star Wars-style military jets.

Hell, with 1.3 trillion in debt, a crafty government could really get cracking on some state-sponsored terrorism. And if it’s lucky, even topple a democratically elected socialist.

Or educate its citizens.


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Climate Change: Endgame

By Ken Johnson

I want to point out something that might not be obvious: Climate change is going to screw up the world — irreparably.

There are three, not four, horsemen of the apocalypse: climate change, immigration, and nationalism.

These harbingers of the end times are compounding each other, building off each other, and creating a positive-feedback loop.

The loop is simple: climate change causes immigration, immigration causes nationalist politicians, and nationalist politicians cause climate change.

Let’s break it down:

Climate change causes immigration

The Guardian newspaper predicts that by 2100, one million immigrants could be entering the European Union every year as a result of climate change.

About 40 percent of people live near the coast. They will be forced out of their homes as sea levels rise. In some cases, this will cause migration within a nation, but in other cases, it will cause people to move between nations.

That’s only part of the equation. Natural disasters, such as hurricanes, are becoming more severe. Hurricanes destroy entire cities and entire systems of infrastructure, making large coastal areas uninhabitable. Think about Puerto Rico.

The problem isn’t hurricanes; it’s that many governments are unequipped to deal with hurricanes.

Again, think about the federal government’s incompetent response to Hurricane Maria.

Immigration causes nationalist politicians

I want to make something clear: immigrants do not cause nationalism— the fear of immigrants causes nationalism. The immigrants are doing nothing wrong.

Italy is a good example. With its heel stuck out in the Mediterranean Sea, Italy is the landing place for many immigrants from northern Africa.

Matteo Salvini, the Italian interior minister, is considered to be the most important politician in Italy. He rose to power on the back of popular anti-immigrant sentiment.

“Ahead of the March election,” Time magazine reports, “Salvini put [immigration] at the center of his campaign. He made the wildly impracticable promise to deport 500,000 undocumented immigrants from Italy.”

The issue is that— whether it’s Salvini or Andrew Jackson— nationalist leaders use immigration as a scare tactic to get elected.

So as immigration starts to climb, nationalists will gobble up more and more power.

I also want to point out that nationalist politicians, just by being awful, cause immigration on their own.

Our planet is tilting sharply to the right.

Nationalist politicians cause global warming

At this point, it makes sense to use the United States as an example. President Donald Trump is a famous climate change denier. He called climate change a “Chinese hoax” and took the United States out of the Paris climate agreement.

According to a recent Washington Post article, Trump’s main argument against climate change regulation is that regulation hurts the economy, so it doesn’t make sense while the “science on climate change is unsettled.”

The science is settled and corroborated by a recent EPA report, which Trump seems to be ignoring.

“A recent U.S. government report,” according to Forbes. “Suggests that global temperatures will rise by 4 degrees Celsius [by 2100]. … such large temperature rises would cause extreme heat waves, more floods and droughts … and leave many cities around the world underwater thanks to rising sea levels.”

When nationalist leaders say that climate change regulation will hurt the economy, they mean climate change regulation will hurt the short-term, economic interests of the ruling class.

Most of the time, doomsday columns like this end with a “call to action.” In the community college newspaper business, a call to action is a hopeful message that lets the readers know how they can help.

I’m not going to do that.

And, without sounding melodramatic, I want to say that you can’t help. These problems are too entrenched in our global politics to change before it’s too late.

It is possible to reverse climate change. Reliance on nuclear energy, reforestation, a primarily vegetarian diet, and clean manufacturing might help. Action would have to be immediate and global.

The ruling class, our politicians, executive boards, and CEOs, are not incentivized to help, so they won’t— like always.

The die has been cast.


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The U.S. Supreme Court is jammed with villains

By Ken Johnson

The Supreme Court is supposed to be the Super Friends: wise, fair, and moral.

That’s the impression my American Government class left with me.

The executive branch might be brutal. The legislative branch might be corrupt. But not the judicial branch, not the Supreme Court, they weather the storm and remain unbiased.

That’s not the reality. In the United States, it never is.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court has thrown their charade into focus.

The problem with the discussion about Kavanaugh is that he is being treated as an anomaly — a product of the Trumpian hellscape, but that’s not the case. He isn’t even the only sitting justice to be accused of sexual assault by a college professor.

There is a pattern of unethical behavior on the Supreme Court. Americans are disillusioned. Some Americans, minorities, people in the lower classes, have seen the Supreme Court as a sham, a show trial, since it was established.

The Supreme Court is not the Super Friends, and, while they do work in the Hall of Justice, they are more like the Legion of Doom.

The question that some Americans are asking themselves is whether the Supreme Court can be trusted. The issue comes down to whether Kavanaugh and Justice Clarence Thomas are glitches in the process or products of a flawed system.

That question is too big for this column. Instead, we can investigate the makeup of the Supreme Court. By examining who these people are, and what paths their lives fall into, we can get a sense of the group of people that have so much power in our country.

According to the Supreme Court’s website, every single justice that is currently sitting on the Supreme Court has been to either Harvard or Yale. That’s strange. Some people might take it for granted that everybody on the Supreme Court has been to one of two elite, Ivy League schools, but they shouldn’t.

There are no requirements for serving on the Supreme Court. None. You don’t have to be a natural born American. You don’t even have to have an education.

Anyone can be on the Supreme Court, which is a good thing. There should not be any obstacles, such as where you were born or what kind of school you attended, to serve in our government. It’s supposed to be a government of the people. That idea is one positive thing about America.

For some reason, even though there are no prerequisites for serving, our Supreme Court ended up with all Ivy League lawyers.

American power finds the wealthy like a heat-seeking missile.

The explanation, at least one explanation, for this problem is that Supreme Court justices are nominated by the president, and the president is usually a powerful person with powerful friends, who, unsurprisingly, end up on the Supreme Court.

The wealthy favor the wealthy. And it helps to be a rich politician because campaigns are expensive.

Take the Citizens United ruling, where corporations were given superhuman political power. A Supreme Court made up of reasonable citizens would never have ruled that corporations are people. Only elites, with political ties as deep as oil wells, would have done that.

The Supreme Court rules on class issues, financial issues, such as minimum wage or worker’s rights. They cannot be impartial when ruling on class issues because they are all from the upper-middle and upper classes.


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