Category Archives: Thomas Frank

Hot Air

Robed Racketeers

Thomas Frank throws the book at colleges and universities in this holy land in this Sunday’s Salon.


Acc’d’ng to the fearless journalist and essayist, college tuition has gone up 1200 percent in 30 years. Twelve hundred percent!

Let’s say you, like me, weighed a svelte 175 libra pondos aways back in 1984. Shoot, man, back in those glory days you, like me, could have eaten an entire pizza and then gone out for an all-night bike ride, something I did more than once when I was a callow 28 y.o. But, of course, time catches up with all of us and before we know it we’re all a tad thicker in face and waist, among other locales.

But if you had a weight gain of 1200 percent, today you’d be tipping the scale, if not the entire house, at a mind-boggling 2100 lbs. Sheesh! Yeah I’ve packed on the suet, but jimineez, I don’t weigh a ton with a hondo click to spare!

Nothing goes up 1200 percent in 30 years. Not gasoline. In 1984, a gallon of motion lotion set you back $1.30. Today, we’re crying like kindergartners because that gallon costs about $3.75. Me Party-ists, militia maniacs, and tinfoil hat wearers are oiling up their shootin’ irons in prep. for the coming revolt, caused in large part by today’s gas pump “insanity.”

And that gallon of 87 octane has only gone up 289 percent since the Orwell year.

I could go on and on with examples of how nothingnothing!has gone up 1200 percent in 30 years, not even pot. Yet, if you want your snowflake to get a good educ., you’d better hope you’d started stashing away your quarters three decades ago. Every single freaking one of them.

Thomas Frank indicts college administrators, politicians, and a compliant, obeisant, credulous media for this hyper-inflation going on for the better part of a lifetime. We’ve believed every bullshit excuse university presidents have tossed out. By Frank’s count, the bosses of higher education have blamed the following for their larceny:

  • Utility bills
  • Libraries
  • Their own professors
  • Gov’t regulation (natch, all crooks fall back on that cop-out)
  • Students who demand luxury accommodations
  • High technology
  • Cultural diversity
  • Students abusing substances
  • Americans with Disabilities Act access ramps
  • Declining student population
  • Competition with other universities

What the presidents haven’t mentioned, Frank says, is the growth of the administrator class, in both number and in average salary. And those administrators kept on telling us that a college degree was worth more than a million dollars over a graduate’s lifetime. That is, an alum of the institution that was fleecing you could expect to earn a cool million more than some high school grad slob, so if you don’t mind, we’re gonna continue to fleece you.

Of course, the average student graduating from college in 2013 was stuck with a $35,000 debt in student loans and credit card bills. Try paying that off on $8.25 an hour, which is prob. what you’ll be making for the foreseeable future. You’re stuck, grads, although you’ll always have the warm memory of those carpeted, air-conditioned luxury dorm rooms — which you allegedly asked for.

Lucky we’ve got Noam Chomsky around to try to make some sense of the situ.:

My feeling is that student fees are instituted, basically as a technique of indoctrination and control. I don’t think there’s an economic basis for them. And it’s interesting that, you look at the timing — like when I went to college, I went to an Ivy League university, The University of Pennsylvania. Tuition was only $100 and you could easily get a scholarship.

Students today are over $1 trillion in debt. That’s more than credit card debt. A trillion dollars of debt? That’s a burden on people coming out of college. It’s got them trapped. It (tuition) is a technique of control, and it surely isn’t an economic necessity in the richest country in the world. All sorts of things started happening — the university architecture changed. Universities that were built, worldwide, in the post-’70s and on, are usually designed so that they don’t have meeting places, designed just to keep students separated and under control. Look at the ratio of administrators to faculty: it’s gone way up the last couple of decades … not for educational purposes, but for more techniques of control.

… [I]t’s a general form of indoctrination and control, which goes down to kindergarten. I mean, that’s what No Child Left Behind is about. It’s training for the Marine Corps. It’s a way to make sure that children aren’t free, independent or inquisitive, exploring.

Our own Indiana University is building huge monuments to itself seemingly on every corner of the campus. Local developers are building ugly fortresses where students can live, drink, toke, and fumble their way through sexual encounters without worry about anybody even shaking a finger at them. They are the scions of wealth. They even study now and again. They’d better, because they’re gonna owe a lot after graduation.

Most important, they are under control. Let’s go back to Noam Chomsky:

Students who acquire large debts putting themselves through school are unlikely to think about changing society. When you trap people in a system of debt they can’t afford the time to think. Tuition Fee increases are a disciplinary technique, and by the time students graduate, they are not only loaded with debt, but have also internalized the disciplinarian culture. This makes them efficient components of the consumer economy.

Yeah, the kids are under control but so are we. Who’s going to be the first of us to tell Michael McRobbie and his cohorts that they’re lying and we know it?

[Side note: If you want to read even more about this, try Suzanne Mettler’s new book, Degrees of Inequality: How the Politics of Higher Education Sabotaged the American Dream. It’s reviewed in yesterday’s New York Times.]

The Pencil Today:


“It is pretty hard to tell what does bring happiness; poverty and wealth have both failed.” — Kin Hubbard


In the first chapter of Thomas Frank‘s latest book, he describes the ways people during the Great Depression rallied around each other.

Groups of farmers, for instance, would pitch in to help save another farmer whose land was in danger of being foreclosed on. And if they couldn’t scrape up enough cash, why, they’d all go down to the town en masse and shake their fists at the president of the bank.


People were angry, Frank observes, and they knew precisely where to direct their rage.

The point of this and other anecdotes in the chapter was that 75 years ago just plain folks understood that they were all in this together. The misfortunes that befell seemingly every other person in America, they knew, had a hell of a lot to do with an economic system that was rigged to ensure money would remain in the hands of the moneyed.

Mr. Moneybags

It was really a heartening account of what I can only describe as patriotism. Neighbors cared for neighbors. Americans felt a kinship with each other (as long as they were white, natch).

Frank concludes the chapter by flashing ahead to the 21st Century. He describes visiting a Tea Party rally. The participants are as angry as their predecessors from the Great Depression were. Only the Tea Party-ists’ rage isn’t directed against banksters and plutocrats. No, it’s aimed at those people an earlier generation would have embraced and comforted.

One Tea Party placard Frank describes says everything you need to know about this holy land today: “Your mortgage,” it reads, “is not my problem.”

Go Help Yourself

Pick up “Pity the Billionaire: The Hard Times Swindle and the Unlikely Resurgence of the American Right” if you get a chance. If you need to economize, wait for it to come out in paperback on September 18th.


Speaking of plutocrats, how about that Jamie Dimon, the capo di tutti capi of JP Morgan Chase, announcing yesterday that his firm lost a couple of billion dollars last year on some extremely risky “positions”?

Dimon, of course, is speaking in code — he really means he and his fellow degenerate gamblers chased bad bets with more bad bets.

Dimon: “Believe Me, I Can Stop Any Time I Want.”

Addicts and obsessives all seem to share the predilection to soft-soap their unhealthy habits, and Dimon is no different.

The Me Party-ists don’t see Dimon and his compares as the problem, though.

Perhaps he and his pals aren’t easy enough targets for the Me Party-ists. Should that be true, I might be tempted to come up with yet another snarky moniker for the folks who gave us Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann: The Bully Party.


Yes, Mitt Romney bullied kids way back when he was a student at Richboy Tech.

I don’t like it. No one should like it.

“I’m Tougher Than A Fag!”

But I hope we’re not going to write off all pols for the nitwit, often cruel, things they did as teenagers. There is, after all, redemption, no?

I prefer to write off Romney for the bullying he’s done to people as an adult.

Electron Pencil event listings: Music, art, movies, lectures, parties, receptions, benefits, plays, meetings, fairs, conspiracies, rituals, etc.

Friday, May  11, 2012

IU Mathers Museum of World CulturesExhibits, “Blended Harmonies: Music and Religion in Nepal”; through July 1st — “Esse Quam Videri (To Be, Rather than To Be Seen): Muslim Self Portraits; through June 17th — “From the Big Bang to the World Wide Web: The Origins of Everything”; through July 1st

IU Kinsey Institute GalleryExhibit, “Man as Object: Reversing the Gaze”; through June 29th

◗ Ivy Tech Waldron Arts Center Exhibits at various galleries: Angela Hendrix-Petry, Benjamin Pines, Nate Johnson, and Yang Chen; all through May 29th

Trinity Episcopal ChurchArt exhibit, “Creation,” collaborative mosaic tile project; through May 31st

Monroe County Public LibraryArt exhibit, “Muse Whisperings,” water color paintings by residents of Sterling House; through May 31st

Monroe County History CenterPhoto exhibit, “Bloomington: Then and Now” by Bloomington Fading; through October 27th

B-Line Trail at the Bloomington Banquet Sculpture — Bloomington Bikes Week, Women’s Ride: Noon

Deer Park ManorEdible Lotus Night Bazaar, tastings from 20 local restaurants; 6pm

Buskirk-Chumley TheaterCardinal Stage Company presents “Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”; 7pm

Boxcar BooksJames Capshew reads from his book, “Herman B. Wells: The Promise of the American University”; 7pm

IU CinemaFilm, “The Kid with a Bike”; 7pm

IU SOFA, upstairs theater — Ryder Film Series, “The Raw and the Cooked”; 7pm — “444 Last Day on Earth”; 8:45pm

Panache DanceJennifer Luna teaches salsa with dance party to follow; 7:30pm

◗ IU Woodburn HallRyder Film Series, “Keyhole”; 7:45pm

Cafe DjangoEarplane, Latin-Brazilian jazz; 8-11pm

IU SOFA, downstairs theater — Ryder Film Series, “The Fairy”; 8:15pm

The BluebirdKip Moore; 9pm

Bear’s PlaceQwintis Sential, Lonewolfe 10man; 9pm

Uncle Elizabeth’sVicci Laine and the West End Girls; 10pm & midnight

The Comedy AtticDan Telfer; 8 & 10:30pm

The BishopDave Walter Karaoke; 11pm

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