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Student Loans – the Cost of Borrowing

Belushi & college jerseyThe House of Representatives recently passed legislation which gives college students a hand up and also slaps them in the face. On one hand, the legislation stops student loan interest rates from doubling, but on the other hand it ties the interest rate to the rate on 10-year Treasury notes – a rate which is already rising. This is a Republican bill, and it passed largely along party lines.

Currently, 7.4 million students with federal Stafford loans pay 3.4 percent interest, but the rate will double to 6.8 percent if Congress doesn’t do something about it. Democrats nailed the rate to 3.4 percent when they controlled the House. Republicans tried to raise the rate last June, but the public outcry was so loud that they backed down and extended the old rate for one year.

Well, here we are a year later and Republicans have decided it would be dandy to allow the interest rate to be reset annually. Interest would be the same as on a 10-year Treasury note, plus an additional 2.5 percent for the Stafford loans. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office projects rates on Stafford loans will rise to 5 percent in 2014 and 7.7 percent in 2023. Stafford loans for college kids would be capped at 8.5 percent, and loans for graduate students and parents would have a top of 10.5 percent.

TransUnion, the credit information company, estimates that on average students graduating this year will leave college with a $24,000 debt along with their new diplomas. Fidelity, the financial services corporation, estimates the average student loan debt is closer to $35,000 per graduate.

The economist Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate,  writing in the New York Times, pointed out a couple of  dismal distinctions between the United States and other countries: “America is distinctive among advanced industrialized countries in the burden it places on students and their parents for financing higher education. America is also exceptional among comparable countries for the high cost of a college degree, including at public universities.”

The Monster That Ate The House

 Sometimes you just can’t win. And sometimes even winning doesn’t work the way you want it to. Pity the Republicans. Currently, Republicans control most governorships and most state legislatures. And their success in the states over the years put them in the position of being able to redraw the boundaries of certain congressional districts. These victories have made it impossible for the Republican Speaker of the House to do politics — which is to say, make deals.

GerrymanderMaybe you’ve seen this political carton before. It’s been around — it was first printed in 1812. Back then, Massachusetts’ Governor Gerry and his allies redrew the lines of the state’s electoral districts to give his party safe-and-sure voting districts. One of the districts was so contorted that on a map it looked like a salamander. And since it was the handiwork of Governor Gerry, it became known as a gerrymander. This is the monster that dined on the House of Representatives the last two years.

Sometimes the people drawing political maps want to break up an area where the opponent has a sure win, other times they may want to draw a district that snakes this way and that in order to gather like-minded voters into a safe-for-our-party haven. But there’s a dangerous downside for a political party that gerrymanders too well.

When a party has redrawn congressional districts so it will surely win, the real contest becomes the primary vote. Then the only question is who the sure-to-win party will run in the upcoming congressional election. But the only people who turn out to vote in the party’s primary are the most zealous members of the party — a relative minority. And that minority of zealots tends to be further to the left or further to the right of the national party. This is particularly true for Republicans.  (Think Tea Party.)

Fortunately, politicians can’t redraw state boundaries.  Senators have to seek votes across an entire state, not a rigged congressional district. There are some no-compromise senators, but on the whole the Senate is more temperate and more moderate than the House — which is what the founders planned. Now a bipartisan group of eight senators has come up with an outline for immigration reform. After the presidential election, the Republican party realized that it would go on losing national elections unless it took a position on immigration that was within at least a few hundred miles of the Democratic party. (more…)

Purifying the Voter Rolls in Florida

Florida state flagThere are 11,583,367 registered voters in Florida. That’s according to the Florida Division of Elections. Of that total, 41 percent are registered Democrats, 36 percent are Republicans, 3 percent are listed with marginal parties, and 21 percent with no party affiliation at all. That adds up to 101 percent, but those are the figures published on the Division of Election’s web site so we may as well take them as satisfying close to reality.

Last year, officials in Florida, eagerly investigating voter fraud, announced they had found 180,000 noncitizens on the voter registration rolls. Wow! That’s a whopping 1.55 percent. And,  as the Florida officials like to say, there should be zero percent voter fraud. Actually, upon comparing the names of these suspected fraudulent voters with a federal immigration database, the number of noncitizens registered to vote turns out to be in the hundreds, not thousands. And now those hundreds are under review.

Christ Cate, from the Florida secretary of state’s office, said, “We’ve already identified 209, and we know firsthand from the 2000 election, how important even one vote can be in an election.” We’ve done the math and 209 noncitizen voters out of 11,583,367 is .0018 percent. I guess we can’t say Wow! about that number. Yes, we do remember that Florida election of 2000, but .0018 percent is really very, very, very small. (more…)

The Super Bowl and Socialism

Here’s a dazzling video which makes a true point about the Super Bowl, economics and US politics — and does it in almost no time flat. The text comes from the mind of Bill Maher and is typical of his social and economic insights, his unfettered speech, and his humor. Maher’s short essay was animated from the audio recording of  The New New Rules: A Funny Look at How Everybody but Me Has Their Head Up Their Ass. It was originally performed on “Real Time with Bill Maher.”

Bill Maher – Irritable Bowl Syndrome from Fraser Davidson on Vimeo.

Class Warfare

The little sourball of American politics, Ralph Nader, likes to say that there’s no basic difference between the Republican and Democratic parties, they just look different on the surface. He has it backwards, of course. The parties have superficial similarities, but the differences between Democrats and Republicans are profound and basic.

Last year you could see one of these differences playing out as Republicans waged guerilla warfare in Congress against the Democrats’ health plan. The skirmishes dragged on for months, the details were abundant and confusing. So it’s no surprise that a lot of spectators came away thinking that Republicans and Democrats were merely wrangling over how the government plan should work. But Republicans are against ANY government health plan, no matter how it’s constructed, no matter how it works.

Republicans have been waging class warfare for years, attacking social programs that benefit the poor and marginal in our society. They opposed Medicare from the day it started in 1966 and have tried to put it to death with “improvements” ever since. They have opposed Social Security from it’s beginning and have tried to “reform” it out of existence for the past 74 years. Despite these vampire kisses by conservatives, Social Security and Medicare remain vibrantly alive as the two most popular government programs we have.

But that doesn’t matter to Republican thinkers. In the ideal Technicolor world of conservatives, Social Security would be replaced by each free citizen prudently saving money and wisely investing the savings to insure years of comfortable retirement. And, of course, Medicare would be replaced by free citizens freely buying their own health insurance. Healthy Americans, typical Americans in their Golden Years (thick white hair but springy steps), could go scuba diving in the Caribbean or take a cruise to Greek islands.

Alas, in the real world, Social Security and Medicare were created because most people weren’t able to save for a cushioned retirement. For a great, great many, the years between leaving work and getting completely dead were years of poverty made worse by unpayable bills from relentless doctors and hospitals. The fortunate stayed out of debt by working until they dropped; the less fortunate moved into the back room of the family home, which was now headed by one of their children. The really bad off went to the poor house. (more…)

More Notes

Tim Carmody, in his excellent piece, "How Haiti Became Poor", notes that President Trump's racist policies and vulgar language have sullied the word "shithole" which used to be one of the all-time great swear words. He's right. It's another terrible power this careless President wields.