Well, finally! Hard-right congressional leaders and the Obama White House have agreed that interest rates on student loans should not double to nearly 7 percent, as they let happen early in July. Instead, college students will be billed at a rate that will steadily rise higher than 8 percent.
This is progress?
Temporarily, yes, because the new law drops this year's rate to 3.8 percent. But, for the longer run, obviously not. Even capping the interest rate at 8.25 percent, as the White House demanded, is too high, for it still saddles students with a crushing debt of some $20,000 to $40,000 for a four-year degree, just as they're getting started on their economic path.
But worse, lawmakers are playing small ball again, avoiding the big issue they should be addressing. Bickering over interest-rate percentages shrivels the public debate to its most picayune and meanest point, which our so-called leaders seem to specialize in these days. They focus on the price of everything, without grasping the value of anything. And the value of a college education — not only to America's youth, but most significantly to our whole society's economic and democratic future — is clearly established.
So the big question to be asking is this: Why isn't higher education free? Les Leopold, director of the Labor Institute, notes in a July 2 Alternet piece, "For over 150 years, our nation has recognized that tuition-free primary and secondary schools were absolutely vital to the growth and functioning of our commonwealth."
Providing free education, from kindergarten through high school, paid off big for us. Today, though, that's not enough, for open access to a college degree or other advanced training is as vital to America as a high school diploma has been in our past.
Forget interest rates, young people should not be blocked by a massive debt-load from getting the education that they need to succeed — but also that all of America needs them to have for our mutual prosperity and democratic strength.
Let me frame the question in terms of a real-life choice: Is making higher education available to every American more important to our national interest than letting Wall Street profiteers make a few more billions of dollars each year?
Answer: Of course.
Yet, our political leaders — pushed by Wall Street lobbyists — have been making the opposite choice for years. As a result, banksters have loaded students down with a mountain of high-interest loans, rising from just over $2 billion in total debt a decade ago to nearly a trillion last year.
Worse, this has made the financiers — either banks or government lenders — the de facto gatekeepers of advanced education and training, shutting out thousands of young people each year who want to get ahead, but are not able to hurdle the price barrier.
This is enormously costly to America. And it's completely unnecessary. The smart choice would be to make college and professional training free — as we learned from the GI Bill after World War II. Under this 1944 law, about 7.8 million veterans were trained, including some 2.2 million who went to college; 3.5 million who went to trade, technical or other schools; 1.4 million who got on-the-job training; and 700,000 who got farm training. The total cost of the program was $14.5 billion — $1,860 per vet. A 1988 congressional study found that every public dollar invested in the GI Bill produced a $7 increase in our nation's economic output.
Likewise, a similar investment today in universal access — i.e., free access — to higher learning and training would not only more than pay for itself, but it would also produce a widely shared prosperity and deliver the priceless return of a broadly educated citizenry.
Of course, an upfront investment in a smarter, more productive, more democratic civilization is pricey. So where do we get the money to do what America needs? Get it from where it went.
Wall Street's super-rich speculators are now making millions of super-fast, robotic financial transactions per second, generating trillions of dollars a year for them — but producing nothing of real value for us, while distorting and endangering markets. Put a tiny tax on each of those transactions, affecting only the automated gambles made by speculators, and more than enough money will come into the public coffers to free up higher-ed for all.
(Jim Hightower has been called American's most popular populist. The radio commentator and former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture is author of seven books, including "There's Nothing In the Middle of Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos" and his new work, "Swim Against the Current: Even Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow".)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00
Guess how many people used the WOW Trail last year? 41,000! Are you one of them? Whether you are a frequent user or have never been on the WOW Trail before, chances are you may be interested in learning more about it. To follow, please find a few frequently asked questions about the Trail.
What is a rail trail? A rail trail is a multi-use, recreational path that runs parallel to an active railroad line or, a path created on a former railroad corridor where trains no longer travel. In the WOW Trail's case, it is alongside an active railroad line operated by the Hobo & Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad. The trail is located in the railroad right of way owned by the State of New Hampshire and managed by the N.H. Department of Transportation.
Where is the WOW Trail? The WOW Trail is a paved, rail trail in the City of Laconia. Presently 1.3 miles long; the trail spans from Elm Street in Lakeport to North Main Street near Downtown Laconia. Design and fundraising is currently underway to extend the trail another 1.1 miles from North Main Street to the Belmont town line. After this second section of trail is completed, we will work to expand the trail in the other direction, from Elm Street in Lakeport to Weirs Beach, and then beyond to Meredith — connecting Meredith, Weirs Beach and Lakeport with Downtown Laconia via a convenient passageway.
Is it safe? Yes. Our current section of Trail has proven to be a safe, alternative route for runners, bikers and walkers between the Downtown area and Lakeport. Even more, the trail is a fun, flat place for families with little ones to practice their bike riding or take a walk. If you'd like to take a walk or run on the WOW Trail, but don't want to go alone, please consider joining us for one of our new walking and running groups. All ages and abilities are welcome. We meet on Wednesdays at 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. at the Lakeport entrance to the Trail behind the Lake Opechee Inn & Spa and at Noon and 5:30 p.m. at the North Main Street entrance to the trail just across from the Laconia Clinic.
I've never heard of a rail trail? Is the WOW Trail the first one? No. For lack of a better term, we are sort of late to the party. Nationwide, there are over 20,000 miles of rail trails, including New Hampshire's own Northern Rail Trail which spans 52 miles from Lebanon all the way to Franklin.
In addition, Franklin and Tilton-Northfield are home to the Winnipesaukee River Trail and the Town of Belmont is poised to build a rail trail beginning at the Belmont-Laconia Town line soon.
What is the long-term plan for the trail? The WOW Trail's mission is to promote, design, build and maintain a nine mile recreational path through the City of Laconia as a part of the regional trail network that will connect Meredith to Franklin. In other words, a completed WOW Trail will be the Laconia section of this regional trail effort.
Why build rail trails? Quite simply, rail trails are a good investment. Nationwide, rail trails are proven to provide safe and accessible recreation opportunities, promote active lifestyles for all ages, and stimulate local economies by increasing tourism and promoting access to local business. In fact, according to a recent Belknap Economic Development Council study, a completed WOW Trail will bring an estimated 152,000 users annually, with 38,000 coming from outside of the Lakes Region — generating a minimum of $1.8 million in new visitor spending every year. That's a good return on investment, don't you think?
Why now? A completed WOW Trail will be a game-changer for this community. Not only will it enhance the quality of life for residents, but it will attract new visitors to the area and help current and future businesses attract and retain a quality workforce by making the city a more desirable place to live, work and play. We can look at case studies of communities around the country who have seen transformative change by implementing comprehensive, regional trail systems. But, ultimately, it's up to our community to say yes to the idea around here, advocate for a more walkable City and, most importantly, help usher the project along by investing in its construction.
Walking, running and biking are recreational uses popular with and available to all ages, skills and socioeconomic levels. These activities encourage and reinforce healthy lifestyles for all people. Why wait to usher this sort of change into our community?
How will the Trail be paid for? The WOW Trail is fortunate to have a committed group of volunteers dedicated to raising funds for the continued expansion of the trail. We conduct two main fundraising events annually: the WOW Sweepstakes Ball and WOW Fest. In addition, we actively apply for grant funding and, for the first time this fall, we will introduce an end of year fundraising appeal to the community.
When will the next section of the Trail be built? If design and fundraising go as planned, another 1.1 miles of trail will be built (from North Main Street in Laconia to the Belmont Town line) by the Fall of 2014.
How can I help? Please share your enthusiasm for the trail with local and state representatives. Volunteer your time. Make a donation. Use the trail. Participate in an upcoming fundraising event. WOW Fest 2013 will be held on September 14th at Laconia Athletic and Swim Club. It's a fun-filled event for the whole family featuring two bicycle challenges, 5K and 10K road races, fun walk, BBQ lunch, live music and kids activities. For more information, please visit www.wowtrail.org.
How can I learn more? The WOW Trail's Annual Meeting will be held on Wednesday, August 14th at 4:30 p.m. at Pitman's Freight Room in Laconia. We are working hard to expand the Trail for you, our friends in the community who have the opportunity to use the Trail every day, and the countless visitors who will one day visit the Lakes Region for a ride, walk, run, or snowshoe on our scenic rail trail. Please join us on August 14th as we review the past year's accomplishments and look ahead at our goals for the coming year. Hope to see you there!
Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 August 2013 09:48
Nothing is free in politics, but there is some question when you pay the price.
That's been a saying of mine for many years, though I may have unconsciously plagiarized it from someone else. I think it applies to Obamacare.
My American Enterprise Institute colleague Norman Ornstein has been shellacking Republicans for trying to undercut the implementation of the Obama health care legislation. He calls it "simply unacceptable, even contemptible." He points out that Republicans in the past haven't tried to undercut or derail major legislation of this sort.
That's correct, as a matter of history. You won't find any concerted drive to repeal and replace Social Security after it was enacted in 1935 or Medicare after it was passed in 1965. In contrast, Republicans proclaim they want to repeal and replace Obamacare.
They don't agree on tactics. Some Republicans want to vote to defund Obamacare spending while continuing to fund the government otherwise. Others argue that would be a futile gesture and politically damaging.
The two sides have taken to calling each other names — the suicide caucus and the surrender caucus. But both want to get rid of Obamacare because they think it's bad for the country.
The so-called surrender caucus is surely correct in predicting that Barack Obama and the Democratic-majority Senate will never allow the defunding of Obamacare. The so-called suicide caucus is right to point out that government shutdowns are not fatal to congressional Republicans, who maintained their congressional majorities after the shutdowns in the Clinton years.
Other points are more problematic. The defunders argue that once Obamacare subsidies go out, people will get hooked on them and support for repeal will tank. Their critics argue that there may be so many glitches (Obama's word) in the rollout of the health insurance exchanges that support will fall below the present low levels.
The fact is that no one knows for sure. But whatever happens, there are good reasons for Republicans to regard Obamacare as a legitimate target.
One is that, unlike Social Security and Medicare, the law was passed by Democrats only, with no bipartisan consultation. Democrats could do that only because accidents — like the later overturned prosecution of Alaska Republican Ted Stevens — gave them a 60-vote supermajority in the Senate.
That's a contrast with the 2003 Medicare Part D prescription drug bill, which as Ornstein points out Democrats didn't try to undercut after it was passed. But Democrats were widely consulted during the legislative process, and a non-trivial number of them voted for the final version.
A second point is that Obamacare — unlike Social Security, Medicare and Part D — wasn't consistently supported in public opinion polls. Quite the contrary.
Please don't pass this bill, the public pleaded, speaking in January 2010 through the unlikely medium of the voters of the commonwealth of Massachusetts when they elected Republican Scott Brown to the Senate as the 41st vote against Obamacare.
Democrats went ahead anyway, at the urging of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and with the approval of President Barack Obama. They made that decision knowing that, without a 60th vote in the Senate, the only legislative path forward was for the House to pass a bill identical to the one the Senate passed in December 2009.
No one had intended that to be the final version. Democrats expected to hold a conference committee to comb the glitches out of the Senate bill and the version the House passed in November.
Voters had done all they could do to signal that they wanted not a Democratic version of Obamacare but a bipartisan compromise or no legislation at all. Obama and Pelosi ignored that demand.
Under those circumstances, it's not surprising that Republicans — politicians and voters — regard the passage of the law as illegitimate. And that they believe they are morally justified in seeking repeal and replacement of legislation they consider gravely harmful to the nation.
You may or may not agree with those judgments. But it shouldn't be hard to see why Republicans feel that way.
Those feelings have been intensified as glitch after glitch in Obamacare come to light — and as the president indicates, contrary to his constitutional duty, that he will not faithfully execute parts of the law.
When they passed Obamacare, Democrats thought they were achieving a triumph free of any cost. Now, as Obamacare founders, they are paying the price.
(Syndicated columnist Michael Barone is senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 August 2013 09:36
During the 2001 assault on the World Trade Center, I was trapped in a train under Manhattan for hours. As news of the collapsing towers, the attack on the Pentagon and the crash in Pennsylvania filtered down to the passengers, the conductor kept telling us this tunnel was the safest place we could be. Meanwhile, the tunnels were being searched for explosives.
I recall thinking, here we are in the commercial capital of the most powerful country on earth, with a zillion-dollar defense budget, and we couldn't see this coming. That's what the National Security Agency's massive data-combing program is supposed to do. See the next thing coming, and stop it.
So hard as I try, I can't fathom the manic outrage over the idea of a government computer raking through the metadata on Americans' phone calls and e-mails. Metadata is about e-mail addresses, numbers called and length of conversation. The computers don't look at content — what I say or what is said to me. Where's the big loss in privacy?
For eons, law enforcement has been able to tap the phone records of suspects. You know the line in "Law & Order": "Get me his luds (local usage details)."
John Schindler is an expert on intelligence and terrorism at the U.S. Naval War College. He spent a decade with the NSA. Do I understand the basics? I ask him. Pretty much.
First off, the front end, the collection of metadata, is all automated. The computer flags suspicious activity, but a human can't look further without a FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) warrant. FISA warrants are granted for only two reasons: 1. Foreign espionage. 2. Foreign terrorism.
If that human finds that someone has been e-mailing a known terrorist to discuss fine points of religion, that person still wouldn't be a legitimate intelligence target, Schindler says. The conversation has to be about plotting terrorism.
Agencies investigating drug trafficking, cyberattacks and other criminal activity have long complained about being denied access to NSA intelligence data. That's because their searches are not directly connected to terrorism or foreign spying.
Is this how it always works?
"The media want to have a simple NSA," Schindler responded, but intelligence operations can be complex and tricky. Information might be passed to the FBI, CIA or foreign security services. This can be a multination operation. So the answer is no, not always.
"But the idea of 10,000 NSA agents looking at our pictures of cats and pornography is pure fantasy," he remarked.
Schindler has engaged in pointed Twitter exchanges with Glenn Greenwald, the left-wing journalist flogging heated conspiracy theories about the program. Schindler considers Greenwald badly misinformed.
Greenwald routinely hyperventilates against Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats supporting the program, accusing them of "channeling the warped language and mentality of Dick Cheney." He weirdly punctuates his denunciations with you-heard-it-from-me-first bursts of self-promotion.
Unsurprisingly, the paranoia has attracted allies on the far right. FreedomWorks issues dark mutterings, such as, "They (NSA) know you rang your senator and congressman right after taking a call from your local tea party chairman, on the very same day the local tea party started a campaign to stop their state's ObamaCare health care exchange."
Hide the cat pictures.
What holds the hard right-left alliance together is this: They hate Obama.
"It's become very apparent to me," Schindler adds, "that some of the real opponents don't want America to do intelligence at all."
Clearly, the program's been poorly explained to the public. Greater transparency is called for. And, of course, oversight is important.
But the bottom line is, there's no way to find the terrorist needle in the haystack of communications without combing through the haystack. After the next terrorist outrage, we won't be having this discussion. You can be sure of that.
(A member of the Providence Journal editorial board, Froma Harrop writes a nationally syndicated column from that city. She has written for such diverse publications as The New York Times, Harper's Bazaar and Institutional Investor.)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00
We've heard the president and his spokesman and other administration officials call all of their broken trusts, "phony scandals".
We watched multiple Sunday morning news shows try to challenge the "phony" claim, only to listen as the Secretary of the Treasury did his best to obfuscate what happened that led to the IRS scandal. He actually had the audacity to try to make a case that the treatment of the "right" and the "left" was evenhanded and equal. Secretary Lew went on to say that supervisors were removed from their positions, and tried to make that the end of the story. He didn't say who. He didn't say they got demoted. He didn't say they got fired. He didn't mention that Lois Lerner, the IRS director of Exempt Organizations and the woman who refused to give sworn testimony to the Congressional Committee and "took the Fifth", has not been demoted, replaced, or fired, she has been given a nice gift in the form of an extended paid leave. A reward for deceit.
This type of action on the part of the Obama administration is not new. It has become commonplace for the Obama team to ignore constitutional restrictions. It has become commonplace for them to selectively decide which laws they will prosecute and which they won't. And, importantly, it has become commonplace for them to challenge the separation of powers called for in our constitution. The Supreme Court was embarrassed by the president during his State of the Union message. They were embarrassed again when, just recently, the Attorney General refused to accept the findings of the court and announced he is going to require the state of Texas to comply with the 60-year-old decision that was overturned by the court's recent decision. Please understand, the separation of powers requires cooperation by the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches. It is incumbent of the Executive Branch, through the offices of the Attorney General, to enforce the ruling of the courts . . . but this administration arbitrarily refuses to do so. That's dictatorial!
The president and his team have repeatedly talked of bypassing Congress when they don't get what they want. One such example was the president making "recess appointments" when the Congress was in session. Such appointments can only be made when they're not. The Constitution provides two specifics in this area. The first is that the Constitution gives Congress the right to make its own rules. The other issue is that there are certain cabinet level and other appointments that the president can make that must receive "the advice and consent" of the Senate. Brazenly, knowing that he had people he wanted to appoint who would not have received the endorsement of the Senate, he chose to appoint them anyway as "recess appointments" when the Senate was technically in session. That's not upholding the Constitution now, is it?
Perhaps the most disturbing scandal of all is Benghazi. Four brave Americans were brutally murdered. Our ambassador was one of those four and he was raped/sodomized, suffered any number of wounds, his body dragged through the streets, and tossed into a ditch along side a road. We watched as our in-territory diplomats testified that they had people that could have been to Benghazi in an hour. Other sources indicated that significant military might could be have been flown across the Mediterranean from Italy. But all were told to "stand down". That cowardice was followed by words to the effect "We couldn't have gotten there in time." That excuse has two major flaws. The first is, how did the decision maker(s) know how long the battle would rage before our men were killed? The second point is that it appears the killings took place about six hours after the attack began. This tragedy demands answers. Not the "What difference does it make?" from former Secretary of State Clinton. And not the lies about the attacks being caused by some obscure video. Serious answers starting with, Mr. President where were you when the attacks in Benghazi were going on? What could have more importantly occupied your time than the Benghazi raid and the lives of our citizens? (If a soldier leaves his post and goes AWOL while his unit is engaged with the enemy, he can be charged with desertion.) And why have all the survivors of the Benghazi attacks been hidden from Congress? Why haven't their names been released? Why are they prevented from telling their story?
Transparent administration? It's depending on you to be mute and stay uninformed . . . and so far, it's working.
(Bob Meade is a Laconia resident.)
Last Updated on Monday, 05 August 2013 08:41