Let's Fix This Country

Students Crushed by $1.56 Trillion Debt with No Help from Betsy DeVos

Over two years into the Trump administration, no steps have been taken to stem the constantly rising tide of student loan debt, which now stands at $1.56 trillion, up from $1.16 trillion just four years ago. The question is, how big a threat does the default rate on that debt pose for the national debt, already at $22 trillion, and American taxpayers who would ultimately foot the bill?

The Department of Education issues a report each year showing the default rate three years after a “cohort” enters the repayment stream. Its most recent report,
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

for the class of 2014, says that by 2017, 10.8% were in default. A serious number in dollars, but tolerable, one might reason.

But the department’s method of reporting raises a host of questions. First, only those who haven’t paid in 360 days are in that default percentage — an entire year before they are counted as a problem! That means an untold further percentage have begun not paying but haven’t yet hit the 360-day mark — a nascent problem kept hidden.

Additionally, about 20% of the 44.7 million Americans with student loan debt are in suspense. Temporarily out of work, or hit with an unexpected medical expense, or beset with an unaffordable monthly repayment relative to income, they have applied for and been placed in “deferment” or “forbearance” status, which suspends their having to pay for up to three years. They are not counted as…


The 2020 Census Is Rigged. The Supreme Court Is Poised to Okay That

It’s Job #1, the first thing the newly adopted Constitution instructed the United States to do, so important that it’s the document’s 6th sentence. It orders that an “actual Enumeration shall be made” of inhabitants every 10 years in order to apportion to the states, based on their “respective numbers”, delegates to the House of Representatives.

The census is next year. A fierce battle has been waged in the courts over the last two years between the Trump administration and the attorneys general of 18

states allied with a number of immigrant rights organizations over whether the Commerce Department should be allowed to add this single question to the census form: “Is this person a citizen of the United States?”

Those opposed know that the question will affect the count, and not in their favor. In this atmosphere of an administration that separates asylum applicants from their children, conducts deportation raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and has a president who tweets that immigrants are criminals and rapists, the undocumented already in the country will be too fearful to submit their census forms with an obligatory answer to that question. Nor will they answer the door when census-takers make the rounds to fill in who's missing. The government is bound by law not to reveal the identity of those who participate, but with this administration trust is lacking.

The foremost concern of the 18 states is that, if undocumented immigrants are missing from the count, they will lose seats in the House of Representatives. Focus groups conducted by Census Bureau contractors have found this to be true. Its statisticians estimate that 5.8% of households with a non-citizen will not answer the census. That’s 6.5 million people. Other experts think the percentage will be far higher. If just 15% of non-citizens evade the census, that will be enough for New York and California to each lose a seat to Colorado and Montana.

And they will see a proportionate reduction in everything else that rides on census counts. Hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade will be allocated to the states based on their populations for such diverse programs as HeadStart, Medicare, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), Pell grants, school lunch programs, and highway spending. Researchers tallied that 132 government programs used census information in fiscal 2015 to allocate more than $675 billion. Businesses depend on census data for myriad purposes: where best to locate bank branches, supermarkets, fast food restaurants, distribution centers. States use census data to draw the boundaries of election districts for their own legislatures and government posts.

So, why the citizen question?

Wilbur Ross, secretary of the Commerce Department, which is in charge of the census, testified before Congress last year that in adding the citizenship question to the…

Democrats are doing their damnest to lose

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war plans

Do Trump’s War Planners Understand Iran’s Geography?

The recent alarms raised by the administration over still-undefined threats by Iran against American troops has raised suspicions that the Trump administration might be up to a wag-the-dog maneuver to distract the America public from a number of failings. The carrier USS Abraham Lincoln is on its way to the Persian Gulf and there are contingency plans to send 120,000 troops to the region — or twice that said President Trump on the way to his helicopter.

Since then have come reports that Trump wants to avoid war, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wants to use threats of military force only to drive Iran to new negotiations. But then there's National Security Adviser John Bolton, for whom war seems to be his preferred diplomacy. He wants to go all the way to regime change.

With the focus on a threat in Iraq, have any of them considered Iran's geography? There have been flare-ups before and we wrote about Iran's strategic advantage years ago. The geography hasn't changed, so we reprieve below excerpts from articles back then that should make this administration fearful:

From "Rattling the Sabers at Iran" — January 11, 2012

The geography of the planet has always been a determinant of power and a decisive influence over the outcome of war.

Iran sits at unique location on the Persian Gulf, not only bordering a body of water through which

20% of the world’s oil passes daily, but at a spot where a spine of land thrusting north from the Emirates squeezes the waterway to form a strait — the strategic Strait of Hormuz, a waterway as little as 21 miles wide with Iran looming over its northern shore like an open hand poised to choke a passerby.

In retaliation, Iran has threatened to block the strait, has told the recently-departed carrier U.S.S. John C. Stennis and its battle escort not to return to the Gulf, and, in a show of intent, has just conducted 10 days of naval maneuvers near the… Read More »


The Nightly Histrionics at Fox

Right wing media has ridiculed Rachel Maddow in particular for her yearlong pursuit of Trump collusion nightly on her MSNBC program, the cable channel that vainly tries to go up against the much larger audience watching Fox News. For her trying to prove
Tucker Carlson

Trump guilty of "treason", "collusion", and "conspiring with the Russians", she "has been a hero of her own spy thriller", says Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, the conservative magazine started by William Buckley.

No question that MSNBC's views
Sean Hannity
tilt well to the left, and they often delight in ridiculing the president's malaprops and gaffes. Still, the nightly lineup at MSNBC is a sedate lot — Maddow is preceded by newsy Chris Hayes and followed by… Read More »


We Sent a Letter to the Supreme Court on Gerrymandering

It is expected that the Supreme Court, having grown weary of dealing with one after another state stacking the deck against the opposition political party by the way they draw electoral districts, will in June, in cases brought against Maryland and the notorious North Carolina, come up with general rules for states to follow to avoid the gavel's blow in the future.

But as we've argued here, here, and here, the whole ugly business of two centuries of gerrymandering could be swiftly ended if the black-robbed solons could only do some 21st Century catch-up.

In February, we sent the following letter — individually addressed to each of the nine justices — in the hopes of awakening them to technological possibilities. It will do no good, of course. Wouldn't you know, not one of them — they each have staffs, after all — had the courtesy to reply. Not so much as a form letter, an e-mail acknowledgement, zero:

                 February 23, 2019
The Honorable
The Supreme Court of the United States
One First Street N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20543

Dear Justice                ,

The Court is again about to hear cases involving gerrymandering. News reports infer that you and fellow justices may attempt to arrive at limits how far lawmakers can go in mapping electoral districts. It will probably be difficult to come up with other than general rules or guidelines and that will lead to still further challenges, a stream of cases to deal with one-by-one that the Court would rather avoid.

We write only to make something apparent that may not be. Gerrymandering today is done with computer software than optimizes far more than humans could in the past, which makes the practice all the more troubling for its creating impregnable districts to benefit whichever party is in power.

This you know. What may not be apparent is that same software — algorithms that know how to work with geography, census and voting data — can be reworked to create entirely agnostic election districts that pay no attention to political party, voting patterns, or ethnic groups. Software that begins by dividing a state geographically into the requisite number of districts, then iteratively shapes them, keeping neighborhoods contiguous, delivering the result that each district contains as close as possible to equal numbers of people. True, impartial democracy.

(In fact, this has already been done, and by a single Massachusetts individual. An article can be found here:    wapo.st/2GYaJrW      )

It's understood that the Supreme Court cannot write laws forcing this method on the states. Article I, Section 4 grants states control of elections. But the Court could urge in the strongest terms that the above-outlined approach be adopted. Your imprimatur could spur follow-up by citizen groups.

It is stunning that gerrymandering, a grotesque corruption of democracy, has been allowed to exist during almost all the nation's history. We now have at hand an entirely neutral way to rid us of this scourge altogether.

Respectfully submitted,

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