DeVos and Education Department Cannot Renege on Student Loans

New Orleans   Millions owe billions in student loans and in some cases it’s a just-past-the-cradle to the grave debt that just lingers on.

In a good move and through a bipartisan vote under the George W. Bush Administration in 2007, Congress approved a bill that under certain conditions would allow an individual forgiveness of student loan debt. The conditions were that they had to make payments for ten years and they had to work for a nonprofit organization or a unit of the government. Now we are coming up on ten years and more than a half-million former students and, arguably, committed public service individuals are hearing that the Department of Education may renege and claim, hey, gotcha, and still hold them to the debt and essentially have tricked them as hostages to their program for a decade. How can that be possible? How can they get away with that?

It’s a complicated process, which probably doesn’t surprise anyone to hear. Worse, it appears that nothing about the process is transparent, including the reasons why the Department of Education approves some groups as qualifying and rejects other groups arbitrarily, though they are also nonprofits and their work seems almost identical.

Equally disturbing is that this could be a deeper setback than just the question of a student’s debt. There has long been a policy discussion about the value of national service. Since the days of the dreaded draft and the Russian roulette of the draft lottery during the Vietnam War, compulsory military service has been replaced by the all-volunteer Army. In our age of inequity that means the military in peacetime has become a lower rung on the working class job and training ladder, and during wartime which seems semi-permanent since 9/11 has become a high risk option for anyone other than the patriotic or the desperate.

Nonetheless, presidents from Clinton to Obama have argued that there was real merit to increased national service, which was part and parcel to this provision of debt forgiveness for younger Americans that were willing to pass up bigger money and softer cushions to work for the government and in public service, including as firefighters, police, teachers and other critical positions in both cities and rural communities. Nonprofits fit into this same dynamic, which is why they are nonprofit and why many are tax exempt because of their value to the community in service, healthcare, and other endeavors.

The President and the Secretary of Education need to do right on this and honor the country’s word to individuals who relied on the country’s promise that in exchange for ten years of payments and ten years of service, they would have the rest of their loans forgiven. This was a good, fair deal. It should not be changed, and if it is changed, it should be on this Congress, this President, and this Secretary of Education going forward, not clawing back.

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Please enjoy the Grateful Dead’s Dancing in the Dark.

Thanks to KABF.

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Basketball Needs to Hold the Line in North Carolina

New Orleans   North Carolina is arguably one of the most basketball crazy states in the country. I would hate to get in an argument about whether it is first or second, but right now as one of its premier teams, the University of North Carolina, is part of the NCAA’s Final Four, they are poised to dominate again. They aren’t alone of course. The NBA’s Hornets are in Charlotte. Duke is in Durham. Kansas, Indiana, Kentucky are all on the list, but North Carolina is basketball crazy for sure.

It also turns out that they are bathroom crazy. The hard right, Republican dominated state legislature last year became obsessed about bathrooms and transgender men and women and where they should go. Aided and abetted by a Republican governor willing and excited to put the state at the forefront of this new battleground in the national culture wars, they combined to create a law that required transgender individuals to go to the bathroom assigned to them by their birth certificate. You’ve heard of voter IDs that are so popular with conservatives, well this was an effort I guess to suppress urgent bodily needs, rather than lower income and minority voters, by requiring the equivalent of bathroom IDs.

We love our sports and our teams, goodness knows. But the price is often sitting and squirming in shame as they cheat, ignore the physical damage to the athletes, create billionaires and deride the fans, and too often allow and ignore the worst possible behavior imaginable with each other, with women, and whatever as part of their worshipful entitlements. Huge scandals about drug use in baseball and bicycling and now sexual abuse in gymnastics endure years of cover-ups damaging the sports for decades.

When it comes to political and social issues, usually these are seen as distractions and are forced out of the arenas and stadiums and suffocated in silence. The North Carolina conservative cabal must still be in a state of shock that somehow a cherry bomb must have been hidden in the toilet after they passed their bathroom bill and now it has blown up all over them, and it has been big time basketball, first the NBA, and then marching behind them the usually slow footed NCAA, that have done it by refusing to allow high prestige and high dollar sports events to be held in North Carolina. The NBA’s All Star game was suddenly moved to New Orleans recently. The NCAA and the Atlantic Coast Conference have refused to schedule playoffs or championship games in the state. Athletes have stood firm. Coaches have spoken out against the bathroom bill.

The Republican governor paid the price when Roy Cooper, the Democrat, won a heartbeat close election, campaigning on the lost revenue of $3 billion plus over the next dozen or so years and making the bathroom issue a central part of his campaign among other issues. The legislature has been unyielding and tried to punish the governor for winning in one hyper-partisan move after another.

Now they have announced that they have come up with a compromise to repeal House Bill #2 as the bathroom bill is known in Carolina. They are hoping it ends the boycott, but it shouldn’t. The governor agreed to a weak bill, because it was the best he could do, but basketball is stronger and needs to hold the line. The bill would not offer any protect against discrimination for transgender individuals even though supposedly opening bathrooms. The bill also blocks the ability of local municipalities, like Charlotte, from enacting better protections until after 2020.

The governor did his best, but doesn’t have the clout to do better, but better has to be done, and basketball has proven that it is strong enough to force change. The NBA and the NCAA need to hold the line here, and send a message to crazy Carolina that they will not allow profit and playoffs based on discrimination.

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