Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Friday, October 28, 2011

Obama's Proposals Don't Change Student Loans

It has been reported that the President wants to change the student loan program. One change that is being touted is that students are allowed to consolidate private and public student loans.

Well, this isn't a change. This is a long standing policy. I had both private (i.e. Sallie Mae) and USDE loans (Public). I consolidated them with the USDE in 2000. What they do is average out the interest rates on all your loans to get a new interest rate for your current loan. The benefit is that you make one payment to one lender at one interest rate. Usually this means a single lower monthly payment. Credit counselors have used this trick for years to help "restructure" the debt of their clients. This type of consolidation is not new nor does it represent a change to the current student loan systems.

Assuring that student loan payments don't exceed more than 10% of someone's disposable income doesn't represent much of a change either.The student loan program introduced an "income contingent" repayment plan back in the early 2000s. They take your pay stub and based your monthly student loan payment on your gross salary. The bad news here is that if your income is low, then your monthly payment under the income contingent program may not be enough to cover the interest that accumulates over the moth. Interest that is not paid is capitalized, meaning added to the principle of the loan. So there is a whole cycle there. Interest needs to amortized like they do with home mortgages to really be fair and help students pay down the loans. Building bigger principle is simply a desperate measure to alleviate today's pain. Income contingent re-payment only keeps people under the boot of debt longer.

I am not sure if the Obama Administration is being misunderstood by the media, or if it really is selling a load of crap to the "Occupy" crowd and the voters. I would hate to believe that the Obama Administration is that cynical.

Really the best deal for students and lenders is what I already proposed in my earlier post.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

The End of Gadhafi

It's official, Lybia is now well rid of Moammar Gadhafi. This may seem like a minor event to most Americans who - justifiably - may be focussed on more pressing economic troubles at home. But this could have enormous, mostly positive implications not just for the Middle East for Africa and the rest of the developing world.

Gadhafi saw himself as world revolutionary leader with particular interest in tilting at internationalist windmills. In the 1970s Gadhafi was a prime moving force behind abortive plans to unite various Arab countries into the Arab Islamic Republic or the Federation of Arab Republics. The FAR plan's collapse led eventually to a war between Egypt and Libya (Egypt won reasonably easily). In the 1990s, Gadhafi turned his vision southward and pushed for the creation of a United States of Africa.

Gadhafi was not only a consistent backer of terrorist attacks but he was also the primary source of training and weapons for some of Africa'sworst dictators and irregular militia groups. Gadhafi had close military ties with (among others): Idi Amin, Charles Taylor, Robert Mugabe, the Janjaweed, Slobodan Milosevic, FARC, Hugo Chavez, Daniel Ortega and other, less infamous, tyrants, cleptocrats, thugs and killers. It's worth noting however that Gadhafi was consistently incompetent militarily. Other than successfully winning his coup d'etat 42 years ago, I don't think he was victorious in any military operations of note (I may be wrong but a string of famous defeats is foremost in my head now).

This man was not merely a quirky and somewhat clownish dictator who oppressed his own people. He was a force for chaos and bloodshed around much of the world. He had a knack for picking loathsome allies. His only saving grace was his military incompetence. If he had succeeded in more of his plans, the world would have been even worse off than it was given his bloody failures.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: Student Loan Forgiveness

Some Occupy Wall Streeters are calling for student loan forgiviness. This sounds like a great idea, especially for people like me with high debt. However, I disagree with this proposal. Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-MI) has sponsored a bill to forgive student loans and MoveOn.or is sponsoring a petition in support of this.

I do not agree with complete loan forgiveness. Nor do I think it should be discharged in bankrupcy court. They tried that once and young people ended up filing for bankrupcy at alarming rates. 1) moral hazard arguments still stand 2) So long as the price of education is inflating faster than that of medical care, student loans are going to be a necessary and permanent evil. We cannot create disincentives for lenders or further barriers to qualified students. 3)Currently, there is a new bubble forming around student loans as they are packaged and sold as derivatives. The chain reaction has been sent into motion just like the housing market. This will encourage larger loans to lesser qualified students, and further fuel rising tuition costs.

But the program rules should be changed to make the loans more fair on borrowers. I have some more moderate suggestions that I would like lawmakers to consider.

Some background: I graduated with my MA in 1999 with over $60K in debt- of which about half was used for tuition and the other half for housing and expenses. I took on this debt freely, but out of necessity. The job market requires a graduate degree, I needed the money to help pay for it. I consolidated my debt with the USDE at 7.26% interest, low compared to many of my predecessors.

When interest rates began to fall in the mid-2000s, I called the USDE to see about re-financing and was told that this was not legally possible. Once consolidated, borrowers are not allowed to refinance unless they are willing to take out a private loan, usually a second mortgage. I didn't own a home and couldn't afford one with my debt levels froms school, and even in 2004 most lenders were not going to provide a loan without collateral. Therefore, I continue to pay an interest rate more than twice the current market rate.

I do receive a tax deduction on the interest I pay. However, this is little help throughout the year as monthly bills come due. Nor does it adequately address the inherent unfairness (almost usury) in how interest is handled in the student loan programs. And let's face it, it isn't an asset-backed necessity like housing. So I'd be willing to sacrifice it for some real reforms.

Interest on student loans accrues daily. And no matter how much you pay beyond your fixed amount, the interest is always paid first and it usually eats up most of the payment. And what’s worse, it's a moving target. The amount I pay in interest changes constantly and is nearly impossible to budget for, calculate, or get around. To date, the amount I have paid back in interest is nearly equal to the principle balance I started with and I still have $42K to go. Currently, if I were to make payments so that I could pay the remaining balance in 10 years, I would have to pay over $750 a month, down from the over $800 I would have paid 10 years ago. Either
way, that's not possible. But the debt is still my responsibility, students still need loans, and the USDE needs the revenue stream these loans create.

Rather than forgive debt entirely, I would suggest the following:

1) that the law be amended to allow for refinancing of all student loans down to current rates
2) once the amount paid back in interest exceeds more than say 20% of the original principle, the interest should be curtialed entirely while the remaining principle is paid down.
3) if #2 is not feasible, then the interest should be regulated in the same way has home loans.
4) outlaw the selling of derivatives on student loans.

These changes would lessen the burden on borrowers without the moral hazard associated with total loan forgiveness or the loss to the lenders, which includes the USDE. They may be enough to prevent fueling education inflation. Making the terms a bit more fair would be welcome and would help the longer term economy and a generation of young people trying to get started in a jobless economy who will default in droves if we don't do something.


Friday, October 14, 2011

Rading Social Security Funds

This is a short post, but this article, Looting of Social Security posted on today is the clearest explanation of what has happened to Social Security funds that I have yet seen. It is a quick and easy read.

Basically, the 2.7 trillion surplus that was to be invested in Social Security has been poured into the general fund and spent. It's gone. There is nothing but a literal cabinet filled with IOU statements.

Now, will the government repay this money?? Well that is a good question. From where will it get the money? Since it wasn't invested as promised.

Again, I remind everyone that this isn't news. Remember Al Gore and his "lock box". So we are all investors who have been swindled. So, in light of this, I agree with the President that the 2% cut in payroll taxes should be continued. And it's all legal. Because in a democracy, you can pass all kinds of laws to make what you want or need to do legal. In another context, this would be termed "corruption".

Because money paid for social security is going into the general fund, it amounts to a 2% income tax hike on the salaried class. Another reason we are the 99%.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

National Sales Tax... Worst idea ever

Herman Caine is surging in the polls as the latest "Not Romney" As he is, the media is falling all over themselves to do halfassed analyses of his 9-9-9 tax plan. As you may have heard this refers to a 9% flat income tax, 9% flat corporate tax and a 9% national sales tax. Most of them focus on whether it will raise or lower the over all tax burden on the average family or whether it will generate enough revenue to cover existing spending. It is probably not surprising that a plan put forward by a Republican reduces revenue and further shifts tax burden away from the wealthy and corporations and onto middle class families. But the problems with the 9-9-9 are, if anything, even more catastrophic than simply yet another screwing the middle class the Grand Old Plutocrats. That 9% sales tax is a like a bomb let off in the heart of the US economy.

Right now, retail sales/household spending make up about 70% of the US economy overall. If we suddenly imposed a 9% sales tax to everything bought in the US, it would certainly cause that vital sector of the economy to shrink. Consumer demand in the United States is not only a vital part of our economy it is an important driving force for the entire world economy. For example, China exports about 20% of all their exports to the US alone. If the US demand for Chinese stuff suddenly drops, it would be a serious blow to the Chinese economy as well. The same goes for Mexico, Canada, the EU, etc etc etc.

With the world economy in a fragile state now, Herman Caine's plan could plunge the world into a demand slump depression along the lines of what we saw in 1929. Imagine, just as we are showing the faintest hints of recovering from a capital crisis recession and just as the Europeans are getting their collective act together about Greece, Cain would have us voluntarily jump off the cliff again. You can't run a global economy like a pizza delivery joint.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Oct 5th Statement from Occupy Wall Street

They didn't leave anything out. That is for sure!


Friday, October 07, 2011

Neutron Bomb

Last night, Harry Reid exercised what is known as the "nuclear option" in some circles over Senate rules. He led a majority of Democrats to overrule a parliamentarian and cut off the right of the minority to call for multiple votes on amendments after cloture. It happened rather unexpectedly in an attempt to an amendment to the Chinese-currency-kvetching bill. McConnell wanted to force a vote on an amendment containing Obama's original jobs bill (not the current version with the millionaire's tax) to embarrass the president and cause more delay. This restricts post-cloture maneuvering by the minority. Of course, this is not really a nuclear option in the sense that that term was created to talk about outlawing the filibuster altogether in 2005. (Note, according to The Hill, a similarly arcane such use of the majority-overrule took place in 2000 under Bill Frist's leadership to eliminate votes on "sense of the senate" resolutions under such circumstances.)

This is actually a very big deal. It is the first time Harry Reid has ever done anything to stand up to the minority in the Senate worth a damn. It is the first time he has reacted seriously to the way McConnell has flouted tradition to all but shut down the Senate. Republicans are threatening direly about possibly messing with the filibuster when they're in the majority as retaliation. I have no doubt they will do so no matter what Reid does. I hope we see more of it. Part of what made it work was the Reid sprang this on McConnell unexpectedly and got the 51 votes without much fuss and bother. No showdown, just a win.


Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Two Visions of Frustration

In light of the last post about the Occupy Wall Street protests and how they might be an emerging contrast to the Tea Party I thought I would post two links to the Democratic version of the "us vs elites" meme and the Republican version of the "us vs elites" meme.

Here is Elizabeth Warren's now famous statement about fair taxation and "class warfare."

Here is Governor Rick Perry's address to a Republican/Tea Party rally in Austin Texas.

One thing that strikes me is that Warren's rhetoric is must more focussed economic distribution. Who wins and who loses from the current economic regime. Perry's rhetoric does mention taxes but mainly focusses on abstracts like "states' rights" and "the constitution" and "the founding fathers" etc.

Another difference is that Perry's rhetoric - to the extent it talks about economic distribution - focusses on the idea that government should stop taking things from individuals. Warren's rhetoric focusses on the idea that corporate elites have been taking things from the community without paying anything back.

It's not obvious to me which message will have more traction in the midst of ongoing sluggish economy or renewed recession. But certainly the mere fact that there is now a clearly enunciated and easily understood alternative to the "taxes bad" mantra of the Tea Party makes the 2012 election campaign more competitive. It's also refreshing that this may turn out to be the first election in a long time in which the two parties are clearly debating rival visions of the future in a substantively meaningful way. It will be nasty and hard fought. And many people will be upset that their side didn't win but this is exactly the kind of policy debate so many people who are frustrated with politics as usual want to see.


Saturday, October 01, 2011

Occupy Wall Street A Potential Game Changer?

Something interesting is happening in response to a year of Republican austerity measures imposed by the 2010 elections at the state level and by House Republican blackmail over government shut downs and government debt defaults. A new wave of protests have emerged modeled on the "Occupy Wall Street" protests in NYC. The protests are spreading to cities across the country. What's more, while unions were not the initial driving force, they are quick to see the potential of allying themselves with these protesters. Several big unions are planning to join the protesters.

Here is why I think this is potentially a big deal. First, this seems to be a continuation of the anti-union busting protests in Wisconsin that lead to the recall of several Republican state legislators in that state and threatens to lead to the recall of Republican governor Walker. These kinds of protests are provoked by Republican policy overreach and have a record of have electoral consequences.

Second, and this may be more important, both the Wisconsin protests and the Occupy Wall Street protests are changing the nature of the anti-elite populism that the Tea Party has tried to tap. Where the Tea Party directs their ire at government and intellectuals, these protests are defining the elite in terms of wealth. Instead of calling high school teachers "communists" or railing about homosexuals, immigrants and "librul elites" these protests are zeroing in on the mega wealthy at the top of corporate America. In other words, the Tea Party now has serious competition for the leadership of the angry masses. If the new wealth-based definition of bad-guy elites takes hold, it will directly undermine the Republican 2012 political campaign and find an obvious ally in the Democratic party which is already pushing for more transfer of wealth from the mega rich to the middle class and poor.

Finally, the single greatest fear of the Republican party is a high turnout election in which large numbers of middle and low income people vote based on their rationally identified economic self interest. So long as this segment of the population can be distracted by "Guns, Gays, and God" or by the Tea Party's cartoonishly ideological rants, the GOP can survive the fact that their policies are actually likely to have a negative impact on the clear majority of voters' lives. These protest threaten to put the focus of the 2012 elections on income disparity and tax fairness. If those become the dominant themes of 2012, it gives the Democrats and inherent advantage. It also gives Democrats something to rally their otherwise demoralized base around.