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Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

New York students can now attend four-year state public colleges tuition-free if their families earn less than $125,000 a year, thanks to legislation signed Wednesday by Governor Andrew Cuomo. With Hillary Clinton endorsing the program in person and Bernie Sanders chiming in via Twitter, the concept not only has broad appeal, but it also has the potential to spread.

“Here’s my prediction,” Sanders said in a recent speech promoting Cuomo’s plan. “If New York state does it this year, mark my words, state after state will follow.”

New York’s Excelsior Scholarship will launch in the fall of 2017. Around 940,000 New York families will eventually be eligible, according to a website created by the governor’s office to promote the plan.

Curiously enough, the site features a photo of a smiling man who is neither college-bound nor a New York resident: Bernie Sanders. With one of his most popular policy proposals from the 2016 campaign enacted in the country’s third-largest state, Sanders has reason to smile.


Bill Haslam, Republican governor of Tennessee, hardly qualifies as a Bernie bro. In fact he’s a wealthy, tax-cutting conservative and opponent of marriage equality. But like Cuomo, Haslam sees the benefit of making college more accessible. He is expanding his Tennessee Promise program, which has sent more than 33,000 recent high school graduates to state community college tuition-free since 2015.

When Haslam proposed in his annual State of the State address in January to expand the program to include all adults without a high school degree, he received a “thunderous standing ovation,” according to the Tennessean newspaper.

A poll conducted by the Campaign for Free College Tuition found that state-level programs to make college tuition-free enjoy 69 percent support in red states and 78 percent support in blue states.

On the West Coast, a similar program, Oregon Promise, has enrolled nearly 6,800 recent high school grads and students who completed their GEDs this year. Researchers estimate that 44 percent of Oregon Promise recipients were first-generation college students.

In Rhode Island, Governor Gina Raimondo is promoting a Promise program that would help state students attend two- or four-year colleges in the state.

Kalamazoo and Detroit, Michigan, as well as Oakland, California, offer privately funded Promise programs for public high school students. Researchers found that the implementation of the Kalamazoo program correlated with a positive effect on academic performance, particularly among African-American students. Not surprisingly, the promise of free college seems to motivate students to study harder.


The New York program is far from perfect, as Think Progress and Slate have pointed out. There are strings attached to the state support, and middle-class students will probably benefit more than the poorest. But the programs are a start at restoring the promise of affordable higher education that the American middle class once enjoyed. Seventy years ago, the GI Bill gave returning World War II veterans (at least those who were white) the chance to go college at very low cost.

“The GI Bill was about opening education opportunities to help those who otherwise might not get it, and thank vets for service,” said Sara Goldrick-Rab, an education policy professor at Temple University. “Now we have states contributing minority share of costs, [and] students paying most.”

The New York program does not go far enough, Goldrick-Rab said in an email interview with AlterNet.

“While this movement is about lowering the prices again by restoring state support, Cuomo screws it up by suggesting that if the state educates the student they should ‘own’ where they live and work for years afterward. Imagine if states put such a requirement on high school!” she wrote.

Zakiya Smith, education adviser to President Obama, welcomes the popularity of Promise programs while warning that “this beautifully simple concept could be implemented in ways that would make things worse, not better, for the most vulnerable students.”

And what does Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have to contribute to the debate about how to make college more affordable?

Since assuming her position in January, DeVos has not said anything about college tuition on Twitter. She hasn’t mentioned it in any of her speeches posted on the department’s website.

But DeVos did take time this week to quietly rescind two Education Department directives designed to protect student borrowers from predatory lenders. In a memo, she stated: “We must create a student loan servicing environment that provides the highest quality customer service and increases accountability and transparency for all borrowers, while also limiting the cost to taxpayers.”

DeVos’ action “could make it easier for the department to hire servicers with a track record of harming borrowers,” Persis Yu, director of the National Consumer Law Center’s Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project, told Inside Higher Ed. Yu said the government’s lawsuit against Navient, the nation’s second-largest student loan servicer, demonstrated that problems with servicers are widespread and can create obstacles to repayment that become costly for borrowers.

Which would make college less affordable. Bernie Sanders has a better idea—and a more popular one, too.

This article was made possible by the readers and supporters of AlterNet.


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  • 1.Why did Trump choose to hide certain specific files and not others at Mar-a-Lago? What were the criteria that Trump used to keep some files concealed and not others? Who selected those files? Did Trump consult or direct anyone in his selection of secret files? Trump was notorious for being too impatient to read his briefing papers, even after they had been drastically shortened and simplified. Is there the slightest evidence that he spirited these papers away so that he could consult or study them? Who besides Trump knew of the presence of the files he had concealed at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 2. Mar-a-Lago has an infamous reputation for being open to penetration even by foreign spies. In 2019, the FBI arrested a Chinese woman who had entered the property with electronic devices. She was convicted of trespassing, lying to the Secret Service, and sentenced and served eight-months in a federal prison, before being deported to China. Have other individuals with possible links to foreign intelligence operations been present at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 3. Did members of Trump's Secret Service detail have knowledge of his secret storage of the files at Mar-a-Lago? What was the relationship of the Secret Service detail to the FBI? Did the Secret Service, or any agent, disclose information about the files to the FBI?
  • 4. Trump's designated representatives to the National Archives are Kash Patel and John Solomon, co-conspirators in the investigations into Russian interference in the presidential election of 2016, the Ukraine missiles-for-political dirt scandal that led to the first impeachment in 2019, and the coup of 2020. Neither has any professional background in handling archival materials. Patel, a die-hard Trump loyalist whose last job in the administration was as chief of staff to the Acting Secretary of Defense, was supposedly involved in Trump’s “declassification” of some files. Patel has stated, “Trump declassified whole sets of materials in anticipation of leaving government that he thought the American public should have the right to read themselves."
  • The White House counsel failed to generate the paperwork to change the classification markings, but that doesn’t mean the information wasn’t declassified.” If Pat Cipollone, the White House legal counsel, did not “generate the paperwork,” was he or anyone on his staff aware at all of the declassifications? The White House Staff Secretary Derek Lyons resigned his post in December 2020. Did his successor, who held the position for a month, while Trump was consumed with plotting his coup, ever review the material found in Trump’s concealed files for declassification? Or did Patel review the material? Can Patel name any individual who properly reviewed the supposed declassification?
  • 5. Why did Trump keep his pardon of Roger Stone among his secret files? Was it somehow to maintain leverage over Stone? What would that leverage be? Would it involve Stone's role as a conduit with the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers during the coup? Or is there another pardon in Trump’s files for Stone, a secret pardon for his activities in the January 6th insurrection? Because of the sweeping nature of the pardon clause, pardons can remain undisclosed (until needed). Pardons are self-executing, require no justification and are not subject to court review beyond the fact of their timely execution. In other words, a court may verify the pardon was valid in time but has no power to review appropriateness. A pardon could even be oral but would need to be verifiable by a witness. Do the files contain secret pardons for Trump himself, members of his family, members of the Congress, and other co-conspirators?
  • 6.Was the FBI warrant obtained to block the imminent circulation or sale of information in the files to foreign powers? Does the affidavit of the informant at Mar-a-Lago, which has not been released, provide information about Trump’s monetization that required urgency in executing the warrant? Did Trump monetize information in any of the files? How? With whom? Any foreign power or entity? Was the Saudi payment from its sovereign wealth fund for the LIV Golf Tournament at Trump’s Bedminster Golf Club for a service that Trump rendered, an exchange of anything of value or information that was in the files? If it involved information in the files was it about nuclear programs? Was it about the nuclear program of Israel? How much exactly was the Saudi payment for the golf tournament? The Saudi sovereign wealth fund gave Jared Kushner and former Trump Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin $2 billion for their startup hedge fund, Affinity Partners. Do the Saudis regard that investment as partial payment for Trump’s transfer of nuclear information? Were Kushner or Mnuchin aware of the secret files at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 7.Did Trump destroy any of the files? If so, when? Did those files contain incriminating information? Did he destroy any files after he received the June subpoena?
  • 8.Were any of the secrets of our allies compromised? Has the U.S. government provided an inventory of breaches or potential breaches to our allies?
  • 9.Does the resort maintain a copying machine near the classified documents that Trump hid? Were any of the documents copied or scanned? Are Trump’s documents at Mar-a-Lago originals or copies? Were any copies shown or given to anyone?
  • 10.Trump’s lawyer Christina Bobb has revealed that a video surveillance system covers the places where Trump hid the files at Mar-a-Lago, and that the system is connected to a system at his other residences at the Bedminster Golf Club in New Jersey and Trump Tower in New York City. According to Bobb, Trump and members of his family observed the FBI search and seizure of his files at Mar-a-Lago, “actually able to see the whole thing” through their surveillance system. Who has that surveillance system recorded entering the rooms where the files were kept?

Kevin Bacon, right, in "The Following"

The aftermath of the August 8, 2022 search of the Mar-a-Lago club, former President Donald Trump’s Florida home, isn’t the first showdown between the FBI and a cult leader.

The Following, a 2013 Fox Pictures series, played out in similar fashion. Three seasons was enough for the producers and it’s been nine years since our introduction to Joe Carroll, English professor-novelist-serial killer, so there’s a spoiler risk -- but not enough to prevent the comparison.

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