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Reining In High Cost Of College Should Be Priority

By Ann McFeatters, Tribune News Service (TNS)

High school seniors waiting for college acceptance letters, we feel your pain. But our nation has collective pain from the college process that is more worrisome.

College costs too much for what students are getting and for what we as a society get in return. And, as usual, Congress is doing nothing about it.

About 40 million Americans now have student loan debt. The average graduate in the United States has $40,000 in debt upon graduation, and millions owe much more. Some senior citizens are losing Social Security benefits because of student loans, although the government says you’re not supposed to lose benefits if your only income is Social Security.

There’s an entire new industry profiting from student loan repayment plans even as thousands of college graduates scramble for low-wage service industry jobs, trying to figure out whether expensive graduate schools are worth the time and money.

This is a true Catch 22 – it’s difficult to get a good job without a college or graduate degree but if you do, you are saddled with burdensome debt. Unless your daddy is rich or you are exceptionally good-looking, you probably will not live as well as previous college-educated generations.

America’s universities are the best in the world, which makes them a lure for the best and brightest from every other nation. Thus, our good students compete not only with their U.S. peers but with the smart children of the world’s richest people.

College for students in many other nations is free or costs relatively little. U.S. colleges cost too much because two-thirds of students fail to graduate in four years, colleges and universities think parents demand incredible facilities (luxurious dorms, top-flight athletic compounds, student unions with gourmet meals), and bureaucrats will soon outnumber professors.

A report by the American Association of University Professors found pay for bureaucrats surpassing salaries for teachers, especially adjuncts and part-timers. Between 1978 and 2014, the number of administrative jobs rose 369 percent while the number of part-time faculty increased 286 percent. Full-time tenured or tenure-track academic positions increased only 23 percent.

President Obama has tried to make reining in the cost of college a priority. The other day, at Georgia Tech, he said, “Higher education is, more than ever, the surest ticket to the middle class.” He said his administration has expanded tax credits and Pell Grants, reformed student loan programs and capped loan payments at 10 percent of income for million so they at least can pay their rent.

But Congress has done and will do nothing to implement his plan to bring the tuition to community college down to zero on grounds that two years of higher education should be free and universal.

Frustrated, Obama has a Student Aid Bill of Rights that every student “deserves access to a quality, affordable education. Every student should be able to access the resources to pay for college. Every borrower has the right to an affordable repayment plan. And every borrower has the right to quality customer service, reliable information, and fair treatment, even if they struggle to repay their loans.”

Obama is asking for signatures on his feel-good petition at WhiteHouse.gov/CollegeOpportunity. Warning: It can take longer to load than the Affordable Health Care website in its infancy.

Once again, parents and students have to figure this out on their own. Some high school students who’ve been slovenly about studying and their grades should not go to college until or if they are ready. We need better high school vocational counselors equipped to determine students’ interests and assets. Parents, pay for aptitude tests.

Community colleges and state schools are a good alternative to pricey private colleges. Studying engineering, computer science, math, business, and economics will yield higher long-range salaries than traditional liberal arts studies.

A committed, hard-working student can get a good education online, but beware of racking up big tuition fees at for-profits. Tap every source of financial aid.

Congratulations to students receiving those coveted acceptance letters. Tomorrow you can figure out how painful it will be to foot the bill.

Photo: President Barack Obama addresses the crowd at McCamish Pavillion on college affordability and access to quality higher education at Georgia Tech on Tuesday, March 10, 2015, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

GOP Dense When It Comes To Climate Change

By Ann McFeatters, Tribune News Service (TNS)

Don’t read this if you are among the few who have not been affected by this winter’s wild and wicked weather. You wouldn’t understand.

I am in my kitchen surrounded by pots and pans collecting water from leaks from the relatively new roof I recently paid off. The water is a disgusting shade of brown, of course, and can’t even be used for any good purpose.

But I am extremely grateful the roof itself has not caved in as so many have done in the Northeast.

I can’t drive my car to the grocery store because after I painstakingly dug it out of the snow, the county snowplow finally showed up and pushed the snow from the entire street in front of my carport. AAA cheerfully agrees it may be May before I drive that baby again.

But I am completely grateful that the power has stayed on, for the most part — unlike recent years, and there’s food in the freezer. And after letting water faucets drip through single-digit temperatures for four nights in a row, I am truly thrilled no pipes have burst that I know about. (I didn’t find out about last year’s damage until a spring thaw.)

Once again, I am mystified by climate change deniers, most of whom are rich or are paid vast sums to serve in Congress or are running for president. Some of them are so incredibly dense they say such things as, duh, there can’t be global warming when it’s so cold outside. Thus they tout their complete ignorance that climate change means more extreme weather patterns and long-term changes that will devastate huge populations.

Climate change doesn’t just mean we’re seeing record warm temperatures year after year. It also means breadbaskets will become arid deserts, coastal towns will flood, tornadoes and hurricanes and tsunamis will become more intense and dangerous.

The Washington Post had a story the other day about entire Alaskan villages being forced to move because disappearing ice caused by climate change will no longer support their decades-old lifestyles and threatens their existence. Who will pay the huge costs has not been determined.

There’s great consternation that President Obama has “vetoed” the Keystone XL pipeline that would bring oil from Canada to U.S. refineries. Supporters say this will block the creation of American jobs and thwart the goal of energy independence.

First of all, the veto does not mean the pipeline will never be built. It means that Obama wants the process to play out and doesn’t want Republicans in Congress pushing it through until all the studies have been done. Those may well conclude the pipeline will not create many permanent jobs, that a potential pipeline rupture could be devastating, that it might contribute to killing the ozone layer that has protected Earth from the Sun. Or they might not. As for energy independence, the United States is doing better and better on that front.

Not too long ago, climate change was accepted science on both sides of the aisle. Thanks to the bad influence of Tea Partiers, all the Republican candidates running or likely to run either deny climate change exists, say it’s an unsettled issue or admit it could be real but it’s too far in the future to change what we do today.

President Obama insists greenhouse gases especially from power plants must be reduced or future generations, including our children, will suffer greatly. His current budget proposal emphasizes fighting climate change, part of his hoped-for legacy, with the argument: “The failure to invest in climate solutions and climate preparedness does not just fly in the face of the overwhelming judgment of science — it is fiscally unwise.”

Republicans declared his budget dead on arrival.

This ongoing winter has been brutal, but as we shovel, mop and repair, a nagging thought occurs: We ain’t seen nuthin yet.

Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may send her email at amcfeatters@nationalpress.com.

Photo: Tim Wiseman walks to work on Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015 in Lexington, Ky. Most of Kentucky experienced subzero temperatures this morning. He said he left frozen pipes at home and was hoping his office was warmer. (Charles Bertram/Lexington Herald-Leader/TNS)

Trickle-Down Theory Makes Less Sense Than Ever Before

By Ann McFeatters, Tribune News Service (TNS)

SEATTLE — The governor of Washington wants to raise the state tax on a gallon of gasoline by at least 11 cents. A continent away the governor of Maryland wants to block a scheduled increase in the state tax on gas.

We’ve got ourselves more battles between the Democrats and Republicans, and a lot of Americans are going to be miffed at the outcomes.

Governor Jay Inslee, a Democrat, argues that Washington needs billions of dollars in road infrastructure improvements and with gas prices currently the lowest they have been in years, he thinks now is the time for legislative action. He especially wants a $1 billion road improvement to ease a massive daily bottleneck between Seattle and Tacoma.

But Maryland’s new GOP governor, Larry Hogan, a proud “tax-cutter,” doesn’t care that a series of planned gas tax increases by mid-2017 would help finance $3 billion worth of road and transit work. That would include finishing the much-needed Purple Line to the Washington D.C.-area Metro and a Red Line in Baltimore, taking thousands of cars off clogged highways.

Hogan is against drivers paying $80 more in annual taxes, even to fix truck-devouring potholes. He also wants a legislative vote on every tax increase, including those already scheduled.

Even as Congress bickers over budgets, lawmakers refuse to raise the federal gas tax above 18.4 cents, set in 1993, despite competitiveness worries over the country’s crumbling infrastructure. Even President Obama, who likes to warn about toppling bridges and pothole-pocked highways, hasn’t proposed an increase.

But at the state level, there is a different approach, both pragmatic and vindictive. New Jersey desperately needs improved roads and bridges but Governor Chris Christie, hoping to snag the Republican nomination for president, doesn’t want to have anything to do with raising ANY taxes.

Somewhere there is undoubtedly a secret memo telling governors how to handle the problem — cut taxes on the rich and raise them on the poor. “Brilliant!” say many governors.

Chief among them is Governor Paul LePage (R-ME), who in 2011 signed a $150 million tax cut for the rich and doubled the estate tax exemption to $2 million. He now espouses taxing movie tickets and haircuts.

He and Ohio Governor John Kasich are among Republican governors proposing cuts in state income tax rates even though Kansas Governor Sam Brownback proudly pushed through tax cuts as his state promptly fell into economic freefall.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a Republican running for president, got so ensnared in tax-cutting frenzy he proposed cutting not only education funds but rewrote the soaring language about the purpose of state universities: To “meet the state’s work-force needs.” Amid the outrage, he blamed an “aide.”

Current state income tax rates are bad for the poor and comparably good for the rich, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. While the rich pay more in dollars than the poor, the rate on the top one percent of the richest Americans is 5.4 percent while the rate on the 20 percent poorest segment of the population is 10.9 percent.

Republicans don’t dare risk losing their conservative creds by narrowing this gap but they do see potential windfalls in taxing new forms of consumption such as e-cigarettes, generally most hurtful to the non-rich.

We all think we’re too highly taxed. Because of additional local taxes, many residents of Washington state pay a whopping 9.6 percent in sales tax. Marylanders pay 6 percent.

When you start looking at all taxes, not just state and federal taxes but license tags, property taxes and a myriad of new charges such permits to hold garage sales and own dogs, many of us pay about half of our income in taxes.

Is it fair — or counterproductive — to cut the income tax of the rich and charge the poor and middle-class more for services they must have such as haircuts?

The trickle-down theory of economics — that income generated by the wealthy filters down the ladder to the poor and middle class — was always precarious. But it now makes less sense than ever.

Photo: Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs Office via Flickr

With Midterms Approaching, Voters Must Return To Senses

By Ann McFeatters, McClatchy-Tribune News Service

WASHINGTON – The boys and girls of Congress are returning from summer camp — er, Capitol Hill — to their real homes where they will 1) raise money and plead to be returned to camp; 2) stress how much they hate the nation’s political polarization; and 3) pledge never to compromise their beliefs.

Folks, there is no way to escape their blandishments unless you do not go out in public, especially to a county fair, parade or political rally. You’ll also have to refuse to answer your phone or open your front door. And do not power up your TV or car radio until the middle of November.

“Midterm election” may sound innocuous. This year it is a synonym for blood sport.

When President Barack Obama assumed office in 2009, he had a Democratic Senate and a Democratic House. In 2010, Democrats lost the House, and gleeful Republicans decided to make Obama’s life miserable.

House Republicans attempted to block anything he proposed. They did very well. They shut down the government at a cost of $24 billion. They proudly have passed the fewest number of bills in recent history, even those that 90 percent of Americans want, such as keeping guns out of schools. They voted to repeal Obamacare at least 50 times. They are hoping to sue Obama successfully for not enforcing Obamacare to the letter of the law even though, obviously, they don’t really want him to enforce it. Lately, some have begun talking blithely about “impeachment.”

Chafing to kick Obama around even harder, Republicans have vowed to win control of the Senate this November.They may succeed.

Upset at the prospect of being a lame dog for two more years and having no friends in Washington except his Portuguese water dogs, the president of the United States is counter-attacking. That means he will attend just about any Democratic fundraiser White House aides can locate by GPS. (Word to church groups and PTAs: Now might be the time to invite POTUS to your next gathering.)

Republicans had a field day pointing out that Obama refused to go to the southern border to see the plight of unaccompanied children streaming across but went to Colorado to play pool and raise money. Never mind that Republicans have blocked every Obama attempt to try to fix the broken immigration system.

So guess what is going to be a big rallying cry for Republicans this November? The broken immigration system.

And guess what the second GOP battle cry will be? The need to get all those millions of Americans who now have health insurance to agree they should give it up.

Everybody is angry with the political system because it is broken, results in the tyranny of the few over the majority, fails to help people who really need it, fills the coffers of the richest and preserves the status quo.

Oddly, the Tea Partyers who hate government the most are clamoring the loudest to be given government paychecks so they can cause more havoc such as refusing to raise the debt limit (thus destroying what remaining good faith the U.S. has). They also want to cut off more aid to the working poor and refuse to fix crumbling roads and bridges.

Millions of voters fed up with the impasse in Washington (where nothing of strategic importance is being done) will elect and reelect the cogs in the wheel. The lost battle for civility only got more hopeless when Tea Partyers realized that dumping vitriol (and untruths) on moderate opponents is one of the best ways to get a hand in the public till.

Voters, return to your senses. Do not elect or reelect anyone who wants to refuse to pay debts America already has incurred. Do not pull any lever for someone who proudly promises never to compromise (without it, politics is meaningless). Do not send to Washington anyone who tells you how much he/she hates government. Do not give your precious vote to anyone who labels the other side evil, treasonous, demonic or stupid. (Well, stupid is OK.)

And it’s OK, too, this August to shake hands with a politician with sticky cotton candy on your palm.

Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for McClatchy-Tribune. Readers may send her email at amcfeatters@nationalpress.com.

AFP Photo/Mark Wilson

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