Monumental Muddle

Monumental Muddle

Educational Import:
If any country wants to work its way out of poverty…easy access to affordable education for its citizenry is one hallmark route in achieving that goal. Apparently, this current congress doesn’t think so anymore.

The underlying rhetoric of the Republican platform is simply to get the federal government out of education altogether from kindergarten on up to college post graduate levels. Their preference is to have for-profit private corporations educate our children, so, in particular in the red states, have been really pushing charter and religious schools onto the scene. I s’pose that’s quite nice and all, but it doesn’t get the taxpayer off the hook and could even cost more if these private industries demand more profit. These for-profit education businesses are not there solely for our children’s educational welfare and enlightenment, no, as for any corporation the bottom line is profit. If needed, they will not hire more trained teachers unless it is justified by a profit margin.

This mandated GOP line of thought also transgresses over into college student loans. By doing nothing the House allowed student loans to double in interest this July 1st. So now, where student loans were 3.4% on federally subsidized Stafford loans, they have jumped to 6.8%.

Of course, conservatives will argue that 6.8% is still a low interest rate, but what they neglect to see is troubling. At approximately $1.1 trillion, student loans are the highest outstanding credit debt in America. That accounts for nearly one-quarter of all direct federal borrowing. With the condition of the current economy, the new rate is even higher than what’s offered from private lenders. From congress’ ‘Joint Economic Committee’ estimates, the costs that this will pass on per each student loan is $2,600.00. That is an enormous add to the already trillion dollar plus student debt.

According to the ‘U.S. Census Bureau’ statistics, this amount will be added onto the already averaged student loan debt rate of $27,547.00 for each borrower. Along with this average rate per borrower, already one in eight borrowers have $50,000.00 dollars in loan debt.

The graph statistics below provided by the ‘U.S. Census Bureau’ along with the ‘Institute for College Access & Success’ also emphasize the burden placed on our college students in attempts to obtain higher educations.

Graph I compares the amount of debt placed on students from 1993 to 2011, while for-profit universities with much higher semester fees than state colleges are not even included in this graph.

Graph II, broken down by gender shows that more recent graduate males move back in with the parents than do females, but both are high considering that a college degree should be opening doors to employment.

Graph III, displaying unemployment for recent graduates, reveals the major reason for the statistical results of Graph II.

House Republican lawmakers had vowed to not only keep the interest rates from doubling, but to lower it; however their actions proved exactly the opposite. With partisan politics in full swing and even internal party disagreement the House simply left the congressional floor for July 4th vacationing.

In May, House Republicans did pass a bill to tie rates into the financial market, but that failed due to opponent fears that the rates could escalate under an improving economy particularly when this bill was requesting a 5% loan rate. I also do blame House Democrats for their passiveness and timid confrontation to make the House majority Republicans respond. The House had a good full year to do so…but kept it well behind the backburner.

The battle over at the Democrat majority senate didn’t fare well either for college student debt. There were bills brought forth for a vote but were all dropped due to internal wrangling during committee hearings. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) attacked a bipartisan cosponsored bill to address his and Senator Jack Reed’s (D-RI) bill that would extend the 3.4% loan rate for two years, but senate Republicans filibustered it from receiving the necessary 60 votes.

The most common sense bill is Senator Elizabeth Warren’s (D-MA) proposal to drop the rate to what bankers receive in borrowing rates at 0.75%. Technically, according to the ‘Congressional Budget Office’ (CBO), the federal government annually makes $51 billion off of student loans. Dropping the rate down to 0.75% would still provide a margin of government income, but not be raking in the high dollar profits from struggling students. Government should not be in the business of profiting off students. Warrens bill hasn’t received attention from any of the parties, while Republicans do their usual wail in that it will cost the government too much.

Democrats are saying once they return from vacation, they will ratify a bill to extend the 3.64% loan rate for another two years to give time in placing a more efficient permanent bill. But at the same time, Republicans are insisting they will filibuster that effort if it is brought forward.

Perhaps when we whittle down educational opportunities for all our own and have to strictly import intelligent minds in their perspective fields, then we’ll finally place some importance on educating our children.

Immigrant Confection:
The senate finally passed a long overdue immigration bill. It fulfilled the needs of senate Republicans by showing immigrants in this country (primarily the Latino community and more specifically the Mexican portion) that the GOP can work on their behalf, while cosmetically adding more manpower patrols and fences along the Mexican/USA border to console their conservative base.

It nonetheless is not an easy hurdle for the eleven million something illegal immigrants, for it is a thirteen year process where they will be put in the back of the line having to fulfill many requirements such as paying an upfront fine, fluently learning proper English, cannot be unemployed for any length of time and go through various background checks all just to qualify for legal status. It does however halt the ripping apart of families through family member deportations and adds government revenue through taxing the incomes of probationary immigrants.

To put up to an additional 700 miles of fencing seems a bit ironic to me, for the American psyche in calling for the tearing down of the Berlin Wall is contradictory in demanding we build our own segregated wall. The doubling of border patrol and adding the latest in detection technologies is going to cost an additional $46 billion in militarizing the border. But without these amendments, the fourteen Republicans who voted for the bill’s passage never would have.

Now it is the Republican controlled House to either seek an executive signable immigration bill of their own or accept the senate’s version and vote on it. Good luck with that! 

Speaker of the House, John Boehner is in a big predicament and the immigration bill may be his death knell. He cannot or hasn’t the will to control his majority Republicans. This has put him in the sour pickle jar on many an occasion from the debt ceiling agreement he first reached with President Obama that was roundly denounced by his fellow Republican henchmen through Hurricane Sandy relief, the fiscal cliff negotiations, ‘Violence Against Women Act’ reauthorization, not able to get a farm bill passed and to the aforementioned discussed recent failings on student loans.

Immigration is one tall sloppy drink for Boehner. There is a loosed term GOP rule called the ‘Hastert Rule’ in which no bill is to be admitted to the House floor unless first it has majority Republican approval. While the senate’s gang of eight was negotiating the bill, back on June 18, 2013 Boehner was abiding by the ‘Hastert Rule’ when he said if there is no majority support of House Republicans he would not bring an immigration bill up for a vote. That was then. Now since the senate immigration bill has actually passed, he’s changed tone a bit. When asked by a reporter if he would apply the ‘Hastert Rule’ to any House/Senate compromise to immigration, he replied, “We’ll see when we get there.”

The problem is the majority of House Republicans absolutely refuse to budge from their stance to giving illegal aliens any route to citizenship. They call this amnesty and that is a very dirty cuss word for them. But if Boehner passes an immigration measure utilizing Democrat votes along with a portion of Republican votes as well, the majority of Republicans will denounce him as a traitor.

Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) has already forewarned, “If Speaker Boehner moves forward and permits this to come to a vote even though the majority of the Republicans in the House…and that’s if they do…oppose whatever it is that’s coming to a vote, he should be removed as speaker.”

Boehner’s control over the House Republican majority is like a tree full of wild monkeys…how can he bring any order of diplomatic parity to a bunch of monkeys erratically jumping from limb to limb. On the other hand, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) appears to have her own monkey tree under control with all Democrats lining up to vote on sensible immigration reform.   

Through all this, Boehner reads polling results and is well aware that the majority of Americans are saying it is time for immigration reform. Along with 70% of the Latino vote going to Obama in the last presidential election, Boehner’s britches have tightened to the point of busting out the seams…

Last week was a big week as far as Supreme Court decisions were concerned and there were enough conclusions to go round in disappointing and elating both progressive and conservative sides. Though overall, the justices’ rulings gave progressives a bit more to cheer about even though the bench is conservatively stacked.

With a 5-4 decision in nullifying Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) effectively cut out the VRA heart for voting protections of minorities. In writing the majority opinion, Chief Justice Roberts wrote that although during earlier periods in American history voter protections were required for certain sectors of the country to adhere to equal voting rights, things have now changed. It is no longer needed and that it is up to congress to enact new laws addressing voting protections. Essentially, Section 4 was declared unconstitutional, as Roberts insisted, “Section 4’s formula is unconstitutional in light of current conditions. Coverage today is based on decades-old data and eradicated practices.”

Section 4 dictated that parts of the country which has had a history of voting discrimination must receive pre-clearance before election laws can be changed there. This law has had to be enforced seventy-two times throughout its history in protecting equality in voting rights.

Chief Justice Roberts claims it is no longer needed due to the fact that voting discrimination among minorities, whether through ethnicity or political affiliation, is no longer like it was in the open defiance of allowing minorities to vote. Conservative critics even contend that the mere fact that there is now a sitting black president also verifies the need to get rid of the law.

Perhaps these arguments may carry a morsel of truth, but where now minority barriers to voting is no longer a glaring issue, the political opponents of the VRA have been very clever in even getting around Section 4 in yes, allowing people to vote, but discretely make that vote not count through extreme gerrymandering of districts. Even the disguised voter I.D. laws that are actually voter suppression, suppresses certain voting sectors to be able to even register to vote.

These voter suppression laws were effectively blocked in the red states legislating I.D. requirements into law. But immediately after the SCOTUS ruling, these red states went right back to implementing the voter suppression laws.

Texas, North Carolina, Kansas and others announced shortly after the decision that their respective voter I.D. laws that had been blocked would go into effect immediately. Now in these red states, redistricting maps will no longer need federal approval. Changes in voting procedures that had once been under the watchful eye of the law, including early voting restrictions, can now be made law as unhindered subject only to after-the-fact litigation.

On the opposing side of the court, I really appreciate Justice Ruth Ginsburg’s dissent on the decision. In Roberts’ statement that America has evolved away from racial voting discrimination, Ginsburg counters yes the American way has evolved, but discrimination hasn’t simply gone away in this nation’s evolvement, it too has evolved. She states, prejudice has evolved from “first generation barriers to ballot access” to “second generation barriers” such as the likes of voter I.D.s, extreme gerrymandering and remapping of districts.

But Justice Ginsburg’s analogy stands alone front and center when she expressed, “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” That says it all…

On the ‘Defense of Marriage Act’ (DOMA), Justice Anthony Kennedy sided with the more liberal base of the court in overturning Section 3 of DOMA and California’s Proposition 8. Justice Kennedy’s federalism stance and the liberal bloc’s equal protections rights claims paved the way to a 5-4 decision in declaring DOMA’s Section 3 and Proposition 8 as unconstitutional according to the Fifth Amendment.

Justice Kennedy, appointed by President Reagan, truly is a swinger of sorts, for he usually is the swing vote in the current Supreme Court. Section 3 forbade the federal government from recognizing state level same sex marriages; therefore all federally spousal benefits for married LGBT couples were exempted.

This is what brought the court hearing to the Supreme Court. Edith Windsor had brought the case all the way up to the highest court. She did so, for her lesbian partner, whom she could not marry under law had died leaving Ms. Windsor with a $400,000.00 tax liability she would not have had to pay, if they could have been viewed as legally married.          

California’s ballot Proposition 8 or Prop 8 yay/nay vote was voted on in 2008 with a majority in favor of. The law states that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. This was brought down by a 2010 California state Supreme Court ruling as it being unconstitutional, but nonetheless still remained effective.

Now, under equal protections of federal law, couples who truly love one another and wish to be legally married…can.

Overall, Americans had mixed views on the Supreme Court rulings. According to an ABC/Washington Post poll put out just after the decisions, one-third agreed with the VRA ruling where just over half at 51% disagreed.

Broken down further, the polling results naturally showed African Americans disproportionately disliking it by 71% while only 6% approved. In the Hispanic communities 50% disagreed, with 40% approving. White results showed 48% disagreeing and 33% approving.

SCOTUS decisions on allowing gay marriages were favorable. 51% of the American public approved where 40% did not. Allowing same sex married couples to receive benefits showed a wider margin with 56% approving and 41% disapproving. Among party lines in favoring the DOMA and Prop 8 rulings, 68% overall of Democrats favored the decisions with 74% and 62% favoring respectively. Independents favored the DOMA ruling by 64% with 33% disapproving.

Virtually all categories of age, gender and ethnicity favored the DOMA and Prop 8 rulings while disfavoring the VRA rulings. The one category exception was political where only 36% and 29% of Republicans were in favor of the respective DOMA and Prop 8 rulings with 64% and 69% respectively disapproving. As far as Republicans felt on the VRA ruling, the percentage points were within the margin of error.

The cartoon below poignantly portrays the Republican rhetorical ideologue concerning LGBT marriages as exampled with Rush Limbaugh.

Another SCOTUS ruling in the ‘Citizens United vs. Federal Election Committee’ is not yet back on center stage, but has hopped back up on board. Oregon is the most recent and sixteenth state adding a resolution to overrule through amendment the SCOTUS Citizens United ruling that is allowing corporations to have rights just as individual citizens and opened a floodgate of vast sums of secretive money to be poured into our local, state and federal elections. Oregon, along with the fifteen other states is pressing Congress to overturn the SCOTUS ruling.

I always have to scoff at how the conservative court ruling could even imagine speech rights as wads of money much less make it law. I also cannot envision a corporation volunteering for service or being drafted into the military. This ruling is a gross injustice and needs to be wiped off the slate.

Odds to End:
That Texas state Senator Wendy Davis is one heck of a solid rock isn’t she. I mean standing up as a little ripple in that vast sea of majority Republicans through a grueling eleven hour straight filibuster where she could not lean or even shift her weight from side to side, couldn’t go to the bathroom and could only stick to the main topic in her speech making. If she broke any of these Texas filibustering rules three times…her filibuster would be cut off.

Texas Republicans liken Senator Cruz’s filibustering to Ms. Davis. It hardly even compares. First, Cruz filibusters to obstruct legislation, Davis dived in for a cause representing all women. The Republican controlled Texas legislature demands an old fashioned filibuster as explained above. For Cruz, in the federal senate where majority Democrats decide the rules, he simply has to pick up the phone, state he’s filibustering, hang up then go about his business. I wouldn’t call that much sacrifice when comparing what Davis went through.

The Republican senate did indeed cut her filibustering short by two hours claiming she broke three rules. Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst ruled that Davis violated the Texas senate procedural rules three times and halted her filibuster even though she was more than raring to finish. Once Dewhurst had her halt for the remaining two hours required, the Republican senate voted her to end her argument and yield the floor.rget concerning abortion rights when she started talking abou

One supposed rule violation was that she accepted a back brace, the other two bogus claims was that she drifted off target concerning abortion rights when she started talking about ‘Planned Parenthood,’ which all Republicans themselves tie abortion into and she also mentioned a 2011 enacted Texas law that requires a sonogram before an abortion can proceed.

But once the Republican senate had her yield, the few Democrats in the senate held the floor, which they rightfully can do. This is when Texas Democrat state Senator Letitia Van de Putte rose up to the microphone and inquired, “At what point must a female senator raise her hand to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?”

But the Republicans had the microphones cut off to the floor to pass their sweeping anti-abortion legislation before the deadline of 12:00 AM. As they were about to count the oral votes for passage, spontaneously the crowd in attendance started chanting in unison, “Let her speak, let her speak, let her speak…” It created such a raucous roar that the attorney general could not be heard gaveling and before the count could be conducted after quelling the crowd, midnight had already passed by a few minutes.

Even so, the Republicans forged the time stamp as before midnight handing the bill over to Dewhurst for passage. With international witnesses following the whole filibuster, Dewhurst knew he could not pass the bill with the fudged time stamp, so called it dead.

The very next morning, Governor Rick Perry rolls in to announce a special session in thirty days to pass the bill. This will happen and the bill will be passed, but this short delay was a huge victory for Texan Democrats and the little lady filibustering in pink running shoes.

Later on at a conservative Christian gathering in Grapevine, Texas Perry had this to say about Davis, “She was the daughter of a single mother. She was a teenaged mother herself.” In other words in his train of thought, she came from trash, she is trash.

On this note, I have to end with a personal comment. Throughout the red states, and even in the federal House where the Republican congress just passed the ‘Capable Unborn Child Protection Act’ this June 18, 2013 are all passing strict anti-abortion acts in supposedly protecting a fetus, while at the same time are making it more and more difficult in protecting pregnant working American moms.

Cases in point, the Republican majority congress has voted thirty-seven times to repeal and gut the ‘Affordable Care Act’ which has some very decent provisions in it for not just moms, but all women’s quality health. From guaranteed preventive services with no copays or deductibles to prenatal guaranteed care, it all benefits women.

The Republican House went to utilizing their best talent of inaction by allowing the ‘The Fairness Paycheck Act’ to stall in committee in blocking a vote on the floor seeking its legislation. It covered pay equity, sick leave and working women’s healthcare pregnant or not.

Pregnant working women, in particular in their later stages, have been fired from their jobs simply for being pregnant. ‘The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act’ would have put a stop to that. In addition, it would allow better accommodations for a pregnant employees work place such as giving a stool to sit on instead of standing at the work station for eight hours and allowing a pregnant worker, if its safe have drinking water at her station which many employers refuse to allow expectant women to do, as simple as that seems. This bill would put in place a federal standard that all employers would have to minimally abide by. This Republican House rushed to take up 35% of their time in repealing Obamacare, but have been letting the pregnant workers bill languish in committee. Yes, it is so important to legislate that a pizza is a vegetable, but to allow pregnant mothers a few rights in the workplace is gonna have to take a back seat.

Getting back to the original point, Republican politicians say they want to protect the rights of a fetus, but ironically hold off on the rights and protections of that fetus’ mother. In my thinking, protecting an expectant mom is the ultimate in protecting her unborn.

Now dad gummed-it-all, this just doesn’t seem fit. It surely appears more as if Republicans indeed just want to control women, for that’s the single thread here holding up their argument…      

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