Journalism

The Case Against Misleading Journalism (And For Bernie Sanders): Part II of II

Apologies for my delay. Real life gets in the way of online commitments sometimes, not to mention that Mr. Chait is VERY long-winded. I hope you will forgive my tardiness!

Did you have time to look into Bernie? It is time well spent if you have not done so already . . . (click here to read Part I of this series).

As I previously disclosed, I will dissect and cross-reference Jonathan Chait’s painfully inaccurate and wholly incomplete assessment of the fitness of Bernie Sanders as America’s next president in his recent article, “The Case Against Bernie Sanders.”

As previously mentioned, Mr. Chait is a democrat. I never want to attack one of my own, but liberals have gotten the idea that we cannot disagree and argue about the merits of voting for Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton in the primaries.

I will vote for Bernie Sanders in the primaries, no question. But if it is between Hillary Clinton and some idiot republican in the general election, I choose Hillary. If you can’t have the champagne, drink beer.

It is not the general election yet, though. All bets are off and it is clear that the Clinton camp has decided that the gloves are off as well. That’s fine. This is why the internet is so powerful. None of us have to listen to the mainstream media. We have facts at our fingertips and unique perspectives from all over the world.

The internet also has my perspective . . . for what it’s worth. Without further ado, and my sincerest apologies for the liberal-on-liberal crime I am about to commit, let’s get started.

Mr. Chait’s Stated Case Against Bernie Sanders

Mr. Chait begins his case against Bernie, by praising Bernie, “Sanders is earnest and widely liked. He has tugged the terms of the political debate leftward in a way both moderates and left-wingers could appreciate.” He acknowledges that Bernie is a real threat to Hillary Clinton, “Sanders’s rapid rise, in both early states and national polling, has made him a plausible threat to defeat Hillary Clinton,” and “Suddenly, liberals who have used the nominating process to unilaterally vet Clinton . . . need to think anew.”  Hold the applause, though.

He then asks the question that will shape the remainder of his article:

Do we support Sanders not just in his role as lovable Uncle Bernie, complaining about inequality, but as the actual Democratic nominee for president? My answer to that question is no.

Do tell!

Mr. Chait opens his case by asserting that Bernie Sanders’ view on the economy is “fatalistic.” He tells us that the “evidence” for Bernie’s assessment of the economy is “far weaker than [Sanders] assumes.” Let’s review the evidence!

1.  Healthcare and the ACA: “Sanders has grudgingly credited what he calls the modest gains of the Affordable Care Act which seems like an exceedingly stingy assessment of a law that has already reduced the number of uninsured Americans by 20 million.” (emphasis added).

It appears to me here that Mr. Chait has a problem with one adjective in the entirety of Bernie Sanders presidential nomination announcement speech—MODEST.

It is a bit nitpicky, but I will play along. Mr. Chait asserts that Bernie’s assessment of the effectiveness of the progress of the Affordable Care Act is exceedingly stingy. Exceedingly stingy?

Bernie Sanders idea of more than a “moderate” gain in access to healthcare is when EVERYONE has access to it. Although 20 million people have benefitted (or at least are now using) the federal exchange or its benefits to get insurance, 33 million Americans remained uninsured during 2014.

This also ignores a chief complaint of the ACA, the cost of healthcare continues to rise. In 2014, healthcare spending increased 5.3%.

The Affordable Care Act is too young and too complicated for me to broach the topic in much detail. Suffice it to say, Americans are not that happy with the Affordable Care Act. There were a number of political blunders, bald-faced lies, and a general queasiness about a piece of legislation that is so cumbersome and arduous to parse through, that the citizens of this country cannot aspire to fully understand it. There is power in information and Americans were not given enough information about this law. Thus, we feel we have given up even more of our individual power—the power to stay with the plan we liked, the power to keep seeing our preferred doctors—as an example.

Bernie wants to eliminate health care spending. He wants to eliminate large private insurance companies and take prescription-pricing power back from Big Pharma.

To suggest that Bernie Sanders is not qualified to be president because he, like a lot of us, are not satisfied with the ACA and do not believe it went far enough is an obvious attempt to make a mountain out of a mole hill.

Further, as I mentioned in Part I of this blog, young people like me are well-traveled and largely in-tune with the world around them. Why can’t we have health care like Norway, Germany, France, Sweden, etc.?

Bernie’s healthcare plan is a cost-benefit analysis for most of us. Raise our taxes, but give us healthcare. You may disagree as is your right, but this does not rise to the level of disqualifying Bernie Sanders for the presidency.

2. Big banks are breaking themselves up: “The Dodd-Frank reforms of the financial industry may not have broken up the big banks, but they have, at the very least, deeply reduced systemic risk.”

You provided a link to make this point, but the Dodd-Frank Act is not even mentioned in the article you cite.

Rather, this article is about, “[t]he latest action, from the global banking regulator known as the Financial Stability Board (FSB) . . . .” (emphasis added). To make matters worse, the FSB’s decisions are not legally binding. Rather, “the [FBS] operates by moral suasion and peer pressure[.]”

Journalism fail.

3. Wall Street and Big Banks: “The penalties for being too big to fail exceed the benefits, and as a result, banks are actually breaking themselves up to avoid being large enough to be regulated as systemic risks.”

It is convenient that you cite a paid Wall Street Journal article here. I guess only those who overpay for the privilege of reading the newspaper that my friend, Josh Mitchell works at, can fact check you here. Lucky for you, I do have a paid subscription!

My first problem with this link (other than it is only available to a limited number of people) is that the article is actually about MetLife—an insurance company and not a big bank—shedding parts of its business to avoid prospective regulations. The article also mentions that MetLife is only the second large company to shed part of its financial business in order to avoid being regulated. The first company was GE—also not a big bank. Not only did you mislead your readers about what is actually happening and what role Dodd-Frank has or has not had on these changes, you made it impossible for them to check your “evidence.”

How about talking about how Dodd-Frank has the potential to be a great piece of legislation with far-reaching effects. And although it has had some success (albeit, very delayed success), it could have done more over the past five years?

But instead of addressing the continued systematic abuses of Wall Street, you try to imply that Bernie’s feelings about the economy are unwarranted and are one more example that he is disqualified from being our president.

Lest we forget, the Clintons are very intertwined with Wall Street. And Bill Clinton drove one of the final stakes in the deregulation of the banks that led to the financial meltdown.  Bernie voted against this legislation. You have to admit, he has a pretty legitimate voting record.

What we should be talking about is how Dodd-Frank does not really have the teeth that the words in the legislation lead one to believe. This is because Congress (the GOP) has underfunded (or blatantly refused to fund) the SEC for years in order to prevent it from hiring and training the personnel needed to enforce the law effectively.

I think Barney Frank sums it up perfectly in a quote from a WSJ interview:

WSJ: How successful do you think the regulators have been at implementing the law?

Frank: Very good given the constraints. I remember part of the problem was as soon as the Republicans took power [in the House] they cut the funding [for] the [Securities and Exchange Commission] and the [Commodity Futures Trading Commission], which got an enormous amount of new authority over financial derivatives.

Why do Bernie supporters agree with his “fatalistic” assessment of the American economy? Because we got screwed and we are still getting screwed. I have written in-depth about the bailout and its effect on student loans and that does not even scratch the surface. The wounds caused by using tax payer money to bail out the banks that bet against us, is infuriating. On this we agree:

“It is true that the Great Recession inflicted catastrophic economic damage, and that fiscal policy did too little to alleviate it. The impression of economic failure hardened into place as the sluggish recovery dragged on for several years.”

4. Wages and Unemployment: “Recently, conditions have improved. Unemployment has dropped, the number of people quitting their job has risen, and—as one would predict would happen when employers start to run short of available workers—average wages have started to climb.”

That’s a really long sentence. First, we agree that unemployment has dropped.

I do not agree, however, that wages have started to “climb.” (emphasis added). Climb? Really? It seems like Bernie is not the only casually throwing questionable adjectives around . . . Your choice of words gets even more laughable when we see that government released data showing that wages are not rising. In fact, in December 2014, average pay fell. (page 8).

You assert that Bernie’s conclusion that “Obama’s policies have failed to raise living standards for average people is premature.” Maybe you’re right. Only time will tell. This still doesn’t disqualify Bernie as a presidential candidate, though.

5. Eliminating Corporate Power: “And the progress under Obama refutes Sanders’s corollary point, that meaningful change is impossible without a revolutionary transformation that eliminates corporate power.”

What progress have we made on reducing corporate power? There has been no campaign finance reform. The presidential candidates are expected to spend over $5 BILLION dollars this election. Where does this money come from? You could ask Hillary, but you already know the answer: anonymous corporate donations to a candidate’s Super Pac. Bernie doesn’t have one of those and we agree that a revolution is necessary. We live in a country where Supreme Court justices attend parties thrown by the Koch brothers! But yeah, let’s keep doing things the way they’ve always been done.

Getting 20 million+ people on health insurance is awesome, but as we have discussed, it’s not enough. Second, the unemployment rate is amazing, too. But since I am not an economist, I cannot comment on any policy changes that can be proven to have caused unemployment rates to decline with any statistical significance.  And since you did not provide a citation here, I guess we’ll move along.

6. Raising the Minimum Wage: “Even liberal labor economists like Alan Krueger, who have supported more modest increases, have blanched at Sanders’s proposal for a $15 minimum wage.”

You cite an article by Alan Krueger railing against a $15/hour minimum wage. See my last post on the 210 economists that support Bernie Sanders’ plan for a $15/hour minimum wage by 2020. His is not a widely-held belief.

7. Socialism: “[H]is self-identification as a socialist poses an enormous obstacle, as Americans respond to ‘socialism’ with overwhelming productivity.”

Adjectives really seem to get under your skin! It’s time to move on from socialist fever. Nobody cares what Bernie calls himself anymore. That was so 2015 and we are the generation of redefining labels and trying not to stereotype others. Rather, we are paying attention to what he is saying now and what he has been saying for over 30 years.

Further, the link you cite to support your assault on yet another adjective has the following headline: “Younger Americans have a much better view of socialism, and worse view of capitalism, than their elders.” Who do you think is going to run this country—maybe even as early as November 2016? Millennials!

John Mayer sums it up perfectly in his 2006 hit, “Waiting on the World to Change:”

“One day our generation is gonna rule the population.”

Welcome to our world.

8. Taxes: “Likewise, his support for higher taxes on the middle class—while substantively sensible—also saddles him with a highly unpopular stance.”

Since you did not provide a citation here, I’ll just argue that once people learn more about Bernie Sanders and his policies, the more appealing he seems to become. See above re: the cost-benefit analysis.

9. Bernie did not talk enough about Paris at the Democratic debate following the massacre: Therefore, “he has difficulty addressing issues outside his economic populism wheelhouse.”

What? I’m not even going to dignify that with more key strokes.

Shame-Bell-Lady-From-Game-Thrones

Gif from Giphy.

  1. Bernie Sanders does not have the grassroots support Obama did: So he’s going to fail.

Again, what? Do you have a crystal ball we should be aware of?

  1. Healthcare again:

The citation you provide here actually sings the praises of national single-payer healthcare systems. For example:

Overall, single-payer systems tend to be especially good at two things: increasing health coverage rates and holding down health care prices. Getting people covered is, unsurprisingly, a much easier task when the government is running a health insurance plan. When Taiwan implemented a single-payer system in 1995, the insured rate went from 53 percent to 96 percent in nine months.

The United States is not Vermont. It is not Cyprus. It is not Taiwan. Would this change be hard? Yes. Would it be worth it? My answer, along with millions of other Bernie supporters, is yes.

  1. Congress is more powerful than the president: “Those areas in which a Democratic Executive branch has no power are those in which Sanders demands aggressive action, and the areas in which the Executive branch still has power now are precisely those in which Sanders has the least to say.”

Are you suggesting that the bulk of Hillary Clinton’s main issues are something that the president can control? I don’t see how you could with a straight face. The link you provide here states, “For the purposes of evaluating a prospective Clinton presidency, this is all beside the point, because the number of these proposals she will sign into law hovers around zero.”

You state that “The next Democratic presidential term will be mostly defensive, a bulwark against the enactment of the radical Ryan plan. What little progress liberals can expect will be concentrated in the non-Sanders realm.” Duh.

Believe it or not, Bernie supporters generally know that there are three branches of government. We fiercely believe in the separation of powers, checks and balances and non-partisan adult legislation from our elected officials. The power that someone like Bernie Sanders has is to educate people about how they can take back their power in the political system.

  1. You don’t like Bernie Sanders.

Thanks, Captain Obvious.

Liberal to liberal let me give you some advice. The weakness of the Democratic Party is that it underestimates the growing support behind Bernie Sanders. It doubted that Barack Obama would defeat Hillary Clinton in 2008 (especially as decisively as he did).

Mr. Chait, just like the Democratic Party, you underestimate the intelligence of your readers generally, and Bernie Sanders supporters, specifically. We did not elect Hillary in 2008, and there is a possibility that we will fail to do so in 2016. The race has just begun.

I welcome a response.

 

Peace and Love.

Lindsey

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The Case Against Misleading Journalism (And For Bernie Sanders): Part I of II

It is no mystery. One of my greatest pet peeves is inaccurate and misleading journalism. I mean, really? You get PAID to report the news. Your job is to fact check, cite check and present an educated assessment of the story de jour.

It is so unfortunate that I have to call out a fellow liberal, but something must be said. Jonathan Chait, a writer for New York Magazine, wrote an article this week titled, “The Case Against Bernie Sanders.”  As an avid news reader and consumer of knowledge, I was intrigued.

After cross-checking each source cited and linked, I began to get that icky feeling again. I had flashbacks of Josh Mitchell and the Wall Street Journal. Thus, I feel in the interest of truth, I must take on the task of dissecting his article for your enlightenment and enjoyment.

But this is a complicated issue for me. Therefore, I have decided to break this post up into two parts.

This is Part I.  In this blog, I will explain some of the personal reasons I support Bernie Sanders. In the next part, I will dissect Mr. Chait’s article. This should be fun. J

PART I: When Feelin’ the Bern is not a Medical Emergency

feel the bern

It’s probably pretty obvious to most of you that I am a bleeding heart liberal. I am especially liberal when it comes to social issues, civil rights, separation of church and state, religious liberty, equality, drugs, the right to die, law enforcement, judicial reform and a woman’s right to choose what she does with her own body. I believe in the autonomy of each human being. I believe that adults should be able to make choices for themselves without government interference or input.

Side Bar

This used to be a conservative point of view, but in my opinion, neither party can claim this as their cornerstone anymore. That’s why I am not a Democrat, Republican, or member of any political party. Rant complete . . .

I believe that a human being, by virtue of being alive, has the inalienable right to do what he or she wants so long as they are not harming others, putting others in danger, or harming or endangering another’s property. I truly believe in each individual’s “Pursuit of Happiness,” whatever that pursuit may entail. I don’t even care if people want to hurt themselves or their own property. That’s their prerogative to the extent that it is not harming others. (Before some troll starts calling me out for this paragraph, my intelligent readers know that each of these statements is qualified and more complex than this brief explanation. Therefore, any discussion about people with mental health issues, incapacity, or unaddressed issues that these blanket statements may provoke, etc. cool your jets. I know.)

I love my country and like Bernie Sanders, am very hopeful for the future. I believe in US. I especially believe in my generation and the generations to come. We do not live in an isolated world where we are unconcerned and unconnected with the rest of the planet. We watch as other economies and societies flounder and flourish.

We read about Germany welcoming American students to come to Germany to receive a free college education. We wonder why the Germans can do this for Americans, yet our government cannot (or will not) do it for us.

We read articles about paid parental leave in Europe and especially Norway and Sweden’s approach to maternity and paternity leave. Yet, young women in this country are afraid to even insinuate that they may want children in the future to their overwhelmingly white male employers. And if you do get pregnant, I hope you work for a company that provides some type of paid leave for you. They do not have to, after all.

When we browse through our newsfeed on Twitter or Facebook, we see articles or personal stories about people ranging in age from 18-30 who have died in combat fighting a war that we have no stake in. We read heartbreaking statistics and stories from our friends about loved ones who made it back from this endless war only to take their own lives because they are not given the support they need when they get home.

We wonder why our country cannot look like other countries. Why is our country consumed by the acquisition of “things”? Why are we strapped with student debt that will cripple millions of us for a QUARTER OF A CENTURY? Think about that. That’s like having a mortgage on a house for 30 years, except at the end of 30 years you have nothing to show for it. Why can we not take care of our veterans? Why can we not have a fair election system?

People my age listen to their friends talk about work. How they are asked to work more and more hours with no expectation of raises or bonuses. The attitude in the working world from our perspective is: “If you don’t like it, we’ll find someone else who will do it for less. Be happy you’re even employed.”

We watched our parents’ unflinching loyalty to their employers. They played by the rules, contributed to their 401(k)’s and they are masters at their craft. Now they wonder if they will ever be able to afford to retire. Their wages are stagnant, their retirement plans and home values suffered severely after the crash in 2008. So, what was the point?

The people whose parents benefitted the most from collective bargaining and unions (baby boomers, specifically), proceeded to elect people who dismantled that safety net for American employees. They elected politicians who made it harder for average people to seek the relief of bankruptcy. They elected politicians that bailed out Wall Street with OUR tax money.

And it is no coincidence that the cost of college and student loan debt (accompanied by interest rates upwards of 7%) have sky rocketed since the recession. Each action has an opposite and equal reaction. Each part of our economy is so intertwined within itself that the most destitute of our communities and citizens ultimately pay the highest price.

Why should we play by your rules? What has it gotten you? We have a healthy distrust for government and an unwavering barometer for truth, justice and unfiltered bull shit.

Why not universal healthcare? The insurance companies have screwed ALL Americans. Why do we allow corporations to determine who does and does not receive medication and healthcare by virtue of a person’s ability (or inability) to pay?

Money in politics has rigged elections for a party that does not represent our beliefs and is fiercely opposed to change and progress. We have atoned for our crimes of seeking an education by committing up to 25 years of our lives paying off our student loans. We watch as our friends, neighbors and members of our community are arrested for possession of marijuana and police are literally getting away with murdering young black men and women. We see You Tube videos of police conducting raids on medical marijuana dispensaries and consuming their products. We read reports of law enforcement selling weapons and laundering money for drug cartels. We are pissed!

The Democrats are not innocent in this. They have become complacent. They have forgotten about states like mine. Texas is a historically blue state. Bet you didn’t know that, did you? But the party has abandoned us. And let’s not forget Bill Clinton’s indispensable role in signing mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines into law and further deregulating the banks, among other mistakes of his presidency.

Our country is a mired pool of hypocrisy and injustice. In my opinion, we do need a radical change.

This is why I support Bernie Sanders. Are all of his budgetary plans completely hammered out to the nearest cent? No. But do not be fooled, nobody else’s proposals are either. Wise readers, do not get caught up in the rhetoric. Never stop seeking the truth.

When I look at Bernie Sanders’ record, it is consistent and honest. He, like many other people, has evolved on certain issues. He’s recently been ridiculed for his past stance on gun legislation, but as a person from Texas, I get it. And it is nothing compared to what the Clinton campaign would have you believe.  Every state is different, but Bernie rarely is. This speaks to me and people my age. We’re tired of the bullshit. And there is one voice out there who seems to get that.

Since the mainstream media tends to ignore Bernie Sanders, let me drop some truth bombs on you with some excellent sources so that you can learn more about Bernie Sanders.

  1. Here is a list of Bernie’s most important issues. Feel free to cross-reference these proposals with his 30+ year voting record on Google.
  2. Bernie just released his budget on his website. You can see it here.
  3. 210 leading economists support Bernie Sanders’ plan to raise the minimum wage to $15.00/hour by the year 2020.
  4. 170 leading economists support Bernie Sanders’ financial reform plan to reign in Wall Street.
  5. If you disagree with economists and you yourself are not an economist, you become that person that diagnoses themselves with severe life-threatening ailments by using WebMD. Neither you nor your computer are a doctor, and you need to see a professional. The same goes for economics.
  6. Bernie is unquestionably a loyal-long time LGBTQ community and rights advocate. Just this morning, the Human Rights Campaign endorsed Hillary Clinton. A petition has already appeared on Change.org calling for the group to withdraw their endorsement because, lest we forget, Hillary Clinton is an uber-religious soldier in the democratic party. Unlike Bernie Sanders, and much like Barak Obama, Hillary was really late on the uptick.  While Bernie has been the house DJ for the most fabulous party on earth for over 30 years, Hillary only showed up around 2013 and even then she stood in the corner quietly watching to see what others were saying about **in a whispery southern voice** the gays! I do declare!
Parents guide

This abomination of a book is available for free on Amazon.

  1. Want to check out which Democratic nominees have been lying during this election cycle and what they have been lying about: click here!
  2. Here is a fact-check comparison for all 2016 presidential candidates: click here!

Although this is a short list, it is a list to get you started on getting know Bernie Sanders’ stances on issues and the truth about his campaign. Love him, hate him, it doesn’t matter if your opinion is based in fact.

I’ll see you tomorrow when I explore Mr. Chait’s article for you. And if you run across an article that just doesn’t sit right, feel free to share it with me in the comments.

Peace and Love,

Lindsey

 

Josh Mitchell of the Wall Street Journal Responds to Open Letter

Much like his reporting, Josh Mitchell’s response to my critique of his lackluster and misleading article is completely underwhelming. As most of you know, last week I wrote an open letter to Josh Mitchell of the Wall Street Journal following the release of his article entitled, “Grad-School Loan Binge Fans Debt Worries.” As a graduate student borrower, I felt compelled to respond.

After relentless tweeting, I finally received a response from him. Check it out:
J Mitchell Response 1

You can check out all of my tweets to him here.

I, for one, am disappointed in his response. The smugness is palpable. I am not surprised by his dismissive response, or the lack of response from the editor at the Wall Street Journal (even though I courteously emailed my article to him). My lack of surprise, however, does not mean this is an acceptable practice for the media.

We deserve better reporters.

I do not want to leave any doubt in Mr. Mitchell’s mind. I was not providing him feedback. I was providing him with the truth and the facts. This is what some would call the proverbial b*tch slap. He failed to do his job.

As an attorney, I am held to a very high professional standard. If I lied to my clients or misled my clients–even at the direction of a senior partner–I could lose my license. I acknowledge that a lawyer’s job is not exactly like a reporter, but both jobs are essential to our democracy.

Why do we not hold our media to a higher standard? Why do we allow them to shape the conversation about problems that they know nothing about? Should they go unanswered when they fail to do their job with integrity, or at the very least, accurate citations, attributions, and facts?

No.

It is time for student borrowers, and the people who love them, to change the conversation and correct the misinformation. If you would like to contact Josh Mitchell at the Wall Street Journal, you can find him on twitter by clicking HERE and via email at this address: joshua.mitchell@wsj.com. Additionally, if you find misleading articles regarding the student loan crisis, or you want to share your student loan story, please send them to me via my Facebook page. I look forward to hearing from you.

I leave you with this:

john lennon meme 2

I promise to keep screaming. Who’s with me?

An Open Letter to Josh Mitchell of the Wall Street Journal

Dear Mr. Mitchell,

After reading your article entitled, “Grad-School Loan Binge Fans Debt Worries,” it became clear that you are misinformed regarding the reality that millions of graduate students face when deciding to pursue a master’s or professional degree in the United States. Whether your misinformed view of this crisis is a result of willful ignorance or lazy reporting will remain a mystery.

In the media-biased world we all live in, The Wall Street Journal is still revered as a reliable and relatively unbiased news source. The Wall Street Journal provides sophisticated readers with some of the most pertinent business and political news in America. In fact, in 2007, ABC News reported that three-quarters of your readers have earned a college degree and have a median household income of $234,909. And it will come as no surprise that higher education levels lead to higher news readership.

When your customers are overwhelmingly educated beyond high school, the bar for reporting is raised. As such, I feel it is my obligation to illuminate the truth behind the assertions in your article in the hope that after reading my analysis of your missteps, you might be inclined to be more empathetic and thoughtful about the American student loan crisis as it specifically relates to graduate and professional students. My goal is that you are reminded that each of the millions of students that you have vilified are living, breathing humans, many of which are struggling to make ends meet because of their student loan debt. Every American will be affected by the student loan crisis, including you and your readers.

The long-term implications of the perpetual economic hardship of millions of Americans will have a dire effect on every facet of our economy. Studies show that students with substantial debt are delaying or foregoing buying a home, purchasing cars, and in some cases, deciding not to have children because of their student loan payments.

This crisis has ripple effects the likes of which we have never seen. People have even resorted to ending their lives—or deciding not to end their lives—because of student debt. Your cavalier approach to this crisis is insulting to, as you noted, millions of Americans (and their families) struggling with student loan debt.

To err is human; to forgive, divine. ~Alexander Pope

First things first. You stated, “Federal student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.” This is false. Although it is a difficult process, and discharge is the exception rather than the rule, student loans can be discharged in bankruptcy.  Research, read, revise—it is kind of your job.

One of the most harmful impediments to realistic student loan and higher education reform is the borrower-blaming rhetoric that you and countless other journalists have perpetuated. By blaming student borrowers you do nothing more than obfuscate the reasons for the student loan crisis and stir a divisive (and frankly poorly-informed) conversation.

When you describe Virginia Murphy’s student loan story, you categorize her—and others like her—as an “expanding breed of American borrower: those who owe at least $100,000 in student debt but have no expectation of paying it back.” I can guarantee that the reason Ms. Murphy has “no expectation” of paying off her student loan balance is not because she wants to cheat the government or the taxpayers. I speak from experience.

I am a student loan borrower. I have earned an MBA and a JD. I never needed a student loan until I entered graduate school (I was one of the few fortunate athletes in this country that earned an athletic scholarship to cover the cost of my tuition). I only attended state schools and I never took out a private loan. I also never received a scholarship even though I was at the top of my respective classes. Yes, I am of the same breed as Ms. Murphy.

You are correct that the public service forgiveness program will allow a student who commits his/herself to 10 years of public service, and by default, lower salaries than their counterparts in the private sector. You note that Ms. Murphy’s loan balance of $256,000 will “swell” to $300,000 in the next seven years it will take her to have her loans forgiven through the public service forgiveness program. To qualify for the forgiveness program, she must maintain her $330 monthly payments for the next seven years. Assuming her monthly obligation stays the same, she will have paid $27,720 over a seven year period. Yet, the obscene interest rates on her loans (mine range from 6.5-7.9%) will ensure that the $27,720 she pays will never touch her principal because it will have ballooned by over 17% in just seven years.

If you know of any seven-year bonds that have a 17% rate of return (2% compounded monthly, to be specific), sign me up.

Private sector workers, however, are not in an even similar position when it comes to “forgiveness” of their loans. You stated that private sector workers “can generally have balances forgiven after 20 years.” While you used the appropriate verbiage to characterize the federal income based repayment plan, the word “forgiveness” is not accurate.

If you still have a balance on your loans at the end of what could be a quarter of a century of crushing monthly student loan payments, you are taxed on the remaining balance, plus your income. This is not how the public service repayment plan works. Here is a great explanation of this phenomenon by Jantz Hoffman of Advantage Group, “Let’s say your debt has grown to $180,000 over 20 years, and by that point, you’re making $120,000[.] If $180,000 is being forgiven, then you are looking at paying taxes on $300,000 in total income in one year. At that point, you’re over the $250,000 income category, my friend.”

If this is “one of the nation’s fastest growing entitlements,” I must be confused as to what you consider an entitlement to be. To the millions of student borrowers out there, the entitlement seems to rest with those college students that have the financial means to avoid the student loan trap. And make no mistake; we do not blame these students. We envy these students. They, unlike us, will have the time and the grace to make mistakes—the kind of mistakes one makes by virtue of growing up. They have more financial leeway to change careers, buy homes and cars, and raise children.  Judging by the tone of your article and the comments that followed it, students without debt are entitled to one more thing. . . Your respect.

The Predators and the Prey

As you noted, in 2005, Congress lifted the limit on how much a student could borrow in federal loans for graduate school by creating Grad PLUS loans, “which cover any expenses after graduate students hit the Stafford [Loan] ceiling.” Before 2005, a graduate student was limited to borrowing a total of $138,500 including their undergraduate debt.

You state, “The measure helped students bypass private lenders, which student advocates said charged high interest rates and did too little to protect borrowers who fell on hard times.”

In the same piece, however, you also state, “The program also helped lawmakers in their quest to cut the federal deficit, because the government charges grad students higher interest rates than undergraduates. Grad PLUS was included in a deficit-reduction package passed by the Republican-controlled Congress in 2005 and signed [into law] by President George W. Bush in 2006.” And, “The federal student-loan programs are designed to generate revenue for tax payers, and they do.”

To summarize, you obviously acknowledge that graduate student loans were effectively de-regulated in order to make money for the federal government. This is the same government that ballooned the national deficit through the “Bush tax-cuts” and borrowed trillions of dollars to maintain the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Watson Institute at Brown University reports, “The United States federal government has spent or obligated 4.4 trillion dollars on the wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq.” The estimated interest payments due on this debt by 2053 will be $7 trillion.

Confusingly, though, you seem extremely concerned about the tax payers’ comparatively paltry burden from the “forgiveness” of federal student loans: “But the surging enrollment in the debt-forgiveness programs recently prompted the government to increase by $22 billion its estimate of the long-term cost of the provisions;” “And a recent move to expand the most generous repayment program to millions more borrowers will cost an estimated $15.3 billion.” “Generous” is a huge overstatement and these figures are dwarfed by the long-term tax-payer burdens set into motion during the Bush presidency. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported:

Just two policies dating from the Bush Administration — tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — accounted for over $500 billion of the deficit in 2009 and will account for nearly $6 trillion in deficits in 2009 through 2019 (including associated debt-service costs of $1.4 trillion).  By 2019, we estimate that these two policies will account for almost half — over $8 trillion — of the $17 trillion in debt that will be owed under current policies.

What concerns me more than your feigned interest for the welfare of the tax payers is that you unabashedly ignore the elephant in the room: the United States Government, after borrowing $4.4 trillion for two wars, also unilaterally decided to commit $700 billion of taxpayer dollars to fund the Wall Street bailout. But the actual cost of the bailout has been estimated to exceed $14.1 trillion.

Start two wars in the Middle East with borrowed money? Forgiven.

Use tax payer money to bail out major banks that gambled with peoples’ homes and retirement accounts leading to the worst American financial crash in recent history? Forgiven.

Lower the tax revenues realized by the federal government each year by giving unprecedented tax cuts to millionaires and large corporations at the expense of the middle class? Forgiven.

Went to law or medical school to try to improve your future financial and professional prospects, save lives, or preserve freedom? Unforgivable.

We are not the predators in this jungle of higher education. Regardless of your flawed analysis, students attending graduate school did not cause the student loan crisis. Our financial struggles and our exploding student debt is the result of a system designed by our nation’s leaders that commodifies and preys on the integrity of higher education and our most financially-vulnerable students.

The Rising Cost of College

Throughout your article, you emphasize that the swelling student loan debt burden of law and medical students, in particular, has been something that has grown at a record-setting pace.   For example:

  1. “The effects of loosened credit are most evident among graduates of medical and law schools . . . whose debt burdens have skyrocketed in the past decade.”
  2. “As graduate-school enrollment swelled over the past decade, the number of Americans owing at least $100,000 in student debt more than quintupled to 1.82 million as of Jan. 1 . . .”
  3. “The typical medical-school graduate owed $161,772 in student debt at graduation in 2012 . . . That figure rose an inflation-adjusted 31% over eight years. Debt growth was even sharper among law-school graduates. The typical student who borrowed left law school owing $140,616 in 2012, up 59% from eight years earlier.”
  4. As of 2012, “Those earning a master’s [degree] typically owed between $50,000 and $60,000; law degrees, $141,000; and medical degrees, $162,000.” Only “0.3% of undergrads owed six-figure debts,” “[b]ut among graduate and professional school students, 15% owed at least $100,000 upon graduation—more than double the share just four years earlier.”

“According to data from the Labor Department, the price index for college tuition grew by nearly 80 percent between August 2003 and August 2013. That is nearly twice as fast as growth in costs in medical care, another area widely recognized for fast-rising prices. It’s also more than twice as fast as the overall consumer price index during that same period.”

widemodern_collegechart_102313

The combination of tuition hikes and the depletion of state spending for higher education made paying for one’s college tuition without loan assistance exponentially more difficult. Unemployment was high, retirement accounts had been carelessly squandered by Wall Street, and kids’ whose parents may have had savings intended to put students through college, now needed that money to live.

The solution? First, increase tuition. Second, charge graduate and professional students more to get an advanced degree. Then, blame those same students who have been caught in a lifelong financial trap created by a group of mostly white, rich men—most of whom have graduate and professional degrees. They never needed a student loan to get a degree, after all. How fortunate for them, and how very unfortunate for us.

Warning: Moral Hazard

“Critics say offering unlimited loans to students, with the prospect of forgiveness, creates a moral hazard by allowing borrowers to amass debts they have little hope or intention of repaying, all while enriching institutions and leaving tax payers to pick up the tab.”

Wow.

Other than the atrocity that is this sentence, I noticed that you failed to provide any information or attribution to these so called “critics” you are paraphrasing. Journalism fail.

To be clear, the moral hazard of the American student loan program is not the borrower’s ability to amass enormous debts in order to fund an education. Rather, the “moral hazard” is sentencing our best and brightest to 20-25 years of financial atonement for the crime of trying to pursue their American Dream through higher education.

I must pause here and thank you. When you say, “. . . postgraduate borrowers . . . now account for roughly 40% of all student debt but represent just 14% of students in higher education[,]” you have helped me make my point.  If this statistic did not shock you, it should have. You assert that student loan debt has doubled since the recession to a total of $1.19 trillion.

In addition to common sense, the numbers you cite in your article tell us that the more expensive college is, the number of students needing student financial aid increases. At the same time, the amount of financial aid that these students need to cover higher fees increases as well.

Forty percent of $1.19 trillion is $476 billion and we have thrust this burden on 14% of our best and brightest students—the doctors who save our lives and the lawyers who preserve our liberty, for example. And just like your uninformed reporting, that is the real moral hazard.

The Real World

You discuss Bonnie Kurowski-Alicea. Bonnie is a 40-year old woman with a $209,000 student loan balance. “She pays $1,060 per month but plans to take advantage of the . . . proposal to allow borrowers with older loans to set payments at 10% of discretionary income.” She stated, “I’ll be the retiree that’s getting Social Security garnished[.]”

This is horrifying. You state that Ms. Kurowski-Alicea makes $80,000/year at her job. Most people would agree that $80,000 per year is a strong salary in a moderately-priced market. She pays $1,060 per month toward her student loans—$12,720/year—leaving her with $67,280 of gross income before taxes. Her student loan payments account for approximately 16% of her gross annual earnings. Still, she has to find room in her budget to support at least two people (her and her husband), save for retirement, pay for housing, insurance, vehicles, gas, etc. I am sure even you can agree, that this presents a number of logistical and budgeting concerns for her family.

Yet, you continue. “But a number of recent studies show the benefits are largely going to people who need them the least—doctors and many lawyers who will end up making six-figure salaries[;]” “Critics of the system say it makes it easier for graduate schools to raise tuition, and for some high-earning graduates such as doctors to escape debts they can afford to pay.” Once again, you have provided no citation or support for these assertions and they are patently false in light of real data.

Salaries in the United States, when adjusted for inflation, have been stagnant or declining across the board for decades.

Per_capita_US_income

Lawyers and doctors are not immune from this particular economic trend even though you seem to believe that the majority of lawyers and doctors earn six-figure salaries. I cannot speak for the doctors, but I can speak for the lawyers.

Attorney salaries have been tumbling for some time. In 2014, CNN reported,

 Back in 2008, associates at big firms made $125,000 straight out of school. But by last year, that had dropped to $95,000. And the vast majority of lawyers actually work at small firms for much less money. Local prosecutors, for instance, make about $50,000 in their first year, while those with 15 years of experience only earn $80,000.

Most of us are not wealthy. Most of us are just like you. We pursued higher education to create a better life for ourselves. While you specifically are not the problem, your aloof approach to reporting on this particular issue is a problem. Your article’s inability to clarify the root cause, and by extension, assign blame to the appropriate parties responsible for the student loan crisis is a problem. It is a problem to continue to deny, either implicitly or explicitly, that the American approach to financing higher education is predatory and unjust.

I leave you with this quote by John Adams:

“Laws for the liberal education of youth, especially of the lower class of people, are so extremely wise and useful, that, to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.”