2008...essiah-complex - %2

The Student Loan Mess

| Sat Dec. 27, 2008 1:47 PM EST

THE STUDENT LOAN MESS....The student loan market is a mess, and it's mainly a mess because the federal student loan program is woefully inadequate. Natalie Hickey learned the hard way:

Hickey got caught in an increasingly common trap in the nation's $85-billion student loan market. She borrowed heavily, presuming that all her debt was part of the federal student loan program.

But most of the money she borrowed was actually in private loans, the fastest-growing segment of the student loan market....Whereas federally guaranteed loans have fixed interest rates, currently either 6% or 6.8%, private loans are more like credit card debt. Interest rates aren't fixed and often run 15% or more, not counting fees.

....Hickey ended up with $20,000 in low-interest federally guaranteed loans issued by Sallie Mae, and $120,000 in higher-interest private loans issued by Sallie Mae. Hickey said no one explained the difference to her.

There's really no excuse for this. At the very least disclosure practices need to be tightened up, but what really needs to happen is a substantial increase in the current limit for federal student loans. It's not even close to the amount needed to get through school these days.

What's more, there's really no reason that the feds should be guaranteeing private loans instead of just originating the loans themselves anyway. Bank origination may have been the only practical option 40 years ago, but that ceased to be the case long ago, and the private student loan market has since become a cesspool of graft, corruption, and abusive practices. Today, federal origination is cheaper and more efficient for both taxpayers and students, and there's really no reason why the Direct Loan Program shouldn't be expanded to the point of putting the private market out of business.

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No Republicans Have Condemned the "Magic Negro" CD: What Can We Learn?

| Sat Dec. 27, 2008 1:21 PM EST

Brief recap. Chip Saltsman, a Tennessee Republican who is seeking the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee, sent a CD of holiday music to committee members earlier this month. That CD contained a Rush Limbaugh song titled "Barack the Magic Negro." (Listen here.) The song is sung by a white political humorist who tries to impersonate the voice of Reverend Al Sharpton. As Sharpton, the singer complains about Obama being palatable to white people "because he's not from da hood."

Saltsman defended the song, saying it is a "light-hearted political parod[y]." That got me thinking. Has any Republican criticized Saltsman for distributing the song? Here's Mike Allen of Politico, who is stunned to the find the answer is "no."

WHY HAS IT BEEN 18 HOURS SINCE THIS WAS POSTED AND NOT A SINGLE REPUBLICAN OFFICIAL HAS CONDEMNED IT? YOUNG PEOPLE IN THE PARTY FIND IT DISGUSTING/ASTONISHING AND CALLED THE LINK TO OUR ATTENTION AS A 'YA CAN'T MAKE IT UP.'

What's the motivation here? It's not that all Republican officials are racist, of course. I think it has something to do with the fact that conservatives by and large hate political correctness and hate being told by liberals that they stepped over the lines of polite discourse. I've frequently objected to an insensitive joke, only to be admonished, "Lighten up, it's supposed to be funny." Because, obviously, the fact that there is humorous intent makes the racism/sexism/homophobia okay.

The first Republican official who condemns Saltsman will be the first to bend to the will of the liberal PC Nazis (i.e. the biggest wimp). And I think that's why we aren't seeing people speaking out, including the African-American candidates in the race for the RNC chair. If this little episode has enough steam to stick around until after the holidays, top GOPers won't be able to ignore it any longer. They'll have to make a difficult choice. Sticking to their misguided principles will mean a third week of bad press for the Party.

Update: Conservatives are starting to find their voice(s).

Passive Houses

| Sat Dec. 27, 2008 1:06 PM EST

PASSIVE HOUSES....I've wondered vaguely for a while why you couldn't build a house that was basically vacuum sealed and thus needed almost nothing in the way of heating and cooling. But it turns out you can, and ground zero for research into "passive houses" is the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt, Germany, where I spent a couple of nights just a few months ago. The New York Times reports:

The concept of the passive house, pioneered in this city of 140,000 outside Frankfurt, approaches the challenge from a different angle. Using ultrathick insulation and complex doors and windows, the architect engineers a home encased in an airtight shell, so that barely any heat escapes and barely any cold seeps in. That means a passive house can be warmed not only by the sun, but also by the heat from appliances and even from occupants' bodies.

....Decades ago, attempts at creating sealed solar-heated homes failed, because of stagnant air and mold. But new passive houses use an ingenious central ventilation system. The warm air going out passes side by side with clean, cold air coming in, exchanging heat with 90 percent efficiency.

....In Germany the added construction costs of passive houses are modest and, because of their growing popularity and an ever larger array of attractive off-the-shelf components, are shrinking.

But the sophisticated windows and heat-exchange ventilation systems needed to make passive houses work properly are not readily available in the United States. So the construction of passive houses in the United States, at least initially, is likely to entail a higher price differential.

Interesting stuff. Old news to some, but new to me, and probably new to a few of you as well. More passive houses, please.

Redefining Hard Power

| Fri Dec. 26, 2008 3:55 PM EST

Errr, just click the link.

Friday Cat Blogging - 26 December 2008

| Fri Dec. 26, 2008 3:40 PM EST

BOXING DAY CATBLOGGING....We spent Christmas Eve this year at my mother's house, which naturally means I acquired many new pictures of her implacably adorable new kittens. I think they went through three complete cycles of manic zeal followed by utter slumberland during the few hours we were visiting.

But there will be riots in the street (punctuated by the occasional snooze) if Inkblot and Domino are booted from their rightful spots as America's Favorite Cats™ for two weeks in a row. So here they are. Domino is in her normal morning position, draped over Marian's head and sucking up all her bodily warmth. Inkblot, whose relationship with the new pod is sometimes a fraught one, was in a pod-loving moment a few days ago and spent the morning curled up in the sunshine on the other end of the bed. Usually he disdains the pod and sleeps right by Marian's feet, which basically makes her into a cat sandwich. On the other hand, my mother now has four cats, and apparently all of them like to sleep on the bed at night, so I guess it could be worse.

Eartha Kitt Dies at 81

| Fri Dec. 26, 2008 3:30 PM EST

Eartha KittLegendary singer and actress Eartha Kitt died yesterday of cancer at age 81. The AP described her as rising "from South Carolina cotton fields to become an international symbol of elegance and sensuality," while the New York Times called her a "seducer of audiences" whose wide-ranging career presaged current entertainers:

Ms. Kitt, who began performing in the late '40s as a dancer in New York, went on to achieve success and acclaim in a variety of mediums long before other entertainment multitaskers like Julie Andrews, Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler. ... With her curvaceous frame and unabashed vocal come-ons, she was also, along with Lena Horne, among the first widely known African-American sex symbols.

After the jump, video of Kitt singing "Santa Baby," a hit in 1953.

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A Fall From Greatness

| Fri Dec. 26, 2008 3:10 PM EST

A FALL FROM GREATNESS....As American manufacturing prowess continues its long decline, even American crime is being affected. Secret Service agent Charles Green explains to the Kansas City Star:

More counterfeiters are using today's ink-jet printers, computers and copiers to make money that's just good enough to pass, he said, even though their product is awful.

In the past, he said, the best American counterfeiters were skilled printers who used heavy offset presses to turn out decent 20s, 50s and 100s. Now that kind of work is rare and almost all comes from abroad.

....Green pointed to a picture hanging in his downtown conference room. It's a photo from a 1980s Lenexa case that involved heavy printing presses and about 2 million fake dollars. "That's what we used to see," he boomed. "That's the kind of case we used to make."

....Green's voice sank as he described today's sad-sack counterfeiters. These people call up pictures of bills on their computers, buy paper at an office supply store and print out a few bills. They cut the bills apart, go into a store or bar and pass one or two.

That is just a sad state of affairs, my friends. Whatever happened to taking pride in your work? I guess all the real crooks have decided that identify theft and computer fraud are the hot tickets these days.

As an aside, though, I have my doubts that the good stuff all "comes from abroad." My guess is that it comes from right here in the U. S. of A. Just not from counterfeiters.

Wish List from the Good Gov't Community: A Decent FEC

| Fri Dec. 26, 2008 2:34 PM EST

Christmas may have come and gone, but Obama still has the opportunity to give a gift to those who care about good government reform. Here's the New York Times:

For all the talk of change in Barack Obama's Washington, it is cynical business as usual for the ever-feckless Federal Election Commission. As a senator, Mr. Obama's signal reform achievement was a new law designed to crack down on lobbyist "bundlers" who package money from fat-cat donors seeking political favors. The F.E.C. — the bipartisan watchdog that loves to play dead — has now issued regulations for the law that poke it full of loopholes....
We have had little enthusiasm for the F.E.C. But the future only looks grimmer now that Donald McGahn has taken over as chairman. He is a party wheelhorse who was formerly the ethics lawyer for Tom DeLay, the ethically impaired ex-majority leader who quit under a cloud of money-raising scandals.
As president, Mr. Obama will have the power to confront the F.E.C.'s machinations. Three of the six commissioners are due to be replaced. Instead of rubber-stamping nominees suggested by Congressional leaders, he should broaden the process — with a blue-ribbon search panel, perhaps. It would be a real change to have an election watchdog with integrity and bite.

I say forget a blue-ribbon panel. That's a namby-pamby Washington-esque half-step. Create a wiki where the public can say who it wants on the FEC. The public will never, ever point to milquetoast party operators who will let politicians off the hook. (For more on how the FEC is in the pocket of the two major parties, read the article I wrote in April, back when the FEC lacked a quorum.) Also, a public wiki will guarantee that folks from the Sunlight Foundation, Democracy 21, Common Cause, and the Center for Responsive Politics — the folks who promote no interest other than getting the government to better serve the public interest — will have a voice. Currently, there is an implicit agreement whereby congressional lawmakers, the folks that the FEC regulates, tell the president who to appoint. I say the folks who regularly work for better regulation, instead of worse, should get that privilege.

Richardson in Trouble? Or Just Causing Trouble?

| Fri Dec. 26, 2008 1:45 PM EST

The Obama campaign has cleared itself of all wrong-doing in Rod Blagojevich's attempted sale of the vacant Illinois Senate seat, but they might have their own pay-to-play scandal on their hands.

...two former state officials say they've recently been questioned by a federal grand jury specifically about allegations that [Secretary of Commerce designate Bill] Richardson or aides pushed state business worth nearly $1.5 million in fees toward CDR Financial Products in 2004. The company is headquartered in Beverly Hills.
This was about the same time as CDR's founder, Rubin, donated $100,000 to two of Richardson's political action committees; mainly it appears to cover expenses of the governor and his staff at the Democratic Party's National Convention in Boston that summer.
Rubin also donated another $29,000 to Richardson's unsuccessful presidential campaign this year and last.

Right now, Rahm Emanuel is screaming, "[Bleeping] Richardson!" Or he's screaming, "[Bleeping] vetters!" Because in a transition focused on avoiding drama, headed by a president-elect who has made ethics reform a major part of his political persona, the fact that a high-level appointee may be guilty of straight-up corruption means someone screwed up big time. Either the massive questionnaire that Obama Administration job seekers had to fill out was ignored for top people, or Richardson lied to the Obama staffers who were in charge of scrutinizing his background.

Either way, Rahm probably isn't the only one who is pissed. Obama himself can't be happy. He's going to be dogged by this for as long as the investigation goes forward (it probably isn't problematic enough that he can just cut Richardson loose tomorrow), and while he would probably be willing to endure that for one of his superstars (Clinton, Summers, Holder), he must be frustrated that he is forced to endure it for a small potatoes pick like Richardson.

Quote of the Day - 12.26.08

| Fri Dec. 26, 2008 1:40 PM EST

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Michael O'Hare, after reading some disturbing news:

Great challenges, widespread deprivation, and collective enterprise need more chocolate, not less.

Quite so, and Barack Obama better not forget it. All together, I think I received about four pounds of chocolate this Christmas, so I'm set for the next couple of days. After that, store shelves better remain fully stocked if everyone expects this blog to continue.