A brief PSA: The future of Public Service Loan Forgiveness is dire.

The popular Public Service Loan Forgiveness program is on the chopping block.  Here’s what this means for the current and future state of American public service workers.

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The popular Public Service Loan Forgiveness program is on the chopping block.  Here’s what this means for the current and future state of American public service workers.

In the Trump Administration’s latest proposal to combine the Department of Education and the Department of Labor, they have also proposed eliminating the Public Service Loan program for new borrowers. The key word here is “new borrowers”. Theoretically, this means the change wouldn’t affect people already enrolled and making payments in the program, but would instead prevent any new people from enrolling once enacted.

If you are reading this and just about to enter undergraduate or graduate school to pursue a degree in public service, or you are about to graduate with a public service or non-for-profit related degree and are investigating repayment plans, this information is for you.

For some background, here is the basic philosophy behind the “Public Service Loan Forgiveness” (PSLF) program in its current state and how it works:

The federal government loans money to someone so they can pursue an education that will help launch them into a career in public service (i.e., government work, social services, non-profit work, education, etc.). Because the earning potential in these careers is modest, at best, the PSLF program is designed to create an incentive for people to take up these very much needed and valuable career paths by promising to forgive the balance of their student loan debt after ten (10) years of consistent payments.

Once one makes 120 consistent payments (10 years), and completes the appropriate documentation to show they have made qualifying payments towards their loans, one then applies for the debt forgiveness and their remaining principal and interest balance is wiped clean. There is a lot of paperwork and documenting of income and work history along the way to ensure eligibility, but the process has been streamlined over the last few years to make this annual process very easy.  It sounds like a lot to deal with, but it is totally worth the hassle in the long run, especially if you have tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt.

Like many Americans, I have a lot of student loan debt. Like, a lot. But because of the type of work I do, I have been fortunate to qualify for this repayment program. However, it is very concerning to me that the PSLF program is on the chopping block for elimination in the FY19 federal budget, and could potentially discourage millions of other eager young Americans interested in a career in non-profit, public service work.

Social services and non-profits are what help hold communities together, and continually fill the voids left by existing (or non-existing) federal, state, and local government programs (i.e., public arts education, non-profit shelters and relief centers, etc., ). My organization alone reaches tens of thousands of local students in Arizona, and provides them with access to arts education activities, many of which have been reduced or eliminated in their schools.

Non-profit and public service work is invaluable to the health of our communities. And as we see an ever more present need for people to enter these fields of service to meet the demands of their communities, our federal government is proposing enacting policies that will only discourage and create disincentives for doing so.

If you think you might currently be eligible for the PSLF program, will be eligible for it upon graduation, or are just genuinely concerned about its future, here are some things you can do right now:

  • Call or write your congressman and senator, and express your support for continuing this program in its current form.  If you don’t know who these people are, you can easily find out here.

 

  • After you contact these people, and you get a sense of where they stand on the issue, VOTE for them (or against) them, depending on your inclination, in the next primary and general election.  To find out when your state’s next primary election is (hint: they’re all happening right now or very soon), go here.  The next general election for Congress is November 6, 2018.  Mark your calendars.

 

  • Continue to read and follow the news around this issue.  Set Google alerts for “PSLF” and “Public Service Loan Forgiveness”.  Staying current and informed is the only way to arm oneself with the information necessary to know how to move forward.

For further reading on this topic, here is a great post about the ten most common mistakes people make in relation to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

Day 27 – This post is NOT about Sarah Palin

(This post is part of the 30 for 30 Challenge).

The only thing seemingly newsworthy of the Sarah Palin endorsement of Donald Trump is the fact of her increasing inability to form sentences and coherent thoughts. I didn’t think that was possible based on past appearances, but little ceases to amaze me these days. My favorite headline of the endorsement which sums it quite nicely was from Slate titled “Hot Mess Endorses Dumpster Fire”.

But I will not be talking about Sarah Palin, at least not directly. Continue reading “Day 27 – This post is NOT about Sarah Palin”

Day 22 – Have we reached peak cynicism?

(This post is part of the 30 for 30 Challenge).

We all know what happens when excess is mistaken for progress: housing bubbles, tech bubbles, financial bubbles – name your bubble. I’m beginning to feel we are approaching the zenith of a cynicism bubble. Peak oil?  It’s time to start talking about peak cynicism and its repercussions.

Here’s why I am just as guilty of it. Continue reading “Day 22 – Have we reached peak cynicism?”

Day 20 – What’s in a word?

(This post is part of the 30 for 30 challenge).

I am reminded every election year that words matter. Language is very powerful as a motivating force in political rhetoric. Coupled with the right personality and the right amount of charisma, words can lead a nation towards inspirational, lofty visions  (The Gettysburg Address, civil rights, the moon landing), but they can also manipulate fears and insecurities towards engaging in unspeakable actions (internment camps, death camps).

As I wrote in an earlier post, 1984, by George Orwell, is one of the books that most significantly shaped how I see the world around me – especially as it relates to that of political bodies and governments. Don’t get me wrong.  There is a lot of good done by governments for citizens, not the least of which includes programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the National Highway System, to name a few. But I have also seen innumerable instances where, both in my life time and in past decades, governments have acted in ways that are wholly self-serving, corrupt and dangerous.

So as we enter the last ten months of the 2016 elections, let us all keep in mind three key phrases from 1984 – three mantras, if you will –  that are used in the novel to control and paralyze people, and that have existing forms in modern U.S. political rhetoric.
Continue reading “Day 20 – What’s in a word?”

Day 19 – What Every Politician is the Master of…

(This post is part of the 30 for 30 Challenge)

At the start of every political election year, I like to remind myself that most of what I am about to hear coming out of the mouths of political candidates is a very pure and refined form of bullshit. Bullshit is a term that has been in the lexicon for quite some time, and it is a word that is thrown around quite haphazardly. “Don’t bullshit me!”, we often exclaim. But what is bullshit, really?

To remind myself of the meaning of this word, and in a biannual effort to cope with the piles of it heaped upon my years every election year, it has become a tradition of mine during this time to read a very short, and poignant book called On Bullshit, by Harry G. Frankfurt.  This taut, well argued little book, wastes no words in getting at the crux of the matter, all while maintaining a tinge of humor. Continue reading “Day 19 – What Every Politician is the Master of…”

Day 14 – Five Books that Will Make you an Informed Citizen

There are books that change our lives and our world views, and then there are books that are equally great, but in a different way. There are books that are almost like text books, but text books you actually want to read. Their information is not only valuable to a functioning society, but to the continuation and furthering of knowledge for every person. Our mainstream media is failing us today as the Fourth Estate, intended to inform the public and help make for an educated electorate.  A healthy democracy is not possible otherwise.

These five books make up where the media fails in this area: Continue reading “Day 14 – Five Books that Will Make you an Informed Citizen”

Day 5 – Fear, Faith, Fundamentalism, and Doubt (part 2 of 2)

(This post is part of the 30 for 30 challenge)

Well, this post comes a day late.  Why?  Well, let’s just say that sometimes life gets in the way of one’s own creative pursuits, and we have to make time for those we love.  Now, back to the post at hand.

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As I mentioned at the end of yesterday’s post, I heard something on the radio this past weekend that really got me thinking about the whole problem of fundamentalist certainty that is seemingly awash in our current political discourse.

The radio program is the Ted Talk Radio Hour, and the subject of the show was “Faith and Doubt”.

The part of the program that most intrigued me was given be author, and agnostic Jew, Lesley Hazelton.  A self prescribed “accidental theologian”, Leslie took it upon herself to research and write a book about the prophet Muhammad, titled “The First Muslim”.  In the five years she researched the project, she looked back to some of the earliest known biographies of Muhammed, and realized that there was one very key thing about him that modern conservative interpreters of the religion seem to assert.  Namely, that Muhammed never doubted what he experienced was real, let alone Divine.  Quite the contrary.  As Hazelton puts it:

In his own reported words, he was convinced that what had happened couldn’t have been real. At best, he thought, a hallucination – a trick of the mind…at worst, possession…and when he found himself still alive, his first impulse was to finish the job himself – to leap off the highest cliff and escape the terror of what he’d experienced by putting an end to all experience.”

In short, she says, “He came down from the mountain that night not overwhelmed with conviction, but by doubt.” Continue reading “Day 5 – Fear, Faith, Fundamentalism, and Doubt (part 2 of 2)”

Day 4 – Fear, Faith, Fundamentalism, and Doubt (part 1 of 2)

(This post is part of the 30 for 30 challenge)

This past Saturday I was traveling home back west from the east coast, and witnessed a rather unsettling encounter between a Muslim woman wearing a hijab, and what I would call your typical, “angry white man”.  It was a busy day at the airport (the day after Christmas), so tensions were already a bit high, and the seating areas at the gates quite full.  The woman found an empty seat and set her backpack on the ground in front of it.  She then walked across to the other side of the terminal to throw something away.  When she walked back thirty seconds later, an “angry white man” accosted her saying, “Is this your bag?!  You should know better given this environment that people dressed like you can’t just leave things laying around like this at an airport.  You should be more careful!”  Thankfully, this incident happened near the check-in desk, so an airline employee quickly put an end to the verbal assult, and put the “angry white man” squarely in his place.  The Muslim woman gathered her things quietly and quickly, and moved to a far corner of the seating area.

I felt nothing short of mortified.  I was embarrassed both for her in that terribly awkward situation, and for myself to witness such bigotry.  I was repulsed that this is how people that look like me (i.e., white men) think they can treat a complete stranger at the airport for doing absolutely nothing wrong.  I wanted to stop the poor woman as she walked by to reassure her that, “We’re not ALL assholes, I promise.”  I didn’t go that far, but I thought about it.  All I could muster was a scathing stare towards the “angry white man” as I smoldered in my seat. Continue reading “Day 4 – Fear, Faith, Fundamentalism, and Doubt (part 1 of 2)”

Arizona state legislature’s actions backfire on state ID standards

An interesting story out of Arizona this week with regards to state ID card standards.

http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/12-news/2015/02/27/12news-az-license-does-not-meet-requirments/24124287/

When the federal government enacted the “Real ID” laws after 9/11 in an effort to create a uniform standard for all state driver’s licenses, some conservative states like Arizona flipped out and rejected these new standards – viewing them as a form of national ID, the coming of the anti-Christ, or something like that.  Now, guess what?  The AZ State ID card does not meet federal standards, and as such, residents of Arizona will not be able to use their AZ state issued ID cards to enter federal buildings or board domestic flights beginning in 2016 unless AZ adopts the new “Real ID” standards.  That’s right.  AZ residents would then have to present a federally issued passport when boarding domestic flights.

What I find most ironic about this whole situation is that the whole reason AZ is in this situation is for the irrational fear by the state legislature toward government overreach and a “national database” of identification cards.  However, now because of their having acted on this irrational fear, all AZ residents will potentially have to present a federal passport when traveling anywhere in the U.S. and/or entering certain buildings.  In other words, the AZ state legislature has by their own actions caused the very situation they were trying to prevent – the implementation of a national ID (i.e., passport) in order to travel anywhere domestically within the United States.

This is what happens when conservative state legislators, with irrational fear of federal government oversight, enact legislation that ends up hurting citizens in the long-run.  You can apply this logic to numerous current issues being blocked by conservative politicians that are in the public’s best interest (history textbooks, global warming, minimum wage, Citizen’s United, healthcare, etc., etc., etc.)  Do we see a pattern here?

Way to go guys.

The Unknown Known: Is there a takeaway?

Tonight, I saw the recently released documentary about Donald Rumsfeld.  It was about his handling of the Iraq War, and an overarching perspective of the decisions he has made throughout his political career….I think.  The film is called “The Unknown Known“, and it was directed and written by Errol Morris.  I say ,”I think” that is what I saw, because throughout the entire 103 minutes of interviews and footage (all of it entirely between Mr. Morris and Mr. Rumsfeld), I had a hard time deciphering the narrative, or “point”, of the whole thing.  More precise, I could not figure out Mr. Morris’ position on the matter of Mr. Rumsfeld.

Based on the promotional spots for this film, I believed I was going to see a documentary that somehow revealed something about Mr. Rumsfeld that I had not already thought before.  In short, that there was something more behind the public persona he portrayed while in public office; a persona, I might add, that I remember as coming off as calculating and manipulative. However, the movie left me with a feeling of utter vagueness.  I couldn’t tell what the point of it all was.Unknown knowns

At some points throughout the film, I felt that Morris was trying to prove Rumsfeld was complicit in his knowledge of a plan for the second Iraq War in 2003, prior to the attacks on 9/11.  Rumsfeld is filmed reading memos he had written that seem to indicate he had some foreknowledge of the plans to attack Iraq.  Or, what some also might call, the “Neo-Conservative Agenda for the Middle East.”  But then, a few minutes later, Morris allows Rumsfeld the cliché when asked about the outcome of the Iraq War, “Everything seems amazing in retrospect…Stuff happens.”  What is Morris trying to prove here?  That Rumsfeld is complicit in something sinister, or that he deserves the benefit of the doubt?

The film then delves into a historical exploration of Rumsfeld’s political career, coupled with a smattering of personal anecdotes (I guess for the purpose of humanizing the subject of the film).  And yet, each of the sub-topics of his civic and political career; his time in the U.S. Navy; his positions in the Nixon and Ford Administrations; his actions leading up to and during 9/11; seem to have an implication that “something fishy is going on”.  And yet, these “fishy implications” are never summarized, or spelled out by Mr. Morris.  One is left wondering, “what was the point of all that?”  I for one left wondering, “what did I just see?”

Was I to believe Rumsfeld was culpable for covering up something during his time in the Bush Administration?  Or, was I to believe that he was a noble man, doing his job, and simply made an honest series of mistaken decisions along the way?  There is much evidence to suggest that the latter is not the case.  Morris does not offer an overt position or explanation on either in the film.

In fairness, it could have been Mr. Morris’ intention all along to present a nuanced portrayal of a controversial figure.  Perhaps, I am simply too caught up in my pre-conceived notions of Mr. Rumsfeld to give him a fair shot.  Or, perhaps Mr. Morris knowingly used Mr. Rumsfeld’s own words and calculated demeanor to paint a picture of him that so may Americans already suspect…

Just as Mr. Rumsfeld perfected the art of language manipulation in his press conferences (as the film shows), Mr. Morris utilizes Mr. Rumsfeld’s own words and smarmy gestures to show that there really might be something lurking under the surface that is not entirely tangible.  There just might be, as Morris hints at throughout the film, something hiding behind that wide grin….Something, as Rumsfled might say, that could be considered an “unknown known.”