Monday, July 01, 2013

NEA Vice President: NRA, Second Amendment Supporters "Are Going to Hell"

Speaking to all 3,000 of the assembled "progressive activists" at this year's Netroots Nation conference, National Education Association vice president Lily Eskelsen Garcia boldly declared a "prophecy" about the eternal destiny of NRA and Second Amendment supporters, and of politicians and lobbyists working to promote gun rights:  "I'm not an ordained minister; I'm not a theologian, but these guys are going to hell."

Wow.  Going to hell for supporting the Second Amendment?  That type of radical thinking might explain the very high incidence of ridiculous cases involving over-zealous school officials misinterpreting and wrongly enforcing "zero-tolerance" rules--and doing so without exercising even the smallest measure of sound judgment, discretion or basic common sense.

According to a Mercury News article, the high-ranking NEA officer went on to say, "We have to make those senators as frightened of us as they are of the gun lobby. Shame on us if we give one inch to the gun lobby.  They got where they are because they never give up. ... Now the movement is us; we are the ones we were waiting for."

As we note on a near-weekly basis, all of us agree that we want our children to be safe at school, and that reasonable safety measures should be followed.  But, when pressed, gun-control proponents and even President Obama's own administration will admit that the restrictions they are pushing won't make schools and students any safer. 

Do they really think that criminals and madmen will now suddenly and willingly comply with "universal" background checks and modern sporting rifle bans, or that a magazine capacity limit would have stopped Adam Lanza?  No, they don't.  No "educated" person could.


Student loans: Gouge the kids

Interest rates on student loans will double to 6.8 percent on July 1 unless Congress acts. But it seems increasingly likely that the Congress will take off for the Fourth of July recess without addressing the problem. The major sticking point: Republicans in the House and Senate insist on gouging the kids to help reduce the deficit.

House Republicans passed a bill that would tie the student loan interest rate to that of the 10-year Treasury note plus a surcharge of 2.5 percent, with rates changing each year. That would leave families struggling to piece together financing for college exposed to unpredictable changes in bond prices.

The Republican surcharge is designed purposefully to make money off of students – $3.7 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office – that would be used to help reduce the deficit. Some Senate Democrats have now joined in a compromise that would lower the surcharge, but still make money off student loans for deficit reduction (an estimate billion dollars over 10 years).

Think about that. Republicans and Democrats have trumpeted the need for corporate tax reform – shutting down tax dodges and lowering rates – that would demand corporations contribute exactly $0.00, nada, nothing to deficit reduction. The reforms would be “revenue neutral.” Companies are stashing away nearly $2 trillion overseas to avoid paying taxes, and the “reform” will ask them to pay nothing more to help government meet its bills.

But students doing what we want them to do – struggling to find a way to afford a college education – get stuck with helping to reduce the deficit.

Shared sacrifice is for suckers.

The fact is we want students to get the advanced education and training that they earn. We don’t want good students getting priced out of college. There is virtually universal consensus that our social and economic prospects will depend on the next generation getting more and better education. And college education or advanced training is necessary, if no longer sufficient, to reach the middle class and to have any hope at the increasingly endangered American dream.

So why gouge the kids taking on debt to stay in school and not the corporations secreting profits abroad to avoid taxes? Clearly corporate lobbies and contributions speak louder in the corridors of power than students and their families.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren has introduced legislation to give students that same interest rate that the banks enjoy from the Federal Reserve (0.75 percent) for a year, while Congress a broader program to make college affordable. We subsidize bankers whose excesses blew up the economy, why not subsidize kids struggling to pay for the education we say they need? Conservatives dismiss the Warren proposal out of hand.

Perhaps the most sensible thing Congress can do now, preferably before it takes off on vacation, is to extend the current rates – 3.4 percent – for two years while a serious solution is worked out. Sens. Tom Harkin, Jack Reed, Harry Reid and Patty Murray have introduced a
bill for that purpose. But to date, Republicans in the House and Senate are holding out to gouge the kids. And some Senate Democrats are folding to that demand.

These are the policy choices – in this case making college less affordable, letting corporations pay ever less in taxes – that undermine the broad middle class and contribute to the extreme inequality that increasingly saps our economy and corrupts our democracy.



'Stuffy and old-fashioned': a better description of Oxbridge critics than of Oxbridge itself

The state-school students who've chosen Ivy League universities over Oxford and Cambridge are wrong about the culture of the UK's leading educational institutions, says Tom Beardsworth

Keep Off The Grass. This particular Oxbridge insistence is one reason why Ian Barr, a state school student from Manchester, has turned down a place at Oxford in favour of one at Yale.

The Sunday Times reported that nine pupils have turned down places at Oxford and Cambridge this year, put off by the institutions’ “stuffy elitism and high fees”.

Barr complained that “One of my friends who also went for an interview at Oxford, as soon as he walked into the college was told ‘Don’t walk on the grass or you’ll have a £50 fine’, which seemed to reflect the restrictive attitude of Oxford, whereas at Yale it was much more focused on allowing the students to explore what they wanted to do.”

As an Oxford student this struck me as nonsense. Oxford colleges do indeed instruct visitors to ‘Keep Off the Grass’, though the suggestion – by an uninformed friend – that Barr would have been fined for doing so is ludicrous.

As the Oxford Fresher’s Guide (appropriately named Keep Off the Grass), distributed to several thousand new students annually, shows, Oxford life is varied and inclusive. Potential applicants would do well to read it.

Kebab vans, charity work and ‘Oxmas’ – the premature winter celebration held at the end of November – are far bigger features of the social scene than cosy college dinners and Oxford Union politics.

But there’s one thing Oxbridge can’t get away from: the gowns, dons and stone quadrangles. In the public mind they provoke the same feelings alternatively of enchantment and disillusion that one might get while watching Downton Abbey. But are they any more elitist than the highly exclusive frat houses, for instance, that Barr will encounter once he gets to Yale?

The claim that Ivy League universities in the US are less exclusive than equivalent institutions in the UK is an astounding one. Imagine the public outrage if Oxford or Cambridge were to announce a new admissions policy, discriminating in favour of students whose parents had attended the university.

Yet Harvard and Yale maintain a ‘legacy’ policy that does just this. "Legacy admissions are integral to the kind of community that any private educational institution is,” said Lawrence Summers, a former President of Harvard University. The culture of giving that Ivy League alumni adopt – on the whole – more freely than Oxbridge alumni exists in part because of the promise those universities make to entrench intergenerational elitism in return for fat cheques.

Nine students is a relatively small number. Next year's cohort to Oxford and Cambridge will include more students from state-educated backgrounds than ever before. For all the continued criticism of top universities' alleged intransigence, this is a clear result of the their turbocharged access efforts, for which Oxford and Cambridge – not to mention the successful applicants – deserve considerable credit.

Each of these nine who see the grass as greener on the other side of the pond will have thought through their decisions to study in the US. They may have valid, rational reasons to do so, but believe me, those are not the reasons the Sunday Times reported.


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