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Opinion: A Fight For Us All-We Want More!

By Jordan Lewis | Counterpoint | September 15th, 2013 | LEAVE A COMMENT

This Thursday, workers at the Hecht-Stanford dining hall worked out of the job. It was an affirmative statement that they want higher wages, better benefits, and more respect in the workplace. They stood up for themselves and other working people, and for that we should be extremely grateful.

The walkout took place at about noon. I was there, waiting with fellow Counterpoint co-hosts, ready to observe the proceedings. The workers were jubilant, happy to defy the wills of their overbearing bosses, if just temporarily. The workers marched along Ponce De Leon Boulevard and generally were well received by passers-by and motorists. The students that came by were supportive of the effort, though most students were not immediately aware of the walkout or the circumstances that preceded it.

The plight of the Chartwell’s workers is a rallying point in the local community. The crowd at the rally was a diverse set of individuals, from local activists, to Democratic Party leaders, to students, and supporters of labor. Father Corbishley, the chaplain of the St. Bede’s Episcopal Church at UM, was quick to mention that the prophets in the Old and New Testament made eradicating poverty a priority. UNICCO workers who recently received a new contract joined in support of the Chartwell’s employees.

The battle for better wages is not isolated to Chartwell’s. One leader wore a shirt that urged for justice at Wal-Mart, another retailer that pays poverty wages. . The societal costs of low wages and mediocre health care coverage are significant. In one such example, a 300-employee Wal-Mart store could cost $1.75 million per year

in taxpayer subsidies. On a similar note, McDonald’s and Visa put together a budget for somebody making $1,105 a month at McDonald’s (and $955 at a second job, because everybody has the ability to work 2 jobs at the same time). They also budgeted no money for gas to heat homes, and $20 for health insurance (basically acknowledging that one can’t afford health insurance under this budget). The situation at Chartwell’s is not too different; workers are forced to choose between important priorities. They live in some of the worst neighborhoods in Miami—and many make less than the medium income in these neighborhoods. Chartwell’s recently raised the cost of a meal at the dining hall by $1.75 but did not pass on any of those proceeds to its workers, many of whom have been there for over 10 years.

As students, we come to learn important skills such as problem solving and critical analysis; we also should learn how to be proper citizens. A good citizen lifts others in need. The Chartwells workers took a chance to fight for the rights of working people. According to Miss Betty, victory belonged to the Chartwells workers on Thursday. A fair contract isn’t just a victory for Chartwells employees; it’s a victory for the community, for the students, and for millions of Americans who work towards their American Dream every day.

Click the hyperlink below to listen to our interview with Miss Betty
Miss Betty Interview

Climate Change Series | Part III: Ideas

By Jordan Lewis | Counterpoint | July 25th, 2013 | LEAVE A COMMENT
This post is part of a series aimed at providing one perspective to the broad topic of climate change.  Overall, this series will include mention of the causes of climate change, how it affects us and personal ideas from the writer on approaches that can be taken to solve this complex and global issue.  Facts are facts, but any personal views expressed throughout this series are those of the writer alone.  For this particular post, it is important to note that the author, Jordan Lewis, is the former president of UM’s Young and College Democrats. His sources are disclosed below this post, however.                                                                                                                                                                                                                     —————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

The President’s Plan

 Last month, the President unveiled his plan for addressing climate change. It sets us in the right direction but in my opinion does not come close to solving the problem adequately. It is, however, cognizant of the political divide and does not require any action from Congress, only Executive Orders.

  • President Obama’s plan to direct the EPA to work with state and local governments to limit carbon pollution at power plants is a common-sense but still significant move.
  • The President set a goal to double wind and solar energy by 2020.
  • The FY 2014 budget will increase research by 30%.
  • The President set a goal to have a performance equivalent of 54.5 MPG by 2025.
  • The administration released plans to make rural utilities more sustainable, and to help make electricity generation more efficient.
  • The administration will also develop fuel standards for heavy trucks in the future.
  • The federal government will consume 20% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

While these measures are positive, and show a commitment to fighting climate change, they aren’t aggressive enough to lower our footprint to responsible levels.

 

A Responsible Plan For Now and In the Future for the USA

We need to take aggressive steps to combat climate change. Here are some policy ideas to help mitigate climate change:

 Efficiency:

  • Encourage automobile makers to enhance MPG standards, sooner. The technology exists to produce 40-MPG compact cars immediately, and President Obama’s proposal of 54.5 MPG could and should be met sooner. We can and should aim higher. Provide incentives that make electric vehicles, hybrids, and other efficient vehicles affordable on the marketplace.
  • Provide more tax-incentives for energy-efficient appliances and machinery.
  • Encourage sustainable agricultural practices, with a lessened reliance on fertilizers.
  • Set higher efficiency standards for electricity generation (like the Obama plan at power plants).

Rebuild Our Country

America’s infrastructure is in need of repair. A stimulus package would create millions of jobs and make our country stronger and more energy-efficient.

Build efficient roads and bridges.

Invest in renewable energy projects. Solar and wind powered energy sources are available and are not being used to the extent in which they could be used. Allocate funds for research.

Invest in Mitigation Strategies

  • Climate change will bring about many of the negative impacts as explained above. We need to invest in strategies that protect against some of these impacts.
  • Explore building seawalls along our coasts to mitigate sea level rise.
  • Explore crops that are more adept to warmer climates.
  • Build irrigation systems that save water, including microirrigation (as used in Israel)
  • Erect buildings that can sustain extreme winds and other forces of nature.

Engage in global pacts to reduce carbon emissions

  • By not ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, it indicated that we were not willing to take significant steps to reduce climate change.
  • By entering into international agreements, we will spread goodwill that will encourage other countries to limit their emissions.

Reduce our dependence on coal and oil

Coal and oil are dirty fuels that form a major part of carbon emissions. Carbon is the most utilized fossil fuel in the world but also the dirtiest. Oil is ubiquitous in American transportation and industrial production.

Reducing our dependence on oil saves consumers money, enhances national security, and will reduce air pollution in our cities.

We should make it a priority to phase off coal and oil use as soon as possible. In order to fill our energy needs, we can utilize natural gas. Natural gas is the cleanest burning fuel and is generally abundant in the United States. There are significant environmental hazards to natural gas extraction. Natural gas extraction involves a technique called hydraulic fracturing, in which chemicals, water, and sand are blasted into wells in order to draw gas to the surface. This has threatened our water supplies and allowed gas to seep out into homes. Americans must know what chemicals are used in these fracking techniques, and safeguards set in place to protect our water supply.

Finally, natural gas should be used as a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.

Avoid the production of wasteful synthetic fuels, including Keystone XL  

Synthetic fuels, such as tar sands, require additional energy input, and present enormous environmental damages. Keystone XL is a tar sands project. Let’s discuss the Keystone XL Pipeline:

  • Tar sands are a mixture of sand, clay, water, and a viscous oil-like substance called bitumen, which can then be refined to produce oil. These tar sands are abundant in Alberta, Canada.
  • The tar sands project has caused massive deforestation and environmental degradation in Canada. In order to fully reach these tar sands, it will require the destruction of an area larger than Florida[1].
  • Each barrel of tar sands produces three types the amount of greenhouse gases as regular oil.
  • Tar sands are an environmental hazard, containing arsenic, mercury, lead and other carcinogens. It endangers aboriginal communities and the communities by which the Pipeline would pass by.
  • The Keystone XL Pipeline would run across America’s Rockies and through areas vital to ensuring our food supply. The most critical area it would cross is the Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies 30% of the water used for irrigation for agriculture[2]. A spill of this corrosive, toxic oil would threaten our nation’s breadbasket for a significant time to come. Early portions of the pipelines have already leaked, three times in South Dakota. There were 12 spills in this past year.
  • The tar sands would be refined in America but shipped overseas. It would not reduce dependence on foreign oil.
  • The tar sands project could actually cost Midwest farmers 20 cents per gallon in higher fuel costs[3].
  • Major unions oppose this project because there are few decent, permanent jobs to oppose the pipeline. It will create 35 permanent jobs (according to the State Department) while creating 51 coal plants worth of carbon[4].
  • Other nations are opposed to allow such a pipeline in their sovereign territory.
  • NASA scientist James Hansen described the Keystone XL as “game over for the climate.”
  • Simply put, President Obama’s plan to reduce the impact of climate change will be a mere paperweight if he approves the Keystone XL pipeline.

Enforce legislation to limit carbon emissions for industry

Despite efficiency increases and sustainable-use strategies, Congress should develop a plan to limit emissions from industry and factory groups. Cap and trade systems and carbon taxes are among the options that have been considered throughout the world. Cap and trade sets limits on carbon pollution and uses a market scheme where firms can purchase more credits on the open market. Such a proposal passed the House in 2009 but was not voted on in the Senate. A carbon tax scheme would place a tax on carbon emitters that could be offset by lowering other taxes on citizens. In terms of limiting carbon emissions, the carbon tax may have more might. Neither is politically feasible at the moment.

Utilize urban planning techniques and mass transportation

The government should emphasize sustainable urban planning strategies. The benefit of sustainable cities is that transportation costs are lower, for consumer products and transportation to work. Less land is required, allowing more land to be set aside for green space. Finally, the cities provide an opportunity to utilize effective mass transportation systems. Our systems should be made to run on renewable fuels and should be attractive for residents to travel on.

Research techniques to remove carbon from the atmosphere

We need to prepare for climate change getting worse in the future. Thus, we must invest in research to find sequestration methods that are effective. Sequestration removes carbon dioxide from power plants (carbon capture and storage) and the environment and stores it in the Earth or other place that will not contribute to climate change. Carbon capture technology is already being implemented, but other sequestration techniques are still under study.

Encourage contraception and population controlA way to fight climate change would be to provide low-cost contraception to developing countries. This would not only lower demand for fuels and climate footprint, but also improve standards of living and the status of women. It’s a win-win.

Engage in Reforestation practices in the United States and across the world

The United States should invest in setting aside land to allow native forest to regrow, adding to biodiversity and taking carbon out of the atmosphere. We should encourage other nations to protect their forests.

Encourage personal responsibility and the 3 R’s

As a society, the American people should look to make changes in our lifestyle to lower our carbon footprints. We should buy less, reduce, reuse, and recycle. We can reuse a lot of household items and keep them out of landfills. By recycling products, we save energy that would be used to make them. We could make one less trip on an airline this year. We should look to purchase goods that are recyclable and use paper instead of plastic and Styrofoam. We should look to kick our habit of buying plastic water bottles that are expensive, carbon intensive, and clog up landfills. American tap water is cheaper, cleaner, and healthier than most bottled water. Finally, we should look to eat less meat. Consumption of meat produces carbon dioxide at several levels. Land is cleared in many developing countries to raise cattle, removing carbon sinks, and with the burning of trees, releasing it into the atmosphere. Up to 45% of all of the land on the Earth is occupied with livestock grazing[5]. Cattle also require larger grain (100 times more water) inputs than other crops. Finally, cattle belch methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the environment.

Encourage the purchase of locally made products

We can also reduce our carbon footprint by buying locally, at farmers markets and mom-and-pop stores, rather than from overseas. Cargo ships account for 3% of carbon emissions, but that’s small compared to the footprint of a commercial airliner. Buying local helps the environment and local businesses. Everybody benefits and it puts people to work. With the trade deficit so starkly in favor of China, it’s time to put our resources to work to encourage the purchase of more American products, including enforcing the label “Made in x” for all products coming from overseas.

 

Climate change is a threat to us, our children, and our grandchildren. We need to fight for a future and press our leaders to limit emissions in order to have a liveable world for the next generations.

Sources:


[1] http://ran.org/what-are-tar-sands

[2] http://www.nrdc.org/land/files/TarSandsPipeline4pgr.pdf

[3] http://www.tarsandsaction.org/keystone-xl-facts/

[4]http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/04/17/1885621/keystone-pipeline-will-create-only-35-permanent-jobs-emit-51-coal-plants-worth-of-carbon/

[5] http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/15/we-could-be-heroes/

Climate Change Series | Part II: Why Care?

By Jordan Lewis | Counterpoint | July 24th, 2013 | LEAVE A COMMENT
This post is part of a series aimed at providing one perspective to the broad topic of climate change.  Overall, this series will include mention of the causes of climate change, how it affects us and personal ideas from the writer on approaches that can be taken to solve this complex and global issue.  Facts are facts, but any personal views expressed throughout this series are those of the writer alone.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      —————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

The Effects of Climate Change

Sea level rise would threaten the world’s coastal cities, including Miami. Over 100 million people live within three feet of sea level. In the developing world, sea level rise would hit the hardest, causing massive refugee crises and deaths from disease and other impacts. The effects will also be felt at home. According to Jeff Goodell of the Rolling Stone, with just three feet of sea level rise, 1/3 of South Florida will be underwater. With six feet, ½ of South Florida will be gone. The Florida Keys are already vulnerable to sea level rise[1]. Since 1920, South Florida has seen over 9 inches of sea level rise.[2] The projected sea level rise is double that. South Florida expects to see a sea level rise of 9 to 24 inches in the next 50 years. NOAA projects a general sea level rise from 2.5 to 6.6 feet by 2100[3].

Temperature projections are varied due to uncertainties about carbon emissions in the future. If we lower our emissions, warming will slow, but the converse is also true. The IPCC expects a global temperature increase of at least .2 degrees Celsius per decade for the next two decades[4]. Even if we stopped emitting carbon today, the result of carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere would increase. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change recommends a hard limit of 2 degrees Celsius warming. After this point, dangerous positive feedback mechanisms would enhance carbon inputs into the atmosphere and thus increase warming. Such feedbacks include the release of methane from Arctic permafrost, release of carbon from the oceans, desertification, forest fires, increased water vapor (a greenhouse gas), and a loss of albedo from Arctic glaciers (Snow and ice reflect heat back towards the atmosphere. Without such cover due to climate change, this capacity is reduced.)

v  Plant life will migrate toward the poles, and up to ¼ of all organisms will go extinct, including the polar bear.

v  Extreme weather events will happen more often. Without natural barriers to erosion, the effects of such storms will be worse.

v  Rainfall patterns will change. Some areas will receive record amounts of rain while others will go into prolonged drought. In areas such as China and Northern Africa, the movement of desert threatens arable land.

v  Certain diseases such as malaria will thrive due to warmer climates, putting much of the tropical and semi-tropical world at risk.

v  Damage caused by climate change will be measured in trillions of dollars. The Stern Review estimates damage due to climate change at about 5% of global GDP[5].

v  Water supplies will be critically reduced due to salinization, increased evaporation, and drought. It has been said that the next wars will be fought over water supplies.

v  Many parts of the world that depend on agriculture, including the Midwest, could suffer from drought and increase pestilence, decreasing global yields. Changes in ocean salinity will impact fisheries around the world and the economies that depend on fishing.

 

Sources of Greenhouse Gases

Climate change is caused by greenhouse gas emissions. Here is the breakdown of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States[6]:

  • Electricity: 33%
  • Transportation: 28% (90% of which is petroleum)
  • Industry: 20%
  • Commercial and Residential: 11%
  • Agriculture: 8% (fertilizers, livestock)
  • Deforestation combines for 20% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Cement: 4% worldwide
  • Aviation: fastest growing: 3.5% worldwide
  • Garbage: 3% worldwide

More information worldwide[7]:

  • Coal: 25% Gas 19% Oil 21%
  • Direct Emissions: 34.6% (Agriculture, Land Use, Waste)
  • 76% CO2 15% Methane 7% Nitrous Oxide
  • The atmospheric carbon levels have passed 400 parts per million, the highest level in 3 million years. Some scientists have advocated for 350 ppm as a safe level. We’re far from that[8].

 

Sources:


[1] http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/why-the-city-of-miami-is-doomed-to-drown-20130620?page=2

[2] http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/07/05/3485930/debbie-wasserman-schultz-says.html

[3] http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2012/12/06/noaa-sea-level-rise/1750945/

[4] http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/spmsspm-projections-of.html

[5] http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http:/www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/independent_reviews/stern_review_economics_climate_change/stern_review_report.cfm

[6] http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/sources.html

[7] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/05/31/this-giant-chart-shows-where-all-our-greenhouse-gases-come-from/

[8] http://americablog.com/2013/05/global-warming-heat-trapping-co2-concentration-passes-400-ppm-milestone.html

Climate Change Series | Part I: Fact or Hypothesis?

By Jordan Lewis | Counterpoint | July 23rd, 2013 | LEAVE A COMMENT
This post is part of a series aimed at providing one perspective to the broad topic of climate change.  Overall, this series will include mention of the causes of climate change, how it affects us and personal ideas from the writer on approaches that can be taken to solve this complex and global issue.  Facts are facts, but any personal views expressed throughout this series are those of the writer alone.

————————————————————————————————————————————–

Is it happening?

Yes. That’s the answer from the scientific community. The International Panel on Climate Change found that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal”. A recent study found that 97% of climatologists (out of 12,000 peer-reviewed articles) found that humans are causing changes in our Earth’s climate system. If 97% of doctors recommended a new treatment for cancer, it would change the medical paradigm when it comes to treating cancer.

 

Climate Denial

However, when it comes to climate change, our public and politicians have been slow to embrace decades of research and data. A comprehensive strategy to mitigate climate change is necessary, but has been met with opposition from industry and energy companies. These organizations, led by the Koch Brothers ($67 million by themselves[1]), have donated hundreds of millions of dollars to scientists and climate denial groups to manufacture data and delay critical policy. Brown & Williamson, a tobacco giant, noted in a memo “Doubt is our product”. It’s no wonder that groups such as the Koch Brothers are employing the strategies that the tobacco industry has used to combat evidence that smoking causes cancer. These industry groups have funded studies designed specifically to refute evidence of climate change, and use these studies to challenge the consensus that climate change is caused by human activity. In many cases, these scientists (geologists) have no credentials in the field of climate science. But some Koch Industries-funded scientists have recanted their skepticism of climate change, with one scientist, Richard Muller stating, “humans are almost entirely the cause” of climate change. In any case, the Koch’s are in a paramount position to lobby against climate policy in Congress. As the biggest donors to the Tea Party and conservative front groups such as Americans for Prosperity, ALEC, and Freedom Works, the Koch Brothers have considerable ability to fund campaigns and candidates that are opposed to climate policy. In fact, the increased power of the Tea Party to challenge incumbents has caused Republicans to side with the energy lobby to avoid a primary challenge. As a result, the majority of the Republican Party is at least skeptical of anthropogenic climate change, and has fought against climate policy, to keep oil subsidies, and against the EPA’s attempt to regulate greenhouse gases.

 

Evidence of Climate Change

 Our planet is warming at a pace that is unprecedented in history. This warming directly corresponds to the increase in greenhouse gas emissions since the Industrial Revolution. We must make a distinction between weather and climate; weather is an indication of atmospheric conditions over a short period of time, while climate is a measure of these conditions over an extended period of time. In this next section, we will use indicators of long-term climate to demonstrate that climate change is occurring at a rapid pace[2].

  • Most of the warming has taken place in the last 40 years, in the same time as carbon emissions have soared.
  • All 20 of the warmest years on record have occurred since 1981. All 10 of the hottest years on record have occurred in the last 12 years. According to NOAA, 14 of the hottest years on record have occurred in the last 15 years[3].
  • The argument that solar output causes climate change is a common theory used by climate skeptics. The years 2007-2009 experienced a deep solar minimum, yet were some of the hottest years on record.
  • 2012 was the hottest year on record for the United States, and second most extreme in our history.
  • This year is expected to be no different. The summer in Australia was their hottest ever. This May was the third warmest on record (1998 and 2005 warmer). In the last few weeks, a heat wave struck Alaska, soaring temperatures into the 90’s.
  • The global sea level rose 17 centimeters in the last century. The rate of sea level rise this decade is double that.
  • The top 700 meters of ocean have warmed by .3 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969. It takes an enormous amount of heat to warm the ocean by that amount.
  • Our ice sheets are diminishing rapidly. Greenland lost 150 to 250 cubic km of ice per year from 2002 to 2006. Glaciers have retreated at record rates.
  • The acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by 30%. The amount of CO2 absorbed by the oceans increases by 2 billion tons per year.
  • 2012 saw 362 all-time records high temperatures in the United States but no record lows[4]. Last week, Death Valley, California came close to recording the hottest temperature ever on Earth.
  • Every major governmental institution has indicated that anthropogenic climate change is happening.
  • Every nation except the United States and Australia ratified the Kyoto Protocol, signaling an attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Australia has since confirmed its intent to limit its greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The past few years have seen an increase in extreme weather that can be linked to a changing climate. A warming of the oceans strengthens the intensity of hurricanes. Six of the 10 strongest Atlantic hurricanes on record have occurred in the last 15 years. Hurricane Katrina killed 1,800 people along the Gulf Coast. Last October, Manhattan was under water from Hurricane Sandy, a year after the Northeast was struck by Hurricane Irene. 2012 saw a historic drought in the American heartland and in Russia, both vital breadbaskets for the planet.
  • The past decade has seen record numbers of extinctions and migrations of plant and animals to cooler climates.
  • Scientific records have indicated that such warming is unprecedented by studying the remains of corals and other organisms. The effects of climate change has been predicted and by substantiated by computer models.

 

SOURCES:


[1] http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/en/campaigns/global-warming-and-energy/polluterwatch/koch-industries/

[2] http://climate.nasa.gov/evidence

[3] http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2013/feb/15/barack-obama/barack-obama-says-12-hottest-years-record-have-com/

[4] http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/01/05/1394711/2012-saw-362-all-time-record-high-temperatures-in-us-but-zero-all-time-record-lows/

Student Loan Rates Double. Now What?

By Jordan Lewis | Counterpoint | July 1st, 2013 | LEAVE A COMMENT

Student loans mean a lot to a lot of people. I personally will be taking out some loans for law school, and many of the people I know at school are taking out undergraduate loans. Student loan interest rates for most undergraduate students doubled from 3.4% to 6.8%. Members of Congress found this unacceptable but were not able to stop it. I spoke with Senator Angus King’s office last week and a key congressional aide to understand the specific legislation.

Here’s my rundown of the different proposals in Congress:

There are 3 major types of student loans: subsidized Stafford loans (for undergraduates-formerly 3.4%), unsubsidized Stafford loans (for some undergraduates and most graduates-now 6.8%), and GradPlus plans for graduates with other expenses, that is at 7.9%.

Most of the reform plans involve calculations using the 10-year Treasury-Bill rate, which fluctuates with economic growth. The current T-bill rate is 1.81% (for the sake of calculations, let’s say 1.8%). It rises with growth and falls with economic decline. Let’s get into the bills. I’ll offer my political prognosis on some of the bills, but not my policy recommendations. I think that all of the proposals are imperfect.

The House Republican bill would set all rates at 2.5% above the T-Bill rates (4.3%). It offers the lowest current rate for graduate students, but reflects an increase in the rate for undergraduates. However, interest rates are scheduled to rise as the T-bill rate rises along with economic growth, with a cap at 8.5%. The interest rates reset after every year. It appears to reduce the deficit. It passed the House but only had 4 Democratic votes. It is opposed by the Senate Democrats and the President. It would be dead on arrival.

President Obama’s plan is very similar to the Republicans’ (gaining Democrats’ scorn for pushing it to the right in the process). Obama’s plan offers fixed rates for the life of the loan, and caps obligations at 10% of their discretionary income. It does not yet cap interest over the life of the bill, but would start subsidized rates around 2.74%. Graduate rates would start about 4.7%. The President is trying to negotiate a solution for all parties involved.

The Senate Democrats plan is to extend the 3.4% unsubsidized rate for one more year. It does not use the T-Bill rate and would be the most expensive. It would have a difficult time passing the Republican House.

The Bipartisan Loan Certainty Act (S. 1241) is an attempt to bridge these gaps. It sets rates around 3.7% for undergraduates and 5.2% for graduates. It has a cap of 8.25%. It has 5 Republican Senate sponsors and 3 Democrat Senate sponsors. Interest is fixed from the beginning of the loan. It has support from the Senate Republicans, but is opposed by the majority of the Democratic caucus, due to the probability of increased rates as the economy improves. For a deal to be made, I believe that the cap needs to be lowered and other arrangements made to have the necessary Democratic support.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) has a plan out to tie rates to the Federal Reserve lending rates, but it doesn’t look like it has the votes to pass. Regardless, Congress needs to act to keep rates low. The Government made over $50 billion last year on student loans, siphoning money from hard-working middle-class families and students.

The Farm Bill and Poverty in the United States

By Jordan Lewis | Counterpoint | June 14th, 2013 | LEAVE A COMMENT

 

This week, the U.S. Senate passed an extensive, 955 billion dollar Farm Bill package that will extend certain subsidies and crop insurance packages for the next 10 years. The Senate also cut $3.9 billion from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which allows low-income families to pay for food costs, through the food stamp program. The Republican-led House of Representatives voted on its own version, cutting food stamps by $20.5 billion over the next 10 years, denying 2 million people the food they need.  From a policy and an ethical standpoint, Congress erred by cutting SNAP considering that poverty has only worsened since the Great Recession.

Over time, food stamps were integrated as part of the Farm Bill as a means for urbanites to support the agricultural sector. While preserving family farms should be a focus of the government, much of our agricultural policy is rooted in giving subsidies to large corporations such as Monsanto, whose bottom line is enhanced by the American taxpayer. Other recipients of this money include wealthy landowners, such as Congressman Stephen Fincher (R-TN), who cited the Bible in his defense of cutting food stamps: (while pocketing $70,000 in farm subsidies) “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

Food stamps provide an important function in combating both urban and rural poverty. They not only provide additional resources for the user to pay for their other needs, but also help provide sensible nutrition, which will save us money in the long run. They also provide the biggest economic stimulus per dollar out of any policy the government could enact (multiplier effect of 1.73 per dollar spent). Americans think that hunger is a relic of the past, and while it is true that the United States produces a surplus of food, hunger is an everyday battle for many families. One out of five American children (16 million) struggle with hunger (No Kid Hungry). With extensive health and retirement benefits, and a healthy salary, most members of Congress are seemingly unaware of the challenges of surviving on food stamps. This week, nearly 30 congressmen will take the SNAP challenge and live on $4.50 a day, as 47 million Americans (1 in 7, half of whom are children) do. In many cases, SNAP isn’t enough, evidenced by record numbers serviced at food banks and other charities.

Furthermore, over half of Americans will spend a year under the poverty line. The government has the resources to combat poverty and has instead squandered it on corporate welfare, tax cuts for the wealthy, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the drug war. The poor don’t have the political clout that America’s wealthy do. In an era where demagogues like Grover Norquist make any tax increase on America’s wealthiest an anathema, America’s poor are left to fight for themselves.

Over the last few years, conservatives have used welfare as a means to rile up their base and stoke racial divisions among Americans. In fact, the majority of welfare recipients are white, and working Americans. We’ve seen a rise in unemployment and a great increase in discouraged workers that artificially reduced the unemployment rate. Pension plans and other economic security measures have weakened over the last 10 years as employers look to cut back on expenses. Many Americans today work part-time jobs or work without a living wage, or suitable health care coverage. On this topic, the Florida Legislature voted to eliminate Miami-Dade County’s minimum wage provision that will only hurt the weakest in our society.

America’s working poor is growing and growing as the middle class has shrunk. Many workers are forced to take multiple jobs or make incredible sacrifices to make ends meet. The average Chartwells’ worker at UM makes less than $20,000 a year and often must rely on assistance programs to pay their mortgages, get health care, or eat.

If you thought that poverty in America was on the downturn, recent policy alternatives may make it worse.
The decline in unionization has cost millions of workers decent jobs, and the advent of Right to Work (for less) in states like Indiana (and already in Florida) will union and non-union workers alike.

The sequester has laid off millions of workers and hurt many more. Republican cuts to the social safety net have only worsened poverty.

A failure to pass a suitable immigration bill will jeopardize the prosperity of millions of Americans already here and allow owners the leverage to pay their legal workers less.

Unless Congress acts, the student loan interest rate will double to 6.8%, with student debt already surpassing $1 billion and difficult to remove even post-bankruptcy. (Our banks receive preferred rates of less than 1% from the Fed).
However, the biggest test to controlling poverty over the next generation is securing our entitlement programs. Republican ideas to reform our entitlement programs enrich the wealthy while damning the poor. Social Security has been the single-biggest anti-poverty measure undertaken, and have reduced poverty among our seniors by a wide margin. Medicare is effective, popular, and essential for our seniors’ health care needs. Finally, Medicaid provides vital health care to low income Americans. The refusal to take up Medicaid expansion paid for by the Affordable Care Act is a massive failure on the part of the Florida House and cuts millions off from health care coverage they need. Reducing entitlement benefits will only shrink the middle class and make the poor poorer.

We haven’t had a targeted approach to reducing poverty since Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society. Wall Street has recovered from the recession. The majority of Americans haven’t. Income inequality is at an all-time high, with record CEO compensation and giveaways to agribusiness and Big Oil. It’s time to address the problem that nobody really wants to talk about.  We need to make sure that our fellow Americans can lead dignified and prosperous lives. We have the both the means and moral responsibility to do so.

 

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