Student Loan Interest Rates Set to Double On Monday

14191205-illustration-depicting-a-highway-gantry-sign-with-a-student-loans-concept-blue-sky-backgroundSeven million college students will see their student loan costs double on Monday, after a group of bipartisan lawmakers failed to agree on a plan to keep interest rates down.

The Senate adjourned for the July 4 recess on Thursday, but failed to keep interest rates on Stafford loans at the current 3.4 percent rate.  The failure to vote on a plan before the recess means that interest rates on new, federally subsidized loans will double to 6.8 percent Monday.

Congress’ Joint Economic Committee estimates that the average student will be paying $2,600 more starting July 1. On a $23,000 student loan repaid over 10 years, a student would be paying about $3,000 total interest.

Subsidized student loans are awarded based on financial need, and interest doesn’t accumulate while students are enrolled in college. (Unsubsidized loans, which are available to all undergraduates, already have an interest rate of 6.8 percent.) The increase was long-planned: it was originally supposed to happen last year, the result of legislation passed in 2007 that gradually lowered interest rates for five years, but an election-year coalition of student advocates and the Obama campaign successfully pushed for a one-year extension.

But after paying little attention to the issue for the past 11 months, lawmakers failed to agree on a new proposal and spent the past few weeks arguing about a solution.

A rare agreement between the Obama administration and Congressional Republicans on switching to a market-based rate led many observers to believe that compromise was possible. But the issue got bogged down in Congressional deadlock as Democrats pushed for capping interest rates or extending the current rates, while the House passed a plan that the Obama administration threatened to veto.

student_loanThis doesn’t mean, however, that college graduates with subsidized loans will actually pay more starting next month. As the article explains, the higher interest rate will apply only to new loans, issued this year. No one currently making payments will see a rate hike.  Whether students will actually pay the new rate — which applies only to new, federally subsidized loans — is unclear.

On Thursday, Senator Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who chairs the education committee, said lawmakers would consider a one-year fix that would apply retroactively on July 10.  Since the federal government is the lender for all new student loans, Congress could adjust interest rates after the fact. But where the money will come from to pay for the extension, which last year cost $6 billion, is an open question.

The US government is already forecast to make a record $51 billion profit from the federal student loan program this year at current interest rates, which Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) described as “billions of dollars off the backs of our students.”

If lawmakers fail to make a retroactive deal that would undo the impending spike in interest rates, US college students may find themselves unable to afford taking out a federal loan.

Arming Syrian Rebels – Not In American Interest

Syria flag mapTwo weeks ago, the Obama administration announced that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s had deployed chemical weapons against its own people. The Americans say that, as far as they know, this has only been done on a small scale, with several attacks having claimed between 100 and 150 victims. Nevertheless, they add, this has sufficed to cross the “red line” that President Barack Obama drew last August, when he said that America would intervene as soon as the Syrian military had used poisonous gas.

In a major policy shift, President Obama has decided to supply military support to the rebels. The White House announced that the United States would be arming the Free Syrian Army with weapons to resist the armies of Syria’s President Bashar Assad.

Syrian RebelsWith boots on the ground around Syria’s borders, the United States is without a doubt preparing for widespread engagement across the region yet again, with the aim of the new U.S. supplied weapons being more killing and destruction in a civil war that has left tens of thousands dead in the last year.

It is the assumption of the Obama administration that these weapons will tip the scales of power in favor of the rebels, many of whom have been identified as members of America’s arch enemy, Al Qaeda.

What the President has failed to say in the past two weeks is how supplying Syrian rebels with weapons is in the national interest of the United States of America.  There has been nothing said about how our interference in the Syrian civil war does anything that helps protect the liberty of the American people.

Indeed, given the increasing connection between rebel forces and al-Qaeda-tied terrorists seeking a path of religious extremism, support of rebel forces is likely to cause long-term harm to the United States and its regional allies.

Egypt: Are You Ready For A Rumble?!

EgyptTwo years after toppling dictator Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s economic problems and political corruption persist. As Egyptians prepare to mark the first anniversary since Muslim Brotherhood member Mohamed Morsi was elected president, political and social divisions are deeper than ever. Dueling demonstrations against Morsi and supporting him are expected throughout the country.

Morsi generated anger with several dictatorial power grabs, attempting to cement Muslim Brotherhood influence over the government and the powerful military. Opponents claim to have gathered 15 million signatures calling for Morsi’s ouster.

Muslim Brotherhood logoThe Brotherhood is anticipating widespread discontent and is preparing for violent confrontation. That’s what happened in December when it dispatched its henchmen to brutally attack an opposition protest outside the President’s palace.

Despite the opposition, Morsi continues to enhance the Brotherhood’s power. He recently appointed seven more Brotherhood members as key governors throughout Egypt. Morsi even appointed Adel el-Khayat, a member of the radical al-Gamaa al-Islamiya, a U.S. designated terrorist organization, as governor of the tourist-district of Luxor. Al-Gamaa took credit for a 1997 terrorist attack that claimed 58 tourists at a temple in Luxor. The ensuing protests and severe backlash prompted el-Khayat’s resignation and could be a foreshadowing of what is to be expected on June 30. Al-Gamaa leader Assem Abdel Maged declared that “the Islamists will face violence with violence on June 30.”

General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi
General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi

General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi warned that that the military is prepared to prevent Egypt from descending into chaos. That’s significant since Morsi appointed Sisi last August after following a purge of Mubarak-era senior generals. Egypt’s military takes pride in representing a unifying force acting in the national interest; however, growing Brotherhood influence within the military may make its current role more ambiguous should the upcoming demonstrations spin out of control.

Mohamed Morsi
Mohamed Morsi

Morsi blames “enemies of Egypt” for the turmoil. In a speech on Wednesday he offered nothing that would entice the opposition to call off the protests. Two people were killed and dozens wounded in the latest clashes.

It appears as if the internal tensions between the ruling Islamist and disaffected opposition groups have reached a boiling point that may result in unprecedented clashes, posing immense ramifications for Egypt’s future and possibly civil war.

Iran Sends Troops to Syria to Support the Syrian Army

Iran's Revolutionary Guard
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard

According to multiple reports, Iran has decided to deploy about 4,000 troops to the neighboring country Syria in order to support the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) in their fight against the foreign-backed terrorists and jihadists.

 The decision to send a first contingent of the 4,000 Revolutionary Guards to Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s forces was made before last week’s presidential election.

 The presidential election has brought the reformist cleric Hassan Rouhani into Power in Iran, although nothing will really change in the stances of Iran with this new president, following the steps of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

 Iran is now fully committed to preserving Assad’s regime, according to pro-Iranian sources which have been deeply involved in the Islamic Republic’s security, even to the extent of proposing to open up a new ‘Syrian’ front on the Golan Heights against Israel

Egypt Cuts Ties With Syria: Mohamed Morsi Orders Closing Of Damascus Embassy In Cairo

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi said he had cut all diplomatic ties with Damascus on Saturday and called for a no-fly zone over Syria, pitching the most populous Arab state firmly against President Bashar al-Assad.

Mohamed Morsi
Mohamed Morsi

Addressing a rally called by Sunni Muslim clerics in Cairo, the Sunni Islamist head of state said: “We decided today to entirely break off relations with Syria and with the current Syrian regime.”

He also warned Assad’s allies in the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shi’ite militia Hezbollah to pull back from fighting in Syria.”We stand against Hezbollah in its aggression against the Syrian people,” Morsi said. “Hezbollah must leave Syria – these are serious words. There is no space or place for Hezbollah in Syria.”

 Morsi, who faces growing discontent at home over the economy and over fears that he will pursue an Islamist social agenda, said he was organising an urgent summit of Arab and other Islamic states to discuss the situation in Syria, where the United States has in recent days decided to take steps to arm the rebels.

Morsi, who spoke at a packed 20,000-capacity stadium and waved Syrian and Egyptian flags after his entrance, also urged world powers not to hesitate to enforce a no-fly zone over Syria. The crowd of his supporters chanted: “From the free revolutionaries of Egypt: We will stamp on you, Bashar!”

Egypt’s U.S.-funded and -trained army is among the most powerful in the Middle East and effectively ran the country before the Arab Spring revolution of 2011 led to elections that saw Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, take power a year ago.

There has been no suggestion, however, that Egyptian forces should get involved in the fighting in Syria.

Morsi said Syria was the target of “a campaign of extermination and planned ethnic cleansing fed by regional and international states”, partly in reference to Iran, though he did not name the Shi’ite Islamic Republic.

Morsi said: “The Egyptian people supports the struggle of the Syrian people, materially and morally, and Egypt, its nation, leadership … and army, will not abandon the Syrian people until it achieves its rights and dignity.”

A Foreign Policy For Americans

No one can think intelligently on the many complicated problems of American foreign policy unless he decides first what he considers the real purpose and object of that policy.

Fundamentally, I believe the ultimate purpose of our foreign policy must be to protect the liberty of the people of the United States. The American Revolution was fought to establish a nation “conceived in liberty.” That liberty has been defended in many wars since that day. That liberty has enabled our people to increase steadily their material welfare and their spiritual freedom. To achieve that liberty we have gone to war, and to protect it we would go to war again.

Only second to liberty is the maintenance of peace. The results of war may be almost as bad as the destruction of liberty and, in fact, may lead, even if the war is won, to something very close to the destruction of liberty at home.

Our traditional policy of neutrality and non-interference with other nations was based on the principle that this policy was the best way to avoid disputes with other nations and to maintain the liberty of this country without war.

From the days of George Washington that has been the policy of the United States. It has never been isolationism; but it has always avoided alliances and interference in foreign quarrels as a preventive against possible war, and it has always opposed any commitment by the United States, in advance, to take any military action outside of our territory. It would leave us free to interfere or not interfere according to whether we consider the case of sufficiently vital interest to the liberty of this country. It was the policy of the free hand.

I do not believe it is a selfish goal for us to insist that the overriding purpose of all American foreign policy should be the maintenance of the liberty and the peace of the people of the United States, so that they may achieve that intellectual and material improvement which is their genius and in which they can set an example for all peoples. By that example we can do an even greater service to mankind than we can by billions of material assistance—and more than we can ever do by war.

Just as our nation can be destroyed by war it can also be destroyed by a political or economic policy at home which destroys liberty or breaks down the fiscal and economic structure of the United States. We cannot adopt a foreign policy which gives away all of our people’s earnings or imposes such a tremendous burden on the individual American as, in effect, to destroy his incentive and his ability to increase production and productivity and his standard of living. We cannot assume a financial burden in our foreign policy so great that it threatens liberty at home.

It follows that except as such policies may ultimately protect our own security, we have no primary interest as a national policy to improve conditions or material welfare in other parts of the world or to change other forms of government. Certainly we should not engage in war to achieve such purposes.

I don’t mean to say that, as responsible citizens of the world, we should not gladly extend charity or assistance to those in need. I do not mean to say that we should not align ourselves with the advocates of freedom everywhere. We did this kind of thing for many years, and we were respected as the most disinterested and charitable nation in the world.

But the contribution of supplies to meet extraordinary droughts or famine or refugee problems or other emergencies is very different from a global plan for general free assistance to all mankind on an organized scale as part of our foreign policy. Our foreign policy in ordinary times should not be primarily inspired by the motive of raising the standard of living of millions throughout the world, because that is utterly beyond our capacity. I believe it is impossible with American money, or other outside aid to raise in any substantial degree the standard of living of the millions throughout the world who have created their own problems of soil destruction or overpopulation. Fundamentally, I doubt if the standard of living of any people can be successfully raised to any appreciable degree except by their own efforts. We can advise; we can assist, if the initiative and the desire and the energy to improve themselves is present. But our assistance cannot be a principal motive for foreign policy or a justification for going to war.

However, I think as a general incident to our policy of protecting the peace and liberty of the people of the United States it is most important that we prevent the building up of any great resentment against the success and the wealth which we have achieved. In other words, I believe that our international trade relations should be scrupulously fair and generous and should make it clear to the other peoples of the world that we intend to be fair and generous.

Any United States Government contribution is in the nature of charity to poor countries and should be limited in amount. We make no such contribution to similar projects in the United States. It seems to me that we should not undertake any such project in such a way as to make it a global plan for sending Americans all over the world in unlimited number to find projects upon which American money can be spent. We ought only to receive with sympathy any application from these other nations and give it fair consideration.

Nor do I believe we can justify war by our natural desire to bring freedom to others throughout the world, although it is perfectly proper to encourage and promote freedom.  The forcing of any special brand of freedom and democracy on a people, whether they want it or not, by the brute force of war will be a denial of those very democratic principles which we are striving to advance.

There are a good many Americans who talk about an American century in which America will dominate the world. They rightly point out that the United States is so powerful today that we should assume a moral leadership in the world to solve all the troubles of mankind. I quite agree that we need that moral leadership not only abroad but also at home. I think we can take leadership in the providing of example and advice for the improvement of material standards of living throughout the world. Above all, I think we can take the leadership in proclaiming the doctrines of liberty and justice and in impressing on the world that only through liberty and law and justice, and not through socialism or communism, can the world hope to obtain the standards which we have attained in the United States. Our leaders can at least stop apologizing for the American system.

If we confine our activities to the field of moral leadership we shall be successful if our philosophy is sound and appeals to the people of the world. The trouble with those who advocate this policy is that they really do not confine themselves to moral leadership. They are inspired with the same kind of New Deal planned-control ideas abroad as recent Administrations have desired to enforce at home. In their hearts they want to force on these foreign peoples through the use of American money and even, perhaps, American arms the policies which moral leadership is able to advance only through the sound strength of its principles and the force of its persuasion. I do not think this moral leadership ideal justifies our engaging in any preventive war, or going to the defense of one country against another, or getting ourselves into a vulnerable fiscal and economic position at home which may invite war. I do not believe any policy which has behind it the threat of military force is justified as part of the basic foreign policy of the United States except to defend the liberty of our own people.

Except as we find it absolutely essential to our security, I do not believe we should depart from the principle of maintaining a free hand to fight a war which may be forced upon us, in such a manner and in such places as are best suited at the time to meet those conditions which are changing so rapidly in the modern world. Nothing is so dangerous as to commit the United States to a course which is beyond its capacity to perform with success.

— Senator Robert Taft

I am in complete agreement with the late Senator from Ohio.  If I were running for president, this policy would be a central theme of my campaign and later of my administration.  I would amend the final paragraph with the addition of a pledge that, if we should find it essential to our security and be forced into a war, we would make use of all of our resources to destroy the enemy.  Then we would bring our forces home.  No occupation.  No nation building.

American Surveillance State Foretold

“The National Security Agency’s capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide. If a dictator ever took over, the N.S.A could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back.

That dramatic warning came not from an individual who is typically held up as a symbol of anti-government paranoia. Rather, it was issued by one of the most admired and influential politicians among American liberals in the last several decades:

Senator Frank Church
Senator Frank Church

Frank Church of Idaho, the 4-term U.S. Senator who served from 1957 to 1981. He was, among other things, one of the Senate’s earliest opponents of the Vietnam War, a former Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the Chairman of the Committee (bearing his name) that in the mid-1970s investigated the widespread surveillance abuses committed under every President since FDR (that was the investigation that led to the enactment of FISA, the criminal law prohibiting the Executive Branch from intercepting the communications of American citizens without first obtaining a warrant from a court: the law which the Bush administration got caught violating and which, in response, was gutted by the Democratic-led Congress in 2008, with the support of then-Senator Obama; the abuses uncovered by the Church Committee also led to the enactment of further criminal prohibitions on the cooperation by America’s telecoms in any such illegal government spying, prohibitions that were waived away when the same 2008 Congress retroactively immunized America’s telecom giants from having done so).

At the time of the Church Committee, it was the FBI that conducted most domestic surveillance. Since its inception, the NSA was strictly barred from spying on American citizens or on American soil. That prohibition was centrally ingrained in the mindset of the agency. Church issued that above-quoted warning out of fear that, one day, the NSA’s massive, unparalleled surveillance capabilities would be directed inward, at the American people. Until the Church Committee’s investigation, most Americans, including its highest elected officials, knew almost nothing about the NSA (it was referred to as No Such Agency by its employees).

As James Bamford wrote about Church’s reaction to his own findings about the NSA’s capabilities, “he came away stunned.”

At the time, Church also said:

“I don’t want to see this country ever go across the bridge. I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.”

Of course, that bridge has long ago been crossed, without even much NSA seal 1discussion, let alone controversy. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, George W. Bush ordered the NSA to spy on the communications of Americans on American soil, and they’ve been doing it ever since, with increasing aggression and fewer and fewer constraints.

That development is but one arm in the creation of an American Surveillance State that is, literally, ubiquitous — one that makes it close to impossible for American citizens to communicate or act without detection from the U.S. Government — a state of affairs Americans have long been taught since childhood is a hallmark of tyranny. Such are the that those who now echo the warnings issued 38 years ago by Sen. Church (when surveillance was much more restrained, both legally and technologically) are scorned by all serious people as radical hysterics.

The domestic NSA-led Surveillance State which Frank Church so stridently warned about has obviously come to fruition.The Surveillance State