Sunday, May 28, 2017

Calculating My Student Loan Debt

I've just calculated that I've spent $49,773.45 over the past 7 years on my student loans and I still have over $7,000 to go. I've spent -$11,798.17 in interest alone. That's 23% of my total loan payments and 31% of the principle.
It's fucking unbelievable how expensive college is in the US today. I can tell you that my college was definitely not worth over 50 grand. Not even close. The quality of education I received was at best worth 15 thousand dollars.

A friend of mine moved to Germany for their free college. He's getting his MBA and no cost and he gets to take it in English! We met at the same undergraduate college, so we were both in the same situation. But he's paid off his loans and is now doing the smart thing. I would never get a master's degree in the US given our system unless I somehow got a scholarship (or won the lottery). The idea of taking on more debt is so depressing I could never even seriously contemplate it. And to make matters worse, Trump's education secretary Betsy DeVos is pealing back protections for borrowers, just as many of us suspected. 

My situation is fairly typical today. I went to a for-profit school. At the time I was somewhat naive as to what I was really getting into. But I graduated, unlike about 50% those who go to college, and in the end it worked out. Since college I have never made less than $18 an hour, and now I make nearly double that. I've always had good healthcare and benefits while employed. So if I had to do it over again, knowing that my degree did help me out, I would say that I'd probably do it over again. But I'm not fully sure on that. I definitely would've been smarter with my loans. I fucked up my loan management and ended up paying a lot more interest than I could have.

I absolutely hate the idea of being in debt to someone. With an extra 50 thousand dollars I could've put a down payment on a house. I could've bought a Tesla. I could've vacationed around the world many times over. I could have paid my rent for years. Heck, I could've bought a wife from Russia! I could have rescued a woman from poverty and gave her a new life in America. Sadly, that will never happen now. 

Student debt is crushing my generation. We're a trillion dollars in the hole. This is making the American dream of owning a home nearly impossible. It's making saving up for retirement very difficult, as young adults push back saving for a decade or more to pay down their loans during that time. 

What we need is tuition free college like other first world countries do so generations of Americans do not have to suffer under thousands of dollars of debt like I have. I proposed an idea where the cost of public college is free if you get an A in every class. If you get a B it's $50, if you get a C it's $100, if you get a D it's $150. If you fail it, you pay the full price of what it normally is in the state if it's more. Each state can set up its own cost system within federal guidelines. At the rate above, a person getting a D in every course for a bachelor's degree at 40 courses would end up paying a maximum of $6,000 in tuition. Someone getting a B in every class would pay $2,000. This is far cheaper than most students are already paying in public colleges. 

Isn't that a smart idea? Shouldn't college be cheap and affordable and incentivized to encourage students to do their best? Instead, with what we have today you can get straight As and owe a hundred thousand dollars on a bullshit degree and end up making barely $40 thousand after college. If you're lucky.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

What The Democrats Need Now

I've been dreaming lately of what it would be like to be president of the United States.

I'd run as the politically incorrect liberal — the rational middle ground between the Right wing bigots and lunatics, and the bleeding heart ultra PC liberals, as that's how I see myself. I'd implement tax reform that shifts the burden onto the rich and back onto the corporations, which is what we need. I'd take no money from lobbyists or special interests or super PACs. I'd be a president that actually works for the people. There's an idea! I'd fill my cabinet with ardent populists. I'd fire anyone in any agency that wasn't down with my populist agenda that says we shouldn't have a government that works almost entirely for corporations and special interests. In other words, I'd drain the fucking swamp.

I'd reform our drug policy by immediately removing marijuana from the schedule I classification that it is in now. My attorney general would push for legalization at all costs. I'd do everything in my power for legalizing weed, whether by executive order, or by introducing legislation. I'd also push for the decriminalizing all of drugs. The DEA would be ordered to stand down on most drug enforcement policy that doesn't involve violent offenders. With marijuana legal in all 50 states a whole new economy would arise that would reduce crime from illegal gangs and cartels, and it would generate a huge new source of tax revenue and create jobs. I'm so fucking tired of stupid policies by stupid politicians, who are unfortunately voted into office by stupid uninformed citizens. My platform would be centered on the idea that the US has to be the smart country once again.

I'd put someone really smart in charge of the Department of Energy, someone who's a really thinker and innovator and who wants to move the US towards full renewable energy sources. Someone not beholden or affiliated in any way with the oil and gas companies. I'd put someone who supports the same kind of education reform as I do in charge of the Department of Education. There'd be no religious fundamentalists, or climate change deniers, or Nixonian anti-drug crusaders in my administration at all. We'd get to finally have the smart progressive policies we should have already had.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

My Tax Plan

As I get more and more into politics and economics I strive to one day be a policy wonk. I've been listening to podcasts like Vox's The Weeds, where they dissect and analyze public policies like the ACA, Trump's AHCA, tax policy, and trade policy, and I've become fascinated by the intricacies of policy.

Now I'm far from a policy wonk myself, and I'm still in the process of learning. What I'd like to do here is spend a few posts exploring policy proposals I've been floating around in my (still learning) head.

There is no doubt that we need tax reform in the US. The tax laws are weighted far too heavy on labor, and in particular middle class labor, who often pay a higher percentage of their income on taxes than do he rich. I've previously floated the idea of a graduated sales tax in lieu of an income tax around, but here I want to propose the tax plan that I'd implement if I was president.

Federal tax rates for individuals:

Income amount Tax rate

0 – 2,500  0.00%

2,500 – 10,000 10.00%

10,000 – 40,000 15.00%

40,000 – 90,000 25.00%

90,000 – 150,000 28.00%

150,000 – 250,000 33.00%

250,000 – 500,000 35.00%

500,000 – 1,000,000 40.00%

1,000,000 – 10,000,000 43.00%

10,000,000 – above 45.00%

For the first $2,500 dollars of earned income there would be no taxes. This is intended to give the poor and middle class some tax relief. This plan raises the highest rates to 45% and generally lowers the rates for those at the bottom of the brackets. The current tax rates top out at 39.6% for income above $418,400. But to me there should be additional tax rates for the super wealthy, as there's a huge difference between a relatively wealthy person making 500k a year, and a super wealthy person making 20 million or more a year. The person making 20 million or more a year shouldn't be paying the same rate top rate as the person barely cracking 500k.

Monday, May 8, 2017

I Don't Live As If Death Is Final

I was recently rereading the preface of the updated edition of Hitch-22, the memoir of the late Christopher Hitchens, whose diagnosis of esophageal cancer just a few months after the book's release would kill him a little over a year later. Having just learned of his diagnosis, and not knowing whether he'd celebrate another birthday, Hitchens is writing— beautifully as always — with the prospect of death staring at him in the face, and one sentence stood out on the original read that I had to read again.

If there is anybody known to you who might benefit from a letter or a visit, do not on any account postpone the writing or making of it. 

It struck me, given his insight induced by his condition, that although my naturalistic philosophy entails death is final, and that our loved ones never return to us in any way once they're gone, I certainly don't seem to be living as if that's the case. I seem to be living as if I'm going to be reunited with all my loved ones after they die, as if the amount of time I'm going to be able to spend with them is infinite.

I was recently on the phone with my mother and she told me, as many mothers do, that I don't call her enough. And it's true. I barely call my mother. I can go months without a peep. And it's not the case that I hate her; I love my mother and we have a decent relationship, so it's not like I'm trying to avoid her. It's just, you know, when we get older and move away and our parents are not in our lives and they get a little annoying with their neurotic concerns about us, there's the tendency to avoid them.

But we're acutely aware of our own mortality, and that of the others around us. And we know that if we live long enough, we will see our parents die. And then they will be gone forever. And while I know that's true, I don't seem to be living as if that's true. I don't seem all that concerned of the prospects that I will one day lose both my parents and never see them or hear from them ever again.

I've been wondering lately what that's going to be like. I feel like I might be purposely distancing myself from my parents to be less emotionally reliant on them, as an attempt to make their eventual deaths less burdensome. But is that logical? Am I missing out on worthwhile interaction with my family that I will never have when they die? Will I strongly regret this missed interaction with them when they die? I really don't know. But Hitch's advice would prescribe a visitation. And I'm sure his motivation was very real to him when he wrote it.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The First Amendment Explained

Source: Flickr

Everybody loves the First Amendment to the US Constitution it seems, regardless of whether you're a conservative or a liberal. But many people have the wrong interpretation of it, including both liberals and conservatives. A growing number of liberals today think free speech is only to cover speech they like, and conservatives for years have thought that the Establishment Clause is to protect Christianity only. They're both wrong.

So here I want to break down the First Amendment line by line to give a short synopsis of what each part really means.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, 

The very first part of the First Amendment is the Establishment Clause and this establishes the United States as a secular country. Meaning, the government, both federal and state, must not recognize any official religion by recognizing a "wall of separation" between church and state. This means no government can use tax dollars to fund or promote religious institutions or services and must remain neutral on matters of religion, and all laws must have a legitimate secular purpose. This means of course that it is unconstitutional to give Christianity a privilege over any other religion, or over no religion, in the government.

or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; 

Because the government must stay neutral on religious matters, it cannot prohibit the free exercise of religious practices, otherwise it will have to violate that neutrality. However, where ever secular law and religious tradition conflict, secular law must always win out. So if, for example, a religion condones child marriage and secular law prohibits it, then secular law wins. As long as secular law does not have the primary effect of inhibiting religion this relationship is justified under the First Amendment.

The Lemon v. Kurtzman holding illustrates this relationship beautifully:

"For a law to be considered constitutional under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, the law must have a legitimate secular purpose, must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion, and also must not result in an excessive entanglement of government and religion."

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

When Not To Be An Atheist

I just found out that a neighbor of mine who I've known for more than 20 years is very ill and in the hospital. She's a 97 year old lady, who originally emigrated here from I think the Czech Republic, or what ever it was 70 years ago. I ran into her son who told me the news. We had a brief conversation about her and what's been going on, and after our conversation ended he turned around and asked me to pray for her.

I didn't expect that to happen.

Given the situation — his mother dying, and the sadness of the atmosphere, I just didn't have the desire to say anything about the inefficacy of prayer. It wasn't the right time. It didn't feel right saying something atheistic at that moment. Knowing this, I turned around and said not very confidently, "I will," and turned away. I could've said "Prayer doesn't work," but that would be insulting. I could've said "I don't pray," but that too would be insulting, given the situation. And so I feigned belief out of politeness like many of us atheists do.

I understand that there are some ardent anti-theists who wear their atheism on their sleeve all the time and wish that not a single spoken instance of faith based thinking ever go without criticism. I get that. But sometimes we should just give it a rest.


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