Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Student Loan Repayment and Education Costs - Tax Benefit Approach to Encouraging Loan Repayment

As student loan debt reaches unprecedented levels, it will become important that government officials find methods to reduce the cost of a college education, encourage repayment, and allow debtors a way out if repayment is simply impossible. While reducing the cost of a college education and allowing debtors a way to receive a discharge of student load debt are issues that are beyond the scope of my expertise, utilizing the US tax code to encourage borrowers to repay their loans could be a powerful and beneficial tool to get student loan debt repaid.

There are a couple of misguided principles that currently rule how the tax code encourages American's to get a college education. First, education credits currently end up benefiting parents who  (in many cases) may not pay a dime of the student's educational expenses, or they are only available to the student in years where they have no income. Second is that student loan interest is the only benefit available to student's who are making their loan payments. Unfortunately, the student loan interest deduction is limited to a paltry 2,500 dollars and the deduction is completely eliminated if your income is more that 80,000 dollars (160,000 for taxpayers filing married joint returns). The first principle wastes tax benefits for the student who is going repay the debt, and the second principle doesn't provide a strong enough incentive for students to diligently repay their student loan debt.

Tax Credits for Graduates

Education tax credits would be better utilized if they were carried forward, usable by the student borrower only, and only allowable after graduation from a bachelor or graduate program. This would reduce the number of tax credits that are taken each year by making graduation a prerequisite for claiming the tax benefit. It may also reduce the number of students that attend college each year who lack the direction and intention of graduating with their degrees.

This would also provide new graduates with an income cushion that would make loan repayment a less stressful proposition in the early years of their new careers while their income is lower.

Unlimited Student Loan Interest Deduction

The student loan interest deduction could be made fully deductible. Doing so would provide incentive for repaying the loans and increase the repayment percentages. The deduction could also be tiered between borrowers who finish their degrees and those that do not graduate. If the borrower graduated, the interest deduction could remain a adjustment from income. Borrowers who do not graduate would be eligible for an itemized student loan interest deduction.

Revenue Neutrality

In order to keep this proposal revenue neutral, limits that have been in place against student loan interest (at different levels possibly) should be made to apply against the mortgage interest deduction. The mortgage interest deduction has been a special interest loophole for the mortgage industry and realtors for several years. Unfortunately, it has been a contributing justification for unsustainable increases in home prices across the country for the past 10-15 years and ballooning debt. If we take a utilitarian approach to providing individual income tax benefits, it is clear that providing more tax relief to college graduates is of more value to society than rewarding mortgage debtors. The cost of a completed college education benefits the country with a more competitive workforce and taxpayers with a high earning capacity, while bloated mortgages benefit big banks and the bottom line of realtors that make thousands of dollars on every sales transaction that they close.

Student loan defaults are a major problem facing our nation's budget. Congress must find better answers to encourage loan repayment, and this issue needs to be solved sooner than later. Current student loan default rates are at 11%, but the true rate of non-repayment is far higher if the number of borrowers on reduced or income based repayment plans are taken into account.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Inauguration

The church has accepted an invitation to sing at Donald Trump's inauguration. The church has a long standing policy of singing at the inauguration of any president that offers an invitiation. There has been 10 inauguration performances since their very first invitation from Howard Taft. The presidents that have offered invites include, Taft, LBJ, Nixon,  Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II. However, many critical of the move feel that Trump's rhetoric and arguably racist policy proposals should have led the church to reject the invitation as a sign of disapproval of the incoming president despite a nearly century old policy of accepting all invitations. Such an arbitrary snub would be a mistake, and there are many reasons why.

Political bans for charities and the LDS church - Policies are like bricks in a wall: As a charitable organization, the church is strictly banned from being involved in political activity for or in behalf of any candidate or either political party. However, the church may be involved in political activity in regards to public policy proposals and issues. There is a clear dividing line. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints follows this mandate and they have policies to make sure lines are not crossed and they do not take risks in regards to their charitable status. Policies build a wall against legal challenges that keep the church safe from scrutiny and from losing their ability to function as a charity in the US. If policies are followed, the wall is strong and legal challenges against their charitable status are thrown out as being without merit. If policies are followed and ignored arbitrarily, the wall is weakened and legal challenges may begin to look like they have merit.

For example, during the course of the presidential campaign and other immigration debates in the past, the church openly condemned Trump's anti-Muslim proposals and they have condemned harsh immigration proposals that pursued merciless deportation of aliens without consideration of the damage that such harsh proposals can inflict on families. These political statements are within the parameters of the law and the policies of the church. However, the church annually disclaims political affiliation to its members and to the public and they avoid the appear of endorsing candidates to the best of their ability.

The church regularly faces accusations of political violations because of their involvement in anti-gay marriage campaigns. As a whole these accusations have been rejected by Federal courts as meritless and frivolous for one main reason. The church consistently applies policies of engaging in public policy debates that involve issues that are important to the church, and avoiding the appearance of being involved in political activities for or against candidates or political parties.

Arbitrarily saying no to Donald Trump's invite would arguably be making a political statement. Since he is a candidate, this would also arguably be in violation of the political ban in IRC 501(c)(3). Given the evangelical right wing's embrace of Trump and their everlasting disdain for Mormons, I would venture to bet that there would be a lawsuit (one with merit) if the decision to arbitrarily rescind their agreement to sing at Trump's inauguration was to happen. The once strong brick wall of consistent policy adherence begins to erode and the church would risk more scrutiny on this issue and possibly even risk their charitable status.

I have heard the argument that the church needs to say "they don't like Trump, but they are only singing to keep right with the law". This would still be a statement that violates the church's neutrality policy, and arguably violates the statute. 

Making friends and influencing people (and more importantly influencing policy: Donald Trump is not an ideal president. The man has character flaws that shine as bright as the sun. I wish there was someone else being inaugurated next month with all of my heart. However, he will be the president. There is nothing short of a military coup that can keep him from being inaugurated. 

Those that suggest the church should squander an opportunity to build a positive relationship with the man that (unfortunately) will run public policy in the US and (arguably) the free world are ignoring the political price of such a petty snub. 

Presidents have traditionally asked for the input of religious leaders on policy proposals that can have an effect on families, cultures, and religious groups. The church has built up a reasonable amount of clout in the US as one of the largest centralized Christian churches in the world. 

Of the many publicly discernible character flaws of Donald Trump, his tendency to engage in petty feuds is one of the most visible. He has been known to engage in petty feuds with anyone who criticizes him for decades. His past enemies include celebrities like Rosie O'Donnell and Alec Baldwin, and politicians like Mitt Romney, Marc Rubio, and Utahn Evan McMullin. McMullin ran a barely noticeable independent presidential campaign that was heavily critical of Trump, and McMullin still draws Trump's pettiness to this day (he recently called McMullin, McMuffin at a "thank you" rally).  

Given the fact that Trump will be making major policy changes, I would rather that the LDS Church be one of the religious groups that this buffoon turns to when making decisions like whether or not to go ahead with Muslim registries or deport 12 million individuals.

If the church engages in petty snubs with Trump, we can all guarantee that they will receive petty snubs in return.

Not to mention the fact that pettiness flies in the face of church doctrine. From LDS scripture D&C 121:43, "reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy".  The church has already reproved this world leader and engaging in a petty snub would lead to being esteemed an enemy - not a wise squandering of political capital.

One of the biggest problem in US politics, is that we have become far to willing to be swayed by passions and act rashly in anger and less willing to consider issues dispassionately with reason and wisdom. Assuming the Russian hacking allegations are correct, this is exactly the flaw in the American people that the Russians played upon to help get Trump elected.  I believe my church leaders are being wise by being guided by and in following long standing policies and church doctrines rather than the angers and passions of short-sighted members and the public.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Romney v Trump

It appears that Conway has been chosen as the voice regarding Trump's true feelings on Mitt Romney and the fabricated consideration for Secretary of State. For a week now, she has been on the airways discussing how the base views Romney, "People feel betrayed to think that … Romney, who went out of his way to question the character and the intellect and the integrity of Donald Trump … would be given the most significant Cabinet post of all,”  

This is disappointing, but not at all surprising. When the idea of Romney as Secretary of State was floated a few weeks ago, I was skeptical. However, I felt like this may be a moment where Donald Trump might prove me wrong. "Maybe, just maybe, he is not the small handed Napoleon that I took him to be." 

Romney would have been a wise choice. In the 2012 debate, he forecasted the current situation with Russia and Putin better than the Obama administration in any of the succeeding 4 years that they remained in office. Comparatively, he is well liked abroad and in the US. Most importantly, this was an opportunity missed to show some capability on the part of the impending POTUS to handle differing points of view (something he seemed incapable of during the campaign on even the GOP side of the isle). He could have taken this opportunity to make GOP #neverTrump people step back and take another look at him as a leader and a POTUS.

Unfortunately, Trump is predictable. He may through one or two critics in the cabinet, but as a whole he will fill the cabinet with yes-men, cronies, and cheerleaders of him and whatever policies he pursues. This coming administration will come with a heavy price for the GOP and conservative politics for many years to come.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Social Security - Changing the Way We Look At Things

So, social security is a big issue for me. With severely disabled kids, I realize that my sons may be extremely dependent on social assistance at some point in their life. Social security is a big resource for assistance to disabled individuals. Soon recipients will out number contributors. This is a disastrous set of circumstances for a retirement system that operates as a Ponzi scheme. The fact that we have not taken appropriate steps to make social security viable for retirees and the disabled is very concerning. Honestly, this should be the biggest domestic concern for all Americans.
This meme is (well) stupid. Social security is a legal Ponzi scheme (I understand, that wasn't the intent of the law when it was framed) but that's what it is. Americans need to get that fact.
Sadly, politicians keep punting this issue to the next generation with worse field position each time. President Trump seems determined to punt yet again, and sadly I fear that this punt will leave us pinned with our backs to the wall and no real way to escape a full collapse of the Social Security system.
We need to stop looking at Social Security as money in the bank and rather look at Social Security as money stolen from future generations. Heavy social security tax hikes or severe cuts are inevitable in order to avoid a real financial meltdown, and these things should be happening now.
I understand Social Security helps many American retirees and disabled individuals, but we need to be honest about Social Security. Social Security doesn't save anyone money, and it never has. It is a welfare program, falsely advertised as retirement savings. Benefits are paid from those that work to those that are not or no longer working. The longer we keep maintaining the status quo the larger the potential disaster becomes.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Trump and Hillary - The Election and Campaign of the Impeachables

During this election cycle,  people spent far too much time wringing there hands about voting for the lesser of two evils. The left is continuing to suffer needlessly. There is a simple fact that could have saved and can save alot of agony - both candidates were and are destined for scandal, possible impeachment, and/or single terms.

Hillary's email issues would have crippled her presidency with ever persistent hearings and innuendo of criminal charges. However, she wasn't elected and her demise is not at issue.

Trump has issues and they are plentiful. He is currently dealing with numerous lawsuits related to his companies and most importantly for Trump University fraud allegations. In his forming administration, there are numerous possible conflicts of interest, he doesn't seem to see problems with nepotism, and he has appointed an alleged anti-Semite to his administration. The problems continue. He was caught on tape admitting to what can only be described as sexual assault (or at least indiscretions) with the President-elect citing the fact that being a celebrity allows him to "do whatever he wants to women". He has further threatened to sue women who have alleged to have suffered his sexual advances. There are so many possible avenues of disgrace for the Democrats to lead him through.

The left should look at Donald Trump as a gift. If they play the hand they have been dealt properly, they can ensure the Democratic party several years of Congressional and Executive branch control of the Federal government.

Trump has been looked at as a businessman of questionable integrity for my entire life. From his use of eminent domain to take private property for his businesses, to bilking contractors, to bankruptcies, and so forth. He has been willing to attach his name to anything for the right price for years. Unfortunately, some of those things with his name attached are coming back to haunt him. Trump University sought to capitalize on the private university market of the past 10 to 20 years. However, like many private for profit universities, they took money and provided nothing of value in return. The degrees were useless, and now students are coming back for damages. This can be a huge black eye, and source of impeachable evidence against the Trump administration.

Trump is moving to have his three competent children made members of his administration, and he is planning to hand control of his businesses to these same children. There are two huge issues here. Nepotism, from what I understand, is pretty strictly prohibited in the federal government. The children having access to the president and sensitive data, and controlling the presidents businesses creates conflicts of interest as large as Mount Everest. This needs to be monitored very heavy for inappropriate use of privileged information, security information leaks, the qualifications of his children for high level positions in the administration, and mishandled conflicts of interest by the Trump kids. The possible problems here are massive and the potential for scandal is equally as massive.

Donald Trump has threatened to sue his victims. The left should do all they can to ensure that this happens. He has already confessed to being a serial sexual harasser - he even provided motive. The motive he provided is even chillingly similar to the motive many cite for rapists. Donald Trump felt like he could treat women like objects because his celebrity status gave him the power. The left should do all they can to make him end up in court facing these women.

I actually consider myself a conservative. However, we need to be honest. The GOP elected a time bomb waiting to explode. Any sensible Trump advisors will seek to dismantle these traps as quickly as possible. If the wounded left knows their game, they should and will seek to exploit these traps at every opportunity.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Political Social Disorders

After this presidential election, one thing is clear - Americans need to learn how to communicate together about politics.

On the morning after the election, the biggest symptoms of this disease were clearly manifested. Social media was full of vitriol between Trump and Clinton supporters who were either gloating or in the anger stage of mourning. Feelings were hurt, anger was expressed, and one thing was clear, rationality had left us.

On Facebook, I saw a sarcastic post about becoming a new supporter of Bernie's free college platform after seeing what happens in an election with such a so many under educated Americans voting. To this post, a friend responded that he was showing prejudice by claiming stupid people voted for Trump, Another friend went even further. This friend felt like she needed to defend all of their ancestors who received little to no education from this insult. Sadly, the sarcasm was not understood or was received with less humor than was intended. At times, we seem to be talking past each other, and no one seems willing or able to step back, listen, and respond in thoughtful manners.

Here is my suggestion.
  1. Stop using Social Media as the main outlet for Political posts. Twitter only allows 140 characters. This is not sufficient to express anything but zingers and catchphrases, none of which helps political discourse advance past the realm of a "yo mama so fat" fight. Remember when Facebook was this amazing place where you could connect with people you hadn't seen for decades. Now many of those people are spending their days in political squabbles and they are wondering why they were ever friends in the first place. Facebook is made for pictures of family, pictures of fancy desserts, and staying touch with others. The political posting to Facebook has made it an uncomfortable place. 
  2. Utilize Blogs. The blog website was a great fad in the early 2000's. Generally, bloggers wrote in an eloquent manner, they put in the effort to write informative and thoughtful pieces, and the debate among bloggers was often robust but also stimulating. The best part about it was that you had to seek out blogs and blog posts rather than having everyones opinion in a gigantic scroll that you may only be looking at to waste a few minutes. They would be a great option for the Facebooker that insists on sharing their political opinions, but would like to maintain more civil relationships with people on the FB - link your blog post and only those who want to engage in a political discussion will go and read it. Other Facebook friends and family members can stick to enjoying your more casual posts about your family or cat memes. Blogger.com and Wordpress are great blog hosting sites.
  3. Do not share your political opinions unless you are willing to put in the work to write thoughtfully. The main problem of social media political posts and commentary is that the dialogue is far too emotion driven. Take the time to develop a thesis, make sure your grammar and spelling is correct, use punctuation, and do some research if you are claiming to cite a fact, and walk away for a while first if you are angry. Poor writing makes it more likely that you will be misunderstood and that you may offend even when you had no intent to cause offense, and poor writing makes you look stupid. Taking time to write will often allow you to calm down, and (maybe) even see things from the perspectives of others.
This last election was almost completely void of intelligent policy discussions and reasoned logical consideration of how either candidate might make changes (good or bad) to our country. I think this may be reflective of the fact that too many of us are will to express our political ideals in 140 characters or less. If you are going to discuss weighty matters, it is best to take the time to express yourself eloquently and with clarity. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Staying the Course with Trump and Ethical Gymnastics

For the past few days/weeks, Donald Trump has been under fire for a recorded conversation with Billy Bush about having his way with any woman he wants (more specifically how he sexually assaults women). This is not surprising - Donald Trump is in the least a two time adulterer and at the most a serial groper borderline rapist. It is surprising that this did not stop him in the primaries, and that these revelations did not come up sooner. The 2012 candidate that was a Domino's Pizza CEO had much tamer sexual harassment accusations surface and those destroyed him very early on, but (uncomfortable cringe) he was African American and maybe his quick demise is another glaring indictment of the racism the GOP would like to distance itself from.

The surprise of all this is the gold-medal ethical gymnastics displayed by prominent talk personalities and Trump leaning bloggers. The common theme is "nobody has a right to condemn Trump because Bill Clinton was done so much worse" or, "sure, what Trump said was bad, but Clinton did far worse" or "Hillary is a criminal" (the most unintelligent argument of the bunch).

Think of this, the party of the Christian right, the formerly moral majority is making the argument that a man who either lied about committing horrific acts (or in fact committed) horrific acts of sexual deviance is justifiable as a candidate to carry the Christian rights' banner of moral superiority. The moral triple Lutzs' are enough to make your head spin.

I have every right to condemn Donald Trump as an unfit choice for President, in fact it is my duty as an American. I cannot and do not judge him on an eternal or spiritual level - I hope he has changed his ways and behavior towards women (I doubt it, but one can hope). However, I have the duty to vote for men or women that have the character to keep the oath of office. This man has no respect for any oaths, virtues, promises, or covenants - he doesn't have the capability of faithfully executing the office.

Furthermore, Trumpster leaning Republican's of the Christian right that pursue socially right wing legislation have lost all moral high ground to do so. Hard right wing associates that rail against pro abortion and pro-gay marriage activism will also find themselves without even less moral justification to publicly denounce their foes if they continue defending the indefensible actions of this orange man (or lies about actions by the GOP nominee).

Please friends, do not let yourself stoop to level of accepting a candidate you struggle to justify on a level higher than Bill Clinton. There are other options - vote 3rd party, write-in the candidate you really like. I cannot take you seriously if you continue to try and justify Donald Trump.