Is student debt the next shoe to drop?

A young man sat in his car sipping on a drink. It appeared he had purchased it from the convenience store in whose parking lot he sat.

After a final sip, he opened his door and sat the cup on the ground beside his vehicle. He then closed the door and slowly drove away, leaving the drink cup in the parking lot.

The driver looked relatively put together. His vehicle was not dilapidated. He obviously cared some about his appearance. So I tried to imagine his thought process.

Maybe he thought picking up trash around the premises was a service the convenience store provided. It was included in the drink price.

Or maybe he had no cognizant thought at all. His mind was simply on to the next gig.

Whatever the explanation, a Styrofoam cup sat in a parking lot waiting for a responsible party to pick it up.

A separate instance: As I walked into a big box retail store, a twenty-something took a final drag on a cigarette and threw it on the ground in front of me.

“Who do you think is going to pick that up? I asked.

He huffed a bit and then lumbered over to pick up the butt.

“Don’t mess with Texas” is not my point. Litter happens every day. But these instances represent a growing belief among a generation of people:

“Someone else will pick up the pieces. Mom or the government, perhaps. My actions don’t really have an impact.”

Notwithstanding these anecdotes, I was shocked when I read about the thousands of people trying to get out of paying their student loans. They claim their colleges defrauded them with misleading messages.

The obscure federal law that allows for such claims was used five times in the twenty years after its passing in 1994. Then, in the last two years, 7,500 complaints have been filed. Thank you, social media.

The plaintiffs argue their schools lied to them about earning potential and graduate salaries. Some claim their instructors were inept. Evidently they were not inept enough to quit taking out loans and paying tuition.

According to The Wall Street Journal, The debtors seek a total of $164 million in loan forgiveness. That’s a big cup in the parking lot. But it’s a fraction of the $1.2 trillion in U.S. student loan debt outstanding, a figure that has tripled in the last ten years.

Total nationwide education debt surpassed credit card debt in 2011. While university administrators warned students about the credit card offers in the campus center, they should have warned them about the gambit in the financial aid office.

That didn’t happen. The money was too good and too easy. Tuitions increased to match the federal funding available. Salaries and benefits of faculty and administrators rose with the tide.

Now a generation of young people try to pay off the windfalls – or not.

The Federal Reserve estimates that 11.5 per cent of outstanding student loans are greater than 90 days past due. This percentage gets worse when one considers that half of outstanding debt is in forbearance. Those borrowers are still in school.

We may have a big problem on our hands. We usually do whenever government pays or guarantees big bucks to make something “affordable.”

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.

Why we honor MLK

County real estate records house many volumes of deed restrictions: stipulations that sellers require – and buyers agree to – when a piece of property changes hands. So I wasn’t initially surprised when I happened upon a set from 1927.

The parties involved in the transaction had surnames that locals would recognize. Their names are on old photos at the courthouse. Town streets still display their names.

The deed restrictions began innocuously:

1. Buildings shall be for residential purposes only.

2. All residences shall be built at a cost of at least $3,000.

3. All buildings shall be placed not less than 37 and 1/2 feet from the street.

4. No livestock shall be kept on the premises…

And then came this one:

“8. Premises shall not be conveyed to or owned by people of African descent.”

I double-checked the date. Could it have been 1827? No, my eyes had not misled. The deed restrictions had in fact been filed in February 1927.

For Gen Xers and later, the period between the abolition of slavery and the civil rights movement can be a blur. Technically, there was freedom, but informally there were gradients of bondage difficult to understand without personal experience.

The letter of the law provided for equality, but the spirit of the law did not always follow suit. The discrimination described in the deed restrictions above is an example.

In his August 1963 speech in Washington, D.C., Martin Luther King, Jr. paints a picture for future generations of what life was like.

“…the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality,

“our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities,

“the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one,

“a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.”

Dr. King’s dream of justice is “deeply rooted in the American dream.” While he feels like America’s justice check has bounced, he refuses “to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.”

His optimism, his unquestionable love for whites and blacks alike, his commitment to satisfy the thirst for freedom without “drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred;” these are the marks of a man who fights on a loftier battleground than the pursuit of mere earthly gain.

He didn’t say it from the podium that August day, but this imagery from his written speech draft makes the point:

“We are not here seeking soley (sic) the fulfillment of our selfish aims….the campaign of the Negro for equality is not a campaign for black men alone…we believe that black and white are alike on God’s keyboard.”

The most refreshing aspect of Dr. King’s persona was his focus on the future. He was simply not stuck in the past. He saw the futility of revisionist history. He didn’t vilify a lesser enemy.

“Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.”

Instead, he called the nation to the highest ideals of its past: “…this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.’”

Hence, we honor him and his noble dream again this day.

 

Kevin Thompson can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

 

 

Kids said the darndest things in 2015

It’s time for my annual rewind of our kids’ memorable lines from the last year. I hope you can decipher some humor – and maybe a dash of truth – in the mini people’s musings. RIP, Art Linkletter.

As our 7-year-old gazed at a full moon behind some fast-moving clouds, he yelled to his 9-year-old brother, “Hey! Come look at how fast the moon is moving!”

Like a seasoned scientist, the elder brother strutted over to clarify the phenomenon, “The moon’s not moving,” he said with nonchalance. “We are.”

We have other naturalists in the bunch. One can diagnose pathologies in animals from a distance.

“Look! That squirrel is acting crazy. It probably has diabetes.”

Another brother is mastering life cycles.

“At first it’s a raccoon. Then it becomes a butterfly.”

His sister has mastered bedtime delay tactics. After I explained that all of her brothers were asleep, she said, “You need to stay with me. I feel a bad dream coming on.”

After some paternal soothing and insistence that she go to sleep, she bargained, “First, let me see your muscles.”

She clearly knows how to push my buttons.

At Cracker Barrel, I beat her in a game of checkers. She didn’t get mad, just even. “Daddy, give me your armpits. You get a tickle.”

While I was improving my self-esteem at the checkers table, the other kids were exploring toys and trinkets in the country store.

“I wish I could live here!” announced the 7-year-old. It does seem like a perfect fit: Santa’s workshop crossed with Grandma’s kitchen.

Candy brings out the worst in us. One of the twins had some; the other didn’t. In tears, the have-not pleaded, “But you’re supposed to share with me! We’re twins, remember?”

Once, when said twin was sick, she requested red Jell-O. When I said we didn’t have red Jell-O but that I could make her green Jell-O, she asked, “Does it taste the same as red Jell-O?”

During a devotional, I invited all the kids to think about a time they only thought about themselves.

When the 7-year-old struggled to grasp the concept, I suggested the episode where he stole a classmate’s ice cream ticket.

He clarified the situation, “I wasn’t thinking about myself. I was thinking about ice cream.”

Some things you only hear and see in a house full of boys. “Dad, look at this booger!”

“Dad, we found a frog and two garter snakes under the dog house!”

This excuse for not being able to help clean the kitchen: “I’m sick. I don’t want to spread my germs around.”

This explanation of the ants swarming food on the kitchen floor: “Those are our pet ants.”

And this admonition on the way into Home Depot: “Dad, don’t stare at all the stuff you don’t need.”

Sibling rivalry raises its head periodically. When the 11-year-old received a football MVP award at sports camp after throwing a touchdown pass to his younger brother, the 9-year-old said with a smile, “I should have dropped that pass.”

As all parents know, these years and these sayings go by fast. A 5-year-old captured how it feels: “Mom, what was today? Yesterday?”

Follow Kevin Thompson online at http://www.kwt.info.

Laws change in Texas, Boerne

It’s 2016…time to put away your phones and get out your guns!

The Boerne City Council has banned smartphone use while driving inside city limits, and the Texas Legislature has permitted the visible carrying of handguns in most public places.

Not since 1871 have Texans been allowed to publicly holster their firearms.

Surprisingly, Texas was one of only six states that didn’t allow open carry when it passed the law. The other five states included such left-leaning bastions as California, New York and Illinois.

The Legislature allowed business owners to choose whether to allow exposed guns on their properties. The results have run the gamut.

Whataburger decided to ban open carry in its restaurants, while Brooks’ Place Barbecue in Houston is giving a 25% discount for baring arms.

A key rationale for the law change was public safety. According to the law’s proponents bad guys will less likely commit gun violence if they see more good guys with guns.

My sense is a bad actor is going to be deterred by a law-abiding citizen regardless of whether a weapon is exposed.

I’m reminded of a Margaret Thatcher quote: “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” A possible corollary: Being intimidating is like being a lady. If you have to show people you are, you aren’t.

Nevertheless, if open carry works in the other ninety per cent of the country, Texas should not stay in the liberal-leaning minority. The right to bear arms is constitutionally enshrined, after all.

The right to drive, however, is not. It is a privilege, according to the Boerne City Council members who followed the City of San Antonio in prohibiting the use of portable electronic devices while driving.

My free market conservatism flinched when I heard the news.

Many reasonable people think distracted driving is a legitimate problem, and there is precedent in Boerne. The city council banned cell phones in school zones a few years ago. It seems logical, then, that if it’s bad there, it’s bad everywhere.

I keep asking my friends in the auto body shop business if their numbers are up due to a presumed increase in distracted driving. They insist they are no busier now than in the age of bag phones and pagers.

Perhaps the safety features of modern vehicles (e.g., auto-braking sensors) are mitigating the impact.

Distracted driving foes say a “hands-free” device is the solution. Scarily, I’ve probably had more near misses trying to get my hands-free device to work than I ever have using my phone outright.

Two interesting notes about the new ordinance: (1) non-technological forms of distracted driving such as consuming Whoppers and Big Gulps or reading paperbacks are not addressed; and (2) law enforcement personnel are exempt.

It’s at least a small irony that the law enforcement personnel set to enforce the electronic device ban have large computer monitors staring them in the face.

One might conclude from this that human beings, when provided the right training, can use technology safely and responsibly within a motorized vehicle. Perhaps an “open use electronic device permit” is in our future?

Until then, keep your guns revealed and your phones concealed in route to a happy and safe new year!

 Follow Kevin Thompson online at www.kwt.info.

 

 

 

 

 

Edward Glenn Biggs, 1932 – 2015

“What kind of banker are you?” a rancher asked Glenn Biggs when he arrived at First National Bank of San Antonio in 1970.

Biggs replied, “Well, a bank is like a heart that circulates money throughout the -”

“I’ll tell you what kind of banker you are,” interrupted the rancher. “You’re just like the one who renewed my loan for years, but when times got tough and I couldn’t pay, he called my note!”

“What did you do?” Biggs wondered.

“I begged and begged and he finally said, ‘I’ll make you a deal. You didn’t
know this, but I have a glass eye. If you tell me which one it is, I’ll extend your note.’

“When I picked the correct eye, he asked, ‘How did you know?’ I said, ‘Sir,
I perceived an ounce of compassion in that glass eye.’”

Each time Mr. Biggs told that story, it was better than the last. His jovial
yet commanding presence hung you on every word.

Edward Glenn Biggs died on May 26, in the year of his Lord two thousand fifteen. He was 82.

I first met Glenn when he interviewed me for a job at Texas Heritage Bank
where he served as chairman. We met at Denny’s. He obviously wasn’t concerned about impressing me.

But I left breakfast impressed by him and would be almost daily for the next six years. And not just by his contact list which included Fortune 500 CEOs, university presidents and U.S. senators, but also by the way he treated the cleaning crew and the receptionist.

“Once we boarded a flight from Dallas to San Antonio,” an associate recalled. “Glenn walked down the aisle high fiving dozens of people who knew and respected him. I slipped to the lavatory. When I returned, Glenn was embracing a flight attendant who was going through a tough time.

“That’s the kind of guy he was. You felt like his best friend because you
were. His heart was that big.”

Readers may remember Biggs as San Antonio’s CPS Energy board chair or as CEO of an effort to bring high speed rail to Texas in the early 90s. How nice would that be now when I-35 is a parking lot and airport security is a zoo.

“Glenn walked among leaders in the community,” a friend of forty years remembered. “They knew him and he knew them, but I but I don’t know anyone who didn’t like him. Usually standouts get crossways with some people, but that never happened with Glenn.”

Southwest Airlines founder Herb Kelleher thwarted the high speed rail project, for example, but Biggs still called him friend.

That didn’t mean the six-four, 250-pound frame stood without principle. Once he came into the break room looking for a soda. As he closed the fridge I said, “Mr. Biggs, there was a Pepsi in there.”

He declined. The chairman of Pepsico had berated him and other Texas bankers in the mid-80s for causing the nation’s financial woes, Glenn explained.

“I haven’t had a Pepsi product since.”

As you might imagine, Mr. Biggs was quite quotable. “She’s stronger than
a Mexican plate lunch,” he might say about a determined woman.

Or this one, particularly poignant at the moment: “I hope you live forever,
and I’m the last one to say good-bye.”

Good-bye, Mr. Biggs. Your best friends miss you tremendously.

Kevin Thompson can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

Bottling Christmas

If there were ever a time to freeze frame time, it’s most certainly the week of Christmas. Bottle the spirit of this season and become a billionaire. Easily.

Nights are cold. Hearts are warm. Days are short. Light strands are long. The anticipation of a gift received is surpassed only by the joy of giving.

If you’re like me, your list of people to buy for is longer than you ever imagined. Six months ago, you had no idea you cared about half of them. Suddenly, like an angel in a dark sky, you want to say thank you. Maybe even I love you.

It’s a season of miracles. You find a unique gift at a department store. You find an affordable one at a boutique. Traffic is lighter than you expected. You don’t mind hearing Carol of the Bells for the 234th time.

You think about families who have too little and people who have no families. You think about bare cupboards and sparse fridges. You consider trees with no gifts and homes with no trees. You even do something about it.

You grab a paper angel off an artificial tree. You fill a shoebox and wrap a gift. You wonder what it would be like to receive them. You remember life is relative and that kids in trailer parks laugh as hard as kids with a view. It’s about joy, not stuff.

You drop a few bucks into a kettle and say a prayer for the man at the stop light. You might also lift one up for his dog. Even animals get prayers this time of year.

You hit a movie, maybe a love story, and the popcorn tastes even better than you remember. You stay through the credits. You don’t dwell on tomorrow’s trials. You don’t dread getting up early to face them. You relax.

You recall the highs of the year but also the redemption in the lows. “I didn’t get that job, that relationship ended, my daughter struggled to carry on, but I can now see why. The smoke has cleared.”

You attend a Christmas Eve service and hear the town’s best voice belt O Holy Night. You close your eyes and it’s Mariah to your untrained ears. You go to dinner afterward. You leave 35%.

You see a child and remember what it’s like to want something so much, you can’t sleep. You try to imagine what that might be for you today. You may even write things down and review them come January.

You hear the year’s best jokes from Uncle Larry. You see Susie’s dance recital on Grammy’s smartphone. You cry with an aunt who retired too early. Her husband of thirty years just left.

You give someone the benefit of the doubt. You notice something redeeming in an in-law. You linger at the table a little longer and give more of yourself than usual.

You ponder joy and its source. You think about the sources you’ve tried and the mixed results you’ve gotten. You question whether a virgin birth really happened, and, if so, why God came so humbly.

You recall the baby who, for the joy set before him, endured a tortuous death, rejected its shame and returned whence he came to prepare a place for us. Joy – to the world and back.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.

Marriage makes a difference to kids

Besides getting kidnapped or being eaten by the pack of lions that routinely appeared in a recurring nightmare of my youth, my greatest childhood fear was that my parents would divorce.

Judging from the anger that some of my friends have experienced related to the divorces of their parents, I suspect I’m not alone.

Despite the periodic rationales we hear from people who argue their divorce was best for all those involved, most people intuitively know divorce is not ideal for children, abusive situations notwithstanding.

Still, many presumably intelligent people have argued over the last half-century that divorce and other nuclear family alternatives (single-parenting, blended families, etc.) have no negative impact in the development of children. That line of reasoning appears to be coming to an end.

An academic journal produced jointly by Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and The Brookings Institution recently reported that the question is no longer IF marriage provides the optimal environment for kids. The question is only WHY it does.

“Most scholars now agree that children raised by two biological parents in a stable marriage do better than children in other family forms across a wide range of outcomes,” writes editor-in-chief Sara McLanahan in the fall 2015 edition of The Future of Children (www.futureofchildren.org).

The publication gives many benefits marriage provides for kids:

Parent coordination and stability, economies of scale, availability of insurance and social networks, income and net wealth, division of responsibilities, bargaining power and borrowing capacity, father involvement and parents’ mental and physical health.

Even when some of these benefits are provided in non-marriage situations through government and social programs, marriage still proves superior.

Researcher David Ribar: “Studies that control for the indirect effects of these mechanisms typically find that direct positive associations remain between children’s wellbeing and marriage, strongly suggesting that marriage is more than the sum of these particular parts.”

Contributor Ron Haskins notes that in the last 45 years, single mothering has increased by 120%, marriage rates have declined by 35%, nonmarital births have increased and half of all children will now spend at least some time in a single parent household before they turn 18.

According to Haskins, empirical data “definitively establish” that these trends have led to increased poverty, increased income inequality and harm to children’s growth and development.

Forty per cent of single mother households now live in poverty versus just eight per cent of married-couple families. And since 1974, the mean annual income of married couples has grown by $36,000 (in 2013 dollars), while single mother incomes have grown by just $8,000.

“Single parenthood affects not just children’s current economic circumstances but their economic circumstances once they become adults as well,” Haskins states.

Furthermore, family structure changes have had a spiral effect as lower income, lower educated people marry less and cohabitate more. It makes sense. A young mother on food stamps and a housing subsidy surely finds it difficult to dream of veils, flowers and chapels.

Contraception is offered as part of the solution, though birth control alone seems like offering a fish for a day versus teaching the self-control and self-respect that reels a lifetime of good decisions.

No easy answers will cure the ills created by the decline of marriage. However, intellectual honesty like that offered in The Future of Children can help reverse decades of counterintuitive family composition propaganda.

 

Kevin Thompson writes a weekly column for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.

 


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