Archive for January, 2016

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, sixty-four years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

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.

 

 

 

 

 


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