STAFF & GUEST BLOG
June 27th, 2012, by

Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-MI) is proposing loan debt reform Photo: U.S. House of Representatives

With the economy still reeling from the Great Recession, many Americans are scraping by on lowered wages and, sadly, lowered prospects. With everything from car notes, housing payments, food and basic necessities, asking Americans to pay on their student loans right now can be a tall order.

If you haven’t heard by now, loan debt in America has reached $1 trillion. And while bankruptcy may have been a welcomed answer for many Americans, according to current laws, many cannot receive approval for it.

In my last post, I talked with Robert Applebaum about the near 1 million signatures he’s helped to acquire to get lawmakers to further work on loan forgiveness. So, my next step was to reach out to one of the lawmakers and hear some ideas on how to get the measure passed in Congress. Here’s my exchange with Rep. Hansen Clarke, of Detroit, about the bill he’s been working on to reduce the repayment process that saddles most Americans.

NIXON: Where did the idea for this bill come from and what’s the number one thing you would like to see this bill accomplish once passed?

CLARKE: Over the past few years, I’ve met more and more people in my community who have college degrees, but lack financial security. They have the diploma to hang on their wall, but they lack the means to support their family and pay the interest on their debt. This is because the cost of getting a college degree has increased at a far greater rate than wages over the last decade. Tuition rates rose 72% at public universities between 2001 and 2011. People of all ages, from all walks of life are drowning in student debt. And, our national economy is suffering as a consequence. People are putting off major purchases and investments, which is stifling job creation. My objective with this bill is to make student loan repayment more simple and fair and to give people more purchasing power in order to jumpstart the economy.

NIXON: How have your peers in Congress responded to this bill? How difficult do you believe it will be to gain consent and cooperation from other members on the House on this bill?

CLARKE: We so far have 16 Congressional co-sponsors on the bill, and, while it’s all Democrats at this point, I feel confident that we will convince our friends on the other side of the aisle to join this movement. The 975,000 signatories on the national petition for this bill come from many different political persuasions. When it comes to this issue, I believe both Democrats and Republicans want the same thing: for Americans to be well-educated and free from the shackles of debt. This bill provides a responsible way to help realize that vision. It requires that borrowers pay 10% of their discretionary income for 10 years before receiving forgiveness.

NIXON: The city of Detroit is working hard to stabilize and grow its economy. Have you heard from your own constituents on this issue of student loan debt? And secondly, how impactful would a bill like H.R. 41 be for citizens of the area?

CLARKE: Thousands of people in Metro Detroit who don’t have a college degree are still struggling with student loan debt. The people who took non-degree courses or had to leave school for one reason or another are often those who are struggling most with the weight of this debt. I meet these folks, as well as struggling graduates, every week in Michigan’s 13th district, and I hear about financial situations that could be transformed by this assistance.

NIXON: Given the nation’s current economic outlook, how critical is it to ensure that this bill is passed, as it relates to Americans’ ability to start families, a new business, buy a home, etc. and not have to worry about student loan debt?

CLARKE: It’s critical. The only way we can get out of this recession is by ensuring that working people have more purchasing power. We took several months to hear from education experts, activists and—most importantly—struggling students and graduates in order to develop the plan that ultimately became the Student Loan Forgiveness Act. The process started this past September, and the bill was finalized in late January.

NIXON: Some people are skeptical of politicians who show up and claim they are on the people’s side on certain issues. However, you’ve gone to, arguably, some of the best schools in the country, and you work in the public sector; so, there’s a sense that you understand the economic frustrations people are facing on this issue. What could you say to a constituent to give them an idea that you are more than familiar with the economic strains of higher education costs and student loan debt?

CLARKE: I took out loans to attend school back in the ’80s, during a time when universities were far more affordable and loans were much more manageable. My passion in dealing with this issue comes from talking with people in my community—ranging from retirees in their 80s to teachers in their 20s—who are struggling with student loan debt right now. It comes from seeing motivated, talented young people in my community given no choice but to accrue massive debt in order to get an education. We don’t want our young people in that situation. You can join the movement by signing our online petition and asking your member of Congress to co-sponsor the bill. All the information you’ll need is available at HR4170.com. We are so inspired by the grassroots movement for a student loan solution!

You heard it here folks. By most estimates, it appears Rep. Clarke is off and running. Those interested in learning more about HR4170 can visit the website.

June 25th, 2012, by

The student debt crisis has reached critical mass leaving many Americans concerned

No matter what your political views or ideology, most everyone agrees that the student debt crisis in the U.S. has reached critical mass. Rising tuition and fees across the nation’s colleges and universities have many Americans wondering if college was truly the best path for them when there aren’t enough jobs to keep pace with the amount of graduates each year.

For many graduates, student loan debt has become one of the most pressing issues in the new economy. In a recent TIME magazine article, Jon Meacham writes that issues like student loan debt, rising healthcare and housing costs are making The American Dream more and more elusive. Many graduates are working harder, gaining less and constantly struggling to keep some semblance of life amid one of the toughest financial recessions in a generation.

While there have been efforts in the Obama administration to offset and help Americans dealing with student debt, many, like Robert Applebaum, believe there is still much left to be accomplished. Applebaum is the founder and executive director of forgivestudentloandebt.com. His goal is to alleviate the burden associated with student loan debt for all Americans. I caught up with him to get his thoughts on how everyday Americans can work to change the current crisis.

NIXON: Do you feel politicians have been reluctant, unaware or unconcerned on this issue?

APPLEBAUM: There’s a great deal of ignorance about the student debt crisis, not just in Congress, but across the nation. Those affected by the crisis feel they have no voice (or at least felt that way until this movement came along), and those without student debt are completely oblivious. I put Congress into the oblivious category, because I’d like to believe that if they were truly aware of the reality of the crisis, they’d do everything they can to avoid another financial crisis like the one in 2007-2008. The good news is that we’ve been moderately successful in educating the general public, including Congress, and I’m, therefore, hopeful that Congress will eventually stop the partisan bickering and gridlock and start doing the work that they were elected to do.

NIXON: Outside of asking for individuals to sign a petition, what else can they do to get lawmakers’ attention on this issue?

APPLEBAUM: Write and call as often as possible. Repeatedly. Share personal stories of student loan hell. Engage others on social networking sites, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, and help continue to educate the public and lawmakers. The squeaky wheel gets the grease and, as such, it is my belief that the more we stay on top of those who purport to represent us, the public pressure will eventually reach a point where it’s too loud to be ignored.

Persistence is key. I have a very loyal, enthusiastic base of support, with hundreds, if not thousands of people actively engaged on a daily basis in terms of contacting members of Congress either by phone or in person, writing letters to the White House, the Department of Education, etc. Many have written letters to the editor of their local newspapers, and all of these things are actions that anyone can and should take as often as possible to drive the message home. Rome wasn’t built in a day and, when you consider that this movement is only a mere 3-5 years old, I think we’ve made incredible strides towards restoring sanity to a very broken system.

Earlier this year, the student debt clock hit $1 trillion dollars. It is one of the largest student loan amounts in the history of the U.S. In order to change this very broken system, it will take a coordinated effort from men and women across this country to alleviate not only the catastrophic debt, but recapture The American Dream.  More to come on this topic soon.

SEEN & HEARD
June 18th, 2012, by

In this round of guest quotables, a bold line between the realms of imagination and reality was drawn. On team “imagination/daydream,” we had actors Christina Ricci and John Slattery. On team “reality,” we had writer Buzz Bissinger, singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin and “Miracle on the Hudson” pilot Capt. Chesley Sullenberger.

Love is a frequent topic of discussion, and this week was no exception, thanks to blues musician Buddy Guy, sportswriter Frank Deford and former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Check out the gallery for some extra photos and notable quotes from the last two weeks of interviews and share your thoughts.

All images by Van Evers, Tavis Smiley Media, Inc.


June 17th, 2012, by

Governor Andrew Cuomo's proposal is on the right track Photo credit: Pat Arnow

If Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s latest proposal on marijuana possession gets passed, it will, in effect, reduce the amount of Black and brown people from having unnecessary criminal records. And, while I’m all for the governor’s proposal, it’s missing a few things.

Under current New York law, marijuana possession has two completely different punishments. The law states that if someone is in possession of marijuana in private, it is considered to be a violation punishable by a fine. But, if that substance is lit or viewable in public, the individual is then subject to an arrest and a criminal record.

Police in New York City often stop young persons of color and ask them to empty out their pockets, essentially forcing individuals to incriminate themselves. As a result, many citizens, civil rights organizations and others have condemned the stop-and-frisk laws that unfairly penalize young persons of color for having small amounts of marijuana in their possession.

In a recent Huffington Post article, the governor admitted to the need to change the law: Cuomo acknowledged the existing approach disproportionately affects minority youths, with 94 percent of arrests in New York City, more than half of those arrested younger than 25 and 82 percent either black or Hispanic.

With the data clearly proving that law enforcement has dropped the ball over the years in effectively carrying out the law, I strongly believe work must now be done to seal or remove the criminal records that young people have unfairly acquired. While these youth, at one point, made a mistake, they don’t deserve to have their lives marginalized due to an inconsistent drug law policy and botched police work.

So, while Gov. Cuomo’s proposal would essentially fine individuals for public possession of marijuana the same way as a private possession, it must go further. The law should also be implemented retroactively, to seal the records of those who were penalized by the system’s flaws. That would be an even greater sign of leadership, practicality and governance on behalf of the State of New York and Gov. Cuomo.

June 16th, 2012, by

For many individuals across the country, Father’s Day carries with it a mixed set of emotions. I sat down recently with a gentleman who shares the following account of his relationship with his dad.

The story about my dad is not a fairytale. My parents divorced when I was a 1-year-old. When my father left my mom, he not only left her, but his relationship with his children as well. Every month, until each child turned 18 years old, my mother received child support. It wasn’t enough, but I assumed it was the best my father could do.

My time with my father was very limited. The only times we took vacations were on the mandatory visitations ordered by a judge. He never remembered my birthday. The best he could do is call me a month or so after and make a joke that he thought I was born later. He would then ask me if I received his birthday card, implying that he sent it. He hadn’t.

He would complain about the service of the post office and, within two days, I would receive a card, backdated, with a $25 check, to make it appear that it was the post office’s fault for the delay and not his. I didn’t mind, because again, I thought he was doing his best.

When I was 18, he called me. He told me if I ever needed any money, to give him a call for a loan. He would then mention that he had given this same offer to my older brothers and gloatingly proceed to tell me how much they owed him. It was the only help he had ever offered me as his son. We didn’t keep in much contact after my 18th birthday, but 10 years later, after the divorce from his second wife, he sent me an email. Here is part of it:

I wish to say how sorry I am for not being your father in the truest sense of the word or even your dad. I have failed in nearly every aspect of human relationships with women and family.

If you can find it in your heart to forgive me then that is all I seek.

May I be so bold as to offer you some advice? Find the right woman, love her forever and stay close with your children for nothing else really matters. I just learned it too late.

Dad

If my father truly did his best and still failed, I forgive him. He did what he was legally bound to do, and I am thankful for that. Many children have deadbeat dads and live in poverty because of it; I did not. Happy Father’s Day to the dads who did their best, because I believe this was the best my father could do.

Brad Denney is a freelance blogger in the San Francisco Bay Area.

PRIMER
June 12th, 2012, by

Photo courtesy: Van Evers, Tavis Smiley Media, Inc.

 

Airdates | Wednesday, June 13

Hometown | Baltimore, MD

Why You (Should) Know Him

  • For starters, he’s logged in 50 years with Sports Illustrated, where he is now the senior contributing writer. See this video clip on his thoughts of the evolution of sports writing.
  • You can catch him on National Public Radio and on Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel from time to time.
  • According to his NPR profile, he’s been referred to as “the most influential sports voice among members of the print media” and “the world’s greatest sportswriter.”

Why He’s Buzzing | After such an illustrious career, he’s somehow managed to chronicle his life and fit it all into one book. That book, Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter, is now published and up for grabs.

Trivia

  • To date, Deford has been named Sportswriter of the Year a total of six times. He’s also been voted Magazine Writer of the Year by Washington Journalism Review.
  • In 2012, he received the Red Smith Award. He’s the first magazine writer to be honored with the award.
  • His novel Everybody’s All-American was named one of Sports Illustrated’s Top 25 Sports Books of All Time in 1981. It was also adapted for a film of the same title.
  • For a time, Deford served as editor-in-chief of The National and wrote for Newsweek and Vanity Fair.
  • He’s an advocate for the research and treatment of cystic fibrosis and served as chairman of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation for nearly 20 years; he’s still chairman emeritus. His daughter, Alex, was diagnosed with the illness and passed away at age 8. Deford honored her memory in the text Alex: The Life of a Child and, subsequently, a movie was made in 1986.
  • He’s a member of the National Association of Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame.
  • Even though he’s a sportswriter, most of his novels do not take place in the world of sports.
  • Deford’s life and work are highlighted by ESPN’s “You Write Better Than You Play” documentary.

Selection of Awards and Accomplishments

1988     Emmy Award for his work as a writer during the Seoul Olympics
1994     CableACE for writing Arthur Ashe: Citizen of the World, an HBO sports documentary
1999     National Magazine Award for Sports Illustrated article on Bill Russell
1999     Peabody Award for writer on Dare to Compete, an HBO documentary

Selected works (Bibliography)

1971      Five Strides on the Banked Track: The Life and Times of the Roller Derby
1981     Everybody’s All-American
1983     Alex: The Life of a Child
1993     Love and Infamy
2001    The Other Adonis: A Novel
2002    An American Summer: A Novel
2005    The Old Ball Game
2010     Bliss, Remembered
2012     Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter

 

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
June 5th, 2012, by

As one of the cities hardest-hit by the 21st century’s economic downturn, Detroit has more than its share of troubles. One of the few good things to come of the city’s woes, however, is a blossoming of art amidst the ruins. One such endeavor is Mike Kelley‘s “Mobile Homestead” a life-sized model of a ranch-style home, similar to the one he grew up in on the outskirts of the city.

Begun in 2005, Kelley took the homestead on a tour of downtown Detroit, where it has now found a permanent home adjacent to the Detroit Museum of Modern Art. Set to open next month, the “Mobile Homestead” exhibit will house free classes, a barbershop and a studio for local artists.

Kelley died earlier this year, and the house will stand as something of a memorial to both the artist and his hope for the return of prosperity to Detroit.

PRIMER
June 4th, 2012, by

Photo courtesy: Van Evers, Tavis Smiley Media, Inc.

Airdate | Thursday, June 7, 2012

Hometown | Lettsworth, LA

Birth name | George Guy

Parents | Sam and Isabel Guy

Why You (Should) Know Him

  • As a member of Muddy Waters’ band, Guy is credited as the pioneer of the Chicago blues sound, and he’s often credited as the bridge between blues and rock and roll.
  • He’s ranked 30th in Rolling Stone magazine’s 100 Greatest Guitarists of all time.
  • His flair for entertaining, whether it’s playing his guitar with drumsticks or walking into the audience during a solo, helped him make a name for himself.
  • On March 14, 2005, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Eric Clapton and B.B. King. (See video below)

Why He’s Buzzing | On May 8 2012, he released his autobiography, When I Left Home: My Story.

Trivia

  • He was born to a sharecropper’s family and raised on a plantation.
  • By the time he was seven years old, he made his first instrument. According to his website, he ‘fashioned his first makeshift “guitar”–a two-string contraption attached to a piece of wood and secured with his mother’s hairpins.’
  • His Harmony acoustic guitar was donated to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
  • He owns Legends club in Chicago and performs there frequently.
  • By the time he started recording his own music, he was already a major influence on other artists, such as Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. He notably picked the guitar with his teeth and played it over his head–two tricks that later influenced Jimi Hendrix.
  • In 2008, he was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.
  • His daughter, Rashawnna “Shawnna” Guy, was the first female artist to be signed to Def Jam through Ludacris’ Disturbing the Peace Records.
  • His late brother, Phil Guy, was also an American blues guitarist.
  • His song “Stone Crazy” was ranked 78th in the list of 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time, also of Rolling Stone.
  • He is the recipient of 23 W.C. Handy Awards, which is more than any other artist. He is also the second recipient of Billboard magazine’s The Century Award.

Selections from discography and awards

2003 Awarded the National Medal of Arts
1965 “Hoodoo Man Blues”
1967 “I Left My Blues in San Francisco”
1968 “A Man and the Blues”
1991 “Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues” – Won 1991 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album
1993 “Feels Like Rain” – Won 1993 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album
1994 “Slippin’ In” – Won 1995 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album
1999 “Buddy’s Baddest: The Best of Buddy Guy”
2001 “Sweet Tea” – Nominated for 2001 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album
2003 “Blues Singer” – Won 2003 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album
2009 “The Definitive Buddy Guy”
2010 “Living Proof” – Won 2010 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album)

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2005

Eric Clapton and B.B. King Induct Buddy Guy into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLOcD54OlNc]

Buddy Guy’s Acceptance Speech
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PsVk5C9sZbE]
“If you don’t think you have the blues, just keep living.” – Buddy Guy, 2005

Rock and Hall of Fame Induction Performance
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ntkb8BC3-k&feature=channel&list=UL]

 

A LOOK BACK
June 4th, 2012, by

On May 29, 2012, President Obama awarded cultural and political icons with the Medal of Freedom at a ceremony held at the White House. Among the recipients were past show guests Madeleine Albright, Toni Morrison and Delores Huerta.

The Medal of Freedom ranks as the highest civilian honor. According to the Los Angeles Times, ‘the year 1962 looms especially large in President Obama’s picks: that was the year [Bob] Dylan put out his first album, when [Delores] Huerta co-founded the National Farm Workers Association and when [John] Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth.’

Madeleine Albright

On January 23, 1997, Albright was sworn in as the first female to become the U.S. Secretary of State, under former President Bill Clinton.

On October 28, 2009, she sat down with us to weigh in on the situations in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, discuss her memoir Madam Secretary and her token brooches as fashion statements and diplomatic tools. Watch the 2009 conversation and share your thoughts.

(View full post to see video)

“Life is grim, and we don’t have to be grim all the time.” – Madeleine Albright, 2008

 

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
June 3rd, 2012, by

One of the most famous mysteries of the 20th century surrounds the disappearance of Amelia Earhart on her quest to circle the globe in 1937. A female aviation pioneer, she was the first woman to fly solo non-stop across the Atlantic ocean, for which she received the Distinguished Flying Cross, a Congressional medal.

Ever since Earhart’s circumnavigation was cut short 75 years ago, there has been much speculation around the circumstances of her disappearance and death. This week, new evidence has emerged suggesting Earhart, along with navigator Fred Noonan, spent her final days subsisting on fish, mollusks and seabirds on a remote and uninhabited Japanese coral atoll.

From the Christian Science Monitor: “(TIGHAR), a non-profit foundation promoting aviation archaeology and historic aircraft preservation, reported new details Friday leading researchers to this conclusion: Earhart and Noonan, low on fuel and unable to find their next scheduled stopping point – Howland Island – radioed their position, then landed on a reef at uninhabited Gardner Island, a small coral atoll now known as Nikumaroro Island.”

According to the same article, researchers from TIGHAR will return to the site next month and use submersibles to search for remnants of Earhart’s plane.

As well as being historically relevant, and adding a final chapter to one of the most fascinating American stories of the 20th century, the revelation that Earhart’s plane didn’t simply vanish (despite what innumerable conspiracy theorists say) serves as a potent reminder that it’s far easier to put forth an outlandish theory, than it is to actually prove what happened. Conspiracy theories may be provocative, but they are rarely even close to accurate.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

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