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With time running out for over 159,000 Wisconsin college students and their families whose student loan interest rates could double in less than one month, the U.S. Senate today considered competing plans for setting interest rates on federal Stafford Loans. According to One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross a doubling of interest rates on student loans is a ticking time bomb not just for students and their families, but the entire economy.
He commented, "The trillion-dollar student loan debt crisis is a clear and present danger to our economy nationally and in Wisconsin. Allowing interest rates on federal student loan rates to double only deepens a crisis that is already hurting students, their families and our entire economy."
The Republican plan offered today would have lifted the cap on federal student loans, instead allowing variable rates, and is estimated to cost students nearly $15.6 billion over the next ten years in additional interest costs. Under current law, it is projected that the federal government will earn a profit of $51 billion in the next year from the interest on federal student loans, even more than the net profit reported last year by Exxon Mobil, the most profitable corporation in the country. The GOP plan failed to pass, garnering 40 votes including Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson's.
By contrast, a Democratic plan, cosponsored by Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin, would close a number of corporate tax loopholes to maintain an interest rate cap of 3.4% on federal student loans for the next two years. Baldwin joined with 50 of her colleagues in supporting the initiative. Senator Johnson voted no on the measure, helping deny the 60 votes necessary for the Senate to move on to an up or down vote on the measure.
Ross commented, "It is obscene that the federal government is earning more than Exxon Mobil from students struggling to afford a higher education, and that they and their families are saddled with over one-trillion dollars of debt. And it is unconscionable that Senators like Ron Johnson voted to let it get worse."
Original research conducted by the One Wisconsin Institute found that student loan debt's impact is not confined to students and their families, but is a significant drag on the entire Wisconsin state economy with:
The Institute's research was recently confirmed in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's survey of consumer debt that found student loan debt negatively impacted the ability of individuals to finance auto and home purchases. In addition, The U.S. Federal Reserve has identified rising levels of student loan debt as a risk to economic recovery.
Ross concluded, "The trillion dollar student loan debt crisis is a ticking time bomb for our economy that must be defused before it explodes into a two trillion dollar crisis."
One Wisconsin Now is a statewide communications network specializing in effective earned media and online organizing to advance progressive leadership and values.
"Billionaires spending a billion dollars on a shopping spree for democracy should wake us all up to the threat posed by nearly unlimited wealth applied without limits to our elections," said the head of Americans for Tax Fairness.
Americans for Tax Fairness on Monday released the group's latest report on "the threat posed to American democracy by billionaire political spenders," revealing that last year their collective congressional campaign contributions topped $1 billion for the first time.
"That 'Billionaires' Billion' was almost three-quarters more than the tycoons' total spending on the last midterms, in 2018, and 300 times more than what billionaires spent on congressional races as recently as a dozen years ago," states the ATF report.
"The Billionaires' Billion—contributed by fewer than 500 individuals—represented about one of every nine dollars raised from all sources in the 2022 elections," the analysis continues, noting that 15 of the nation's richest households were responsible for $658 million, or nearly two-thirds, of the contributions.
"Nearly 80% of billionaire cash—$782 million—went to outside campaign groups," the document adds, and in eight key races that decided which party controlled the Senate, "billionaire donations supported Republican candidates over Democratic ones by almost a 5-1 margin."
\u201cIn the three states where billionaire support was overwhelmingly on the Republican side, the Republican won the Senate race.\n\nIn North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin, Republican billionaires outspent the much smaller pool of Democratic billionaires by at least 9-to-1 in each race.\u201d— Americans For Tax Fairness (@Americans For Tax Fairness) 1684157314
Democrats initially secured a slim majority in the Senate—including the two Independents who caucus with the party—after Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) won a runoff against GOP challenger Herschel Walker in December, but that victory was quickly tempered when Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona became an Independent just days later.
Although Republicans lost five of the eight key Senate races, the ATF report explains, not only did billionaire spending encourage candidates to focus on positions favored by their wealthy benefactors, but also, in North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin—won by GOP Sens. Ted Budd, J.D. Vance, and Ron Johnson, respectively—the superrich overwhelmingly backed the party and "Republican billionaires outspent the much smaller pool of Democratic billionaires by at least 9-to-1 in each race."
The GOP did seize control of the House of Representatives in last year's midterms—enabling their efforts to quash recent legislative victories and priorities of congressional Democrats and President Joe Biden, including the ongoing battle over whether to raise the debt ceiling to avert the first-ever U.S. default, which economists warn would be catastrophic for the global economy.
The current makeup of Congress makes it exceptionally difficult to pass any legislation—including campaign finance reforms that critics of billionaires' influence on the American political system have increasingly demanded since the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling, which loosened restrictions on political spending.
\u201cWhen corporations and billionaires can buy elections, the voices of ordinary Americans are drowned out. We need to end Citizens United and restore balance to our democracy.\u201d— End Citizens United (@End Citizens United) 1684165959
"Billionaires spending a billion dollars on a shopping spree for democracy should wake us all up to the threat posed by nearly unlimited wealth applied without limits to our elections," ATF executive director David Kass declared Monday. "There are well-known solutions to the problem, including overturning Citizens United and effectively taxing the biggest sources of billionaire wealth, which now often go lightly taxed if at all."
"Those tax reforms include taxing wealth like work by equalizing the top tax rate on investment and wage income, and closing the stepped-up basis loophole that allows investment gains to go untaxed forever," Kass added. "All that's needed is for Congress to heed the call of the American people to unrig a corrupt system."
In March, Biden unveiled a budget blueprint—which included various tax reforms—that then-ATF executive director Frank Clemente said "plainly shows whose side he's on: working families struggling with the high cost of healthcare, childcare, housing and more—not the wealthy elite and their big corporations rolling in dough and dodging their fair share of taxes."
However, the GOP continues to make clear that the party only plans to serve the rich with tax breaks, not force them to pay more. Citing three unnamed sources, The Washington Postreported Monday that "the White House recently gave Republican congressional leadership a list of proposals to reduce the deficit by closing tax loopholes during the ongoing negotiations over the federal budget and the debt ceiling. But Republican negotiators rejected every item."
\u201cBREAKING: Republicans have rejected a proposal to lower the debt by closing tax loopholes for the rich.\n\nRepublicans created this debt crisis with their tax cuts for the wealthy. Democrats can not cave to their demands that the rest of us pay for it.\nhttps://t.co/yH6ZzfK4Rq\u201d— Americans For Tax Fairness (@Americans For Tax Fairness) 1684183330
"On a phone call last week, senior White House officials floated about a dozen tax plans to reduce the deficit as part of a broader budget agreement with House Republicans, including a measure aimed at cryptocurrency transactions and another for large real estate investors," according to the Post. "They were all swiftly rejected by the GOP aides on the call."
"The United States government, while not solely responsible for the damage, has a significant obligation to invest in humanitarian assistance and reconstruction in post-9/11 war zones," said the author of a new report.
The post-9/11 War on Terror may have caused at least 4.5 million deaths in around half a dozen countries, according to a report published Monday by the preeminent academic institution studying the costs, casualties, and consequences of a war in which U.S. bombs and bullets are still killing and wounding people in multiple nations.
The new report from the Costs of War Project at Brown University's Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs shows "how death outlives war" by examining people killed indirectly by the War on Terror in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.
"In a place like Afghanistan, the pressing question is whether any death can today be considered unrelated to war," Stephanie Savell, Costs of War co-director and author of the report, said in a statement. "Wars often kill far more people indirectly than in direct combat, particularly young children."
\u201cBREAKING: Our latest estimates reveal that deaths in post-9/11 war zones top 4.5 million.\u00a0\n\nRead more by @MiriamABerger in the @WashingtonPost: https://t.co/nefwgALoP6\u201d— The Costs of War Project (@The Costs of War Project) 1684181702
The publication "reviews the latest research to examine the causal pathways that have led to an estimated 3.6-3.7 million indirect deaths in post-9/11 war zones," while "the total death toll in these war zones could be at least 4.5-4.6 million and counting, though the precise mortality figure remains unknown."
As The Washington Post—which first reported on the analysis—details:
Since 2010, a team of 50 scholars, legal experts, human rights practitioners, and physicians participating in theCosts of War project have kept their own calculations. According to their latest assessment, more than 906,000 people, including 387,000 civilians, died directly from post-9/11 wars. Another 38 million people have been displaced or made refugees. The U.S. federal government, meanwhile, has spent over $8 trillion on these wars, the research suggests.
But Savell said the research indicates that exponentially more people, especially children and the most impoverished and marginalized populations, have been killed by the effects of war—mounting poverty, food insecurity, environmental contamination, the ongoing trauma of violence, and the destruction of health and public infrastructure, along with private property and means of livelihood.
According to the report, "The large majority of indirect war deaths occur due to malnutrition, pregnancy and birth-related problems, and many illnesses including infectious diseases and noncommunicable diseases like cancer."
\u201cThe @WashingtonPost covered it in today\u2019s exclusive. Fantastic coverage by @MiriamABerger [2/\nhttps://t.co/Rck6BCpVwi\u201d— Stephanie Savell (@Stephanie Savell) 1684180628
One 2012 study found that more than half of the babies born in the Iraqi city of Fallujah between 2007 and 2010 had birth defects. Among the pregnant woman surveyed in the study, more than 45% experienced miscarriages in the two-year period following the 2004 U.S. assaults on Fallujah. Geiger counter readings of depleted uranium-contaminated sites in densely populated Iraqi urban areas have consistently shown radiation levels that are 1,000 to 1,900 times higher than normal.
The study also found that some deaths "also result from injuries due to war's destruction of infrastructure such as traffic signals and from reverberating trauma and interpersonal violence."
\u201cFactoring in Costs of War estimates of direct deaths of between 906,000 \u2013 937,000 people in these war zones brings the total of estimated deaths to at least 4.5-4.6 million and counting. [5/11] https://t.co/3m3JrCzqkR\u201d— The Costs of War Project (@The Costs of War Project) 1684181702
Savell said that "warring parties who damage infrastructure with an impact on population health have a moral responsibility to provide quick and effective assistance and repairs."
"The United States government, while not solely responsible for the damage, has a significant obligation to invest in humanitarian assistance and reconstruction in post-9/11 war zones," she added. "The U.S. government could do far more than it currently is to act on this responsibility."
"This is the time to direct our energies and efforts toward preparedness and readiness, particularly to protect our most vulnerable citizens from the impact of extreme heat," said one expert.
With scientists pointing to a number of weather patterns this year that have already signified that the El Niño Southern Oscillation may amplify planetary heating in the coming months, one heat and public health expert said Monday that officials must take advantage of the time they have now to prepare their communities for potential extreme heat events in the United States and around the world.
"We will likely see a significant impact from El Niño in the 2023 heat season," said Ashley Ward, a senior policy associate at Duke University's Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability. "While El Niño is still forming this year, we need to prepare for the 2024 heat season to likely be worse."
Ward said the last time scientists observed the kind of significant heat caused by El Niño that they're expecting to see this year was in 2016, which is tied with 2020 for the hottest year on record.
As climate researcher Leon Simons said last week regarding current ocean warming trends, scientists are currently observing heat patterns that look "very much like the 1997 and 2015 early stages of a Super El Niño," which is marked by very high temperatures in the Pacific Ocean near the equator.
\u201cThe ocean west of Peru and Ecuador is warming faster than any of the preceding strong El Ni\u00f1os:\n\nhttps://t.co/TB0p2Mq1Dr\u201d— Leon Simons (@Leon Simons) 1683652366
"Based on the year-to-date and the current El Niño forecast," wrote Zeke Hausfather at Carbon Brief late last month, "2023 is very likely to end up between the warmest year on record and the sixth warmest, with a best estimate of fourth warmest."
Ward called on officials at the state and local level to take the next several weeks to "develop response plans for periods of extreme heat that address how to reach both urban and rural populations."
"This is the time to direct our energies and efforts toward preparedness and readiness, particularly to protect our most vulnerable citizens from the impact of extreme heat," said Ward.
Extreme heat has devastated parts of the world, including the U.S., in recent years.
Temperature records were broken in Vietnam and Laos last week, with the northern district of Tuong Duong recording a high of 111.6°F. Record-shattering heat in the Pacific Northwest was linked to hundreds of deaths in 2021, and more than 1,000 people died in Western Europe last summer of heat-related causes.
Ward said public health and safety authorities should begin organizing educational campaigns to "help individuals understand how they can mitigate heat" and to examine how they can help people procure fans and other cooling devices.
"Additional measures could include... providing shelter for the unhoused during periods of extreme heat," said Ward, "and reinforcing heat safety guidelines for occupational exposure and student-athletes."