Congress – keep your promise to service members

Dear Congressperson,

Aria, i.e. Major Cutie

I am calling on you to pledge your support for legislation to ensure that Congress honors the promise of student loan forgiveness for men and women serving in the armed forces. Currently, there is no guarantee that the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF) will continue to exist, even for service members who have participated in the program for several years. [1] This is wrong. Legislation is required to guarantee that service members can take advantage of the PSLF program to forgive any remaining student loan debt after 10 years’ worth of qualifying monthly payments. I am asking you to pledge your support for such legislation.

The PSLF program was created in 2007 as both a way to address the growing problem of student loan indebtedness, and an incentive to attract people to public service jobs. Military service is perhaps the quintessential form of public service. Although the country relies on men and women in uniform to protect the freedoms we cherish, service members cannot rely on Congress to keep the promise of public service loan forgiveness. Aside from the above-mentioned lack of any guarantee that the PSLF program will continue to exist for participating service members (even for those who have made qualifying payments for several years), the PSLF program has been plagued with administrative hurdles.[2] When participants first became eligible for loan forgiveness in 2017, less than 1% of applicants were approved.[3] Widespread calls for the reform of the PSLF program have since emerged.[4]

This is unacceptable. Too many have planned their lives around the promise of PSLF. I know. I am one of them.

I am an immigrant whose parents left everything behind so I can have better opportunities than they did. To me, that meant pursuing my education. I became the first in my family to earn an undergraduate degree, and went on to finish law school. In the process, I took on well over $100,000 in student loan debt, while working through college. I made major life decisions on the expectation of loan forgiveness through the PSLF program, without which I could not have joined the military, and likely could not have married my wife, bought a house, or had my daughter Aria.

I had many reasons for wanting to serve, but without the PSLF program I could never have afforded to do so. As part of the PSLF program, I am on an Income-Based Repayment (IBR) plan, which provides for reduced monthly payments based on disposable income. This has allowed me to serve my country while supporting my wife and daughter. I recently agreed to serve at least four more years so that I may transfer the educational benefits I earned through the post-911 G.I. Bill to my daughter. I want to make sure my daughter does not have to incur the same enormous debt I took on to finance my education. Through the PSLF program and the G.I. Bill, military service can be part of an effort to counteract the recently exposed inequities of advantage obtained through privilege.[5]

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program is a way to recognize the hard work and contributions of those who serve, often from disadvantaged families, who lack the means to personally finance their education. I want to make sure that the PSLF program remains in place, at least for service members like me, because I know that without this program I would not be able to serve and support a family. I also want to make sure it remains in place long enough to be an incentive for public service for girls like my daughter Aria, who was born just last year. That’s why I’m calling on you to pass legislation to ensure that Congress keeps the promise of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program for service members. I would like to call this law Aria’s promise.

Very respectfully,

Christian

P.S.: If you think keeping the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program for service members is a worthwhile effort, you can support it by signing the petition on change.org and contributing at the GoFundMe page to finance the effort.  Mailing letters to each of the 535 members of Congress will cost about $600.  Any additional funds will be used to publicize the campaign.

 

[1] U.S. Dept. of Education (2019). Public Service Loan Forgiveness Questions and Answers. Retrieved on May 5, 2019 from Federal Student Aid: https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/public-service/questions (“Can I be certain that the PSLF Program will exist by the time I have made my 120 qualifying payments? – We can’t make any guarantees about the future availability of PSLF. The PSLF Program was created by Congress, and Congress could change or end the PSLF Program.”)
[2] Liebenthal, R. (2019, October). The Incredible, Rage-Inducing Inside Story of America’s Student Debt Machine. Retrieved on May 5, 2019 from Mother Jones: https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2018/08/debt-student-loan-forgiveness-betsy-devos-education-department-fedloan/
[3] U.S. Dept. of Education (2018, September 19). Federal Student Aid Posts New Reports to FSA Data Center. Retrieved from Information for Financial Aid Professionals: https://ifap.ed.gov/eannouncements/091918FSAPostsNewReportstoFSADataCenter.html
[4] See: Arment, A. (2019, March 5). OPINION: Why one plan to cut college debt needs rebooting, not rejecting. Retrieved on May 5, 2019 from The Hechinger Report: https://hechingerreport.org/opinion-why-cant-public-servants-get-a-break-on-their-college-debt/;
See also: Minsky, A. (2019, April 12). New Bill Could Fix Publix Service Loan Forgiveness. Retreived from Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/adamminsky/2019/04/12/new-bill-could-fix-public-service-loan-forgiveness/;
Kaine, T., & Randi, W. (2019, April 23). The sabotage of public service loan forgiveness. Retreived on May 5, 2019 from CNN: https://www.cnn.com/2019/04/22/opinions/student-loan-forgiveness-sabotage-kaine-weingarten/index.html
[5] Medina, J., Benner, K., & Taylor, K. (2019, March 12). Actresses, Business Leaders and Other Wealthy Parents Charged in U.S. College Entry Fraud. Retrieved from The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/12/us/college-admissions-cheating-scandal.html?module=inline
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Three clues to one of 2019’s best trips

After a prolonged hiatus, the Chronicles are back to ring in the new year with three clues to one of the coming year’s top destinations. And why did the Chronicles make a comeback in this manner? That should become obvious by the end of the post. So allow me to walk you through your steps to reach one of the best destinations to visit in 2019:

nelson-atkins
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (image from http://www.artskcgo.com)

CLUE 1: One of National Geographic’s best trips for 2019

Don’t take my word for it, read for yourself. It’s not the number one spot. That distinction went to Mexico City. It’s not number 2 either (Peruvian Amazon). You’ll have to scroll down the list, but it is the highest domestic destination on it, and far more affordable than a trip to Greenland or New Zealand (#8 and #6, respectively).  So go ahead and read about the barbecue, jazz, and urban renaissance of a city that has so much to offer, it cannot all fit in one state.  But if National Geographic’s list hasn’t yet convinced you to visit, read on.

CLUE 2: Find the loudest stadium in the world.

The stadium should be full next Saturday, on January 12th. Two NFL teams will face each other in a contest that will see one of them advance one step closer to what has become one of the biggest televised sporting events in the world: the Superbowl. This stadium holds the distinction of being the loudest stadium in the world, registering at 116+ decibels with all noise attributable to the voracious support of the fans eager to see their team make another appearance in the big show, something they have not done since the very first and fourth installment.

CLUE 3: Find your favorite Nightmare

One might be more inclined to follow dreams than look for nightmares, but this is my publication and I write what I want. Plus, this makes it more interesting, in that with this clue, there are at least two options. The first is from Niger. The second is a from a central-European country with a little-known connection to the first.

Ah, what the heck, enough with the silly clues. I was just about to make some vague reference to Christian “the Nigerian Nightmare” Okoye, and the little-known fact that this monster of the gridiron was the namesake of alter-ego with whom readers of the Chronicles may be familiar…

If it isn’t obvious by now, as of late I am a resident of the greater Kansas City metro area, on the Kansas side. I have traveled and lived in many places over the course of my career as the lead Chronicler, and I was skeptical before moving to what is sometimes referred to as “flyover country” in 2017. Despite my expectations, I have been pleasantly surprised. I shall be moving on soon, probably later this year, but while I am here I thought I’d share a bit about what I believe to be one of the best kept not-so-secret destinations in America, at least by National Geographic’s standards. So to add some other reasons to visit beyond the clues listed above: there is world-class barbecue here, along with every other type of cuisine you’d like. I am partial toward a German restaurant downtown, and there are plenty of good steak houses, too. The traffic report in the morning news usually shows nothing but roads marked with green, and there is usually ample parking, too. The cost of living cannot be beat, which was brought into full focus for me, having lived in California and Hawaii prior to moving here. Perhaps tied to the issue of affordability is also the fact that people in this area are noticeably different from those who dwell in the coastal regions: in Kansas City, people tend to be polite, and even NICE. This is in stark contrast to the chip-on-the shoulder intolerant anger that seems to be a prevalent feature of coastal areas. With the enormous cost of living, no wonder residents there are angry. And no wonder California ranked last in quality of life in 2018, according to U.S. News and World Report (and 46th in opportunity…). Despite the lack of oceanfront properties, Kansas seems to be a better overall bargain.

But hey, don’t take my word for it. The good people at National Geographic must have had a reason to put KC on their top 10 list of places to visit in 2019!

(And let it be known that Christian’s Chronicles made its triumphant return from this mid-western location, too.)

 

Hiking with Obama

While on special assignment in the Hawaiian islands researching the ever-elusive phenomenon of “White Christmas,” our correspondents stumbled upon an even bigger scoop just when all hope of a good story seemed to have faded.  Yes, in a Chronicles exclusive, we bring to our loyal readers our own gift of a story, just in time for the holidays:

Hiking with Obama

It all started just a few days ago, with the deadline for the story on “White Christmas” fast approaching.  It seemed to be nothing more than visions of treetops glistening and children listening, with our staff growing ever more dejected and almost as devoid of Christmas spirit as Ebeneezer Scrooge himself.  We did snap pictures of beautiful Christmas lights and even caught sight of Yoda, 3PO, R2D2, the Minions, and others.  But alas, no one we talked to had ever even dreamed of a white Christmas.

Christmas lights with Yoda 3PO Minions
Lights and Cheer, but no White Christmas

In an effort to reinvigorate our campaign, and with perhaps just a sliver of hope of hearing sleigh bells ringing atop Koko Head on the island of O’ahu, we finally decided to take the advice of many of those whom we had interviewed in Hawai’i seeking information about white Christmas, snow, sleigh bells, and all related things: we went’ for a hike.

Rail view up Rail view

Koko Head is a popular hiking destination with promises of spectacular views for those who brave the steep climb along railroad tracks that sometimes cross over caverns below, with lush greenery and dense vegetation bordering on either side.  But the payoff is worth the lost calories for those whose legs are tough enough for the trek.  The view from the abandoned pillboxes and remnants of other structures is a breathtaking 360 degree panorama of paradise.  Strong gusts of wind blow from only one side of the peak as a welcome reward to cool off those who have ascended the summit warmed by the climb beneath rays of the Pacific sun.

Despite the natural beauty of sweeping vistas and bucolic landscapes, disappointment started to sink in as we had come no closer to the mirage we had been chasing all along.  We were greeted by no secret revelations at our destination; No signs of a white Christmas.

Correspondents in search of White Christmas
In search of White Christmas

After a few minutes of recuperation and taking in the surrounding scenery, we started our descent.  Not long thereafter, an otherwise seemingly ordinary bearded man approached with a strange request.

“Excuse me.  We need to search you for weapons”

“Excuse me.  We need to search you for weapons” he said.  In response to my befuddled look, no doubt, he added: “I am with the secret service” and flashed a badge.

Perhaps all was not lost!  Those who told us to “take a hike” in response to our inquiries about their experiences of a white Christmas may have been giving us riddled guidance to the secrets we were after all along.  We may yet uncover the mystery surrounding white Christmas on our walk!  But who would have guessed even Santa Clause had to step up security to such an extent?  “We have a visitor.  It is for security” the man with abundant facial hair said as produced a metal detector and asked us to raise our arms so he could perform a weapons search.

Excited at the prospect of getting an exclusive interview with the jolly old man from the North Pole, we were more than willing to submit to whatever security measures were deemed necessary.  After the secret service representatives were satisfied that our pockets concealed nothing more than telephones, cameras, and granola bars, our team assembled at a designated spot along the trail, waiting for the “visitor” to arrive.

Soon enough, a motorcade of vehicles appeared at the foot of the mountain, with a trail of personnel spreading out to secure the area.  Finally, we could see a small cluster of a core group making their way up the mountain from below.

The anticipation was building with each step as we watched them approach, wondering with our hearts racing, could this really be Santa Clause?  Had he relocated from the North Pole to the island breeze of Hawai’i?  Would he bring a white Christmas?

As the group got closer and closer on the steep hillside, we could at last begin to make out just who it was for whom all the security had been provided.

President Obama approaching
President Obama approaching
The Presidential gluteals
The Presidential gluteals getting a workout

It was our Commander-in-Chief, President Barack Obama!  As he approached, we quickly composed ourselves enough to brainstorm a few questions for an impromptu interview seeking answers to the secrets he, too, was undoubtedly after: where had white Christmas gone?  Were there any hints to be found on top of Koko Head? Will our days be merry and bright?  Will all (or even any) of our Christmases be white?

Although President Obama was cheerful and polite, we cannot provide the full details of our brief discussion, for reasons of national security.  We can state that based on the authority of a personal Presidential proclamation punctuated by a handshake, we were reassured that we would have a merry Christmas, and our days would be bright.  And sure enough, today, on Christmas Day, it all proved to be true!  We did indeed have a merry Christmas, and our days are bright!  Even the treetops are glistening, though not with snow, although it is as yet unsettled whether children are listening.

Did President Obama and Santa Claus have a “White Christmas Summit” at the summit of Koko Head?  Will we see a resurgence of white Christmases, merry and bright?  Or is it best to leave matters of national security and Christmas mysteries in the hands of experts?

For our part, our correspondents are happy simply with the unexpected surprise of having met President Obama face-to-face, and having received his reassurances of a merry Christmas along with a handshake and exchange of pleasantries.  Even if our photographer, instead of capturing the moment of our handshake, snapped a picture of the Presidential gluteal muscles getting a workout while scaling the mountain!

Merry Christmas!

Nepal

Upcoming issues of The Chronicles will take a hands-on, in-depth look at disaster relief work in Nepal, where volunteers from far and wide, including places such as the United States and Hungary, travel to do what little they can to help in the relief and rebuilding efforts that will likely continue for years to come.  Before and after photos reveal the scale of the disaster.  A few months ago, Nepal was devastated by an enormous earthquake, which leveled buildings that have stood for centuries and claimed the lives of thousands.  Our brave correspondents are embedded with All Hands Volunteers, an organization with which Christian’s Chronicles has worked in the past.  They are knowledgeable and experienced in such work, and hopefully The Chronicle’s staff will be able to make a tiny bit of difference with what little time and labor is available to contribute.

This note, of course, is not merely to bolster the already sterling reputation of The Chronicles.  We are also not simply looking to launder our soiled karma through the cleaning agency of good deeds, but rather, we see any improvement to our own moral standing only as a fringe benefit.  We feel that if we are in a position to help we should take the opportunity to do so, and take our readers along for the journey.  There are also a number of issues of interest to our readers to explore, such as why the increasingly popular urge to rush to volunteer to a disaster area may need to be tempered with an abundance of caution.  We merely wish to engage our audience by providing a first-hand account of the volunteer experience in a disaster relief setting.  We are also considering establishing a GoFundMe site to allow our readers, who cannot contribute by the sweat of their brows, to participate by providing financial support to defray our costs.  Stay tuned for further developments on how that may be possible in the future.

Meanwhile, our editors have focused upon different questions to beguile our readers, as explained below.  With regard to natural disasters, some victims reap the benefits of media sensationalism and the resulting attention and contributions, financial or otherwise, generally from more developed nations in what sometimes seems to morph into an aid-fetish of sorts, while other victims whose own disaster story for whatever reason does not resonate with consumers to the same extent are largely forgotten.  Also, in the context of familiar polarized political debates that have plagued social media in recent months, many often unwittingly but sometimes intentionally perpetuate divisions that lead our editor-in-chief to ask:

Which lives matter?

Rather than quiet contemplation, or worse yet, replies in the form of individual expressions from one’s own online pulpit on Facebook or some other social media outlet, we propose a different challenge to our readers, no matter what side of the debate regarding whose lives matter they may fall on.  The following is a message from our editor-in-chief::

Put your money where your mouth is!

Do not be another talking head.  Instead of posting yet another tired, pathetic meme or status update (or God forbid, something even more lengthy) that nonetheless seems clever to you (yes, this is specifically in reference to YOU, personally) in illustrating oh-so-well why now, after reading such simple, dim-witted, 3rd-grade level reasoning ripe with logical fallacies that you somehow still see as an offer of proof of the righteousness of your cause, you can do something that may actually have an impact, however small, as compared to your hypocritical proclamations of ideological identification.  Below are three options for you to express yourself by providing financial support to one of three online fund-raising venues with three different beneficiaries:

  1. All Hands Volunteers, providing disaster relief that benefits the people of Nepal, who through no fault of their own had their world turned upside down in a giant motherf__ing earthquake that killed thousands of people who were just minding their own business.  Incidentally, Nepal is in Asia, so as a matter of logic these folks are Asian, but if you are interested in a more nuanced exploration of the demographics of Nepal, check out this article.
  2. Marchel – a dude I’ve known for years, who through no fault of his own one day found himself having a stroke of some sort, and now is fighting to get through the physical and financial obstacles that come with that sort of a medical crisis.  He happens to be black, at least from outward appearances, if that is for whatever reason important to you.  There is a GoFundMe page where you can put your money where your mouth is and show that you think his life matters via a financial contribution of whatever size.
  3. Beau – another guy I’ve known for a while, and another face in the crowd, battling his own medical problems.  You can read all about his particular medical issues and the bills he is incurring through his treatment on his own GoFundMe page.  Both of these guys have always been good human beings who have found themselves in unfortunate circumstances through no fault of their own.  Beau happens to be white, if that is important to you for whatever reason.  Just another life, of the many who are battling whatever hardships they may be facing, offering you an opportunity to prove that you mean what you say by providing support that matters.

So now, the reader can decide:

Whose life matters? 

The time I corrected NPR

…proving once again how devastatingly smart I am.  That’s right, I corrected NPR.  It was all done in the name of honest, high quality journalism, the likes of which our readers have come to expect from ye olde Chronicles.

The satisfaction of my inner nerd is just a fringe benefit.

In a recent news story, which had also made its rounds on social media in various formats generating the typical responses one has come to expect from those most prone to offer comments on such issues, NPR reported on the recent Texas controversy where state authorities are refusing to issue birth certificates to children whose parents cannot provide documentation that meets the requirements of Texas law.   It was stated (and often repeated through channels of cyberspace) that birthright citizenship is “made plain by the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, which says anyone born in the U.S. is automatically a citizen.”

Just follow the link here (or above) and read the second paragraph.  You’ll see…

…you will see that it NO LONGER says that all persons born on U.S. soil are automatically citizens, because it has been corrected.   There is an update posted a little farther down the page.  It goes something like this:

“Update on July 20 at 1:16 p.m. ET. Birthright: Our original post stated that the 14th Amendment automatically confers citizenship on anyone born in the United States.  One careful reader rightly noted that this is not quite right: The 14th confers citizenship on anyone born in the United States ‘and subject to the jurisdiction thereof.’ …”

That careful reader?  Yeah, to borrow a phrase from Snoop Dogg, he is I and I am him. The correction eventually explains that:

“In other words, and as our reader rightly noted, the 14th excludes children born to diplomats or hostile occupying forces and those born on foreign public ships.”

Go ahead and read the full update at NPR for yourself, and then leave a comment thanking that careful reader, praising his meticulous attention to detail and objective, scientific scrutiny of this issue, whilst maintaining an unwavering commitment to journalistic excellence.  But do that later, after I am done gloating.

Just another benefit of being a Chronicle reader.  Now you know one of those nerds who corrects seemingly trivial inaccuracies in otherwise reputable news outlets.

You’re welcome.

The Management