Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 8, 2010

ANOTHER REFORM PUSH, ANOTHER DECEPTIVE RESPONSE.... We've talked a few times about the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA), which really should be an easy call. The student-loan industry is getting government subsidies to provide a service the government can perform for less. The Obama administration has asked Congress to remove the middleman, streamline the process, save taxpayers a lot money, and help more young people get college degrees.

The House already approved the plan, and the Senate may follow suit through reconciliation. So, Republicans -- who prefer the more expensive, less efficient status quo because bank lobbyists tell them to -- are doing what they always do. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a former Secretary of Education, had an op-ed in yesterday's Washington Post complaining of the Obama administration's attempted "Washington takeover ... of the student loan system."

...Starting in July, all 19 million students who want government-backed loans will line up at offices designated by the U.S. Education Department. Gone will be the days when students and their colleges picked the lender that best fit their needs; instead, a federal bureaucrat will make that choice for every student in America based on still-unclear guidelines. [...]

[T]he government should disclose that getting your student loan will become about as enjoyable as going to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Kevin Carey explained that Alexander's warning "sounds pretty terrible," but is easily dismissed -- the conservative Tennessee senator "is making things up."

In reality, getting a student loan through the Federal Direct Loan Program isn't going be any different than it is for the millions of students who are already getting loans through the Federal Direct Loan Program, which involves filling out the same forms you use to get loans under the "give-banks-billions-of-free-taxpayer-dollars" program that Alexander is defending. [...]

Op-eds like this are best understood not as actual attempts to influence legislation but rather as strategic contributions to a larger narrative alleging that President Obama is engaged in grand conspiracy to drag unsuspecting Americans down the road to serfdom. It's not true, but standards of truth are very lax when U.S. Senators write for the op-ed page of the Washington Post.

It's eerily similar to Sen. Orrin Hatch's (R-Utah) op-ed in the Washington Post last week on health care reform -- I know why conservative Republican senators are lying; I don't know why the paper's editors publish deceptive claims and fairly obvious errors.

For what it's worth, the WaPo also recently published an accurate piece on the same legislation from current Education Secretary Arne Duncan. As far as the paper's editors are concerned, the "balance" may make all of this acceptable -- readers got to read "one side" on one week, "another side" the next week. It's a celebration of diversity of perspectives.

Except, again, it's not. The paper published one piece with blatant falsehoods, and another piece with the truth. Both were presented as opinion pieces, leaving the reader to ponder which of the two is accurate.

It's not the job of a newspaper's editorial section to publish lies and facts separately, leaving the public to figure it out.

Steve Benen 10:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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Op-eds used to be a place where lazy people could get a good summary of the news that mattered most.

It sometimes provided extra details that the reporter missed.

The Post appears to have scrapped these useful functions for the purpose of producing controversy under the impression that it sells newspapers?

I now pay 75 cents for my Sunday Edition, half price, and cancel every 6 months when it will go full price. I might tolerate a higher price if the paper weren't deliberately making itself less valuable to me.

If I want controversy for its own sake, the blogs do it much better. It looks like the WaPo is surrendering it's slight edge in fact gathering as well. The dustbin of history beckons like a siren to sailors on the Argo, but there's no indication their ears are protected.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on March 8, 2010 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

"I know why conservative Republican senators are lying; I don't know why the paper's editors publish deceptive claims and fairly obvious errors."
—Steve Benen 10:20 AM

Geez; I see we're already back-sliding to that coy, faux ingenuousness that I thought we'd [finally] seen the last of.
Of course Mr B knows "why the paper's editors publish deceptive claims and fairly obvious errors" (read: blatant and obviously intentional LIES; "errors" signfying "unintentional," which these counterfactuals are most clearly not).
It is because the WaPo has given up all pretense of being anything but what it is: a propaganda organ for the Publican Party and [far more important] the corporate powers that own and operate that Party, and most of our society, our country, and the government (including, of course, far too many soi-disant Dem's).
There was a great website a few years ago -- remember "Media Whores Online"? It was a less formal (and thus more fun) "Media Matters."
There's room here for some enterprising soul (or a cohort thereof) to create an updated version thereof. Envision a site with all the artistic flair of a "Drudge Report" (viz: none) that would list, tabulate (complete with little skyrockets or mushroom clouds or some such for especially vile examples), and link directly to the refutations of, the various blatant lies of the WaPo on one page, the Sunday talk shows on another, etcetc...
Can it really be that there is NO entrepreneurial spirit left on the left? Are ALL the Abbie Hoffmans (save for Messrs Stewart & Colbert, who seem to bear the entire load between them) now passed on?
Surely this cannot be...

Posted by: smartalek on March 8, 2010 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

"It's not the job of a newspaper's editorial section to publish lies and facts separately, leaving the public to figure it out."

The problem is, that that's exactly how the Washington Post sees it's job. They report what both sides say, and the reader is left to figure out who is lying and who is telling the truth.

There is no longer an arbiter of truth. If you choose to believe Republicans, you listen to talk radio and watch Fox News. If you choose to believe Democrats, you read Daily Kos and don't watch cable at all. there needs to be a credible source of truth telling to sort these things out, but one side of the political spectrum has spent the last 20-30 years discrediting all sources of media so that they can put anything out there and their followers will believe it. It seems they've succeeded.

Posted by: atlliberal on March 8, 2010 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

"Gone will be the days when students and their colleges picked the lender that best fit their needs..."

NOTE: The lender that best fits a student's needs is the lender with the lowest interest rate. That's all that matters. Honest, the INTEREST RATES is all that matters.

Posted by: Kurt on March 8, 2010 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

[T]he government should disclose that getting your student loan will become about as enjoyable as going to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

As opposed to the laugh riot it is now?!

"Hey, dude, did you study for that midterm?"
"Naw, brah, I was down at the bank gettin' my student loan financing on! WOOOOOOOO!"
"Fuckin' A! Those free toasters they have are the shiznit!"

Posted by: Matt on March 8, 2010 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

I know why conservative Republican senators are lying; I don't know why the paper's editors publish deceptive claims and fairly obvious errors.

Why? It's simple: surely you've heard of the so-called liberal media (SCLM) before. The MSM is, by and large, bought and paid for by the same moneyed interests who own the GOP outright, have taken significant steps toward buying the Dems, and would be pleased as punch if the US were to complete the devolution into a heavily-armed banana republic that it began under St. Ronnie.


Posted by: Zorro on March 8, 2010 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

The Origin of a Republican Talking Point

Step 1: A second-tier Republican gives a speech at a far-right organization where he declares that the reason that there is hunger in the world is "because environmental extremists, who are now working with ACORN, are preventing our free market system from harvesting the green cheese that makes up the moon."

Step 2: The next day, a weeping Glenn Beck tells his listeners that people don't have to starve, but the environmental extremists and ACORN are running the Democrat (sic) Party.

Rush Limbaugh tells his listeners that "This story, which no one in the liberal media will talk about, proves that Barak Hussein Obama hates white people and wants them to starve just like his fellow Africans.

Step 3: The day after that, Fox new picks up the story "that no one else will cover". Sean Hannity and the morning who personalities ask the 'Fox Question' -- Many are saying that environmental extremists, who are now allied with ACORN, are keeping American businesses from harvesting the bounty of the moon. Will Barak Obama find a bipartisan solution to world hunger?

Step 4: After another day, CNN reports that "Republicans are now charging that the Democrats are giving in to pressure from environmentalists and blocking businesses from investigating ways to use the moon's resources to feed the world's hungry."

(A sad note: Very few of the journalism students I knew in college could have said for certain that the moon isn't made of green cheese.)

Step 5: On the Sunday morning shows, CBS holds a "fair and balanced" debate about whether it's economically viable to harvest the green cheese on the moon. ABC holds a "fair and balanced" debate about whether environmentalists are the main cause hunger in the world. CBS and NBC hold a a "fair and balanced" debate about whether this is the beginning of a new strategy for ACORN.

Step 6: After remaining silent for two weeks, hoping that someone in the mainstream media would point out that the moon isn't made of green cheese, the White House releases a statement saying that the Republicans have "many good ideas and that we're willing to work with them to find common ground".

In summary: We're doomed.

Posted by: SteveT on March 8, 2010 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

Lamar Alexander thinks that applying for student loans in the current system is _enjoyable_. Sounds like a negative ad right there.

Posted by: FlipYrWhig on March 8, 2010 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

I don't know why they always pick the DMV to make these comparisons to. I'd much rather do a driver's license renewal than go to the financial aid building in August.

Posted by: ArkPanda on March 8, 2010 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

The CBO has recalculated the savings of student loan reform over a decade, they dropped their estimate by $20B to $67B. The CBO also recalculated the increase in Pell Grants over the decade as they become a new entitlement, they will increase $200B. Whether you are left or right of this issue the CBO metrics indicate that $133 will be added to deficit. The metrics are very simple, SAFRA increases the deficit.

Posted by: Neville on March 8, 2010 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

Shorter Lamar Alexander: "Keep the Governments hands off of the Government Student Loan program."

Posted by: martin on March 8, 2010 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

It's not the job of a newspaper's editorial section to publish lies and facts separately.

It is now. Welcome to the world of media consolidation.

The primary conduit with which to support an informed populace has now been usurped by those with a vested interest in maintaining pleasant fictions, proffering lies, and serving two functions:

1) Telling you what to be afraid of.
2) Telling you who is responsible for it.

We now have message control. The fourth estate is dead.

If we survive as a nation, it'll be due to the dwindling few remaining objective media outlets (e.g., McClatchy) and the internet.

Posted by: terraformer on March 8, 2010 at 12:05 PM | PERMALINK

I was going to bring up the moon, green cheese and the Washington Post, but SteveT above brilliantly beat me to it!

Posted by: electrolite on March 8, 2010 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

I have a thought. The Washington Post, as Atrios is always reminding us, owns Kaplan Test Prep, which I believe is it's most profitable property. KTP is part of the vast privatized educational-industrial complex along with private student loan companies. If we get rid of privatized student loans, might privatized testing be next? Deceit-ridden editorials defending private industry, be they on health care or student loans, are there to bolster the ideology of privatization. It is no accident.

Posted by: Kid Charles on March 8, 2010 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

Another case of the government can fix everything mentality. The government does nothing well. This is just a front to create another entitlement and allow the government to control what people do. How about preferred loans for degrees enphasizing social programs? Also we have already heard the President talking about forgiving student loans if the recipient goes into public service. Give me a break. Do we really need to encourage increasing the size of the government? This is just another big government power grab.

Posted by: z73421 on March 8, 2010 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

Now that my student loans are paid off many many years ago and my personal information has been sold countless times, The sporadic rash of harassing phone calls from bottom feeding companies that buy lists simply for the privilege of badgering a few more bucks out of some sod never cease. It used to make me mad, now I enjoy toying with them as they are never going to go away.

I'm sure it is illegal to mention the bank I used but you'd recognize it from recent bailout headlines.

Free enterprise, works every time. Passing this bill should be a no brainer but everyone has to get their 15 minutes and ration of pork.

Posted by: Kevin on March 8, 2010 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

So "government can perform" this service "for less." And Obama wants "to remove the middleman, streamline the process, save taxpayers a lot money, and help more young people get college degrees."

Right. Government administration of a loan program will be more efficient that private lenders. You know, I have this bridge to sell you....

Posted by: INTJ on March 8, 2010 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

Wow.. reading this article and the comments reminds me how stupid liberals really are. Damn - that free-market economy isn't any good.. why would anyone want to have more than one choice of where to get a loan? C'mon people.

Open you're eyes.

You can't even see that you're eyes are closed to even one thing - that Republicans are not responsible for this mess that the country is in. Democrats are responsible as well. And the leader of the democrats is not the Messiah that many would think him to be.

Posted by: John Adams on March 8, 2010 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK

Less than 10 years ago, we had a government sponsored entity that administered the government student loan program. A few years back we decided the program didn't really need government involvement, so we privatized this administrative entity. We still have the same administrative entity running the same program now, as a private organization. But all the sudden, that same organization is a blood-sucking fiend of private industry stealing millions of dollars from the government and private people. Please explain.

Posted by: mnemos on March 8, 2010 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

We need the feds to take over not just student loans but ALL loans. Who can buy a house when banks make you put up 5 percent? Credit cards should be 100% government issue. VISA and MC need to be put out of business. Car loans same thing. Borrowing at affordable rates is a basic Human Right.

Posted by: Russ was a Californian on March 8, 2010 at 5:27 PM | PERMALINK

What a stinkrag; the only thing worse than the whining article (breaking news: politicians spin).

I just wish we could divide this country into two halves, not physically, but virtually.

One side:
1. Minimal public "services" and minimal taxation
2. You bunch of eTards

Five years from now you -- let's just call you "#2" -- couldn't afford a laptop to surf, or type sneering idiocy.

So ... enough with that ... while we all watch powerlessly as capital, talent and jobs flee Obama for friendlier shores -- that's right shirt heads, the milk cows are not fenced in (and just how STOOPID are you and your presiden to think they are?) -- one question:

Was Alexander LYING about the majority of students taking loans from the Tennessee private system? LYING? If not, why did they choose the SAME LOANS (as asserted) at HIGHER PRICE (as asserted). Was there NO REASON? Maybe they JUST WANTED TO PAY MORE FOR NOTHING?

It's so asinine that I don't even need to check for answers....

Posted by: Thomas Paine on March 8, 2010 at 9:20 PM | PERMALINK

Your readers should click over and read Alexander's piece rather than taking your word for what it says. For his part, Kevin Carey offers an opinion about Alexander's motives (which you recycle) rather than a response to his points.

Specifically, Alexander's reference to DMV-level service had nothing to do with which forms are filled out. It flowed from a paragraph you and Kevin omitted, one which asked whether the government would offer the same services to loan recipients as private lenders currently offer. It's telling that neither you nor Carey had anything to say on that point.

Posted by: John on March 9, 2010 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

"Gone will be the days when students and their colleges picked the lender that best fit their needs..."

Not to mention, the days when private lenders bribed college loan officers to steer unwary students into predatory high-cost loans when they could have qualified for loans on much better terms from the government...

Posted by: Nancy Irving on March 10, 2010 at 4:11 AM | PERMALINK

nice post. thanks.

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