Romney as Flipper

This is one of the funnier Mitt Romney flip-flop videos.


College affordability

When considering education policy, we face a dilemma regarding affordability. Many of us believe that it’s important to make college accessible to all people who are qualified to be admitted to a university. This is critical for growing or even maintaining the middle class in this country. Thus we have programs like grants and student loans.

Yet the availability of these funds provides little incentive for colleges to control costs. Over the years, college costs have skyrocketed as has student debt.

Some conservatives might argue that we shouldn’t be subsidizing college at all, but few agree with this line of thinking. America became great in large part due to our massive investments in higher education. The GI Bill helped to fuel the massive growth of the middle class following WWII.

So we need to continue to promote college education and help poor and middle class kids with affordability, but we need to inject some common sense controls into the system as well.

The Obama Administration is trying to address the problem, using some of the same incentives that were used to spur reform and innovation with their Race to the Top program for K-12 school systems.

President Obama is proposing a financial aid overhaul that for the first time would tie colleges’ eligibility for campus-based aid programs — Perkins loans, work-study jobs and supplemental grants for low-income students — to the institutions’ success in improving affordability and value for students, administration officials said.

Under the plan, which the president is expected to outline on Friday morning in a speech at the University of Michigan, the amount available for Perkins loans would grow to $8 billion, from the current $1 billion. The president also wants to create a $1 billion grant competition, along the lines of the Race for the Top program for elementary and secondary education, to reward states that take action to keep college costs down, and a separate $55 million competition for individual colleges to increase their value and efficiency.

The administration also wants to give families clearer information about costs and quality, by requiring colleges and universities to offer a “shopping sheet” that makes it easier to compare financial aid packages and — for the first time — compiling post-graduate earning and employment information to give students a better sense of what awaits them.

Many universities won’t be happy about this, particularly at a time when states are cutting back on education budgets. Yet the slavish devotion to more buildings and other expenses needs to stop. Having incentives to provide real value to students will change the calculation for university presidents and trustees.

Also, the notion of a shopping sheet is very important, as many college kids and their parents are clueless about the notion of costs vs benefits. There’s nothing wrong with a liberal arts degree, particularly if you have thoughts of going to grad school, but leaving undergrad with $120,000 worth of debt for an English degree is economic suicide. If kids start seeing the real costs as they vary from school to school, they will be more inclined to consider cost as a part of their decision on where to go to school. This of course is part of a larger problem where most Americans have very poor financial literacy, so these types of comparisons will encourage them to consider costs by giving them tools to make easy comparisons. As a part of that, college students will then be more likely to at least consider the economic value of their college major as well.

Given the current political environment, I won’t hold my breath on seeing the Republicans work with President Obama on any topic, even something like this that should be supported by both parties. Conservatives and liberals can argue about the size of government, both both should be working tirelessly to make government and its programs work better.


Newt Gingrich freaking out many on the right

You can’t really blame Ann Coulter and others on the right for their reactions to Newt’s victory in South Carolina. But the right deserves this. They’ve been built on hatred and contempt for the left and for Barack Obama, so this is what they get.


Tax issue is sinking Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney has had a bad week, and his “maybe” answer regarding his willingness to release tax returns for prior years like his father did many years ago will likely go down as one of those iconic campaign moments that help define a candidate.

It was obvious to me for the past month that this would be a real issue. The tax code has been manipulated for years by lobbyists, and wealthy financiers like Romney get huge breaks, including the indefensible carried interest.

Romney is particularly vulnerable on this issue as he’s proposing to lower tax rates on the wealthy even more. Now he has compounded the problem with his muddled answers.

The ad above was created quickly after his disastrous debate performance. Right now the polls suggest he’ll lose the South Carolina primary to Newt Gingrich.


Newt’s desire for an open marriage

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It’s been a mixed bag for Newt Gingrich today. Rick Perry dropped out of the race and endorsed him, but now his second wife, Marianne Gingrich, has come forward to give details about their marriage.

You can watch the video above, and the full interview will air tonight on Nightline.

Basically, Newt Gingrich was having an affair during his second marriage with Callista, who later became his third wife. According to Marianne, Newt wanted an “open marriage” so that he could continue the affair.

I’m not a big fan of the private sexual life of a politician being an issue in campaigns. There are plenty of men who have had affairs who managed to be good presidents. The hysteria over Bill Clinton’s personal shortcomings was idiotic, as it led to impeachment hearings.

But we know that these things matters to some voters, particularly conservative and religious voters. Newt’s marital problems are well-known, but this salacious detail regarding his desire for an open marriage will certainly garner attention. Had Bill Clinton run again, his personal life and the Monica Lewinsky affair certainly would have been issues as well.

Also, there are few people as contemptuous as Newt Gingrich. He’s always willing to pass judgement on others, often in the harshest terms, so if anyone deserves this scrutiny it’s him. He doesn’t have a warm personality or a record of good will to fall back on.

It’s going to be fascinating to see how this plays out. Gingrich has a real shot at derailing Mitt Romney, but he needs to get past this story. If he can’t, then perhaps Rick Santorum can emerge as the last obstacle to a Mitt Romney nomination.

Rick Perry acknowledged that Newt isn’t perfect and he stressed the importance of forgiveness and redemption. Let’s see how the evangelical voters of South Carolina feel about it.


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