Fox News Fail

This one will be short and although I can tear open nearly all of the US based media, I’m picking on Fox News because that’s what I am watching right now.

Ok, so right now, in addition to the standard ripping apart “Obamacare” now we are getting an attack on the SAFRA reform.

“Without any debate, Congress crammed through a bill that will take private enterprise out of the student loan business.”

So many problems with this, but I’ll hit the two biggest ones.

1) “Without any debate…”    Except that it was in the House for a long time, debated, amended, AND PASSED! So fallacy number one.

2) “that will take private enterprise out of the student loan business.”    NO! No, no, no, no, no!  Despite what Glenn Beck says, the “private enterprise” had virtually no hand in this business! 

Formerly, the FedGov would guarantee student loans 97% to banks leaving virtually no risk to them to loan at rates specified by the Fed.  So, all loans were the same and the banks were not risking anything, simply gaining the interest.

So tell me Fox News (or any other news outlet) HOW IS THIS GOVERNMENT INTERFERENCE?!  The Fed controlled it before via set rates and guaranteed loans so we’re just cutting out the middleman. 

If you are from a bank and are attacking this because it will cut into your profits, then fine, money is important, however, if you are attacking this because of “governmental intervention in private enterprise” then you have picked the wrong issue.

Fox News Fail


District 5 Debate Recap

(Disclaimer: The views expressed within are not meant to be an endorsement for either candidate, but merely my own reactions to the proceedings.  I apologize for any confusion this may have caused)


1101 Humanities is a sweltering pit in the corner of that fugly building but fortunately, a good number of students managed to find it and instead of running away in horror, stay and enjoy the discussion between Analiese Eicher and Michael Johnson. 

Additionally, local media swarmed this place; bloggers that I noticed included Beyond the Talking Points, ASM Voice, The Sconz, and Forward Thinking in Madison (those are the ones I noticed, sure there are more I missed!)  Both the campus papers were there, WSUM recorded it, and there were enough cameras to capture every vivid detail.  Hopefully, this will result in some good attention on this election and get students involved.

Two of these reputable sites live-blogged this event; the ASM Press Office, and Beyond the Talking Points authored by Kurt Gosselin so check those out for a play-by-play re-enactment of what went down at this event.  Kurt even supplied a bit of commentary on how he saw the responses.

Basically, the conversation focused around environmental policies and priorities and affordable housing. 

 I feel that Michael Johnson answered the questions more directly and with more reasoning backing up his points, albeit he focused quite a bit on just two or three issues and did not move much beyond those.  He was also much more knowledgeable about previous work on the county board (and he had specific ideas for funding his proposals including the support of a tax to fund the Regional Transit Authority). 

Analiese talked more about general policies (protecting the waterways, etc.) and had a tough time moving beyond, “Let’s get federal grants!” as a form of funding her projects which were not very fleshed out.  While I admire her stance of letting the voters determine whether a tax is appropriate for the RTA funding, it is also a sidestep of the question.  I  was asking for her thoughts on it, not whether she would support what the voters decide, that much is clear.  However, Analiese touched on MANY more hot button issues, before I even prompted her such as the RTA.  So mad props for talking about the entire gamut of issues.

Overall, I feel it went well.  The questions could have, and probably should have, been a little tougher, but I wanted this to be reletively pleasant for everyone involved and more of an opportunity to  showcase their positions to the students. 

I know the question burning in the minds of at least half the audience was the response of Michael to his anti-semitic comments.  Even though I was passed a note requesting this question be asked, I felt that Michael had defended that position in recent days, particularly with an editorial from the Daily Cardinal in which he speaks on this.  Without an equally tough question to ask Analiese, I did not want to end with an attack on Michael.  Some may disagree with my tact and position on this but I hope  people can take from this the important notes: what these candidates plan on doing for Dane County in the future.

Post your thoughts in the comments section!

The Reconciliation Monster

How many others are spending their Sunday evening watching the proceedings of the Reconciliation Bill on CSPAN?  I know fellow Campus First author Brandon Williams is, so there are probably around 5 in the greater Madison area…

Since Reconciliation includes everybody’s favorite partial reform SAFRA, I will bring you guys up to speed on the proceedings thus far.

First off, there has been literally no talk about SAFRA this entire event.  In fact, I had to check online to see if this was even the same bill they are talking about.  Apparently, it is, but you couldn’t tell from any speakers Republican or Democrat.

I understand that for many Health care is a bigger issue and I’m not going to get into my views on that because it is not germane to SAFRA.  However, I am displeased that not even a one liner has been committed to the education reform that is included.

UPDATE:  Vote is happening momentarily.  Fate of SAFRA (and healthcare) to be decided in a moment.   And, it passes…not by much though.  It’s a real close vote.

HERE is a link to the bill’s analysis which is very good at laying out in clear terms what this bill does.  The part about SAFRA (Part II on page 9) is useful for getting the specifics without really reading the 153 page legislation.

So, while I’m disappointed that SAFRA was not as comprehensive as it SHOULD have been, I’m happy that students got something out of this deal.

Next up! County Board Debate recap, and a look at Madison’s Alcohol Density plan.  Sexy issues that will really directly affect students.  Stay tuned!


Apparently, that was not the Reconciliation Bill and was instead just Health Care.  The Reconciliation Bill is up next.  I’ll update with more.

Votes on Reconciliation coming in.  3 more needed for passage.  Pretty much sealed up.

And we’re good to go.  SAFRA is through the House…again…  Now, onto the Senate to see this debacle there.  If I have freetime during the proceedings, I will do a live blog of the event!  Sound exciting?  I think it does…

So good work students!  We are getting some good (but not comprehensive) reform and it will be beneficial.

SAFRA = quasi-fail, USSA still in the wrong

(Warning, acronyms ahead, but luckily it’s the same one repeatedly.  You’ve been warned)

Alright, United States Student Association (USSA), you sure had me fooled. 

When you guys exploded the Twitter-verse and blogospehere last week with dramatic calls to save higher education, and to press for the rights of students by calling our Congressmen and women to ask them to add SAFRA (Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act) into the Reconciliation Bill, I admit that I was skeptical at the time but I dutifully forwarded it on to ASM and others via social media. (For those of you not keeping track, the Reconciliation Bill is where the Healthcare Bill has gone to live the remainder of it’s miserable and tortured life; it’s not exactly a welcoming and inviting space)

Well, students listened to that melodramatic outpouring online with members of Congress shutting off their fax machines, the switchboards of the Capital were jammed with the volume of calls, and thouasands of letters were sent.  Great, right?  Well, if activism is all you are going for then perhaps but not quite.

I objected to USSA’s apparent blind support for a variety of reasons for one major one at the time, and a few that have arisen since then.

1) (This is the big one)  I think SAFRA was almost strong enough to stand on its own and be debated on the floor.  There was bipartison support  in the House,(albeit only a few Republicans but thats a few more than support Healthcare…) and although there was definitely more opposition in the Senate, perhaps a compromise could be reached and I would prefer to see that debate in the public forum and not in the amendment-free process of Reconciliation.   Plus, we all know Healthcare is toxic and will likely poison anything it is attached to.

Now, I have several beefs with USSA’s support of this.

2) The new SAFRA that would be in Reconciliation is an extremely watered down version that personally does not satisfy what I needed from this legislation.  WHY DOES USSA SUPPORT THIS?!?!

We lose NEARLY ALL of the money for the community colleges (substantial), we lose ALL of the early childhood education (substantial), and we lose the consistant increase of Pell Grants (the formula in the House version called for it to increase by basically inflation + 1%, and now it is just by inflation I believe).  These are the things I could uncover with only minimal investigation, so I know I missed more.

Basically, we’re getting a SAFRA that increases Pell Grants, and simplifies FAFSA.  That’s it.  ARE YOU SATISFIED WITH THAT?  This watery version is what USSA made a giant fuss over last week and basically convinced Congress that we really wanted this.

Now, I’m not taking anything away from Pell Grants.  They’re great; I survive attending this university with the help of Pell Grants.  However, I’m NOT willing to say that a simple increase in Pell Grants is the great victory we are looking for!  

 I am ashamed that USSA is so excited to support this weak legislation and is not being straight with students.  Nowhere on their site, nor on their Twitter posts, nor anywhere else that I’ve seen, have they told students what is in the new bill.  It’s certainly not what I signed on for and I think students, particularly USSA’s supporters in community colleges, will be VERY disappointed by this shift.

And before anyone calls me out on this, I’m well aware that this is probably the only way to get a version of SAFRA through this year but I do not like to see this weakened bill passed without the chance at debate/amendment. 

So, frankly, the new SAFRA = fail.  Not a broad sweeping reform that I and many others desired.  And, again, frankly, USSA is completely wrong to unanimously support this new bill, especially without telling students whats up.

It looks like I have at least one issue for my Big Ten legislative agenda next year…


So, it appears the machinery of the Congress has once again reversed course.  Well, not completely turned around but a bit turned around.

It appears that $2 billion will be restored to a community college grant program (NOT the original program, but a new one…) which is something.

However, I still do not feel that this is the broad based change initially advocated for by students which is why it’s a quasi-fail.  Additionally, USSA DID NOT KNOW that Congress would add that money back in so my initial argument still stands.

Tenant Support Update

I’m making headway with Tenant Support Services for next year.  On Monday, I met with Carl Hubbard from UW Purchasing Services to get a feel for how the bidding process works.  It turns out, once our proposal is done and out, it only takes 4-6 weeks to actually get the contract signed.  This is great news because it means we could have tenant services aimed directly at students by the start of the 2010 rental season.

The problem is getting the proposal together.  Working with Tenant Services Board, which currently is made up of Matthew Manes, Grant Smith, Erik Paulson, and fellow Campus First writer Adam Johnson, I am trying to outline a list of services that we can put in what is called our Request for Proposal (RFP), which is essentially a request for proposals that detail what services a prospective provider would put on.  This is the list of tentative services we would like to have so far:

  • Direct email for UW students with tenant questions
  • Direct phone call with set hours for UW students
  • General information on renting and tenant rights
  • A campaign aimed at rental rights for the campus
  • Proactive outreach to both dorm residents and incoming graduate students
  • Mediation and documentation of landlord/tenant disagreements
  • Subletting rights guide
  • Some sort of website
  • A detailing of how they will train advocates so as to avoid turnover problems

It may be unreasonable to assume that these services can all be provided with only $40,000, but we wanted to aim high.  If we can get a majority of these, it would be a huge victory for students.  I’d pay $1 a year to receive these services just in case.

If you have any more ideas, leave them in the comments!

And the Commentary Flies From All Sides…

As the newly redesigned Badger Herald reports, SSFC held a GSSF/SSFC mixer last night during our normally scheduled meeting time (the ASM Press Office also covered it).  The purpose of this meeting was to get genuine feedback on the SSFC process from the perspective of a GSSF (General Student Services Fund) group.

I understand the dynamic the occurs when a group has to present in front of a committee; it’s terribly nerve-racking to present for a body that is potentially deciding the fate of your group.  That is why I proposed an intern to facilitate the conversation without being a member of the SSFC, which the Badger Herald has a non-opinion on.  The purpose of this intern is to work with GSSF groups to make SSFC look less scary.

One of the best pieces of advice I got last night was the recommendation that we should go to more GSSF events.  This is a fantastic idea.  All SSFC members should at least go to one GSSF event to see that there is more to these groups than what appears on paper, but GSSF groups have to know that it goes both ways; they need to come to more than just their own SSFC hearing to see that we apply rules consistently and don’t have a vendetta towards a particular group.

But much of the feedback centered around going further than a mutual understanding.  Many individuals wanted us to reconsider the way the committee works in general by dropping Robert’s Rules of Order or encouraging a lax dress code.  One went so far as to say that we should rewrite our criteria, and that GSSF groups should have a say in it!  I hope you realize how ridiculous it is to create a funding stream when those who are affected are helping to write it.  That sounds like the definition of a conflict of interests.

Former SSFC Chair Kurt Gosselin weighed in on it last night as well:

My response: This is the same litany from organizations who are either upset about not being eligible to receive funding or upset that the SSFC did not grant all of their 25-50% budget increase.  I have commented on suit-wearing many times before and I will let those posts stand on their own merits; however, I think it is important to make a note about why the SSFC should ABSOLUTELY NOT be “buddy-buddy” with groups.

The popularly-touted mantra, “we are all students and we should all want to help each other do what we each want to do,” is ridiculous when considering that the SSFC allocates over $1.4 million to these organizations!  This isn’t a “dude, can I bum a buck off of you” friendship; this is a relationship between a steward of funds, established to protect the interests of 42,000 students and interest groups attempting to each obtain its piece of the pie.

Of course the process should require lots of work and of course the process should involve a certain level of dissonance between the funder and the funding-seeker! Without this dynamic, the committee would not be able to maintain the necessary separation from the groups to scrutinize every dollar requested.  It would in fact be detrimental to the entire system for the SSFC to sympathize with (translation: give whatever is desired to) the organizations which desire it.

Kurt brings up some good points, but I can’t say I agree.  We are all students and we should have a mutual understanding of each other’s situation.  There is nothing wrong with making the process less adversarial and more friendly.   He’s right, SSFC does have a job to do, but that doesn’t mean that we have to be inherently intimidating.

But I must draw the line between friendliness and breaking down the dynamic entirely.  SSFC must maintain a degree of accountability, or we would be failing to do our job.  There is dignity in professionalism.    If we cease to scrutinize every group and every budget, then we would be letting down the campus in our elected and appointed capacity.

For those who have expressed their worries, I am listening, and I am hearing the concerns.  I will work to make SSFC more approachable and less-intimidating.  But I will not advocate for SSFC to stop doing it’s job.

Working on Legitimacy

Hello blogosphere.  My name is Adam Johnson, current Chair of Legislative Affairs and newest writer for the Campus First.  I wish to use this spot to further my own goals of increasing representation for students at all levels of government and work with others across the state, and country to ensure its success.  The following is a summary of one of Legislative Affair’s recent high profile trip to Washington to work on education.

I feel this event is a good step in increasing relevancy and hope that we can soon begin seeing fruits from our labors.

Last week I, along with Vice-Chairs Sam Polstein and Kyle Woolwich of ASM’s Legislative Affairs Committee and Chair Carl Fergus and Vice-Chair Tom Templeton of ASM leadership traveled to Washington D.C. to join other Big Ten schools in the Big Ten Summit on Education.  The focus of this event was to communicate with the other schools about our own legislative goals and priorities, and then actually speak with our own legislators about these priorities and seek reassurance that they are working on issues pertinent to us as students.

                This event revolved around the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) and asking legislators to continue to support higher education in general.   We spoke with Senator Kohl from Wisconsin and Senators Burris and Durbin from Illinois, asking them to support this bill in the Senate and all three offices were very supportive of both higher education and the intent of this specific bill.  Now that the bill is included in the Budget Reconciliation Bill, we ask all members of Congress to continue to support higher education and even though the combined issues of Health Care Reform and SAFRA are contentious, we urge Congress to think about their constituents and what they need when voting on this bill.

                In addition to the SAFRA legislation, we spoke to our Congressmen about the current state of the work study program and about ways that we think the program could be improved.  Chair Fergus has been working diligently on this issue here at Wisconsin and raised very good talking points to our legislators about how work study is not directly benefiting students but instead is a subsidy to the schools.  Many legislators were intrigued by this novel approach to the concept of work study and eagerly asked for more information which we are now in the process of compiling.

                This Big Ten Summit was the culmination of a campaign spearheaded by myself and Leg. Affairs  from early in the Fall Semester.  In July, Student Council asked me to investigate the SAFRA legislation and report back on how ASM could best work on this bill whether in favor or against it.  After weeks of meetings with our own financial aid experts, telephone interviews with education policy advisors to Congressmen, and compiling our own statistics on who receives financial aid and how the loans are actually distributed among the student population.  Following our report to Student Council, we contacted the other Big Ten schools and schools across the country seeking to form a joint legislative force to encourage SAFRA’s survival.  Many schools got back to me and it was ultimately decided that for logistics sake, we would work in the frameworks of our own conferences and so we started collaborating with other Big Ten schools.  Many of the other schools were not even aware of this bill until we contacted them asking for support in this, and through our email exchanges, we informed several schools about what SAFRA would do for them and unanimous support followed these learning periods.  Legislative Affairs then followed up with a letter writing campaign directly to over thirty Senators asking for their support in this legislation.

                Colleen Smith, the Governmental Affairs Director at Penn State University and I worked closely together to craft a plan that would help each school do their part to ensure SAFRA’s passage.  At the January conference of the Association of Big Ten Students, Director Smith brought forth a resolution of support of SAFRA that urged all member schools to directly lobby their legislators.  This resolution passed unanimously and the idea of a Summit meeting held in Washington where each school could attend and lobby as a united Big Ten students front was created.  Colleen and I conversed extensively about the planning of this event and crafted two days worth of work, involving workshops with the United States Student Association, the Roosevelt Institute, direct lobby visits with our officials, and informal caucus time where the schools could talk with each other about legislative issues in their own states and strategies to work on them.

                Coming from this event, we have a plan to sponsor an annual Big Ten Governmental Affairs Committee meeting where the schools assemble and talk about what our collective national legislative priorities are and plan events throughout the year on our own campuses to further this goal.  Being held in August, this committee meeting would serve as a spring board for the year, allowing simultaneous events to be planned for across the Big Ten to help promote our goals and should the legislation require it, a Big Ten wide lobby day in Washington to raise more awareness.

                I, along with Leg. Affairs is very excited about this moving forward.  It represents a culmination of work done by Leg. Affairs and myself about the specific SAFRA legislation and it also sets the stage for further legislative integration with the Big Ten, the schools most similar to our own in terms of size, and education standards in the country.  It is my personal goal to promote this integration across the Big Ten and to help ASM be able to truly affect legislation on the national level.  I am proud to be working on this matter and encourage

I promise my next post will be shorter and not copied from another document.  Live long and prosper.