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April 27, 2014 / gocurrey

JOAN REACTS–a new musical instrument

Note:  I want to do a new series called Joan Reacts, featuring Joan Fredder, the main character of my novel, The New Iron Age. Joan has lived all of her life on the streets in an abandoned city, but in The New Iron Age, outsiders have come and reestablished civilization in the city. Joan is baffled by the new things introduced to her, and I have really enjoyed writing her reactions to these new things. This is the first one, but I’d love to continue it, and would gladly take requests (ie “have Joan react to a phone booth!”).

George had recommended the little music shop on Olmyon Street. “My violin is from a maker in Perala, but the shop here has imported a few different instruments. You seem to have a natural talent for music; I bet you could find something there that you would enjoy.”

It was a small, crowded space, with an inadequate window and insufficient lighting. The shop owner—a curved little man with cheer in his dark, sunken eyes, allowed me to browse at liberty. “Play anything you like!” He urged. “But be very careful with the wooden instruments. And do not drop anything!”

I grabbed a strange, boxy piece, with different adornments across all sides of it.

“No, do not hold it like that! Here, use the strap to suspend it from your shoulder. No, your other shoulder. Now place your left hands on the buttons. No, those are the keys—use your right hand for those. Here, I will demonstrate for you.”

I removed the strap and handed him the box.

“Like this.” He donned the strap and placed his hands on the appropriate keys and buttons, as he had instructed me. Then he began to push and fold his precarious, miniscule body, wrestling with the instrument. For all this effort, the box made only a meandering little sound, as though drifting aimlessly along a gentle stream. He pressed his elbows into his body and pulled them away again, out of breath with all the motion. His fingers moved rapidly, and his tongue darted about in his mouth. Still, the thing floated along, paying no attention to the urgency that the shop keeper’s body placed upon the action. He backed onto a little chair in the corner of the shop but kept on with his slow, gracious little song and great, frantic movements. Finally, he smashed the thing together and the last note hummed to a close. “The accordion!” He exclaimed, panting.

February 24, 2014 / gocurrey

Letter to the editor sample text

While I believe in calling the offices of my elected representatives to encourage that they take action on an issue, I recognize that this is not the only way to accomplish something in the political process. Sometimes, an issue needs to be made more public, to reach a different audience.

I have written a letter to the editor of my local paper (the San Jose Mercury News) which I hope they will publish soon. Meanwhile, I encourage others around the country to write similar letters to their local papers, to make sure that people understand that this issue needs to be addressed, and that many of us are passionate about it, and mean to be heard.

Below is the text of the letter I wrote to the Mercury News. I invite others to use similar or identical text to write to their papers (the Mercury only considers letters 150 words or shorter, so I left out some details). Of course, if you are writing from another state, be sure to switch out the senators’ names, as appropriate. Please join me as we #Demand4Percent

“Dear Editor,

American college graduates are now entering the workforce burdened with an average of $29,400 in student loans. This debt depresses consumer spending, slowing economic growth and hurting all of us.

Many changes are needed to address this crisis. As a first step, Senator Gillibrand of New York introduced Senate Bill 1066, the Federal Student Loan Refinancing Act, which would allow refinancing of student debt at a 4% rate—significant financial assistance for struggling grads.

Getting a bill through congress is an arduous process, made even more difficult without powerful cosponsors. That is why I call the offices of Senators Boxer and Feinstein every Friday, encouraging them to put their names and clout behind SB 1066.

Anyone who cares about economic growth should join in demanding political leadership on this issue. Public pressure is the only to get our elected leaders to address this crisis.”

February 13, 2014 / gocurrey

Reasonable Student Loan Interest Rates – Links

Last May, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York introduced Senate Bill 1066, the Federal Student Loan Refinancing Act.The bill would allow student debt holders to refinance their debt at a more manageable 4% interest rate (current federal student loan rates are at 6.8%, and loans cannot be discharged).

Senator Gillibrand has brought more attention to her bill in recent weeks, especially with the revelation that the US Department of Education has made $66 billion in profit off of student loans, and is expected to rake in $182 billion more in the next decade. Meanwhile, Senator Gillibrand says that even just lowering the rate from 6.8% to 4% would save the average student debt holder nearly ten thousand dollars, which means a lot, especially to recent graduates entering a difficult job market. It wouldn’t just benefit those in debt, either. Center for American Progress estimates that this legislation would add $21.7 billion in economic activity, by putting more spending money in the hands of debt holders.

Talk of the legislation is revived again, with news outlets running stories about it, and the Senator calling attention to it. So what chance does it have of passing? Almost none. Right now, it only has two cosponsors (Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut).

This is where we come in. It’s time for those of us in New York, Ohio, and Connecticut to call and thank our senators for cosponsoring this bill, and reminding them that we need them to move it through committee. It’s time for us in the rest of the country to call our senators, and demand that they, too, sign on as cosponsors. Then, it’s time for each of us to call our House member and tell them to introduce a companion bill in the House of Representatives. The only time politicians act is when there’s something in it for them. So now’s the time to remind them that their jobs depend on us, and we’re depending on them right now.

Join me tomorrow, in calling your legislators. Let’s all #demand4percent

February 6, 2014 / gocurrey

A bad reason not to call

my congressperson shares my view on this issue. there would be no point in calling her. 

This is something I used to think. There’s no reason to call if I’m not trying to change minds!

But this is wrong! Actually, it’s a great reason to call. For the purpose of this blog, think of your legislators as kindergartner a. They’re constantly being tempted to cause mischief, and they’ll do it, even if they know it’s right. They want to do the right thing, they just need a little encouragement. 

This is where we, the people, as teachers come in. It’s our job to give them both negative AND positive reinforcement. When they do the wrong thing, yes, we’ll make damn sure they know it. But they need to be thanked for doing the right thing, as well. Yes, it’s their job, and they shouldn’t need constant positive reinforcement. But they do, and it’s important for constituents to give it. 

Calling them and saying “please vote for x,” or “thank you for voting against y” tells them that we’re paying attention, and we notice and aporeciate when they vote the right way on issues that matter. So remember, even if your representative is idea logically identical to you, your call of reinforcement makes a big difference. Let’s do it!

 

February 4, 2014 / gocurrey

Student debt – a small dent makes a big difference

Last week, I was thinking about the upcoming end of my school deferment, and the amount of interest that I owed on my student loans, and the incredible profits that the Federal Department of Education makes off of student loans, and, of course, economic inequality.

I decided that my weekly calls to my senators and congresswoman would be on the topic of student loans. No, I wasn’t going to demand that all federal student debt be assumed and canceled – I wanted to shoot for a policy that had a shot at victory in the near term. So I decided that I would ask for a simple reduction in interest rates.

My ask revolved around a few big numbers:

6.8%. That’s the current interest rate on federal student loans.
2%. That’s the target interest rate set by the federal reserve.
1.5%. That’s the actual interest rate last year. That’s right, money is losing value slower than what would be ideal for our economy, which is hard on those in debt, but great on those who own that debt. And, finally:
$66 BILLION. That’s how much PROFIT the US Department of Education made from student loans last year. Yes, billion, and yes, profit.

Student debt is a drag on our economy, and especially hurts those who have entered the the toughest job market in generations. Almost everyone knows someone who is struggling with student debt. Maybe you, like me, have a student debt burden that you don’t know how you will address.

There are a lot of things we should ask for, and we should be brainstorming them now. But while we set our sights on the big picture, I’m going to start with something that will help, that is possible soon, and that is gathering political support. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York shares our outrage on this issue, and she is introducing a bill to allow student debt to be refinanced at a fixed 4% interest rate. It’s just a small reduction. But it will make a big difference.

Let’s work together in making this happen. Call your senators, your congressperson and tell them to cosponsor this bill, and work until it is signed into law. And let’s tweet about it using #Demand4Percent, because we it’s good for us and the country.

January 30, 2014 / gocurrey

Congressional Call Topic: Student Debt

I don’t think I have to explain why student debt is an issue, and if anyone doubts it, I’m sure there are many people who could explain it far better than I. But to put it simply, young people, and people into their 30’s and sometimes beyond, are carrying tens of thousands of debt, which cannot be discharged through bankruptcy. This debt burden often prevents them from buying property and establishing savings for retirement or emergencies. As young college graduates enter the workforce with more debt, they are often finding that entry level jobs simply do not pay enough to live off of while also paying off their debt.

I don’t want to get into why it’s a problem. I think most people realize that. I want to talk about solutions, and what I intend to do about it.

As a starting point, I propose that the federal government dramatically reduce the interest rate on student loans. Because students are unable to discharge their loans through bankruptcy, interest should not be very high – the government, as lender, faces very little risk. No, interest should be closely tied to, or perhaps pegged to, inflation.

Inflation is currently at a meager 1.5% (http://usinflation.org/us-inflation-rate/); which is below the target set by the Federal Reserve. Meanwhile, my federal student loans are accruing interest at a 6.8% rate. There is no reason for this discrepancy. This does not include service fees, which I have paid. It means that the government is making a pretty significant profit off of my debt. Of course, the government needs funding, and I hope that the interest I’m paying is being put to good use. But the interest that I, and millions of other struggling recent graduates, pay should not be so significantly high above inflation.

Tomorrow, I am making my Friday calls to my congresswoman and senators about income and economic inequality. For the first time, I intend to ask them to begin pressuring the Department of Education, and Congress, to do something about crushing student loan debt. Student debt is a drag on our economic recovery, and all we want is a little bit of relief. Please, join me in calling your legislators about an issue you care about. I hope you’ll ask them to bring interest rates on student loans more in line with inflation.

January 27, 2014 / gocurrey

The State of the Union Is: Getting It Together – Finally

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I tweeted this image this morning, claiming that the State of the Union Is:  Getting it Together – Finally. Initially, this rings a bit like “the fundamentals of our economy are strong.” Are we really getting it together? Is there really reason to be optimistic?

I think there is. In making the transition from a knowledgeable voter to a politically active person, I’ve connected with others who are politically active. And what I’ve found is that there is a growing movement of people who are getting involved at the grassroots level, and focusing on advancing good policy. There’s a growing movement to stop the Trans Pacific Partnership, for example, and I’m convinced that movement can actually succeed. There are people who have realized that we need to start pressuring our legislators, whether Republican or Democrat, to do the right thing about healthcare, education, and the economy, to rectify the deep inequality we have developed in our society.

These policies are still a long way off. Real successes are few and far between right now, and it could be many years before political victories are won by this groundswell populism. But I’m seeing people push hard for what they believe in, and I’m inspired by it, and excited to be a part of it.