First came the stories, blunt facts. On Friday, March 11, an earthquake of 9.0 magnitude struck northeastern Japan. Soon after, a tsunami carried away lives and property, neighborhoods and towns. And soon after that came the threat of disaster at a nuclear power plant.
Images quickly followed: first amateur cellphone pictures and then professional news images. Office workers grasp at tottering file cases. A wall of water crashes in that whirls recreational vehicles around like sticks in a stream. A woman looks at the rubble that was her home, hoping for news of her missing daughter. A father holds tight to his children. Then come explosions at a nuclear power plant—chunks of construction material blasting out, white steam carrying radiation into the sky, black smoke forming a haunting cloud.
The Japanese were not ready for the tsunami that created disaster at the nuclear power plant. Why were they not ready? How bad would the meltdown be? How can adequate cooling water be delivered to the six reactors? How far will the contamination spread?
And pictures kept coming: Japanese people helping their neighbors, rescuing and feeding them; plant workers bundled up against radiation, going back in to fight the deadly fire. These people got on with the tasks of surviving, calmly, steadily, not without tears, not without passion, not without questions for their leaders, but always with the quiet dignity of a nation that has been through much suffering before and has survived and flourished.
Debt, but No Diploma
For-profit colleges, which are set up by entrepreneurs to benefit investors, have come under federal scrutiny after a rash of lawsuits alleging unethical recruiting, misleading advertising and fraud. Educational quality is another concern. In an exposé on “Frontline,” three nursing graduates of a for-profit school claimed that their program’s on-site training with patients fell far short of employer expectations. A doctoral student of psychology said recruiters told her when she enrolled that the school would be accredited by the time she graduated, but it was not.
Students at for-profit schools also pay high tuition relative to that of state and community colleges, and most need federally sponsored loans. The loans come due, of course, whether or not the students graduate or land a job. Many do neither. Graduation rates at for-profit schools are low, and default rates are more than twice those of other schools, accounting for nearly half of all defaults on student loans.
The U.S. Department of Education is about to curb some of these abuses. New rules would prohibit basing the compensation of recruiters on the numbers they enroll, and colleges with default rates above 30 percent for three consecutive years would lose eligibility for federal student aid. The rules should be tougher and broader. Why let one-third of students default without penalty, when the average rate of default is less than 10 percent? Why should taxpayers subsidize colleges with low graduation rates? Since commercial colleges profit from new student enrollment, regardless of the quality of the education they offer, the percentage of graduates or the rate of student loan defaults, eligibility for loans should be tied directly to improvement in these areas. Outside stakeholders may profit now, but students and taxpayers, who are a different kind of investor, deserve equally high returns.
The Irish Question, Again
“Through a general election Ireland has clearly demonstrated her will. The Irish people are thoroughly capable of taking immediate charge of their national and international affairs.”
The year was 1919; Eamonn De Valera, the first president of the Republic of Ireland, was writing in the pages of America after a key election in modern Irish history. Some 90 years later, in another momentous vote, the Irish people issued a rebuke to Fianna Fáil, Ireland’s longtime ruling party, in the wake of the country’s economic collapse. In February, a coalition led by the center-right party Fine Gael won a majority in the Irish Parliament.
The election did not represent a sharp turn in Irish politics. Both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael tilt right and hold far more sway than the weak parties on the left. That the Irish people did not choose a more radical path following the collapse of the housing bubble is a sign of how conservative they really are. As Fintan O’Toole writes in Ship of Fools: How Stupidity and Corruption Sank the Celtic Tiger (PublicAffairs), it was government policies that helped fuel the crisis, including the ill-conceived decision to pay the debts of Irish banks with taxpayer money.
The crowning humiliation was the bailout forced upon Ireland last fall by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. In light of the size of the loan (85 billion euros) and the steep interest rate (5.8 percent), it is fair to ask whether Ireland is still in charge of its affairs, or are European bondholders now in control?
Once again Ireland finds itself on the brink of change; this time change will not be welcome.