Jimmy Carter, who turns 94 on Oct. 1, swung a hammer this
week at a Habitat for Humanity project in Indiana.
Sweating in the hot sun while doing manual labor may
not be most people’s ideal activity for their 90s, but the former president and
his wife Rosalynn, 91, have helped build homes for poor families for the last
Carter says they “get more out of it than we put into
As we mark Labor Day by taking a day off, let us also
celebrate former President Jimmy Carter, working man.
When voters in the 1980 election sent Carter packing after
one lackluster term in the White House, his peanut business in Plains, Ga., was
in shambles. He had to create his next act.
An ex-president longer than anyone else, he long ago proved
his character and redeemed his reputation by living modestly in the same ranch house
in Plains he built in 1961, by refusing to trade on the presidency, and by
performing good works.
“The Democratic former president decided not to join
corporate boards or give speeches for big money because, he says, he didn’t
want `to capitalize financially on being in the White House,’” Kevin Sullivan
and Mary Jordan wrote in a profile of “The un-celebrity president” in the Aug.
17 Washington Post.
Former President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle
reportedly landed a $65 million joint book deal last year. Bill and Hillary
Clinton command hundreds of thousands of dollars for a single speech, and
daughter Chelsea isn’t far behind.
"I don’t see anything wrong with it; I don’t blame
other people for doing it,” Carter told the Post. “It just never had been my
ambition to be rich.”
Carter set to work writing books – and has turned out about
three dozen. He founded
The Carter Center in Atlanta, a nonprofit that prevents
and resolves conflicts, fights disease and promotes freedom and democracy around the world. He still
teaches Sunday school at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains.
Studies show volunteering helps the volunteer live
longer, but Carter’s long life is also testament to medical innovation. Three years ago, his future looked iffy.
In August 2015, he said his melanoma had spread to his
liver and there were four cancerous spots in his brain. He had surgery to
remove the small tumor from his liver, and doctors then used a relatively new immunotherapy
and radiation treatment. Four months later, he was cancer free.
Maybe you saw news on social media in this month that
Carter’s cancer was back. A tweet shared 26,000 times and then another tweet with
156,000 shares asked for prayers for Carter.
Fortunately it wasn’t so.
The Carter Center tweeted on Aug. 22: “Stories in the
last day on social media stating that Jimmy Carter has cancer again are based
on old news reports in 2015. There are no updates to our last statement about
his health, and a recent scan showed no cancer.”
Carter has mostly refrained from criticizing the
current president; he says he prays for him.
But, he allows, President Donald Trump is “very
careless with the truth.”
This especially matters to Carter because during his
1976 campaign he closed nearly every speech with a pledge never to lie to the
American people. The country was bruised and battered by the lies that led to
the Watergate scandal and the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
Reporters groaned when they heard the pledge, but the
unknown Georgian impressed voters with his sincerity. Carter says he stuck to
“I think I went through my campaign and my presidency
without ever lying to the people or making a deliberately false statement,” he
told John Dickerson Tuesday on “CBS This Morning. “And I think that would be a
very worthwhile thing to reinsert into politics these days.”
In contrast, the Post Fact Checker tallied 4,229 false
or misleading statements by Trump in 558 days.
Carter has inspired many to volunteer for Habitat for
Humanity, including talk show host David Letterman, who was in Indiana with him
Seeing Carter and working on the projects “is such a
lovely break from the cynicism of life,” Letterman told Dickerson.
We could all use a break from cynicism. Thank you,
Mollie Tibbetts should
be one of millions of promising young women back in college this month, far
from the media glare.
But hers is a household
name and her picture as familiar as a film star’s -- for the most awful of reasons.
On July 18, Mollie went
out for a run in Brooklyn, Iowa, population 1,400, and vanished.
She was 20 years old, 5-feet-2
and 120 pounds, a psychology major at the University of Iowa. Friends said she had
For more than a month,
the FBI, state and local police searched intensively. A reward of nearly $400,000
was offered. Finally, security camera videos given to authorities captured a
black Chevy Malibu driving up and down the street while Mollie jogged.
Her body was found
Tuesday in a cornfield outside Brooklyn. A farmworker named Cristhian Rivera,
24, confessed to kidnapping her and led authorities to the body, which was
covered with cornstalks, police said. Charged with kidnapping and first degree
murder, he is being held in jail on $5 million cash bond.
Something else about
Rivera led most of the news coverage: He’s a Mexican in the country illegally.
President Donald Trump,
who seizes every opportunity to link undocumented immigrants and criminal
behavior, said the crime “should’ve never happened.” On that, we all can agree.
blamed “the illegal alien” from Mexico and called U.S. immigration laws “such a
He urged voters to
elect more Republicans who will help him tighten immigration laws and stop the
flow of criminals illegally entering the country. Democrats want “open borders,”
he said. It’s a familiar Trump refrain – and simply untrue.
Many Democrats oppose Trump’s
border wall as ineffective, but they favor bipartisan legislation that would
strengthen border security with technology and collaboration between local law enforcement
and Border Patrol as well as increase the efficiency of immigration courts.
No matter, the monstrous
killing was turned into a political talking point.
“As Iowans, we are
heartbroken, and we are angry. We are angry that a broken immigration system
allowed a predator like this to live in our community, and we will do all we
can to bring justice to Mollie’s killer,” Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican
in a tough re-election contest, said in a statement.
Rivera’s employers at
Yarrabee Farms say they thought he was in the country legally and were shocked
by his involvement.
“All of us are saddened by the tragic death of Mollie and the
realization that one of our coworkers was involved,” said Dane Lang, a farm
co-owner, who has received death threats and threats to burn down his barn.
When Rivera started
work at the dairy operation four years ago, he presented an out-of-state ID and
Social Security number which checked out through the Social Security
Administration. It’s now known the ID was not in his real name.
The farm is partly
owned by Craig Lang, a prominent Republican who ran unsuccessfully in the GOP
primary in June for Iowa secretary of agriculture.
He is a former president of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and of the Iowa
Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s public universities.
As sad and
heartbreaking as the tragedy is, the emphasis on Rivera’s immigration status is
unfortunate, said Mark Stringer, a Unitarian Universalist minister who is executive
director of the ACLU of Iowa.
“It’s important to remind ourselves
that, sadly, people of all races and levels of citizenship commit crimes,” he
said in a statement.
Trump often claims illegal immigrants
commit more crime than native-born Americans, but no nationwide statistics back him up. Many
studies of smaller samples find undocumented immigrants have lower rates of crime than native-born
analyst Alex Nowrasteh of the libertarian Cato Institute analyzed 2015 Texas
data and found the rate of convictions per 100,000 illegal immigrants was 16
percent lower than that of native-born Americans. He suggests that trend likely
More than a century of
social science research shows immigrants are less likely to commit serious
crimes or be incarcerated than the native-born, says Walter Ewing of the
American Immigration Council, a nonprofit that advocates for immigrants.
Research won’t stop Trump
or other politicians from using fear of crime and immigrants on the campaign
trail. But we all should listen to Mollie Tibbetts’ aunt Billie Jo Calderwood,
who wrote on Facebook:
You’ve probably gotten calls like this. Someone
claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service left me several urgent voicemails,
threatening legal action if I didn’t call back right away.
I pay my taxes, so I didn’t call. Sadly, many people fall
for the scam.
More than 15,000 people – many of them elderly and
immigrants -- lost “hundreds of millions” of dollars from 2012 to 2016 to impostors
who claimed to be IRS or immigration officials, according to the Justice
Department. The con artists also misused the personal information of more than
But here’s the good news. The department, working with
many other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, put some of the
perps behind bars.
Two dozen crooks around the country each have been
sentenced up to 20 years in prison. The court also ordered millions of dollars
in their assets seized.
In addition, 32 individuals and five call centers in
India were indicted on conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering charges.
The case represents “the first-ever, large scale,
multi-jurisdiction prosecution targeting the India call center scam industry,” Attorney
General Jeff Sessions said July 20 when he announced the sentences.
Details of the complex scheme came to light in
statements by the defendants during plea deals. The call centers in India relied
on a network of runners in this country to liquidate and launder the payments.
The good guys finally won, but the wheels of justice
turn slowly. Charges were first brought in October 2016.
And, while it’s heartening to know one scam was
scotched, others abound.
Fraud complaints of “impostor scams, many involving
phony debts to the IRS or other agencies,” continued to grow last year, the
Consumer Federation of America reported July 30 in its 2017 survey of consumer complaints.
For example, an Arkansas woman who received emails and
text messages saying she owed the IRS complied with the demands and sent wire
transfers totaling $170,000 to banks in China and a bank account in Texas.
The Arkansas Attorney General’s Office was able to get
some of her money back – but the refund amounted to only $23,000.
The IRS scam takes place all year, not just during tax
season, and con artists are nothing if not inventive. They program their
computers to display real IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center phone numbers, so the
number shows up on the taxpayer’s Caller ID, the IRS warned in April.
If the taxpayer questions the demands, the crook tells
them to hang up and check the number on IRS.gov. Then he calls back and, able
to “spoof” the real number, tricks the victim who has verified it.
To be clear, the IRS does not initiate contact with a
call, email or text, nor does it demand immediate payment with a prepaid debit
card, iTunes or Google Play gift card or wire transfer.
The IRS typically mails a letter or notice through the
U.S. Postal Service, and the taxpayer has the right to question or appeal it.
The IRS does not threaten to take away your driver’s
or business license, or have you arrested or deported.
Impostor scams are not confined to federal offices. Crooks
spoof numbers for local and State Police, Department of Motor Vehicles and
other agencies, demanding payments for fines for missed court dates, skipped jury
duty and other infractions.
Scams threatening to shut off utilities are also on
the rise, the Consumer Federation said.
A woman in Fairfax County, Va., received a call one
Saturday from the electric company, saying her bill was overdue and her service
would be disconnected if she didn’t pay right away, the federation’s report
She knew she’d already paid, so she reported the call
to the Fairfax County Department of Cable and Consumer Services. The agency
discovered the electric company doesn’t make calls on Saturdays or from the
phone number used.
The woman was smart to hang up before she became a
victim. If someone calls, claiming to be from the IRS or other agencies, don’t
panic and don’t send money. Check first.
Someday you may click on Facebook and see your checking
The social media giant has talked with several large
U.S. banks about getting their data on where their customers shop with debit
and credit cards, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Why? So you’ll spend even more time on social media.
“Facebook increasingly wants to be a platform where
people buy and sell goods and services, besides connecting with friends,” the
Journal said.Naturally Google and
Amazon also want in on your bank action.
Facebook denied it’s actively asking banks for customer
data, saying in a statement, “Like many online companies with commerce
businesses, we partner with banks and credit card companies to offer services
like customer chat or account management.”
Facebook also insists it won’t use bank information to
target advertising or marketing.
People would use the Facebook Messenger app to
communicate with their banks and make other transactions. More than 1.2 billion
people use Messenger.
“The idea is that messaging with a bank can be better
than waiting on hold over the phone – and it’s completely opt-in,” the statement
said. “A critical part of these partnerships is keeping people’s information
safe and secure.”
So is seeing your checking account balance on social
media convenient or creepy?
Your answer may depend on your generation. If you’re a
baby boomer like I am, born between 1946 and 1964, you may find it creepy. We
still believe there’s something called privacy and we ought to be in control of
our personal information – although holding onto this idea in 2018 is like
Facebook’s track record for safeguarding information is
hardly inspiring. It’s still recovering from the fallout of 87 million users
having their information improperly used by Cambridge Analytica in 2016. But
banks and credit card companies have been breached as well.
I’d rather stash my cash under a mattress than trust social
media to safeguard details of my personal finances.
Did I say cash? Cash is quaint. So last century.
One in four adults say they rarely or never carry
cash, and the number jumps to one in three for millennials – those born between
roughly 1981 and 1996, a survey by Capital One found in March. Many millennials consider paying with cash “inconvenient,” the company
And if you’re a post-millennial or member of
Generation Z, born in 1997 and after, you use your devices all the time and have
grown up paying by phone and plastic.
Teens use cash for only about 6 percent of their
transactions, according to Current, a company that offers a debit card for
teens. Parents load up the debit card to give their kids their allowance.
There’s no doubt shifting attitudes toward money are affecting
us all. Major banks have closed thousands of branches in recent years as more
people choose to bank online, although some smaller banks have opened branches.
Cashless restaurants and shops have proliferated.
Which brings us back to your checking account in the
For millennials and Gen Zers, seeing your bank balance
on social media may seem a convenient no-brainer.
Millennials like the idea of using Facebook to access
and manage their money – or they did in 2015 when Capital One conducted a survey.
About 45 percent of millennials said then they’d use Facebook, more than other
social media platforms.
Gen Z may be especially receptive to keeping tabs on
their bottom line on social media. They may not remember pay phones, but many
remember the Great Recession. They saw family members lose jobs and struggle
financially, and it made an impact.
Studies show Gen Zers are more likely than millennials
to save money, so they may want to check their balances often because they know
how easy it is to overspend when paying with plastic and their phones.
But would young people think it cool to do their
banking on Facebook or on another platform? They’ve been quitting Facebook for Instagram
and Snapchat, leaving Facebook with a demographic no marketer prizes.
As The Guardian, a British newspaper, put it: “Is
Facebook for old people? Over 55s flock in as the young leave.”
When Kentucky state Treasurer Allison Ball and a colleague talked with high school seniors last year about credit cards and other pieces of the personal finance puzzle, something wasn’t right.
“We kept using the word ‘interest’ and we kept getting blank stares,” Ball recalled. Finally, she asked the students who knew what interest is. No one did.
“Here they were, about to be adults, two weeks before graduation — and they had no idea about interest on credit card payments,” said Ball, a former bankruptcy attorney. “That’s exactly how you get into trouble.”
Beginning with ninth graders in 2020, Kentucky will require a financial literacy course before high school graduation. And assuming the courts allow its work-for-Medicaid plan to proceed, the state will offer financial literacy instruction to some Medicaid recipients who are required to work.
Kentucky’s focus on requiring financial education reflects a budding consensus among policymakers, academics, the finance industry and parents that states need to do more to ensure that students — and adults — learn how to manage credit, craft a budget, borrow for large purchases and save for retirement.
Three other states — Arizona, Iowa and Louisiana — also added financial literacy course requirements for high school graduation this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
New Mexico, which already requires a high school personal finance course be offered, will study how to provide financial literacy training to foster care children and help them manage checking and savings accounts. Kansas, which does not require a course, passed a law this year requiring financial assistance for individuals receiving compensation for wrongful convictions.
Until this year, only 17 states required a personal finance course for high school graduation, according to the Council for Economic Education’s 2018 Survey of the States.
Deeper in Debt
The uptick in activity this year comes as Americans sink deeper in debt. U.S. household debt reached $13.2 trillion in the first quarter of 2018, the 15th consecutive quarter increase. That’s higher than in the third quarter of 2008 during the financial crisis. Student loan debt reached a record $1.5 trillion in the first quarter of 2018.
As students have taken on more debt, more state and private universities have started to offer them financial literacy workshops and counseling.
But Stacey Abrams — a Democrat running for governor of Georgia, and the former minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives — knows firsthand that a top-notch education and a high-paying job are no guarantee against personal debt.
Owing more than $200,000 in credit card debt, student loan debt and federal back taxes, Abrams has a repayment plan with the IRS.
“I am in debt, but I am not alone. Debt is a millstone that weighs down more than three-quarters of Americans,” she wrote in an op-ed in Fortune, arguing that her indebtedness should not keep her from becoming governor.
“I had racked up student loans, and throughout college and beyond, I’d swiftly turned every credit card application into those magical slivers of plastic that allowed me to pay for daily necessities,” she wrote.
Even when she finished Yale Law School in 1999 and landed a job paying $95,000 a year — three times more than her parents ever made combined, she said — Abrams remained mired in debt because family members needed her help. She used her credit cards again.
If elected, Abrams says she will start a Georgia FinLit Initiative with instruction for kids in elementary school.
For states, pressing forward on financial education means a raft of questions and answers that are likely to anger one group or another. Do we make financial literacy a condition of graduation? Will it be a stand-alone class or covered with other subjects? And, of course, how will we pay for it?
In Kentucky, policymakers tried and failed for at least six years before enacting the financial literacy measure into law.
“The answer to fixing this crisis long-term begins in childhood,” Ball, a Republican who has made financial literacy a priority, wrote in an op-ed endorsing the measure. “The best time to learn basic principles of saving and money management is before a person graduates from high school and enters the workforce.”
Kentucky’s work-for-Medicaid plan is currently on hold. On June 29, a federal judge stopped the rollout scheduled for July 1 and sent the plan back to the federal government, which granted the waiver that allowed Kentucky to add the requirements. The state hopes the plan will be reapproved by fall, said Adam Meier, secretary of Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
If Kentucky proceeds, Medicaid recipients who fail to meet the work requirements will be offered a choice of online health or financial literacy classes. Members also will be able to take the classes to build credits toward dental or other benefits not included in their benefits package. They will learn such things as how to budget, open a bank account, balance a checkbook and deal with credit.
Nearly a third of Kentuckians receive Medicaid.
“Financial literacy is an issue across the board, but it’s particularly acute with low-income people, who are often unbanked and more vulnerable to payday lenders,” said Meier.
Does It Work?
Meanwhile, the Kentucky Department of Education is drawing up standards for the high school financial literacy requirement. School districts will have wide latitude in deciding how to satisfy the requirement, Ball said. No statewide test is likely, nor is there a budget for the new requirement. She said she plans to form a public-private foundation to cover costs.
There’s no shortage of educational materials by financial institutions and other organizations, and some are free. But there’s a complication.
“People cannot find results that financial literacy education works,” said Lauren Willis, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and a prominent critic of financial literacy education.
While it’s possible to test someone’s knowledge of financial concepts like compound interest or inflation, there’s no way to know whether he or she remembers and acts on the concepts over a lifetime.
“It used to be, the way credit was managed, if the bank gave you a loan, you knew you were credit-worthy,” Willis said, because banks wouldn’t make risky loans. “Now you have to decide for yourself whether to take a loan and what kind.”
Willis works with the FoolProof Foundation, a nonprofit based in Florida that provides resources to help students and adults become more skeptical consumers.
Some studies have failed to show much effect of financial literacy education even in the short term. Annamaria Lusardi, academic director of the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center at George Washington University, said that’s likely because the programs were poorly structured and funded.
“Too few states consider financial literacy essential or rigorous or a scientific topic,” she said. “We see states that don’t require the student to pass the course, or they don’t train the teachers, or it’s an unfunded mandate.”
Other countries do better. The United States ranked 14th in the world for financial literacy in Standard & Poor’s 2014 Global Financial Literacy Survey of more than 140 countries. Only 57 percent of American adults were found to be financially literate.
Ideally, every state would require a financial literacy class with an exam for high school graduation, said Laura Levine, president of the JumpStart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. That’s not likely anytime soon, so the coalition has a more modest aim.
The coalition, which has more than a hundred national organizations as members as well as affiliates in every state, launched Project Groundswell in April. The goal: to increase by a quarter the number of elementary, middle and high school students receiving “effective classroom-based financial education” by 2025. The coalition is working on specific goals and standards for effective programs.
Groundswell hopes to inspire more parents like Daniel Nestel in Montgomery County, Maryland, and grandparents to get involved.
Nestel, whose background is in financial education, was surprised when his 10th-grade daughter said she was learning about credit scores in her Advanced Placement government class.
“It seemed completely out of context,” said Nestel. “It’s too important to be taught at the end of the class at the end of the school year.”
Nestel started reaching out to local and state school officials and to financial literacy experts. He learned the Maryland Board of Education set financial literacy standards for grades 3 to 12 in 2011, but left implementing them up to each school district.
He wants a semester course on financial literacy with exams in high school.
“I’m trying to start the conversation,” he said. “Tell me what course is more important than personal finance? It touches every student.”
Headline writers wait years to write one like this -- “Not
the Onion: Congress set to pass bills.”
The headline was on a Politico news story Wednesday reporting
a circumstance so rare it seemed like satire.
The Congress is doing its job. In August. Even though
it’s an election year. Make that because
it’s an election year.
Congress traditionally flees the capital for the month,
a holdover from the sweltering days before air conditioning and later when it became
marginally more comfortable to stay in town.
In 1963, for example, the Senate actually worked from
January to December with no break longer than a three-day weekend, according to
a Senate history. Congress in 1970 mandated an annual summer break for itself.
The House is taking its typical August break, having
begun a five-week recess and returning after Labor Day. The Senate was scheduled
to leave Aug. 3 for four weeks, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.,
canceled most of it. The Senate is off next week, then expected back the rest
of the month.
McConnell said the Senate needed to pass fiscal 2019
appropriations bills now instead of waiting until the last minute and lumping
them into an omnibus package. President Donald Trump signed the last omnibus
reluctantly and vowed not to sign another.
So Congress is actually getting some things done in
On Wednesday, Congress sent Trump a $717 billion
defense authorization bill for fiscal 2019, which starts Oct. 1, and he is
expected to sign it. It includes a 2.6 percent military pay raise, the largest
in nine years, and authorizes Trump’s military parade in November.
The House passed the same measure last week. It
usually takes months of negotiations between House and Senate to work out
differences in defense policy bills, but this one sailed through with
Also on Wednesday, the Senate passed a $154.2 billion
spending package that combined four spending bills. It provides funding for
interior and the environment, agriculture, transportation, housing, treasury
and the federal courts. The measure goes back to the House for reconciliation
with a similar bill it passed last month.
The Senate has passed seven of the 12 spending bills
so far, which McConnell said was the most by early August in nearly 20
If this sounds like good government is bustin’ out all
over, don’t get all dewy-eyed about it. Remember we’re talking about Washington.
This is also about hard-edged politics.
Republicans want to prove they deserve to retain Senate
control, especially as their majority in the House is in jeopardy. Their big
job is confirming Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court justice.
By keeping senators in Washington, the crafty McConnell
is also keeping off the campaign trail 10 Democratic incumbents in tough re-election
fights in states Trump won. In contrast, only one Republican senator is running
for re-election in a state won by Hillary Clinton. That’s Dean Heller of
Congress can’t ignore the hyperactive tweet machine in
the White House, but the GOP leadership is keeping its powder dry as Trump
repeatedly threatens to shut down the federal government if he doesn’t get
funding for his border wall with Mexico.
Trump reportedly agreed in a meeting last week with McConnell
and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to delay until after the midterm elections
a fight on spending for the wall.
“I’m optimistic we can avoid a government shutdown,”
McConnell said diplomatically.
But Trump sees a shutdown as a dandy political tool
that would help him with his base in November.
“I happen to think it would be a good thing to do it
before” the midterms,” Trump told conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh Wednesday.
“I happen to think it’s a great political thing because people want border
Trump’s latest belligerence came as Republicans and
Democrats are actually working together to pass the spending bills by the Sept.
“The fly in the ointment here, of course, is the
president, who keeps threatening,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer,
D-N.Y. “Whenever he gets involved, he seems to mess it up.”