To shrink the budget deficit, Congress cut $12 billion from federal student-loan programs and instituted a new loan formula that will cause interest rates to jump 1.5 to 2 percentage points from their recent historic lows. Financial-aid experts are urging parents to consider loan consolidation as a way to lock in low variable rates before today’s hike goes into effect. After today, the interest rate on Stafford loans will jump from as low as 4.7 percent to a 6.8 percent fixed rate, and on the Parents Loan for Undergraduate Students the rate will go from 6.1 percent to an 8.5 percent fixed rate. Under the new system, a student with a $20,000 Stafford loan will pay about $4,800 more over the life of the loan.
A new South Dakota law, signed in March, is set to take effect today and will ban all abortions except those to save the life of the mother, without exception for rape or incest. The statute intentionally defies the Supreme Court’s interpretations of Roe v. Wade. Its backers hope the inevitable legal challenge will ultimately lead the Court, recently altered by the arrival of two conservative Bush appointees, to overturn the landmark 1973 decision. Opponents could still reverse the law if they gather enough signatures to put a referendum before voters in November.
The wave of leftist politics washing over Latin America could reach the U.S. border today if, as expected, Andrés Manuel López Obrador wins Mexico’s presidential election. The center-right party currently in power has sought to portray López Obrador as a nutty populist in the mold of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. López Obrador does play up the folksy charm—he drives a cheap little Nissan Tsuru, rails against free trade, and claims the current president, Vicente Fox, is a U.S. puppet—but he limits his attacks on the United States and President Bush, and he has tried to reassure foreign investors with promises of fiscal moderation.
John A. Gotti—“Junior” to mob aficionados—is doing an impressive job of living up to the nickname of his infamous father, the “Teflon Don.” The younger Gotti’s third trial for racketeering, extortion, loan sharking, and kidnapping starts today; the first two ended in hung juries. The proceedings have brought out the full carnival of outer-borough mob life: turncoats’ testimonies; the outspoken Gotti women (including Junior’s sister, the reality-television star Victoria Gotti); and even allegations that the senior Gotti, who died behind bars in 2002, sired a couple of secret families. In the meantime, Gang Land News claims that John “Jackie Nose” D’Amico has taken over as acting head of the Gambinos.
Russia hosts this year’s Group of Eight annual summit in Saint Petersburg, another milepost since the fall of communism. Cracks in the U.S.-Russian relationship will likely be on display. Vladimir Putin has nationalized the energy industry and used it to bully neighbors; cracked down on the press and opposition groups; and tangled with the United States over issues of democratization in the former Soviet Union, basing rights in Central Asia, and Iran’s nuclear program. President Bush has ignored calls to boycott the meeting, but may send a message to Putin, as he has done before, by paying visits to Russia’s democratic neighbors.
The State Department recommends that American travelers interested in going to the Caribbean, Bermuda, Canada, or Mexico next year start queuing up now for passports (August marks the end of the busy season for passport processing). Beginning on December 31, the United States, which now requires only a driver’s license for entry from these places, will require the blue booklets. The new requirements are part of the 2004 antiterrorism bill, and will apply only to air and sea travel—for now. The real headache starts at the end of next year, when the Department of Homeland Security will demand passports at every border crossing between the United States and Canada and Mexico.
On today’s anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II, all eyes will be on Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. His repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine—which honors nearly 2.5 million Japanese killed in wars dating back to 1853, including fourteen of the most notorious Japanese war criminals from World War II—have infuriated neighboring countries and crystallized growing xenophobia and nationalism throughout the region. Associated by many with the resurgence of Japanese militarism, the shrine’s museum suggests that Japan was not responsible for World War II. Last year, on the sixtieth anniversary, Koizumi stayed away from Yasukuni, and he acknowledged Japan’s guilt and apologized for its actions in the war. But his visits remain a sore spot, and China and South Korea, both victims of Japanese aggression, have refused to hold summits with Koizumi until he stops.