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WASHINGTON (AP) — As Congress scrambles to pull back a messy student loan increase, it raises the question: Why did Uncle Sam get into the college loan business, anyway?

The short answer: Because the Russians launched Sputnik.

A look at the 55-year history of federal student loans:

___

Americans got a shock from the sky in October 1957.

The first artificial satellite was passing overhead. And it wasn't just man-made, it was Soviet-made.

Beach ball-sized Sputnik touched off a space race and stoked big fears that American students might not be up to the challenges of the Cold War.

Calls to improve science and technical education led to creation of a low-interest college loan program in the National Defense Education Act of 1958. The loan dollars came directly from the government.

___ Then came Lyndon Johnson's "war on poverty."

Student loans got a boost in 1965 as part of the president's "Great Society" initiatives. The Higher Education Act expanded loans as well as grants to help needy students. It also changed the way the federal loan program was financed. Instead of using government money, the loans would be made by bankers. But the government guaranteed that if students defaulted, the U.S. would cover the tab.

Lawmakers liked that approach because outstanding loans wouldn't show up on the government's books as red ink.

___ And that led to the birth of Sallie Mae.

In 1972, President Richard Nixon spearheaded creation of the Student Loan Marketing Association — known by the nickname Sallie Mae — to help get more money to college students.

Sallie Mae was a government-sponsored entity that used Treasury funds to buy up banks' student loans, freeing up the private lenders' money and encouraging them to make more loans.

Sallie Mae was fully privatized in 2004 and is now a corporate giant of the private student loan and college savings businesses.

___ Taxpayers took the risk; bankers got the rewards.

Using private companies to handle government-backed loans proved to be more complicated and expensive for taxpayers than direct federal loans. So President Bill Clinton sought a switch back to a direct loan system more like the Sputnik days.

But many Republicans opposed direct loans as a government takeover. And private lenders didn't want the feds moving in on their lucrative market. Congress compromised by phasing in some direct federal loans while keeping guarantees in place for the bank loans.

For more than a decade, the banks appeared to be winning the battle with direct loans. Colleges largely decided which kinds of loans to offer their students, and the aggressively marketed private loans were more popular than the lesser-known government alternative.

___ The 2008 financial crisis changed everything.

With chaos on Wall Street and credit markets in a tailspin, private student loan money started drying up. To keep money flowing to college students, Congress gave the Education Department power to step in and buy private loans from lenders.

Meanwhile, with fewer banks offering loans to students, the number of colleges turning to direct federal loans shot up.

The shine was off private lenders.

___ In 2010, Uncle Sam took over.

Private lenders waged an intense lobbying campaign to hang onto the government-backed student loan market. But in the end, Congress approved President Barack Obama's plan to give commercial banks the boot.

Now, the entire federal student loan program belongs to Washington.

Banks and other private lenders still loan money to students on their own, without a federal guarantee. Some students need the outside help to fill in the gaps as college costs keep climbing.

And many people are still paying off student loans they got through private lenders under the old Federal Family Education Loan program before it ended on July 1, 2010.

___ Under today's system, direct federal loans are considered the best deal for students.

The government loans generally have lower interest rates than bank loans. And the feds offer flexible payment options for people who have trouble with their bills after graduation.

Also, students who qualify for subsidized Stafford loans, based on financial need, don't rack up interest charges while they're in school. Students who go into public service careers such as teaching can have their loans forgiven or discounted. And graduates who work in exceptionally low-paying professions stand to have their loans completely forgiven after 25 years.

Students with federal loans are at the mercy of Congress and its bickering, however.

A messy standoff has temporarily doubled interest rates on new subsidized Stafford student loans this summer. But a bipartisan compromise promises to head off that rate hike before students sign up for loans in the fall.

___ Follow Connie Cass on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/ConnieCass
ATLANTA (AP) -- If you're 65 and living in Hawaii, here's some good news: Odds are you'll live another 21 years. And for all but five of those years, you'll likely be in pretty good health.

Hawaii tops the charts in the government's first state-by-state look at how long Americans age 65 can expect to live, on average, and how many of those remaining years will be healthy ones.

Retirement-age Mississippians fared worst, with only about 17 1/2 more years remaining and nearly seven of them in poorer health.

U.S. life expectancy has been growing steadily for decades, and is now nearly 79 for newborns. The figures released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate life expectancy for people 65 years old, and what portion will be free of the illnesses and disabilities suffered late in life.

"What ultimately matters is not just the length of life but the quality of life," said Matt Stiefel, who oversees population health research for Kaiser Permanente.

The World Health Organization keeps "healthy life expectancy" statistics on nearly 200 countries, and the numbers are used to determine the most sensible ages to set retirement and retirement benefits. But the measure is still catching on in the United States; the CDC study is the first to make estimates for all 50 states.

Overall, Americans who make it to 65 have about 19 years of life ahead of them, including nearly 14 in relatively good health, the CDC estimated.

But the South and parts of the Midwest clearly had lower numbers. That's not a surprise, experts said.

Southern states tend to have higher rates of smoking, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and a range of other illnesses. They also have problems that affect health, like less education and more poverty.

These are issues that build up over a lifetime, so it's doubtful that moving to Hawaii after a lifetime in the South will suddenly give you more healthy years, they said.

After Mississippi, Kentucky, West Virginia and Alabama had the lowest numbers for both life expectancy and healthy life expectancy. States with the best numbers included Florida - a magnet for healthy retirees - as well as Connecticut and Minnesota.

The estimates were made using 2007 through 2009 data from the census, death certificates and telephone surveys that asked people to describe their health. The CDC's Paula Yoon cautioned not to make too much of the differences between states. Results could have been swayed, for example, by how people in different states interpreted and answered the survey questions.

Other findings:

- Nationally, women at 65 can expect nearly 15 more years of healthy life. Men that age can expect about 13 years.

- Blacks fared much worse than whites. They could expect 11 years of healthy life, compared to more than 14 for whites.

The CDC report makes "painfully clear" the disparities in the health of whites and blacks in their final years, said Ellen Meara, a health economist at Dartmouth College.

--- Online: CDC report: HTTP://WWW.CDC.GOV/MMWR © 2013 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.
WASHINGTON (AP) — You can drive, but you can't hide.

A rapidly growing network of police cameras is capturing, storing and sharing data on license plates, making it possible to stitch together people's movements whether they are stuck in a commute, making tracks to the beach or up to no good.

For the first time, the number of license tag captures has reached the millions, according to a study published Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union based on information from hundreds of law enforcement agencies. Departments keep the records for weeks or years, sometimes indefinitely, saying they can be crucial in tracking suspicious cars, aiding drug busts, finding abducted children and more.

Attached to police cars, bridges or buildings — and sometimes merely as an app on a police officer's smartphone — scanners capture images of passing or parked vehicles and pinpoint their locations, uploading that information into police databases.

Over time, it's unlikely many vehicles in a covered area escape notice. And with some of the information going into regional databases encompassing multiple jurisdictions, it's becoming easier to build a record of where someone has been and when, over a large area.

While the Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that a judge's approval is needed to use GPS to track a car, networks of plate scanners allow police effectively to track a driver's location, sometimes several times every day, with few legal restrictions. The ACLU says the scanners are assembling a "single, high-resolution image of our lives."

"There's just a fundamental question of whether we're going to live in a society where these dragnet surveillance systems become routine," said Catherine Crump, a staff attorney with the organization. The group is proposing that police departments immediately delete any records of cars not linked to any crime.

Although less thorough than GPS tracking, plate readers can produce some of the same information, the group says, revealing whether someone is frequenting a bar, joining a protest, getting medical or mental help, being unfaithful to a spouse and much more.

In Minneapolis, for example, eight mobile and two fixed cameras captured data on 4.9 million license plates from January to August 2012, the Star Tribune reported. Among those whose movements were recorded: Mayor R.T. Rybak, whose city-owned cars were tracked at 41 locations in a year.

A Star Tribune reporter's vehicle was tracked seven times in a year, placing him at a friend's house three times late at night, other times going to and from work — forming a picture of the dates, times and coordinates of his daily routine. Until the city temporarily classified such data late last year, anyone could ask police for a list of when and where a car had been spotted.

As the technology becomes cheaper and more widespread, even small police agencies are able to deploy more sophisticated surveillance systems. The federal government has been a willing partner, offering grants to help equip departments, in part as a tool against terrorism.

Law enforcement officials say the scanners are strikingly efficient. The state of Maryland told the ACLU that troopers could "maintain a normal patrol stance" while capturing up to 7,000 license plate images in a single eight-hour shift.

"At a time of fiscal and budget constraints, we need better assistance for law enforcement," said Harvey Eisenberg, assistant U.S. attorney in Maryland.

Law enforcement officials say the technology automates a practice that's been around for years. The ACLU found that only five states have laws governing license plate readers. New Hampshire, for example, bans the technology except in narrow circumstances, while Maine and Arkansas limit how long plate information can be stored.

"There's no expectation of privacy" for a vehicle driving on a public road or parked in a public place, said Lt. Bill Hedgpeth, a spokesman for the Mesquite Police Department in Texas. The department has records stretching back to 2008, although the city plans next month to begin deleting files older than two years.

In Yonkers, N.Y., just north of New York City's Bronx, police said retaining the information indefinitely helps detectives solve future crimes. In a statement, the department said it uses license plate readers as a "reactive investigative tool" that is only accessed if detectives are looking for a particular vehicle in connection with a crime.

"These plate readers are not intended nor used to follow the movements of members of the public," the department said.

Even so, the records add up quickly. In Jersey City, N.J., for example, the population is 250,000, but the city collected more than 2 million plate images in a year. Because the city keeps records for five years, the ACLU estimates that it has some 10 million on file, making it possible for police to plot the movements of most residents, depending upon the number and location of the scanners.

The ACLU study, based on 26,000 pages of responses from 293 police departments and state agencies across the country, found that license plate scanners produced a small fraction of "hits," or alerts to police that a suspicious vehicle had been found.

In Maryland, for example, the state reported reading about 29 million plates between January and May of last year. Of that number, about 60,000 — or roughly 1 in every 500 license plates — were suspicious. The main offenses: a suspended or revoked registration, or a violation of the state's emissions inspection program, altogether accounting for 97 percent of alerts.

Even so, Eisenberg, the assistant U.S. attorney, said the program has helped authorities track 132 wanted suspects and can make a critical difference in keeping an area safe.

Also, he said, Maryland has rules in place restricting access. Most records are retained for one year, and the state's privacy policies are reviewed by an independent board, Eisenberg noted.

At least in Maryland, "there are checks, and there are balances," he said.

___ Online: http://www.aclu.org/files/assets/071613-aclu-alprreport-opt-v05.pdf ___ Follow Anne Flaherty on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AnneKFlaherty

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