Monday, December 23, 2013

Bah humbug: Why are the secularists so mean spirited?

Ross Douthat  recently wrote a perceptive essay in the New York Times about the spiritual condition of American society.   Today, Douthat wrote, Americans can be categorized into three groups.  The
first group is made up of people who have a biblical view of the world. They believe God literally entered history in the form of a man named Jesus and redeemed humanity.

Catholics and evangelical Protestants belong to this group, but Catholics believe something more. We believe that Mary is the mother of God and fulfills a unique roll in God's salvation plan for humanity. We also believe that Christ is present in real form in the wine and bread of the Eucharist.

A second group, Douthat explained, has a spiritual view of the world. For this group, "the divine  is active in human affairs [and] every person is precious in God's sight." But broadly speaking, people with a spiritual point of view "[don't] sweat the details." For them, religion is "Christian-ish, but syncretistic; adaptable, easygoing and egalitarian."

Many Americans with a spiritual worldview don't care whether Jesus was born of a virgin or whether an angel conversed with Joseph.  But they ascribe to the Christian virtues; they are kind-hearted, congenial, and generous.  And just as importantly, they are tolerant of other world views, lifestyles and cultures

Finally,  Douthat identifies a third group of Americans--the secularists. This group "proposes a purely physical and purposeless universe, inhabited by evolutionary accidents whose sense of self is probably illusory." As Douthat points out, the purely secularist world view is rare among most Americans, but predominates among the intelligentsia--including the nation's political and media elites.

Douthat ascribes moral purpose to this last group--a commitment to "liberty, fraternity and human rights." Indeed, as Douthat points out, although secularists renounce a spiritual meaning to human existence, they "insist on moral and political absolutes with all the vigor of a 17th century New England preacher."

 Douthat is right to compare contemporary secularists to 17th century Puritans. In fact, the priggish self-righteousness of postmodern secularists is evocative of Cotton Mather.  We see this puritanical intolerance exhibited daily in the New York Times and especially in the writings of Bill Keller and Frank Bruni.

And here is where I disagree with Ross Douthat's description of secularism. Unlike Douthat, I do not believe there is any moral center to secularism, any real commitment to human rights. On the contrary, once you scratch the surface of secularism, you find only shrillness, intolerance and mean-spiritedness.

The atheist-sponsored Times Square billboard, proclaiming that  no one needs Christ in Christmas, says it all.  The secularists are the Ebenezer Scrooges of the 21st century: Christianity? Bah, humbug.

We also see the true nature of secularism in the presidency of Barack Obama, the nation's supreme postmodern secularist. Contrary to the President's rhetoric about hope and change, we see nothing in his leadership but deception, manipulation and hollowness--dished out with an air of self-righteous superiority.

Douthat concludes his essay by asking where the nation is headed. Will biblical religion gain some of its lost ground, he asks, or will  the spiritual worldview ultimately prevail? He also asks whether "the intelligentsia's  fusion  of scientific materialism and liberal egalitarianism  will eventually crack up and give way to something new."

Personally, I don't think the secularists' world  view will long prevail in the United States. How can secularists insist they have a moral purpose if they believe that human life has no ultimate meaning? If there is no God, why not turn toward materialism, why not join the empty quest for power and recognition--which in fact is what the secularists have largely done.

I agree with Alexis de Tocqueville's  prediction about the future of American religion, which he made in 1835.  O]ur posterity," he observed, "will tend more and more to a division into only two parts, some relinquishing Christianity entirely and others returning to the Church of Rome." In other words, the day will come when Americans will either be Catholics or nothing at all.

It is a lonely view, I grant you, but I believe that the foundations of Western civilization were laid on the bedrock of the Catholic faith. Eventually, as  de Tocqueville has said, Americans will drift into one of two camps--Catholicism or secularism. Although the secularists appear now to be in the saddle, God moves through history in mysterious ways.  In God's own time, He will send us new saints who will witness to God's presence in the world and inspire us to return to the ancient doctrines of our Mother Church.

Even now we have the lives of past saints to inspire and guide us: Saint Catherine of Sienna, Saint Edith Stein, Saint Katharine Drexel, Saint Teresa of Avila, and Servant of God Dorothy Day.  And though the secularists may say "Bah, humbug," let us cling to our childlike belief in the Christmas story.


 Ross Douthat. Ideas From a Manger. New York Times, December 22, 2013, Sunday Review Section,p. 11.

Alexis de Tocqueville. Democracy in America, edited by Phillips Bradley. New York; Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1945.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Doting Mother Syndrome: The New York Times endorses America's gross insult to India

When it comes to President Obama and his administration, the New York Times is like the doting mother of a spoiled brat. You know the type. The kid is usually a little bully--disrespectful, sneaky,  and disrespectful.  But mama always takes the kid's side.  People who complain about her son just don't understand little Johnny, who is too special to be expected to behave decently or to comply with the rules of civil behavior that apply to ordinary people.

Without question, the United States government blundered when federal agents arrested Devyani  Khobragade, an Indian diplomat, in front of her child's school.  Federal officials then cuffed her, subjected her to a body cavity search, and threw her in a cell with common criminals.

President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry should apologize to Ms. Khobragade and the Indian government for this outrageous breech of civility; and Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney who ordered Ms. Khobragade's arrest, should be fired.

Preet Bharara should be fired
But the New York Times simply doesn't get it. "India's reaction to the arrest of one of its diplomats . . . is unworthy of a democratic government," The Times said in an editorial yesterday. In fact, in the Times' opinion, Secretary of State John Kerry should not even have issued his vague statement of regret over the incident.

In today's issue, the Times went further, printing an op ed essay by Anana Bhattacharyya, who lectured the Indians about their  "feudal mindset." Bhattacharyya seems to think the United States did India a favor by humiliating one of its diplomats. "I can only hope that [this] case will make Indians look inward and see that feelings of patriotic fervor aside, India has a serious problem."

Such drivel! The Times is behaving exactly like the doting mother of a spoiled brat, which is what President Obama increasingly resembles.   Since taking office, Obama has lied to the American public, misused the Internal Revenue Service, spied on our allies, and launched drone attacks that have killed innocent civilians indiscriminately.  He has insulted the Catholic Church, and he behaved boorishly at Nelson Mandela's memorial service.

And yet the Times mindlessly defends the Obama administration, like a dotty mama standing up for little Johnny after the principal caught him scrawling graffiti in the school bathroom.

Admittedly the facts of this affair are murky. The United States says Ms. Khobragade committed visa fraud, and the Indian government maintains that Ms. Khobragade's housekeeper tried to blackmail her.

But even if the facts are exactly like the federal prosecutor claims them to be, a civilized government does not conduct a body cavity search on another nation's diplomat based on such a petty charge.

No, Ms. Khobragade deserves an apology. Unfortunately, Mr. Obama is too cool to ever say he's sorry.  And the New York Times, Mr. Obama's neurotic enabler, has made matters worse  by interpreting the whole affair as a reflection of the flaws in Indian society.

But I would like Ms. Khobragade and the nation of India to know that at least one humble American is ashamed of the way the American government behaved in this disgraceful affair. So on behalf of myself and decent Americans all over the United States, let me just say this: Ms. Khobragade, we are sorry for the behavior of our government, and we are deeply ashamed.


Ananya Bhattacharya. Having a Servant is Not a Right. New York Times, December 21, 2013, p. A19.

Editorial. India's Misplaced Outrage. New York Times, December 20, 2013, p. A26.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

American officials insult India by strip-searching an Indian diplomat. Perhaps India should respond in kind

Devyani Khobragade, India's deputy consul general in New York, was arrested outside her child's school a few days ago.  While she was detained, she was handcuffed, strip searched, and thrown in a cell with common criminals. U.S. authorities acknowledge that the strip search included a search of body cavities,  but they stoutly maintained she was afforded special consideration because of her diplomatic status.

Ms. Devyani Khobragade deserves
a personal apology from Secretary
of State John Kerry
photo credit: Mohammed Jaffer AP
What was Ms. Khobragade's offense?  She is accused of underpaying her housekeeper and working her more than 40 hours a week.

A couple of observations.  First, don't you think it is hypocritical of the United States to kill innocent civilians with drone strikes in Pakistan and then strip search an Indian diplomat for overworking her housekeeper?

Second, if a diplomat must submit to a body cavity search based on an accusation that she underpaid her housekeeper, then Washington politicians should make sure they keep their undergarments in good repair.  How many Congresspeople  and senators do you think are underpaying their nannies, lawn care employees and domestic servants?  A few I would venture. Wouldn't it be embarrassing for a Congressman to to reveal  he was wearing tattered boxer shorts after being booked for not paying Social Security taxes on a nanny's salary?

Of course, the Obama administration issued one of its "I'm not really sorry" apologies. Secretary of State Kerry expressed "regret" over the incident, which is kind of like Obama saying he was sorry people found themselves in the situation of not having health insurance. Hey, "my bad."

I predict the Indians will not be satisfied with anything less than a profound personal apology delivered to the Indian Prime Minister and Ms. Khobragade by a senor American official.  I hope Secretary of State John Kerry flies to Mumbai  to deliver this apology himself, and I hope the Indians extend him an American-style welcome by giving him a thorough cavity search at the airport.


Gardiner Harris. Outrage in India, and Retaliation, Over a Female Diplomat's Arrest in New York. New York Times, December 18, 2013, p. A13.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Vaya con Dios, Edward Snowden: Surely most Americans wish you well

According to Maureen Dowd, Americans have mixed views about Edward Snowden. Some think he is a "self-aggrandizing creep," some think he is a sociopath, some believe he is a "self-sacrificing crusader," and some would like to see him hanged as traitor.

Vaya con Dios
But I disagree with Ms. Dowd. I think most Americans have made up their minds about Edward Snowden. I think most Americans see him as a decent man who exposed grave governmental abuses at great personal risk. Anyhow, that is my belief.

Presently, Mr. Snowden is negotiating with the Brazilian government.  He has offered to help the Brazilians protect themselves from arrogant American snooping if the Brazilians give him asylum.

In an open letter to the Brazilians, Mr. Snowden said American surveillance is not about national security. "These programs were never about terrorism: they're about economic spying, social control and diplomatic manipulation."

What if he's right? What if the NSA and its 35,000 employees are not solely engaged in protecting Americans from terrorism.?What if our government is spying on foreign leaders to help certain insiders make money? If Snowden's allegations are true, some people should go to jail, and I'm not talking about Edward Snowden

Personally, I hope Edward Snowden is granted permanent asylum in a friendly country in the Western Hemisphere. He has behaved decently so far and has shown great dignity..

So vaya con Dios, Edward. Go with God. I know that phrase is expressed differently in Brazilian Portuguese than in Spanish, but you get my drift.


Maureen Dowd. Spying Run Amok. New York Times, December 18, 2013, p. A23.

Simon Romero. Snowden Offers Help To Brazil in Spy Case. New York Times, December 18, 2013, p. A.6.

Being an Obamacrat means never having to say you're sorry: The pitiful American response to the inappropriate arrest of an Indian diplomat

A few days ago, the U.S. Marshall's Office arrested Devan Khobragada, an Indian diplomat, for allegedly providing false information in a visa application for her housekeeper.  The Marshall's Office
Marie Herf
Master's degree from UVA
admits that she was handcuffed, strip searched, and placed in a cell with common criminals. This happened in New York City, home of the United Nations.

A screw up, right?  After all, everyone knows that New York cops can't even issue a parking ticket to a foreign diplomat, much less strip search one.

The Indian government is understandable outraged, calling the arrest barbaric; and Indian officials have ordered the removal of traffic barriers in front of the American embassy.  Those traffic barriers were installed to deter suicide car bombers, which gives you an indication of just how angry India is.

Does the American government apologize?  No.  The Obama administration authorizes Marie Herf, a thirty-something State Department spokeswoman with stylish glasses, to issue a statement containing nothing but drivel.  What does Herf say?
We understand that this is a sensitive issue for many in India.  Accordingly, we are looking into the intake procedures surrounding this arrest to ensure that all appropriate procedures were followed and every opportunity for courtesy was extended.
What did these Obamacrats learn at the elite colleges they attended? (Herf obtained a master's degree in foreign affairs from the University of Virginia.) Did they learn problem solving skills? Did they learn how to respond to crises? Did they learn to apologize for their mistakes and promise to make things right?

No, apparently the Obamacrats learned how to write opaque press releases and very little else.  But they didn't learn to say "I'm sorry" when an apology is called for. 

I feel sure the Obama administration will eventually straighten things out and issue a formal apology to India.  Maybe Obama will give the Indians an aircraft carrier or some jets to smooth things over.

But the initial response to an incident like this says it all.  Obama and his people are arrogant snobs who never learned to behave decently.  They never mastered the simple rules of civil behavior that most of us learned in grade school.


Elise Labott and Jethro Mullen. Arrest, strip-search of Indian diplomat in New York triggers Uproar. December 18, 2013. Accessible at:

Friday, December 13, 2013

What is the point of an ivy league education if graduates behave like children? Obama's selfie incident at Nelson Mandela's memorial service

Earlier this week, various news outlets  circulated a photo of our President using a smart phone at Nelson Mandela's memorial service  to take a selfie of  himself,  England's Prime Minister David Cameron and the prime minister of Denmark.  A photographer caught our president looking exactly like a snickering school boy who had just dunked a fellow student's braids in an ink well.

Didn't Barack's mother raise him better?
Photo credit: Roberto Schmidt AFP/Getty Images

How embarrassing! And this comes on the heals of his insult to Catholics when he made the sign of the cross to pardon a turkey during the Thanksgiving season.  And of course the President was caught lying repeatedly about the Affordable Care Act.

As we say in the South when someone commits a serious breach of etiquette--didn't his mother raise him better?  And what is his excuse for such boorish behavior? He can't say he didn't receive a decent education. After all, he was educated at Columbia University and Harvard Law School.

 Of course, one doesn't need an elite college education to behave with grace and dignity.  I have dozens of relatives in South Louisiana, none of whom went to an ivy league college. Yet not a single one of my relatives would behave disrespectfully  at a funeral or memorial service. Not a single one would ridicule another person's religion.  And--as far as I know--not a single of one of my friends or relatives is a liar.

Since the founding of this nation, Americans have cherished a vision of an ideal American citizen as a person who behaves with grace, dignity, and courage; a person who respects the values and religious beliefs of others; a  person who can solve problems in ways that makes the world a better place.  And Americans have always believed that the ideal citizen need not have a fancy education.

We see this ideal reflected again and again in American literature. Owen Wister, a Harvard man, created a fictional American ideal in his novel The Virginian.  This man, though not educated, conveys immense dignity, tolerance, and respect for others.  "When you call me that, smile," the Virginian says famously.

And John Steinbeck's great novel, The Grapes of Wrath, tells the story of an impoverished, uneducated family forced from their home in Oklahoma to become refugees on the road to California. Ma Joad and Tom Joad are portrayed as people of great fortitude, courage, and generosity.

And of course, James Fenimore Cooper's Natty Bumppo, the unlettered frontiersman in The Last of the Mohicans, was shown by Cooper to be more well-bred that the well-born English army officers with whom he was thrown together.

For all his fine education, I doubt whether Barack Obama has read much American literature. I would be astonished if he is familiar with The Last of the Mohicans, The Virginian, The Grapes of Wrath or any of the books that make up the canon of American literature.

I think Barack Obama would serve himself well by studying the American ideal of a great citizen as it is portrayed in our literature--perhaps he could steal some time by playing less golf.  Certainly, he does not appear to have been well schooled at Harvard or Columbia. Otherwise he would not make fun of Catholics or act like a child at a great man's memorial service.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Colorado Attorney General fines Argosy University $3.3 million for deceptive marketing practices: Why don't the Feds move more aggressively against abuses in for-profit college industry?

Earlier this week, the Colorado Attorney's Office announced that Argosy University Denver will pay $3.3 million in fines and restitution for engaging in misleading marketing practices. Argosy is a for-profit university owned by Education Management Corporation.

"Our investigation revealed a pattern of Argosy recklessly launching doctoral degree programs without substantiating or supporting that they led to the advertised outcomes,"a Colorado deputy attorney general said in a written statement. "That is illegal under Colorado law and why we are holding Argosy accountable."

According to a story in the Denver Post, the Colorado Attorney General's Office claimed that Argosy led students to believe that the university was seeking accreditation for a doctorate of education in counseling psychology, was was not true. Quoting from the Denver Post:
Although students were told they would be eligible to become licensed psychologists, the program's curriculum and requirements were deficient and left them unlikely to be licensed in Colorado. One program failure was a lack of adequate internships in the state, the attorney general's office said in a statement.
Congratulations to the Colorado Attorney General's Office for taking aggressive action against Argosy. But what happens to Argosy students who took out student loans to pay for programs that failed to meet students' expectations?

The Colorado Attorney General's Office announced that $2.7 million of the fine would be returned to students to help them pay off their student loans.  Bravo!

But let's ask ourselves this question. Why is it left to state attorney general's offices to monitor the for-profit colleges, most of which depend on federal student aid money to operate?  Why isn't the Obama administration moving aggressively to stamp out abuses in this industry?

Students themselves usually can't sue their for-profit college for misrepresentation because the colleges force students to sign litigation waivers as a condition of enrollment. Thus, we are left with a catch-as-one-can patchwork of regulation of an industry that has a history of deceptive recruiting practices.

Too busy to take aggressive action against for-profits?
President Obama has said repeatedly that he is concerned about the plight of college students who are suffering from high levels of student-loan indebtedness.  He should unleash Eric Holder and his ivy league attorneys to tackle the abuses in the for-profit college industry, which has the highest level of student-loan defaults and has been caught repeatedly in deceptive marketing practices.

But perhaps Eric Holder's office  has other priorities--like suing the state of Louisiana to stop disadvantaged kids from getting into better schools.


Anthony Cotton. Argosy University Denver fined $3.3 million for deceptive practices. Denver Post, December 5, 2013. Accessible at:

L. Wayne Hicks. Argosy University fo pay $3.3M to settle Colorado lawsuit. Denver Business Journal, December 5, 2013.  Accessible at:

Michelle Millhollon. Jindal rebukes Fed voucher stance. The (Baton Rouge) Advocate, August 25, 2013, p. IB.

Monday, December 9, 2013

President Obama talks about a safety net, but there is no safety net for student-loan defaulters

President Obama made a speech recently about income inequality in America, and Paul Krugman swooned like a 1950s-era school girl at a Buddy Holly concert. Only cynics, Krugman suggested, would discount the importance of President Obama's great speech. 

Rah! Rah! Rah!
Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize Winner, loved President Obama's speech on income inequality

I'm sorry, Paul. But until the President backs up his soaring rhetoric with some action, I will remain cynical.

President Obama talked a lot in his speech  about strengthening the safety net for people who fall on hard times. "We've . . . got to strengthen our safety net for a new age," the President said, "so it doesn't just protect people who hit a run of bad luck from falling into poverty, but also propels them back out of poverty."

These are fine words, but let's look at the millions of people who took out federal student loans to get a college education and can't pay them back. There is no safety net for them. No, for them, there is only a cascading river of woe.

First of all, people who default on their student loans find that it all but impossible to discharge their student-loan debt in bankruptcy.  And this is true even for people who financed their education through private banks and not the federal student-loan program.

Second, many students enrolled at for-profit universities based on misrepresentations, but they
can't sue the institutions that defrauded them. We know that students who attended for-profit colleges have the highest student-loan default rate and the highest level of student-loan debt. Nevertheless, even if they accumulated debt based on a for-profit college's false promises, students are often unable to seek relief in the courts. That's because many--probably most--of the for-profit colleges make students sign arbitration agreements whereby students waive their right to sue fraudulent institutions in court.

Third, many student-loan defaulters find that the amount they owe on their loans is double or even triple the amount they borrowed. That's because interest accumulates on the unpaid debt and the government's debt collectors add a 25 percent penalty.  As we saw in the Roth case (discussed in a previous blog), a woman who borrowed $33,000 to obtain a degree she never completed owed $95,000 by the time she sought bankruptcy relief.

And there is no statute of limitations on collecting unpaid student loans. Thus, the government and its agents can wait 20 years, 25 years, even  40 years to sue a student-loan defaulter. And the government can garnish elderly defaulters' Social Security checks and apply the amount collected to their student loan debt.

Do see any safety net for these people?

How many people have their backs against the wall due to their college loans? Millions. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, 15 million people whose loans are in the repayment stage aren't making payments.  Six million are in default, and almost 9 million more have obtained deferments or forbearances that allow them not to make payments. 

In his speech, President Obama acknowledged that people have had trouble paying off their loans, but he said federal grants and loans go farther under his administration than they did before.  Of course if that were true, student-loan indebtedness would not be going up every year.

The President also said that the government has made it "more practical" for students to repay their loans.  I take it he means that the government is encouraging students to sign up for income-based repayment plans that obligate them to make loan payments for 25 years.  The President may think 25-year loan repayment plans makes loan repayment more practical.  But in fact, these plans are a 21st century version of the indentured servant system.

In addition, the President said his administration was advancing "an aggressive strategy to promote innovation that reins in student costs," an apparent reference to his vague college rating system. "We've got lower costs so that young people are not burdened by enormous debt when they make the right decision to get higher education," he asserted.

But this simply isn't true.  Total student-loan indebtedness has grown to $1.2 billion, and average indebtedness for a college graduate is risen to more than $29,000.

 Of course President Obama could construct a real safety net for distressed student-loan debtors if he chose to do so. He could promote an amendment to the Bankruptcy Code that would allow destitute student-loan debtors to discharge their college loans in bankruptcy.  He could bar for-profits from forcing their students to sign litigation waivers as a condition of enrollment.  He could reform the student-loan debt collection protocol to lower the fees and penalties that debt collectors charge defaulters.  He could stop the practice of garnishing elderly defaulters' Social Security checks.

As he done any of these things? Has he even proposed doing any of things? No, he has not.  And although it is true that President Obama does not have a cooperative Congress, he could begin weaving at least a partial "safety net" through executive orders.  A lot of the abuses in the for-profit industry and abusive debt-collection practices could be stopped by executive action or administrative regulations.

So, yes, Mr. Krugman, I am cynical about President Obama's speech. And Mr. Krugman should be cynical too.  After all, he is a Nobel-Prize winning economist who surely knows that crushing student-loan debt has thrown millions of people out of the American economy. 

Mr. Krugman rebukes the cynicism of the so-called "pundit class," but it is Mr. Krugman, The New York Times and the entire elitist media that appear cynical to me.  Our liberal media have become nothing more than cheerleaders for an aimless President, while millions of young Americans who sought a college education in good faith suffer from an insane federal student-loan program and a rapacious for-profit college industry.


Editorial. The President on Inequality. New York Times, December 5, 2013, p. A30.

Paul Krugman. Obama Gets Real. New York Times, December 6, 2013, p. A31.

President Barack Obama. Remarks by the President on Economic Mobility. White House Press release, December 4, 2013.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

I miss Barney Fife: Rice University police repeatedly beat suspected bicycle thief and Rice won't turn over records

I miss Barney Fife
Last week, a Houston television station aired a video showing Rice University police officers beating  a suspected bicycle thief while he was lying on the ground begging them to stop.  According to the Houston Chronicle, officers hit the man13 times in 20 seconds.

Did the Rice cops use excessive force? I can't say. The police maintain the suspect refused to be handcuffed and that they used the appropriate procedure to subdue him.

As of yesterday, Rice University refused to release the entire video of the arrest or the mug shot of the suspect. Rice claims it is not subject to the Texas Public Information Act because it is a private university. 

In an editorial that appeared on December 4th, The Houston Chronicle criticized Rice University's secrecy about the beating incident. "Police in a democratic society must be open to investigation, even if they work at a private university," the Chronicle argued.

The Chronicle pointed out that Rice gets millions of dollars in state funding and its students are eligible for state financial aid. The newspaper called on the Texas legislature to close the loophole in the Texas Public Information Act so that the law applies to private universities.

John Whitmire, a state senator from Houston, is also upset by Rice University's secrecy.  Whitmire threatened to make it harder for Rice to get public money. "One, watch what I do to their budget," Senator Whitmire was quoted as saying. "And two, watch what I do to their police department."

I agree with the Houston Chronicle and Senator Whitmire. Rice University, which receives millions of dollars in state and federal money, should not be able to shield its activities from public view simply because it is a private university. Rice should be subject to the Texas Public Information Act, just as state agencies are.

This incident is reminiscent of the pepper spray incident that took place at UC Davis in 2011. University police officers pepper sprayed nonthreatening students who were sitting on a sidewalk during an Occupy Wall Street demonstration.  Linda Katehi, UC Davis president, apologized for the incident; and the university paid a million dollars to settle a lawsuit brought by the victims.

But UC Davis never released information about what it did with Lieutenant John Pike, the chief offender in the pepper spray incident.  Pike left the university under undisclosed circumstances.

 I wish to make two points about the incidents that took place at Rice and UC Davis. First, as I have said before, every university that participates in the federal student loan program should operate in complete transparency, whether it is public and private.  It is time for a federal open records law that applies to all colleges that receive federal student-loan money.

Second, the Rice incident and the UC Davis pepper-spray incident may be an indication that our university police departments are slowly evolving from service agencies dedicated to protecting and assisting students to paramilitary organizations.  Was it necessary, after all, for UC Davis police officers to attack peaceful students while wearing riot gear?

Personally, I miss the good old days when campus police officers behaved a little more like Barney Fife and a little less like Robo Cop. 

UC Pepper-Spray Incident
Photo credit: Wayne Tilcock, Davis Enterprise


Editorial. Secret police: Footage of Rice  University officers beating a suspect raises serious questions. Houston Chronicle, December 4, 2013, p. B6.

Brian Rogers. Lack of police transparency in Rice arrest angers lawmaker. Houston Chronicle, December 3, 2013. Accessible at:

Tyler Kinkade. Lt. John Pike, UC Davis Pepper Spray Cop, No Longer Working at University. Huffington Post, August 10, 2013. Accessible at:


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Yet another injustice: For-profit colleges force ripped-off students to arbitrate their claims rather than seek relief in the courts

The federal student loan program is a metaphorical train wreck--the wreck of a passenger train crowded with hapless commuters. The injured are strewn all over the landscape waiting to be treated.

The federal student loan program is a metaphorical train wreck.
If President Obama were a compassionate man, he would introduce legislation to assist the people who have been hurt by their participation in the federal student loan program. But he's not doing that. To extend the train-wreck metaphor further, Obama wants to close his eyes to the carnage on the railroad tracks and focus all his attention on designing a safer railroad car.

The President has done nothing to ease the plight of millions of young people who are burdened by student-loan debt and can't find decent jobs. Instead, he is pushing a college rating system that supposedly will help students make better choices about where to attend college. And he also wants more students to sign up for long-term student-loan repayment plans.
Of course, everyone knows that the most egregious student-loan abuses involve the for-profit colleges, which have been accused of high-pressure recruiting tactics and misrepresentations about students' job prospects. From time to time former students have sued for-profit colleges under state consumer protection laws, seeking damages based on claims that they'd been ripped off.
But the for-profits have figured out a clever way to stop lawsuits against them. Many of them force students to sign arbitration agreements when they enroll. Under these agreements, students waive their right to sue the college, even if they later believe they were induced to enroll based on misrepresentations. Instead, students are forced to submit their claims to arbitration, which most often benefits the college, not the student. More on this later.

Ferguson v. Corinthian Colleges: Students at for-profit colleges are denied right to a jury trial

Here's a recent example. In Ferguson v. Corinthian Colleges, Inc., decided last August by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Kevin Ferguson and Sandra Muniz, former students at schools operated by Corinthian Colleges, Inc., sought to bring a class action law suit against Corinthian based on alleged misrepresentations. These were their claims, as outlined by the court:
The thrust of [the former students'] complaint was that Corinthian systematically misled prospective students in order to entice enrollment. Corinth allegedly misrepresented the quality of its education, its accreditation, the career prospects for its graduates, and the actual cost of education at one of its schools. Students were also allegedly misinformed about financial aid, which resulted in student loans that many could not repay. Corinthian also allegedly targeted veterans and military personnel specifically, so that it could receive funding through federal financial aid programs available to those people.
Unfortunately for Ferguson and Muniz, both had signed arbitration agreements with Corinthian or one of its subsidiaries as part of the admission process. Under these agreements, they waived the right to sue Corinthian and agreed to arbitrate any claims under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA).
When Ferguson and Muniz sued in federal court, Corinthian moved to dismiss their case on the grounds that they were compelled to arbitrate. A federal judge granted Corinthian's motion in part but allowed the former students to seek an injunction against Corinthian in federal court.
On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reversed, ruling that all claims against Corinthian must be arbitrated, including any request for injunctive relief. The Federal Arbitration Act "reflects an 'emphatic federal policy' in favor of arbitration," the court said. Under the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution, "the FAA preempts contrary state law" and prevents the states from allowing a party to go to court to resolve claims that the party had previously agreed to submit to arbitration.

Why is Ferguson v. Corinthian Colleges, Inc. a bad decision for students?

Why do the for-profits require students to sign arbitration agreements as a condition of enrolling? Forcing dissatisfied students to arbitrate their claims is advantageous to the corporate universities because students must pay a part of the arbitrator's cost, something many students can't afford to do. In addition, the for-profits prefer to go before an arbitrator rather than a jury, which might be quite sympathetic to a student's claim that he or she was induced to enroll in a for-profit college based on false promises and misrepresentations.
Moreover, arbitrators generally do not award punitive damages, their power to grant injunctive relief is limited if not non-existent, and an arbitrator's decision is usually private and not subject to public inspection. No wonder the for-profits require their students to sign agreements promising to arbitrate their complaints and not file lawsuits.

Congress should pass a law barring for-profit colleges from forcing students to sign arbitration agreements

Under the Federal Arbitration Act, as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, states do not have the authority to allow ripped-off students to sue for-profit colleges under state consumer-protection laws if those students signed arbitration agreements, which many of them are forced to do as a condition of enrolling in a for-profit college. This is wrong.
President Obama should introduce legislation that prohibits for-profit colleges from forcing students to sign arbitration agreements and specifically permits students to sue for-profit colleges for fraud or misrepresentation under appropriate state consumer-protection laws. The legislation should give students the right to a jury trial, and prevailing students should receive attorney fees and punitive damages when appropriate.
Of course, President Obama will never introduce such legislation, and Congress would never pass it if he did. The for-profits are too politically powerful for such a law ever to be adopted.
Rather than tackle the abuses in the for-profit college industry, President Obama prefers to introduce a complicated and toothless rating system for colleges--a rating system that will do nothing to reduce the harm so many students suffer when they borrow money to attend a for-profit college or university.

Ferguson v. Corinthian Colleges, Inc., 733 F.3d 928 (9th Cir. 2013).

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Peace for our time or a historic mistake? The Ivy Leaguers make a deal with Iran and your children will pay the price

World War II was unnecessary, Churchill wrote in The Gathering Storm, the first volume of his history of the Second World War. Had the British and Americans conducted their affairs "with the ordinary consistency and common sense usual in decent households," Church observed, they could have maintained their security without bloodshed.
Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain & Hitler
September 23, 1938
Those of us who read history know that Neville Chamberlain made a groveling peace pact with Hitler in 1938, and less than a year later, England and Germany were at war.  As Churchill put the matter, "You were given the choice between war and dishonour. You chose dishonour and you will have war."

Today, the United States and its passive allies are on the verge of a deal with Iran whereby the United States and the European Union lift their sanctions against Iran and Iran promises not to build a nuclear bomb.

Does anyone believe Iran will cease its efforts to become a nuclear power? I certainly don't.  And Israel, whose life depends upon this issue, doesn't believe it either.  The deal with Iran, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated emphatically, is a "historic mistake."

But, like Neville Chamberlain, who believed his deal with Hitler would bring "peace for our time," President Obama believes he has made the Middle East a safer place. Or perhaps he merely believes a deal with Iran will look good on his vita.

America's national affairs are in such disarray that it is embarrassing to contemplate them. Today, the United States begs a mob of Afghan elders to allow us to pour American blood and treasure into a country that has no interest whatsoever in democratic values or human rights.

On the home front, the President has lied repeatedly about the essential features of Obamacare, but he holds average Americans in such contempt that he doesn't bother with a proper apology.  As Churchill said of British politician Stanley Baldwin, "He occasionally stumbled over the truth, but hastily picked himself up and hurried on as if nothing had happened."

As I have said more than once, our country is being run by people who were schooled in the nation's elite colleges and professional schools--institutions which teach nothing more than arrogance, an unseemly obsession with power and recognition, and a studied cynicism toward traditional American values.

How will all this end? Regarding Iran, there are just two possibilities.  Either Iran will become a nuclear power and thereby make the Middle East even more unstable or Israel will launch military strikes in an effort to destroy Iran's nuclear capability.

If Israel acts militarily, you can kiss your 401(k) goodbye along with your draft-age children and grandchildren.

But don't worry about Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.  However things turn out, there's a book deal for Obama after he steps down from the presidency.  And John Kerry's wealth is well invested.  He will do just fine financially no matter what happens to you and me.


Winston Churchill, The Gathering Storm. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1948.

Jodi Rudoren. Israelis See Ticking Clock, and Alternative Approaches, on Iran and Palestinians. New York Times, November 26, 2013, p. A12.

Monday, November 25, 2013

"You can't get there from here": It is very difficult to sue the Department of Education about a disputed student loan

According to urban legend, a traveler asked a Maine farmer for directions to a nearby town. "You can't get there from here," the farmer replied, a cryptic and distinctly unhelpful reply.

 You can't get there from here.
photo credit:
Well if you are a student-loan debtor who believes a  mistake was made about your loan, you are unlikely to get the problem resolved quickly in a court proceeding. In other words, when it comes to suing the federal government about your student-loan debt, "You can't get there from here."

The Wagstaff case: Eight years of fruitless litigation about a student-loan debt

Take the case of Audrey Wagstaff, who took out six federal student loans to attend Our Lady of the Lake University in the early 1990s.  According to the U.S. Department of Education, Ms. Wagstaff didn't make any payments on her loans.  DOE sued her in 1999, dropped the lawsuit, and then began administrative collection efforts against here.  DOE garnished Wagstaff''s wages in order to collect on the loans and applied some offsets to her federal tax refunds.

In 2005, Wagstaff sued DOE under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, alleging DOE's collection practices violated the Act.  A federal court dismissed her case, and she appealed.  In 2007, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal, ruling that the Department of Education is not subject to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Undaunted, Wagstaff sued in a Texas state court. DOE transferred the case to federal court, where she was dismissed again.  She appealed to the Fifth Circuit, which ruled again that Wagstaff did not have a case.

In 2011, Wagstaff sued yet again, this time in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. The Department of Education tried to get this suit dismissed as well, and the Court of Federal Claims dismissed all her constitutional claims and statutory civil rights claims.

But the court did not dismiss all of Wagstaff's claims.  The court concluded that Wagstaff had properly pleaded a claim of "illegal exaction" against the government, which the court had jurisdiction to hear. In addition, the court ruled that she had brought her claim within the six-year limitation period for bringing claims against the government, so it allowed her lawsuit to proceed.

In the end, however, Wagstaff lost her case. On July 13, 2013, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims ruled that DOE had correctly calculated Wagstaff's student-loan debt. "There is no evidence to suggest the Government behaved unlawfully," the court ruled, and "the Government has properly supported its assertion that the promissory notes were valid . . ." (p. 765).

What does the Wagstaff litigation mean for the rest of us?

Audrey Wagstaff may not be a sympathetic plaintiff.  According to the Department of Education, she had never made a single payment on her six student loans. Nevertheless, her experience in federal court gives all of us some things to ponder.

First of all, if a student-loan debtor has a dispute about the amount of money owed, it is best to try to resolve the dispute as quickly and as  informally as possible.  According to the 2013 Court of Federal Claims opinion, Mrs. Wagstaff only borrowed about $17,000.  But interest and penalties accrued over the years, and by the time the Court of Federal Claims ruled in 2013, the amount she owed had more than doubled to $36,000.

Second, the Fifth Circuit ruled conclusively that the federal government is not subject to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and cannot be sued for unfair debt collection practices under that law. But shouldn't the federal government be subject to the same restraints that apply to other debt collectors? After all, six million people have defaulted on federal student loans; and the Department of Education, acting through private agencies, may be the largest debt collector in the world.

Third, Ms. Wagstaff was compelled to bring her claims of unfair debt collection against the feds within six years, but there is no time constraint on the government suing Ms. Wagstaff.  Shouldn't the same six-year statute of limitations that applies to student-loan debtors also apply to the Department of Education?

Finally, if someone has an unfair debt collection claim against the federal government that pertains to a student loan, shouldn't that person be able to litigate the claim in a federal district court in the debtor's home state rather than being forced to sue in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims?

In my opinion, student loan debtors who are unable to resolve disputes about their loans at the administrative level should have easy access to the federal courts to litigate their claims, and the federal government should be under the same constraints against unfair debt-collection practices that apply to private debt collectors.

Do you think anyone in Congress is interested in making the Department of Education subject to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act? Do you think anyone in Congress is interested in putting a six-year statute of limitation on the federal government's efforts to collect on student-loan debt? Do you think the Obama administration is interested in either of these issues?

No, Congress and the Obama administration have absolutely no interest in giving basic consumer protections to the millions of  distressed student-loan debtors. Consequently, these people are suffering in silence, unable to pay back their loans, unable to discharge them in bankruptcy, and unable to start their lives afresh.


Wagstaff v. United States, 111 Fed. Cl. 754 (2013).

Wagstaff v. United States, 105 Fed. Cl. 99 (2012).

Wagstaff v. United States, 366 Fed. Appx. 564 (5th Cir. 2010).

Wagstaff v. United States, 509 F.3d   661 (5th Cir. 2007).

Sunday, November 24, 2013

President Obama's Proposed College Rating Plan is a Non-Starter: Colleges Should Prepare for More Bureaucracy and Higher Costs

"When someone describes himself as a Christian businessman," my former law partner once observed, "I put my hand over my wallet."

I feel the same way when President Obama announces a new plan to help the middle class. When the President proposes to do something nice for average Americans, I get nervous.

And what is President Obama's latest proposal to help the middle class? According to a White House press release, President Obama wants to implement a college rating plan "to Make College More Affordable" and "A Better Bargain for the Middle Class."

That's right. Having mucked up health care, the President now plans to screw up higher education even more than it is already screwed up.

President Obama wants to help the
middle class. No, really!
Although the details aren't yet clear, the President's new system "will measure college performance through a new rating system so students and families have the information to select schools that provide the best value."  This new rating system, the White House assures us,  will "incentivize [sic]colleges to provide better value by improving performance, lowering costs, and investing in student access and success."

What's the President's ultimate goal? I think it is to shift federal aid money to certain favored institutions.  The press release says the Department of Education ultimately plans to give more federal student aid to colleges that provide the best value. According to the White House press release, students attending high-performing colleges would receive larger Pell Grants and more affordable student loans than students attending lower-ranked institutions.

So how will the President's latest grandiose scheme roll out?  This is my prediction:

1) First, DOE will vet its proposed college-rating regulations with higher education's powerful constituencies: the for-profit colleges;  elite schools like Harvard, Yale, and Stanford; and the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).  These groups will have their lobbyists and lawyers weigh in and make sure the new regulations won't hurt them. DOE will acquiesce to all these groups' demands.

2) Next, President Obama will sign executive orders and DOE will promulgate administrative regulations that will implement the President's new college-rating system.  All this will be accomplished without Congressional approval because Congress would never approve this hare-brained scheme.

3) Colleges will hire consultants and low-level bureaucrats to comply with the new rating system without changing the way they do business.  College costs will not go down. On the contrary, tuition will continue to rise faster than the rate of inflation just as it has for the last 30 years.

If President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan were serious about lowering college costs and providing a "better bargain for the middle class," they would kick the for-profit colleges out of the federal student aid program. The for-profits educate about 11 percent of all post-secondary students, but they get 25 percent of all the federal student aid money--about $35 billion a year.  They have highest student-loan default rates in the industry and low student-completion rates.

If the federal government shifted that $35 billion from the for-profit sector to community colleges, think what could be accomplished. Community colleges could educate the same groups of students now going to for-profit colleges for much less money.

But President Obama won't stand up to the for-profit college industry.  That would be too hard.  No, he would rather impose another level of bureaucratic reporting on colleges and universities that are already over-regulated.  That's President Obama's big plan to make college more affordable for the middle class.


White House Press Release. FACT SHEET on the President's Plan to Make College More Affordable: A Better Bargain for the Middle Class. August 22, 2013.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

President Obama Did Not Tell the Truth About the Affordable Care Act: Where Was the President Educated?

Justice Ruth Ginsburg
It's OK to scam the rubes (wink!)
In Gratz v. Bollinger, the Supreme Court overturned an affirmative action program at the University of Michigan that used a point system to benefit minority applicants to the university.  In the majority opinion's view, the University of Michigan had unlawfully discriminated against white applicants in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.

In a remarkable display of cynicism, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented. She argued that the Court should allow American universities to discriminate based on race because they would do it anyway, even if they had to lie about it.

Here is what she said:
One can reasonably anticipate . . . that colleges and universities will seek to maintain their minority enrollment--and the networks and opportunities thereby opened to minority graduates--whether or not they can do so in full candor through adoption of affirmative action plans of the kind here at issue. Without recourse to such plans, institutions of higher education may resort to camouflage. . . . If honesty is the best policy, surely Michigan's accurately described, fully disclosed College affirmative action program is preferable to achieving similar numbers through winks, nods, and disguises. (emphasis supplied)
What an astonishing thing for a Supreme Court Justice to write. In her view, college administrators are so lacking in integrity that they will lie in order to achieve their desired social goals, even if their tactics violate the law.

And Justice Ginsburg did not condemn such behavior. Implicitly at least, Justice Ginsburg endorsed the view that the end justifies the means.  Affirmative action is so worthwhile, she apparently believes, that it is OK for college officials to engage in subterfuge--to camouflage their activities, to advance their goals through "winks, nods, and disguises."

President Obama, we now know, shares Justice Ginsburg's views about honesty. Universal health care is such a good thing, he believes, that it is permissible to lie repeatedly about how the new health care law actually works.

I'm part Cherokee (wink!)
Where did Justice Ginsburg and President Obama develop such cynical views about honesty and the law? Well they were both educated at Harvard Law School and both served on the Harvard Law Review. (Justice Ginsburg transferred from Harvard to Columbia Law School before she graduated.) Perhaps Harvard infected them with the elitist view that it is OK to scam the rubes.  After all, it is the elites--people like Ruth and Barack--who know what is best for people.

And if a Harvard Law Professor (Elizabeth Warren) wants to claim she's an American Indian, that's OK too. It is important for Harvard to claim it has a Native American law professor, whether or not it's true.

Harvard's motto is Veritas--the Latin word for truth.  In light of the leaders Harvard has produced in recent years, perhaps its motto should be tweaked a bit.  How about "Veritas (wink)".

Veritas (wink!)


Gratz v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 244 (2003).

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"Naked to mine enemies": A modest proposal to help destitute student-loan debtors get attorneys to represent them in bankruptcy court

A great many destitute student-loan debtors file for bankruptcy without the aid of an attorney. This is not surprising since the only reason these poor people are in a bankruptcy court is because they're broke.

For example, Janet Roth, whose case I discussed in an earlier blog, appeared before the Ninth Circuit's Bankruptcy Appellate Panel without a lawyer.  At the time of the bankruptcy proceedings, Ms. Roth was living on her monthly Social Security check--only $774 a month. Obviously, she had no money to pay an attorney to  represent her in bankruptcy.

Bankrupt student-loan debtors need lawyers
Photo credit:
On the other hand, student-loan creditors--agencies like Educational Credit Management Corporation and Sallie Mae--always appear in bankruptcy court with excellent attorneys. The creditors' lawyers know bankruptcy law inside and out, and they typically argue that the poor saps who enter bankruptcy are not entitled to a discharge of their student-loan debts. I don't know how these lawyers sleep at night, but I hope they sleep badly.

This inequity of legal resources obviously works to the student-loan debtor's disadvantage. Indeed, a study by Pardo and Lacy (2009) found that student-loan debtors got better outcomes in bankruptcy if they were represented by experienced bankruptcy lawyers.

Occasionally, indigent student-loan debtors obtain informal legal support from attorneys or non-lawyers with bankruptcy expertise. These people may "ghost write"  a debtor's pleadings without formally representing the debtor in court.

But some courts frown on this practice. In a bankruptcy decision filed this year, a federal court in Virginia strongly condemned the practice of ghost writing. "The Court emphasizes that the practice of ghost-writing is in no way permissible in the Eastern District of Virginia, or any federal court for that matter," the court wrote. In the court's view, such conduct amounted to "the unauthorized practice of law" (Greene v. U.S. Department of Education, 2013, *26-27).

I would like to make a modest proposal for getting better legal representation for bankrupt student-loan debtors. Currently, the law schools are turning out far more lawyers than the job market needs. In fact, a few law schools have been sued by their alumni for allegedly making false representations about their  graduates' job prospects.

Why don't these law schools organize legal aid clinics that specialize in representing bankrupt student-loan debtors?  There are certainly enough unemployed lawyers to staff these clinics. The clinics would employ lawyers who would otherwise be unemployed and give them some legal experience that would later help them obtain permanent employment.

Law schools might consider the sponsorship of legal aid clinics for student-loan debtors as a sort of penance for their hubris.  It is now well established that third- and fourth-tier law schools charged high tuition rates to students who had only dim prospects of ever getting jobs that would pay well enough to allow them to comfortably pay back their student loans. Wouldn't it be a good thing for these law schools to do something positive to ease the plight of overburdened student-loan debtors?


Greene v. United States Department of Education, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 143678 (E.D. Va. Oct. 1 2013)

In re Roth, 490 B.R. 908 (9th Cir. BAP 2013).

Raphael Pardo & Michelle Lacey. The Real Student-Loan Scandal: Undue Hardship Litigation. 83 American Bankruptcy Law Journal 179 (2009). The American Bankruptcy Law Journal

Friday, November 15, 2013

Educational Credit Management Corporation makes good money chasing destitute student-loan debtors: The Obama Administration should take action

Richard Boyle, CEO of ECMC
He made $1.1 million in 2010
Educational Credit Management Corporation is a nonprofit company that collects on defaulted student loans for the federal government. Just because it is nonprofit, however, doesn't mean its employees don't make a lot of money. According to a news story posted on, Richard Boyle, ECMC's chief executive officer, made $1.1 million in 2010.

Other ECMC employees are also making good money.  Dave Hawn, ECMC's chief operating officer, made about half a million dollars in 2010. Joshua Mandelman, an ECMC debt collector, made $454,000. And ECMC directors also do pretty well. According to the Bloomberg story, they make as much as $90,000 a year.

How does ECMC make its money? It gets a small fee for helping distressed student-loan borrowers avoid default. But it makes much more money when it collects money from student borrowers who defaulted. By law, ECMC (and other similar companies) "can receive as much as 37 percent of a borrower's entire loan amount, half in collection costs and half in taxpayer-funded commissions" (

What a sleazy business.  People are getting rich chasing down student-loan defaulters, many of whom are unemployed and destitute.

But perhaps the most disturbing aspect of ECMC's business is the position it takes when student-loan debtors file for bankruptcy. In several cases, ECMC has argued that bankrupt student-loan debtors should not have their loans discharged in bankruptcy. Instead, ECMC has argued, these debtors should be placed in income-based repayment plans that can last as long as 25 years.

Roth case: Elderly woman with health problems seeks bankruptcy relief from student loans

For example, in a recent case, Janet Roth, a 64-year old woman, filed for bankruptcy, seeking to discharge $95,000 in student loan debt.  Actually, she only borrowed $33,000, but her debt tripled due to fees and accrued interest.

At the time of the bankruptcy proceedings, Roth was unemployed and living entirely on her monthly Social Security check--only $774.  In addition, she suffered from several serious health conditions, including diabetes, macular degeneration, and depression.

Now most people would think that Ms. Roth was a good candidate for bankruptcy. But in court proceedings, ECMC challenged her request for bankruptcy relief from her student loans. ECMC argued she should have signed up for a 25-year income-based repayment plan, a plan that would have ended when she was almost 90 years old!

Fortunately, the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals was sympathetic to Ms. Roth's plight. The court said Ms. Roth had acted in good faith regarding her student-loan obligations, and it discharged her of the debt.

Can you imagine? A company run by a guy who makes more than a million dollars a year argued that an elderly woman with health issues and living on her Social Security check should make monthly payments on her student loans for 25 years! These ECMC guys make Ebenezer Scrooge look like Mother Teresa.

Want another example? In In re Stevenson (2011), an elderly woman with a history of homelessness  and who was living on less than $1,000 a month, was denied relief from her student-loan debt by a bankruptcy court in Massachusetts. ECMC opposed her effort to have her student loans discharged, and a court essentially forced Ms. Stevenson into a 25-year income-based repayment plan. Like Ms. Roth, Ms. Stevenson will be nearly 90 years old when her student-loan debt is discharged.

And take a look at the Krieger case. In Krieger v. Educational Credit Management Corporation (2013), ECMC opposed the discharge of a 53 year old woman's student-loan debt even though she was unemployed and had never made more than $12,000 a year during her entire working life.

President Obama Should Take Executive Action to Aid Elderly Student Loan Debtors

Ms. Roth, Ms. Stevenson and Ms. Krieger are not alone. According to a report prepared for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, about five percent of people who are behind on their student-loan payments are 60 years old or older. Undoubtedly, many of these people are living almost solely on their Social Security checks or are destitute.

Surely, elderly student-loan defaulters are entitled to some relief. Unfortunately, their Social Security checks are subject to garnishment, and some of them are running into opposition when they file for bankruptcy.

President Obama likes to get things done through executive orders.  So how about this for a plan? President Obama should direct all student-loan collection agencies not to oppose elderly people's efforts to discharge their student loans in bankruptcy.  And he should stop the garnishment of elderly people's Social Security checks for the purpose of collecting on student loans.

President Obama can talk all he wants about how he wants to ease the burden on people who borrow money to attend college. But there are things he can do--simple things--that would ease the burden on elderly student-loan defaulters. So why doesn't he take action?


John Hechinger. Taxpayers Fund $454,000 Pay for Collector Chasing Student Loans., May 15, 2013. Accessible at:

Brown, M., Haughwout, A., Lee, D., Mabutas, M., and van der Klaauw, W. (2012). Grading student loans. New York: Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Accessible at:

Krieger v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, 713 F.3d 882 (7th Cir. 2013).
Lockhart v. United States, 546 U.S. 142, 126 S. Ct. 699 (2005).

Roth v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, 490 B.R. 908 (9th Cir. BAP 2013).

Stevenson v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, 463 B.R. 586 (Bankr. D. Mass. 2011). 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Gore Vidal bequeathed his entire estate to Harvard University, but he died anyway.

Gore Vidal died in 2012, leaving his entire estate to Harvard University. I'm sure he received a nice thank-you note. Harvard knows how to charm the suckers.

I know. I once received a letter from Harvard confirming my appointment as a teaching assistant. I think it was signed by the Provost. It came on fine stationery and closed with the words, "Your most obedient servant."  Of course the job only paid $300 a month, less than my family's monthly health health insurance bill. But a  letter from some Harvard muckety muck signed "Your most obedient servant" meant more to me then than a living wage. I kept the letter for years.

According to the New York Times, Vidal died in his home at age 86, tormented by alcoholism, incontinence, and dementia. Apparently, no one in his life meant more to him than Harvard, which gets the royalties from Vidal's book sales plus his $37 million estate.

But why give the money to Harvard, which after all has loads of money. Perhaps Gore Vidal sought to buy immortality. As one of his friends said in the New York Times story, "Gore was clearly
Gore Vidal in 2009
Photo credit: Wikipedia
uncomfortable talking about a wold without Gore Vidal. Nothing above immortality and world domination would ever be enough for him."

But a $37 million bequest to Harvard won't buy immortality. And Neither will Vidal's 25 novels.  Even literary giants die and their reputations fade into obscurity. Remember Norman Mailer, super egotist and winner of two Pulitzer Prizes? How many people read Armies of the Night last year do you suppose?

We all creep toward death, most of us in obscurity. I have no money to give to Harvard and wouldn't give it if I had.  Harvard figured that out years ago and stopped sending me its glossy Harvard magazine. I will never be rich, never be famous, never be powerful.

But I am comforted at this time in my life by my wife and family--comforts Mr. Vidal apparently never had, although he had a long time companion he loved very much. I am grateful for my small home in a friendly Southern town, by the beauty of South Louisiana's swamps and bayous, and by the mild and temperate sun that shines most days throughout our Southern winters.

And I am comforted by my faith.  I feel sure a priest will give me last rites in my final hours. I know I will have a funeral Mass at Christ the King Church on the LSU campus; and I am confident that at least some of my grandchildren will attend.  And surely someone will write my name in the Book of Remembrance and will pray for my soul now and then.

And in my remaining years, God will strengthen me with the Mass, with Christ's body and blood. And when bitter memories and regrets sweep over me, I am reassured by God's forgiveness.

I am sorry  Gore Vidal did not have these comforts in his final years. It made me sad to learn that this famous and dazzlingly creative man felt compelled in the last year of his life to make the pathetic gesture of giving the fruits of his life's work to a soulless university he never attended.


Tim Teeman. A Final Plot Twist. New York Times, November 10, 2013, Style Section, p. 1.