Showing posts with label James Howard Kunstler. Show all posts
Showing posts with label James Howard Kunstler. Show all posts

Monday, November 20, 2017

Law schools give most financial aid to students who need it least: Legal education is "rolling downhill like a snowball headed for hell"

To borrow a phrase from James Howard Kunstler, American law schools are going through their own private version of "The Long Emergency." Law school applications are down, enrollments are down, and the job market for attorneys continues to be terrible.

Meanwhile, tuition prices at American law schools keep going up, which means most law-school graduates begin their careers with mountains of debt. A 2015 report  by the American Bar Association found that average debt for people attending private law schools was $127,000. But average debt loads at for-profit schools is often higher than that. The average debt load for students who attended the now defunct Charleston School of Law was reportedly $200,000.

With fewer people attending law school and fewer people actually enrolling, law schools have done two things to keep their enrollments up:

First, the second- and third-tier law schools began lowering admission standards, which means more and more of their graduates are failing the bar exams.

According to Law School Transparency, some schools have admission requirements so low that half their students are at "extreme risk" of failing the bar.

Second, law schools have been investing more and more money on financial aid, hoping to lure students through their doors.

Unfortunately, most of this financial aid is going to students who have relatively high LSAT scores and who are most likely to have successful careers. Law schools are increasingly happy to admit students with low LSAT scores, but the schools are not supporting these students with adequate financial aid..

"The net effect," writes retired law professor William C Whitford, "is that lower-LSAT students are subsidizing the legal education of higher-LSAT students, when the latter are more likely to have the postgraduate income that will allow them to repay substantial student indebtedness without undue hardship."

Moreover, the law students with low LSAT scores and overall poorer credentials are likely to be less affluent than law-school applicants with high LSAT scores. As Brian Tamanaha put it in a recent book on law school admission practices, "Law schools have in effect constructed a reverse Robin Hood arrangement, redistributing resources between students making the (likely) poorer future graduates help pick up the tab for the (likely) wealthier future graduates" (as quoted by Whitford).

In short, the middle-tier and bottom-tier law schools have concocted a witches' brew of declining admission standards, inequitable financial aid policies, and high tuition costs, which is forcing the least qualified law students to take out loans that they can never pay back.

Paul Campos summarized this state of affairs in his 2012 book Don't Go To Law School (Unless). Job prospects are so poor for graduates of bottom-rung law schools, Campos warned, that some students would be better off financially if they dropped out after the first year rather than continue with their studies.

All of this is eroding the quality of American lawyers. As bar pass rates go down, the pressure is on state bar associations to lower the pass rate on state bar exams. So far, California has resisted this trend in spite of low pass rates on the California bar exam. At least two states, however--Oregon and Nevada--have caved in to pressure and lowered the pass rate on their state bar exams.

The American Bar Association bears most of the blame for this slow rolling catastrophe. It needs to close the bottom-tier law schools--both public and private. In my view, at least 20 law schools should be shut down.

Apparently the ABA doesn't have the courage to do what needs to be done to preserve the integrity of the legal profession, which, in the words of the immortal Merle Haggard, is "rolling downhill like a snowball headed for hell."  As a result, the long-term health of our democracy is being threatened by a chain of forces driven primarily be greed and cowardice.

Merle Haggard:  "Are we rolling downhill like a snowball headed for hell?"


References

Natalie Bruzda. Nevada lowers the bar for state legal exam as passage rate skids. Las Vegas Review Journal, August 2017.

Paul Campos. Don't Go to Law School (Unless) (2013).

Cathryn Rubino. Oregon Finds Out Easiest Way To Improve Bar Exam Passage Rate is To Lower Its Cut Score. Above the Law (blog), October 5, 2017.

Brian Tamanaha. Failing Law Schools (2012).

Task Force of Financing Legal Education. American Bar Association Report (2015).

William C.Whitford. Law School-Administered Financial Aid: The Good News and the Bad NewsJournal of Legal Education, 67(1) (Autumn 2017).

Friday, October 6, 2017

Why won't Congress do a few things to ease the student debt crisis like stop the government from garnishing Social Security checks of elderly student-loan defaulters?

James Howard Kunstler posted a blog last week in which he challenged Congressional Democrats to introduce legislation to counteract the effect of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010). In that case, you may recall, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations can give as much money as they like to political campaigns. 

All sensible people agree that Citizens United triggered a new level of corruption in national politics as corporations pump millions of dollars into Congressional campaign coffers in order to protect their venal interests.

President Obama complained publicly about Citizens United while he was in office.  But he didn't do anything about it, even though he could have ameliorated its effect through legislation when the Democrats controlled the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Democrats can still put a Citizens United override on their legislative agenda as Kunstler challenged them to do:
That’s your assignment Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, and the rest of the Democratic Party leadership. Get serious. Show a little initiative. Do something useful. Draw up some legislation. Get behind something real that might make a difference in this decrepitating country. Or get out of the way and let a new party do the job.
And of course there are plenty of other things the Democrats can do to promote fairness and justice in our society. As Gretchen Morgenson pointed out in a New York Times article last year, hedge fund managers get a special tax break allowing them to pay lower taxes on their income than most Americans.  That's right: a hedge fund manager is taxed at a lower rate than a New York school teacher.  President Obama could have closed that loophole in the tax law by executive action, but he didn't.

And then there's corporal punishment in the schools. Researchers are unanimous that beating children with boards is not good for them, and the United Nations has identified corporal punishment as a human rights abuse.

In the waning days of the Obama administration, Secretary of Education John King, Jr. condemned corporal punishment in an open letter to the nation's school leaders. But why didn't King speak up sooner? Corporal punishment in schools is a wrong that Obama's Department of Education could have stopped with an administrative regulation. Why didn't it? 

And then there's the student-loan program, which has brought suffering to millions.  According to the Government Accountability Office, the Department of Education garnished the Social Security checks of 173,000  student-loan defaulters in 2015, a practice that Senator Elizabeth Warren bitterly condemned. The amount the government collects each year is a pittance--about one eighth the amount Hillary Clinton spent during the 2016 election season. And most of the money the Feds collect goes to paying interest and penalties without reducing the debtors' loan balances at all.

Senator Warren and Claire McCaskill filed a bill to stop the garnishment of student debtors' Social Security checks, but the measure never made it out of committee. Why won't Senator Schumer and Representative Pelosi get behind that bill? Who could decently oppose it?

In fact, there are numerous noncontroversial things our Congressional representatives could do to ease widespread suffering among the nation's poorest Americans. But  our Congressional representatives are not doing these things. 

Why? Two reasons.

 First, they don't want to do noncontroversial good things because that would mean sharing the credit with their political enemies.

And second, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, John McCain, Mitch McConnell and all our other bozo representatives don't work for us. They work for the lobbyists, their campaign contributors, and the global financial institutions; and that keeps them pretty busy.




References

Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. Letter to Governors and State School Officers, November 22, 2016.

James Howard Kunstler. Homework AssignmentClusterfuck Nation, September 29, 2017.

Gretchen Morgenson. Ending Tax Break for Ultrawealthy May Not Take Act of CongressNew York Times, May 6, 2016.


Senator Elizabeth Warren Press Release, December 20, 2016. McCaskill-Warren GAO Report Shows Shocking Increase in Student Loan Debt Among Seniors

United States Government Accountability Office. Social Security Offsets: Improvement to Program Design Could Better Assist Older Student Borrowers with Obtaining Permitted Relief. Washington DC: Author, December 2016).

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Why don't Antifa thugs turn their rage against over-priced colleges? Because they're idiots!

American college campuses are now infected with a new virus: Antifa--short for anti-fascist. What is Antifa? Basically, it is a loosely organized movement of young people who call themselves anti-fascists but engage in fascist tactics to disrupt any  expression that is not politically correct.

Not all Antifa thugs are college students, but who can tell? Antifa adherents have a penchant for wearing black masks and black clothing that make them difficult to identify. Without a doubt, however, Antifa has a presence at a lot of American universities where they have rioted to keep conservatives from speaking on campus. And Antifa showed up in Charlottesville, Virginia, home of the University of Virginia, to clash with white supremacists over a Civil War statue.

Clearly, Antifa followers are idiots. Instead of harassing Ann Coulter or defacing Confederate statues, why don't they attack real repression, by which I mean the overpriced colleges and universities that harbor these lunatic anarchists?

After all, it's American colleges, not dead Confederate generals, that are oppressing American young people. Collectively, more than 40 million people now owe $1.4 trillion in student loans, and about 20 million of them will never pay back what they owe.

James Howard Kunstler had it right when he wrote recently that "if the campus Left had any tactical brains, they’d stop marching around in black uniforms and instead organize a mass renunciation of college loan debt."

And of course, college administrators love the Antifa movement. They like it when the little kiddies obsess on Robert E. Lee and Ann Coulter and not their student loans.
How many of these idiots have student loans?

References

Lisa Baumann and Sarah Rankin, What is 'antifa?' Virginia clashes bring attention to anti-fascist movement. Chicago Tribune, August 16, 2017.

Debra Heine, Ann Coulter cancels Berkeley speech amid antifa threats, PJ Media, April 26, 2017.

James Howard Kunstler, When the Butterfly Flaps Its Wings. Clusterfuck Nation, August 28, 2017.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Opioid Epidemic and The Student Loan Crisis: Is there a link?

James Howard Kunstler wrote one of his best essays recently about America's opioid epidemic, and he began with this observation:
 While the news waves groan with stories about "America's Opioid Epidemic," you may discern that there is little effort to actually understand what's behind it, namely the fact that life in the United States has become unspeakably depressing, empty, and purposeless for a large class of citizens.
Kunstler went on to describe life in small towns and rural America: the empty store fronts, abandoned houses, neglected fields, and "the parasitical national chain stores like tumors at the edge of every town."

Kunstler also commented on people's physical appearance in backwater America: "prematurely old, fattened and sickened by bad food made to look and taste irresistible to con those sick in despair." And he described how many people living in the forgotten America spend their time: "trash television, addictive computer games, and their own family melodramas concocted to give some narrative meaning to lives otherwise bereft of event or effort."

There are no jobs in flyover America. No wonder opioid addiction has become epidemic in the old American heartland. No wonder death rates are going up for working-class white Americans--spiked by suicide, alcohol and drug addiction.

I myself come from the desperate heartland Kunstler described. Anadarko, Oklahoma, county seat of Caddo County, made the news awhile back due to four youth suicides in quick succession--all accomplished with guns. Caddo County, shaped liked the state of Utah, can easily be spotted on the New York Times map showing where drug deaths are highest in the United States. Appalachia, eastern Oklahoma, the upper Rio Grande Valley, and yes--Caddo County have the nation's highest death rates caused by drugs.

Why? Kunstler puts his finger on it: "These are the people who have suffered their economic and social roles in life to be stolen from them. They do not work at things that matter.They have no prospect for a better life . . . ."

Now here is the point I wish to make. These Americans, who now live in despair, once hoped for a better life. There was a spark of buoyancy and optimism in these people when they were young. They believed then--and were incessantly encouraged to believe--that education would improve their economic situation. If they just obtained a degree from an overpriced, dodgy for-profit college or a technical certificate from a mediocre trade school, or maybe a bachelor's degree from the obscure liberal arts college down the road--they would spring into the middle class.

Postsecondary education, these pathetic fools believed, would deliver them into ranch-style homes, perhaps with a swimming pool in the backyard; into better automobiles, into intact and healthy families that would put their children into good schools.

And so these suckers took out student loans to pay for bogus educational experiences, often not knowing the interest rate on the money they borrowed or the payment terms. Without realizing it, they signed covenants not to sue--covenants written in type so small and expressed in language so obscure they did not realize they were signing away their right to sue for fraud even as they were being defrauded.

And a great many people who embarked on these quixotic educational adventures did not finish the educational programs they started, or they finished them and found the degrees or certificates they acquired did not lead to good jobs. So they stopped paying on their loans and were put into default.

And then the loan collectors arrived--reptilian agencies like Educational Credit Management Corporation or Navient Solutions.  The debt collectors add interest and penalties to the amount the poor saps borrowed, and all of a sudden, they owe twice what they borrowed, or maybe three times what they borrowed. Or maybe even four times what they borrowed.

Does this scenario--repeated millions of time across America over the last 25 years--drive people to despair? Does it drive them to drug addiction, to alcoholism, to suicide?

Of course not.

And even if it does, who the hell cares?


Drug Deaths in 2014


References


James Howard Kunstler. The National Blues. Clusterfuck Nation, April 28, 2017.

Sarah Kaplan.'It has brought us to our knees': Small Okla. town reeling from suicide epidemicWashington Post, January 25, 2016.

Natalie Kitroeff. Loan Monitor is Accused of Ruthless Tactics on Student Debt. New York Times, January 1, 2014

Gina Kolata and Sarah Cohen. Drug Overdoses Propel Rise in Mortality Rates of Young Whites. New York Times, January 16, 2016.

Robert Shireman and Tariq Habash. Have Student Loan Guaranty Agencies Lost Their Way? The Century Foundation, September 29, 2016. 

Haeyoun Park and Matthew Bloch. How the Epidemic of Drug Overdose Deaths Ripples Across AmericaNew York Times, January 19, 2017.






Saturday, April 1, 2017

Higher Education as a criminal enterprise: The U.S. Department of Education (or its agents) is trying to collect on a student loan debt 37 years old!

In Clusterfuck Nation, James Howard Kunstler has argued that many sectors of our economy have descended into criminal enterprises: banking, medicine and higher education in particular. And by God, he has convinced me.

Kunstler concluded his latest essay with these words: "It is getting to the point where we have to ask ourselves if we are even capable of being a serious people anymore." I am beginning to think the answer is no.

A few days ago a retired man in California contacted me through my blog site and asked for help with a student-loan problem. As I understand it, he took out a small student loan back in the 1970s and allowed it to go into default.

In 1980, the federal government or one of its agents obtained a default judgment against the guy, and he paid the judgment in full sometime thereafter.

Now, 37 years later, a government debt collector is trying to collect on the loan. You may think the debt is uncollectable.  All states have statutes of limitations for lawsuits to collect a debt. Generally, the statute of limitations on a promissory note is six years. So the guy has nothing to worry about, right?

Wrong. Congress passed the Higher Education Technical Amendments of 1991, which abolished all statutes of limitations on student loans, and some courts have ruled that the law applies retroactively. Thus, even if the statute of limitations on my correspondent's debt expired before the federal law was passed in 1991 (and I think it did), the government can still collect on it--at least according to some courts' interpretation.

Now that is fundamentally wrong and violates an ancient principle of equity known as laches. As explained in Black's Law Dictionary, "The doctrine of laches is based on the maxim that "equity aids the vigilant and not those who slumber on their rights." Thus, as a matter of fundamental fairness, claimants must pursue their remedies within a reasonable time. After all, it is unfair to start collection activities on a debt long after most reasonable people would have discarded documents that would prove the debt had been paid.

In fact, I'm sure millions of student debtors who paid of their students loans do not now have documents to prove their loans were paid.  In fact, in a lawsuit decided a few years ago, a woman obtained a court order finding she had paid off her student loans, and Educational Credit Management Corporation continued its collection efforts against her in spite of that fact.

As I write this, the U.S. Department of Education's debt collectors are pursuing desperate student-loan borrowers into the bankruptcy courts and arguing to federal judges that these hapless debtors should be put in 25-year repayment plans. These people are as heartless as the mob characters in the movie Godfather II.

So yes, higher education has become a criminal enterprise, and the Department of Education is basically a racketeer, which Congress and the courts show no inclination toward trying to control.   As Mr. Kunstler put it, "It is getting to the point where we have to ask ourselves if we are even capable of being a serious people anymore."

There may be an argument that the Higher Education Technical Amendments of 1991 is unconstitutional when applied against people long after they can reasonably defend themselves. Perhaps some starving law graduate, also burdened by student loans, could do some research on the constitutionality of this pernicious law.

It's not personal. It's only business.


References

Hann v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, 711 F.3d 235 (1st Cir. 2013).

James Howard Kunstler. Racket of Rackets. Clusterfuck Nation, March 31, 2017.

United States v. Hodges, 999 F.2d 341 (8th Cir. 1993).