Showing posts with label old and in the way. Show all posts
Showing posts with label old and in the way. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Nihilistic old white guys who commit murder: We will see more Stephen Paddocks

Old and in the way, that's what I heard them say
They used to heed the words he said, but that was yesterday
Gold will turn to gray and youth will fade away
They'll never care about you, call you old and in the way.

Old and In the Way
lyrics by David Grisman
Sung by the Grateful Dead

Americans are accustomed to serial killers. According to the New York Times, mass shootings have occurred in the United States at the rate of more than one a day over the last 477 days.

We can sort these killers into discrete categories. Some are religious extremists--the Boston Marathon bombers, the Orlando shooter, the San Bernardino murderers. Some are disaffected young men: the killers at Columbine, Sandy Hook, and the Charleston, SC church.

And there is at least one more category: disaffected, older white men. Stephen Paddock,an affluent  64-year-old man, who killed or wounded more than 500 people in Las Vegas a few days ago, is the latest old white guy to commit (or at least attempt to commit) mass murder. Before Paddock, there was James Hodgkinson, a 66-year-old geezer from Illinois who shot a group of Republican congressmen while they were practicing for a charity baseball game. And don't forget John Russell Houser.  Houser, a 59-year-old loner, opened fire in a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana, killing two people and injuring nine others before shooting himself.

What did these men have in common? All were older white men, all attacked complete strangers, and all committed suicide (or allowed themselves to be killed by the police). And I think it is fair to say that these three men had lost all sense of purpose as they entered old age.

Let's face it. Growing old is no fun.  As we grow older, we realize we did not achieve all our dreams and that our time on earth is drawing to a close. We feel our strength and vigor ebb away as we hunker down for the last stage of life.  Our regrets and mistakes loom larger and larger in our minds while our meager triumphs and happy times grow dim in our memories.

And as death approaches, we find we are not afraid. At times we almost long for death. This movie lasted too long; we want to see "The End" appear on our movie screens. And we don't give a damn who shows up at our funerals.

In a healthy culture, old people derive meaning and purpose from their families--especially their grandchildren. If they are fortunate, they are respected for their wisdom and are sought out for wise counsel.  Some of us belong to civic organizations or take comfort from religious faith.

But in postmodern America, a lot of old white guys don't have any of that. They lost the families they started when they were young. Their jobs, which were obsessions when they were in their twenties and thirties, now seem tedious. They've lost all interest in religion and find religious people excruciatinglyboring.

And some of these old guys become nihilists; and some of them have guns.

I wish I believed the Stephen Paddocks of this world are the rarest of aberrations, that we will not see the likes of him again in our lifetime.

But I know differently. Our culture does not honor the old; it offers no solace to the elderly. The indignity of our approaching death reveals itself, the meaninglessness of existence becomes apparent; and some old men express their disappointment through murder.

Stephen Paddock, mass murderer


477 Days. 521 Mass Shootings. Zero Action From CongressNew York Times, October 3, 2017.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Older Americans are burdened by their children's student loans

Gold will turn to gray and youth will fade away
They'll never care about you, call you old and in the way

Old And In The Way
David Grisman
Recorded by the Grateful Dead

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a useful report a few days ago on student-loan indebtedness and older Americans.  Here are some of the CFPB's key findings:
  • "The number of consumers age 60 and older with outstanding student loan debt quadrupled from 2005 to 2015, increasing from about 700,000 to 2.8 million."
  • During this ten-year period, the share of older student loan borrowers more than doubled, rising from 2.7 percent to 6.4 percent of all student-loan debtors.
  • The average amount older Americans owe on student loans roughly doubled in ten years from $12,100 to $23,500.
  • Among federal student loan borrowers who are 65 years old or older, nearly 40 percent are in default.
  • In 2015, the total amount that older Americans owed for student loans was $66.7 billion.
All this is very interesting, but here is the CFPB's most disturbing finding: Almost three quarters of older Americans with student-loan debt (73 percent) reported that their loans were "for a child's and/or grandchild's education."

How did so many older Americans become burdened by loans taken out for their children or grandchildren? Two reasons: either they took out a federal Parent PLUS loan for a child's education or they co-signed a private student loan.

Currently, private banks hold about $102 billion in student loans. Except in rare circumstances, the banks will not issue private student loans unless a co-signer agrees to be responsible for the debt. In most cases, the co-signer on a private loan is a parent or grandparent. And, as the CFPB pointed out, more than half of all co-signers are 55 years or older.

This is a serious problem because a lot of older borrowers who are burdened by their children's or their grandchildren's education costs face serious financial challenges of their own. A great many are having trouble meeting their own health care costs or saving for their retirement. 

And here is the great tragedy behind the CFPB's report. Elderly people who co-sign a student loan for a child or grandchild cannot discharge that debt in bankruptcy unless they can meet the "undue hardship" test articulated by the bankruptcy courts. And that is a very hard test to meet.

And this is true whether an elderly person's debt arises from a federal student loan or a private student loan.  In fact, Congress revised the Bankruptcy Code in 2005 (under the leadership of Senator Joe Biden) to put private student loans under the same undue hardship standard that applies to federal loans.

This is unjust, and many commentators have argued that private student loans should be dischargeable in bankruptcy like any other unsecured debt. But Congress has not repaired its mistake by repealing that pernicious 2005 revision in the Bankruptcy Code.

A lot of liberal U.S. Senators and Congresspeople bleat in compassionate tones about the plight of distressed student-loan borrowers. But what have they done to bring tangible relief to millions of people--including elderly people--who are suffering under the weight of overwhelming debt?

Perhaps our national legislators will read the CFPB report and realize that elderly people who become overburdened by debt they incurred to educate their children or grandchildren should be able to discharge that debt in bankruptcy if they become insolvent without having to meet the Bankruptcy Code's undue hardship restriction.

But that will never happen. To paraphrase an old Grateful Dead song, Congress treats older Americans like they're just old and in the way.


Ron Lieber. The Big Pause You Should Take Before Co-Signing a Student LoanNew York Times, August 12, 2016.

Sirota, David. Joe Biden Backed Bills to Make It Harder For Americans To Reduce Their Student DebtInternational Business Times, September 15  , 2015. Accessible: