Monday, June 27, 2022

Doxing Frederick Law Omsted, Designer of Central Park. Should We Pull Omsted's Statue Down?

Dox:  to publicly identify or publish private information about (someone) especially as a form of punishment or revenge.

Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) is famous for designing Central Park in New York City and is justly renowned as the founder of American landscape architecture. A National Park Service memorial site is maintained in his honor in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Many of his admirers, however, are unaware of Olmsted's published works on the antebellum South. In particular, Olmstead wrote A Journey Through Texas about his horseback tour through the Lone Star State in 1853 and 1854. Many scholars consider it the most definitive contemporary account of life in Texas before the Civil War.

Contemporary readers of Journey Through Texas might be offended by Olmsted's racial prejudices, which are expressed repeatedly throughout the book. Although he became a vocal opponent of slavery, the n-word appears repeatedly in his volume on Texas, and he was mighty hard on Native Americans and Mexicans.

This passage from his Texas travelogue summarizes Olmsted's feelings about indigenous people: "If my wife were in a frontier settlement," Olmsted confessed,  "I can conceive how I should hunt an Indian and shoot him down with all the eagerness and ten times the malice with which I should follow the panther." 

Olmsted had a few brief encounters with the Lipan Apache while he was in Texas and formed the view that Native Americans are"chaotic, malicious idiots and lunatics." 

Olmsted visited some Mexican border communities during his horseback ride through Texas, and his impressions of Mexican culture (and Mexican Catholicism) were no less unkind.

The impression had been of a fixed stagnancy, amounting to a slow national decay; the cause, a religious enslavement of the mind, preventing education, communication, and growth, giving rise to bigotry, hypocrisy, political and social tyranny, bad faith, priestly spoliation, and, worst of all, utter degradation of labor.

 Olmsted's modern-day admirers may find Olmstead's racial prejudices shocking. Should his statues be torn down? Should the National Park Service's national historic site be closed? Should his books be burned, Central Park bulldozed? In short, should Olmsted be doxed?

I don't think so, and I doubt anyone else does either. For some strange reason, American progressives are highly selective in doxing historical figures, focusing on Southern white men and leaving northern bigots alone.

Christopher Columbus Langdell, Dean of Harvard Law School in the late nineteenth century, refused to admit any student to the law school who graduated from a Catholic college (as documented in On the Battlefield of Merit, a history of Harvard Law School).  Yet Harvard has not taken Langdell's name off the law library.

Margaret Sanger, the founder of the birth control movement in the United States, was a eugenicist and a racist, but she is remembered only as a champion of women's rights.

Frederick Law Olmsted's statues are safe. He was a racist and a bigot, but contemporary progressives will never scrub his name from the history books.

I'm okay with that. I only wish our public intellectuals would apply this balanced understanding of selected historical figures to everyone who muddled along in benighted bigotry in the nineteenth century.

Should Olmsted's statues be torn down?

Friday, June 24, 2022

Biden cancels $6 billion in loans owed by student borrowers who attended more than 100 for-profit colleges

This week, the Biden administration agreed to cancel about $6 billion in student debt, granting relief to 200,000 college borrowers. 

The Department of Education reached a settlement agreement in a class-action lawsuit brought by student borrowers. A federal judge must approve the deal before it goes into effect.

DOE had already determined that more than one hundred for-profit schools had committed fraud or material misrepresentations to some of their students. Students who attended those schools and filed loan forgiveness applications will see their student loans wiped off the books. 

The proposed settlement agreement is especially significant because it involves so many for-profit schools. The rogue's list of defrauders includes the usual suspects: beauty schools, culinary schools, and art institutions.

But DOE's list also includes some prominent for-profit universities. The University of Phoenix, DeVry University, Capella University, and Grand Canyon University made the list.

In addition, DOE concluded that four for-profit law schools made misrepresentations to their students: Arizona Summit Law School, Charlotte School of Law, Florida Coastal Law School, and Western State University College of Law. And at least one medical school, Ross University School of Medicine, got tagged.

Added to the $25 billion student debt forgiven in earlier actions, President Biden's Department of Education has forgiven a total of $29 billion in college loans.

This latest development is just cause for celebration. More than one million students have now gotten some debt relief, which they richly deserve.

Nevertheless, when I look at the list of for-profit schools accused of making fraudulent misrepresentations, I can't help but wonder why the U.S. Department of Education keeps shoveling billions of dollars a year into dodgy for-profit colleges.

Round up the usual suspects.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Student Debtors Say Affordable College is More Important than Debt Forgiveness

 National Public Radio (NPR) recently ran a poll to determine what Americans think about student-loan forgiveness. More than half the respondents favor President Biden's plan to forgive $10,000 in student debt per borrower.  

Among people with outstanding student loans, 84 percent support Biden's debt relief plan, and 68 percent want Biden to forgive all student debt (as reported in Inside Higher Ed.)

That's not surprising. If the President offered to pay off my Visa card, I would certainly say yes. 

And here's the NPR poll's most interesting finding: Among college-loan debtors, 82 percent believe making college more affordable should be the feds' priority

The NPR poll results show that most Americans understand why the federal student-loan program is out of control. A college education costs too much. 

Giving student debtors $10,000 in student-loan relief will do nothing to solve the student-debt crisis, which worsens with each passing month. While politicians and pundits debate whether President Biden should forgive some of this massive debt, the colleges keep raising their tuition. 

The United States has too many colleges and too many frivolous degree programs. Too many universities offer over-priced, mediocre graduate degrees that don't lead to good jobs.  

Most universities are bloated with platoons of highly paid administrators who draw higher salaries than the professors. Several for-profit schools have been found guilty of fraud; almost all charge too much for degree programs that don't pay off financially.

It's easy to shower college-loan borrowers with helicopter money-- a one-time gift of $10,000 in loan forgiveness to every student debtor. Kinda like giving a couple of bucks to a panhandler--how hard is that?

It is much harder to grapple with the underlying reasons for the student loan crisis: corruption, mismanagement, and price-gouging at American universities.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Crocodile Tears: Congress Tinkers With Bankruptcy Code But Forgets Student Debtors

 President Biden signed the Bankruptcy Threshold Adjustment and Technical Corrections Act yesterday, and congressional leaders are patting themselves on the back. 

According to Senator Chuck Grassley, one of the Senate bill's sponsors, the new law will remove some hurdles to the bankruptcy process and "assist small businesses and working families to weather financial hardship and emerge stronger."

Senator John Cornyn, another sponsor, agreed. "For small businesses and families who fought their way through the pandemic and are now facing economic hardship, our complicated bankruptcy process can be another barrier to survival. I'm glad we could come together on this reprieve from burdensome [Bankruptcy Code] requirements . . . .

That's all bullshit. As the law's title says, this legislation does nothing more than make "some technical correction" to the Bankruptcy Code, and the law expires in two years.

If Congress is so interested in the welfare of working Americans, why doesn't it tackle the student-loan crisis--the $1.7 trillion elephant in the room?

Instead of tinkering with the Bankruptcy Code, why not remove the "undue hardship" language that prevents most distressed student borrowers from discharging their loans in bankruptcy?

If that task is too daunting, why not at least allow Parent Plus borrowers to discharge their student loans in the bankruptcy courts? Why not allow people who are overburdened by private student loans to shed that debt through the bankruptcy process?

President Biden hints that he will forgive student-loan debt to the tune of $10,000, an amount so small that the NAACP calls it a "slap in the face." 

Meanwhile, Congress pretends to care about the little guy, but it has done nothing substantive to address the student loan crisis, which grows bigger by the day. It hasn't even banned the Department of Education from garnishing the Social Security checks of elderly student-loan defaulters.

Our political leaders cry crocodile tears over the student debtor's plight, but they won't do anything significant to bring relief because the higher education industry likes the status quo.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Summer Reading Suggestions: Dip Into Apocalyptic Literature

 Summer is here, and everyone is looking for an enticing novel to read while on vacation. Most of us want a page-turner--something vacuous but exciting, a book we can read on the beach while sipping a tropical cocktail.

The summer of 2022 is different from the summers of the recent past. Inflation is rising, and most of us feel that we are only beginning to see substantial price increases in food and staples. Gas prices are at historic highs. It seems like everyone is unhappy, anxious, and fretful. What lies ahead?

So--why not read some apocalyptic literature to help us focus on what may well be America's future? Here are my suggestions:

First, I urge everyone to read James Howard Kunstler's World Made By Hand novels. Kunstler's books are set in upstate New York during the post-petroleum age. He describes a nation that has dropped back into the nineteenth century with people riding horses instead of driving cars and lighting their homes with candles rather than lightbulbs.

Before diving into Kunstler's novels, I suggest you read The Long Emergency, his best-known nonfiction work. In this book, Kunstler argues that the petroleum-based economy is ending and that so-called renewable energy (wind turbines, solar panels, and such) will not allow us to maintain our lavishly materialistic lifestyle.

The Long Emergency is very persuasive. Kunstler convinced me that our gasoline-driven world is not sustainable. I fear our future will be bleaker than progressive voices predict. We are more likely to be raising chickens than driving electric cars.

I also recommend reading some of John Wesley Rawls' apocalyptic novels.  Rawls' books imagine life in a world after the global economy collapses. Violence breaks out all across the United States, and an international, fascist military force stamps out democracy and individual freedoms.

What I like best about Rawls' books are the technical details. For example, he provides a recipe for making napalm out of styrofoam and describes how to harden a suburban home against a terrorist attack. His books even have glossaries.

Rawls is a prolific writer, and I recommend you begin by reading these four novels: PatriotsSurvivors, Expatriots, and Liberators. If you read all four of these books, I predict you will buy 2,000 rounds of .22 ammunition and a 10/22 Ruger rifle with a camouflage finish.

William Forstchen is another master of the apocalyptic genre. One Second After describes life in Black Mountain, North Carolina, after one of America's enemies set off nuclear bombs in the earth's upper atmosphere. These explosions trigger an electromagnetic pulse that shuts down all electronic devices--including vehicles and electrically powered machinery.

As food runs short, Forstchen's town officials begin rationing, and looters and arsonists are summarily shot. Large terroristic gangs sustain themselves by cannibalism, and the town organizes a militia made up primarily of college students that fights the terrorists in a bitter battle to the death.  

Finally, I recommend people to read Cormac McCarthy's dark and harrowing book, The Road.  McCarthy's apocalyptic environment is not drawn as sharply as those sketched out by Kunstler, Rawls, and Forstchen. Still, he describes a grey, ashen world in which the sun no longer shines and crops cannot grow--a perpetual nuclear winter. It is a harrowing book that ends with a bare flicker of hope.

Americans should read all four of these authors because they sketch out for us--to one degree or another--America's future. We should pay heed and prepare for it.

I, for one, went to the grocery store and bought four cans of Spam.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Why are Progressives Criticizing Biden's Student-Loan Forgiveness Plan?

 President Biden promised college borrowers $10,000 in student-loan forgiveness when he was on the campaign trail. He has yet to deliver on that promise.

Some progressives urge Biden to forgive more student debt. The NAACP said, "$10,000 is not enough, We're calling on our elected officials to cancel federal student loan debt with no means-testing." Senators Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Schumer want Biden to forgive $50,000  per person in student debt.

Surprisingly, some progressives criticize the very idea of blanket student-loan forgiveness.  The Washington Post, perhaps America's most progressive newspaper, published an editorial saying Biden's plan "is yet another taxpayer-funded subsidy for the middle class." The Brookings Institution, a left-of-center think tank, stated bluntly, "One-off, across-the-board forgiveness is capricious and unfair."

USA Today, another progressive newspaper, expressed concern that Biden's student-loan forgiveness plan is complicated by "soaring inflation." And CNN, which is generally supportive of Biden's policy agenda, recently reported that Biden's student-debt cancelation plan "might not be such a great idea."

Why are influential progressive organizations backing away from President Biden's plan to give $10,000 in debt forgiveness to the vast majority of student borrowers?

I think there are two reasons:

First, $10,000 in student-debt forgiveness is a pittance when the average student borrower leaves college with three times that amount of debt, and several million college graduates have debt exceeding $100,000. 

As NAACP President Derrick Johnson put it, canceling $10,000 in student debt would be "like pouring a bucket of ice water on a forest fire. In other words, it won't do anything, especially for the Black community." Johnson called Biden's plan "a slap in the face."

Secondly, I think there is growing concern that the federal student loan program has run amok and that the Department of Education is concealing the true default rate. The feds have already allowed student borrowers to skip their monthly loan payments for two and a half years at great expense to taxpayers. Granting blanket student-debt forgiveness might plunge the program even further into insolvency.

It is disappointing that congressional critics of Biden's debt forgiveness proposal have offered no alternatives other than even more extravagant debt forgiveness.

In my view, our nation won't begin to get the federal student loan program under control until Congress enacts these three reforms:

  • The federal government should bar the venal for-profit college industry from participating in the student-loan program.
  • The Parent Plus program, which has brought so much suffering to minority and low-income families, should be abolished.
  • Distressed student borrowers should have reasonable access to the bankruptcy courts.
If enacted, these reforms won't solve the student-loan crisis overnight, but they will help keep it from worsening. 

But universities must do their part by lowering the cost of going to college. Unfortunately, the universities are doing the opposite-- raising their tuition rates and forcing students to borrow more and more money to get a college education.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Parent-Plus Loans Are a National Scandal

President Biden is flirting with a massive student-loan forgiveness plan--$10,000 in debt relief for 97 percent of all college borrowers.

The Washington Post, perhaps America's most progressive newspaper, urges him not to pull the trigger. 

"Biden could ease the burden on the genuinely disadvantaged in a number of more targeted ways," the WP editorial board advised, "and avoid setting a precedent for broad forgiveness of loans that future presidents will be pressured to match."

I think Biden will honor his campaign promise and forgive $10,000 in student debt for millions of borrowers. Is that a good idea?

I don't think so. As the WP pointed out, this plan would cost almost a quarter of a trillion dollars, and 71 percent of the benefits would go to the top half of the income scale.

Instead, why doesn't the Biden administration focus on debt relief for the most overburdened student debtors and their parents? 

According to the Century Foundation, which recently published a report on the Parent Plus program, 3.7 million parents collectively owe $104 billion--money that parents borrowed to help pay their children's college expenses. 

This is what the Century Foundation found:

  • The median Parent Plus debt is $29,600.
  • Thousands of retired or disabled parents have had their Social Security benefits reduced because they defaulted on their Parent Plus loans.
  • Black and Hispanic parents take out proportionately more Parent Plus loans than White parents.
  • The use of Parent Plus use is greatest at HBCUs, where most students are African American.
  • At 59 HBCUs, no more than ten percent of Parent Plus borrowers made significant progress in paying off their loans after ten years.
  • And here is a shocking statistic: "At some large for-profit colleges, Parent Plus makes up the majority of all financial aid received by undergraduates."
If progressive political leaders want to do something significant to address the hardships created by the federal student loan program, they should do these three things:

1) Stop withholding Social Security benefits to elderly and disabled student borrowers and Parent Plus borrowers, something Senator Elizabeth Warren proposed several years ago.

2) Eliminate the "undue hardship" rule in the Bankruptcy Code and allow distressed student and parent borrowers to discharge their student-loan debt in bankruptcy like any other nonsecured debt.

2) Abolish the Parent Plus Program altogether.

It is unclear whether Biden's $10,000 debt-relief proposal will benefit Parent Plus borrowers. I hope so.

Nevertheless, even if parents are included in Biden's proposal, $10,000 in debt forgiveness won' be enough to alleviate their suffering. What distressed Parent Plus borrowers really need is bankruptcy relief. 

Unfortunately, bankruptcy relief is not in the political cards.

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Biden Administration Flirts With Sweeping Student-Loan Forgiveness While Dept of Education Treats All Student Debtors Like Deadbeats: I Don't Get It

Earlier this week, the Department of Education wiped away all student debt owed by more than a million former students who attended one of the Corinthian Colleges campuses. The cost? About $5.8 billion.

Since his administration began, President Biden has approved $25 billion in loan forgiveness for 1.3 million student borrowers. That's a lot of student debt relief.

Nevertheless, more than 40 million Americans are still on the hook for a total of $1.7 trillion in student loans. Many of these folks want President Biden to forgive all of this debt

Biden has proposed debt relief of $10,000 per borrower. Progressive Democratic leaders want $50,000 of student-debt relief for all student debtors (with some sort of income cap). Various advocacy groups urge Biden to forgive all student debt, which burdens minority students and women disproportionately.

These proposals presume that every student debtor took out college loans in good faith. No one wants to offer loan relief on a case-by-case basis based on merit or attempt to identify students who may have committed fraud in handling their student loans.

In other words, all debt relief schemes now under discussion take it as a given that everyone--all 45 million borrowers--is honest and entitled to some debt relief. 

I applaud this approach. Only a tiny percentage of student borrowers took out loans to defraud the government. Almost all of them went into debt to get an education they hoped would improve their lives. And many student borrowers weren't able to obtain a job after graduation that paid enough to justify their educational expenses.

So--I am puzzled. Since President Biden and congressional leaders advocate for massive student debt relief without examining each debtor's individual circumstances, why does the  U.S. Department of Education continue harassing distressed college borrowers in the bankruptcy courts?

Let's look at a bankruptcy court decision issued less than three months ago: Everson v. U.S. Department of Education. In that case, Kimberlee Everson took out student loans to get an associate's degree in medical assisting from Bryant Stratton College, a for-profit institution.

She obtained her degree and went to work as a medical assistant for various employers at an hourly rate of between $12.50 to $23 an hour. By the time she appeared in bankruptcy court, her student debt had grown to $45,000--including accrued interest.

Judge Caryl Dilano, a Florida bankruptcy judge, reviewed Ms. Everson's financial status in painstaking detail and refused to discharge her debt. Judge Dilano pointed out that Ms. Everson went out to eat occasionally, had a gym membership, and sometimes made purchases at a liquor store. 

He also heard evidence from the Department of Education that Ms. Everson was eligible for a long-term, income-based repayment plan that would only require her to pay $48 a month on her $45,000 debt.

In Judge Dilano's opinion, Ms. Everson met two prongs of the three-prong Brunner test.  First, it would be an undue hardship for her to pay off her student loans. Second, her precarious financial circumstances were not likely to improve due to factors beyond her control.

Nevertheless, the judge refused to grant Ms. Everson a discharge because she failed the Brunner test's third prong--the good-faith test. He believed Everson had not handled her student loans in good faith. Notably, Judge Dilano pointed out that she had made only minimal payments on her loans over seven years.

The Department of Education has forgiven $25 billion in student debt owed by more than a million people without subjecting any of these debtors to the onerous Brunner test.

How many millions have gym memberships? How many go out to eat occasionally? How many patronize liquor stores?

I don't get it.

If a million and a half people are getting student-debt relief without regard to their payment history or their lifestyles, why is Judge Dilano devoting judicial resources to determining whether Kimberlee Everson dined out too often?


Everson v. U.S. Department of Education, Case No. 2:20-bk-03062-FMDAdv. Pro. No. 2:20-ap-267-FMD, 2022 WL909570 (M.D. Fla. March 29, 2022).

Senators Warren & Schumer