Showing posts with label Anadarko. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Anadarko. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Why does Oklahoma have 8630 licensed marijuana growers and only 471 dairy farms?

 When I was in college, it was a felony to possess marijuana in any amount. If the cops caught you with it, you could go to the state penitentiary for a very long time.

When I was a child, Oklahoma prohibited the sale of hard liquor. Okies could drink 3.2 percent beer (usually Coors), but they couldn't buy a bottle of whiskey or order an Old Fashioned in an Oklahoma restaurant.

When I was growing up, there was no legal gambling in Oklahoma: no lottery, no casinos, no slot machines, and no video poker. 

My, how times have changed!

Medical marijuana has been legalized, and you can buy it in special dispensaries all over the state. The dispensary in my hometown of Anadarko is on Main Street.

Indeed, Oklahoma now has 8,630 licensed marijuana growers--18 times the number of dairy farms. The state lists them on a website, and ten growers give their addresses as Anadarko.

Once considered a grave sin in the Sooner State, gambling is now legal. The Native American tribes have casinos all over Oklahoma. One does business just two miles outside my hometown.

If you want to drink while you gamble (and who doesn't?), you don't have to find a bootlegger anymore. You can order a cocktail at the casino bar.

Ain't life grand? 

Even better, hardly anyone goes to church now. When I was a child, I got up on Sunday mornings, shined my shoes, put on my clip-on bow tie, and trotted off to Sunday School. 

My teachers kept track of attendance, and if I had a perfect attendance record for one year, I received a lovely ceramic pin for the lapel of my little sports coat.

Everyone went to church in those days, and adults dressed up for the occasion. Most men owned one suit, which was reserved for weddings, funerals, and church.

Of course, a few people still attend church on Sundays in my hometown--primarily old people. But the church parking lots are no longer full.

Anyway, what do the pastors preach about now?  Don't drink? Don't gamble? Don't do drugs? Oklahoma's politicians tell us all that stuff's OK.

When I was a child, some evangelical ministers preached that going to the movies was a sin (and they may have been right!).  But there are no movie theatres in my hometown anymore, so why bring up the subject?

I wish I could say Oklahomans are happier now that they can drink, gamble, and smoke marijuana. But I don't think they are.

Feel like praying? Go to the Prayer Teepee.

Monday, January 17, 2022

"A nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground": I return to Anadarko

 I grew up in Anadarko, a small town settled near the banks of the Washita River in southwestern Oklahoma's Caddo County.

Anadarko was a thriving community when I was a child. Family shops lined Broadway, the town's main street. Farmers and their families came to town on Saturdays to do their weekly shopping, and elderly Plains Indians gathered on the sidewalks, talking to one another in Kiowa and Comanche.

Our town boasted a fine Victorian courthouse, as elegant as any county courthouse in Texas. The town square had a bandstand and a statue honoring the Caddo County boys who died in the Great World War.

And what a statue! A life-size bronze figure of a doughboy stood on a granite pedestal, where the names of all the dead were listed. The soldier wore a campaign hat and a uniform with puttees. In one hand, he held the staff an American flag. In the other, he clutched the barrel of his Springfield rifle. 

Facing the courthouse square stood the First Methodist Church, erected in 1917 in the Greek Revival Style. A Tudor-style Presbyterian church and the First Baptist Church also faced the square. All these churches were full when I was a child.

I returned to Anadarko a few days ago, and the town of my boyhood is gone. The county bureaucrats tore down the Victorian courthouse in the 1950s and replaced it with a concrete structure built in the mid-century modern style--which, of course, is no style at all.

The Presbyterian church still stands but is closed-- not enough Presbyterians to pay the light bill. The Methodist church can't afford its own preacher anymore and shares a minister with a nearby town. The Baptist church stands abandoned, although a new church was erected at the edge of town.

The bandstand is gone, and so is the bronze doughboy. All the local businesses are closed, wiped out by Walmart, which sells everything a rural Oklahoman could ever need.

Anadarko’s losses are sad, but the new town is sadder still.

I drove by the home my father built with his own hands in 1953. It is empty now and looked abandoned, just one of a few hundred abandoned houses in the town.

Anadarko had two movie houses when I was a kid, as well as a drive-in movie theater. They are all gone—killed off by television.

Of course, there are new things for the townspeople to do. The Plains Tribes are now in the gambling business, and the citizens of Anadarko can gamble with the Kiowa, the Comanche, the Fort Sill Apache, or the Wichita. Most casinos are open until 2 AM if they can’t sleep and want to play the slots.

When I was a kid, a person could be sent to state prison for possessing a single marijuana joint. But times have changed. 

Now there’s a medical marijuana dispensary on Anadarko's Main Street. Of course, you have to have a medical prescription, but I don’t imagine it is difficult to find an accommodating doctor.

And my hometown's marijuana might have been grown locally. Oklahoma has hundreds of licensed marijuana-growing sites, and ten are near Anadarko.

Perhaps these marijuana greenhouses brought new jobs to Anadarko, which would be good. But no, growers bring in workers from outside.  Someone told me that some of the guys who grow marijuana in Caddo County are Chinese.

But at least the landscape of my childhood is still lovely—the stunning Oklahoma sunsets, the red-dirt hills, and the timeless vistas of the Great Plains.

But again, no. Corporate America has built hundreds of wind turbines in Caddo County—scarring the landscape I once believed could never be changed. 

Anadarko—abandoned homes, closed businesses, a marijuana dispensary, and nearby gambling dens. No wonder many of the people I saw looked clinically depressed. The town has a high suicide rate—primarily young people.

As I stood in the courthouse square, I saw an empty lot where someone had painted a mural on the side of a building—a mural that proclaimed this cryptic message: 

A nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground.

I do not know if the hearts of Anadarko’s women are on the ground. But if they are not, the town has some goddamned strong women.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Living the good life with Fielden Poolaw: The Merchants Club, two quarts of Coors, and a teen hop

Several teenagers in my hometown struggled with alcohol when I was growing up, but I only knew one: Fielden Poolaw, a classmate of mine at Anadarko High School. 

Fielden was a Kiowa with a copper complexion and elongated earlobes that looked like someone had stretched them. He wore his hair short and went around in a rumpled, grey trench coat, which he rarely took off. The trench coat gave him a vaguely sinister appearance, which is probably the look Fielden was going for.

About one out of five kids at my high school were Natives, but the white kids and the Indian kids lived on different planets. Fielden, however, had a couple of things going for him that bridged the gap between the white world and his Kiowa world. 

For one thing, Fielden had an evening job taking tickets and popping popcorn at the Redskin Theater. Fielden sometimes let a few of his friends slip into the theater without paying, and he occasionally gave out free bags of fresh, hot  popcorn—heavily seasoned with orange popcorn salt.  

And Fielden had another thing going for him. He was the leader of a gang of Indian kids who hung out at the Redskin.  These Indian boys--probably popcorn addicts--swore an unspoken oath of fealty to Fielden. He could dispatch them on a moment’s notice to rescue any friend who was getting harassed or bullied—and there was a lot of harassment and bullying going on in Anadarko when I was young.

So Fielden was a handy guy to know. But he only dispensed his favors (protection and free popcorn) to his friends. So how did someone become Fielden’s friend?  By providing him with something he desperately needed—transportation.

Fielden was too poor to own a vehicle, and he depended on white kids to drive him around in their parents’ cars on the weekends. I was one of Fielden’s chauffeurs, and I often drove him around the drag—the endless loop between the Tastee Freeze Drive-in on the east side of town and the Powwow Drive-in on the west side.  

As I said, Fielden drank way too much. He was generally stewed when I drove him around on the weekends. I don’t think he ever carried a gun, but he pulled a claw hammer out of his trench coat once, telling me cryptically that he was expecting trouble.

I liked Fielden, and I wasn’t afraid of him. When I was with him, I felt like I was on the precipice of a great adventure; and in fact, Fielden and I experienced an adventure together—at least a minor adventure.

One Friday night I was driving Fielden around in my father’s 1950 Chevrolet pickup—a death trap that constantly leaked brake fluid. The truck had once been black but had turned an orange-gray color. The undercarriage was so rusted that there was a hole in the floor, and I could actually see the road beneath me when I drove. It had a faulty alternator that I had to pound with a pair of pliers to get the engine to crank.  Oh yeah, it was a dreamboat—a real chick magnet!

On this particular night, Fielden collared me to drive him to the teen hop at the Caddo County Fairgrounds. This was an easy assignment because I was going to the teen hop anyway—the King's Men were playing. 

But Fielden had a stop to make before the teen hop. By a series of grunts, he guided me down an alley behind Broadway Street and told me to stop at the back door of  the town’s most notorious bar—the Merchants Club!

Yes, the Merchants Club—the seediest of Anadarko’s seedy bars. The Merchants Club—a bar with an attitude-- which kept its double front doors flung wide open so that all of Protestant Anadarko could peer into its dark and smoky maw in the hope of seeing a neighbor sucking down a Coors, a Jax, or a Stag, accompanied—we hoped--by a woman other than his wife.

But, of course, our neighbors didn’t hang out in the Merchants Club. It was a bar for Indian men, and a middle-class white guy would be nuts to go inside.

Perfect place for Fielden, however. And I knew when we drove up to the Merchants Club’s back door where he had been getting his booze. Fielden mumbled a stern order to wait and then slid silently into the back door of Hell itself. 

I waited and I waited. And then, through the pickup’s rear window, I saw an Anadarko cop walking down the alley, checking for unlocked doors. He was carrying one of those long, heavy flashlights that double as a nightstick. Uh oh!

The officer tapped the window glass with his flashlight. “What are you doing here, kid?”

I was terrified. What in the hell did he think I was doing behind the Merchant Club? Buying booze? Cocaine? Soliciting a prostitute? Planning a burglary?

My mind reeled with the shock of adrenalin, and for once in my otherwise dull-witted life, I did some fast thinking.

“Officer,” I said, “my truck won’t start.”  

Then I explained how beating on the alternator would sometimes get the engine to turn over. The cop said he had seen that problem before and offered to help. I raised the hood on the most dangerous and ugly truck in America and started beating on the alternator with a crescent wrench, while the cop shined his light into the engine compartment.

Then I quickly scrambled back in the truck, turned the key, and the engine cranked right up.  “Thanks for your help, officer!” 

And in fact, he had been helpful, and I felt bad about deceiving him.

But where was Fielden? To hell with Fielden, I thought. I’m getting out of here.

And then, with almost perfect timing, Fielden came out of the backdoor of the Merchants Club with two quarts of Coors Banquet Beer, bottle tops peeking coyly out of brown paper bags. My heart stopped beating

If Fielden was surprised to see the cop, he didn’t show it, and the cop didn’t seem surprised either. The cop didn’t say anything. Fielden didn’t say anything. And I didn’t say anything. Fielden climbed in the truck, and off we went.

About five minutes later, Fielden and I were at the teen hop. I parked the truck, and we bought our admission tickets—a buck apiece.  I had had enough excitement for the night, and I began drifting away from Fielden, hoping to lose myself in a crowd of dancing Oklahomans.

But Fielden followed me—lurching across the dance floor with a quart bottle of Coors squeezed under each armpit and concealed beneath his trench coat. 

Then, when he was only about two feet from me, an enthusiastic girl doing the Twist—I think she was from Fort Cobb—bumped him.

Fielden’s arms flew up and two quarts of Coors crashed on the concrete floor. Flying glass went everywhere. The bottom of Fielden’s trench coat was drenched in beer.

Fielden had been trying to tell me something just before the beer bottles broke. What was it he wanted to say? I’ll never know because a squad of Rotarians, the teen hop’s zealous chaperones, hustled him out into the darkness.

A few months after that memorable evening, I went away to Oklahoma State University, where I wasted four more years of my life. Fielden stayed in Anadarko and slipped deeper and deeper into alcohol.  He died in Florida at the age of 33. I think he was in rehab at the time.

I learned that Fielden was buried in the cemetery next to the Redstone Church, situated below a bluff that overlooks the Washita river.

Did Fielden die a Christian? I do not know, and I do not care. And, at this stage of my life, I feel sure God doesn’t care either.

But what the hell do I know? Fielden and I spent hundreds of hours driving around Anadarko together, and I don’t think I ever asked him a single question.

Nevertheless, if there is a heaven, I’m sure Fielden will be there. After all, paradise would not be paradise without fresh, hot popcorn, seasoned with orange popcorn salt. And nobody popped popcorn better than Fielden.











Thursday, December 10, 2020

"My neighbor burns trash in a barrel out back": And why the hell not?

 It is the province of the elderly to lament the good old days when life was sweeter, and it is the province of the young to scoff at such nonsense.

Nevertheless, I recently heard a tune by a band called Southern Culture on the Skids titled "My neighbor burns trash in a barrel out back," and it made me think of my childhood in Anadarko, Oklahoma.  

Our family indeed burned trash in a barrel out back, but as far as I know, we never set anyone's house on fire. Of course, some things don't burn--empty cans of Demonte green beans, milk bottles, etc.  So my father took the noncombustible stuff to the town dump, which was located on the bank of the majestic Washita River.  Hell, everyone did that.

I remember going with my dad on a dump run when I was about four, and he allowed me to play in a gigantic pile of rusty tin cans. I slipped and fell and got a nasty cut on my wrist. Seventy years later, I still see the scar--a reminder of happy times!

When I was a kid, small-town Oklahomans believed in the constitutional right to own guns, but fortunately, most of us were too poor to buy one. We also held a strong belief in our dogs' common-law right to run freely about the neighborhood, pooping where they chose.

Most dogs exercised this right responsibly, but there were a few renegades. My childhood friends will remember Captain, a vicious collie that became a legend in southwestern Oklahoma. Although he looked exactly like the kindly Lassie we saw on television, he was, in fact, a terrorist. He was the anti-Lassie.

Captain struck a primal fear into the hearts of every child in Anadarko. This ruthless sociopath was known to visit Sunset Elementary School for the sole purpose of biting small children during recess.  I'm not making that up. Captain knew when the kids let out for morning playtime, and he traveled eight blocks from his abode on Colorado Street to maim schoolkids.

As a paperboy, Captain would occasionally ambush me on my paper route, but I developed a tactic for dealing with him.

 I carried a few extra newspapers in my canvas newspaper bag, which I rolled up tightly with rubber bands.  When Captain loped out of a ligustrum hedge to bite me, I would tuck my legs up high on my bike and pelt the son of a bitch with old copies of the Anadarko Daily News.

After a couple of encounters, Captain left me alone.

The town fathers (and mothers) were powerless to stop Captain from biting the citizenry. But finally, some high-school kids from the nearby town of Fort Cobb dispensed vigilante justice. They caught the dog, tied him to a chain, and dragged him behind a car through the streets of Anadarko until he died.

 It was sort of an Oklahoma version of The Magnificent Seven. The townsfolk were deeply grateful.

My family was poor when I was a child. I know that now because I remember the food we ate. We made grilled cheese sandwiches out of Velveeta, not cheddar, and we often ate Spam for dinner--scored of course so that it looked a bit like a grilled steak. And we put margarine on our baked potatoes, not butter. 

Then, there were those lunchmeat sandwiches, which we dressed with Miraclewhip instead of mayonnaise because Miraclewhip was cheaper.  Baloney, Oliveloaf, Liverwurst, cold hot dogs pressed between two slices of Wonderbread. If I had a dollar for every lunchmeat sandwich I ate as a kid, I could retire to the Caymans.

When I was about five, I remember coming home from our neighborhood grocery store, which an elderly woman operated in the front room of her house. Maybe I went there to buy a pack of Kool-Aid, which only cost a nickel.

While I was in the store, an older kid told me I was poor, and I went home crying.

But my mother told me that was nonsense. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. We lived on the east side of town, it was true, but at least our renthouse was west of the railroad tracks.  The kids who lived on the east side of the tracks--the kids who lived near the stockyards or the peanut mill--now those kids were poor. 

Gradually, imperceptibly in my child's eyes, my mother and father clawed their way into the middle class--where, we believed, we had always belonged. After I went away to college, my parents' status elevated to an even higher level. My parents repudiated their blood-oath loyalty to Chevrolet and began driving Buicks.  They built a house with two full bathrooms--two!

Do I miss my childhood days in Anadarko? Decidedly, I do not. 

But I have a growing respect for all the families who scratched out a living in small towns like Anadarko back in the 1960s. Some were middle class, but most of them were poor--at least by present-day standards. These families shared one bathroom, and dad bought retread tires to keep the family car on the road. Kids picked up soda bottles on the side of the road to claim the 2-cent deposit.

To live like that now would seriously depress me. But, curiously, when I was a child, the way my family lived was enough.

Anadarko: dogs could roam where they pleased, and nobody was poor!

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Did you major in liberal arts? You may be the 21st-century equivalent of a blacksmith

 I grew up in a small western Oklahoma town where middle-class families worked at jobs that no longer exist. People owned their own gas stations in those days, and a man could make a modest living by selling gasoline (regular or ethyl), repairing cars, and fixing flats. 

I recall two appliance stores in the little town of Anadarko: Zerger's Appliances and Roberts' TV and Appliances.  Two families owned gift shops: Graham's and Lovell's.  

And there were 10 or 12 little grocery stores in my hometown. Everyone lived within walking distance of at least one. These were mostly run by widows who supplemented their modest Social Security checks by selling milk, bread, and canned goods in the front room of their homes. And soda pop. As a kid, I'm sure I bought at least one Grapette at every one of those little stores.

All these businesses are long gone--wiped out by Walmart and corporatism in general. 

Something similar is happening in the field of liberal arts. People who get college degrees in the humanities, liberal arts, or the social sciences will find it damned difficult to find a job. And people who went into debt to get a degree in comparative religions or sociology may have committed financial suicide on the day they selected their majors. 

People who get Ph.Ds in those fields are not likely to find jobs either--at least not teaching jobs at the university level. As the New York Times reported today, colleges across the country are slashing budgets in response to the coronavirus pandemic. And they are laying off faculty members--both tenured and untenured. Most of those laid-off faculty members teach in the liberal arts.

Not too long ago, tenured faculty members had rock-solid job security. Unless they committed a violent felony or said something unforgivable like "All Lives Matter," they could be assured of keeping their job until they tottered off to a comfortable retirement, made possible by a fat pension and lifetime health insurance.

But no more. Universities are enrolling fewer students, and those students are more likely to major in business than the humanities. Professor Whatshisname still teaches his seminar on the causes of the Crimean War (his dissertation topic), but nobody wants to borrow tuition money to listen to his lecture.

In his cautionary book about going to law school, Paul Campos warned against the snowflake syndrome.  You may think you are special.  You may think you will beat the odds and find a great job at a prestigious university, where you will teach fawning students all about the progressive era in American history. Or you will teach English while you write the great American novel.

But you won't. If you pursue a doctorate in liberal arts intending to become a professor, you are probably on a fool's errand. Like the blacksmith of yesteryear, no one will want to hire you. And if you borrowed money to pursue your foolish dream--you are a dead person walking--at least in terms of your financial wellbeing.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

A tribute to Dinky, who gave me a lift in his pea-green Studebaker

Dinky was a classmate of mine at Anadarko high school. He was one of those rare individuals who felt perfectly at home in the world at a young age. He had a wry sense of humor that never deserted him and he never missed an opportunity to meet girls. I remember he joined the First Baptist Church just long enough to go to the Baptist Bible camp at Falls Creek, where he hoped to meet some pretty Baptist girls. What a brilliant idea!

I don't think life was easy for Dinky when he was a kid. He grew up poor in a large family--I don't know how many brothers and sisters he had, but there was a bunch of them. For a time, his family lived in Batesville, a row of run-down rental houses strung out on Highway 281 near the old Wichita Indian Agency. It was not a distinguished neighborhood, but Dinky airily referred to his home as his "Batesville townhouse."

Dinky's parents ran the local office of the Mistletoe Express, which delivered packages and freight to towns across Oklahoma. I didn't know his parents well, but I liked them. They occasionally sponsored dances in the Mistletoe Express warehouse, and they kindly turned off all the lights except for one dim bulb painted red. In my eyes, getting invited to a Mistletoe Express dance outranked a visit to the White House.

As his nickname implied, Dinky was small for his size, but he was a natural athlete. I considered myself too frail to play high school football, but Dinky, who weighed less than I did, was the quarterback. I remember one home game when he was knocked out cold by a beefy lineman from one of our opponent schools--Chickasha maybe or Lawton. He lay inert on the field and Coach Wells hurried out to see if he was seriously injured.

By the time Coach Wells arrived by his side, Dinky had regained consciousness. His first words were, "How is the crowd taking it, Coach?"

One more clear memory of Dinky. When he was about 15 years old, he acquired an ancient pea-green colored Studebaker and he began driving regularly around town. My God, that was an ugly car! And it spewed out more black smoke than an ocean liner. I don't think Dinky gave a damn about the fact that he didn't have a driver's license. And apparently, the Anadarko police didn't care either.

I lost track of Dinky after we graduated high school, but I saw him years later at our high-school class's annual reunion. We were in our thirties.

"Do you remember that night I picked you up on Central Boulevard?" he asked me. "You were crying and you showed me belt marks on your legs."

I had wiped that night from my memory, but Dinky's question brought it back.  Yes, my father had beaten me with his belt that night and I had run out of our house to get away from him. It was a rainy, cold autumn night, and I was only wearing jeans and a t-shirt. I wasn't even wearing shoes.

Dinky stopped to give me a lift in his pea-green Studebaker. I was shivering and crying, and I remember the car's heater was blowing hot air. I also remember showing Dinky the belt-shaped bruises on my legs and I remember vowing to run away from home--my fool's dream.

I must have been a pathetic sight, but Dinky was sympathetic; and as far as I know, he never told anyone about that night--which I still appreciate.

Years later, thinking about that evening, it occurred to me how old I must have been when my father beat me with his belt. Dinky was driving, so I must have been at least 15-years old. And there I was, barefoot, wet, and coatless; humiliated and crying; rattling on about running away from home.  Dinky--good old Dinky--rescued me in his magical Studebaker.

Thank you, Dinky. I don't know if there is a heaven, but if there is, you will be there. Maybe God will replace the engine on your trusty Studebaker so it won't burn so much oil. Maybe He will give it a paint job. And maybe that will be your job in paradise--rescuing desperate kids.

I myself may never know what heaven looks like, but I feel quite sure it won't look like Anadarko.

A 1950 Studebaker

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Senator Elizabeth Warren can survive Cherokee-Gate if she focuses on student-loan crisis

To my surprise, Senator Elizabeth Warren officially announced she is running for President, her head "bloodied but unbowed" by the scandal about her ethnic heritage, which I will call Cherokee-Gate.

Warren is a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, which is remarkably tolerant of screw ups. Senator Ted Kennedy's political career survived Chappaquiddick (although Mary Jo Kopechne did not). Congressman Barney Frank continued serving in Congress after he admitted hiring a male prostitute as a personal aide. Representative Gerry Studds was elected to Congress six more times after he was censored by the House of Representatives for having a sexual relationship with a 17-year old page (the vote was 420 to 3). In fact, Studds' constituents on Martha's Vineyard gave him a standing ovation after his sex scandal broke.

So Liz came take comfort from the fact that Massachusetts probably doesn't give a damn whether she advanced her career by calling herself an American Indian. The Bay State likes to send moral reprobates to Washington DC.

But playing footsie with one's race to get ahead in the Ivy League won't play well in the Rust Belt, where the children of unemployed steel workers lack the temerity to call themselves Chippewas in order to get a college scholarship.

Thus, if Warren's presidential bid is to have legs, she needs to develop a substantive campaign platform to distract potential voters--and she needs to do it fast. How about focusing on the student-loan crisis?

Senator Kamala Harris stole a march on Warren when she came out for free college, so Liz has got to think of something sexier regarding the student-loan fiasco.  Here are some suggestions, which I hope she will embrace:

1) Legislation barring the federal government from garnishing Social Security checks of elderly student-loan defaulters, a proposal that Senator Warren and Senator Claire McCaskill proposed a few years ago.  That's a no-brainer, in my view.

2) Amending federal law to stop the IRS from treating forgiven student-loans as taxable income. Who could argue against that?

3) Capping accrued interest, penalties and refinancing fees on student loans to no more than 50 percent of the original amount borrowed. Currently, we see college borrowers whose student-loan balances have ballooned to three or four times the original loan amount. Surely that' a reasonable proposal.

4) Revising the Bankruptcy Code to allow distressed student-loan debtors to discharge their student loans in bankruptcy like any other unsecured consumer debt. Or if that lift is too heavy, at least let borrowers discharge their private student loans in bankruptcy.

5) Allowing parents to discharge their Parent Plus loans in bankruptcy if they run into financial trouble and can't pay off the loans they took out for their children's college education.

I admit I hold a grudge against Senator Warren for her Cherokee scam. After all, I grew up in Anadarko, Oklahoma; and it never occurred to me to call myself a a Nadarko Indian. Just like Liz, I've got a law degree; and Liz's eyes are bluer than mine.  If I'd played my cards right, I too might have become a Harvard law professor.  I might have been Harvard Law School's first cisgendered person of color!

But all will be forgiven as far as I'm concerned if Senator Warren will only endorse some of the proposals I've listed. And if she would do that, I think she might do very well in the Iowa caucuses.

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


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.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Suicides and a Jail Death in Anadarko, Oklahoma: Bitter, Angry and Frightened, Oklahomans will not vote for Hillary

Last January, the Washington Post reported on a spate of suicides in Anadarko, Oklahoma. Four people committed suicide over a period of less than two months. All were young, all were racial minorities, and all killed themselves with guns.

And last April, Darius Robinson, an African American father of seven, was killed in his Anadarko jail cell, asphyxiated by jail employees. Jailers say Robinson was trying to escape, but the Oklahoma Medical Examiner ruled the death a homicide.  A small demonstration was organized a couple months after Robinson's death; about 50 people attended. Robinson, by the way, was not in jail for a violent crime; he was in the slammer for failing to pay child support.

You might think these tragedies would draw the attention of President Obama. Four desperate young people killed themselves with handguns--what a great opportunity for the President to talk about gun control. A black man strangled by his jailers while in police custody--that's as least as shocking as the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore/

Nevertheless, as far as I can determine, Barack Obama has said nothing about these deaths, and Hillary Clinton has said nothing about them. And, to the best of my knowledge, neither Al Sharpton nor Jessie Jackson has shown up in Anadarko.

Why? Because the Oklahomans don't matter. The Democratic political operatives have written off Oklahoma, and well they should. In the Democratic presidential primary, Oklahoma Democrats voted overwhelmingly for Bernie Sanders--Bernie Sanders! And  God knows they didn't vote for Bernie because they are socialists. No, Oklahoma Democrats loath Hillary Clinton, and Bernie was their only alternative. And if Oklahoma Democrats loath her, you can imagine what Oklahoma Republicans think.

In truth, Oklahomans are bitter, angry and frightened. Outside a few pockets of urban prosperity--Oklahoma City, metropolitan Tulsa, and Bartlesville--the state is in deep depression. From the Winding Stair Mountains in the east to the short grass country of western Oklahoma, there are no jobs. Anadarko, my home town, may be the epicenter of Oklahoma's desperate condition. Abandoned houses, suicide, alcohol abuse, drug addiction--rural Oklahomans are among the casualties of the new global economy.

Hillary and Barack despise these people, and the Oklahomans know it.  Barack sneeringly dismissed poor white Americans generally when he said they comfort themselves with guns and religion. When Hillary condemned the "basket of deplorables," she was talking about the people I grew up with.

Eighty years ago, John Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath, a tribute to the strength and courage of the Oklahomans who were driven off their land during the Dust Bowl years and migrated to California in rattletrap cars. "We're the people that live," Ma Joad says in the novel. "They can't wipe us out; they can't lick us. We'll go on forever, Pa, 'cause we're the people."

Do you think Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton have read The Grapes of Wrath? Not likely. Do you think they give a damn about contemporary Oklahomans who are suffering now just as much as their ancestors did during the Great Depression? No, of course not.

Image result for darius robinson death
Darius Robinson: "We're the people"


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

Xin Xin Liu. Protesters Gather At Caddo Co. Courthouse After Inmate's Death,, July 22, 2016. Available at

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Medieval America: Victor David Hanson correctly diagnoses the collapse of American liberal democracy

It is difficult to convey a brilliant insight in less than 2,000 words, but Victor David Hanson has done it. In a brief essay published last week, Hanson said it is inaccurate to compare our declining American civilization to the fall of the Roman Empire. In truth, Hanson argued, our nations is becoming like medieval Europe.

Like today's America, Hanson points out, medieval Europe could boast some fine universities where the sum of human knowledge increased. But the universities of that day, like our modern American universities, had strict speech codes. The sun revolved around the earth, and woe to any medieval scholar who argued otherwise.  And today of course professors are permitted to express only one point of view on important global issues like climate change.

Humanist scholars of medieval times "wrote esoteric treatises than no one read," Hanson writes. "These works were sort of like the incomprehensible 'theory' articles of university humanities professors who are up for tenure."

Hanson definitely got that right. Not to mention the 10,000 law review articles that law professors and their students publish every year even as the core principles of our legal system disintegrate.

In my view, Hanson's most trenchant comparison between contemporary America and medieval Europe relates to the economy. Today, as Hanson notes, one fifth of Americans own absolutely nothing or have negative worth, much like medieval serfs. In fact, 18 percent of adult Americans have student-loan debt, which they are permitted to work off by donating a percentage of their income to the government over 20 or 25 years--just like peasants.

Indeed, America becomes more like medieval society with each passing day. The middle class--once the glory of liberal democracy--gets smaller every year. The nation's elites fly in private jets, work in fortress-like offices, and are protected by private security agencies; they are truly lords and barons surrounded by modern-day moats. Their kids go to the best private schools. And the elites do a good job of protecting their income from taxes.

Meanwhile the rest of us ride the subway or commute to work on crumbling freeways. We pay taxes at a higher rate than either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, and we send our kids to mediocre schools.  Defined-benefit retirement plans are fast disappearing, and we put our puny savings into the stock market because the elite have declared that we can earn nothing on our savings if we invest anywhere else.

Everywhere, the non-elites are getting poorer, but the slide into serfdom is most evident in rural America. In my own hometown of Anadarko, Oklahoma, the little family shops and stores of my childhood are all empty and boarded up. If you want to buy something--almost anything at all--you must go to Walmart. Hundreds of houses have been abandoned, including the one I lived in as a kindergarten child. Drug addiction and suicide are up; decent jobs have disappeared.

Americans know in their hearts that our slide into medievalism will accelerate after the national election unless our economy is radically restructured. Let us hope President Trump can do what he promised he would do to restore jobs to middle-class and working-class Americans.


Victor David Hanson. Medieval America, Town Hall, October 13, 2016. Available at