Showing posts with label opioid epidemic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label opioid epidemic. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

I'm in 12-step plan to swear off American politics: I vow never to watch or read any more political news--ever!

 I've known a few alcoholics over the course of my life, and several told me they were saved from destruction by Alcoholics Anonymous.  

I'm not an alcoholic, but I admit that I became addicted to politics during the recent presidential campaign.  I watched television news obsessively, and I worried about our country's future no matter who won the presidential election. My friends are divided politically, but almost everyone I know has been distressed by recent political events. I found we couldn't talk to each other about our concerns for fear of losing a friendship.

And then on Wednesday morning--the day after the election, I realized that I don't care who gets sworn into the office of the presidency in January.   I don't care who is appointed to cabinet positions, and I don't care who controls Congress.

Like a recovering alcoholic, I realized that I was powerless over the national political scene and that America--like the life of an alcoholic--has become unmanageable. Like a recovering alcoholic, I came to believe that only a Power greater than the American people can restore us to sanity.  

As an elderly white guy who lives in Louisiana, I now realize that our national politicians don't give a damn about the people who live in Flyover Country. 

They don't give a damn about the jobs that have been lost in the Midwest--the jobs that went to China.

They don't give a damn about the opioid epidemic that has swept through rural America.  

They don't give a damn about the strip mining destroying the heartland or the wind turbines that have turned the high plains into a vast junkyard. 

They don't give a damn about the spike in mortality rates among working-class Americans--rates fueled by drug overdoses and suicide.

They don't give a damn about the fact that American universities have become criminal rackets run by academic gangsters.

They don't give a damn about a global economy that is destroying the American middle class.

And you know what? I don't give a damn about the global elites who have turned our country into a moral cesspool.

So--I'm not going to read the friggin' New York Times, the friggin' New Yorker, or the friggin' Washington Post. I'm not going to watch the friggin' cable news shows or the friggin' Hollywood movies. I'm not going to read the friggin' op-ed essays in my local newspaper. 

Instead, I'm going to cultivate a garden, learn to hunt deer, and watch international movies on Amazon and Netflix like Far From Men, The Load, and Black '47. I'm going to root for the New Orleans Saints and read the sports page. I'm going to try to be a better husband, brother, and grandfather. I'm going to learn to smoke a better brisket. 

And I will continue trying to ease the burden of our nation's 45 million student-loan debtors, which is the only professional interest I still care about.

And I will continue to pray for the canonization of Dorothy Day, the greatest American Catholic of the twentieth century.  If we all aspired to live like Dorothy, our nation would be healed. I urge you to read her book, Loaves, and Fishes, and you will see that I am right.

I have been on this new path for only about ten days, and so far, it feels pretty good.  Not great, but pretty good.

Servant of God Dorothy Day

Monday, June 8, 2020

All lives don't matter: If you think they do, then you ain't woke

Julia Lea, captain of a Mardis Gras parade group, was denounced recently by her group's members for posting a social media message that said "All Lives Matter."  

Some group members claimed Lea's statement was insensitive, coming so soon after the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed by a police officer on Memorial Day. Lea apologized, explaining she did not know some people would be upset by the phrase, but dozens of group members refused to accept her explanation and resigned from the group.

"As a former police officer and a leader, we don't believe that you didn't know the meaning of these statements and why they are offensive to the Black community and its allies," protesting members said in an open letter. "A leader like you, in a predominantly black city, has no excuse to be that ignorant. This racist statement does not represent us."

Essentially, Lea was condemned by her colleagues for being insufficiently "woke." She didn't know that the phrase "All lives matter" would be interpreted as a racist expression.

Moreover, her unfortunate remark is flat wrong. All lives don't matter: and Lea, a former police officer, should have known that.

First of all, police officers' lives don't matter, at least not this week. Two black police officers were murdered shortly after Floyd's death. Another officer was stabbed in the neck, and nearly 300 NYPD cops have been injured on the job, mostly by thrown bricks and bottles.  But to say "blue lives matter" could be interpreted as an atrocious racist slur. So, for God's sake, don't come to the defense of the police, or you'll be written off as a racist son of a bitch.

According to the CDC, more than 70,000 Americans died in 2017 from opioid overdoses. In fact, since 1999, about three-quarters of a million people have died from drug overdoses. You don't see anyone throwing bricks about that tragic statistic.  No buildings have been looted or burned. Why? Because people who die from drug overdoses don't matter.

Then there are the millions of unborn babies who have been aborted since Roe v. Wade--so many millions we've basically stopped counting.  Hardly anyone is alarmed by those numbers apart from a few Catholics and deranged pro-life activists. And that's as it should be because, as all woke Americans know, unborn babies don't matter. 

So--if you are unwoke and wish to be woke, you can start by repressing any urge to say all lives matter. You might be branded as a racist if you say that right now, and, in any event, it ain't true.

Photo credit: Boston Globe

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

140 people a day die from opioid overdoses, but 3,000 people a day default on their student loans

Approximately 52,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses in 2015. That's an average rate of  around 140 deaths a day. In fact, opioid overdose is now the leading cause of death for Americans under age 50.  If we continue at this rate, a half million Americans will die from drug overdoses over the next ten years--roughly nine times as many Americans as were killed in the Vietnam War.

But let's compare the opioid crisis to the student-loan disaster.  Last year, 1.1 million Americans defaulted on student loans; that's an average rate of 3,000 people a day.  Obviously, defaulting on a student loan is not as serious as dying from a drug overdose. Nevertheless, the consequences of student-loan default are catastrophic.

First of all, a student-loan default triggers penalties and fees that are attached to the unpaid debt, making it less likely that the debtor will ever pay off his or her student loans. Secondly, student-loan defaulters cannot take out more student loans to obtain additional education or training. Third, unlike most unsecured loans, student loans are very difficult to discharge in bankruptcy.

In short, people who default on their student loans run a good chance of becoming lifetime debtors who will never improve their economic circumstances. In other words, a student-loan default is often the equivalent of an economic death sentence.

People who attend for-profit colleges have the highest student-loan default rates. A Brookings Institution report documented that almost half of the people in  a recent cohort who borrowed money to attend a for-profit school defaulted within five years.  Another analysis reported that three out of four African Americans who attended for-profit colleges eventually default on their loans.

In my opinion, a good case can be made that the student-loan catastrophe is causing more harm than the opioid epidemic.  Around 44 million Americans have student-loan debt; that's about one American in five. College-loan indebtedness is hampering people's ability to buy homes, save for retirement, and purchase health insurance. Without question, millions of Americans would have been better off if they had never pursued postsecondary education because the indebtedness they took on degraded the quality of their lives rather than enhanced it.

And Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has has made the student-debt crisis worse. Again and again, she has made decisions that favor the corrupt for-profit industry at the expense of struggling student loan debtors, even debtors who were defrauded by for-profit colleges.

To its credit, the Obama administration crafted regulations whereby students could apply to the Department of Education to have their student loans forgiven if they were defrauded by the college they attended. Thousands of students have applied for loan forgiveness based on fraud claims, including students who borrowed money to attend two bankrupt for-profit institutions: ITT Tech and Corinthian Colleges.

The Obama regulations were to have taken effect on July 1, 2017, but Betsy DeVos stopped the implementation of these regulations, saying she feared students would get "free money." She then appointed a panel of experts to draft new regulations, which won't be approved until next year. In fact, under the DeVos scheme, defrauded students will not be able to move forward on their claims until 2019 at the earliest.

And it appears that many students will not get complete relief from their loans even if they can prove they were defrauded.  DeVos is talking about giving partial relief based on a formula that will compare the defrauded student's earnings to the average earnings among people who participated in similar educational programs.

The cynicism of this approach is shocking. First of all, by delaying the administrative process until 2019, DeVos is giving fraud victims only three options for handling their oppressive student debt. First, they can continue making loan payments on educational experiences that are worthless to them. Second, they can enter income-based repayment plans that will set monthly payments so low that the interest on their debt will continue to accrue, making their total indebtedness grow larger. Or third, they can default on their loans, which will ruin their credit and cause their debt to grow larger from fees and penalties that the debt collectors tack on to their original debt.

DeVos's tactic is nothing more than sneaky manipulation to aid the for-profit industry, which does not want fraud claims to be examined. If Congress had a moral compass and some courage, DeVos's behavior would lead to a formal resolution calling for her resignation.

Unfortunately, Congress is as beholden to the for-profit colleges as Betsy DeVos. The for-profits have used lobbyists and strategic campaign contributions to buy Congress's silence; and at least a few of our federal representatives (Senators Olympia Snowe and Dianne Feinstein, for example) have personally profited from ties to the for-profit college industry.

And thus our elected representatives are willing to allow millions of lives to be destroyed and the integrity of higher education to be degraded rather than reform the federal student-loan program.  In sum, Congress is willing to tolerate human suffering that may exceed the harm caused by opioid addiction.


Maria Danilova. DeVos may only partially wipe away some student loansDetroit News, October 28, 2017.

Josh Katz. Drug Deaths in America are Rising Faster Than Ever. New York Times, June 5, 2017.

Tamar Lewin. Questions Follow Leader of For-Profit CollegesNew York Times,May 26, 2011.

Ben Miller. New Federal Data Show a Student Loan Crisis for African American Borrowers. Center for American Progress, October 16, 2017.

Bob Samuels. The For-Profit College Bubble: Exploiting the Poor to Give to the RichHuffington Post, May 25, 2011.

The Wrong Move on Student LoansNew York Times, April 6, 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


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.