In 2003, two brief pieces appeared on the site to fill what was then a new section. Over the years a theme developed, and most of the essays have dealt with some aspect of technological change, usually with a consumer bent. In past summers, anywhere from one to four essays have been posted during the summer. The 2023 Essay is available, with a somewhat different topic and focus, is included below. It also will be added to the Essay Archives shortly.
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STUDENT LOAN FORGIVENESS WILL DO NOTHING TO END MY 30-YEAR STUDENT LOAN NIGHTMARE, OR WHY THERE'S AN ESSAY SECTION ON WWW.DOROTHYSWEBSITE.ORG
Long before the world had ever heard of George Floyd, a homeless man in my hometown, Kelly Thomas, died after being severly beaten by members of the city's police department. Among his last words: "I can't breathe." As news of the incident spread, protests erupted. Actions within the city that followed culminated in a recall election in which three of the city's five councilmembers were removed from office. I participated as a candidate in that election not because I thought I could win, but because it was one of the few avenues available to me to be able to express my outrage over the man's beating and death.
The fact that I doubted it would be possible to win had nothing to do with a sense of abject defeatism and everything to do with practical reality. First of all, the race in which I was participating (one of three, and for the remaining six months of the term of a councilmember targeted for recall) was the same the one in which the "favored son" of the man with deep pockets who had almost single-handedly financed the recall was running. Every single, minute aspect of the campaign was being closely monitored with a speed and immediacy that was both surprising and a bit alarming. Since I didn't own or have a car at the time, I had to ride my bicycle to City Hall to sign up as a candidate and pick up the nomination papers. In the 20 minutes it took to ride home, someone from City Hall had contacted the recall staff, notified them of my pending candidacy and arranged for one of their staffers to call me at home. The phone was ringing as I walked in the door.
The person who called was someone in town who my family had known for years (both my sister and I were born in the city, grew up and went to high school here and our family had lived in the same house our entire lives). In our brief conversation he angrily suggested I choose a different council race and demanded to know if I was trying to "split the vote." The call was more absurd than intimidating, particularly since the man had no idea of the circumstances I faced even to enter the race. There was just enough money in my checking account at the time to cover the $25 filing fee and be able to spend about $150 - in total, for the entire race through the primary election. The required paperwork to spend less than $1000 on the campaign was filed, and with that came the personal decision not to accept any campaign donations.
The decision not to accept donations was a simple one. I was not comfortable having people place their financial trust in the candidacy without being able to adequately explain my financial situation, particularly concerning student loans. By the time of that 2012 election my student loans had been in default for more than 15 years. Though by that point I seldom heard from anyone within the student loan system, they called or sent a letter just often enough to remind me that they were still monitoring my account. The last thing I wanted to happen in the middle of a campaign event was to have one of the student loan collection agents show up and yell at me to pay my bills, as they had so often done over the phone.
By that time the menacing, harrassing and sometimes threatening calls from student loan representatives in one capacity or another had been coming for nearly 20 years. In many ways that 2012 election kindled a kind of "deja-vu-all-over-again" feeling that probably shouldn't have been all that surprising. In 1992, twenty years prior to that recall election, I had considered entering another local race, the one for the open congressional seat in the district. Though I never ended up filing, my name had appeared in the local paper as a potential candidate for the race. The year 1992 was an extremely contentious year in politics around here for many reasons. The two most important of those reasons were the election of Bill Clinton as President and the popularity of wealthy businessman Ross Perot as an independent candidate. Both shocked and angered many local Republicans who blamed Perot for siphoning the votes away from George Bush (Sr.) that allowed Clinton to win. The anger extended to several prominent women who had crossed party lines to support Clinton. In the aftermath of that election, however (at least around here), potential candidates were practically crawling over one another to find anything in their backgrounds that they could point to as being even remotely connected to business. As Perot gained popularity, that included a Korean woman with an MBA who suddenly emerged as a council candidate and ended up winning her race. Our local paper referred to her as the "mystery candidate" who was a "considerable surprise to everyone" and spent more than twice as much money on the race as any other candidate.
For reasons much too complicated for the context of this essay, the resentment against Perot and those (particularly women) who had supported Clinton was magnified in this area. At the time the area was one of the few bastions of conservative Republicanism left in the entire state of California, and since that time any seat in the area has been a desired target for Democrats. The Congressional seat which was open had been held by Congressman William (Bill) Dannemeyer for more than a decade. He was leaving his seat to run for the Senate. During his time in office he was a fierce opponent of LGBT rights, and he was probably most remembered elsewhere for reading into the Congressional Record a statement called "What Homosexuals Do," a graphic description of gay sex. Among other causes, he at times advocated for easing the separation between church and state, a subject that will be returned to later in the essay. The forces that propelled Dannemeyer into office and kept him there for so many years probably hadn't changed that much in the 20 years between the two elections. One of the first pieces of correspondence sent to me as a candidate in 2012 was a survey asking my opinions on abortion, homosexuality and other related issues.
At the first candidate forum I attended in 2012, there was not a single question about the death of Kelly Thomas. One woman in the (very small) audience, however, did stand up and ask every candidate to state their position on abortion. Though the council races techically were non-partisan ones, that evening's forum was for candidates who were registered Republicans, and I was the only female candidate there. I declined to answer her question on the grounds that it had nothing to do with the recall race and was not an issue which would come before the city council. After the forum ended I asked the woman why she thought it was important to pose the question on abortion. What she said surprised me, though given my experiences in the interval between the two elections it probably shouldn't have. Her answer was no different than the "head them off at the pass" mentality of old spaghetti westerns. It was her opinion the since members of the city council often run for higher office, the information was important to know in order to keep candidates from being elected to office who might take positions in the future to which she and others like her might object. As the weeks ahead unfolded, the words "keep candidates from being elected" grew more worrisome for me.
That "deja-vu-feeling-all-over-again" intensified the evening after a subsequent candidate forum when a car ran a red light and hit the car I was driving. That incident, in which the one witness who remained at the scene had the last name of Wilson, and another just after the 2012 primary election ended (when candidates were needing to file for a new November election) brought back the really bad memories of the continuous string of car troubles, accidents and tickets which had happened or been issued, particularly during election seasons, following the 1992 race. All of those incidents were outlined in a book written just after that 2012 election and its yet-to-be-completed sequel. Back in 1992 things were so bad that it seemed that my house, phone and/or activities were somehow being monitored. In 2012, with the student loan situation and a decimated personal and professional life my candidacy posed no threat to anyone. Twenty years earlier, however, I had a strong, relevant and current educational and professional background and a long list of contacts. A series of events which had taken place back then began with a call to a local shop repairing one of our clocks and a conversation at home with my mother of when we would go to pick up the clock. When we arrived and were asked by the clerk to wait, two men were standing off to the side having a conversation in which one said to the other that he would "find it offensive" for a single woman (which I was) to hold office. But that was just the start of a long string of events which were to follow.
It would likely not be a new political strategy to attempt to drive a potential political opponent into bankruptcy, but it would be something entirely different to use a government entity to prevent an opponent from ever again being able to regain financial footing. However, as events continued to unfold non-stop after that 1992 election, it could not help but cross my mind that perhaps the student loans and the collections process associated with those loans had been "weaponized" to be able to be used against me. But more a more troubling question emerged as the years progressed. Had anything been done under color or law or use of public authority to aid that process, and would any of what happened constitute an abuse of power? The question is not one asked lightly, and a full accounting and details of those events were outlined in that book completed after the 2012 election. Two quotes introduced the book, titled "Ten Summers: The Story of www.dorothyswebsite.org." The book is an account of both this website and how its existence relates to the student loan system. The book has had a separate link on this site since it was completed. The two quotes introducing the book were "No true philosophy is possible where the fear of consequences inhibits the pursuit of truth," by John Stuart Mill, and "Popular government, without popular information, is but a prelude to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance. And a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives," by James Madison.
STUDENT LOANS: ORIGINS AND EARLY YEARS
Before continuing, it might be helpful to provide a bit of perspective of what the student loans were and why they were obtained. The loans from the federal government's guaranteed student loan system, totalling a bit over $30,000, were taken out over three academic years beginning in the fall semester of 1987 and ending in the spring semester of 1990. At the time the loans were take out, Ronald Reagan was President (and I had spent a semester as an intern in the Legislative Affairs of the Office of Management and Budget [OMB] in the Old Executive Office Building [OEOB] of the White House complex during his administration and the tenure of David Stockman), the internet as we know it today did not exist, the Dow Jones crossed 2,000 for the first time, and the release of the first iPhone was still 20 years in the future. The loans were used for a graduate program I designed combining an MBA from the Harvard Business School with a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy (MALD) from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University (an advanced degree combining elements of law, diplomacy, politics and related topics with an international perspective). There were additional loans taken out from the Business School, and some of those funds were used to purchase the then "state-of-the-art" laptop system, accessories and software required by the Business School. That computer, an IBM dual-floppy drive convertible laptop computer, is pictured below. (For those reading this who are young enough not to know what a floppy disk is, those small square disks were placed in the two slots below the screen. The disks came well before CD's, and back then no one had even heard of USB drives or ports.)
The graduate program I designed was tailored to the the professional future envisioned for myself following its completion: about 20 years in the business/private sector while getting established and starting a family, followed by about 20 years in the public sector/public service once my children were grown and/or in college. For my purposes the dual degrees were both complimentary and necessary. At the time, the focus of coursework at the Business School had minimal international content and that of the Fletcher School minimal business/private sector content (though that changed substantially at both schools in subsequent years).
Both schools had required coursework, and elective coursework was chosen to round out a background suitable to the work I expected to be doing. Those elective courses included Entrepreneurial Management, Managing and Developing Technology, Negotiation Analysis and similar subjects at the Business School and International Trade and Commercial Policy, Private International Law, Asian Foreign Policy and Diplomatic History and similar subjects at the Fletcher School. The Fletcher School had two additional requirements for graduation: oral and translating examinations in a foreign language and a thesis (or two smaller half theses). Though I had grown up speaking Serbo-Croatian and had spent time in the former Yugoslavia as a Fulbright Scholar during the period including 1984 Winter Olympics, that language was not on the approved language list for the exams. Instead, the language selected for the exams was Japanese, something which I had begun studying as an undergraduate at USC. The topics for my two smaller half theses dealt with global North-South economic relations (though the context of something referred to at the time as the New International Economic Order (NIEO), and technology, sovereignty and the nation state. The latter looked at technological change, the pace of that change and its impact on governance, both within and among nations.
The graduate program was structured so that the first year would be at the business school, the second at the Fletcher School and a combined third year in which the remaining requirements for both degrees would be completed based out of the business school. The Harvard Business School (HBS) arranged an elaborate "dance" between second-year students and company/organization recruiters for employment following graduation, including (at the time) publishing a book of all student resumes that was made available to campus recruiters. Though I interviewed with many companies I selected, in the end the two offers for employment came from companies who had used the resume book to invite me to interview with them. One offer wasn't acceptable for many reasons, but primarily because it would have placed me, an American of Croatian descent, in Belgrade (the capital of Serbia) at the time of an impending war in which the primary "enemies" would have been Croatia and the United States. The offer accepted had me moving to Chicago to work for a US-based international management consulting firm. The starting salary was $70,000 (about $164,000 in today's dollars), and though it wasn't on the high end of the salaries offered to HBS graduates, it was perfectly in line with the salary range for graduates from the school. Just weeks after moving to Chicago the company sent me to work in the Tokyo office. The decision to accept the company's offer came not a moment too soon, as did their check for a signing bonus. By the last semester at the business school my funds were so depleted that I was using a rice cooker in my dorm room and eating instant soup for many of my meals. The day my family came for the graduation ceremony there was not even enough money to pay the public transportation fare to meet them at the airport.
My main role in Japan was as one of the primary researchers/authors of a large study dealing with U.S./Japan trade and investment relations. The day the highly-anticipated report was released it received front-page coverage in the New York Times and the business section of many other major newspapers. A series of events brought me back to California, and after a brief stop at a think tank's Japan trade conference in Washington D.C. (which happened the same week as the Anita Hill hearings), I was met with surprise news at home. Just shortly after launching a new business-focused job search, someone informed me that there would be an open seat in our Congressional district. Though I didn't have much money, I did have a background well-suited to speak to some of the most significant issues of the time, including the North American Free Trade Agreeement (NAFTA) and the full-scale war taking place in the former Yugoslavia. As said earlier, my name had appeared as a potential candidate in the local newspaper, but after a brief review of the process and requirements for running I decided against it. From time to time, then and during subsequent years, I stopped by a local political events. At one a man told me that if I had any interest in the future I should "do something women could relate to more, like be a secretary." The man who was more or less Dannemeyer's hand-picked successor ended up winning the 1992 race.
Even before the election had ended, I went back to doing what I had started - looking for a new job. In the time since I had begun working at age 15 1/2, the longest it had ever taken me to find a job was four months, which wasn't bad, especially for the pre-online recruiting site days. In high school I had worked at a local restaurant and at Southern California tourist attractions, and in more recent years in public relations and as a management consultant. Though a few of my extra hours in 1992 were spent volunteering on the campaign of a woman running for the Congressional seat in an adjacent district, most of my time was spent looking for work. But what happened in the next four years after that, personally, professionally and with the student loans was something I never could have imagined. The world today may make it difficult to think of how events might have unfolded back then, particularly in terms of communication, since there were no smart phones, internet or online job searches. You couldn't "just Google" something. There basically were three means of communicating with anyone, whether potential employers, student loan agents, friends or anyone else: in person, by phone or through the mail (and if any of those were in any way blocked or monitored, so were your communications). Using anything and everything available to me at the time, I was going to school alumni and other networking events, including the annual entrepreneurs' conference sponsored by the local Harvard Business School alumni association, and industry-specific events like local trade shows, contacting recruitment firms, scouring newspaper want ads and cold-calling at businesses that had even the slightest connection to anything in my work background. No letter sent in response to a newspaper ad ever received a reply. There was only one call returned, from a recruitment firm whose representative told me he might be able to find me "something in publishing in New Jersey," but nothing in any business-related field. I repeatedly contacted, and practically begged, the Harvard Business School for access to their recruitement databases, and they repeatedly refused. That was a particularly hard blow to my prospects because of what I had learned from recruiters while still in Boston. Many with whom I had spoken told me that they went only to the top 10 business schools because they knew they could find everyone at those schools with the skills they needed. Without access to the HBS databases, I knew I would never be able see some of those available jobs because they simply wouldn't be published anywhere else. Even a local women's business association wouldn't accept my membership application since at the time I didn't have the sufficient dollar amount of income to meet their requirements.
Up until that time I had lived, worked or traveled in more than 7 cities in four states and 20 countries on three continents, but suddenly my world seemed to be shrinking rapidly - as if I was being "contained." One of the cities in which I had lived was Washington D.C., and after being there and having worked on other campaigns in college (including for Pete Wilson, a Republican very much disliked by the conservative wing of the party), the concept of "oppposition research" was one with which I was very familiar. When the person elected to fill Dannemeyer's seat ended up with committee assignments more tailored to my background than his own, it seemed likely that someone around here might have done enough "opposition research" on me to have found me to be a potential future threat. Though I didn't for one second suspect the congressman himself, for neither of us had ever met, it did occur to me that Dannemeyer or those with whom he might have been associated were more than likely capable of finding information on anyone. Dannemeyer's background included being an agent in the Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC), and even today's Wiki lists him as a "Notable CIC Agent." Though the corps doesn't exist today as it did then, as an intelligence agency within the U.S. Army, its agents reportedly had been involved with domestic surveillance in the 1960s. The current CIC Wiki does cite testimony given in Congress by journalist and professor Christophe Pyle who had testified about the use of military intelligence at that time, saying that "Army intelligence had 1500 plain clothes agents watching every demonstration of 20 people or more throughout the U.S.," and some of those demonstrations had taken place at a large park just blocks from my home.
But regardless of who might have been doing opposition research, it certainly wouldn't have been difficult to learn anything about me since my family had been here for so long. The local Rotary Club, packed with community leaders of that time, had chosen me as one of their "Rotary International Ambassador" candidates, a study abroad scholarship which had taken me for a year to Australia just after finishing the Fulbright Scholarship in the former Yugoslavia. Not only did I know many of those people, but my sister and I had gone to school with many of their children. Even the most untrained of "opposition research" workers could simply have gone down to the history room at the local library and looked through old newspapers or tracked down old high school yearbooks. From looking at the yearbooks they would have learned that I was Student Body President and that my classmates had voted me Most Intelligent, Most Likely to Succeed and Most Wild and Crazy (the latter being primarily the Steve Martin Fan Club vote named after a phrase used by a character he portrayed on Saturday Night Live). And as the years passed it seemed that someone either knew of or had referenced those yearbooks, but for completely different reasons.
As the end of 1992 drew closer, there was absolutely nothing on the horizon - no returned phone calls, no job interviews and not even the hint of a job offer. The salary I had banked was rapidly being depleted, and the medical and dental insurance plans that had carried over from the consulting firm were set to expire at the end of the year. There had been a smaller $2500 loan from a private foundation that I managed to pay off completely, and they sent a final "thank you and good luck" letter with a sticker of a road runner affixed to the bottom of the page. Little did I realize then the role the "coyotes" might play in the days and years ahead. Though by the end of 1992 I'd made about $10,000 in payments toward both the HBS and guaranteed student loans (for my target for paying off the loans was no later than five years after graduation, something I had been well on track to doing), the time was fast approaching when I wouldn't be able to send in any additional checks. Though my family was willing to help for a while, the time was fast approaching when the payments would become a burden. As a result, I began looking for an alternative which might place the payments on hold until I once again had an income coming in. It never crossed my mind that I was about to enter a vast labyrinthine system which would never again include an offer for employment and one from which, 30 years later, I have yet to emerge. And for about three quarters of those 30 years the loans have been subject to terms I never agreed to and never would have agreed to had they been in existence back in 1987. If one of today's popular phrases is "If you can see me, you can be me," what I began to experience would be more aptly expressed as just the opposite - "Out of sight, out of mind."
STUDENT LOANS: HEADING INTO DEFAULT
The original promissory note signed for the federally-insured student loans indicated a 10-year repayment period. Laws that governed student loans at the time stated that loans could be discharged in bankruptcy after five years (calculated from when repayment began), which for me would have been about 1995-96 depending on which repayment schedule would have been used. The government back then was allowed a defined and finite period of time in which it could pursue collection activities on those loans. Though my finances weren't great, they weren't yet so dire that I felt I would be needing to consider bankruptcy. There were several loan deferment and forebearance options available through Texas-based Sallie Mae, the organzation which held the majority of guaranteed student loans at that time. I accepted one of the forebearance options, granted primarily for unemployment or economic hardship, at the end of 1992. The quasi-governmental agency seemed quite amenable to making deferment and forebearance arrangements, for it was to the organization's benefit. Terms were stated clearly up front. Loan payments would cease, but at the end of the forebearance period, the interest would be capitalized and loan payments would be recalculated on the revised (and increased) capital amount. Most deferments/forebearances were granted in quarterly increments and could be renewed for a maximum period of two to three years. The Harvard Business School did not have any type of forebearance program, but the representative from their financial aid office said it would be acceptable for me to send in quarterly letters stating that my financial situation had not changed and that I was not able to make any payments at the time. I didn't think any of that would be a problem, for I was always certain that a job would be forthcoming, whether within a week or a month, certainly sooner rather than later.
The only interview ever granted in the last 30 years came just after the first round of forebearance papers had been signed. Each new request to Harvard for access to the recruitment databases still was met with the same negative response, so I began going through my files from the business school to see if I could find names of recruiters from that period, then sent letters to those people. Only one company responded, a large consulting firm I'd already interviewed with at least three times in the past for both summer and full-time positions. Although it was nice to get a response, I also knew that in the preliminary rounds of interviews the company's representatives speak with just about anyone with a suitably interesting resume. Having interviewed with them so many times in the past, I knew their procedures, but this interview was different from the start.
Upon arriving.at their office in Los Angeles, there was only one woman at the reception desk and the rest of the office seemed totally devoid of people. She said there had been a fire drill and that the others would be back shortly (which left me wondering how I had been allowed upstairs if there had been a building-wide fire drill, since there didn't seem to be any commotion in the lobby). Within a minute or two the elevator doors opened, and the office staff spilled out like actors returning to a set. Although it had never happened in the past, I was given photographs of the interviewers who would be speaking with me and their partial resumes, one a man and the other a woman. The man appeared pretty much the same in person as he did in the photograph. The woman, however, looked so different that I found myself glancing back and forth between her and the picture during the interview, wondering if she'd had some type of plastic surgery. An offer did not come from the firm. However, after that point I often found myself at public events, both professional and political, in which rather large-breasted women would take seats nearby where I was sitting and use their conversations to speak of things using phrases like "man boobs." Was someone trying to suggest to me that plastic surgery would improve my lot in life? It wasn't a question I could answer back then or even now, and I continued to do whatever I could to get back to work.
A few hours were spent going through the exercise of writing a business plan and looking at sources of capital for a start-up company, which turned out to be nothing more than an exercise in futility, as were a couple of other projects. One of the human resources officers at a biotechnology company where I had interviewed twice during graduate school suggested I take a job in general management and try to complete some relevant science-related coursework, which I began to do. The first course, an introductory course in electronics, was taken at the community college just down the hill from home. Despite the fact that I had one of the highest grades in the class, the envelope with the final course grade didn't include an encouragement to continue to the next higher level of the program but did include a list of "The Rules of Dating." In looking for other courses to take, I found that at the time members of the public could enroll in regular undergraduate classes in the University of California (UC) system on a space-available basis through the UC extension program. The most open classes at the time were on the UC campus in Riverside, and though it was about a 45-minute drive to the campus I started classes there. The drive to the campus was in a direction going against traffic, so I was able to drop my mother off at work, drive to class and be able to be back in time to pick her up. As I did that I contacted a temp staffing agency working exclusively with science and technology companies, but their representative said they wouldn't talk to me (despite the rest of my education) without having at least an undergraduate science degree, or at least that was the reason I was given over the phone. After the first two basic undergraduate biology courses plus introductory courses in genetics and neuroscience there simply was no money to continue on that path either.
All the events and happenings which continued as those early years passed were detailed at great length in the Ten Summers book. As the period neared for the end of all forebearance options, correspondence bounced back and forth with Sallie Mae for nearly a year. Many times it would take a month or longer to receive a response to a letter or follow up call. Those calls often ended up being with someone who gave a sexually-suggestive name or word in the name, like "Mrs. Sexton." Up to that point I also had spent countless hours writing letters to Harvard, to which I never ever received a single response in writing, though the woman in the financial aid office still "allowed" me to send the quarterly letters (something which had been arranged over the phone). Though the loathesome thought of bankruptcy loomed on the horizon, it also became irrelevant. In the interim since the loans had been taken out, Congress had upped the period after which loans could be dismissed in bankruptcy from five to seven years, something for which my loans at that point would not qualify. (Using a forebearance option pushed out the date after which the option of bankruptcy might be available by the amount of time the loans were in forebearance; any type of debt consolidation completely reset that clock). Though I offered to make small token payments, Sallie Mae representatives told me the smallest payment that could be accepted had to be no less than the amount of interest due on the loan. That would have meant payments of hundreds of dollars a month, an amount it would have been impossible to afford. As a result, the loans slipped into default in 1996, just as a woman, a Latina and Democrat with an MBA who Clinton personally came to support, was elected to Congress in the adjoining Congressional district where I had volunteered back in 1992.
Despite the fact that I had absolutely no money, no way to make payments of any kind, hadn't worked in five years and had pretty much lost all contacts and references, I still wasn't ready to give up. Thanksgiving came and passed in 1996, and there seemed to be nothing to look forward to. Although by that time the internet was just beginning to gain wider use, few people were online yet, and little employment information was available via computer. There was one news stand near the exit of a local mall, and that news stand carried a few employment-related publications that were difficult to find elsewhere. In looking through one, there was a position listed on the UC campus in San Diego that caught my eye so quickly I could hardly believe it. From the brief blurb advertising a position as the "Associate Director of Technology Transfer Office," it seemed to be just the kind of job I'd been looking for. The next morning I got up and drove down to San Diego, about a two-hour drive from home, to apply. The function of the technology transfer office, found on many research-oriented campuses, is to take inventions or other intellectual property developed by University researchers and license or otherwise transfer that intellectual property to companies or industries in the private sector for use or further development.
It was a job I knew I could do well, and all that would be needed was an interview to convince them of that. The filing deadline was in December, and after sending in the required paperwork, I also contacted one of the professors at the business school who had taught the "Managing and Developing Technology" course. Though I was unable to speak to him, his secretary, with the last name of Wilson, told me he didn't write letters of recommendation. In January, when I checked on the status of job, it was difficult to get a call through to anyone. When I did, the woman with whom I spoke told me the employment office was going to re-open the position due to "lack of applicants." I thought to myself, "What about me? I applied!" From the way the conversation took place, she made it sound as though I was the only one who applied for the job, and therefore they were going to look for other applicants. A couple of weeks passed, and after hearing nothing from the school, I called again. This time there was something vaguely alluded to about a background check and that they'd be contacting people soon. At that time the student loan system had not yet forwarded default information to the credit agencies, so - despite everything - my credit record was stil in decent shape. I'd passed major background checks years earlier when I'd interned in Washington DC, so I wasn't particularly concerned. Still more time passed after that point, and I was unable to reach anyone in the office via my home phone. As a result I drove down to San Diego and used a campus extension phone in a library to call the personnel office. At that point I was told that someone in the Technology Transfer office had suddenly decided to retire and that the position was going to be cancelled. By the time a new advertisement came out for a revised position, the requirements for the position had been rewritten in a way for which I would not qualify. It was another dead end, and also part of another pattern that had emerged over the years: one of which encouragement and hope were followed by an immediate drop back into nothing. I pursued a similar job on another campus and received a call from a woman there saying that yes, there certainly might be an opportunity there. A few days later she called back to say, "No, sorry - no opportunities here."
STUDENT LOAN DEFAULT: THE AFTERMATH
Though prior to that time I'd sought help from individual contacts, the graduate schools, a couple of attorneys and the ACLU, no one was able to suggest anything before the default. After the legal research I'd completed for coursework at the Fletcher School I knew my way around a law library fairly well and frequently used local ones at the county administrative center and a local law school. But by that time in 1997, however, I knew I needed some more specific legal advice or assistance. Without a dime to my name, it was difficult to find anyone who would give me the time of day. Most attorneys wanted consulting fees I couldn't afford. I began writing (again, a process that took inordinate amounts of time) to offices like the Fair Trade Commission, California Office of Fair Employment and Housing, and finally - particularly since the woman on the second campus had used the word "opportunity" - the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). After a couple of visits to the Los Angeles office of the EEOC, I was told that as a resident of Orange County I'd have to pursue any further matters through their San Diego office, something that made it extremely incovenient for a person without a car. It also was not terribly difficult to imagine how a visit to San Diego might go when the matters I hoped to discuss concerned one of the largest employers in the area at the time second only to the military.
The day I drove down to the San Diego EEOC office, the only money in my purse was a small amount of change for the parking meter. Without knowing if the office would validate parking, I didn't want to try to park in the building in which the office was located. After having already received several parking tickets (a subject which will be discussed shortly), I made sure I carefully noted the time on the meter. It was surprising to find that the building at the address I had been given did not have the EEOC listed on the board of building occupants After stepping outside again to re-check the building address and make sure it was correct, one of the security guards assured me I was in the right place and told me to go to the 15th floor. The office was markedly different than the one in Los Angeles - very plain, with one main counter and no markings on the walls like the large government seal which had been on the wall in the LA office. The black man staffing the counter bore a passing resemblance to Clarence Thomas. After explaining in general terms why I was there, he handed me a set of papers and told me to fill out the first page. After I was done, he first asked to see what was written, which included a listing of UC San Diego. After that he told me he wasn't able to speak with me unless I made a formal accusation first. While trying to explain why I wasn't certain if that would be possible, a fire drill alarm began ringing through the building. I was told I'd have to leave. Not knowing how long the drill would take but realizing there was little time left on the meter, I took the paperwork and drove home.
After that it was back to the law library to learn a bit more about the practices of the EEOC and to look for other potential avenues through which to address the situation, both regarding employment and in more general terms about the student loans. In U.S. Department of Labor materials dealing with federal contracts (since many university programs receive funding from federal contracts), there were provisions for employment complaints. I wrote to the Department of Labor, and they returned materials to me by certified mail. The information from the EEOC cited the basis of their legal authority as including the enforcement of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Department of Labor materials cited similar legal provisions. Both provided an avenue for protection against discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin (categories addressing discrimination based on a group identity, but nothing related to a targeted individual outside those specific categories). The EEOC materials also specifically stated that Title VII prohibits retaliation against a person who files a charge of discrimination, participates in an investigation or opposes an unlawful employment practice. Because I never filed with the EEOC, someone who wanted to retaliate could have without technically violating the law. There was no way to know the source of the events that were occurring, since many had nothing to do with that trip to San Diego. After those visits to the EEOC, however, what had already been happening escalated, and in a manner that affected not only me and my well being, but that of my mother as well. One of the most inexcusable aspects of this entire experience is that it negatively impacted the life of someone who had absolutely nothing to do with my taking out student loans to begin with - my mother. My mother was widowed at the age of 48 when my father passed away suddenly during my sophomore year in college. An immigrant to this country who had devoted her life to raising her family and had never worked, she suddenly found herself alone and having to raise two teenage daughters. Life became a struggle for all of us, but she managed to get us through school, find her way to work at a community college near our home, and keep everything together in a way that was utterly amazing.
The endless string of accidents, tickets and pull-over "warnings" that had begun in 1992 and continued through the 2012 election seemed to have something in common, but they didn't occur only in the vicinity of my home town. They happened everywhere, in situations in which I primarily was doing one of three things: something related to politics (Fullerton, Costa Mesa), legal research, particularly related to the student loan system and elections (Santa Ana, Fullerton) or science (Riverside, Westwood, and following my trip to San Diego, Los Angeles in 1998). There were several tickets that were completely unwarranted, something which I can say with absolute certainty because I challenged them in court and won. The 1998 incident, which happened the day I attended the opening of the new/revised museum in Los Angeles which used to be called the Museum of Science and Industry, was the worst of all. The Los Angeles Police Department towed the car (which was challenged as being without reason and won), damaged the security system in the process and then never allowed a hearing for complaint about the damage (on the new car that was less than one year old), a process that lasted more than half a year and to this date has never been resolved. All of these incidents were outlined in greater length in the Ten Summers book and sequel. What all of these seemed to have in common would have required someone to be either following or tracking me in some way. After 1992, every car my mother had owned had been damaged in a way which was neither her nor my fault within 6 months to a year of her purchasing it, requiring it to be sent to a garage. After the damage sustained on the car in 1992, the next car was keyed in the parking lot while she was in a salon, the next hit from behind (twice), the next damaged by the incident involving the towed car in Los Angeles, and so on through that 2012 election in which the car I was driving was less than a year old. And that was all before the collection agents in no uncertain terms threatened to come after her for my student loans, something which, on the verge of retirement, had her worrying that they would come after her for everything she had worked so hard over the years to keep.
The process of capitalizing interest on the student loans while in forebearance and adding collection charges once the loans had slipped into default had caused the balance owing on the loans to increase significantly. Any indication of the $10,000 in payments that had already been made had been wiped out by the revised amount owed to the government. As the calls from the collection agencies continued, some nastier than others, a certain pattern developed. A representative of a certain agency would call a few times, threaten asset searches, wage or lottery winning garnishments, and a host of other actions, and then the calls would drop off for a while. As the period of their assignment to work with the loan would draw to a close, calls would begin again, this time with the information that the loans would be sent back to the Department of Education for further action. That action usually came in the form of an offset letter from the Department of Education listing everything that would be garnished for the purpose of paying off the loans (including Social Security checks). After a couple of months the loan file would be farmed out to another, different collection agency and the process would begin anew. In the process of rotating the file, many of the agencies held the loan files more than once. What became obvious over time was how little internal record-keeping or historical data on the loans seemed to follow the files to the agencies. Even in years not long before the 2012 election, agency collection representatives spoke to me as if the loans had gone into defalut in recent months. Most seemed surprised when I informed them that the loans had gone into default in the mid-1990s.
Some of the collection agency representatives would be more polite than others, who often would be downright insulting and verbally abusive. One suggested I work in fast food (at a minimum wage job which in no way would have covered the cost of the still escalating amount due on the loans, let alone rent, food or anything else). Another suggested that if they found out I was engaged they'd call my fiance and tell him he'd have to pay the loans for me. (That one in particular had me worrying that some of the problems might have come via the influence of someone I'd seen during graduate school who was foreign, but later had to tell not to contact me otherwise I'd call the police and have them issue a restraining order. Though he was foreign he may have been able to use contacts locally within what I believed at the time to be Nation of Islam. What I hated to think is that some of what was happening might stem from him or those with whom he had some connections, and that some of those connections could be found in either law enforcement and/or medicine). When I explained repeatedly that I had no job and no money to make any payments, the standard response from the collection agency representatives would be, "Oh, so you're refusing to pay?" Although I tried to clarify that it was an inability to pay, not a refusal to pay, the representatives would continue to insist that my statement would be documented as a refusal to pay.
As time progressed, when I asked what options were open to me I was repeatedly offered one. Over time that option came to be known as the William D. Ford program, and I was repeatedly sent paperwork to consolidate my loans under that program. After several attempts to get me to sign the papers, including one in which a collections agent posing as me went online to request paperwork be sent to me, I said "no." It began to seem more like coercion than anything else, with the implication that nothing would happen until I voluntarily committed myself to paying what was reaching THREE TIMES THE ORIGINAL AMOUNT of loans received without any income to make payments. The details in the fine print were crucial to understanding the process. Signing any of those papers would have consolidated existing loans, capitalized interest accrued until that point, wiped out the terms of the original loans, and committed the borrower to make payments again beginning 30 - 90 days from the time of signing the papers. If the borrower couldn't make payments on the new, revised, higher amount, the process of forebearance, interest accrual and capitalization and new higher payments would begin again, in what was beginnning to look like a government system taking advantage of some of those least able to make payments. At one point something called an Income-Sensitive Repayment program was offered. I asked the representative if a person would have to actually have an income to make that work, and when he said yes, I said no to yet another program which would have wiped out the original loans and loan terms.
In thinking about what both the loan representatives and others were saying, it was not that someone didn't want me to work, for the jobs being suggested were in fast food, secretarial settings, etc. It seemed to be a more matter of how much money I might be making, the discretionary income I woild have, and what I could do with that money, like pay off my loans more quickly (and in 2010/11 a change was made to the student loan system limiting payments to 10 percent of discretionary income, defined as income above 150 percent of the federal poverty guideline). The amount of monitoring of both my mother and I (which I assumed to be coming from within the student loan system) also had grown to an absurd level, with many details provided in the Ten Summer book At one point, one of the student loan representatives asked how I was getting around. When I told him I often had to ride my bicycle, (one which had been purchased in Boston to try to get from the business school campus to the main campus for Japanese language classes), he made me send him a receipt for the bicycle so he could make sure I "wasn't spending too much money."
Back in that 1998 period after the car was towed in Los Angeles, the sad reality of the situation was growing worse. My mother, who was approaching 70 years of age, was set to retire the following year. I knew at that point I'd have to consider bankruptcy. By that time I'd also spent countless hours in the library teaching myself how to use the internet (which sounds so strange now, but back then one had to figure out how to use the new system). I often had to use the library, since there had been long periods in which I had to go without a computer (the one from the business school had died long before I saw the same machine on eBay for under $300). Back then, information available online was often incomplete or only partially reliable at best. By the time I was able to locate the most current version of the code dealing with student loans and bankruptcy it was too late. That year Congress had passed the Higher Education Amendments Act of 1998. The Act contained a provision concerning student loans that totally eliminated the option of discharging student loans in bankruptcy, just at the cusp of when the loans I had might be eligible for that option. That left the seldom-used "undue hardship" provision as the only justification for having a student loan dismissed. In the interim since the loans had slipped into default I'd used any spare time to do whatever I could with about the only thing I could afford - a pen and notebook. I wrote a short current affairs booklet in 1997, followed by a volume of travel-related poetry and photography in 1998. Materials I was writing then and have written since that time have been sent to the U.S. Copyright Office and can be found by doing an author search on my name. But the one of the strangest events of all happened just as the calendar turned to the new century, approximately the ten-year mark since the first payments on the outstanding student loans had begun.
A troubling incident had occured at the house, and just as I was rushing to tell my mother something I slipped and fell down a flight of stairs, causing a serious injury to my foot. The aftermath of the injury had me not only having to re-learn how to walk but also questioning how it was that the calls from student loan representatives ramped up a notch any time I needed medical attention. Before the healing had begun and no one knew exactly what the outcome from the injury would be, a representative from the HBS financial aid office called. The woman told me they were going to write off my loans to the school. I was surprised but told them it was unacceptable - that it wasn't right for them to simply write me off without ever having made the slightest effort to live up to what had been promised by the school in the initial MBA handbook. By that point it had been years since the school had sent any kind of financial statement, so at that point I wasn't even sure what remained on the HBS loans. After our conversation the woman never called back. But there was another surprise. When I sent in the quarterly letter to the business school (which I was still doing), it was returned as undeliverable by the post office, with no such person existing at the address. I called the financial aid offices at the business school and main Harvard campus, and no one I was able to speak with had ever heard of the woman I'd been sending letters to for more than half a decade, a woman named Theresa Butler. It was as if the woman never existed. But how was that possible? After that I stopped sending the letters because there was no one to send them to, and that was the last communication I ever had with anyone from Harvard. At one point during my time in Boston I had dated a man whose first name was "Rhett." After that incident and a woman whose last name was Butler, it did seem like someone was trying to send the message that "Frankly, Scarlett, I don't give a damn."
It took the better part of a year to recover from the injury, and after that it was back to researching case law concerning student loans and trying to decide how best to proceed. At some point I contacted an attorney whose wife had worked with me many years before. He was a senior attorney, with many years of experience under his belt, and I was hoping he'd know a bit more about the hardship provision of the code dealing with student loans. He was blunt and honest, telling me up front that he worked primarily with "the other side," meaning the creditors in any type of bankruptcy proceeding. It was his opinion that the process of trying to get the loans dismissed would be a "long and nasty" one, though he didn't volunteer any names of those who might represent the debtors' side. However, from the way he spoke it was no stretch to visualize a costly - and for me unaffordable - legal battle. The minimal case law on the subject I could find at the time and any anecdotal evidence available online seemed to support what he had said. The few legal stories found relating to loans often discussed the reluctance of attorneys to take student loan cases for two primary reasons: the fact that most clients had no money, and the reality that any victory would likely be challenged in an appeal, making the process drawn out and more costly. But even the concept of a "fresh start" through bankruptcy was becoming moot. A bankruptcy would in theory discharge the debt, but I'd spent an entire lifetime getting to the point of graduate school and working toward the future I'd thought the education would lead to. What I had hoped to do professionally wouldn't have changed even with bankruptcy.
In those days about the only things I could do had to be free or pretty close to it. That included cutting my own hair (with a little help) when there was no money to go to a salon, something started in 1994 and which I have been doing ever since. I had begun to look forward to the free summer park concerts in the area as a pleasant diversion while trying to keep my knowledge and skills as current as possible. Most avenues for retraining and learning new skills were expensive and out of reach for me, though I had taken a couple of free computer courses offered through a local community college adult education program. One day I happened to come across information concerning a community college computer lab with no fee attached, fairly long hours and free job-retraining resources available to the public. About the last thing I ever thought of when setting foot in the door of the computer lab in 2003 was starting and running a website. Dozens of online self-training programs were available in the lab, and over the next couple of months I completed many of them, including ones on how to code using html and make a website using software available on the computers there.
In dealing with the student loan system over the years, my two biggest frustrations were an apparent lack of borrower safeguards coupled with few mechanisms for review or complaint. The lack of safeguards, then combined with the elimination of bankruptcy as an option for elimination of the debt, seemed to have become a way of trapping a student in an endless cycle of debt. But over the years the system seemed to have morphed into something else, something like a back-door channel for conscription into government service, as some of the few options available all led to a debt being dismissed after a certain time working for the government (or a non-profit, but with stipulations in the program[s] specifically excluding anything to do with business). Perhaps there were avenues for resolution of the debt that were not presented to me at the time, but then the question that might be asked is "Why?" In a 2013 report by The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS) titled "Aligning the Means and Ends: How to Improve Federal Student Aid and Increase College Access and Success," the following quote appeared on pages 66-67:
"Currently, the federal student loans collections process is almost entirely in the hands of private debt collection agencies. These debt collectors are given the authority to act on behalf of the lender or guarantor in everything from rehabilitation of a defaulted loan to information about loan discharges or negotiating loan compromises. Because their contracts with the Department of Education provide bigger rewards for collecting larger dollar amounts, these debt collectors have a disincentive to inform borrowers of their rights or to set reasonable and affordable payment amounts based on the borrowers' financial circumstances as required by law. Given the commission structure and conflict of interest, it is not surprising that the National Consumer Law Center has found a remarkable amount of deceptive, unfair and illegal conduct by private collectors involving federal student loans."
Had I been subject to some of the "deceptive, unfair and illegal conduct" by those collection agencies? And should the government, as their "employer" be held liable for their actions? The ability to go online and find reports like the one mentioned didn't even exist back at the time the student loans were under the collection agencies' control. Those questions and others like it remained unanswered as I began looking at the options available through the computer lab. The resources in the computer center were used to create this website as a means to express my frustration over experiences within the student loan system. Though various provisions in the law have changed in subsequent years, the information available at that time was incorporated into the first essay which appeared on the site in 2003. The ability to post that essay and make it available online was the central reason for the site's existence. As an exercise in building a site with more than just the one essay page, I added a section listing the summer concerts in local ciites and posted a few poems and photographs from the 1998 book. Everything was the uploaded to the website for what was supposed to be a one-month exercise. I primarily wanted people to read the student loan essay, so I went to the summer concerts and put a sign on the back of my chair with the name of the website, www.dorothyswebsite.org. From what I could tell from the site statistics, not a single person went to the Essays page that summer, but the page with the concert listings seemed to have attracted several visitors. Though I couldn't afford the hosting fees for an entire year, the fact that I had purchased a domain name (at least at that time) allowed me a simple "starter" page at no cost on which I could post only text along with a "Coming Soon" or "Under Construction" graphic.
There was a short break at the end of the summer during which the computer center was closed, but when it reopened again in the fall, most of the training programs I had hoped to complete had been discontinued in the system and were no longer available. Since the concert listings had received a positive response, I used the starter page to continue to post listings during the year while finding ways to continue to teach myself how to code. The website was brought back online as a full site again the following summer with an expanded concert listings page and a new set of essays on biotechnology and genentically modified foods. The expanded concert listings page received an even greater response. By the time the next summer came around, even more concert listings were added and a the topics for a new essay series were chosen. The essays would all focus on topics of science and technology, primarily with some type of consumer interest. At the same time, I didn't want to lose sight of the reason the website had been started, so an "Essay Archives" section was added. With that "Essay Archives" section, the original student loan essay always would be available. From there, the commitment to keep the site going, initially in the summer on/fall-winter-spring off pattern, was made. To use some of today's terms (which no one really used back then), even though I'd apparently been "cancelled," I grew to become a "content creator" for the website. Each summer the site grew to have a theme, and the theme for the site in 2006 dealt with the transition from analog to digital technologies. Up until that time I'd drawn from the photographs in my photo library for the site (photography had been one of my main hobbies since high school), and when the only camera I had broke, I used disposable cameras for a while to take pictures. The first time I borrowed a digital SLR camera, one of the pictures I took of a bench at the Huntington Library really captured the feelings I'd had regarding the whole student loan and job situation. It resonated with me so completely given my experiences up to that point that I called it "Benched." It became the start of a series of photographs called "Attitude." Many of the photos in the series have appeared on the site over the years, and two others also are interspersed in the text below.
Over the years the site continued to grow, with a new theme and essay section each summer. There had been many times that I had been criticized for my interest in technology and science and told that everything I was interested in was irrelevant to government/public service. Within each of the essays I strived to point out the links to legislation or government in each of the technologies or scientific developments being discussed. Though the site continued, I often found myself searching for change in between seat cushions or holding garage sales to find the funds to keep it going. The concert listings continued for the public; the essay section continued mainly for me (though I hoped people would find the topics interesting). The site's 10th anniversary summer coincided with the 2012 election, and the funds I had saved to do something special that summer instead went to the campaign.
"Keeping An Eye on the Competition." Any explanation needed?
After the sample ballots for the 2012 election came out, the most difficult question to answer was one which should have been easist to answer: "What do you do for a living?" It wasn't possible to put anything on the ballot or to say to anyone "Well, nothing, since I've been denied the opportunity to earn a living." But even the ballot designation decision provided a few learning experiences on its own. A ballot designation in California is the one-, two- or three-word description which appears under a candidate's name to indicate some type of identity. The words can indicate a job, whether or not the person is an incumbent, or something else that tells voters a bit about the candidate's qualifications for office. As I learned back in 1992, battles about what a person may or may not include under the name can be fierce, for those words may be the basis on which a voter without any familiarity with the candidates casts a vote. After Ross Perot in 1992, people were stretching their backgrounds in any way possible to include "businessperson" or "business owner" on the ballot. Rules concerning what may or may not be included on the ballot designation are so detailed that the portion of the California code concerning them which was included in the candidate manual was thirteen pages long. The section of the code we were given had specific definitions for what can be considered a "profession," "vocation" or "occupation."
In the California code, a "profession" is defined as a "field of employment requiring special education or skill and requiring knowledge of a particular discipline. The labor and skill involved in a profession is predominantly mental or intellectual, rather than physical or manual." A "vocation" is defined in the code as "a trade, a religious calling or the work upon which a person, in most but not all cases, relies on for his or her livelihood and spends a major portion of his or her time. As defined, vocations may include, but are not limited to, religious ministry, child rearing, homemaking . . . and engaging in trades." An "occupation" is defined as "the employment in which one regularly engages or follows as the means of making a livelihood." Candiates who provide a ballot designation also must provide the factual information on which the ballot designation is based. The fact that I had no livelihood automatically exluded the latter two categories, and I clearly had no "profession." Those legal distinctions, however, also prompted me to think about what I had been experiencing within the student loan system. The degrees I had obtained from the graduate schools, as is common with most types of graduate education, were obtained in pursuit of a profession, not just basic employment. As discussed above, what had been suggested by student loan agents and others, like fast food employment or being a secretary, would have fallen in the latter two categories but specifically not the first. And yes, professionals tend to receive higher wages. But to me one other glaring component of the definitions emerged: the fact that the legal definition of a "profession" involves education, knowledge and mental or intellectual skill.
"Putting Words in My Mouth." This was a lament about how many times I'd been told to "Just say this," or "Just say that:" the political "script" often given to a candidate rather than having them use their own words or thoughts, the doctor who would not explain the extent of the injury to the foot from the fall but told me to "just say you did some soft tissue damage," the TA in a science lab who, when asked, wouldn't offer instruction in the decision-making process with which to arrive at a solution but would tell a student to "just say . . ."
The fact that women have become much more prominent in most fields in today's workplaces can not be doubted; that, however, was not necessarily the case 20 to 30 years ago. What I was seeing, hearing and learning in that 2012 election prompted a bit more reflection, which also hastened the completion of the "Ten Summers" book immediately after that summer. One of the first things I thought about, particularly after seeing the legal definition of a "profession," was a first-year required mathematics-based course at the business school on the management decision-making process. While the teacher that had been assigned to our section was no doubt a brilliant mathematician, his teaching methodology left many in the course, myself included, completely bewildered. The chorus of complaints led to the teacher being removed about half-way through the class, replaced by a teacher with the last name of Applegate.
If symbolism means anything, which it often does in both politics and religion, then the "apple" - particularly in a religious context, symbolizes everything to do with knowledge. "Gate" is a suffix, which since Watergate, has been applied to just about anything controversial (Inflate-gate, with Tom Brady, etc). Thinking about that and everything that happened with the student loans I had to wonder - was the pursuit of knowledge by a woman, which would likely lead to a "profession" based on that knowledge, something that someone found to be not only controversial but objectionable? Was there a reference asterisk that had been place on my file that said "See Garden of Eden?" That may sound a bit ridiculous, but in another course at the business school called Managing Change, the professor introduced the course using the Michael Jackson song which begins with the words "I'm looking at the man in the mirror . . ." Fire in a religious context can be used to symbolize hell, and to the two incidents already mentioned spefically connected to looking for a job which were met with fire drills, there came a third and more sobering one for me. Many years prior, a family friend by the name of Lillian had a home which had burned to the ground following an uncontrollable fire. There were many times in which I used local coffee shops as a workspace, and during one of those occasions two people sat very close to me and began using the name Lillian. While that would have no meaning to anyone else in the area, it certainly was a name (and not a common one) that had meaning to me, and it prompted a prolonged period of worry about whether that had been some type of private, veiled threat. While those incidents may have been nothing more than coincidence, the damage that we had experienced with the cars was very real, as was another incident that happened during the 2012 campaign.
With everything going on with the campaign happening in the days and evenings, I tended to do a lot of work for the website late at night on a computer which faces a window overlooking a street on the side of our house. Late one night a car came and parked across that street next to a house (which has plenty of shrubs bordering the area where the car was parked). I watched as a man got out of the car, walked across the street, walked up a stone pathway on the side of our yard and relieved himself, standing up with no particular search for cover, in our plants. Given everything that had happened up to that point, the symbolism of someone taking a "piss on our property" certainly wasn't lost on me.
AN UNTHINKABLE AFTERMATH
The election passed, as did the 10th anniversary summer of the site. The site had grown in ways it would have been impossible to imagine back in 2003. By the end of that summer the site listed concerts in over 100 cities and even more venues. In the peak summer month, at least according to the site statistics, there had been thousands of visitors (primarily to the concert pages). Up until that point there had been essays covering, biotechnology, "green" cars, the transition to digital technologies, aspects of technological change, alternative fuels, solar energy and much more. The "Ten Summers" book was started immediately after the summer ended, with the working copy of the entire pre-publication draft of the book completed the following year. The 2013 summer edition of the website had the theme "A Fork in the Road," since I was working on it while trying to complete the book's story combining details of the website, the student loan system, and the hundred minute details that couldn't be explained in any other way. I really wasn't sure what direction the site would take after the book was done. One copy of the book went to the U.S. Copyright office and a few other copies were circulating around for comment. Interestingly enough, in the period since the book was completed I have never, ever again received a call again from anyone within the student loan system (though I did recently receive the letter stating that the post-pandemic pause in student loan paymemnts would be ending). But if it was difficult to imagine what had happened in the ten years prior to the book, it was even more difficult to imagine what was going to happened in the ten years following its completion.
After copies of the book were circulating, for some unexplainable reason the number of visitors to the site seemed to be decreasing and the number of attacks on the home computer were increasing (which eventually led to my losing several computers). Despite that, I put special effort into the 2014 site. The summer site, with the theme "The Art of Progress," was probably my favorite in the 20+ years the site has been in existence. That was the last summer of a complete multi-part essay section on the site as well. Since the S.T.E.A.M.-related theme was tied into World Fairs and Expos, the essay section from the summer continued into the year with the lead-up to the 2015 World Expo in Milan. As 2014 progressed, several other things were happening as well. I'd found avenues of competition at the local county fair, and with the winnings I eventually earned from the competition I was able to purchase a new camera. As a visual means of continuing to express everything I'd been experiencing, I added new photo-based digital artwork to the "Attitude" series. The first of the digital artworks is shown below and titled "USDA Prime America 2014: Where's The Beef?" It was based on old political/economic satire which begins "You have two cows . . ." I stood up at a local live-on-air law day sponsored by a local radio station to complain about the student loan system. The only thing that came from that was an e-mail from someone who had tracked down my website (since it had been mentioned during the conversation). The person who sent the e-mail chastised me saying that I should be ashamed for complaining because I had received one of the finest educations in the world. On a much more serious note, there were gaps and holes that had intentionally been left in the Ten Summers book that needed to be filled in. A sequel - or something more like a prequel - to the book was started, with the working title "An Induced Sexuality: How Sex, Drugs and the Battle for Souls Rocked My World and Left Me as Roadkill." It is possible to say with absolute certainty that someone in town new about it, and funds to help with the writing of the book also were sought via an online crowdfunding site. On that crowdfunding page I stated that I hoped to have the book completed by the end of 2015. Since I was working on the book as much as possible during the summer of 2015, there was only time to add one essay to the site that year.
Up until 2015, though it would have been difficult, there might have been a way to find a solution to everything that had taken place up to that point. But after 2015, the period came for things which can never be fixed, never be undone. In December of 2015 my mother wasn't feeling well and we took her to the emergency room. There we found out she'd be needing emergency heart surgery. That surgery went well, but when the nurses went to stand her up for the first time after surgery, she had a massive stroke and nearly died. My sister spent the better part of the next year helping her to recover, and as a result I put the site on hold for the summer of 2016. Though her recovery was somewhat miraculous and has been ongoing, she struggles with the communication disorder known as aphasia, something for which there is no cure. My sister and I have remained as her primary caregivers since that time. By 2017 I was able to find enough time to return to the summer edition of the site. We had been taking walks with mom through various local parks and I often carried my camera with me. Some of the pictures of birds taken at those parks, combined with pictures of peacocks I had taken at an arboretum, formed the basis of the 2017 summer edition with the theme "Fine Feathered Friends." The one essay able to be completed that summer dealt with drones. Most of the writing on the "Induced Sexuality" book had stalled, though all chapters completed and their accompanying photos had been uploaded and printed via a photo book service as they were finished.
In 2018 the site carried the first edition of a theme inspired by manga, comics and graphic novels with the title "O-Gan and the Herons," the names two of the the main characters in a photo-based digital art/comic-like story (the initial panels of the story can be found at www.oganandtheherons.net). Ever since the 2011 essay I had completed on the Gary Kasparov-Deep Blue chess match I had been keeping an eye (to the extent possible) on developments in artificial intelligence. By 2017 I knew it was the next topic I needed to cover, though I was unable to complete the essay that year after the drone piece had been finished. In 2018 I introduced the subject of artificial intelligence in an initial essay, though I couldn't find the time to complete the second essay in the series. The 2018 theme carried over into 2019, but as I was getting ready to complete that second essay on artificial intelligence, it became impossible to finish. One evening I ended up in the emergency room and discovered that I too needed emergency heart surgery. It was a shock to me and everyone who knew me, particularly since I'd been a former marathon runner, hadn't missed a week at the gym (even during periods of injury) in more than two decades, had always followed a Mediterranean-like diet, and since my mother's stroke, had been cooking all meals for her on a low sodium, cardiac-healthy plan. I had barely finished the cardiac rehab process when the Covid pandemic hit. For the next two years there were no formal summer editions of the site since there were no public concerts, and no essays since the libraries I had come to rely on for research access to databases were closed. Though I had hoped to continue with the Ten Summers sequel/prequel, I did something I thought was equally important during the pandemic. After working with my mother, who is now partially and permanently disabled, trying to help her through the aphasia, I wrote a book covering some of our experiences. Aphasia is a terrible disorder for those suffering through it, and I wanted to distill what we had learned in a way which might be possible to help others. The book was completed and sent to the U.S. Copyright Office in 2021, though to this date it does not have a publisher. This is the first essay which I've been able to post to the site since the initial essay on artificial intelligence, a subject which will be returned to below. And after all of that, it still is not possible to stop worrying about the student loans.
One of the last pieces of correspondence received from the student loan system indicated an amount due approaching FOUR TIMES the original amount of loans received for graduate school. Early threats from the student loan creditors included not only wage garnishments but garnishments of any payment coming from the government, including Social Security. When politicians, including the President, speak of needing to "fix" the student loan system so that students can plan for owning a home, taking care of their families, saving for their childrens' education and/or retirement, etc. the words all fall flat with me. Those are all things I have been denied as a result of the fact that I valued education, planned for a professional life which included having and raising children, and turned to student loans as a means of reaching those goals. If, as expected, the student loan system turns to garnishing whatever Social Security payments I might receive in the future (which will be based almost entirely on earnings from before graduate school), calculated at rate of owing more than four times what was originally borrowed, then I will be left with absolutely nothing to live on. Nothing for rent, nothing for food, and more importantly nothing for medicine or medical care. One of the things that has been the greatest disappointment in the care I have received following my surgery is that there has not been a single doctor or medical professional who has ever asked if there was something so bothersome, so troubling to me that it might affect my future well being. It's very simple, particularly for a cadiologist, to turn to stronger and stronger medicines at higher and higher doses, without ever getting to the "heart" of the problem. And will relying on the government to pay for medical care in the future via Medicare have any better result than the trip to the EEOC in San Diego so many years ago? All those concerns come before the very real possiblity of any type of abuse - sexual, physical or otherwise - that a situation posed by a personal totally without a means of living might create. The message I have continually received over the years is "Who cares?"
MANY QUESTIONS, FEW ANSWERS
Somewhere around 2006, a representative from one of the student loan collection agencies called. It was about a decade after the student loans went into default, partly because the offer to make minimal payment as discussed earlier had been refused. The call began along the usual script to which I had become accustomed, including the claim of no knowledege that the loans had fallen into default in 1996. But it wasn't long before the call went off the usual script, and half chuckling, the woman suggested I make a payment in a small amount, suggesting an amount which was precisely the same as what I had written on the paperwork sent to the loan collectors just before the loans had fallen into default. I paused for a second, then asked something to the effect of how well she could do math. By that time, at the amount she had suggested, it would have taken over 100 years or more to pay back the loan without having an income. It was an insulting and demeaning call. If the amount suggested wasn't a coincidence, then that would seem to have indicated that she was looking at the paperwork that had been filed just prior to the loan going into default. But that was a type of mocking to which I had become accustomed in the days since 1992. While verbally demeaning and diminishing a person seems to have become par for the course in current political discourse, words or actions that dehumanize and/or defile an intended target speak to a much different philosophy. In terms of the opposition research discussed at the start of the essay, it was as if someone knew that my life had been upended and couldn't resist reminding me of those "opposites" - the person voted in high school most likely to succeed having the least success, the person voted most intelligent being referred to as stupid or an idiot (as I had been over the years), and more.
Had I never been able to put the words down on paper, there is no way that anyone would have ever known things like that - or anything else like the fact that every time I talked about or applied for a specific job, the alumni news section of the next Harvard Business School bulletin listed someone else obtaining very similar employment, or that the local HBS alumni club newsletter, which usually listed events on the outside back cover, always seemed to arrive in the mail the day after a free event listed (that I would have been able to go to) took place. Much of what was happening took place in way in which no one else could to see it or in such a manner that it would have no meaning to anyone else except me. At one point the gardener who was working at the house brought along a person to help who we had never seen before. In introducing himself, the Hispanic man said his name was "Geronimo, like the last of the Mo-HE-cans" (with special emphasis on the HE). Only problem witht that was the Geronimo was not a Mohican, in the end he basically was a political prisoner of the U.S. government. The great irony of his name comment was that our family were the original owners of the house we lived in, and I did go to a high school at which we were the "Indians." Was that yet again another coincidence, or should I have been contacting Amnesty International as well?
In the 30 years that have passed since 1992, I have, to the extent possible, monitored what has been happening within the student loan system. Though many of the changes have been positive, allowing for greater access to education, the question I have to ask is at what cost to the U.S. taxpayers and the students themselves? I have been a part of the system long enough to have seen the arc the guaranteed student loan system has taken from being what I would consider to be an arm's length financial transaction, meaning one in which all parties to the transaction are independent and on equal footing, to one in which the government's power in the transaction has greatly increased whle that of students has substantially decreased. And in 2010, the student loan system was effectively "nationalized" by the government under one of the provisions related to Obamacare. Many of the more recent shifts altered repayment plans for the loans. But probably the most significant of the earlier shifts in power came prior to that with the 1998 elimination of the ability of loans to be discharged in bankruptcy, particularly in a reasonable time period in which the concept of a "fresh start" would be useful. At the 2014 radio show, I asked how a government can make a change in loan provisions and then retroactively apply it to loans which were taken out under completely different terms. The host's response was that government can do whatever it wants to do. But is that really the case? One of the first legal articles I found dealing with student loans and bankruptcy was titled "Forging Middle Ground: Revision of Student Loan Debts in Bankruptcy as an Impetus to Amend 11 U.S.C. Section 523 (a)(8), as published in 75 Iowa Law Review 733 (1990). In that article the author questioned whether or not the decisions made in the early days of changes to the code involving bankruptcy were promped by hard evidence of the need for the change or by "myth and media hype." My follow-up question to that would be was there ever substantial empirical evidence of need presented in Congress to prompt the changes that led to the eventual elimination of the bankruptcy option for student debt, or were there other political or power motivations at play?
The next question would be how the government feels it has the right, as a non-profit institution, to profit so thoroughly and extensively from student debt in a system that in has evolved (in my opinion) into an increasingly unsustainable one. Say, for the sake of argument and round numbers, the original capital amount of loan debt for my three years of graduate education was $30,000 and the amount paid back prior to default was $10,000. That would leave $20,000 worth of original debt in a form that was never consolidated to cancel the original terms of the debt. If the amount now owing on the student loans is roughly four times the amount originally accepted, or $120,000, then that would mean that the amount the government thinks it is entitled to represents a government profit of $100,000. Since no paperwork was ever signed cancelling the original terms of the debt, then that entire $100,000 comes from currently accruing interest, capitalized interest from periods of forebearance and added collection fees. While a certain portion of that $100,000 could be considered a valid expense for monitoring and collection activity, there is no conceivable way that the entire amount could be justified as government funding only covering expenses.
A couple of additional comments will be added on that point as well. Some might look at the $100,000 number and think that it would be usury. By legal definition (at least at the time I was conducting the bulk of the research for the Ten Summers book), it is not. Congress specifically exempted student loans from any usury provisions by inserting into law language saying that (paraphrasing) as long as the interest rate applied to the loans doesn't exceed market loan rates, then no matter how much the total amount due grows it is not usury. If a government is going to measure something by "market" standards, shouldn't student loan debt be able to be subject to the same terms (and protections) as any other consumer debt? As the debt grows, is there some point at which it crosses a line into a violation of a person's rights against a government taking without due process of law? It is not difficult to think of how a lawyer might respond to the question of a government taking. That lawyer would probably say, "Well, since the government never actually took that amount from you, you haven't suffered any damage." Really? Even if I had never received a raise or moved into other work after that initial post-graduation job, I would be out salary totalling more than $3 million, not to mention, more importantly, all the basic aspects of life continually mentioned by politicians as the justification for needing to "fix" the student loan system. Over the years I've learned it's much easier to throw stereotypes at a woman than anything else and try to make them stick. Some have called me a gold digger for expecting employment in a field actually related to the education for which I took out the student loans with pay and benefits in line with those any of my peers could expect. What I have never heard is someone asking a far less sexist, chauvenistic and paternalistic question like "What about if a woman found a person and was in a relationship in which she would have had the greater income and earning ability? How would it have affected her life and family formation if her means earning of living was constricted?" Somewhere underlying all of this is the broader issue of how, in the 21st century, some people still see the role of women in this world.
In the coursework for the degree from the Fletcher School, there was a substantial amount of time devoted to studying power relationships as the basis of interaction between countries and among people and their governments. In one of the introductory courses on international relations, the textbook (Dougherty, James E. and Pfaltzgraff, Robert L., Contending Theories of International Relations: A Comprehensive Survey, 2nd Edition), offered the following definitions of power:
- The ability to move men in some desired fashion though persuasion, purchase, barter or coercion
Look in particular at the fourth definition of power included on the list above. My response to that lawyer mentioned above would be that from the moment I received the first offset letter from the government stating that wages, tax refunds, lottery winnings - and even Social Security payments - would be garnished, my life existed under the threat of deprivation from government as a result of the student loans. Any person would make a reasonable assumption that the government intended to follow through on what it said it would do. The threat of deprivation of income was as real as any actual government taking, since it was would have happened the moment I had any wage income. (Some changes to the student loan system in more recent years, like not requiring payments for incomes under a certain level and limiting payments to a certain percentage of income have been made, but they were not the terms of my student loans. Also, many measures cannot be used once the loans have fallen into default.) In the Ten Summers book I began relating stories of the many instances in which we received calls at home asking us when we would be moving, or telling us that the purported real estate agent making the call had a buyer for our home. In the period after that book was completed and the second started, we began receiving letters placed in our mailbox - showing photos of what most often were young, nuclear families with two smiling young parents and children - saying that these people were interested in buying our house. While a part of that is no doubt common practice within the real estate industry, the frequency with which it happened made it seem like someone was suggesting we - both my mother and I - leave. That feeling intensified after events that happened immediately after my mother's stroke and as I began looking through her papers. It was mentioned earlier that the student loan collection agencies had in no uncertain terms threatened to come after her for my debt. I would have to say, in things she had been "advised" or "persuaded" to accept, that I could see the beginnings of a back door legal strategy and framework for collection agents to do just that, particularly if I challenged anything about the student loan system as I had begun to do via my writings.
The words on the pages here have explained why there is an essay section on this site, as well as why wiping away either all or part of my students loans via forgiveness will do nothing to end the nightmare those student loans have created. Forgiving all or part of the loans just sweeps the problem under the rug without having to address it, while at the same time creating an unaffordable tax obligation for me. In my opinion, the broader need to wipe away vast amounts of student loans via forgiveness is a symptom of a failed system that just happens to be more convenient than having to have a real conversation about how and why that system has evolved to its current state. A couple of additional thoughts and comments will be offered here before turning to a finishing section involving knowledge, one or two other experiences and the growing presence of artificial intelligence. In the original 2003 essay (which can be viewed at www.dorothyswebsite.org/ArchivedEssays2003-1.html), several court opinions and decisions about student loans and the "undue hardship" provisions were discussed. In one, Matter of Rivers, 213 BR 616 (page 621, Footnote 4), it is stated that:
" . . . While a home buyer thinks in terms of a multiple of present gross income to predict the amount of an affordable mortgage, a student loan debtor must look beyond present income to some point in the future, to predict the amount of student debt which can be repaid without hardship. This is because there must be some interval of time before a debtor might begin to fully enjoy the financial benefits of the investment in education. While the income prospects of debtors will vary, the method of analysis of their respective abilities to service debt might be the same. They should each be able to afford debt payments which bear some relation to the amount of income they can expect to receive. Testing hypothetical scenarios, and noting the use of a rule of thumb in the mortgage lending industry, it may be reasonable to conclude that a student loan debtor should be able to repay without 'substantial hardship' a debt in the amount of gross income he or she expects to receive in the tenth year of employment. When considering the various educational possibilities and costs associated with them, this rule of thumb may offer an additional avenue of analysis to aid in determining whether the educational debt is out of proportion to the earning ability of the student."
The origins of the student loan program in the Higher Education Act of 1965 were outlined in the original 2003 essay. At the time the guaranteed student loan system was created, it was intended primarily as "A FINAL LINE OF FINANCIAL DEFENSE FOR FAMILIES AND STUDENTS FROM ALL LEVELS OF INCOME." That ship left the harbor a long time ago. With the continually escalating cost of education, even the student aid services say that for many, student loans have become a fact of life rather than the originally intended final line of financial defense. The 10-year repayment goal has always been the standard for student loan repayment, but in the TICAS report cited earlier it was said that the ten-year goal "may be increasingly unrealistic for many borrowers" (and that report was written 10 years ago). A provision was added over the years forgiving loan debt after 20 years of income-based repayments; however, if an educational debt cannot be repaid after 20 years, doesn't that speak to the passage in the Matter of Rivers statement above about educational debt being out of proportion to earning ability? That in turn leads to questions about the role of educational institutions in the whole student loan process.
Though I don't know what the process is now, in the entire time I was receiving student loans, I never once saw a student loan check. The loan amounts were sent directly to the financial aid office of the graduate schools, and the schools accepted the funds to be applied to my account. The question that might be asked is why, then or now, any educational institution (particularly when it comes to a graduate education) should be allowed to simply wipe their hands of any responsibility for the federal student loan debts of their students once those students walk out the doors of the school? The schools would likely say that their only mission and role is to educate, and beyond that they bear no responsibility for their students' lives and/or earnings. Why should that be? If a a student's federal loan debt either approaches falling into default or cannot be paid off after 10 years, should there not be some legally-required process that shifts at least part of the burden of dealing with that debt to the schools before having it fall solely on the students, their families, or the taxpayers? Why not have a legally-mandated office at every school charged with examining the debt, why a default may be pending or why it cannot be paid off after 10 years, with mandated reports sent to the student loan system and made available to the public? Most schools have extensive alumni networks, and why should not those networks (beyond basic alumni associations) be in some way integrated with such an office to help the former students whose lives or livelihoods might be in jeopardy?
The questions could go on and on, far beyond the scope of this essay. But here one final question will be asked. Is there something else going on here? As the administration of President Barack Obama introduced the changes which effectively nationalized the student loan system, President Barack Obama said, ". . . in the United States, no one should go broke because they chose to go to college." (See http://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/issues/education/higher-education/ensuring-that-student-loans-are-affordable. What is meant by "nationalizing" the student loan system? The subject was covered very thoroughly in a February 2020 report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) titled "Income-Driven Repayment Plans for Student Loans: Budgetary Costs and Policy Options" (available at www.cbo.gov/publication/56277, but looking at the situation as it was before the Covid pandemic hit). As outlined in that report, from 1965 - 2010, most federal student loans (such as mine) were issued by private lending institutions and guaranteed by the government, with most students making fixed monthly payments over a set period. Since 2010, however, all federal student loans have been issued directly by the federal government. With that change, borrowers have begun repaying a growing fraction of the loans through income-driven repayment plans which depend not only on a loan's balance and interest rate but also on the borrower's income.
While there are certain benefits to the borrower under the income-driven repayment plans, the problem that also arises in the pursuit of "no student going broke" under the new system is that loans repaid via income-driven plans have greater lifetime costs to the government than those repaid through fixed payment plans. According to the CBO report, borrowers under the income-driven plans tend to borrow higher amounts, make smaller loan payments, and have debts that are forgiven after a certain period of time if the balance is not paid off. The CBO figures show that for every dollar disbursed, the government is projected to lose 16.9 cents for loans repaid through income-driven plans but gain 12.8 cents for other loans such as those on fixed payment plans. Repayment also affects tax revenues since the interest payments on student loans are tax deductible (though this to a certain extent is offset by forgiven loans being treated as taxable income). The report also showed that based on 2019 baseline CBO budget projections, if current laws remained unchanged, the $1.05 trillion in federal student loans expected to be disbursed between 2020 and 2029 would increase the federal deficit by $10.7 billion. Why does the government have such a hard time making the system work? What other factors might be in play? One of the definitions of power listed above states that "[Power is] a symbol of the ability to change the distribution of results, and particularly the results of someone's behavior. In this respect, power can be compared in some ways to money, which is our usual standard symbol of purchasing power - that is, of our ability to change the distribution of good and resources." If anything and everything tied to student loans becomes related to income and administered by government, might that not leave the door wide open to changing the "distribution of goods and resources" in any direction desired by the party in power? How would anyone ever know if resolution of student loans became tied to a student's pursuit of a job or field of work "approved" by government or "not approved" by government? Does the government have any detailed statistics of the characteristics of loan holders and fields of education of the loans that have fallen into default as compared to those whose loan situations have been resolved or paid off? If the distribution of resources is changing in any way, who are those resources being directed toward or away from?
Earlier it was mentioned that "business" fields were specifically excluded in one means of approved debt resolution. But consider the following - in that same 2011 year in which the first mention of artificial intelligence appeared in the July essay, the September essay was titled "Is America in Jeopardy?" The essay introduced and discussed, in particular, two reports produced by The National Academies at the request of Congress (with links to the reports available on the site). The first, titled "Rising Above the Gathering Storm," was published in 2005. A second report, titled "Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Revisited: Rapidly Approaching a Category 5," was published in 2010, roughly at about the same time the government was "nationalizing" the student loan system and sending more student loan holders into the public sector. A quote on page 37 of that report said:
"During the years since the Gathering Storm report was produced there has been another change in the character of job creation in America that presumably cannot sustain itself over the longer term. In particular, during this period the private sector eliminated 4,755,000 jobs while government (at all levels) added 676,000 jobs. The difficulty of reversing this trend is exacerbated by yet another development wherein, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, federal jobs now pay wages and benefits that on average exceed those in the private sector by 55 percent for similar occupations."
Additional passages of the report concluded that "the latitude to fix the problems being confonted has been severly diminished by the growth of the national debt over this period from $8 trillion to $13 trillion [at the same time changes to the student loan system were projected to add to the federal deficit]. Further, in spite of sometimes heroic efforts and occasional very bright spots, our overall public school system - or more accurately 14,000 systems - has shown little sign of improvement, particularly in mathematics and science. Finally, many other nations have been markedly progressing, thereby affecting America's relative ability to compete effectively for new factories, research laboratories, administrative centers - and jobs. While this progress by other nations is to be both encouraged and welcomed, so too is the notion that Americans wish to continue to be among those peoples who do prosper. The only promising avenue for achieving the latter outcome, in the view of the Gathering Storm committee and many others, is through innovation. Fortunately, this nation has in the past demonstrated considerable prowess in this regard. Unfortunately, it has increasingly placed shackles on that prowess such that, if not relieved, the nation's ability to provide financially and personally rewarding jobs for its own citizens can be expected to decline at an accelerating pace."
This was a 2015 digital art piece I created called "Iconic: Liberty Enlightening the World" (on the left, framed at 13 x 19 inches). The piece on the right, "Iconic: Words," was a companion piece framed at a much smaller size, an attempt at illustrating the much greater emphasis in today's world placed on visual images over words and reading. Many people do not know that a broken shackle and chain lie at the base of the statue's right foot. The National Parks Service includes more information on the shackle and chain, and the relation of that part of the statue to abolition, at www.nps.gov/stil/learn/historyculture/abolition.htm.
SCREW IT ALL - JUST SKIP SCHOOL, GO TO THE BEACH AND LET AI DO THE THINKING (AND SOME OF THE REASONS NOT TO TAKE THAT ADVICE)
In the early stages of completing research for the "Ten Summers" sequel/prequel, there was quite a bit of research done on public library and university computers where databases could be accessed. The problems that were occurring with the computer at home had also left me, from time to time, without a computer until one could be fixed or replaced. On one particular day in our town's main public library, I was on one of the terminals looking for plain text translations of parts of Milton's "Paradise Lost" (after already having checked out books like Hannah Arendt's "On Totalitarianism" from others). In addition to delving back into several aspects of my own personal experiences, the text of the "Induced Sexuality" book began in the first chapter with descriptions of time spent as a Fulbright Scholar under the Cold War Communist regime in the former Yugoslavia. Latter chapters also began looking at aspects and manifestations of fascism, particularly since at one point someone had sent an e-mail to my inbox describing a science fiction film about a "future fascist state of California where everyone is required to be bisexual." In between those chapters, there was time spent looking at experiences of a generation earlier in which efforts to expose young people to any of a variety of subjects had to be accomplished by finding a way around those young people's parents, something much more easily accomplished today via the internet and social media. On the terminal that day, in looking for that translation of text from "Paradise Lost," a translation popped up on the screen saying "You seal your fate in the way you step away from God." Though I would like to give a source for that translation, I later was unable to locate the page on which I had seen it, more likely the product of looking at several pages at once rather than anything else.
Though my journey looking at technological change, particularly as related to governance, began in graduate school, it really has never stopped. In the early years of the site a particular quote was included at the bottom of each page. The first quote, included the year the Essay Archives were established, was "The artist's whole business is to make something out of nothing." (Paul Valery c. 1930). That was included partly because I had been subject not just to having to do a lot with little, but quite literally having to do everything with nothing. In 2014, with the Art of Progress theme, the quote was "The art of progress is to preserve order amid change and change amid order." (Alfred North Whitehead, 1957). But probably the favorite quote over the years, and one which seems to continue to be relevant today, was posted for a couple of years beginning with the site's 5th anniversary summer: "The future enters us . . . in order to be transformed in is . . . long before it happens." (Rainer Maria Rilke, from "Letters to a Young Poet.") With the advent of aritificial intelligence (AI), which has grown in leaps and bounds since the first AI-related essay was posted on the site in 2018, have we entered an age in which the future has already begun to be transformed in us? And what might those changes be for "us" as human beings, "us" as a society, and "us" as a country, not to mention the global order, which some of the world's most authoritarian political ideologies have always sought to dominate?
Earlier in the text of this essay I began pointing out experiences which had happened and questions which had arisen which appeared to have some religious basis, and some of those questions carried through in the text of the second "Induced Sexuality" book (keeping in mind that we live in a country in which one of the fundamental tenets of our constitution is the separation of church and state). In one chapter of that book, the intersection of techological change and religion was discussed. One article was referenced, particularly because the text of the article, though it appeared in 1998, seemed particularly prescient for the world which existed both as the chapter was being written in in 2017 and the world that exists now - 25 years later - in 2023. In the article, titled "Nine Global Trends in Religion," (by Ron Sellers in The Futurist, Vol. 32, No. 1, January-February 1998, pp. 20-25), the author said the following:
"Religion, like technology and politics, changes with time and those changes are happening at a faster pace than ever before . . . but there are some unique obstacles to overcome in trying to forecast faith. The first problem is that religion is not global. Unlike technology, religion and politics are often national or regional phenomena. Technological changes can transform the entire world ... but in the foreseeable future, religion and politics will continue to be shaped by the smaller geographic landscape. Another obstacle is that most major religions, being founded on tenets and beliefs that are seen as coming from an unchanging deity, don't lead the way to change. Rather, changes in religious practice usually comes as a reaction to broader societal changes . . . Forecasting the future of religion often requires a forecast of religion's reactions to other changes in our world. A final obstacle is that, frankly, religion is a very touchy subject." The author identified what he considered to be nine major trends in religion, three of which will be included below. Those are:
-- TREND ONE: The continuing presence of religion. "Science fiction visionaries such as Isaac Asimov and Gene Rodenberry were fond of portraying even the near-term future as a world free of religion. Don't bet on it. The faithful wold say that religion will continue to exist because it is truth in its purest form. The skeptical would counter that uneducated humanity will always have a need to depend on something larger than itself. Regardless of your perspective, religion is here to stay . . . Communism has tried for 80 years to rid the world of religion, yet faith survived . . . Religion on the whole is not close to facing extinction from the human race."
-- TREND FOUR: Religious mixture and conflicts on a micro level. "Factional strife in Lebanon, Ireland, Indonesia, Bosnia, Sudan and Israel is often motivated by clashing religious viewpoints. There is little reason to think that this will change in the near future . . . Immigrants are often willing to learn a new language and a new culture, but abandoning their faith is a much more serious sacrifice."
TREND EIGHT: Religious individualism and its effects. "It would not be surprising to see denominations gradually realign according to their conservative/liberal or mainline/Evangelical focus, rather than along traditional denominational lines. While exact predictions are impossible, the scenarios include a split between conservative and moderate sides . . . [and earlier in the text of the book I had discussed what had been a decision by Jimmy Carter to sever ties with the Southern Baptist Convention because of the insistence that women be subservient to men]
The author concluded the article by pointing out several regional religious trends, including saying that "the United States will find itself at a religious crossroads .. . Americans are showing increased interest in spiritual matters . . . but often not in traditional religions or in life-changing commitment to their faith. At the same time, religion is becoming privatized, often due to government and societal hostility and skepticism toward overt displays of faith . . . This will most likely cause groups that incorporate their faith more fully into their daily lives (e.g. fundamentalist Christians, Mormons and Orthodox Jews) to become disaffected and separated from society as a whole, causing yet another division in American society."
Today it seems as if those divisions are becoming prevalent not only in the U.S. but throughout the world, but that is a subject far beyond the scope of this essay. However, where there is division, there also exists an ability for any number of forces to capitalize on that division. What I can say from the research I've completed over the years is that change, particularly change driven by technology, often occurs at a pace faster than society as a whole is able to absorb and accomodate that change. Governments and laws must also adapt to those changes, and most recently we have seen and heard calls for the government to step in and in some way regulate artificial intelligence.
While the topic of artificial intelligence is relatively new, debates on the status and place of women are not. Many of those debates have stemmed from the more traditional views of women and their roles as opposed to the role of women that has evolved since the 1960s, the time in which many societal and cultural changes in the U.S., including the establishment of the student loan system, were taking place. Over the years I have heard opinions ranging from a traditionalist one that a woman should have nothing unless it is given to her by a man to a more fundamentalist perspective (cited in a quote in the second book) from Egypt that a woman should only leave the house twice - once when she goes to live with her husband and the other when she is carried out in a coffin. Neither of those sentiments or anything like them represent what most women who choose to obtain an education and use their skills expect (and what many governments and organizations still strive to achieve) - full and equal participation in the workplace and the opportunity to earn a living based on their own abilities. Legal language concerning the dischargeability of student loans under "undue hardship" provisions freqently includes as a "good faith" test a judgement of whether a debtor's education and skills are being used to the best advantage. Using the education obtained via my loans would certainly not qualify as "being used to the best advantage" if they were applied to a minimum wage fast food job. If the way in which an education is being used is important to the courts (and therefore government), yet denied or curtailed in any way based on some type of religious objection, then does that again cross a line between the separation of church and state? I would like to know what statistics the goverment has on people like me when it comes to student loans. Are there other student loan-holders still within the system who now face the concern of Social Security checks being garnished? If so, how many? What stories might they have to share, and how similar or different might their experiences have been? Or have I been "singled out" in some way?
Some might say, "Your problems are old history, and they have nothing to do with today's world." Please don't be so sure about that. Let me relate two final anecdotes here. I often have to go to pick up things at a pharmacy not far from my home. That pharmacy has a rack of magazines directly under the window where prescriptions are picked up. After several trips to the pharmacy, I noticed that each time I went, there were magazines (as is typical) with covers of successful women, everyone from Taylor Swift to Betty White. However, at the same time those magazines were displayed, they often were displayed between or next to other magazines having something to do with the word "witch" on the cover (and none of this was happening at Halloween). One day I finally complained to a woman in the pharmacy, asking if someone there had a problem with successful women. The "witches" magazines have since been removed, but the experience left me wondering whether someone with certain unfavorable attitude toward women was employed in a place where many people, including women, need to pick up their medicines. Also, one of my post-surgery requirements was having to walk as much as possible. On a walk one day through the city's downtown area, I came across the item pictured below sitting with nothing else around it on the bench of a coffee shop bordering the area where I was walking. What was interesting to me is that the feminist word was not accompanied by the logo for Wonder Woman, but rather one for Superman. Was that someone's way of saying that in their eyes a feminist is more like a man than a woman?
We live in a world where on one hand, a global superstar like Taylor Swift can sell out shows attended by thousands of people while on the other hand a woman can die in prison in a country like Iran after being arrested for improperly wearing a mandatory hijab. Regardless of where a woman - or a man - ends up, the journey usually begins with education, and education is the foundation of knowledge - though it is still not universally available and accessible to all. One of the quotes which introduced the "Ten Summers" book was "A popular government, without popular information, is but a prelude to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance. And a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." What will education and knowledge even mean in the future as the prevalence of artificial intelligence continues to grow? If technology brings changes in mere months or a few short years, what does that mean on a college level for a student loan holder on a 20-year repayment plan who might quickly find their education as out of date or irrelevant as the computer pictured above? Will either our colleges or the student loan system be able to account for that?
But looking to an even earlier age of students, what will knowledge mean in the coming years as the world begins to educate what might be considered the first AI generation? Some of the discussion now appears to focus on how this current versions of AI can be integrated into coursework, etc. It is likely that our brilliant educators will be able to adapt AI in its current but somewhat superficial state much as they were able to adapt to using the internet and online learning during the pandemic. What about five, ten or twenty years from now, though? The other quote introducing the Ten Summers book was "No true philosophy is possible where the fear of consequences inhibits the pursuit of truth." In a horrible, awful way, we are now facing the reality that an element of fear has been added to learning process in schools through gun violence, active shooter drills and any other type of exercise that reminds even the youngest students that the possibility of danger exists. We have a view and defnition of power that includes controlling the minds and actions of others. We have from one perspective a view that religion is truth in its purest form facing the rapidly growing and relatively godless "truth" that comes from computers processing data in a way no human ever could. What will the sum total of those parts add up to when what we know might be driven by an algorithm and whoever controls that algorithm? Will anyone make the effort to really learn if an answer is as easy as pressing a button (or asking whatever a future generation of Siri will be called)? And what might that mean for our democracy?
In an attempt to place what I had experienced over the years - and the way in which I had experienced things - into perspective, I often found myself needing to make comparisons to systems and philosophies other than democracy. For some surprising reasons, I kept being able to draw simliarities to the tenets of facism (and not because of the e-mail which had been sent to me). I was going to explain it all in the essay until I came across a brief but vivid article online. The page address for that article, should anyone choose to read it, is https://liberalarts.org.uk/fascisms-then-and-now-arendt-origins-of-totalitarianism. Beyond that, there will be no further discussions of political theory or ideology. However, I will say that not long ago I watched a show with a young black woman who was being interviewed about being "first" in her area of success. The interviewer asked her why it was so important to her to be first. She responded that it was important to her to be first because it meant that if she was first, she would not be the last (to be able to accomplish what she had). My hopes for this essay are just the opposite. If I have been the first to experience what has taken place with the student loans (though I doubt I am), I certainly hope by posting this essay that no one else or their families will be subject to the same, life-altering experiences that I and my family have endured over the last 30 years.
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