Friday, June 15, 2018

Of Presuming Believers, and Skeptical Dissent

In light of recent high-profile tragic deaths, I have listened to and read numerous hot takes about the supposed lack of God in the lives of people who commit suicide. While, even as an unrepentant agnostic, I value the freedom of religious expression guaranteed by the Constitution, I could not disagree more. Depression, mental illness or any other diagnosis one cares to ascribe to possible causes of suicide, faith in a higher power earnestly has little to no domain in the matter. Certainly, no benevolent deity would selfishly command absolute worship at their altar and abandon someone at the time of sincere need because of any purported deficiency on their part to do so. To be even more candid, God, if reasonably existent at all, should not, and conceivably does not, vaingloriously anguish over whether belief in Him prevails among his creations, as much as He is contented to humbly believe in them.

Granted, many attribute all of this to God’s will in the grand scheme as a testament to those who seek Him. Fine, perhaps that is true; my agnosticism (or heathenism, as some may interpret it) allows such an interpretation. But is there a manifestation of God in that last desperate, evidently hopeless moment? A preeminent understanding of Him presented at that moment? In my opinion, God undoubtedly either is or is not present - any lack thereof in the person's life not withstanding. This is not meant to dismiss, disregard or disparage religion as an explanation for the circumstances. Yet, we should not do the same when it comes to psychological, social or other plausible explanations - with the caveat that sometimes there are none to discover - in favor of the former. We do a disservice not only to society by doing so, but especially to those persons inwardly suffering from depression, mental illness or any other diagnosis, while they simultaneously battle any stigma attached to it, that goes beyond an existential scope.

Individual free will, manifested by a moment of clarity and the expression of it therein, always will supersede any external forces’ avowed transcendent providence over our actions, meant to justify nothing less than dogmatic coercion. While the latter may appear to lessen the burdens on our soul, it misguidedly lays responsibility elsewhere beyond our own conflicted psyche and personal situation. As Doyle’s Holmes proclaimed, “once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” In this context, we have yet to fully eliminate, let alone understand, the impossible that would allow the improbable, because sometimes the impossible is not easily packaged into a generalized narrative that demands specific answers to satiate the inherent need for closure.

In the end, there is no rationality for judgmental speculation concerning whether living a life with or without faith plays a role. Compassion and understanding for a life lost should be the lone priority, and to the accompanying grieving of those affected by it. A spiritual path may be the calling for many in this world toward the next, but there is no mandate for it to be the sole way to attain purpose for the few or the one. A meaningful life simply is a life lived, and a life lived simply is a meaningful one.

©2018 Steve Sagarra

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Student Loan Industrial Complex

Expecting a federal tax refund? If the United States government erroneously believes you owe a federal debt - particularly, on a federal student loan - do not count on receiving it. In 2009, the U.S. Department of Education controversially chose the private student loan company Sallie Mae, originally established as a government entity in 1973, to exclusively service federal student loans on its behalf. In 2014, Sallie Mae, switching to consumer banking operations, spun off its student loan unit as Navient Corporation. In the three year period following that split, Navient faced numerous complaints, investigations and lawsuits - several of which resulted in monetary settlements to victims - for fraudulent accounting practices and violating consumer protection laws. Among these allegations included charging excessive interest rates to military members. Last year, they were sued for violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act and Fair Debt Collection Act.

States Defy Federal Government With Laws Aiming to Help Students (Student Loan Hero)

Why Would the Government Stop States From Helping Student Borrowers? (The Atlantic)

To that last point, Navient egregiously continues to use outdated, and outright false, documents from its parent company, Sallie Mae, to collect on allegedly defaulted student loans. If such attempts fail, the alleged outstanding loan is kicked back to the Department of Education, who then uses its governmental mandate to pursue the supposed debt. These measures include absconding with tax refunds, which the Internal Revenue Service is obligated to hand over under federal law for any outstanding federal debts - whether it exist or not. Established by the very creditors and lenders from whom consumers would seek relief, the three credit monitoring services - Equifax, Experian, TransUnion - in what should surprise no one, are no help in the matter. Using questionable documentation provided by these same creditors and lenders, whether legitimate or otherwise, they simply, more often than not, claim the legitimacy of the disputed account after concluding their bogus “investigation.” Thus, the economic servitude of imperiled consumers is maintained, with little other recourse to rectify the situation.

I know this because I am a target of this government-sanctioned scam. By the end of 2005, I repaid my undergraduate and graduate student loan to Sallie Mae. A decade later, I began receiving letters from Navient concerning that previously settled student loan. At the same time, a student loan account naming them as the lender and, afterward, the Department of Education appeared on my credit reports; as often eventually happens to older accounts, my Sallie Mae one had since disappeared. Until this time, I never had heard of Navient and, certainly, had never conducted or solicited any business with them. Admittedly, and unfortunately, I no longer have any Sallie Mae paperwork - including a congratulatory letter for paying off my student loan, speculatively an accidental casualty of a spring cleaning purge several years ago. Even more, the bank I was with at the time is no longer in business due to several mergers and the 2008 financial crisis. And because of this circumstance, the I.R.S. paid my anticipated, albeit minuscule, tax refund to the Department of Education - despite the latter never sending any notice of intention to collect this alleged debt by such means, which is a violation of federal law.

Anyone who has paid attention to education news the last few years is aware of not only the financial but also moral bankruptcy of the federal student loan program. While it is far past time to reexamine and overhaul, and quite frankly dismantle, the credit monitoring services - particularly in light of recent breaches to consumers' personal information - there is absolute urgency concerning the student loan industrial complex, and the various unscrupulous associated entities and agencies involved in it, that only grows worse each day for borrowers.

©2018 Steve Sagarra

Monday, March 5, 2018

Irish Butterfly Effect

May the wings of the butterfly kiss the sun,
And find your shoulder to light on,
To bring you luck, happiness and riches,
Today, tomorrow and beyond.
-Irish blessing

When I was in elementary school - 5th grade art class, if memory serves - I created the painting shown in the above photo. Aside perhaps from any refrigerator art, it is the only true artistic piece I have ever painted in my life. Although never giving an official title, I have dubbed it over the years as, “Irish Butterfly Effect.” At various points of its existence, I have been indifferent toward it, shown contempt for it, and, eventually, fully appreciative and embracing of it. Again if I recall correctly, the green/orange color scheme was a random choice in honor of my Irish heritage…yet quite oblivious at the time of the historical association, and significance, of blue with Ireland! Moreover, I likewise did not know in my youth, and only until more recently, the importance of the butterfly in Irish (and Celtic) culture, history, and mythology.

Thus, I extend to you the blessing above, and defer to the links below.

Dealan-Dé: The Butterfly in Irish Mythology

The Wooing of Etain: An Irish Tale of Love, Loss, and Jealousy

©2018 Steve Sagarra