Point of View Columns

College Admissions in America – The Tip of the Iceberg

The series of revelations describing a veritable cesspool of corruption, cheating, bribery and betrayals in the admissions process at prestigious schools of higher education including Georgetown, Stanford, the University of California, Los Angeles, University of San Diego, University of Southern California, University of Texas, Austin, Wake Forest and Yale leaves one spectacular question swinging in the air like a rotting corpse of lies – what is it that we don’t know? In other words, in the jet-propelled world of high stakes college admissions, are we to believe that only the nine schools mentioned are the bad actors? Or are we looking at the tip of the iceberg?

In a country where a fake billionaire can lie his way into the presidency, why should we be surprised when anyone with $50,000 to $4,000,000 can lie and cheat to get their son or daughter into the college of their choice, instead of their child being chosen by the college? The audacity of the half a hundred otherwise wealthy and respectable defendants is breathtaking in that whatever concerns that they might have about equity, fairness or….wait for it…..setting a good example for their children, were outweighed by their desire to be able to say that their child was a student at Yale, UCLA, Georgetown, etc.

In a culture where imagined success literally trumps actual success, we cannot be surprised to find out that there are privileged young men and women are at this very moment students in colleges and schools that they are not qualified to attend. And it is tragic that students who might actually benefit from having a cherished once in a lifetime opportunity to attend these schools are not attending because their place has been taken by someone who already has access to every opportunity that life has to offer.

But we should not be deceived into thinking that this is simply a matter of a few (fifty???) bad actors trying to game the college admissions system with several millions of dollars and some photo shopped applications. This is not the only way that the United Privileged Parents of America are gaming the college admissions system.

We should understand that even reasonably bright and capable young men and women are being asked to compete for seats in universities and colleges all over America with young men and women (who may or may not be reasonably bright and capable) who have the advantage of having SAT “coaches” and college admissions consultants which can cost their parents tens of thousands of dollars a year – not to mention the fact that attendance a prestigious (and therefore brutally expensive) private prep schools and “special” public schools. In other words, the system is so rigged that the notion of equal access and success based on merit are simply wisps of words that need not even be spoken.

The magnitude of these crimes are almost too profound to comprehend as we will never know how many truly qualified students are being denied admission to colleges. The magnitude of the crime of rigging the entire college admissions system to solely benefit the children of the rich and privileged not only deprives the children of everyone else, it also deprives this country of its best talent and its best chance for a successful future.

John D. Rockefeller, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Michelle Obama, Reginald Lewis, Mario Cuomo, Mark Cuban, Elizabeth Warren and Ted Cruz are just a few of the contemporary prominent achievers who would never have been able to compete in the high stakes college admissions racket – their parents simply didn’t have enough money to “buy” opportunity through SAT coaches, college consultants, etc., much less be able to buy their children’s admissions at schools where the price only needs to be right.

We may never find out the scope and breadth of the outright bribery that is taking place in the college admissions universe. There are prosecutors and judges and juries and prisons that can address this kind of bad behavior. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

The iceberg is the entire imbalance in the K-12 and college/university environment where power plus money equals college admission. And this situation makes it all the more problematic when conservative foundations and their attack lawyers seek to eliminate the few programs that seek to successfully level the playing field for those whose parents are not rich and powerful. Because some day, sooner than later, those without power and money will simply need not apply.

And that is the real tragedy for these United States.

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Point of View Columns

A New Year like No Other

As 2017 lurches to an unseemly close, tradition dictates both a ritual retrospective as well as some vision of what the New Year might be. The only problem with this tradition is that 2017 may be seen as one of the worst non-war/non-depression years in American history and there is no way to put lipstick on that particular pig. Nevertheless, 2018 comes to us as a blank slate for the moment, despite our well-founded fears and trepidation.

Twelve months ago we knew that Donald Trump was going to be the 45th President of the United States. The fact was sinking in that Hillary Clinton could run a campaign that was so bad that she could actually lose to an admitted sexual predator who also doubled as a gilt-edge scam artist and who was an uncloseted misogynist and racist to boot. And twelve months ago we knew that the New Year was going to be bad because, despite his virtually infinite number of faults, Donald Trump was known to actually keep his promises on occasion.

It was clear that Trump’s dystopian vision of Making America Great again, in large part meant making America safe and comfortable for white Americans who had not been feeling safe and comfortable. And so, we saw a presidential cabinet that looked like the result of a White Billionaire Employment Program, with Betsy DeVos, Elaine Chao and Ben Carson thrown into the mix to add some faux diversity. And by taking even the briefest look at his appointees, it was also clear that Donald Tinyhands intended to do his level best to dismantle the legacy of the Obama Administration, not realizing that while programs can be dismantled and executive orders can be rescinded, the historical legacy of Barack Obama will always be out of the reach of those tiny hands.

And so, we have seen a year where the White House seems like some kind of Gilbert and Sullivanesque farce, with Donald Trump pretending to be a president who abhors information, intelligence or the truth while the president’s team seems to have arrived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in a motorcade of clown cars. We have seen what can happen when ignorance and malevolence are combined and the results have ranged from the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Environmental Accords, to reigniting the ongoing conflagration in the Middle East to engaging in puerile spitball fights with the unbalanced leader of North Korea (who just so happens to have nuclear weapons) to eviscerating virtually every protection for consumers of financial services and the air we breathe and the water we drink.

Last week, virtually every nation on Earth, save nine, voted to condemn the Trump decision to announce that the American embassy would be moving to Jerusalem. The response of the Trump administration was to “take names”, an epic statement for the history books uttered by Ambassador Nikki Haley, a Trump appointee who is so far out of her league that she would need a ladder to get to the minor leagues of global diplomacy.

Last year at this time we wondered how bad the Trump presidency could be, and that was before Trump fired the FBI Director thereby letting the whole world know that there was something in the Trumpworld – Russia relationship that had to be wrong. And, of course, this was before Donald Trump appointed some Goodfella wannabe named Scaramucci to slither across the White House stage for a few moments of vulgar vainglory.

Last year at this time we faced the unknown and feared it. This year, at this time, we know how bad Trump really is, and we even have a pretty good idea of how bad 2018 can be with Donald Trump still pretending to be President Twitter, living in a fantasy world that terrorizes most Americans and most of the world.

It is said that every cloud has a silver lining. In this case, the silver lining around the Cloud That Is Trump is that there are limits to the damage that his infantile behavior can inflict. The silver lining is that good people of good will have begun to find their voice and their strength, like a race of sleeping giants that is finally awakening. The silver lining is that we are all better than Donald J. Trump, and that we have always have been better than him and will always be better than him. The silver lining is that people of decency and good will who are guided by the angels of their better nature will prevail and that the legacy of Donald Tinyhands, as horrific as it seems today, will one day soon be a forgotten figment of the national imagination.

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Point of View Columns

Harvest of the Dragon Seeds

In Greek mythology the teeth of dragons, once planted, would grow into fully armed and fearsome soldiers. Upon reflection, Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan planted the dragon seeds and we now see the bitter harvest for America in the personages of Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, and Marco Rubio and yes, even Donald Trump.

As we sift through the aftermath of the Iowa caucuses and await the results of the New Hampshire (first in the nation) primary, we perceive a toxic blend of meanness and dog whistle rhetoric that beckons the hounds of misogyny, xenophobia, gun violence, homophobia and racism. And it is clear that this pack of mongrels is hunting for the heart and soul of America.

Ted Cruz proudly proclaims that he will “repeal every word of Obamacare”. Presumably he is okay with the fact that his proclamation will immediately remove healthcare coverage for over 18 million men, women and children. And he must be smart enough to know that “every word of Obamacare” would mean sending people with pre-existing illness and chronic illness and catastrophic illness back into the Stone Age of healthcare coverage – that would be the Age before Obamacare. The harvest of the dragon seeds is valued.

Ben Carson states that he would rather see “bullet riddled bodies” instead any limitations to the Second Amendment. This is a statement that reeks of total disdain for human life and the pain that is suffered by survivors when those lives are lost to gun violence. Yet Dr. Carson did not disqualify himself from being a Teapublican presidential candidate. The harvest of the dragon seeds is valued.

Marco Rubio has actually stated that as president he would sanction the resumption of the use of torture at Guantanamo in order to get ISIS captives to “tell us everything we need to know”. Aside from the fact that psychologists overwhelmingly state that torture is an ineffective interrogation tool, most reasonable people understand that torture is an effective recruitment tool for ISIS. The harvest of the dragon seed is valued.

And then there is Donald Trump, still the leading Teapublican presidential candidate. The Donald is the quintessential fruit of the dragon seed harvest. He is mean. He is vulgar. He wallows in his own ignorance. He clearly believes that insult and bombast are useful tools in business and in politics. And he is embraced by millions of Teapublican supporters who see him as the Savior who is going to Make America Great Again. Donald Trump is the most valued vintage fruit of the dragon seed harvest.

What is both interesting and sad is that according to most polls and polls of polls, these four candidates have garnered the support of over half of the Teapublican voters. It would take most people hours of mental contortions to understand the logic which results in the serious visualization of Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio or Donald Trump as President of the United States – delivering the State of the Union address, speaking at the United Nations, negotiating at the G7 summit or going to the funerals of the victims of the next Sandy Hook.

But it is important to understand that there are millions of American voters who can successfully visualize such scenarios and they are to be taken seriously. And the power of their passion must be taken seriously.

In many places across America the harvest of the dragon seed is valued.

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Point of View Columns

Requiem for Sanity

As you are reading this, close to 50 percent of likely Republican voters believe that either Donald Trump or Dr. Ben Carson should be President of the United States. Although both men have proudly owned up to statements that alternately boggle the mind or chill the blood, there are walking, talking and voting Americans who think that it would be a great idea for either of these men to be the 45th President of the United States.

Those who follow politics and enjoy the push and pull of democracy in action have had a special treat in watching the Teapublican Candidate Bus careen and lurch over the airwaves and across the country. At first it seemed that there would be a virtual rerun of the 2012 campaign which, in 2011 offered up such implausible candidacies that could have produced a President
Newt Gingrich, a President Herman Cain, a President Michelle Bachman or a President Perry as they took their turn as the leading candidate.

But in 2011 and 2012, there was always the candidacy of Mitt Romney looming in the background like a mountain that could never be climbed by the likes of Rick Santorum or Sarah Palin. And while Mr. Romney was never a shining beacon of progressive thought, he assumed the role of the only adult in the room which translated into the inevitability of his becoming the candidate of the Republican Party.

This time it is different. Donald Trump exploded onto the Teapublican arena and immediately started playing the role of Donald and the Fifteen Dwarfs. Sucking all of the media oxygen out of the campaign, “inevitable adults” like John Kasich and Jeb Bush began suffering from asphyxiation and the other candidates scrambled for the few dangling oxygen masks of credibility as they tried to stay alive. Carly Fiorina found one, as did Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz…..and then there was Ben Carson.

Defying the logic that said that his campaign was DOA as soon as he started to sprinkle his Bible-laced homilies with regular references to slavery and Nazism, the Good Doctor has become a leading candidate in the Teapublican Cage Match. In many polls he is THE leading candidate, and so it appears that this dwarf has undergone a growth spurt.

But what does it say about the Teapublican Party when 49% of its likely voters actually support either a man who utters mean spirited comments clad in the velvet cloak made of faux genteel rhetoric or a man who believes that insults and bluster and a wall of gigantic proportions constitute a campaign platform? What does it say about this country that Donald Trump and Ben Carson are taken so seriously that both of them could beat Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic Party candidate, if recent polls are to be believed?

This country faces enormous domestic challenges – an ancient and decrepit infrastructure, health care concerns with a rapidly aging population, mass incarceration and then there is the issue of lingering and pandemic income and racial inequality. The international challenges faced by the United States are countless as well – ISIS, immigration, climate change, global terrorism and a world economy that seems to be riding a permanent roller coaster.

Who are these Americans who believe that Donald Trump or Ben Carson are the right persons to lead this country through this minefield of problems, crises and potential disasters? After to listening to Dr. Carson opine that his reading the Bible leads him to the conclusion that Joseph had the pyramids built to store grain, for what public office could he be remotely qualified?

Similarly, after hearing Donald Trump set forth his Middle East strategy that seems to come straight out of a Special Ops video game, what form of reality puts him the Oval Office with authority to wage war, putting American lives in harm’s way? Yet here are both of them posing as leading candidates to hold the fate of the planet in their hands.

A sane country would not be in this position. Sadly, it is time for Requiem for Sanity to be held.

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Point of View Columns

Taking Ben Carson Seriously

Many people who consider themselves progressive, and most people who claim sanity, do not really believe that Dr. Ben Carson will ever be elected President of the United States. That dangerous presumption could actually lead to his election, and it is time to take the man seriously and take him at his word(s). And what words they are.

Dr. Carson may singlehandedly dismantle the belief system that holds brain surgeons in high esteem because of their innate intelligence. His kindly, avuncular manner of presentation thinly disguises a malevolent and dangerous worldview, which if implemented would resurrect suffering and discord that many have thought were banished from this society years ago. Consider the words of Ben Carson:

• Obamacare is the worst thing since slavery – Dr. Carson seems to take exceptional pleasure in exhuming the rotted corpse of slavery and inserting into serious contemporary discussion. Perhaps he feels that since he is of African descent he can play fast and loose with the memory of the millions who suffered and died under the legal lash of American bondage. Just as Jews and all people of good will are righteously outraged at useless comparisons to the Holocaust, there is simply no reason to bring slavery into a discussion of the Affordable Care Act, except for shock value. And Dr. Carson clearly pleasures himself by shocking others.

• Would rather see bullet riddled bodies than any limits on gun ownership – Rather than engaging in some semblance of decency and respect for the survivors of gun victims, Ben Carson used the recent campus gun massacre in Oregon to proclaim his dedication to the gross and historically incorrect interpretation of the Second Amendment. It is never clear whether Dr. Carson actually believes the outrageous statements that he makes. But what is clear is that words matter, and his words are offensive in the extreme.

• With less gun control Jews in Germany could have defeated Hitler – Statements like these remind us of the drunken uncle at Thanksgiving who, sometime after the dessert wine has been served, goes off on a riff so stupid, so asinine and so devoid of logic that all in attendance hope that it is the wine that is doing the talking. But as far as we know Ben Carson does not drink alcohol and therefore we should take him at his word and reject him for his words. The illogic, the incorrect history and the bizarre belief that lightly armed German Jews could have defeated the Wermacht are woven together into a bizarre tapestry that literally defies response.

It is a sad testament regarding the state of the Teapublican Party that its leading presidential candidates are Donald Trump and Ben Carson. The only hope for the former Grand Old Party is that 70% of self-identified Republicans have not made up their mind. Nevertheless, one has to wonder who are these people that are not offended by Ben Carson’s rhetoric and who actually embrace what he says?

We can be certain that there will be no apologies forthcoming from Dr. Carson. He believes so deeply that what is so wrong is right that there can be no cure for his very special madness.

And while we may feel certain that he will never be president. We should be very concerned that there are literally millions of Americans who believe that what he says is so right that he should be President of the United States.

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Point of View Columns

Welcome to Fantasyland

Political discourse, particularly on the right wing of the right wing, has been untethered from reality for quite some time. Consider, for example, the search for “truth” that would “prove” that President Obama is (a) a Muslim, (b) a foreign born illegal immigrant or (c) the anti-Christ. The voyage on the irrational ocean has visited ports that legitimize the shutdown of the federal government and the degradation of this country’s international credit rating. And the ranting in the wake of the Oregon gun tragedy further highlights the Teapublican fondness for fantasy.

Demonstrating his now legendary lack of grace and class, days after the massacre in Oregon Donald Trump resurrected the action hero view of gun ownership. He stated that if the students and faculty and security guards all had guns, death would not have visited Umpqua Community College. The fact that combat veterans and war journalists are unanimous in recounting the chaos inherent in firefights that take place during war should cause even the most committed gun-lover to pause and consider the vision of armed gunmen and gunwomen with little or no military training shooting to kill.

But, doubling down on his cinema-based theory of public safety, Trump went on to say that if he were subject to attack he would, in effect, channel his inner Charles Bronson/”Death Wish” persona. And once again, even the most avid proponent of universal gun ownership may wish to reconsider their position with the vision of a near-septuagenarian plutocrat firing away and real and or imagined enemies.

And, in keeping with the Teapublican tradition of being the party that is the gift that keeps on giving, Ben Carson offered thinly veiled criticism of the victims in Oregon (and presumably the victims in Aurora, Columbine, Tucson and Sandy Hook) for “just standing there” and allowing themselves to be shot. Channeling his inner Rambo, sans the bare chest, Carson went on to say that if he were confronted with situation similar to that in Oregon, he would have exhorted his companions to charge the gunman, encouraging them with the knowledge that “he could not shoot all of us”.

Dr. Carson has by now given brain surgeons a bad name, or at least removed “brain surgeon” as a synonym for a brilliant person. Perhaps, because he is such a brilliant brain surgeon he might be excused from knowing that an AR-15 automatic rifle fires 15 rounds per minute, so clearly it is possible for a gunman in such a fashion to “shoot all of us”. More importantly, this supposedly brilliant and thoughtful man should know that the term “fog of war” is a reality based reference. No one knows what they might do if a gun was aimed at them, and only highly trained combat and law enforcement personnel actually know what to do when the bullets start flying.

But not being satisfied with pouring rhetorical salt on the real wounds of the victims and survivors of all of the many gun massacres in this country, Ben Carson has been quoted as saying that he would rather see “bullet riddled bodies” rather than see the passage of any gun control legislation. And with these statements Dr. Carson has made it clear that he is not running for President of the United States of America, rather he is running for President of the United States of Gun.

The further tragedy is that in addition to all this careless, heartless, senseless and insane talk about guns and gunfights and “bullet riddled bodies”, the Teapublican Party runs the real danger of having its leading candidates ultimately giving it the identity of the Fantasy Party. In addition to fanatical devotion to guns, no matter the cost in blood and treasure, the leading Teapublican candidates truly believe that a multibillion dollar wall (with a great big door) will curtail illegal immigration. The party is now totally wedded to the concept of repealing the Affordable Care Act “on Day One”, thereby evaporating the healthcare coverage of over 20 million American men, women and children with no alternative plan.

On the foreign policy front Teapublicans propose to project strength by “telling” the Supreme Leader of Iran what he should do and by refusing to even speak to Vladimir Putin. We hear of plans to reprise the tragic horrors caused by the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, once again accompanied by the promise that the U.S. military actions will be brief, limited, surgical and successful (this time).

The final tragedy is that instead of offering thoughtful alternatives to the agenda of the Democratic Party, the Teapublicans have shrouded themselves in a world of fantasy and denial, setting forth policies that will never work, from “Day One”. And that is too bad, as the American people deserve better.

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Point of View Columns

The Check is in the Mail

There just may be some truth to the rumor that Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, has offered to pay CNN and Fox News to continue to broadcast Republican debates. While there is no truth to the rumor that her offers have been accepted, the rest of us can only hope that the Teapublican Show of Shows is renewed for the fall season.

Thanks to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, any billionaire can decide that virtually anyone with a pulse can be President of the United States. That may be the only way to explain the candidacies of Scott Walker and Bobby Jindal, to name just a few of the members of the right wing of the right wing food fight disguised as a presidential campaign. But during brief moments of lucidity and clarity of thought the leadership of the Republican National Committee just has to be wondering if providing a national stage every lost cousin and wild and crazy uncle in the Teapublican family is such a great idea.

Consider a thumbnail sketch of the leading candidates out of the fifteen remaining from the Spectacular Seventeen that greeted us a little over a month ago, keeping in mind that every single one of them (except John Kasich and George Pataki, propose to deny over 20 million American men, women and children healthcare on “Day One”, by repealing the Affordable Care Act:

• Donald Trump – What else can be said about the Orange Haired Wonder. While it is dangerous to dismiss the Donald, it is important to note that if you distill his message, he intends to govern by bombast, bullying and insult. This might work in the world of real estate, but it certainly won’t work in domestic politics or in foreign policy.
• Carly Fiorina – Her narrative of going from a secretary to a CEO neglects to mention that her father was a federal court judge and then dean of Duke Law School and that her degrees from Stanford, the University of Maryland and MIT might have something to do with her success. And, by the way, the secretary narrative? She worked as a Kelly Girl during her summers in school. Her personal fan dance notwithstanding, her plan to “not speak to Putin” and to “tell the Supreme Leader of Iran” what he must do is so implausible that it would be funny, except that it is not.
• Ted Cruz – He sees no problem shutting down the federal government and says that the Supreme Court acts in an “unconstitutional” manner when it issues decisions with which he does not agree.
• Mike Huckabee – He joins the Teapublican attack on the Supreme Court in the process ignoring the Constitution and over 2 centuries of case law. And he seriously wants to be President of the United States.
• Chris Christie – New Jersey has one of the worst economies of the fifty states. And then there is this pesky corruption investigation by the U.S. attorney, an investigation involving a number of his very senior appointees. And then, he wants us to believe that bullying is useful as a governance model.
• Jeb Bush – First, he is Jeb BUSH. Second, his record as governor of Florida, beginning with his presiding over the first theft of an American presidential election, is not a stunning calling card. And then again, does the RNC really want to pin its hopes for winning the White House on another BUSH considering the impossible mess created by the last BUSH?
• Ben Carson – His avuncular delivery of stunning madness and malice – denying the science behind climate change and comparing Obamacare to slavery (!!!!!!!) – proves that brain surgeons may not be the standard for brilliance in modern society.

Of course the list goes on, and it is interesting that John Kasich, governor of Ohio, usually comes across as the only sane adult in the Teapublican echo chamber. And it is interesting that virtually nobody gives John Kasich a chance of winning the Republican nomination – right along with George Pataki (another sane adult), and Bobby Jindal (not so sane and not so adult) and seemingly endless cast of characters.

It may be that there is a bizarro world scenario in which one of the highlighted candidates could win (there is a winning scenario for Kasich and Pataki, for example, but……….well, you know). Nevertheless, the RNC treats us to daily doses of Lindsey Graham wanting to wage more war and Marco Rubio fighting the Cold War twenty years too late, along with eliminating healthcare coverage for over 20 million Americans, and somehow that is supposed to be a winning strategy.

And that is why Ms. Wasserman Schultz is writing out checks to CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and any other media outlet that will give the RNC candidates a platform. To the executives of these networks – the check is in the mail.

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