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 on the basis of something resembling merit? 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

The Great American Circus

Thanks to the great political cartoonist Thomas Nast the elephant has been the symbol of the Republican Party for over a century. Now that it has morphed into the G.O.Tea Party it should come as no surprise that there is a circus-like feel to the presidential nomination sweepstakes that is inflicted upon us on a daily basis. The only problem is that there are too many clowns and not enough elephants.

It seems that every few days another Republican decides that they are prepared to be the Leader of the Free World even as we either gasp in horror or smother gales of laughter at the thought. We would, however, be wise not to be too ready to laugh – even clowns, especially clowns, can be dangerous.

Like a circus car from which emerges an endless parade of clowns, the G.O.Tea Party circus is providing us with mirthless images that would be laughable but for the danger that they represent. In no particular order, consider some of the members of the current lineup:

-George Pataki – The three time governor of New York State is known for having defeated Mario Cuomo and using a ramshackle collection of budgetary quirks and tricks that resulted in near financial disaster for the state. A disaster, it should be noted, that is (and will be) affecting millions of New Yorkers for decades. Wonder what he might do as President of the United States?

-Sarah Palin – If you subtract the time that she spent running an unsuccessful campaign for Vice President, she spent less than two years as governor of Alaska before resigning to make some money. Well known for knowing very little, she has not let ignorance get in the way of her grand ambition to be somebody. She can be laughable when referring to being able to see Russia from her kitchen window as being part of her foreign policy qualifications and kind of sad when she cannot recall a book that she has read or a newspaper that she reads regularly. But she has a darker side – such as when she tells followers to “lock and load” and then puts a bull’s eye on the offices of political opponents. Ask Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

-Ron Paul – If you ask Ron Paul nicely, he will be glad to tell you that the United States doesn’t need a Department of Education or a Department of Energy even though the quality of education and access to energy are keys to the progress of this country for the balance of this century. Actually, you don’t even need to ask Mr. Paul; at the drop of a dime (or a penny) he will tell you that government is the problem and that its elimination will cure what ails us as a nation. He doesn’t bother to explain how the health, education and welfare of this nation will be maintained without the presence of a strong national government. But that’s what makes him such a loveable clown.

-Rick Perry – Rodeo Rick Perry has galloped onto the national stage with his six guns blazing. In one week he has suggested that the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board may be contemplating treason and has expressed his doubt as to whether President Obama loves America. That’s pretty hilarious stuff from a clown who has suggested that Texas secede from the United States. And the really funny thing about Rodeo Rick is that he’s just getting started.

-Michele Bachmann – Where does one start when writing about the Queen of Clowns? She mixes up John Wayne with John Wayne Gacy, the serial killer, and celebrates Elvis Presley’s birthday on the day that he died. What a hoot! The fact that she takes herself so seriously should be a warning that there she is actually a zealot who has misplaced her big nose. But the fact that she has proclaimed that she is on a mission to make this country a Christian nation that is governed by Christian ideals has a Taliban-like ring to it that is not funny at all.

-Herman Cain – Mr. Cain’s idea of a powerful campaign slogan is that he has no experience in government at all. Close your eyes and imagine your brain surgeon telling you that his/her major qualification is that he/she never went to medical school. Being the chief executive of a successful chain of pizza parlors that mock Italians is a qualification of sorts although I think that if Mr. Cain was the head of “Yo Mama’s Chicken” instead of “Godfather’s Pizza” he wouldn’t be getting a pass.

-Mitt Romney – Mr. Romney is the magical clown who wants us to believe that the universal healthcare program that he advanced as governor of Massachusetts has nothing to do with the universal healthcare plan advanced by President Obama. Mitt, the Magic Clown would also have us believe that in his career as a businessman he “created jobs” when the business model of his company was to acquire businesses, sell off the assets and fire the employees. Of course the fact that Mr. Romney can be a magician and a clown shows a real skill at multi-tasking.

There are other candidates and would-be candidates running around the G.O.Tea Party circus tent. Someone played “Send in the Clowns” and the right wing of the right wing adopted it as their anthem.

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Point of View Columns

A New York State of Mind

As you are reading this column the New York State legislature will have passed a budget that contains over $10 billion in spending cuts. The budget largely reflects proposals from recently elected New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and it appears that the New York budget scenario is being played out in state capitals across the country.

A few facts – Governor Cuomo is the son of the historically liberal former New York Governor Mario Cuomo and worked for the historically progressive former President Bill Clinton as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He was elected as the progressive alternative and antidote to the toxic right wing of the right wing gubernatorial candidate Tom Golisano.

The public in New York and throughout the country has understood that local, state and federal budgets are in need of reformation and restructuring. The damage wrought by the great economic collapse of 2008 cannot be overstated.

Years of treating taxation as punishment instead of part of the price that all people (and corporations) pay for living in a civil society has created unsustainable imbalances that have to be rectified.

The turning point in these fiscal discussions has been focused upon whether these budget battles are going to be about dollars and sense or will they be about reforming the social and political landscape in this country. There are those who are willing to pursue a prudent social services agenda while also being fiscally prudent.

And then there are those who are willing to use the public sector fiscal crisis as a Trojan horse that will permit entry inside the gates built by a century of progressive reform so that they can begin to dismantle the safety nets for all citizens.
The New York state budget is a case in point.

Governor Cuomo and the legislature have determined that no tax increases are possible. Indeed, in the new budget any New York citizen who makes over $200,000 per year will get a tax cut. Meanwhile statewide aid for education will be cut by $1.25 billion and Medicaid benefits will be cut by $2.8 billion.

And certainly, and most clearly, the citizens of New York who earn the least, who own the least and who control the least will be the ones who will bear the brunt of these budget cuts.

This scenario is being replayed from Wisconsin to California to Washington, D.C. The balanced budget mantra is overlaid with the themes of reducing the tax obligations of the wealthiest Americans (and corporations) and reducing the services provided to citizens, especially the citizens with the fewest resources and the greatest need.

There is an empty and heartless meanness to this approach that transcends the numbers and figures that are in a budget discussion. The suggestion that it somehow makes sense that a corporate behemoth like General Electric has a final tax bill of zero while Headstart programs are closed and veterans’ benefits are cut is difficult to comprehend.

Just as no one is entitled to great wealth, no one is entitled to unnecessary hardship and misery – particularly in a country with the highest standard of living in the history of the Planet Earth.

The sense of community that brings citizens together into a caring and cohesive entity is clearly fraying. Perhaps this is attributable to the fact that the sense of shared obligation has been diluted to a point that it is hardly noticeable.

Spending has been supported at the local, state and federal level for everything from football stadiums to bridges to nowhere and the taxation consequences have been largely deferred or ignored.

As is the case for every celebration, there is a bill that has to be paid. It would seem logical, fair and patriotic that those who have benefited the most from American society would have to pay their fair share of the cost of that society.

The constant caterwauling about “no new taxes” might make sense in some other circumstance, but not during a time of crisis. That point seems to be lost upon those who see taxes as punitive and view cutting social services as the only logical choice.

Americans who lived through the Great Depression and World War II learned about shared responsibility and common sacrifice out of necessity. And out of that necessity was born the G.I. Bill and the beginning of the largest middle class expansion in world history up to that point.

That sense of shared responsibility and common sacrifice resulted in everything from the national highway initiative to the Great Society to landmark civil rights bills.

If you wonder if any of those bills would pass today you only need to look at the scorched earth that resulted from the debate and passage of the recent healthcare bill and you will have your answer.

Blanche Dubois was probably wrong to depend on the kindness of strangers. But I do believe that Americans should be able to depend on the compassion and concern of their fellow citizens.

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