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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

College Admissions Fraud: A Teachable Moment About Capitalism

The Daily Escape:

Eagle pair on nest, Litchfield County CT – 2015 photo by JH Clery

With the college admissions fraud, wealthy Americans are now bribing people to get their kids into college. It’s just another way that the wealthy are rigging the game. Robert Reich enumerates:

We’ve become a nation where any number of greased poles stop your ascent. People with wealth seem unwilling to compete fairly. It turns out that executives from Pimco, Hercules Capital, and the co-chairman of the law firm, Willkie Farr & Gallagher, were named in the buy your way into Yale scam, along with a few Hollywood types.

It’s become very difficult to differentiate between applicants for the prestige colleges. Good grades and test scores and life experiences are no longer enough to help a kid to stand out the way they might have a few years ago. So some are bribing their way to the head of the line.

It’s just another cost of doing business in America. The truly wealthy can just pay for a new building and see their children get into the best universities. But, the merely rich can’t do that. OTOH, they can’t be expected to simply earn their way in.

As for the kids: They all knew whether what was on their applications was true or not. They had to be in on the scam. This is what passes for the charmed life of the rich in the USA: Kids knowingly cheat right along with their cheating, entitled parents, because they believe they deserve to go to Georgetown.

Robert Reich is correct, this is the rot that concentration of wealth has brought to our country.

Randall Lane has a long read at Forbes about “Reimagining Capitalism” in which he summarizes his one-on-one discussions with two dozen billionaires, including face-to-face meetings with the three richest people in the world, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffett, about capitalism’s future. Lane says:

“Virtually every billionaire I spoke with acknowledged that higher taxes on the billionaire set are inevitable; most even saw them as beneficial, if correctly applied. According to Gates, Buffett, Khosla and others, the correct way to levy taxes on the superrich is….Either an estate tax without the loopholes that currently render it useless or a higher capital gains tax applied only on extreme fortunes…”

He quotes Buffett about the disparity of earnings between the top 1% and the bottom 50%:

“The market system as it gets more specialized pushes more money to the top….The natural function of a more specialized market economy is to divert more and more of the rewards to the top. That’s something I don’t think we’ve fully addressed in this country.”

Lane points out that Bill and Melinda Gates even went on Steven Colbert and called for higher taxes on the super-rich.

Younger Americans know that the deck is stacked. That may be in part why some kids play along with their parents and cheat to get into Harvard.

An often-cited 2016 Harvard University survey found that 51% of American youth aged 18 to 29 no longer support capitalism. Only 42% said they back it, while just 19% were willing to call themselves “capitalists.” A follow-up focus group study concluded that most felt that:

“Capitalism was unfair and left people out despite their hard work.”

Gene Sperling, Obama’s Director of the National Economic Council, has an interesting take on redefining our overall economic goal. He says we should strive for “Economic Dignity”. His conclusion is that the Fed and the Congress should implement a full employment monetary and fiscal policy that fosters tight labor markets.

Sperling says that would be a triple win for economic dignity, because it would lead to higher wages, and it would give companies greater incentive to provide advanced training to their employees. Meanwhile, high labor demand gives more workers some “take this job and shove it” leverage that they lack today.

Taken together, it would allow people to care for and provide opportunity to their families, something that is at the core of America’s beliefs.

Young Americans know that capitalism in its current form creates inequality, oppression, and exploitation. It could be made to work for all if it were more responsive to society’s needs, and yes, if it provided economic dignity for all.

Those who have been rewarded by capitalism shouldn’t be able to use their bounty to make the lives of others worse than they are. This isn’t just about the Koch brothers. It’s also about the merely wealthy who scam the college admissions system to get their kids into better schools.

We should be showing the young that there’s a better form of capitalism.

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The Biggest News Story of 2018

The Daily Escape:

Santa Dash, Glasgow Scotland, 2012 photo via Just Run lah

Hope that you had a relaxing Christmas, one that you will remember, and not because you bought a Lexus. Here at the Mansion of Wrong, the party is still underway. Our last guests will be leaving on January 2nd.

In reading the endless lists of the most important news stories of 2018, Wrongo felt that the major news story was Trump’s awesome amount of lying. Back in the dark ages, before GW Bush and Cheney, the idea of a president lying outright to the American people was cause for outrage. The liar’s poll numbers would drop immediately and all of the press would call out the transgression.

Now, when Donald Trump actually lies daily, telling whoppers that are stunning to behold, there is little outrage, and certainly none from the Right. This is exacerbated by the main stream media, many of whom report Trump’s lies as if they’re news stories, often without providing any context that tells the truth of the matter. They have become complicit in Trump’s dishonesty, and we all suffer as a result.

It’s Orwellian: Lies become truth, truth is devalued. We can’t be an informed people when the information we receive is often full of lies and distortions.

This is without question, the biggest story of 2018.

Next column, Wrongo will reprise his 2018 Wrong predictions, looking back on the year that was, scoring his successes and his prognostication failures.

Now, listen to Yo-Yo Ma and Alison Krauss perform “The Wexford Carol”, an ancient Irish carol. The great Canadian violinist, Natalie MacMaster joins them. This is from their 2008 album, “Songs of Joy & Peace”:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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White People’s Problems

The Daily Escape:

Point Lobos Reserve, CA – 2018 photo by HeroicTaquito

Today we have two linked stories about the often deminimus problems of white people, and how they can take generations to resolve. That’s older, upscale white people.

Wrongo and Ms. Right spent a beautiful Sunday afternoon at a venerable music venue in Falls Village, CT called Music Mountain. This unique facility has been around since 1929 as a performance space for classical music and jazz, with classical music performed on Sundays, and jazz on Saturdays.

This year, they are staging 16 consecutive Sundays of chamber music, including six by the Shanghai Quartet, in which the Quartet will perform all of the Beethoven string quartets. We saw them perform three, including his Opus 132. It was being performed at Music Mountain for the 23rd time. And it was a blissful experience.

The crowd was about 200 older, white-haired music lovers. We saw just one kid under the age of 15, and very few in their 20’s and 30’s, except those who were a part of the production crew. It isn’t a new question to ask if classical music as we know it today will survive in the next century. City orchestras around the world are financially stressed. The audience is aging, and is not being replaced by younger fans. In fact, even though Music Mountain has been around for 89 years, like most niche venues, they are constantly raising money.

A connected story is about Lime Rock Park (LRP), a track for sports car enthusiasts that is located a few miles away, in the town of Salisbury, CT. If you know about it, it’s probably because Paul Newman’s career as a race car driver started at Lime Rock.

The track has been in a fight with the town and with Music Mountain, since it opened in a reclaimed gravel mine in 1957. Lime Rock has always attracted an overwhelmingly upper-crust clientele. Simply put, the crowd isn’t your average NASCAR bunch. These people are predominantly wealthy country club types, the kind who have room in their garages for multiple (often antique) sports cars.

Salisbury itself isn’t demographically very different from the track’s clients: It is 95% white with a median family income of $69,152. Seven percent live in poverty. Meryl Streep lives here. It is the home of a renowned prep school, Hotchkiss.

Yet the town and the track have been at odds with each other since 1957. The major issue is loud noise from sports car engines. However, since 1959, LRP has been prohibited from hosting racing events on Sundays when the Litchfield Superior Court issued an injunction banning Sunday racing.

That injunction stood until recently, when the track obtained a court decision to allow racing on Sunday afternoons and unmufflered racing as well. The track owner’s argument was that the zoning regulation made the track uncompetitive with others in Connecticut, and the judge agreed.

You would think that the town’s and the track’s interests would align. Wealthy people visit Salisbury every summer to see and be seen, to crash their little cars and live to talk about it. But their interests do not work together. The track employs very few locals, and the taxes it pays don’t amount to much (~$90k).

So, a legal appeal is working its way up the food chain, starting in the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission. And later on, probably going on to the state courts. Music Mountain, located close enough to hear the engines, now asks for donations for the costs of appeal, along with funds to underwrite their performance space. How deep can the pockets of classical music lovers be?

This is a fight by and among white people that has been ongoing since 1959. It’s a battle of property rights: The right to quiet enjoyment on the locals’ side, and the right to use your property as you see fit on the other. It’s the dominant culture in America at work, engaged in a decades-long pissing contest.

It doesn’t matter much in the global scheme of things: Putin isn’t involved, and kids aren’t being separated from their parents in this town. People aren’t marching for “Medicare for all”.

This is a high quality problem being fought by only the “best” people, a fight that is characterized as a threat to the American way.

Perspective, people, please!

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Why Say “Passed” or “Passed Away”, Instead of “Died”?

The Daily Escape:

Meditation Maze, Chartres Cathedral, France – photo via @archpics

So much talk about the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Several news reports said one or the other of them had “passed”, not that they had died.

Wrongo finds either construction “passed” or “passed away”, jarring. People are born, they live, and then they die. They don’t pass away. Does this change in usage, which seems to be relatively modern, have something to do with how difficult we find it to handle death?  Many people on TV, and most people under 40, tend to favor saying “passed away”.

In Greek mythology, the river Styx was the boundary between life and death, so the dead were referred to as “passing over to the other side”. Styx was a feature in the afterworld, and the ferryman Charon often was described as having transported the souls of the newly dead across the river into the underworld. Christians, believing in an afterlife, use the term to indicate that the deceased has “passed” into the afterlife.

Its best use seems to be by people who do not believe death is final.

Today, many of us try to soften the blow, saying “passed away” to tell the bad news to someone who hasn’t yet heard about the death. Possibly, saying it is seen as a more gentle way of saying the person has died.

William Bradshaw, a Yale Divinity graduate, did an informal study of the usage:

During the first 50 years or so of my life, the term I always heard or read was “died.” But now, more often than not, I hear and read: so and so “passed” or “passed away.” Several questions come to mind: Exactly when did the change in terminology occur, what was the reason for the change, is it helpful for the family of the deceased, and what are the theological implications of using “passed away” or “passed” instead of “died”? I decided to explore the matter.

He interviewed funeral directors, and most of them said the usage had changed in the last 25 years. He also examined funeral notices over time:

The change was gradual, and did not occur at the same time among all funeral homes or newspapers. But by the early 1980s “passed away” was the norm for all obituaries used by funeral homes, while obituaries and stories in newspapers still tended to use “died”…

Bradshaw says that other terms used occasionally are “deceased,” “expired,” “departed this life,” and for children, “went to live with God” or “went to live with the angels.” “Passed” is heard primarily in conversations, and is seldom used in print, except occasionally in novels.

Bradshaw expands on “passed/passed away”:

I noted to myself that we never say, “Jesus passed away on the cross” or that “Jesus passed to save us from our sins.” Christian funeral services almost always include this famous saying of Jesus: “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” (Gospel of John 11:25-26) In any of the modern versions of the Bible that use updated English, I have never read: “I am the resurrection and the life: although he passed, yet shall he live; and whoever lives and believes in me shall never pass away.”

But, if you have ever had someone close to you die, you know that feeling of disbelief, the hope that what has happened isn’t true. It is easy to understand the magical thinking, that if we just don’t give in to it, the death won’t be real.

And while Wrongo dislikes it, using “passed away” is eminently understandable on a personal level.

But, when you’re dead, you’re dead. Saying someone passed away really doesn’t help to soften the blow.

Another time, we’ll talk about when “killed” should be used instead of “died”.

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