Lent 2019: Lacking merit in the meritocracy.
In the midst of teaching Zoe about The Stamp Act and The Sugar Act, and a bunch of other lead-ups to the American Revolution this morning, news broke that a number of Hollywood stars and other elites were snagged by the FBI for attempting to pay out bribes to ensure their kids got into top colleges. From The Hollywood Reporter:
Actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin are among 40 charged in a nationwide college entrance exam scandal, according to court documents filed Tuesday in Boston and obtained by The Hollywood Reporter.
Several NCAA D-1 college coaches, company CEOs and one college administrator have also been implicated in the scandal, named “Operation Varsity Blues.” Two-hundred FBI agents worked the case. Documents show those indicted allegedly paid millions in bribes to get their children into elite colleges. Those colleges include Yale, Stanford and the University of Southern California.
Thirteen of the accused were taken into custody Tuesday morning in the Los Angeles area, including Huffman and Loughlin, according to Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the United States Attorney’s Office, District of California.
Feds are basing the case on interviews with witnesses, bank records, flight records, emails, cell site data and wiretaps. The charges were authorized by a grand jury. The scheme, in some instances, involved parents paying William “Rick” Singer, of Newport Beach, California, the founder of a college prep business, to have someone take the SAT or ACT for their children, according to authorities. Prosecutors alleged that Singer also paid around $25 million in bribes to coaches and administrators to pretend client’s children were athletic recruits, thereby guaranteeing admission. Singer pleaded guilty in Boston federal court around 12:30 p.m. Tuesday to charges including racketeering conspiracy and obstruction of justice, according to the Associated Press.
Loughlin and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, are accused of paying $500,000 to USC, through Singer’s operation, in exchange for having their two daughters designated as recruits to the college’s crew team — even though they did not participate in crew — thereby guaranteeing their admission in the college, according to documents. The couple faces charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. Huffman and her spouse, William H. Macy, are accused of disguising a $15,000 charitable payment in the bribery scheme. The charging papers refer to Macy as “spouse.” He hasn’t been indicted. She also faces the charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.
According to charging documents, a “confidential witness” — likely Singer — met with Huffman at her home and explained that he “controlled” a SAT testing center and could arrange for someone to proctor the taking of the test and then correct her daughter’s answers afterward. Huffman is said to have later exchanged emails with this individual in an effort to get 100 percent extra time for her daughter and to facilitate the taking of the SATs away from her school. Huffman’s daughter is said to have taken the test in December 2017 and received a 1420 on the test, a 400 point improvement from a previous test. Last October, Huffman discussed repeating this for her youngest daughter in a taped conversation that evidently the FBI has obtained. However, Huffman did not go through with the cheating for her youngest daughter, according to court papers.
You can read the whole embarassing thing here. What a mess. So at the same time I was trying (and kind of succeeding) at teaching my daughter, with the hopes, dreams and prayers of her one day enrolling in a well-regarded institution of higher learning, a number of millionaires had to do a star-studded perp walk because they were trying to cheat their kids in to the big leagues. Aye… this scandal fits right in with one of the books I’m reading right now: Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy by Chris Hayes. Originally, released in 2012, the book focuses on, according to the publisher summary on Amazon:
Over the past decade, Americans watched in bafflement and rage as one institution after another – from Wall Street to Congress, the Catholic Church to corporate America, even Major League Baseball – imploded under the weight of corruption and incompetence. In the wake of the Fail Decade, Americans have historically low levels of trust in their institutions; the social contract between ordinary citizens and elites lies in tatters.
And he was writing about the aughts- of Enron, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and beefed-up baseball players. I think the nation has lived an entire centennial worth of drama since then. Anyway, a particular passage stuck out heavy for me:
[L]ook at Roger Ailes. One could say, without hyperbole, that Ailes is one of the most powerful men in America. He’s been a close confidant and adviser to several presidents. He earns upward of $20 million a year. He runs Fox News, the most watched and politically powerful cable news network in the country.
And yet Ailes seems to genuinely view himself as a persecuted underdog, a man surrounded by elitist snobs who look down at him. The son of a factory worker who taught him to distrust “college boys,” Ailes has a persona entirely constructed around evidently sincere populism. “He really believes that he is an average American,” observed journalist Tom Junod in a long 2011 Esquire profile. “He really believes that he is looked down upon by those who admire and fear him.”
In midtown Manhattan, the hottest lunch spot for the media elite is a restaurant called Michael’s. Ailes of course has his own table there, in the most prime location, reserved for him every day. Yet it is not enough. “You’ll be sitting at his table at Michael’s,” one of his guests told Junod, “and he’ll grouse about not getting any respect and being an outsider while everybody is lining up to kiss his ring. And you’ll be like, Roger, you’re at Michael’s, you’re at the best table—what more do you want?”
Now of course, there is no comparing securing a table at a hot eatery to securing your kids a spot at an ivy league college. But that insatiable drive to always win, always succeed, always be the best- is paralleled here. I found myself thinking, “If you have half a mil to plop down, why not just send her somewhere else? Why go through elaborate schemes to get your kid a 400 point bump on the SATs instead of just planning to send her to a less exclusive college? WHY? WHY?”
I was reminded of King Solomon’s sad words in Ecclesiastes 2:
I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.
Well, in Ailes’ case, he’s gained a particularly nasty legacy in death, and it’s too early to say what’s going to happen with Huffman and Loughlin. But let’s take a moment to examine our own lives for own unmeritorious actions in pursuit of the wind- and strive for better.
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