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Columnists
Gina Barreca: RICO goes to Yale

We need a new spin-off of “The Sopranos.”

Will someone please make this happen? It will feature spoiled daughter Meadow Soprano as part of a morally corrupt machine that encourages insipid rich kids — you know, the ones with access to everything and magical resources who can’t seem to make anything of themselves — to cheat and lie their way into fancy colleges. “Consultants” help their parents funnel mountains of cash through a (tax deductible) fake charity so they can get the right “brand” of education.

Please, can it be called “RICO Goes To Yale”?

And can I make sure that you know I’m not making this up?

I’ve been a college professor for 9,764 years, which explains why I’ve been following this latest crime story involving college admissions across the country.

The FBI, with uncharacteristic flippancy, refers to this case as “Operation Varsity Blues.” A racketeer named William “Rick” Singer was, according to various reports, the head of a fake-SAT-score, cheat-and-beat the system college-entrance hustle.

We’re talking big-time tax crime, complete with hoax charities, mail fraud, paying-people-to-take-the-test-for-other-people arrangements, photo-shopping heads of non-athletes onto stock photos of athletes and the pure ugliness of lying-even-when-you-don’t-have-to.

From all accounts, Singer had no qualifications whatsoever, apart from being a con artist and a star-struck poser who bragged about his clients. On his website, Singer provides lists of people, he claims, who hired him. One presumes they are parents, because one presumes heads of major corporations or television personalities are not trying to get back into college.

As I’d never heard of Singer, I spent several hours reading his “writings” — a term I use lightly — outlining what he shilled as his inspirational theories of education, including this one: “As a parent, ask what would you be willing to do to give your child a shot at one of these top schools?”

Singer’s not recommending helicopter parenting; he’s recommending Gulfstream parenting. We’re talking way in excess of millions of dollars in pay-offs just to get into a college. Who knows who they’ll have to pay off to graduate?

Remember when devoted mom Carmela Soprano, who believes her eldest child Meadow is the smartest girl in the world (“Her paper on the melting icecap, it made me cry, it was so poignant”) as well the most qualified candidate for admission to any college (“She would be a wonderful addition to the Georgetown campus”) threatens an acquaintance who is initially unwilling to provide Meadow with a letter of recommendation? Remember when that seemed funny?

Jodi Rosenshein Atkin is a professional educational consultant. She represents the best of what those who work in the field have to offer. Her take on the scandal: “I’m bound by ethical guidelines of national professional organizations. I won’t create fictional resumes, take bribes or guarantee admission to specific schools in order to elicit envy and awe at cocktail parties. My focus is to identify places where students can thrive academically and socially.”

I also asked Hara Marano, author of “A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting,” to offer her perspective: “Bypassing even the pretense of the work ethic and ignoring requirements entirely,” Singer’s clients encouraged their kids to cheat. They didn’t push their children but instead paid for them to have the pathway to opportunities paved for them.

Marano, also editor-at-large of Psychology Today, complicates her position by reminding us that “What all parents share is anxiety about the future of their kids in a land where opportunity appears to be dwindling.”

The diminishing middle class is one reason that so-called elite schools keep tightening their grip on the imaginative power of status-hungry parents and children.

Longtime former head coach of Yale’s women’s soccer, Rudolph Meredith, is charged with accepting a $400,000 bribe to say he’d given a place on the team to a student who had never played soccer competitively so that she’d be cataloged by Yale as a “recruited athlete,” thereby allotting her an edge over other more legitimately qualified candidates. Officials said the student’s parents then paid an additional $1.2 million to Singer in bribes after the fact.

This is when you start to realize that The Sopranos were amateurs.

The deck was always stacked, we know that, but parents have gone way beyond contributing to an arts center, or even building a dormitory. Now, they’re constructing entirely new children, complete with athletes’ bodies and scholars’ brains.


Letters
Thomas Schmitt: Why weren't La Crosse streets cleared?

In 1979, Michael Bilandic, then mayor of Chicago, lost re-election to Jane Byrne because of snow removal -- or lack thereof.

Today, in La Crosse, we don't have 20 inches of snow in the streets as Chicago had, but I'm curious as to what the city is thinking in terms of "alternate-side parking" before the melting of the remarkable snowfall we've experienced.

Market Street, La Crosse Street and other city streets were down to one-and-a-half lanes due to snow, ice and a lack of simply dropping an SUV-sized plow blade and opening streets for traffic.

I cringe as I watched cars pass within an inch or two of each other due to a lack of space thanks to ice and snow. I had to dodge into an empty space along a curb to avoid a collision with oncoming traffic.

Meanwhile, state and county highways were clear to the curb. This is beyond ridiculous. What is the point, Mr. Mayor and city council members, of alternate -side parking if plowing and opening city streets is not utilized?

What is the point of having snowplows if they sit idle? Your responsibility is to serve the city and its people. This is not public service. And our next discussion will be about repairing, rather, re-doing, roads that are in complete disrepair due to your collective negligence for La Crosse infrastructure.

Thomas Schmitt, La Crosse


Columnists
Brad Pfaff: Celebrate the contributions of farmers

Pfaff

About one in nine people working in Wisconsin holds a job related to agriculture.

Agriculture is the cornerstone – one of the most important components of our state’s strong and diverse economy.

Thursday was National Ag Day, a good reminder for all of us – those of us who are from the farm and those who are not – to take a moment and reflect on the importance of agriculture and our state’s family farmers in our day-to-day lives.

Agriculture is not just the farms and the fields we see as we drive along the interstate or back roads.

It is more than just the farmers’ markets or the days you remember spending on your grandparents’ farm. It’s more than the $88 billion that agriculture brings into Wisconsin every year.

It’s the farm families who grow our crops and care for our livestock. It’s the local schools and libraries where their children learn, and the small local businesses they support in their rural communities.

Agriculture is a source of pride in our heritage, a source of jobs, and a source of support that helps keep our rural areas thriving.

Wisconsin is a proud, diverse and strong agricultural state, from our productive farms to our rural manufacturing to our urban food processing.

No state raises more cranberries than Wisconsin. We rank among the nation’s top producers of processing vegetables, and are second only to California is fresh organic vegetables.

When you squeeze toothpaste onto your brush, the mint flavoring probably came from our top-ranking mint farms. Our wine grape growers are coming into their own, along with our hops growers.

With about 72,000 milk goats, our state also leads the nation in the dairy goat industry.

Our state is and will continue to be known as America’s Dairyland with thousands of dairy farms across Wisconsin.

I grew up on my own family’s dairy farm in northern La Crosse County. It is there that my admiration and deep respect for farmers began.

As we always say, we need farms of all types and sizes, and we have room for them all. We all know that farmers are facing challenging times with high production, low prices in the marketplace, and trade uncertainty.

What makes me most proud to be part of our state’s agriculture industry is that when a challenge presents itself, farmers come together to address it.

Some farmers are incorporating technology into their barns and farm machinery to gain efficiencies. More and more dairy farmers are turning to grazing as a system that cuts down on feeding costs and managing manure.

Our Dairy Task Force 2.0 is working to develop recommendations to support the industry, find new ways to improve profitability, and to carry our dairy heritage into the next generation.

Gov. Tony Evers has made water quality one of his top priorities. Whether we are talking about groundwater or surface water, we all share an interest in keeping it clean.

Farmers and their families drink the same water as their neighbors. Streams and aquifers don’t follow town lines or county borders or city limits.

It’s an issue that connects us all, and we all share in the solution. The governor has proposed new resources in his budget to focus on water quality, including additional funding for DATCP to help counties work directly with farmers to further their conservation goals.

Wisconsin agriculture has many growth opportunities, from local markets where farmers are adding value and selling straight to consumers, to international markets.

Wisconsin ag products are enjoyed by consumers in all corners of the world. Wisconsin also leads the way in new, cutting-edge ag production and processing. Hemp is an example of a product with countless new opportunities.

In our second growing season, applications to grow hemp have grown from under 250 last year to more than 1,400 this year. Industrial hemp also creates numerous opportunities off the farm, including agronomics, processing, and marketing.

National Ag Day is a good time to remember that agriculture connects us to one another, to our past, and to our future.

Farmers should connect with their non-farm neighbors and share our story — a story that is so important to everyone’s daily life, and to our economy in Wisconsin and the nation.

We all share in the strong, diverse economy that agriculture helps support. Let’s celebrate that.