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Archive for March 8th, 2017

These For-Profit Schools Are ‘Like a Prison’

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Sarah Carr, Francesca Berardi, Zoë Kirsch and Stephen Smiley report in ProPublica:

Teenagers at Paramount Academy sometimes came home with mysterious injuries.

An alternative school for sixth- through 12th-graders with behavioral or academic problems, Paramount occupied a low-slung, brick and concrete building on a dead-end road in hard-luck Reading, Pennsylvania, a city whose streets are littered with signs advertising bail bondsmen, pay-day lenders, and pawn shops. Camelot Education, the for-profit company that ran Paramount under a contract with the Reading school district, maintained a set of strict protocols: No jewelry, book bags, or using the water fountain or bathroom without permission. Just as it still does at dozens of schools, the company deployed a small platoon of “behavioral specialists” and “team leaders”: typically large men whose job was partly to enforce the rules.

Over six months in 2013 and 2014, about a half-dozen parents, students and community members at Paramount Academy — billed as a “therapeutic” day program — complained of abusive behavior by the school’s staff. One mother heard that staff restrained students by “excessive force” and bruised the arms of a female student, according to email exchanges between Camelot and the district. Another mother, Sharon Pacharis, said she visited the school to complain about manhandling and was told, “That’s just what we do.” Camelot’s own written reports to the district documented one incident in which a teenager was scratched and another in which a bathroom wall was damaged. Both resulted from “holds” — likely a reference to Camelot’s protocol for restraining students during a physical encounter.

Camelot tended to blame the students in its weekly reports to the district, calling them “out of control”; school officials referred several to police. It was, after all, a place partly for students whom the district had deemed too disruptive for a traditional school setting.

But an incident on April 24, 2014, abruptly shifted the focus to Camelot’s staff.

Ismael Seals, a behavioral specialist, walked into a classroom with several loud and boisterous students and commanded them to “shut the fuck up,” decreeing that the next one who talked would get body-slammed through the door, according to a subsequent criminal complaint. Moments later, Seals fulfilled his promise. After 17-year-old Corey Mack asked and received permission from his teacher, Teresa Bivens, to get up to sharpen his pencil, Seals pushed him repeatedly against a door and then shoved him into the hall, where a school surveillance camera recorded most of the rest of the incident. Seals, 6 feet 4 inches tall and 280 pounds, lifted Mack, 5 feet 8 inches tall and about 160 pounds, by his shirt and swung him into the wall headfirst, later pinning him to the ground as other staff members arrived, according to court documents.

Mack later showed a string of bruises and scratches on his back to a program director at a center for children with behavioral and mental health challenges. The program director called a juvenile probation official, who contacted the police.

Reached by telephone last fall, Corey Mack struggled to remember the details of his altercation with Seals, including what he had said just before the behavioral specialist shoved him, and the precise sequence of events. But he was clear on the essential point: “He beat me up,” Mack said.

Over six months in 2013 and 2014, about a half-dozen parents, students and community members at Paramount Academy — billed as a “therapeutic” day program — complained of abusive behavior by the school’s staff. One mother heard that staff restrained students by “excessive force” and bruised the arms of a female student, according to email exchanges between Camelot and the district. Another mother, Sharon Pacharis, said she visited the school to complain about manhandling and was told, “That’s just what we do.” Camelot’s own written reports to the district documented one incident in which a teenager was scratched and another in which a bathroom wall was damaged. Both resulted from “holds” — likely a reference to Camelot’s protocol for restraining students during a physical encounter.

Camelot tended to blame the students in its weekly reports to the district, calling them “out of control”; school officials referred several to police. It was, after all, a place partly for students whom the district had deemed too disruptive for a traditional school setting.

But an incident on April 24, 2014, abruptly shifted the focus to Camelot’s staff.

Ismael Seals, a behavioral specialist, walked into a classroom with several loud and boisterous students and commanded them to “shut the fuck up,” decreeing that the next one who talked would get body-slammed through the door, according to a subsequent criminal complaint. Moments later, Seals fulfilled his promise. After 17-year-old Corey Mack asked and received permission from his teacher, Teresa Bivens, to get up to sharpen his pencil, Seals pushed him repeatedly against a door and then shoved him into the hall, where a school surveillance camera recorded most of the rest of the incident. Seals, 6 feet 4 inches tall and 280 pounds, lifted Mack, 5 feet 8 inches tall and about 160 pounds, by his shirt and swung him into the wall headfirst, later pinning him to the ground as other staff members arrived, according to court documents.

Mack later showed a string of bruises and scratches on his back to a program director at a center for children with behavioral and mental health challenges. The program director called a juvenile probation official, who contacted the police.

Reached by telephone last fall, Corey Mack struggled to remember the details of his altercation with Seals, including what he had said just before the behavioral specialist shoved him, and the precise sequence of events. But he was clear on the essential point: “He beat me up,” Mack said.

The Seals incident is the best-documented example of staff-on-student violence at facilities run by Camelot, a company dogged by allegations of similar abuses. Thirteen Camelot students have alleged in interviews or documents that they were shoved, beaten, or thrown — assaults almost always referred to as “slamming” — by Camelot staff members, usually for the sin of talking back, in separate incidents that span 10 years and three states. (Six of the students were interviewed in 2009 in New Orleans.) Two additional students, and five Camelot staff members, say they have personally witnessed beatings or physical aggression by staff.

The abuse allegedly occurred in Camelot programs in Reading; Lancaster; Philadelphia; New Orleans; and Pensacola, Florida. Jandy Rivera, for instance, a former teacher at Camelot-run Phoenix Academy in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, says that on multiple occasions staff members, including administrators, “baited kids so they could hit kids.” For the most part, staffers who allegedly assaulted students have faced no criminal charges or internal discipline; some have even been promoted.

The Florida Department of Children and Families, which investigates reports of child abuse, is looking into an incident last week at Camelot Academy in Pensacola in which a behavioral specialist, while breaking up a fight between students, allegedly knocked a 13-year-old to the ground, causing a bloody abrasion and bruising near the teenager’s eye. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 March 2017 at 5:12 pm

Meet the Hundreds of Officials Trump Has Quietly Installed Across the Government

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Justin Elliott, Derek Kravitz, and Al Shaw report in ProPublica:

A Trump campaign aide who argues that Democrats committed “ethnic cleansing” in a plot to “liquidate” the white working class. A former reality show contestant whose study of societal collapse inspired him to invent a bow-and-arrow-cum-survivalist multi-tool. A pair of healthcare industry lobbyists. A lobbyist for defense contractors. An “evangelist” and lobbyist for Palantir, the Silicon Valley company with close ties to intelligence agencies. And a New Hampshire Trump supporter who has only recently graduated from high school.

These are some of the people the Trump administration has hired for positions across the federal government, according to documents received by ProPublica through public-records requests.

While President Trump has not moved to fill many jobs that require Senate confirmation, he has quietly installed hundreds of officials to serve as his eyes and ears at every major federal agency, from the Pentagon to the Department of Interior.

Unlike appointees exposed to the scrutiny of the Senate, members of these so-called “beachhead teams” have operated largely in the shadows, with the White House declining to publicly reveal their identities.

While some names have previously dribbled out in the press, we are publishing a list of more than 400 hires, providing the most complete accounting so far of who Trump has brought into the federal government.

The White House said in January that around 520 staffers were being hired for the beachhead teams.

The list we obtained includes obscure campaign staffers, contributors to Breitbart and others who have embraced conspiracy theories, as well as dozens of Washington insiders who could be reasonably characterized as part of the “swamp” Trump pledged to drain.

The list is striking for how many former lobbyists it contains: We found at least 36, spanning industries from health insurance and pharmaceuticals to construction, energy and finance. Many of them lobbied in the same areas that are regulated by the agencies they have now joined.

That figure is almost certainly an undercount since we only included those who formally registered as lobbyists, a process increasingly avoided by many in Washington.

During the campaign, Trump said he would have “no problem” banning lobbyists from his administration. But they have nonetheless ended up in senior roles, aided by Trump’s weakening of Obama-era ethics rules that modestly limited lobbyists’ role in government.

The White House didn’t respond to requests for comment.

There are many former congressional staffers, several top officials from the George W. Bush administration, and even a handful of holdovers from the Obama administration. The list also includes at least eight staffers drawn from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that forged close ties to the new administration during the transition.

Much about the role of the beachhead teams at various federal agencies is unclear. But close observers of the early weeks of the Trump administration believe they have taken on considerable influence in the absence of high-level political appointees.

“If the public and Senate is in the dark about a team created without a Senate confirmation process, no one will be permitted to shed light on who is hopelessly conflicted or who is obviously unqualified — and who is both,” said Jeff Hauser, director of the Revolving Door Project at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

The beachhead team members are temporary employees serving for stints of four to eight months, but many are expected to move into permanent jobs. The Trump administration’s model is based on plans developed but never used by the unsuccessful presidential campaign of Mitt Romney.

“The beachhead teams involve people with considerable authority over the federal government,” said Max Stier, the CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan group that advises presidential candidates on smooth transitions. “We need clarity about what they’re doing and what their role is going to be.”

The Obama administration also hired temporary staffers after the inauguration. But Trump has brought in many more, Stier said.

The new list of names was provided to us by the Office of Personnel Management, the government’s human resources agency. We received additional names from other federal agencies in response to Freedom of Information Act requests. At least a few people on the list have changed agencies or left the administration, including, for example, the young Department of Housing and Urban Development staffer who was fired after his anti-Trump writings during the campaign came to light.

Here is a run-down of some of the Trump hires. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 March 2017 at 5:07 pm

Posted in Daily life

The Reichstag Warning

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Timothy Snyder writes at the NY Review of Books:

On February 27, 1933 the German Parliament building burned, Adolf Hitler rejoiced, and the Nazi era began. Hitler, who had just been named head of a government that was legally formed after the democratic elections of the previous November, seized the opportunity to change the system. “There will be no mercy now,” he exulted. “Anyone standing in our way will be cut down.”

The next day, at Hitler’s advice and urging, the German president issued a decree “for the protection of the people and the state.” It deprived all German citizens of basic rights such as freedom of expression and assembly and made them subject to “preventative detention” by the police. A week later, the Nazi party, having claimed that the fire was the beginning of a major terror campaign by the Left, won a decisive victory in parliamentary elections. Nazi paramilitaries and the police then began to arrest political enemies and place them in concentration camps. Shortly thereafter, the new parliament passed an “enabling act” that allowed Hitler to rule by decree.

After 1933, the Nazi regime made use of a supposed threat of terrorism against Germans from an imaginary international Jewish conspiracy. After five years of repressing Jews, in 1938 the German state began to deport them. On October 27 of that year, the German police arrested about 17,000 Jews from Poland and deported them across the Polish border. A young man named Herschel Grynszpan, sent to Paris by his parents, received a desperate postcard from his sister after his family was forced across the Polish border.  He bought a gun, went to the German embassy, and shot a German diplomat. He called this an act of revenge for the suffering of his family and his people. Nazi propagandists presented it as evidence of an international Jewish conspiracy preparing a terror campaign against the entire German people. Josef Goebbels used it as the pretext to organize the events we remember as Kristallnacht, a massive national pogrom of Jews that left hundreds dead.

The Reichstag fire shows how quickly a modern republic can be transformed into an authoritarian regime. There is nothing new, to be sure, in the politics of exception. The American Founding Fathers knew that the democracy they were creating was vulnerable to an aspiring tyrant who might seize upon some dramatic event as grounds for the suspension of our rights. As James Madison nicely put it, tyranny arises “on some favorable emergency.” What changed with the Reichstag fire was the use of terrorism as a catalyst for regime change. To this day, we do not know who set the Reichstag fire: the lone anarchist executed by the Nazis or, as new scholarship by Benjamin Hett suggests, the Nazis themselves. What we do know is that it created the occasion for a leader to eliminate all opposition.

In 1989, two centuries after our Constitution was promulgated, the man who is now our president wrote that “civil liberties end when an attack on our safety begins.” For much of the Western world, that was a moment when both security and liberty seemed to be expanding. 1989 was a year of liberation, as communist regimes came to an end in eastern Europe and new democracies were established. Yet that wave of democratization has since fallen under the glimmering shadow of the burning Reichstag. The aspiring tyrants of today have not forgotten the lesson of 1933: that acts of terror—real or fake, provoked or accidental—can provide the occasion to deal a death blow to democracy.

The most consequential example is Russia, so admired by Donald Trump. When Vlaimir V. Putin was appointed prime minister in August 1999, the former KGB officer had an approval rating of 2 percent. Then, a month later, the bombs began to explode in apartment buildings in Moscow and several other Russian cities, killing hundreds of citizens and causing widespread fear. There were numerous indications that this was a campaign organized by the KGB’s heir, now known as the FSB. Some of its officers were caught red-handed (and then released) by their peers. A Russian parliamentarian announced one of the “terror” attacks several days before the bomb actually exploded.

Putin blamed Muslim terrorists and began the war in Chechnya that made him popular. He thereafter exploited more terrorist attacks to consolidate his rule: three years later, Russian security forces ended up gassing to death Russian civilians in a botched response to an attack at a Moscow theater. Putin used the negative press coverage as a justification for seizing control of television. In 2004, after the Beslan massacre, in which terrorists occupied a school and killed a large number of parents and children during a violent confrontation with Russian forces, Putin abolished the position of elected regional governors. And so the current Russian regime was built.

Once an authoritarian regime is established, the threat of terrorism can be used to deepen repression, or indeed to promote it abroad. In 2013 and 2014 the Russian media spread hysterical reports about a non-existent Ukrainian terrorist threat as the Russian army prepared and then fought a war in Ukraine. In 2015, Russia hacked into a French television channel, pretended to be ISIS, and broadcast messages apparently intended to frighten the French population into voting for the National Front, the far-right party financially supported by Russia (and whose leader, Marine Le Pen, is expected to reach the second round of the French presidential elections to be held this April and May). In 2016, the Russian media and Russian diplomats engaged in a large-scale disinformation campaign in Germany, spreading a false tale about refugees raping a girl of Russian origin—again with the likely aim of helping the German far right.

The use of real or imagined terrorist threats to create or consolidate authoritarian regimes has become increasingly frequent worldwide. In Syria, Russia’s client Bashar al-Assad used the presence of ISIS to portray any opposition to his regime as “terrorists.” Our president has admired the methods of rule of both Assad and Putin.  In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has used the July 2016 coup attempt—which he has called “terrorism supported by the West”—to justify the arrest of tens of thousands of judges, teachers, university professors, and to call for a referendum this spring that could give him sweeping new powers over the parliament and the judiciary.

It is aspiring tyrants who say that “civil liberties end when an attack on our safety begins.” Conversely, leaders who wish to preserve the rule of law find other ways to speak about real terrorist threats, and certainly do not invent them or deliberately make them worse.

In this respect, the Bush administration’s reaction to the September 11, 2001 attacks was not as awful as it might have been. . .

Continue reading.

Emphasis added.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 March 2017 at 3:23 pm

Kevin Drum: “Why Doesn’t American Health Care Help Us Live Longer?”

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Contemplate this chart:

And then read his post.

And see also the wonkblog column in the Washington Post.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 March 2017 at 1:25 pm

“Say It With Me Again: James Comey Elected Donald Trump President”

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Kevin Drum has an excellent post (with chart) that shows the election result was purely and solely due to James Comey. And it’s quite convincing. The chart helps, because you can see it.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 March 2017 at 1:21 pm

The man does seem to know how to deal: Trump Wins 27 New Trademarks in China

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And the deal seems to be that Trump will honor the One-China policy—something he was bound to do anyway, but he cleverly arranged that first phone call with Taiwan’s president, which provided enough nudge to get all those trademarks: money in the bank, but no money changes hands. But still it is (outright) corruption: using public office for private gain. Trump as a private citizen fought for those trademarks for a long time and went nowhere. Now, however, …  Corruption.

Sui-Lee Wee reports in the NY Times:

President Trump has won preliminary approval to register 27 new trademarks in China for industries including restaurants and advertising, business interests that could add to criticism over his potential conflicts.

As a businessman, Mr. Trump has amassed a vast portfolio of trademarks around the world, as he seeks to protect his brands and his products. Those trademarks, at times, clash with the vision of a populist president who has espoused a strategy of “America First.”

China has been among the biggest targets for his business prospects. Including the latest batch, his companies have filed for at least 126 trademarks in China since 2005 for restaurants, bars, hotels, brokerage services, advertising and management consulting.

But as president, Mr. Trump has criticized China for its trade practices. On the campaign trail, he threatened to impose punitive tariffs against the country.

The timing of the new trademarks could create a perception problem for Mr. Trump because they came so soon after he took office.

In February, the Chinese government announced that it was granting Mr. Trump the right to protect his name brand for construction projects, after a decade-long legal battle. That trademark approval was announced just days after Mr. Trump pulled back from his challenge to China’s policy on Taiwan in a call with Xi Jinping, the Chinese president.

A number of trademarks have followed, with China’s Trademark Office giving preliminary approval for the 27 new ones on Feb. 27 and on Monday, according to the agency’s website.

The latest trademarks, which were under the name “Donald J. Trump,” were initially approved for use in golf clubs, insurance services, child-care centers and nursing homes, among other categories. They will be formally registered three months later, if the agency receives no objections. The Associated Press reported earlier about the trademarks.

Matthew Dresden, a lawyer with Harris Bricken in Seattle who specializes in Chinese intellectual property law, said it was atypical that all the trademarks were “approved at once.”

“I think that’s really odd. That makes you look and think: ‘Somebody got some instructions at the trademark office that these should be approved,’” Mr. Dresden said. “It’s unusual for that many trademarks to go through the examination process without any problems.” . . .

Continue reading.

Later in the article:

It is unclear whether the Trump Organization will profit from the new trademarks in China. While the company has pursued a large number of hotel development deals in the country, one of its executives recently suggested that the organization would drop those projects.

The Trump Organization has said it would not be doing any new international deals. Mr. Trump has said he is turning over control of his business to his two adult sons.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the track record shows that these guys lie: blatantly, repeatedly, and without shame because “It’s just a tactic, and using any legal tactic is fair, isn’t it? And what is or is not legal is not always so obvious, so just go with it and we’ll fight it in court if it comes up.” Trump has 75 lawsuits in action now against him.

So I totally dismiss whatever those organizations say. They are simply not to be trusted, and that’s been proven over and over—as Scotland recently learned with the Trump golf course. And as everyone recently learned with the Trump charitable foundation—which was most charitable, as it turned out, to Mr. Trump himself—which paid $20,000 for a portrait of Mr. Trump, which now hangs at Mar-a-Lago.

They. Are. Not. Trustworthy. You cannot believe their promises (“Trumpcare will cover everybody—and for less”) or their statements of fact (“I have the healthcare plan almost completed, just a few things…” with no plan whatsoever; “Obama tapped my phone”).

So with the words useless, you have to go on actions. So see what he does. And see what he’s doing: those executive orders, the business deals—observe and think about it to see what you conclude.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 March 2017 at 12:55 pm

Whiter cities? Jennifer Rubin interviews Edward Glaeser

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Written by LeisureGuy

8 March 2017 at 12:31 pm

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