Later On

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Archive for May 13th, 2018

Education Department Unwinds Unit Investigating Fraud at For-Profits

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Corruption writ large, and the public seems not to care.  Danielle Ivory, Erica L. Green, and Steve Eder report in the NY Times:

Members of a special team at the Education Department that had been investigating widespread abuses by for-profit colleges have been marginalized, reassigned or instructed to focus on other matters, according to current and former employees.

The unwinding of the team has effectively killed investigations into possibly fraudulent activities at several large for-profit colleges where top hires of Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, had previously worked.

During the final months of the Obama administration, the team had expanded to include a dozen or so lawyers and investigators who were looking into advertising, recruitment practices and job placement claims at several institutions, including DeVry Education Group.

The investigation into DeVry ground to a halt early last year. Later, in the summer, Ms. DeVos named Julian Schmoke, a former dean at DeVry, as the team’s new supervisor.

Now only three employees work on the team, and their mission has been scaled back to focus on processing student loan forgiveness applications and looking at smaller compliance cases, said the current and former employees, including former members of the team, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation from the department.

In addition to DeVry, now known as Adtalem Global Education, investigations into Bridgepoint Education and Career Education Corporation, which also operate large for-profit colleges, went dark.

Former employees of those institutions now work for Ms. DeVos as well, including Robert S. Eitel, her senior counselor, and Diane Auer Jones, a senior adviser on postsecondary education. Last month, Congress confirmed the appointment of a lawyer who provided consulting services to Career Education, Carlos G. Muñiz, as the department’s general counsel.

The investigative team had been created in 2016 after the collapse of the for-profit Corinthian Colleges, which set off a wave of complaints from students about predatory activities at for-profit schools. The institutions had been accused of widespread fraud that involved misrepresenting enrollment benefits, job placement rates and program offerings, which could leave students with huge debts and no degrees.

Elizabeth Hill, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, attributed the reduction of the group to attrition and said that “conducting investigations is but one way the investigations team contributes to the department’s broad effort to provide oversight.” She said that none of the new employees who had previously worked in the for-profit education industry had influenced the unit’s work.

She also said the team’s deployment on student loan forgiveness applications was an “operational decision” that “neither points to a curtailment of our school oversight efforts nor indicates a conscious effort to ignore ‘large-scale’ investigations.”

Aaron Ament, a former chief of staff to the office of the department’s general counsel who helped create the team under President Barack Obama, said it had been intended to protect students from fraudulent for-profit colleges. “Unfortunately, Secretary DeVos seems to think the colleges need protection from their students,” said Mr. Ament, who is now president of the National Student Legal Defense Network.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, also criticized the team’s new direction. Ms. DeVos has taken a number of actions to roll back or delay regulations that sought to rein in abuses and predatory practices among for-profit colleges — actions that Ms. Warren and other Democrats have said put the industry’s interests ahead of those of students. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 May 2018 at 9:26 pm

This Is How a Newspaper Dies

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The US needs good newspapers and good journalism. In Politico Jack Shafer writes about how that need is being starved:

For a preview of the newspaper industry’s coming death, turn your gaze to Colorado, where the withering and emaciated Denver Post finds itself rolling in profits.

The Post’s controlling owner, “vulture capitalist” Randall Smith, has become journalism’s No. 1 villain for having cheapened and starved not just its Denver paper but many of the titles—including the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the San Jose Mercury News and the Orange County Register—that his firm, Alden Global Capital, operates through the Digital First Media chain. At the Post, Smith’s firm cut the newsroom from 184 journalists to 99 between 2012 and 2017, Bloomberg News’ Joe Nocera writes. Over the same time, Smith’s Pottstown Mercury fell from 73 journos to 10 while its Norristown Times-Herald went 45 to 12. And the cuts just keep on coming. For newspaper lovers, the cuts have been a disaster.

Journalists and citizens have protested and rebelled against the Alden cutbacks to no effect. The Post’s editorial page editor resigned recently after writing an editorial calling on its owners to sell. The editorial page editor at the chain’s Boulder Daily Camera just got sacked for self-publishing a critique of his owners and a fund has been established to fund the journalism of Posties that have been let go. This week, employees from several of the chain’s newspapers took their complaint to Manhattan, where they demonstrated outside Smith’s offices to demand that he either invest in his papers or sell them to somebody who will.

But why on Earth should Smith sell? Alden’s newspapers recorded nearly $160 million in profits during fiscal year 2017, analyst Ken Doctor reported in a comprehensive piece recently at NeimanLab. The chain’s 17 percent operating margin makes it one of the industry’s best performers. Over the course of seven years, Alden doubled profits in its Bay Area News Group newspapers, another home to cutbacks. At the Pioneer Press, where its staff is down to 60, the paper produced a $10 million profit at a 13 percent margin.

Smith may be a rapacious fellow, but his primary crime is recognizing that print is approaching its expiration date and is acting on the fact that more value can be extracted by sucking the marrow than by investing more deeply or selling.

Allow yourself to sympathize with Smith for a moment. He’s deeply invested in a stagnant industry whose primary audience is approaching its own expiration date. Think of the Denver Post and most other newspapers as your grandfather who is on dialysis, has a pacemaker and totes an oxygen tank behind him. He looks alive, but he’s overdue. Your grandfather is a pretty good stand-in for the average newspaper subscriber, too. Habituated to his morning newspaper, he’ll resist cancelling his subscription no matter how raggedy the paper gets or how high the owners jack up the price. (Alden is among the most aggressive in boosting subscription prices, Doctor tells the Daily Beast.)

The business-school label for tactics like Alden’s, in which you get fewer customers to pay more for less, as Philip Meyer wrote in his book The Vanishing Newspaper, is “harvesting market position.” By raising prices and lowering quality, a stagnant business can rely on its most loyal customers to continue to buy the product, allowing it to squeeze and squeeze and squeeze its customers as they croak. This slow liquidation of an asset’s value, destroying even its reputation in the process, kills the product. Wherever newspapers can be found reducing page size, cutting news pages, narrowing coverage area, reducing staff, shrinking circulation area, postponing the purchase of new equipment and raising subscription prices, they are harvesting market position. Faced with two business options, earn small sums from his newspapers over an indeterminate time or cash in big all at once, perhaps hastening the end, Smith has chosen the latter.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged by those who don’t let sentiment cloud their thinking that the newspaper’s time will soon pass—except for rare titles like the New York Times and a few others that can attract national audiences. “The old model of a general-purpose newspaper fit the industrial age when advertisers needed mass audiences to sell the products of mass production. But the marketplace no longer supports the model of a few messages to many people. Now it is many messages, each to a few people,” Meyer tells me via email.

Why pin exclusive blame on Smith for the demise of the Denver Post when there’s plenty of blame to go around? In 2008, then-Detroit News reporter Charlie LeDuff spotted another villain in the rot and decay of his newspaper as it downsized to three days a week of home delivery. “The owner didn’t decide to shrink the paper. The reader decided to shrink the paper,” LeDuff said. It was readers who stopped subscribing. It was readers who stopped using newspaper classifieds. It was readers who stopped reading. Readers are the true villains in this murder mystery.

It’s not like the newspaper industry didn’t have advance warning of its demise. In 1976, long before the internet arrived,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 May 2018 at 9:05 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Media

Why So Many Gifted Yet Struggling Students Are Hidden In Plain Sight

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Anya Kamenetz reports at NPR:

Scott Barry Kaufman was placed in special education classes as a kid. He struggled with auditory information processing and with anxiety.

But with the support of his mother, and some teachers who saw his creativity and intellectual curiosity, Kaufman ended up with degrees from Yale and Cambridge.

Now he’s a psychologist who cares passionately about a holistic approach to education, one that recognizes the capacity within each child. He recently edited a volume of experts writing about how to reach students like himself: Twice Exceptional: Supporting And Educating Bright And Creative Students With Learning Difficulties.

I spoke with him about ways schools and teachers can help these twice exceptional, or “2E,” students thrive. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Interview Highlights

So these are students with exceptional, far-ahead-of-the-curve intellectual ability, but who also struggle with a learning disability or difficulty. And as the authors talk about in the book, these students are found all over the place — in special ed, gifted, and in general education classes, too.

That’s right. The disability can be masked because they are functioning so high, or their disability may dominate, or each can mask the other.

Why is this group of students flying so under the radar?

Society still has this false dichotomy of, you’re a superior human being or a weak loser with bad genes. This is a loss of a critical resource — students who don’t graduate, don’t pursue higher ed, become unemployed.

What do you mean by learning difficulties?

I want to be quite inclusive. You have the learning disorders — ADHD, autism, dyslexia — but I wanted to actually expand it to mental illnesses, like kids at risk for bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and depression — a really serious issue in our world today. We need a framework that incorporates them into this more positive psychology movement where we see greater potential.

And on the other side, you also have an expansive definition of giftedness — talk about that.

I talk about the 4 C’s: capacity, competence, creativity and the fourth C is commitment — a higher purpose or a cause or a personal project that you believe in over the long term, like social activists. This is important because you shouldn’t have to have a certain threshold on an IQ test to be able to make the world a better place.

The subtitle talks about bright and creative students with learning difficulties. Why do you single out creativity there?

I think we haven’t fully come to terms with the fact that sometimes the things that we value in education, like expertise and intelligence and knowledge, conflict sometimes with creativity.

Creativity is just as important, and if we focus on intellectual power we’re going to miss out on a lot of these kids that are going to really shake up the world, really change things.

Even at the neurological level, when you look at the brain [activity] of high IQ individuals, the network resembles someone who’s really good at focusing, concentration, ignoring distraction.

With the creative person, sometimes you see the exact opposite pattern — the person who’s open to new experiences, they can integrate seemingly disparate things.

So different kinds of intellectual abilities can be in tension with each other. Let’s say you suspect you have a kid like this. What do you do?

Some people say, “Oh, my child is smart, I’m going to fight for them to get into gifted classes,” but maybe that’s not always the right fight.

If you’re seeing extraordinary creativity, you can help them find the right match in after-school activities or things outside of school. My mom signed me up for everything, to see what I would be interested in.

With commitment, I would really encourage your child to pursue that with full vigor and offer resources. Try to find a mentor in your community and help them get involved.

You do see cases where, when you get them involved in something where they feel good about themselves, it’s almost like they forget to be disabled. Like Matt Lerner at Stony Brook University, who’s done research putting kids with autism into improv classes.

Instead of saying, “You have a social deficit,” it’s saying, “We think you have great potential for some social creativity because you really think differently and you tell the truth.”

Can a disorder really be that situational?

Well, anxiety is a big commonality among everyone on the twice-exceptional spectrum.

It’s in so many ways conditional. It emerges from the interaction of their learning difficulties and the way they’re being treated in school.

What about teachers? What can they do to support students like this? . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 May 2018 at 4:15 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

Giant Hog Farms Are Fighting for the Right to Keep Polluting. The Trump Administration Is on Their Side.

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Tom Philpott writes in Mother Jones:

f you enjoy bacon or ham, chances are you’ve eaten pork from North Carolina, where about 16 million hogs—10 percent of the US total—are raised each year. The great bulk of that production takes place in a handful of counties on the state’s coastal plain—places like Baden County, home to more than 750,000 hogs but only 35,000 humans. Recently, a federal jury awarded more than $50 million in damages to 10 plaintiffs who live near one of the factory-scale hog operations.

The hog facility in the case, which raises hogs under contract for Murphy Brown, a subsidiary of China-owned pork giant Smithfield, is called Kinlaw Farm. Here’s a Google Earth image of it:

Those white buildings in three clumps of four are hog barns. A typical barn holds around 1,000 hogs. The brownish splotches are open-air cesspools known as lagoons, which store manure from all those animals before it’s sprayed on surrounding fields. I’ve been near operations like this, and the stench is blinding—pungent gases like ammonia and hydrogen sulfide permeate the air. In addition to revulsion, these gases can trigger ill health effects in neighboring communities, including eye irritation, chronic lung disease, and olfactory neuron loss.

As Leah Douglas recently noted in a Mother Jones piece, all 10 of the plaintiffs in the case are black. This isn’t surprising, because in North Carolina, “people of color are 1.5 times more likely to live near a hog CAFO than white people.”

If you play around with Google Earth, you can find several residences within a half-mile of the site. That’s not unusual—a recent analysis of satellite data by the Environmental Working Group found that around 160,000 North Carolinians, representing more than 60,000 households, live within a half-mile of a hog confinement or a manure pit.

The Bladen County case is the first of 26 lawsuits pending in North Carolina hog country—the next is due to begin trial this month. (Smithfield, meanwhile, has vowed to appeal last week’s court decision.) Will the legal onslaught force the industry to stop siting intensive high production so close to people’s homes? Iowa is the site of even more hog production than North Carolina, and people who live near facilities there have similar complaints.

If the federal court’s Bladen County decision withstands Smithfield’s appeal, “it could motivate the company to change its ways,” says Danielle Diamond, executive director of the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project. But she doesn’t anticipate broader changes in the industry, because “other courts are not required to follow this decision.” (The decision could, however, influence the 25 additional cases pending in the same federal district court that awarded the $50 million.)

Real change, Diamond says, won’t come until governments force the industry to clean up its act through tighter regulation. But “this industry in particular has incredible influence over all levels of government,” she says. North Carolina’s state  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 May 2018 at 1:48 pm

Deadly Convenience: Keyless Cars and Their Carbon Monoxide Toll

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David Jeans and Majlie De Puy Kamp report in the NY Times:

It seems like a common convenience in a digital age: a car that can be powered on and off with the push of a button, rather than the mechanical turning of a key. But it is a convenience that can have a deadly effect.

On a summer morning last year, Fred Schaub drove his Toyota RAV4 into the garage attached to his Florida home and went into the house with the wireless key fob, evidently believing the car was shut off. Twenty-nine hours later, he was found dead, overcome with carbon monoxide that flooded his home while he slept.

“After 75 years of driving, my father thought that when he took the key with him when he left the car, the car would be off,” said Mr. Schaub’s son Doug.

Mr. Schaub is among more than two dozen people killed by carbon monoxide nationwide since 2006 after a keyless-ignition vehicle was inadvertently left running in a garage. Dozens of others have been injured, some left with brain damage.

Keyless ignitions are now standard in over half of the 17 million new vehicles sold annually in the United States, according to the auto information website Edmunds. Rather than a physical key, drivers carry a fob that transmits a radio signal, and as long as the fob is present, a car can be started with the touch of a button. But weaned from the habit of turning and removing a key to shut off the motor, drivers — particularly older ones — can be lulled by newer, quieter engines into mistakenly thinking that it has stopped running.

Seven years ago, the world’s leading automotive standards group, the Society of Automotive Engineers, called for features like a series of beeps to alert drivers that cars were still running without the key fob in or near the car, and in some cases to shut the engine off automatically.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed a federal regulation based on that idea, a software change that it said could be accomplished for pennies per vehicle. In the face of auto industry opposition, the agency let the plan languish, though it says a rule is still under consideration. [Corporations care about profits, not their customers. If the US had a functioning Congress, a law could be quickly passed to end the deaths.- LG]

For now, regulators say they are relying on carmakers to incorporate such warning features voluntarily. But a survey of 17 car companies by The New York Times found that while some automakers go beyond the features recommended by the standards group, others fall short.

Safety measures have been a matter of contention among automakers, sometimes even internally. Toyota, for example, has a system of three audible signals outside the car, and one inside, to alert drivers getting out of a vehicle that the motor is still running. But when Toyota engineers determined that more effective warning signals were needed — like flashing lights or a unique tone — the company rejected the recommendation, according to testimony in a wrongful-death suit.

Toyota models, including Lexus, have figured in almost half of the carbon monoxide fatalities and injuries identified by The Times. Toyota says its keyless ignition system “meets or exceeds all relevant federal safety standards.”

Some automakers have designed newer models that alert drivers more insistently when the engine is left running — or that shut it off after a certain period. Ford’s keyless vehicles now have a feature that automatically turns off the engine after 30 minutes of idling if the key fob is not in the vehicle, the company said recently. (According to a federal lawsuit, Ford began introducing the feature in 2013.)

But many older vehicles have not been retrofitted to reduce the hazard, despite the modest expense of doing so. It cost General Motors $5 per car to install the automatic shutoff in a 2015 recall, according to a G.M. report to the safety agency.

Regulations require automakers to address other hazards associated with keyless vehicles — theft and rollaways — and those measures might also reduce the carbon monoxide danger. But the safety agency has found shortcomings and inconsistencies by automakers in meeting those rules.

As the number of carbon monoxide deaths grows, the hazard is no secret. A Florida fire chief saw so many cases that he took to handing out carbon monoxide detectors. And litigation against the companies is mounting.

“We’re going to continue to see deaths and injuries,” said Sean Kane, founder of Safety Research and Strategies, an auto safety research group. “And the manufacturers will continue to settle cases.”

The exact number of deaths related to carbon monoxide from keyless-ignition vehicles left running is unknown, as no federal agency keeps comprehensive records. Through 2016, the most recent year for which data is available, the safety agency had investigated . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 May 2018 at 1:41 pm

After the Iran deal: A foreign policy built on arrogance, ignorance and sheer desperation

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Patrick Lawrence writes in Salon:

I am with Craig Murray now that the Trump administration has determined to scuttle the accord governing Iran’s nuclear programs. “This moment will be seen by historians as a key marker in U.S. decline as a world power,” the former British diplomat wrote the day after the White House announcement. I am with the friend who sent a note after the Senate hearings Wednesday on Gina Haspel’s nomination as director of the CIA: “I think this might lead to some careful re-evaluation as to how one continues to think of the dear old US of A.”

It is hard to think of anything other than the dear old US of A at this moment, however much one may want to think about an infinitude of other things: The complacency of American life begins to assume a pitiful triviality — providing one is sentient, has a conscience and is not paid to think in conformity with orthodoxy. America has long headed for trouble, of course. Last week it took a very steep step further down into it. It is getting too dark to see a way out of this.

I write this not only in response to the detonation of the agreement with Iran, unconscionable as this is. Did you see the video taken as police dragged Ray McGovern, the truth-telling former spook, from the Haspel hearings Wednesday, the day after the Iran announcement? It is shameful. But it is not the thought of a torturer in high office, either.

As of last week, Washington has assembled a considerable list of dangers and disasters, and they are of a piece. I propose we look at them this way, for it is this larger context we have to think about. The Trump administration now has a clear foreign policy, all fleshed out to see. It may be shaped by the president, or the president may be the ventriloquist’s dummy of his minders. This remains hard to discern. But either way, it comes to this: America grows ever more indifferent to alliances other than those dependent on a common adversary. Friendships with other nations seem no longer to matter, or even whether America is admired or respected. All signs indicate we now enter that late-imperial phase when power alone, raw power, is all we have to show the world.

In last week’s column I suggested American foreign policy has lately assumed the markings of desperation. That is a strong word, but it seems more to the point now than it did even seven days ago. In love, politics, diplomacy, war and much else, a lot of destruction is wreaked when the desperate are defending themselves at a late stage in their time. Brace yourselves. The worst is yet to come.

*  *  *

Here is what Washington got us into last week:

  • The banner headline went to Trump’s repudiation of the Iran agreement, of course. It took Israel a matter of hours to escalate its long-running provocations against Syrians and Iranians operating against those jihadist militias still active on Syrian soil. It took Trump a day to warn Tehran of “severe consequence” if it restarted any suspended nuclear programs. In other words: We repudiate the agreement, but you had better continue abiding by it. And it took Treasury two days to announce new sanctions. These are likely to strangle the Iranian economy. The rial is already crashing on foreign-exchange markets.

Given this swift succession of moves and the rhetoric coming out of Washington, it seemed plain by week’s end that wrecking the accord is probably the first step in yet another coup operation. (I refuse the euphemistically genteel “regime change,” although even Iranians now use it.) This augurs very ill. Americans have never understood and Bibi Netanyahu’s Israel has never cared: Iran is neither a flimsy banana republic nor a nation drawn on colonial maps a century back. It is an old civilization with a markedly profound identity, and it takes vigorous pride in its sovereignty. A coup operation — or a provoked conflict, worse — is certain to result in costly failure.

  • Gina Haspel is a moral mess, as her Senate testimony Wednesday made plain. But I will say this simply: Her wicked corruptions and base inhumanity are a more accurate reflection what our dear US of A has made of itself than most of us want to recognize. When a person of Haspel’s record can snow a roomful of senators with the ease she did, there is rot in our notion of “patriotic duty” and other such glossy phrases.

Haspel’s confirmation as CIA director, now all but assured, completes what is effectively a kind of war cabinet, the chief members of which are John Bolton, the new national security adviser, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Widen the definition of war and you can include Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. It is true that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis looks like reason made flesh in this scrum of provincials and ignoramuses. But this is merely because, as a retired general, Mattis favors wars he is certain of winning, and there are not many of those around just now. If there were he would fight them.

  • Vice President Mike Pence addressed the Organization of American States last week, as you probably have not read. Pence demanded that the government of Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, cancel elections scheduled for May 20, calling them corrupt even before they take place.

This has been going on since the late Hugo Chávez was first elected 20 years ago: International observers certify elections, Washington denounces them, and then the U.S. imposes a set of sanctions. Sure enough, Pence announced new sanctions (against an assortment of Venezuelan companies and individuals) when he addressed the OAS last Monday. If you wonder how much this has to do with democracy, put the Venezuelan record against that of Honduras. In the latter case, Washington immediately recognized the rightist Juan Orlando Hernández after he defended his incumbency in grossly fraudulent elections late last year. Pence, he of ostentatious rectitude, just added to what has long amounted to a slo-mo coup in Latin America.

  • The Trump administration just handed China a “draft framework” on trade that is so preposterous it cannot be read as other than a declaration of war by other means. Among its many demands: China must cut its trade surplus with the U.S. by $100 billion in each of the next two years. To put you in the picture, this is $200 billion out of a 2017 surplus (Chinese figures) of $276 billion.

It goes on from there. To satisfy the U.S., China has to remove all industry subsidies — a demand that amounts to scrapping its economic model. China must stop complaining about the U.S. to the World Trade Organization. Whatever the U.S. may do by way of tariffs or other restrictions, China must pledge not to retaliate. And so on. Martin Wolf, the Financial Times’ longtime economics commentator, published an excellent column on this last week. “No great sovereign power could accept such a humiliation,” Wolf writes of the U.S. document. “For China, it would be a modern version of the ‘unequal treaties’ of the 19th century.”

Just the thing: Aggress against the world’s second-largest economy, soon enough the largest, while your own share of global GDP and trade is shrinking. As Wolf neatly put it, “The U.S. administration is either so foolish it does not understand this or so arrogant it does not care.”

Some and some, I would say.

  • Now we come to the Europeans. . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 May 2018 at 8:39 am

The Republicans’ race problem

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Kevin Drum has an interesting post with quite a few examples of Republicans trying to explain to their fellows that the GOP has a race problem. Well worth reading. Includes quotes, videos, and links.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 May 2018 at 6:45 am

Posted in GOP

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