Monday, October 23, 2017

NEWSHOUR BOOKSHELF - "What She Ate"

"How these famous women used food as social status" PBS NewsHour 10/19/2017

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Every food story is an economic story, says author Laura Shapiro.  In "What She Ate," Shapiro offers tales of female empowerment or self-definition by way of the kitchen and dinner table, cooking up portraits of Eleanor Roosevelt, Eva Braun, Helen Gurley Brown, and others.  Economics correspondent Paul Solman reports.

ASTRONOMY - Dancing With the Stars

"Witnessing the collision of two neutron stars is a 'textbook changer.'  Here's why" PBS NewsHour 10/18/2017

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Astronomers witnessed for the first time ever a rare collision of two dense neutron stars.  The discovery began with an instrument called LIGO, which won this year's Nobel Prize for its discovery of gravitational waves once predicted by Albert Einstein.  Science correspondent Miles O'Brien joins Hari Sreenivasan to explain how the collision was detected and what it reveals about the universe.

ISIS - Post Mosul

Reminder, the extreme interpretation of Islam by ISIS is an idea, and ideas are never defeated by military action.

"The battle for Mosul is over, but this hidden ISIS danger could lurk for years" PBS NewsHour 10/18/2017

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Iraq may have ousted Islamic States militants from the city of Mosul over the summer, but the major task of finding and destroying the mines, booby traps and bombs remains.  A security firm hired by the U.S. and Iraqi workers are making progress to clear major areas, but it could take years or even decades.  Special correspondent Marcia Biggs reports on the safety of Mosul after ISIS.

U.S. SENATE - Bipartisan Health Care?

IMHO:  Not likely.  Trump and Republicans are still hellbent in killing the ACA (aka Obamacare) and NOT giving American true health care coverage.  American lives are just not worth spending money on in their book. 😡

"Senators take a bipartisan step toward a health care fix" PBS NewsHour 10/17/2017

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Two leading senators reached a bipartisan deal Tuesday to stabilize health insurance markets under Obamacare.  Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash) said their two-year compromise would fund federal subsidies that President Trump ended last week.  Judy Woodruff sits down with Lisa Desjardins to discuss how this plan will give states more flexibility.




"Trump pullback from bipartisan health care fix gives Washington whiplash" PBS NewsHour 10/18/2017

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  A bipartisan plan reached Tuesday to stabilize health care markets initially drew support from President Trump, but more recent statements -- in public remarks, from the White House and on Twitter -- have sent contradictory signals about Mr. Trump’s stance.  Lisa Desjardins reports on the changes the White House says it’s is hoping to see to support the deal.

CARIBBEAN - Hurricane Aftermath

Reminder, the U.S. has never been it a situation where entire infrastructures have been decimated AND the 'state' being isolated, having no neighbors to help.

"Puerto Ricans still don't have reliable drinking water, and fears of contamination are rising" PBS NewsHour 10/17/2017

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  It's been almost a month since Hurricane Maria battered Puerto Rico, killing at least 48 people, but citizens on the island are still coming to grips with the scale of the devastation.  William Brangham speaks with David Begnaud of CBS News about new concerns of contamination and disease due to the island's lack of drinking water, medical facilities and a backlog of supplies in San Juan.




"Why restoring Puerto Rico's power is so difficult" PBS NewsHour 10/19/2017

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Both federal and local authorities have faced criticism for the speed of Puerto Rico recovery efforts.  A month after Hurricane Maria, some 80 percent of the island remains without electricity.  Hari Sreenivasan speaks with José Sánchez, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to discuss the problems with the devastated power grid.




"After two devastating hurricanes, U.S. Virgin Islands' 'hurt is very real'" PBS NewsHour 10/20/2017

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Hurricane-battered infrastructure and limited electricity have taken a toll on the tourism-driven economy of the U.S. Virgin IslandsHome to 100,000 Americans, the islands took a hit from both hurricanes Irma and Maria at their peaks within a span of two weeks.  William Brangham speaks with U.S. Virgin Islands State Senator Janette Millin Young about how the islands are faring and the progress made.

EDUCATION - Addicted to Reform?

"Why education reform keeps failing students" PBS NewsHour 10/17/2017

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Education reform has been on the national political agenda for decades, but has significant progress ever been made?  In his new book, “Addicted to Reform,” former NewsHour education correspondent John Merrow chronicles the many attempts.  Merrow sits down with Jeffrey Brown to discuss his findings and his prescriptions for rescuing public education.

STAR WARS - The Droids


For us Star Wars lovers, the DROIDS!



And, YES I just ordered R2-D2 and BB-8 Droids via Amazon.

Monday, October 16, 2017

TRUE ISLAM - What it Really Means


This is what Islam REALLY is.

NOT what the murderous fanatics of ISIS profess.  Also, Islam does not have a single person (no matter what the ISIS leader clams) that speaks for all of Islam.


Monday, October 09, 2017

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 10/6/2017


"Shields and Brooks on Las Vegas tragedy, Trump-Tillerson tensions" PBS NewsHour 10/6/2017

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week's news, including the horrific massacre at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas and national debate about access to guns, plus seeming tensions between President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the consequences for American diplomacy.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks.  That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Gentlemen, welcome.

I was going to go straight to Las Vegas, but, Mark, I am again struck by these moving stories, this last one by William, about people struggling with addiction.

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist:  No, every one of them, Judy, William tonight, Paul Solman last night, it just — putting a human face on it, not simply the affliction and the problem, but — and the recovery.

The gravity of the problem is driven home to you, but the hope for recovery is presented.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  We have a lot of emergencies, I guess, David, to deal with, but this is clearly one.

DAVID BROOKS, New York Times:  Yes.

Well, the scene of Roxanne Newman with her date, on the first date, (A) the spirit with which she told that story, and then (B) her husband's grace, her now husband's grace, it's remarkable.

MARK SHIELDS:  Yes.

DAVID BROOKS:  And she — her point, which is the one you hear over and over again, is, it's just a slow-motion form of suicide.

And you have got to see it, first, the heroism of the people who are trying to deal with the recovery, but the social chasm that causes it.  Suicide is just a symptom of isolation.  And the tearing of the social fabric has created so many problems for society, but this is the one that is the most lethal.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Well, speaking of lethal and social fabric, Mark, Las Vegas has been on all of our minds this week, the worst mass shooting in American history.

What does it say about our country, about the American people?

MARK SHIELDS:  Well, it says, again, that we have a problem that the rest off the world doesn't face, has dealt with in a different way.

And it, quite frankly, Judy, is beyond my comprehension at this point.  I mean, we, as a people, if you think about it, over the last generation have made such enormous strides in the changes we have made.  For example, alcohol-related driving deaths are down by 85 percent.  A generation ago, people took for granted smoking in hospitals, in schools, in offices, in stores.

And we have done — and put seat belts on children; 90 percent of Americans drive with seat belts.  And half of those who die are of the 10 percent who don't wear seat belts.

And we have done it.  We have made these changes.  We have taken on major economic interests.  And this is the one that's stumped us [guns].  And to organize social action and social movement around it, because there are majorities, not intense majorities, but majorities of people who favor measures that have broad backing on registration, on background check.

We do it with automobiles.  We do it with every other kind of device.  But, somehow, again, we have been stumped.  And David has a theory on it, which he wrote about today quite persuasively, which, you know, may very well explain it.

DAVID BROOKS:  I always have a theory.

You know, one of the things that struck me about the polling on people's gun rights or gun control, is that, in 2000, not that long ago, two-thirds of Americans supported gun control, and only 29 percent supported gun rights.  Now it's about 50/50.

And so the gun rights people have just had a massive shift in their direction.  And that's because the issue has now — perfectly mirrors the political divide in this country and the cultural divide between coastal and rural, between more — higher education and lower education, the divide we see on issue after issue.

And it's become sort of a proxy for the big cultural dispute.  And a lot of the people who are trying to resist the post-industrial takeover of the country have seized on guns and immigration and the flag and a few other issues as the issues on which they are going to rally their people.

And there are a lot of those people.  One in four households has a gun in this country.  And so it's become a symptom of a larger culture war between some people who thinks it's horrific, guns; and some people who think it's a symbol of families being responsible and taking care of themselves, of freedom, and of Americans.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  It's a reminder of something Barack Obama said.

(CROSSTALK)

DAVID BROOKS:  I wouldn't say cling bitterly, though.  No, I think I disagree with that.

They see it as a way that America should be what it should be.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Mark, the debate or the discussion this week, so much of it has turned to guns.  Is that the conversation we should be having right now?

MARK SHIELDS:  Well, it's a conversation we have to have, because this man was a one-man artillery.

I mean, he had 12 rifles in his possession in the hotel, in the suite that was comped to him, let it be noted, because he was a major gambler.  And that's what Las Vegas does.  If you are going to bet enough at the tables, at video poker, you are going to get a free suite, and then nobody is going to ask questions about you.

But they were fitted out with bump stocks, Judy, which are a little device that turns it essentially into a lethal killing weapon.  And that's all it is, to kill human beings.  It's not for hunting.  It's not for sportsmanship or anything else.

There seems to be an emerging consensus on that we have to limit those, that they can limit sales.  Even the NRA and Republicans have done it.

I hate to sound like a cynic, but these are made in Moran, Texas, by a man who started the company six years ago.  They don't have a political action committee.  They don't have millions of dollars in contributions.  And I think it's a good idea, a positive public policy that they are limited, but he's not a — you're not dealing with a political powerhouse when you outlaw his product.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  But does it look like — you wrote today, David, the prospects are dim for figuring this gun issue out.  But is there any hope?

DAVID BROOKS:  Well, I think they are dim.

We're in the middle of a renaissance of gun laws in this country — 24 — more than 24 states have passed it, and almost all of them have loosened gun restrictions, not tightened gun restrictions.  They have conceal-carry and all those kinds of laws.

My own view on the issue is that we should probably pass all the gun control measures that are talked about, whether it's the gun shows, whether it's limiting the number you can buy.  And, I mean, there's a list of about 15 programs, smart guns and all that, and most of them would be good.

And I think they would be good because I think they would reduce suicides, which is the really main form of gun death.

Whether they'd prevent these kinds of killings, I guess I'm dubious.  Marco Rubio made a statement in the presidential campaign that none of the proposed laws would have prevented any of the recent mass killings.  The Washington Post did a big fact-check on that claim, and they said what he said was accurate.

And so I'm for supporting these things.  I'm not sure we should get our hopes up they will prevent things.  One of the things I have been thinking about if we in the media just stopped talking about these people — this guy seemed to be a — we don't know what he is.

But a lot of the people who do this, they just want to become famous.  They want to prove to the world they exist.  And if we anonymize them — and it's hard to do, because you're always curious about the people.

TRUMP AGENDA - War on Women's Rights

aka "Slow March to Theocracy"

"Keeping a promise to conservatives, Trump administration guts Obamacare's contraceptive mandate" PBS NewsHour 10/6/2017

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  New rules from the Trump administration on contraception coverage could affect hundreds of thousands for whom the cost of birth control would go from free to full retail cost, potentially putting it out of reach for many low-income women.  The change allows most employers to be exempted from providing birth control coverage, an issue that has been a hot topic in court.  Lisa Desjardins reports.

THE RUSSIA FILE - Hacked NSA Documents

"Report: Russia hacked NSA documents with aid from antivirus software" PBS NewsHour 10/5/2017

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  The Wall Street Journal reported that Russia obtained classified information about how the U.S. military protects its computer networks and conducts electronic spying.  The breach occurred when data was stolen by an NSA contractor, then hacked by Russia.  Hari Sreenivasan speaks with The Wall Street Journal's Shane Harris.

AMERICA ADDICTED - Opioid Crisis

"Understanding the science of pain with the help of virtual reality" PBS NewsHour 10/4/2017

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Inside the search for new drugs and techniques to replace habit-forming opioids, science correspondent Miles O'Brien discovers future pain treatments may rely on virtual reality.




"How the opioid crisis decimated the American workforce" PBS NewsHour 10/5/2017

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  In northeastern Ohio, employers say they see jobseekers all the time who look like "the walking dead," would-be workers struggling with opioid addiction.  The problem is so great, reports economics correspondent Paul Solman, that it's had a noticeable effect on the nation's labor force.




"Former drug users work on the front lines of the opioid crisis in Rhode Island" PBS NewsHour 10/6/2017

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  They visit overdose victims in the hospital.  They hand out lifesaving drugs on the streets and educate their peers about their own relapses.  In Rhode Island, former drug addicts are the most valuable fighters on the front lines of the war against opioids.  William Brangham reports as part of our series, “America Addicted.”




"The shame of addiction turned my life into a lie.  Here's what saved my family" PBS NewsHour 10/6/2017

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Keeping up appearances as a family hid the denial and shame Anita Devlin felt as her son struggled with an addiction to opioid painkillers.  But when she finally shared their experience, it opened the door to healing and recovery.  Devlin, author of "S.O.B.E.R." about her son Mike's addiction and road to recovery with Caron Treatment Centers, shares her humble opinion about banishing judgment and reaching out to others.

MEMORIAM - Tom Petty

"Remembering Tom Petty, a rock legend who connected" PBS NewsHour 10/3/2017

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Rock legend Tom Petty died at the age of 66 late Monday.  Emerging in the late '70s, he and his band the Heartbreakers became a major fixture in rock 'n' roll with catchy songs like “Free Fallin'” that bridged both classic and newer rock sounds.  Hari Sreenivasan speaks with Ann Powers of NPR about Petty's legacy.



SUPREME COURT - The Gerrymandering Case

"Did district lines rig Wisconsin elections?  Supreme Court case could reshape politics" PBS NewsHour 10/3/2017



Excerpt

SUMMARY:  The Supreme Court is considering a lawsuit that challenges Wisconsin's legislative map over partisan gerrymandering, and the outcome could have national implications.  Special correspondent Jeff Greenfield offers an overview of the case, then Marcia Coyle of The National Law Journal joins Lisa Desjardins to break down the arguments heard by the court on Tuesday.

PUERTO RICO - Loss and Rebuilding

"Puerto Ricans who lost everything begin rebuilding as they wait for aid" PBS NewsHour 10/2/2017

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  The road to recovery in Puerto Rico will be long and daunting, as electricity, fuel and transportation remain crippled in the wake of Hurricane Maria.  Citizens who have lost everything to the storm are trying to rebuild, but continue to wait for assistance as the military surveys the damage.  Special correspondent Monica Villamizar reports.




"How Puerto Ricans see President Trump’s hurricane response" PBS NewsHour 10/3/2017

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Two weeks after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, President Trump toured parts of the island to assess the damage and relief efforts.  Praising the work of FEMA, Mr. Trump complained about the cost of recovery and said Puerto Ricans need to do more.  Special correspondent Monica Villamizar joins Judy Woodruff to discuss how Puerto Ricans are responding to the President’s visit and comments.




"San Juan mayor: Trump can attack me as long as it gets out the message that Puerto Ricans are hungry" PBS NewsHour 10/4/2017

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  The federal response in Puerto Rico continues to draw criticism from locals, their dissatisfaction amplified by President Trump’s visit to the island on Tuesday.  San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz talks with special correspondent Monica Villamizar about the President’s visit and the disconnect she sees between the White House and the reality in Puerto Rico.



"Shuttered school in Puerto Rico opens its doors for community in need" PBS NewsHour 10/6/2017

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Hurricane Maria has taken a toll on Puerto Rico’s power grid and water supply, but for children, school closures and isolation from friends presents a daily reminder of the storm's devastation.  For a working class community outside San Juan, schools have become spaces of refuge where people can access food, medicine and psychological support.  Special correspondent Monica Villamizar reports.

LAS VEGAS - The Massacre



"An outpouring of sorrow and help after Las Vegas shooting massacre" PBS NewsHour 10/2/2017

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  The rapid fire of gunshots interrupted an evening of country music at an outdoor festival in Las Vegas Sunday night, where 22,000 people were gathered.  A gunman took aim at the crowd from the 32nd floor of a nearby hotel, killing at least 59.  William Brangham reports, then Hari Sreenivasan gets an update from Heidi Swank, a Nevada state assemblywoman, and Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen.




"How do you protect soft targets like a concert?" PBS NewsHour 10/2/2017

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Can anything be done to predict or prevent mass shootings?  How do you protect people in hard-to-secure public spaces?  Hari Sreenivasan talks to security expert Russ Simons of Venue Solutions Group and Jeffrey Swanson of the Duke University School of Medicine.




"The lives of Las Vegas shooting victims, in the words of their loved ones" PBS NewsHour 10/3/2017

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Mothers, fathers, teachers and veterans were among the victims of the tragedy in Las Vegas.  We remember 12 of the 59 people who died in Sunday’s shooting, and share how they are being remembered by their loved ones.




"The legal gun device that likely sped up the carnage in Las Vegas" PBS NewsHour 10/3/2017

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  How was the Las Vegas killer able to shoot so many rounds so quickly?  Stephen Paddock, the 64-year-old retired accountant who went on a shooting rampage, had stockpiled in his hotel room at least 23 firearms, as well as two bump stocks, which are used to modify weapons and make them fully automatic.  William Brangham explains how these modifications work and how they get around the law.




"Stories of heroism and sacrifice emerge as investigators pore over Las Vegas evidence" PBS NewsHour 10/4/2017

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Marilou Danley, girlfriend of the Las Vegas gunman, was questioned by the FBI on Wednesday after flying back from the Philippines where she had been during the attack.  Meanwhile, President Trump and the first lady met with survivors, doctors, police and emergency crews.  Investigators also learned more about how the gunman acquired his arsenal.  Special correspondent Cat Wise reports.




"How the Las Vegas shooting victims are being remembered" PBS NewsHour 10/4/2017

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  As more stories of heroism emerge from the Las Vegas attack, so do clearer pictures of the victims' lives.  We continue our tribute to the 59 people who were murdered with words from their loved ones.

TRUMP AGENDA - Voter Suppression Commission

"Who’s Really in Charge of the Voting Fraud Commission?" by Jessica Huseman, ProPublica 10/5/2017

On Friday, in response to a judge’s order, the Department of Justice released data showing the authors, recipients, timing, and subject lines of a group of emails sent to and from the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.  They show that in the weeks before the commission issued a controversial letter requesting sweeping voter data from the states, co-chair Kris Kobach and the commission’s staff sought the input of Hans von Spakovsky and J. Christian Adams on “present and future” state data collection, and attached a draft of the letter for their review — at a moment when neither had yet been named to the commission.

The commission’s letter requesting that data has been by far its most significant action since its formation in May — and was widely considered a fiasco.  It sparked bipartisan criticism and multiple lawsuits.  Yesterday, a state court blocked the state of Texas from handing over its data due to privacy concerns. 

The involvement by Adams and von Spakovsky, both Republicans, in drafting the letter even before they were nominated to the commission shows their influence.  Von Spakovsky previously raised eyebrows after documents from February showed him lobbying against the inclusion of Democrats on the commission.

The sway of Adams and von Spakovsky starkly contrasts with that of other members, who say they have largely been sidelined.  A Democratic commissioner, Matt Dunlap, the secretary of state of Maine, expressed frustration with what he said was a “clear” imbalance of power.  “Von Spakovsky has a profound influence on this commission,” he said.  “I never expected to be at the head of the table, but I’m not even sure I’m sitting at the table.”  Dunlap questioned “who the chair of the commission really is.  Is it the Vice President of the United States, [Mike Pence is the titular co-chair of the commission], or is it Hans von Spakovsky, working in the shadows?”

The letter was sent to states on June 28, hours after the conclusion of the commission’s first conference call with Kobach and Pence.  Kobach used the call to inform commissioners of his intention to send the letter.  But he said nothing that suggested it had already been written, according to Dunlap, nor did he mention the involvement of Adams or von Spakovsky.

The content of the letter was discussed only in generalities, Dunlap asserted.  Commissioners expressed concerns that they hadn’t seen the actual text, he said, but Kobach assured them that only his signature would be on the missive.  Dunlap said he then received a copy of the letter shortly after the call, which surprised him.

Von Spakovsky and Adams were not appointed to the voting commission until June 29 and July 10, respectively.  Both appointments caused immediate criticism among voting rights advocates.  The two men are known for their belief that voter fraud is rampant, and both have a history of advocating laws that critics say would restrict access to voting.  Von Spakovsky headed the Heritage Foundation’s election initiatives, and worked for the Justice Department during the administration of George W. Bush.  While there, he helped spearhead ultimately unsuccessful efforts to uncover voter fraud and was criticized for writing an article warning of the dangers of voter fraud under a pseudonym.

Adams also joined the Justice Department during the Bush administration.  He resigned in 2010 and accused the department of being unwilling to bring cases on behalf of white voters.  He now runs the Public Interest Legal Foundation, which regularly sues counties to force them to purge voter rolls of inactive registrations.

The email data that revealed the roles of Adams and von Spakovsky was released as a result of a lawsuit against the Commission by the Campaign Legal Center.  The Department of Justice had contended that the emails — which were circulated between Kobach, von Spakovsky, commission staffer Andrew Kossack and the Office of the Vice President’s counsel — are confidential because they contained communications between commissioners.

That stance puzzled Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola University School of Law and former Department of Justice civil rights official.  At the time, they were private individuals, not members of the commission,” he said.  “This is not how you run a legitimate commission that is attempting to, through a neutral process, get information to inform deliberations.”

Neither the White House, Kobach nor von Spakovsky responded to a request for comment.  Adams declined to respond to questions asked by email.  “You’ve had a hard time reporting accurately, and thus I have nothing for you,” he wrote.

So far, nearly 20 states have submitted at least some data sought by the commission.  It remains unclear how many of the remaining states will ultimately comply with the request.  Multiple state elections officials responded to the letter with questions of their own, which have been met with silence.  For example, John Merrill, the Secretary of State for Alabama, asked the commission specifically how the data would be used.  Kobach has provided no response so far, according to Merrill.  Kobach also did not answer the same question when it was posed to him by members of the press at commission meetings in July and September.

In a July interview, Marc Lotter, then the spokesperson for the Pence, said that the commission planned to check the rolls against “a number of different databases,” but did not specify which databases or how this match would be done.  The email data offers clues to both, though the filing contains only data and not the text of the emails.

First, it shows the commission has received proposals from “third party data analysis entities,” though no further details are offered.  It also reveals that the commission has been in contact regarding “potential future coordination” with the Department of Homeland Security, which maintains data on people moving through the immigration process.  Emails regarding data sent to the Social Security Administration, which maintains records on deceased individuals, are also listed.  Kobach has previously expressed interest in obtaining information on immigrants and dead people who are still registered.

This is not the first time von Spakovsky’s actions prior to his appointment have caught the attention of critics.  Last month, the Campaign Legal Center released a letter received from a public records request that showed von Spakovsky had sent a February email that was forwarded to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  In it, von Spakovsky lobbied for specific members (whose names were redacted) and lamented the inclusion of Democrats on the commission.  “There isn’t a single Democratic official that will do anything other than obstruct any investigation of voter fraud and issue constant public announcements criticizing the commission and what it is doing, making claims that it is engaged in voter suppression,” he wrote.  (In the most recent batch of email traffic, there are further messages from von Spakovsky and Adams, before they joined the commission, in which they appear to be opining on who else should be permitted to join it.)

At the commission’s September meeting, Kobach said he was unaware of anyone expressing these sentiments directly to him, and that he would “laugh” at the idea that Democrats shouldn’t be included because federal law requires bipartisan participation on such commissions.  “So whoever authored that email obviously wasn’t acquainted with the law,” he said.

Correction, Oct. 6, 2017:  The court that blocked Texas’s release of voter data was a state court, not a federal court as we originally reported.  In addition, we originally identified the plaintiff in the lawsuit that resulted in the release of email metadata as the Campaign Legal Center.  It is the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

SATIRE - America's Addition


There's something going on in the world.  A situation we cannot ignore any longer and we need to address it.

Friday, October 06, 2017

TRUMP AGENDA - The Betsy DeVos Failure Track

"For-Profit Schools Get State Dollars For Dropouts Who Rarely Drop In" by Heather Vogell, ProPublica 10/5/2017

Schools touted by Betsy DeVos aggressively recruit at-risk students, offer barebones courses, and boost revenue by inflating enrollment.

This story was co-published with USA Today.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Last school year, Ohio's cash-strapped education department paid Capital High $1.4 million in taxpayer dollars to teach students on the verge of dropping out.  But on a Thursday in May, students' workstations in the storefront charter school run by for-profit EdisonLearning resembled place settings for a dinner party where most guests never arrived.

In one room, empty chairs faced 25 blank computer monitors.  Just three students sat in a science lab down the hall, and nine more in an unlit classroom, including one youth who sprawled out, head down, sleeping.

Only three of the more than 170 students on Capital's rolls attended class the required five hours that day, records obtained by ProPublica show.  Almost two-thirds of the school's students never showed up; others left early.  Nearly a third of the roster failed to attend class all week.

Some stay away even longer.  ProPublica reviewed 38 days of Capital High's records from late March to late May and found six students skipped 22 or more days straight with no excused absences.  Two were gone the entire 38-day period.  Under state rules, Capital should have unenrolled them after 21 consecutive unexcused absences.

Though the school is largely funded on a per-student basis, the no-shows didn't hurt the school's revenue stream.  Capital billed and received payment from the state for teaching the equivalent of 171 students full time in May.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has championed charters and for-profit education, contending in congressional testimony that school choice can lower absenteeism and dropout rates.  But at schools like Capital, a ProPublica-USA Today investigation found, the drop-outs rarely drop in — and if they do, they don't stay long.

Such schools aggressively recruit as many students as possible, and sometimes count them even after they stop showing up, a practice that can generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer-paid revenue for empty desks.  Auditors have accused for-profit dropout recovery schools in Ohio, Illinois and Florida of improperly collecting public money for vanished students.  State officials in Ohio have twice chided Capital over indications of inflated enrollment numbers.

Told of ProPublica's findings, both Ohio's state auditor and its Department of Education said they would investigate Capital.  EdisonLearning conceded extended absences are a “persistent challenge,” but said it shares all student attendance records in “real time” with state education officials.  If issues arise, the company said, it addresses and corrects them.

The school's program director, Monica Scott, defended her school's efforts to combat truancy, saying during a tour of the school that its “lockstep protocols for absences” include calls, visits and letters to parents.  She said she urges students, who often have difficult home lives, to come to class.  “I'm telling them you have to get your instructional hours,” she said.

For those who arrive but head for the door shortly after, she added:  “I do try to stop them.”

Corey Timmons, 19, who graduated from Capital this spring, said he had complained to Scott about students coming and going as they pleased.  Those who did show up often goofed around on their phones or got into arguments.  “It's not really a school environment,” he said.

Across the nation, roughly 6 percent of young people ages 16 to 24 are considered dropouts because they neither attend high school nor hold a diploma.  Many more teeter on the brink of leaving.  Their challenges include homelessness, domestic violence, bullying and learning disorders.  They fall off the degree track by failing too many courses or skipping too many days.

Facing pressure over graduation rates and test scores, regular high schools often don't want these students.  But they're welcome at publicly funded alternative schools.

So-called “dropout recovery” schools are increasingly popular, with many setting up shop in poverty-stricken city neighborhoods.  In Chicago this past year, about 8,000 students attended such schools.  In Ohio in the 2014-2015 school year, more than 16,000 students did, including some who attended online-only programs.

For-profit school management companies like Capital's parent, EdisonLearning, have rushed into this niche, taking advantage of the combination of public funding, an available population of students and lax oversight.

EdisonLearning and other for-profits sometimes sign contracts with local school districts to manage these dropout recovery schools.  In Ohio and a few other states, though, companies have often operated them as charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently run.  Nationwide, as of 2014, just 5 percent of all students attended charters, while 17 percent of alternative school students did.

Using call centers and other corporate tactics typically shunned in secondary education, the for-profit schools market and recruit intensely.  They prod guidance counselors at traditional schools to send them failing students.  They offer gifts and financial inducements to prospective students, as well as to pastors and current students who help reel in newcomers.

After pulling in students long enough to tap public money, many of the schools fail to keep them in class.  In Ohio in 2016, for-profit companies ran nearly one-third of the state's 94 charter schools for dropouts — but three-fourths of the 20 with the highest absenteeism rates.

“They were trying to get the children in, but didn't know what the needs were,” said Monique Newburn, a former EdisonLearning special education teacher who worked at one of its dropout recovery schools in Chicago.

And like Capital, many dropout recovery schools rely on low-cost, computer-based academic programs.  Critics say such software allows students, without much guidance from teachers, to “show up a couple of times to make up what took 18 weeks” of regular instruction, said Walt Gardner, a former teacher in Los Angeles who writes about education.  “Something is not right here.”

The sector's practices, from call centers to online courses, are reminiscent of for-profit colleges.  For years, the colleges have faced criticism over their use of aggressive tactics to hook minority and low-income students.  They rake in public money despite their soaring dropout rates, questionable educational quality and failure to deliver the lucrative post-graduation jobs they promise.

EdisonLearning and its competitors say their curriculum and instruction are well-designed to help borderline students earn diplomas and avoid the devastating consequences associated with quitting high school, such as lifelong unemployment and underemployment.  Even detractors acknowledge that rescuing dropouts is difficult work, and a high rate of failure is likely.

Yet dropout recovery schools like EdisonLearning's have incentives to inflate enrollment counts.  Unlike traditional schools, they seek out the most unreliable students.  They must hustle to attract enough enrollees, while traditional schools get a steady stream of kids from their residential zone.  During surprise visits, Ohio's state auditor found the gap between reported and observed enrollment was far greater in dropout recovery schools than in traditional schools.  In 2015, auditors found, for-profits ran five of the seven dropout recovery schools with the biggest discrepancies.

Ohio doesn't have education money to spare for ghost students:  This year's state budget froze or cut funding for most school districts.



Alternative Schools: Charter vs. Non-Charter

U.S. Department of Education data does not identify schools operated by for-profit management companies, but it does show which are charters — publicly funded, but independently run. We found that, on average, charter alternative schools have fewer resources and lower graduation rates than non-charter alternative schools. However, fewer of their teachers were chronically absent than at non-charters.
67%
Charter
58%
Non-Charter

Lower Graduation Rates

Percentage of schools that reported graduation rates lower than 50 percent
Notes: Data from the 2014-15 school year
58%
Charter
72%
Non-Charter

Less Access to Counselors

Percentage of students who attend a school with a counselor
Notes: Data from the 2013-14 school year
$4,886
Charter
$5,253
Non-Charter

Lower Spending per Pupil

Median per-pupil spending from state and local funding sources
Notes: Data from the 2013-14 school year
26%
Charter
11%
Non-Charter

More Inexperienced Teachers

Percentage of teachers in their first or second year of teaching
Notes: Data from the 2013-14 school year
32:1
Charter
27:1
Non-Charter

More Students per Teacher

Average student-teacher ratio
Notes: Data from the 2014-15 school year
11%
Charter
27%
Non-Charter

Fewer Chronically Absent Teachers

Percentage of teachers absent for more than ten days in the school year
Notes: Data from the 2013-14 school year
Notes: Data from non-charter alternative schools is limited to states where charter alternative schools also operate. Schools’ charter status was determined using school-level and district-level information from the U.S. Department of Education’s Common Core of Data. For more on the data used in this project, see our methodology.
Source: ProPublica analysis of U.S. Department of Education data


In 2011, NBA Hall of Famer Earvin “Magic” Johnson signed on to spread word of EdisonLearning's newest enterprise:  A chain of eight dropout recovery schools it had opened in Ohio the year before.

Johnson visited EdisonLearning schools and touted them in press conferences.  Advertising urged students to “Join Magic's Team” and included local events, ads on bus benches and direct mail — along with local radio, television and print spots.  The company hung signs branding the schools “Magic Johnson Bridgescape” academies.

“I want to tell you about an option that you have that will help you earn a diploma and a more successful career,” Johnson told radio listeners in Cleveland.  “Let me help you achieve your dreams.”

For EdisonLearning, the move to dropout recovery schools signaled a remarkable downshift in ambition.  When launching the Edison Project 25 years before, media executive Chris Whittle and former Yale University President Benno Schmidt held out privatization as a fix for urban schools' ills, as well as the future of American education.  At its height, Edison managed dozens of schools in cities across the country, including Philadelphia and Baltimore.

Whittle and Schmidt left their administrative roles in December 2006.  Money troubles and controversies over test scores, staffing and safety forced the company to scale back, redirecting its efforts to running small public schools aimed at high school dropouts.

By 2013, the Bridgescape program had expanded to 17 schools in six states.  It secured a plum contract in Chicago, joining other contractors in running “options” schools in some of the city's most desperate neighborhoods.

To drum up enrollment, EdisonLearning supplemented on-air marketing with grassroots recruiting.  It canvassed distressed neighborhoods and sent employees into traditional high schools to persuade guidance counselors to refer struggling students, said former EdisonLearning marketing manager Heather Hoffman.

Such strategies came up in a 2016 conference call on enrollment, according to an internal PowerPoint obtained by ProPublica.  It recommended weekly “outreach to former schools of enrolled students (referrals).”

Hoffman said the efforts had mixed results.  They succeeded more often in Ohio, which allowed traditional high schools to remove from their ledgers the test scores of students who transfer to charter schools.  The pitches were less effective in Illinois, which held traditional schools accountable for students' performance even after they switched to Bridgescape.  With no benefit from letting students go, Chicago schools fought to retain students and the per-pupil funding they brought.

In a statement, EdisonLearning denied that it ever carried out the strategy described by Hoffman and the PowerPoint, saying that “there has been no outreach to traditional schools” to boost enrollment.  The company said there have been cases of counselors reaching out to Bridgescape to see if one of its schools was a good fit for a student.  Contacts that Bridgescape initiated with former students' schools consisted mainly of requests for documents and transcripts, it said.

Courting counselors at traditional schools is a strategy that other companies in the industry have used, too.  “Visit counselors before the winter break and bring a gift,” said a document obtained by ProPublica that was shown to employees at the Florida for-profit charter chain Accelerated Learning Solutions several years ago.  “Take goodie bags on special occasions (Bosses Day, Counselors Week, etc.).” The document also suggested reminding traditional school staff that transferring poor-performers to ALS would raise the graduation rate.

In an email, ALS President Angela Whitford-Narine said ALS schools get referrals because of their reputation for helping students graduate.  Gifts, she said, “are things like an occasional delivery of donuts and coffee” for school staff when ALS employees stop in with new promotional materials or updates on enrolled students.

Some schools have turned reliably attending students into marketers, offering rewards for posting plugs on social media, referring friends or writing positive online reviews.  This spring, Ohio Bridgescapes awarded students gift cards for referring new enrollees and maintaining high attendance themselves.  The company posted photos on Facebook of smiling students holding their prizes.

In Chicago, like other dropout school managers in major cities, EdisonLearning made connections with politically powerful African-American pastors on the city's South Side who helped with recruitment — including organizing door-to-door campaigns.  EdisonLearning paid some ministers thousands of dollars for their efforts, said Hoffman, the former marketing manager.

The company said that while a retired pastor in Chicago had served as an enrollment coordinator and worked on recruiting in neighborhoods, it was an “unfortunate misrepresentation” that EdisonLearning paid pastors to help it attract students.

Like many for-profit colleges, EdisonLearning also hired a call center to pursue leads.  When it received the phone number of a parent or someone else who had shown interest — often through a website inquiry, Hoffman said — the Pittsburgh-based call center's employees would call three times a day for 45 days before marking the lead cold.

John Kuhn, a former Chicago Bridgescape teacher, said the recruiting tactics by some for-profit dropout recovery schools made him queasy.  “It shouldn't be a thing where we have to aggressively market them,” he said.

A PowerPoint presentation last fall showed EdisonLearning's intense focus on how many taxpayer dollars each student brought in.  In one slide, company leaders estimated an increase of 108 students over five locations — including its Ohio virtual school — would capture $889,646 more a year.  Each Chicago student would bring in another $10,000 per year, and each Ohio student, $7,500.  A slide from another PowerPoint referred to Ohio's monthly enrollment reporting deadlines as “pay dates.”

In Ohio, EdisonLearning jockeyed with competitors for potential dropouts.  The state had become well-known for loose charter regulation, with controversial players like White Hat Management lobbying against stricter controls.  According to a report by two academics tracking the industry, more students attended for-profit charters in Ohio than in any state but Florida and Michigan — DeVos' home state.

In this crowded field, EdisonLearning wasn't attracting as many at-risk students as it had hoped, documents show, and there were early signs some of its schools were inflating enrollment.  At Capital High in 2012, auditors found 90 percent of former students in a sample had not been withdrawn in “a timely manner.” (Withdrawn students are free to re-enroll.) Two other Bridgescapes returned nearly a half-million dollars to the state that year after it questioned their enrollment reports.

EdisonLearning acknowledged that, in the early stages, “both the academic and operational aspects of the schools were not meeting our expectations.”

Tenice Rogers, who worked as an office manager at Capital, said she tracked student attendance and took care to follow state rules, including that students be unenrolled after missing 105 hours (or 21 days for schools with five-hour sessions).  “When they hit it, I withdrew them,” she said.  If students showed up the next day, she said, “they had to re-enroll.” When students walked out long before the day's session ended, she noted their absence, too.

But other employees at the school thought she should be more forgiving of partial absences — despite the state's instructions, she said.  “A lot of people felt like if a student showed up for two hours, they should get full credit,” she said.  No one told her to change her practices, she said, but she sensed disapproval.  “I'd let them know,” she said, “'If you want it done this way, you've got to find someone else to do it.'”

In 2013, the company downgraded her job description to secretary.  Where she had been making $35,000 a year, she would make $10 an hour instead.  She couldn't afford what amounted to a substantial pay cut and left for a job at Provost Academy, EdisonLearning's virtual school in Ohio.  Asked whether she felt the demotion was related to how she handled attendance, Rogers replied, “It might have been.”

EdisonLearning said:  “It would be highly inaccurate and inappropriate to portray this situation as anything other than an adjustment of staffing resources.”

After Rogers left, concerns about Capital's enrollment reporting resurfaced.  In 2014, state auditors made unannounced visits to 30 charter schools across Ohio, and found some alarming differences between the number of students actually sitting in seats and the claimed enrollment levels.

Dropout recovery schools fared the worst in the survey, leading the auditor to warn they were at an “increased risk” of inflating student counts.  After a second visit the next year, State Auditor Dave Yost again suggested low attendance might be a sign of exaggerated enrollment figures.  “Fifty percent and under doesn't pass the smell test for me as a taxpayer,” he said.  He chastised the state education department for weak oversight.

In 2014, Capital High was among seven schools with the largest variances between its reported enrollment and actual attendance.  Scott told auditors that about 70 students attended daily, with the rest rotating in and out just often enough not to be withdrawn.  EdisonLearning said that auditors in Ohio and Chicago — who also challenged Bridgescape's numbers — at times have not grasped its schools' unique challenges and nontraditional schedules.

An internal EdisonLearning document obtained by ProPublica raises more questions about whether Capital overstated its students in reports to the state.  A company spreadsheet charting withdrawals and enrollments in 2015-2016 shows that, on average, the student totals Capital submitted monthly for funding exceeded its internal tally by at least 24 percent.

Because enrollment is constantly changing, “a single snapshot of enrollment and withdrawals will more than likely not match” state totals, the company said.  A recent state review praised Capital for “excellent” attendance procedures, but noted that students who never showed up in the fall had still been reported as enrolled.  “I know I'm meeting the expectations,” said Scott, the program director.

Yost, the state auditor, said Ohio needs better security measures to prevent dropout recovery schools from manipulating enrollment data.  “It's just clear that the honor system of 'trust us' is not really working all that well,” he said.

Located in a weathered strip mall on Columbus' high-poverty West Side, Capital High occupies a one-story storefront with mirrored plate-glass windows.  Students sign in at a counter, on a sheet preprinted with their names, before walking through a metal detector.  Officially, the first shift begins at 7:30 a.m., the second at 11.

The central hallway and the classrooms off it feature the subdued blues, greens and grays of Bridgescape's logo.  There are no sports teams, band or orchestra, or art classes, but the school stages its own prom and takes students on occasional field trips.

“It's so normal in urban areas that their world is so small,” said Scott, whose left arm bears an ankh tattooed above the word “balance.”  “We work super hard to try to make it as rich as possible.”

While the school employs seven teachers and offers some small classes, most students are supposed to work for the full five hours on computers.

Timmons, the recent graduate, said the software at Capital often had typos and glitches.  “Most of the online courses were very misleading,” he said.  “If you asked the teachers about it, they would say, 'We didn't make it, just Google the questions and do the best you can.'”

Many students wouldn't bother reading the questions on the short multiple-choice tests required to advance in a course, he said.  Instead, “they would keep clicking till they got it right,” he said.

EdisonLearning officials said there have been “few incidences” of typos in its software and that the company corrects them when schools report them.  Teachers “lock” tests after three attempts, they said, and have students work one-on-one or in small groups.

Juvenile probation officers in Franklin County, where Capital is located, have formed negative impressions about some of the dropout recovery schools — which many of the teenagers they supervise attend.  The officers visit the schools to meet with those students or check on their attendance and academic progress.

“We have a couple good programs here and a couple of not-so-good programs,” said Diane Mueller, chief probation officer for the juvenile court.  “Clearly anything that's more structured is helpful for the kids.”  By that, she said she means students are expected to arrive and leave at certain times, and teachers are available.

“I think all of our POs have concerns about the charter schools,” she said.

Ohio's Department of Education defines “chronic absenteeism” as missing more than 10 percent of the school year for any reason.  During their time at Capital, all but four of the 502 students enrolled at some point during 2015-2016 met that threshold.

Matthew Knight's attendance record is typical.  Around noon on that Thursday in May, his mother, Lisa Brandon, dropped him off in Capital's parking lot.  A shy 15-year-old who was placed in gifted classes as an elementary student, he started cutting classes at his traditional public high school and then refused to go at all, complaining he was being bullied and some students reeked of marijuana, his mother said.

He enrolled at Capital in the fall of 2016.  About six months ago, the family became homeless, Brandon said, making it hard for her son to get to school.  She said that since October, he'd missed “45 to 50” days.  “A whole month of time we did not go to school,” she said.

Knight told his mother that he had a guidance counselor's permission to keep up from home by logging in online.  In fact, Capital doesn't have state approval for such an arrangement.  A county social services counselor soon warned her that Knight was considered truant and needed to start physically attending school immediately.

Capital had robocalled her, Brandon said, but hadn't made a personal call or sent a letter to her mother's mailing address, which she provided.  “I felt like they dropped the ball a little bit by not saying, 'He's truant, why is he not here?'” she said.

Brandon has since made extra efforts to take Knight to school.  But he doesn't stay full days.  She said he typically calls her an hour or two after she drops him off, or walks to an aunt's house.  “He gets to leave when his assignments are done,” she said.  “I guess it is easy for him.”

Scott said her desire to make school accessible to students with commitments at work and home has led her to “allow them to flex a little bit more.” Some leave to eat, and one insists on going home to use the bathroom.

“A lot of students have different specialized schedules,” she said.  “It's hard to keep track of it.”

Being flexible also means liberally granting “excused” absences, records show.  They reset the clock, enabling Capital to legally bill the state for students who miss more than 21 consecutive days of school.  In April, the school marked 13 percent of absences as excused.

Scott made improving attendance a goal in an annual school performance review in 2015-2016.  “Ensure staff is meticulously charting absences,” the document said, “and communicating with students and families to decrease unexcused absences.”

Knight, who entered Capital at the age of 14, also illustrates a controversial tactic that the school increasingly depends on to boost enrollment and state reimbursement — enrolling younger students.

The school's charter contract allows Capital to enroll students in grades 9-12 “and/or” ages 16-21.  After denying Capital had any students under 16, EdisonLearning later conceded some were 14 or 15.

Scott said the state allows 12 percent of Capital's students to be under 16.  But she said she often tells young students they will miss out on experiences like homecoming if they leave traditional high schools.  “These kids want instant coffee,” she said.  “I push them back because, 'Give it a chance.'”

Educationally, mingling younger teens with students in their early twenties may be unwise.  A state task force report in July on dropout recovery programs warned that a broader age span could pose problems because “the developmental difference between 14-year-olds and 21-year-olds may be too great.”

But with students departing in droves — 337 students withdrew, while just 270 enrolled during the 2015-2016 school year — Capital can't afford to limit itself.  EdisonLearning officials acknowledged that they're worried about attrition, and said their efforts to retain students “far outweigh” their attention to recruitment.

Former Chicago Bridgescape teacher Kuhn said most of the younger students lacked the maturity to complete hours of lessons independently on computers.

“Anyone who came in as a freshman or sophomore had a really long way to go,” he said.  “I wasn't hopeful for their future at our school.”

State regulators often set a lower academic bar for alternative schools than regular ones.  But Ohio's 94 dropout recovery schools have struggled even to attain less rigorous goals.

About 40 percent of the schools failed to meet state standards in 2015-2016.  While Capital High passed overall, meeting state testing and other goals, its students didn't make satisfactory academic progress.  At 92 percent of Ohio's dropout recovery schools in 2015, the graduation rate was below 50 percent.  Capital's was 23 percent.  In 18 schools, including Capital, students skipped at least once every two days.

Beginning this fall, new rules will make it easier to shut down dropout recovery schools that repeatedly fail, said Aaron Churchill, Ohio research director for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which oversees some Ohio charters.  Because their students bring so many challenges with them, dropout recovery schools are hard to evaluate, he said.

“I don't think we've got it completely perfect on how to hold dropout recovery accountable,” Churchill said.  “I think that's one of the issues Ohio and other states need to work out.”

The state task force recommended adding new criteria for schools such as attendance and course progress, and having traditional and dropout recovery schools share accountability for students.  Ohio education officials said the state is also requiring new intervention plans for students who miss too many days.

In the summer of 2016, EdisonLearning ended its partnership with Magic Johnson and removed his name from schools' signs.  Officials with the company and Magic Johnson Enterprises said the five-year agreement “mutually concluded.”

“Mr. Johnson was personally committed to the Bridgescape program,” Magic Johnson Enterprises said in a statement, “and proud of the success the vast majority of students showed in their educational growth.” Johnson even pledged to pay personally for one Chicago Bridgescape graduate's college education, the company said.

EdisonLearning — which sold off a chunk of its business in 2013 — posted a significant loss in the 2016 fiscal year and has closed Bridgescapes in Illinois, Ohio and Virginia.

But it is still bullish on dropout education.  In January, according to a company press release, it “doubled the size of our Alternative Education portfolio,” buying a chain of six for-profit charters in Florida called Mavericks in Education.  Mavericks has been investigated in recent years for problems that included overstating attendance numbers.

At Capital High on that unseasonably hot Thursday, students drifted out early in the afternoon.  One was Sabrina Blevins, 18, who came to Capital as a sophomore when she had a hard time keeping her grades up at her previous high school.

Blevins showed up at noon and left around 1:30 p.m., carrying a packet of algebra worksheets to her car.  She usually leaves early for her full-time job at McDonald's — though on this afternoon, she was off work.  “PM is pretty chill,” she said.

Blevins has missed school for weeks at a time:  “I've hit the limit a couple of times.”  But she always came back without having to re-enroll, and hopes to graduate in December, she said, adding, “There's a lot of kids, they just disappear.”