2014 - %3, March

GOP Gov. Rick Scott Raising Big Bucks With Founder of Abusive Teen Boot Camps

| Tue Apr. 1, 2014 2:16 PM EDT

This Thursday, a who's who of Florida big shots will hold a private, $1,000-a-head fundraiser for the Republican Party of Florida and Gov. Rick Scott's reelection effort, led by a host committee that includes Mel Sembler, the founder of a notorious substance abuse rehab program that folded after allegations of extreme abuse were lodged against several of its facilities.

The program, Straight Inc., was founded in 1976 by Sembler, a developer, and his wife, Betty. In the 17 years that it operated drug treatment centers, Straight Inc. was plagued by news reports and at least one civil suit claiming that its staff kidnapped its adult patients and mentally, physically, and sexually abused their underage charges. Two state investigations substantiated reports of abuse.

Straight Inc. officials consistently denied these allegations. Sembler's biography on the Sembler Company website hails Straight Inc. as having "successfully graduated more than 12,000 young people nationwide from its remarkable program." Sembler, it adds, "is nationally recognized as an activist in the anti-drug campaign." Sembler could not be reached for comment.

Critics paints a much darker picture. "Children had to flap their arms like chickens or else face shaming as 'sluts' and homosexuals," John Gorenfeld reported in the May 2006 issue of Mother Jones. "Hundreds of Straight alums now claim they were scarred for life, among them Samantha Monroe, who was enrolled in 1980…and claims she was starved, raped, and confined in a closet."

Sembler is a longtime Republican fundraiser. He's already donated $25,000 to Scott's reelection PAC. And even after abuse allegations against Straight Inc. were widespread, the program enjoyed public support from many high-profile GOP figures. In 1985, Nancy Reagan brought Princess Diana to a Straight Inc. facility in Virginia—two years after a jury found that staff from that facility had kidnapped a college student. In his inaugural address, President George H.W. Bush celebrated Straight Inc. as one of a "thousand points of light" that exemplified stewardship. In 1993, the year that Straight Inc.'s last drug treatment facility closed, Sembler was serving as a US ambassador; he had been appointed by the elder Bush.

Straight Inc. staffers were alleged to have abused clients at a number of clinics. After Monroe escaped a Straight Inc. program in Florida at age 13, she says, Straight Inc. staff hog-tied her, brought her back to the facility, and placed her in a "timeout room." "Monroe had no choice but to soil her pants with urine, feces and menstrual blood," a 2002 St. Petersburg Times article reported. "She says Straight staffers called this punishment 'humble pants.'" Soon, a staffer began raping her, the Times reported, and she became pregnant at age 14.

In 1989, according to the Los Angeles Times, the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse released a damning report of Straight Inc.'s Dallas-area Straight Inc. clinic. "The report said that clients were tied up with rope and with an automobile towing strap to prevent escape, that clients were physically restrained for minor infractions such as 'failure to sit up properly,' and that bedrooms were overcrowded and furnished with 'containers to be used for urination,'" the Times reported. Citing the huge need for drug treatment facilities in Texas, the commission allowed Straight Inc. to remain open, pending oversight and changes to its program.

In 1990, the California Department of Social Services ordered Straight Inc.'s Yorba Linda facility to close after investigators said they substantiated several complaints of abuse. According to these complaints, Straight Inc. staff had subjected children in their care to "unusual punishment, infliction of pain, humiliation, intimidation, ridicule, coercion, threats, mental abuse…and interference with daily living functions such as eating, sleeping and toileting."

In 1983, Straight made undisclosed financial settlements with two Florida women, Arletha Luann Schautteet and Hope Yvonne Hyrons, who claimed that they had been kidnapped by employees of a Straight Inc. facility in Florida and imprisoned there. In a sworn statement, Hyrons, 19, said she was abducted from a gas station, physically prevented from leaving the Straight Inc. facility, and strip-searched. That same year, a judge awarded 20-year-old Fred Collins $220,000 after a jury found that he had been detained against his will at a Straight Inc. facilities in Virginia and St. Petersburg in 1982. An appellate court later denied Straight Inc.'s appeal. Schautteet and Hyrons testified on Collins' behalf, according to the Washington Post, repeating the allegations they made against Straight Inc. prior to their financial settlements.

Straight Inc. repeatedly denied allegations of abuse and kidnapping. A Straight Inc. clinical director told the St. Petersburg Times that Hyrons "has a history of pathological lying…the girl is just playing scapegoat kind of games." After complaints about the Yorba Linda program led to its closing, a Straight counselor told the Los Angeles Times that he had "never seen anyone tormented." "Some kids get very upset and lie and some parents believe them," he said. Reacting to the jury verdict for Collins, a Straight Inc. clinical director told the Washington Post that the outcome was "unfair" and "really scary…It means that every time I or any other staff member tries to help a young person, we'll have to be frightened of the legal consequences."

In 1991, after Virginia state officials stripped that Straight Inc. facility of its license, the operation moved to Maryland. State officials in Maryland spent hundreds of hours investigating abuse allegations before licensing Straight Inc., in an agreement which noted that investigators "found no truth to any of the allegations." In response to the Texas commission report, staff at the Dallas-area Straight Inc. program pointed out that they had fired at least one offending staff member whose actions were highlighted in the report, who had gagged a patient with a Kotex pad. By the time that Monroe made allegations against Straight Inc., the program no longer existed.

After Straight Inc. closed, the education arm of Sembler's organization lived on as a new program named the Drug Free American Foundation, which still exists today. Sembler, after serving as ambassador, continued to fundraise for prominent Republicans, including Mitt Romney. He also hosted an event to raise money for I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's legal defense fund when the former Bush White House aide was on trial for perjury.

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GOP Sens. Cruz and Kirk Solicit Americans' Obamacare Horror Stories, Get Success Stories Instead

| Tue Apr. 1, 2014 10:42 AM EDT

Last week, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), a huge Obamacare foe, took to Facebook to ask Americans how the president's healthcare law is treating them. But the responses he received didn't line up with his own claim that "millions of people... are hurting because of Obamacare." When Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) made a similar call for Obamacare fail stories, he had bad luck too. Perhaps they shouldn't have been surprised. This week, support for the Affordable Care Act hit a new high of 49 percent. And on Tuesday, following the deadline for Americans to enroll in health insurance on the exchanges during the first six month window, the administration announced it is on track to achieve its original goal of providing coverage to 7 million Americans.

Here is Cruz's call for Obamacare tales:

Here are some of the responses. (There are 47,904, so I couldn't read them all, but of the first few dozen, only one response was negative.)

Here's what Kirk tweeted over the weekend:

Here are some of the responses:

How About a Dolores Huerta Day?

| Mon Mar. 31, 2014 7:38 PM EDT

March 31 is Cesar Chavez's birthday and a national holiday honoring his pioneering activism (which is the subject of a new feature film) around farm-workers rights. He is perhaps best known as a founder of the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), now the United Farm Workers, a labor union. His cofounder Dolores Huerta, though still alive, is not nearly as well known. So who is she? Born in 1930 and raised in Stockton, California, Huerta, who is portrayed by Rosario Dawson in the Chavez film, has been arrested more than 20 times during peaceful protests, and is still out on the front lines taking part in civil rights actions. Here are five things you should know about her.

1. She's the mother of the farm-workers movement.
After quitting her teaching job in 1955, Huerta helped register people to vote and became an organizer in the Community Service Organization, a Mexican-American association in California where Cesar Chavez was the statewide director. The pair eventually branched off, in 1962, to found the NFWA, and the rest is history.

2. She was instrumental in winning key protections for workers.
Only a year after launching the NFWA, Huerta secured disability insurance for California farm workers, and was central in the creation of the Aid for Dependent Families, a federal assistance program that stayed in effect until 1996.

3. She led a historic boycott against the grape industry.
In 1965, a group of Filipino workers went on strike for better working conditions, a cause that became known as the "Delano Grape Strike." Huerta suggested to Chavez that the National Farm Workers Association boycott all California table grapes in support of Filipino workers. In 1970, the grape industry signed an agreement that increased wages and improved working conditions.

4. She originated the phrase, "Si se puede."
Translated as "Yes we can," this expression should be familiar to anyone who's ever attended a labor protest in California. Although it is often misattributed to Chavez, Huerta told Makers that she came up with it. "It's important for women to be able to take credit for the work that they do," she said.

5. She helped put Latinas in power.
After a life-threatening assault by a police officer at a protest rally when she was 58, Huerta took a leave from the union to focus on the women's movement. She campaigned across the country for two years as part of the Feminist Majority's project to encourage Latinas to run for office. According to Huerta's website, it had a significant affect on the number of women in government.

So, Happy Cesar Chavez Day, and don't forget to give Huerta her due! Here's a trailer for the film:

What's Wrong With the Fed?

| Mon Mar. 31, 2014 6:32 PM EDT

That's the question Ryan Avent asks today. The reason is simple: In 2012, the Fed announced an inflation target of 2 percent per year, as measured by the PCE index. But they haven't come close to hitting it. Why not?

The chart on the right shows the most recent inflation data. In 2011, PCE inflation measured 2.4 percent. In 2012, it came in at 1.8 percent. That's a little low—especially during a supposed economic recovery—but it's easy to see why no one was alarmed. It's something to keep an eye on, but no one ever said the Fed could fine tune inflation to a few tenths of a point.

But then came 2013. There was a fair amount of monthly variability in the data, but the year-end number clocked in at 1.1 percent. That's way too low, especially considering that (a) the previous year had come in below target, (b) inflationary expectations were still well anchored, and (c) the labor market was still noticeably loose. What this means is that the Fed has failed to meet its employment mandate for six full years and is now failing to meet its inflation target too. Avent wants to know what's going on:

This is an extraordinary period of time during which the Fed has failed to meet even the rather lax definition of the mandate it has set for itself by a rather substantial margin. How can we explain this? Some possibilities are:

1) The Fed is technically unable to meet its mandate.

2) The Fed is staffed by incompetents.

3) The Fed is actually pursuing a goal outside its mandate without explaining what that goal is and what the justification is for pursuing it.

4) America's statistics are all wrong. The Fed knows this but has refused to tell anyone else.

Whichever of the above you favour as an explanation, it suggests a need for meaningful reform, either to the personnel at the Fed or to the distribution of macroeconomic responsibilities across government.

My own guess is a little bit of #1 and a lot of #3. I suspect the Fed really is having technical trouble meeting its goals—at least, in a way it's comfortable with. But that's just a guess.

It's less of a guess that the Fed is pursuing goals outside its mandate. It's hardly a secret that there are plenty of Fed governors who are still living in the 70s, petrified of inflationary spirals and determined to keep inflation as low as possible. Not 2 percent. As low as possible. What's more, they consider full employment not a virtue, but a threat. It leads to higher inflation, after all.

I think 2014 is something of a watershed year for the Fed. The hawks can argue that a single year of 1 percent inflation is nothing to worry too much about. This stuff bounces around. But at the very least, they should be on board with getting the inflation rate back up to their stated goal. Given the current employment level and the state of the global economy, this poses little risk. If they aren't willing to do it, they need to come clean that they don't really care about their statutory mandates and are simply substituting their own timeworn fears and class loyalties for the expressed will of Congress.

It's Time to Start Quoting Our Public Figures Accurately

| Mon Mar. 31, 2014 3:12 PM EDT

Jesse Sheidlower makes a point near and dear to my heart today: it's time to get rid of the dashes. You know the ones: f---, n-----, s---, etc. This is not a plea for reporters to write like Hunter S. Thompson, it's a plea to fully report the obscenities uttered by famous people that our news organizations are too delicate to report:

There have been numerous cases in recent years when the use of offensive language has been the news story itself. In 1998, Representative Dan Burton referred to President Clinton with an offensive word. In 2000, a microphone picked up George W. Bush using a vulgar term to describe the New York Times reporter Adam Clymer. In 2004, Vice President Dick Cheney insulted Senator Pat Leahy on the Senate floor with yet another vulgarity. In 2007, Isaiah Washington was kicked off the television show “Grey’s Anatomy” for referring to his fellow actor T. R. Knight with a gay slur. This January, Representative Michael Grimm threatened an aggressive reporter, using an obscenity.

These stories were covered widely, but in most cases, the details were obscured. The relevant words were described variously as “an obscenity,” “a vulgarity,” “an antigay epithet”; replaced with rhyming substitutions; printed with some letters omitted; and, most absurdly, in The Washington Times (whose editor confessed this was “an attempt at a little humor”), alluded to as “a vulgar euphemism for a rectal aperture.” We learn from these stories that something important happened, but that it can’t actually be reported.

When a public figure uses an obscenity, it's news. Readers deserve to know exactly what was said. Consider my favorite obscene quote of all time, courtesy of Richard Mottram, a British civil servant:

We're all fucked. I'm fucked. You're fucked. The whole department is fucked. It's the biggest cock-up ever. We're all completely fucked.

You just don't get the flavor if you don't spell out the words. And in the US, we often don't even get the quote with the dashes. As Sheidlower says, we get "a vulgarity" or "a long string of obscenities" or something similar, making us feel like everyone else knows what happened and we're being deliberately left out. It's long past time to knock this off. News outlets should print the news, full stop. If an obscenity is part of it, accuracy and integrity are more important than delicate sensibilities.

LA Times: 9.5 Million Newly Insured By Obamacare

| Mon Mar. 31, 2014 1:44 PM EDT

So how many people are newly insured thanks to Obamacare? Noam Levey of the LA Times provides the current best estimate, based on the latest enrollment and survey data:

As the law's initial enrollment period closes, at least 9.5 million previously uninsured people have gained coverage. Some have done so through marketplaces created by the law, some through other private insurance and others through Medicaid, which has expanded under the law in about half the states.

The tally draws from a review of state and federal enrollment reports, surveys and interviews with insurance executives and government officials nationwide.

....Republican critics of the law have suggested that the cancellations last fall have led to a net reduction in coverage. That is not supported by survey data or insurance companies, many of which report they have retained the vast majority of their 2013 customers by renewing old policies, which is permitted in about half the states, or by moving customers to new plans.

Rand's latest survey data suggests that the share of uninsured adults has declined from 20.9 percent last fall to 16.6 percent as of March 22. Gallup has also shown a decline in the uninsured, and its March poll will show a further decline, according to Gallup Editor in Chief Frank Newport. More details at the link.

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Apple Has Patented Clicking on Phone Number to Dial a Phone? Seriously?

| Mon Mar. 31, 2014 12:15 PM EDT

The New York Times tells us today that Apple's lawsuit against Samsung is really just a proxy for its war against Google's Android operating system. That's not news. But this just makes me want to pound my head against a wall:

In the case set to open this week, Apple’s legal complaint aims at some of the features that Google, not Samsung, put in Android, like the ability to tap on a phone number inside a text message to dial the number. And although Google is not a defendant in this case, some of its executives are expected to testify as witnesses.

I know we all mock some of the things that seem to be patentable these days. I sure do. And who knows? Maybe those things really aren't quite as obvious as we all think they are. But tapping a phone number on a phone in order to dial it? There is no plausible universe in which several thousand designers wouldn't think of doing that. Somebody needs to put a leash on Apple before the venomous ghost of Steve Jobs drags them into a rabbit hole of techno-legal vengeance from which they never recover. Enough.

Elton John Is Getting Married: "We're Living in Extraordinary Times."

| Mon Mar. 31, 2014 11:58 AM EDT
From left to right: David Furnish, Elton John, and Bill Clinton.

Singer/songwriter Elton John and filmmaker David Furnish are officially getting hitched. The couple, who have been in a British civil partnership for nearly a decade, announced that they intend to marry in an English registry office in May, in an intimate ceremony, with their two young sons and a few friends.

In an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Furnish referred to the recent legalization of gay marriage in England and Wales (Saturday was the first day gay couples could legally marry in England):

We don't feel the need to take an extra step legally. But since we're committed for life, we feel it's really important to take that step, and take advantage of that amazing change in legislation. We all live by example...We're living in extraordinary times. My god, 20 years ago, when I started seeing Elton, if you asked me if I'd be able to get married, if I'd be able to have children, it was unthinkable, literally unimaginable.

You can click here to watch Elton John denounce Russia's anti-gay law during a Moscow concert last December.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 31, 2014

Mon Mar. 31, 2014 10:55 AM EDT

U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Justin A. Green rappels down 50-foot tower March 18 during the first day of the three-day Mountain Warfare Training Course at the Mountain Warfare Training Center in Pohang, Republic of Korea. During the training, ROK Marines instructed U.S. Marines in Australian rappelling which is used as a military assault technique where the Marine faces down the descent and is positioned to fire a weapon downwards. Green is a field radio operator with 7th Communication Battalion, III Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, III MEF. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Cedric R. Haller II/Released)

Who's Really Behind Newsweek?

| Mon Mar. 31, 2014 10:50 AM EDT

When Newsweek reappeared on newsstands a few weeks ago after publishing its last print edition in 2012, it provided a jolt of instant credibility for its purchaser, International Business Times, the publisher of a website of the same name. But who is IBT? There have been rumors for some time that it was founded—and is still directed—by David Jang, the charismatic Korean leader of a Christian sect known as "the Community," but those rumors have never really been confirmed.

Until now. In the latest issue of Mother Jones, Ben Dooley reports on the results of a multi-year investigation based on financial statements, thousands of internal messages, and dozens of sources. It turns out that IBT's ties to Jang go much deeper than previously established:

  • The Jang-founded Olivet University and IBT are linked to a web of dozens of churches, nonprofits, and corporations around the world that Jang has influenced or controlled, with money from Community members and profitable ministries helping to cover the costs of money-losing ministries and Jang’s expenses.
  • IBT’s CEO and chief content officer have been in frequent contact with Jang about the direction of the company, receiving advice on personnel decisions, business strategy, and font selection.
  • Money from other Community-affiliated organizations funded IBT’s early growth.
  • Olivet students in the United States on international student visas say they worked for IBT full-time for as little as $125 a week.
  • Jang sees Community-affiliated media organizations, including IBT, as an essential part of his mission to build the kingdom of God on Earth.

As Dooley says in his article, there's nothing unusual about business leaders associating with people or institutions that share their values. But if there's nothing unusual about the ties that IBT's leaders have to Jang and the Community, why have they been so eager to downplay them? Click the link to learn more.