The Robots Really Did Take People's Jobs, Study Confirms

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Every new robot added to an American factory in recent decades reduced employment in the surrounding area by 6.2 workers, according to a new study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Researchers worked to separate the impact of robots from other big-picture economic trends that hit the US workforce in the same period, like imports from China and Mexico, computer software replacing office work, and offshoring. With all that taken into account, they estimated that for every one robot per thousands workers in a given area of the country, the employment rate went down by .2-.3 percentage points, and wages fell by between .25 and .5 percent.

“We see negative effects of robots on essentially all occupations, with the exception of managers,” wrote economists Daron Acemoglu of MIT and Pascual Restrepo of Boston University in the study. “Predictably, the major categories experiencing substantial declines are routine manual occupations, blue-collar workers, operators and assembly workers, and machinists and transport workers.”

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The authors found smaller, but still negative effects on employment and wages in construction, business services, and retail.

According to estimates from the International Federation of Robotics, there are currently between 1.5 and 1.75 million industrial robots in operation, a number that could increase to 4 to 6 million by 2025, with the majority in the auto industry and electronics industry.

The paper focused exclusively on fully autonomous machines that don’t require human operators and that can be programmed to perform tasks — such as welding, assembling, handling materials, or packaging. (Elevators and coffee makers don’t qualify as industrial robots, for example, because they can’t be reprogrammed and they require human operation.)

“We view our paper as a first step in a comprehensive evaluation of how robots will affect, and are already affecting, the labor market equilibrium,” the authors wrote, adding that the findings are “somewhat surprising, especially because they indicate a very limited set of offsetting employment increases in other industries and occupations.”

Source: The Robots Really Did Take People’s Jobs, Study Confirms

Investors Are Suddenly Realizing The Trump Tax Cut Might Not Happen

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As Republican attempts to kill Obamacare flamed out spectacularly, investors began rethinking an assumption that caused markets to rally for months: Perhaps the Trump administration and its allies in Congress, they suddenly realized, won’t pull off the sweeping tax cuts that many have been expecting.

Since the election, investors have been betting that unified Republican control of Washington will make it rain for big businesses and the wealthy. The “Trump trade” helped push the S&P 500 up by 12% between Election Day and March 1, and executives and major investors have spoken glowingly of a new optimism in the US economy.

But that thinking — and the market rally that came with it — has begun to recede. The S&P 500 has fallen 2.4% so far this month, and dropped by another 1% in early trading Monday, before recovering somewhat in the afternoon.

Here’s the S&P 500 so far this year

Here's the S&P 500 so far this year

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“Since the election, stocks have rallied partly on the assumption that the Trump administration would provide less regulation, fiscal stimulus in general, and lower corporate taxes in particular,” wrote David Kelley, the chief global strategist for JP Morgan Funds, in a note Monday. “For many, the failure of the American Health Care Act would seem to dash these hopes.”

Investors are focusing not so much on the demise of the Obamacare repeal effort, but on how the proposal couldn’t even pass a vote in the solidly Republican House of Representatives. It suggests that efforts to slash corporate and individual tax rates, or pass a trillion-dollar infrastructure spending bill, might not be the walk in the park implied by bullish traders.

The Obamacare repeal plan failing was “undoubtedly a negative signal for the rest of President Trump’s agenda — including tax reform — but it is far from a death knell,” wrote Isaac Boltansky, an analyst at Compass Point, in a note to clients Monday morning. Boltansky said he thinks some kind of tax reform is still likely to pass this year, but that the health bill’s failure raised questions about large-scale Republican legislative efforts.

“While divisions on tax reform are not comparable to those on healthcare, Republicans also lack a prevailing view about how to reform the tax code,” Libby Cantrill, the head of public policy at the massive asset manager PIMCO, wrote Monday.

One tax idea favored by many influential Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, involves a so-called border adjustment tax, which would increase taxes on imports while removing taxes on exports. But that plan has already faced skepticism from Senate Republicans, including Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch. The plan is also already fiercely opposed by retailers and other businesses that rely on imports.

The White House is yet to come out with its own plan, although in February Trump said details of his “big league” tax proposal would be released within weeks. But the process is made trickier by the collapse of Obamacare repeal efforts.

That’s because Ryan and Brady envisioned that they could pass a tax bill that would reduce tax rates, but also raise enough money by closing loopholes so that it would eventually be “revenue neutral.” Such bills, which don’t cause the budget deficit to rise over the long run, can be pushed through in a fast-track process that cannot be blocked by Democrats in the Senate.

But the math for that required them to repeal Obamacare first, slashing federal revenue by getting rid of the new taxes that came with it. That is why health care came before tax cuts in the legislative calendar, a decision Trump has reportedly told associates he regrets.

Ryan said on Friday that the collapse of his Obamacare repeal plan makes tax reform “more difficult.” A simple tax cut would now need to get 60 votes in the Senate — meaning at least some Democratic support — or, like the Bush tax cuts, it could be fast-tracked but would expire after 10 years.

“Political realities could force the conversation to eventually shift from tax reform to tax relief,” Boltansky wrote, “meaning Speaker Ryan’s reimagining of the code may ultimately be replaced by a narrower package of rate cuts and targeted modifications.”

Source: Investors Are Suddenly Realizing The Trump Tax Cut Might Not Happen

It's Only In Some Airports For Now, But The Laptop Ban Could Go Global

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Major airlines affected by the ban on laptops and other electronic devices on US- and UK-bound flights have begun revealing how they’ll and minimize the hassle for fliers.

Dubai-based Emirates, one of the world’s biggest airlines, said it won’t require passengers to pack their laptops and tablets into checked luggage. Instead, they’ll be allowed to keep them all the way to the departure lounge. As they prepare to board, the devices will be put into secure boxes and loaded separately onto the aircraft, be be returned after landing.

Turkish Airlines will roll out a similar system, storing devices in foam covers inside special shatterproof boxes, according to comments made by the airline to Turkey’s state news agency. It said it will guarantee passengers the items won’t be damaged or lost.

For now, the system will only apply to US-bound flights from airports in the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey. The UK followed with its own ban, but did not include busy global air hubs in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar.

But some security experts say that like other aspects of the airport safety ritual — limits on carry-on liquids, removing belts and shoes — what begun as a heightened measure on limited numbers of high-risk routes could eventually become commonplace across the world.

The ban “could be expanded because this network of bad people seems to be growing,” John Goglia, an aviation safety consultant and former member of the National Transportation Safety Board, told BuzzFeed News

“Let’s not forget, it wasn’t that long ago after 9/11 that they were banning all electronics,” he added. “We may be going back to that.”

In first announcing the ban, the Department of Homeland security said it was based on “evaluated intelligence…that terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation and are aggressively pursuing innovative methods to undertake their attacks, to include smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items.”

In early 2016, a bomb disguised inside a laptop was successfully smuggled onto a flight from Somalia, headed to Djibouti. The laptop passed through an X-ray scan and was detonated during the flight, although the plane successfully landed.

A US official told BuzzFeed News that in recent weeks there has been an uptick in chatter among militants saying they want to hide explosives in computers.

“The TSA will want to take what they consider to be prudent steps if they have the intel to suggest that,” Gary Kessler, chair of the security studies and international affairs department at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, told BuzzFeed News. “I have zero information, zero data, right now that makes me believe they’re going to expand it in the near future, but I would not be surprised if the intel drives them in that direction.”

AP/Kamran Jebreili

But Kessler said that he hopes an expanded ban on electronics is “not the route we go.”

“I think we need to come up with a better response to the threat,” he said. “We spend so much time looking for high tech threats. It all comes down to how our stuff is being screened.”

Source: It’s Only In Some Airports For Now, But The Laptop Ban Could Go Global

A Robo-Restaurant With No Servers Shuns The Blind, Lawsuit Claims


Eatsa — the futuristic, eerily-quiet quinoa restaurant that lets you bypass human interaction by ordering on touchscreens and picking up your food from a locker — violates the civil rights of blind people, a new lawsuit claims.

The restaurant says it helps customers “to get you in and out fast” by cutting away layers of human contact, and requires customers to order via a mobile app or in-store tablet. A screen then tells them which locker their food will be delivered to; the window of the locker changes color once the order is ready.

“This entire process is silent, and all required information is displayed visually. There are no available audio features on the kiosks, the display screen, or the food pick-up cubbies,” according to the complaint, filed by Disability Rights Advocates and the American Council of the Blind in New York. It describes Eatsa’s design as “entirely inaccessible to blind customers.”

The council said the in-store iPads have “VoiceOver” technology that could likely be configured to provide audio for blind customers, but “Eatsa’s failure to provide full and equal access to the benefits of its self-service restaurants violates Title III of theAmericans with Disabilities Act and the New York City Human Rights Law.”

While Eatsa is on the far end of the curve, a growing number of major restaurant chains — including McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and Panera, are allowing customers to punch in orders themselves through in-store kiosks or apps. The shift frees up employees who normally work the cash register to handle other tasks in the restaurant — an important change as minimum wage increases across the country bump up labor costs.

But as this lawsuit shows, there are other factors to think through as fast food service is redesigned.

“Eatsa’s concept is all about the power of technology, but the company did not think to take the added steps to make it accessible for its blind customers,” said Kim Charlson, President of the American Council of the Blind, in a press release.

Eatsa said in an emailed statement that every location “is staffed with Hosts that provide personalized ordering and pickup assistance to visually impaired customers” and its technology is “designed to be compatible with the appropriate assistance features.” “We regret that the DRA did not spend time with eatsa’s staff before taking legal action,” the company said.

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America, Meet McDonald’s Self-Service Kiosks

Source: A Robo-Restaurant With No Servers Shuns The Blind, Lawsuit Claims

President Trump Just Re-Announced Another Old Corporate Hiring Plan

Charter Communications CEO Thomas Rutledge ® outside the West Wing after meeting President Trump March 24.

Alex Wong / Getty Images

In a ritual that is becoming familiar to White House watchers, President Trump, flanked by businessmen, announced on Friday that another American company has told him it plans to go on a hiring and investment spree during his presidency.

And in a detail that has become equally familiar, those hiring and investment plans were recycled from plans first revealed more than 18 months ago.

This time around it was Charter Communications, the cable company that last year bought Time Warner Cable for $55 billion. As Charter was pushing for the detail to be approved by US regulators, it said it would hire about 20,000 new workers if the deal went through, as part of a plan to bring outsourced call centers back to the US. The takeover was approved and finalized in the Spring of 2016.

“We’ve already begun insourcing efforts for the new company. The process of insourcing will take several years and will require that we hire 20,000 people,” Charter CEO Tom Rutledge said on a call with analysts last August. “That process has already started, as we are building Charter’s first Spanish-language call center in McAllen, Texas, with approximately 600 seats.”

On Friday, Rutledge stood behind President Trump as those numbers were re-announced in the Oval Office.

“Today I am thrilled to announce that Charter Communications has just committed to investing $25 billion dollars here in the United States and is committed further to hiring 20,000 American workers over the next four years,” Trump said. “Charter is also committed to completely ending its offshore call centers…and to base 100% of its call centers in the United States…Tom will be opening a brand new, beautiful call center in McAllen, Texas…where they will create 600 new American jobs.”

The $25 billion, four-year investment also seems like business as usual for the company. Charter’s total capital expenditure last year, not counting expenses for the merger, was $7.1 billion according to its financial filings. That means that if investments remained at 2016 levels for the next four years, the would invest $28 billion.

On Friday, Rutledge gave the company’s ongoing capital expenditure a fresh coat of paint, saying the company was “excited about the opportunity in the right regulatory climate and the right tax climate to make major infrastructure investments.

“We’re going to spend $25 billion predicated on the regulatory consistency and efficiency we expect as a country,” Rutledge said.

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Justin Venech, a Charter spokesperson, told BuzzFeed News that today’s announcement went above and beyond previous comments.

“We have spoken before about plans to hire 20,000 before, it wasn’t a commitment” Venech said, adding that the specific four-year timeframe for the hires was a new commitment. He said that the spending on infrastructure was “based on the deregulatory policies of the administration and the FCC.”

The Federal Communications Commission’s new chairman, Ajit Pai, is a longtime critic of many Obama-era regulations on cable companies, including the FCC’s net neutrality rules. Congress just voted to lift privacy rules that FCC voted to impose on internet providers last year.

This is far from the first time an old hiring or investment announcement has been given a new lease of life by the white house. In February, Intel said it would invest $7 billion in a Arizona semiconductor factory, again with its chief executive standing text to Trump in the Oval Office. The company had previously announced its investment in the factory almost exactly six years earlier, alongside President Obama.

During the transition, Japanese telecom conglomerate and Sprint owner SoftBank, said that it would invest $50 billion into the United States and create 50,000 new jobs over the next four years. SoftBank’s chief executive Masayoshi Son was already working on creating a $100 billion fund for technology investments, with funding from Saudi Arabia.

Earlier this month, a long-running program by Exxon-Mobil to invest in energy facilities in Texas and Louisiana was announced again by both Exxon and President Trump, with a White House statement lifting text word-for-word from Exxon’s press release.

Source: President Trump Just Re-Announced Another Old Corporate Hiring Plan

Deaths Of Despair: The White American Working Class Is Dying Young

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Middle-aged white Americans without college degrees are dying at higher and higher rates, with drugs, alcohol, and suicide driving a dramatic increase in mortality.

The increase is happening even as mortality decreases for similar age groups across the developed world — and for black and Latino Americans, and whites with college degrees.

The data, outlined in a new paper by economists Anne Case and Nobel Prize winner Angus Deaton, shows death patterns for American whites sharply diverging from peers in Western Europe — particularly in what they dub “deaths of despair,” involving drugs and suicide.

Brookings Institution / Via

“In 1999, the mortality rate of white non-Hispanics aged 50-54 with only a high school degree was 30 percent lower than the mortality rate of blacks in the same age group,” Case and Deaton wrote. “In 2015, it was 30 percent higher.”

The rising mortality affects a wide swath of the country. There are 90 million white Americans aged 25 or older who have no bachelor’s degree — more than all black, Asian and Hispanic adults over 25 combined.

For college-educated white America, the US is a typical Western industrialized country, with falling mortality rates across demographics. The same goes for minority groups: Hispanics have experienced a decline in mortality comparable to rich European countries (although the overall level is still higher), while African Americans have experienced large, sustained drops.

Brookings Institution / Via

The trend goes against a broad, global improvement in public health through most of the 20th Century. In the US, mortality fell from the late 1930s through to the late 1990s, pausing only in the early 1960s after smoking became a national pastime. If the mortality rate simply stopped falling and flatlined, it’d be a crisis. The fact that it’s increasing is disastrous.

The numbers behind such trend lines are stunning: if mortality for whites aged 45-54 had fallen between 1999 and 2013 at the same rate as it had between 1979 and 1998, half a million fewer people would have died, Case and Deaton have previously noted — a number comparable to all the lives lost in the US AIDS epidemic.

In many European countries, “mortality rates are falling for all education groups, and are falling most rapidly among the least educated,” Case and Deaton wrote. “The fact that the US has pulled away from comparison countries throughout middle age is cause for concern.”

The massive increases in mortality among non-college-educated white population has led to the overall white life expectancy at birth to fall in 2014 and for the overall life expectancy to fall in 2015.

The usual suspects did not cause this turnaround. Deaths from heart disease and cancer — the two largest killers of the middle aged— have fallen. Instead, increases in drug overdoses, suicide, and liver diseases caused by alcohol have been able to more than offset these vast improvements in public health.

Brookings Institution / Via

Money also doesn’t explain the divergences. The incomes of black and white Americans have moved in a similar pattern, and non-college educated blacks suffered bigger income falls since 1999 — and yet their mortality rates declined.

For whites in middle age, however, “there is a strong correlation between median real household income per person and mortality from 1980 and 2015,” Case and Deaton write. What’s really happening, they suggest, is not so much short run changes in income, but that “long-run stagnation in wages and in incomes has bred a sense of hopelessness.”

Brookings Institution / Via

Case and Deaton’s work follows their blockbuster research in 2015 which showed that there had been 96,000 “excess deaths” between 1998 and 2013 thanks to the increase in mortality rates among whites between 45 and 54.

Other economists have shown that middle aged white men are leaving the workforce at higher rates due to increases in pain and disability, and that employment, earnings, and marriage rates for men had fallen in areas where jobs disappeared to increased competition from foreign manufacturers.

Many media accounts of the declining prospects of the white working class discuss the rise of opioid addiction. Case and Deaton are more cautious, saying that “we do not see the supply of opioids as the fundamental factor,” but that “prescription of opioids for chronic pain added fuel to the flames, making the epidemic much worse than it otherwise would have been.”

African Americans are also considerably less likely to be prescribed opioid painkillers, which is the first step for many future addicts to full-blown dependency.

Brookings Institution / Via

The underlying story, Case and Deaton suggest, is economic.

Since the early 1970s, people without a college degree have had fewer good career opportunities, stagnant wages, shrinking unions, declines in church membership and fewer marriages. “These changes left people with less structure when they came to choose their careers, their religion, and the nature of their family lives. When such choices succeed, they are liberating; when they fail, the individual can only hold him or herself responsible.”

“Cumulative distress, and the failure of life to turn out as expected is consistent with people compensating through other risky behaviors such as abuse of alcohol, overeating, or drug use,” they wrote.

“Ultimately, we see our story as about the collapse of the white, high school educated, working class after its heyday in the early 1970s, and the pathologies that accompany that decline.”

Source: Deaths Of Despair: The White American Working Class Is Dying Young

Princeton Is Scrambling To Block Its Admissions Records From Being Released

Eduardo Munoz / Reuters

Princeton is scrambling to prevent the release of a trove of its most sensitive admissions documents, including individual student files and information about how the school judges and selects its freshman class.

The data was provided to the Education Department as part of a years-long investigation, making it subject to Freedom of Information Act requests. If those requests are successful and the documents are made public, it could upend the world of Ivy League college admissions, shining an uncomfortable light on what is usually a clandestine process. It would also have the potential to deal a serious blow to affirmative action efforts by elite colleges.

The group pushing to obtain the information is Students for Fair Admissions, an anti-affirmative action group whose founder and president, Edward Blum, has worked for decades to dismantle laws based on race and ethnicity, bringing several successful cases to the Supreme Court.

Students for Fair Admissions hopes the information will reveal what it has long alleged: that Ivy League and other top colleges are biased against Asian applicants, using race-based quotas or caps to keep down the number of Asians they admit to their tiny, highly selective classes each year.

The cache of “highly sensitive data about applicants,” as Princeton calls it, now sits in the hands of the Education Department, which collected the information over the course of almost seven years as part of an internal compliance review within its Office of Civil Rights. Princeton is suing to prevent the Department from releasing it.

“The fact that Princeton has sued suggests that Princeton has something very revealing it wants to hide about its admissions,” Blum said.

The university insists the government promised to keep much of the information confidential when it was first turned over, and has taken the highly unusual step of filing a “reverse FOIA” — a request for information not to be released. It says the admissions data violates the Trade Secrets Act and, if released, would seriously damage its image.

Princeton is one of several elite colleges embroiled in battles with Students for Fair Admissions, which has filed a slew of lawsuits and complaints against schools like Harvard, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Yale, Dartmouth, and Brown. The complaints allege that the schools unfairly discriminate on the basis of race in their admissions process — particularly against Asian-Americans.

The Education Department did its own investigation into the allegations against Princeton, the lawsuit says, and concluded the university didn’t discriminate on the basis of race.

But even if it isn’t incriminating, the data collected for that investigation is likely to be extremely controversial in the obsessive world of elite college admissions.

“Everyone want to see what goes on behind the curtain,” said Mimi Doe, the president of Top Tier Admissions, a college admissions advising company. While it is generally known that top schools give applicants numeric grades and rankings, Doe said, “We haven’t seen the qualitative piece of this — the unspoken quotas. What will probably come out is that, for years, colleges have been — just as they did in the 1940s with Jews — saying, ‘we don’t want this person, because this is a stereotypical Asian applicant.’ These kids are penalized because of their race.”

The admissions data, Doe says, has serious potential to lay bare some of the Ivy League’s other unsavory admissions practices, too, like the preference given to children of alumni and celebrities, or the way that even privileged applicants can be given preference based on race or their status as first-generation students.

“It won’t play well for Princeton when that comes out,” Doe said. “But it’s not illegal.”

In 2015, BuzzFeed News reported that a group of Stanford students had found what was essentially a loophole in federal law allowing students to view their own college admissions files.

Elite schools were flooded with requests from curious students desperate to find out what admissions officers had said about them — an onslaught that forced schools like Yale to begin purging their admissions archives, hoping to protect any more files from being released.

Source: Princeton Is Scrambling To Block Its Admissions Records From Being Released

Hard Lessons

When the 10th grader pulled out his cell phone in class — and refused to put it away — he knew he was breaking the strict rules at Camelot Academy of Escambia, the school he’d attended for the past two years. But he wasn’t expecting the punishment that followed.

An administrator charged with enforcing discipline at Camelot Academy, Jamal Tillery, struck him across the face and dragged him into an empty classroom, hitting him until he fell to the floor, according to a police report. Then, the student told police, Tillery hit him with a trash can.

The injuries were serious enough that when the student, who was 18 at the time, got home from school, his mother called the police and took him to the hospital.

The incident in Escambia, in 2011, wasn’t the first time Tillery had been accused of hurting a student. Six years earlier, when he was teaching at another school, he’d pled guilty to charges related to the assault of a 10-year-old. There, according to a police affidavit, things followed a similar pattern: Tillery dragged a disobedient boy into another room, threw him against a door, and began to hit him with his own shoes, shouting as a witness looked on about how he would not be disrespected. Afterward, the report said, the boy’s face was marked with red, his fingers bruised from where he had tried to block the blows. Tillery had pled guilty to disorderly conduct and harassment.

This time around, Tillery was arrested and charged with battery. He took a pretrial diversion that allowed his record to be wiped clean. Tillery maintains he was protecting himself: the student, a troubled kid with a record, struck him first, he said, and he never used a trash can.

School administrators say they are confident Tillery did nothing wrong and was defending himself from a violent student. With Tillery’s record clean, Camelot Academy brought him back on board. The school had no idea that Tillery had a history of hurting a child — the 2005 incident with the 10-year-old, they said, had not come up in an FBI background check. That same year, as Camelot Academy’s director of operations, Tillery was accused of hurting two more students in physical altercations, police records show — one of them a 13-year-old boy. No charges were filed in either case.

Inside all of Camelot’s publicly funded schools, security, order, and behavior modification take precedence over academics.

Camelot Academy of Escambia isn’t a public school, though it is funded by taxpayer dollars. It is part of a fast-growing for-profit company, owned by private equity investors in California, that school districts hire to handle their most difficult students: kids with behavioral problems, those struggling to keep up, and those at risk of dropping out of the school system entirely.

Camelot Education now owns 43 schools nationwide, making it one of the country’s largest alternative education providers. It has made a growing business out of taking in troubled kids at sharp discounts compared to publicly run schools, allowing districts to slash costs — and, at times, to improve their own metrics by shunting off their lowest-performing students. The vast majority of students who come to Camelot are black and Latino.

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The company has built its business on the “Camelot model,” a rigid system of strict discipline that is based, in part, on juvenile prisons and residential treatment centers. Inside all of Camelot’s publicly funded schools, security, order, and behavior modification take precedence over academics. A rigid hierarchy pervades student life: Top-ranking kids are assigned to an elite club, dressed in special uniforms and given privileges to oversee their peers — correcting their posture, their attire, their behavior. Students are ranked regularly on charts posted throughout the school, where the names of kids who are struggling are highlighted in bright red ink.

“We really subscribe to a sociological model, as compared to a psychiatric model,” said Todd Bock, the company’s CEO. “We believe kids are problems because of the environments they come from. So what we do is behaviorally treat kids — we have to get to their emotional and social issues before we can get to what they’re here for, which is to pull them up academically.”

Classes often begin with a recitation: the “Five Norms,” which dictate how students behave and treat one another, and the “Seven Levels of Redirection,” a system of escalating responses to misbehavior. The levels begin with a friendly gesture, such as a raised eyebrow, and increase all the way to a Level 7 — “emergency staff intervention” — in which a staff member restrains a student by pinning a student against a wall, arms wrenched behind their backs.

The company says such extreme measures, demonstrated to every new student during orientation, are used rarely — only when kids are in imminent danger of hurting themselves or others.

A string of violent encounters between staff and students have highlighted how the company’s strict, confrontational model can boil over.

But four former teachers told BuzzFeed News that pushing students against walls to restrain them was a regular occurrence at Camelot schools. One said he himself was involved in as many as 10 Level 7 redirections a day at a Camelot school for students with behavioral problems. A string of violent encounters between staff and students — including one, in 2014, that led to two staffers being jailed — have highlighted how the company’s strict, confrontational model can boil over.

There is little to no public data available about how many of Camelot’s students perform on state exams, attendance, or graduation metrics. But the company can claim modest academic gains that set it apart from many other alternative school companies — results that have positioned it to spread even more quickly, as demand rises for school districts to slash costs and boost their metrics.

Camelot executives argue that its model works. Juvenile justice activists, however, say the Camelot system is yet another funnel for the school-to-prison pipeline — an educational model that uses the public school system to treat mostly black and Latino children as criminals before most have ever been convicted of a crime.

The company’s approach to behavior modification,“really seems to mirror everything that doesn’t work in prisons. It’s really troubling,” said Mishi Faruqee, the national field director of the Youth First Initiative, a juvenile justice reform group. “The youth prison model has completely failed — it does not rebuild students.”

Camelot’s Phoenix Academy in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

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Camelot students are reminded just how different their school is from the moment they arrive each morning. Getting through the door requires a full-body pat-down, and students are forbidden from bringing anything — no backpacks, notebooks, textbooks, or pencils — into Camelot facilities, meaning there can essentially be no homework. This level of security is applied to teenagers regardless of whether or not they’ve ever committed a crime: students who have been expelled from their schools, as well as school dropouts, kids with learning disabilities, girls who became pregnant.

Once inside, students begin each day the same way: with motivation, tough love, and recitation in an all-school assembly called “Townhall.”

One morning in March, students gathered for Townhall in the gym of a Camelot school in Chicago, where a motivational video was projected onto a cinderblock wall. Excel Academy of South Shore is one of five schools Camelot has opened in Chicago, many of them clustered in its most troubled neighborhoods — places so torn by gang violence that shootings on the sidewalks outside of Camelot school buildings are regular features in the local news. Most of Camelot’s Chicago schools recruit students who have fallen behind on their high school credits — “overage and under-credited,” they’re called.

As a speaker onscreen barks about the keys to success, students in white Excel shirts and striped ties look on silently from rows of folding chairs. The newest students sit in the front row, where, staff say, they can be under closer supervision.

Standing over their classmates in Townhall are students inducted into the school’s elite student government because of good behavior and grades. They wear purple and gold sweaters neatly buttoned over their uniforms, hands folded behind their backs. The group is known as the Broncos, named after the school’s mascot; a mile away, in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood, they’re called the Bulls.

“I’m here to tell you, number one, that most of you say you want to be successful, but you don’t want it bad,” the speaker on the video rumbles. “You don’t want it as bad as you want to party. You don’t want it as bad as you want to be cool.”

Outside the half-filled gym at Excel, students are still trickling into school, passing through a metal detector before being patted down by a staff member. As a boy pulls off his belt, a female staff member kneels in front of another student, running her hands down the outside of the girl’s legs, and then the inside. She finds a small blue card in the front pocket of the girl’s khakis and examines it, turning it over in her hands.

At some schools, when the pat-down is complete, students trudge forward, remove their shoes, and shake them upside down.

Camelot says the full-body searches are necessary, even in schools that are not meant for students with behavioral problems. “It’s about safety,” said Anthony Haley, one of the company’s executives. “It makes the kids feel safe.”

Faruqee, of the Youth First Initiative, said the pieces of the prison system in Camelot’s model — from the behavioral rankings to the pat-downs and the use of restraint — are “completely ineffective. It’s very harmful to treat students as though they’re living in a vacuum, focusing on the output and just modifying their behavior.”

While Bock’s time working in correctional facilities has molded some of his thinking, he said, it is mistaken to see Camelot as an extension of that system. “If I believed in what juvenile justice stood for, I would still be working in juvenile justice,” he said. “What Camelot does is the real answer for helping kids get out of the system and helping them achieve self-actualization.”

As the daily assembly at Excel South Shore ends, students file out of the gym in hushed groups. First, as always, are the Broncos, who station themselves along the hall like sentries, watching as their classmates walk in small, quiet lines to the day’s first class. Boys step aside to let girls up the stairs first, because, as one of the Five Norms declares, a Camelot student is “always a lady or a gentleman.”

Bought out by a private equity firm called the Riverside Company in 2011, Camelot stands out among companies that have made a business out of educating troubled children. Instead of operating in just one state, as most do, Camelot has spread nationally, running dozens of schools in six states and hiring lobbyists to help it expand into more.

Camelot grows in part because the company can point to results — modest academic gains at some schools and increases in graduation rates — that appeal to school districts in a field where many other companies perform abysmally.

By siphoning off students who are struggling the most — those who are furthest behind academically or least likely to graduate — some districts can use Camelot to pump up graduation rates and test scores at their flagship high schools, allowing them to better attract students and funding, and avoid sanctions from states.

In Florida, school districts have used alternative schools to mask dropout rates, a ProPublica investigation in February found. Struggling students, who were steered into alternative schools and eventually left, were coded as withdrawals taking GED classes rather than as dropouts, the outlet found — giving districts an easy way to appear to meet statewide accountability rules.

If Camelot’s executives get their way, the company, and the Camelot model, could shape the future of alternative education.

Beyond boosting metrics, school districts stand to profit when they work with Camelot, saving thousands of dollars per student each year compared to the costs of running their own programs. Last year, the cash-strapped school district in Millville, New Jersey, cut its alternative education costs in half by privatizing its alternative school with Camelot — saving $600,000 and the jobs of 45 employees. Camelot was dramatically cheaper than the other private company that bid on the contract — $5,000 a year less per student.

At a Millville school board meeting to discuss privatizing the district’s schools with Camelot, a board member worried about how the company “can do it for what we’re told is a half or a third of what we’re doing it for and still make a profit for their private equity firm.”

But Camelot’s program was “better and more cost effective” than anything run by the district, another board member said. Privatization was the new normal, he argued: “The majority of high schools did away with programs like this a while ago and instead send students to a private … placement.”

“What we do is so valuable to taxpayers and our school district partners, because we specialize in that group of kids that have not had success in traditional public school,” said Bock. “I would say 95% or more of our school districts save money by contracting with Camelot.”

What Camelot brings to the table — cutting public spending on education, profit-driven experimentation in alternative kinds of schooling, and the potential to boost test scores and graduation rates — is now in high demand in Washington, DC, where a longtime advocate of education privatization is now the country’s top school official. Under the tenure of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who has called the traditional public school system a “dead end” that is ripe for private sector innovation and competition, Camelot appears poised to take off nationally.

For now, the world of alternative education is a hazy space — with a clear demand for privatization but without market leaders or models. If Camelot’s executives get their way, the company could shape the future of alternative education.

Under the guidance of its private equity owners, Camelot has already pulled off an ambitious expansion plan in Chicago, where it is now a dominant player in the city’s burgeoning alternative education system, taking in $50 million in contracts over four years. It is working to open new schools nationwide, including in Georgia, where it has hired two politically connected lobbyists. And it launched a new line of business in Las Vegas late last year, advising the school district there on how to improve its own alternative schools.

Source: Hard Lessons

Donald Trump's Second Nominee For Labor Secretary Is Quietly Coasting

Win Mcnamee / Getty Images

His predecessor was the first and only Trump cabinet nominee to go down in flames, but Alexander Acosta, the president’s second pick for labor secretary, is attracting about as much attention as a tree falling in an empty forest.

It has been a low-key confirmation for the Bush administration alum, ever since the announcement of his mid-February nomination was overshadowed by what immediately followed. Donald Trump’s first press conference as president began with “I just wanted to begin by mentioning that the nominee for secretary of the Department of Labor will be Mr. Alex Acosta,” but within minutes had shifted to “the press honestly is out of control. The level of dishonesty is out of control.”

The next hour was just as raucous. The headlines by the end of the day were not about Acosta, and it’s mostly stayed that way ever since.

Acosta has stayed under the radar since then thanks in large part to the fact that so few seem to have fired up the radar in the first place. He’s dodged the Bloomberg centerfold treatment that fast-food CEO Andy Puzder received just days before withdrawing his nomination. The organized resistance that dogged and defeated Puzder — and which almost finished Education Secretary Betsy DeVos — just isn’t there.

It’s quiet out there for Alex Acosta.

So it was true to form that his Senate hearing on Wednesday morning wasn’t just overshadowed by bigger news — it was practically invisible in the media landscape, on a day that also featured ferocious health care policy battle on the Hill, hearings for a Supreme Court nominee, another round of the Trump–Russia–Intelligence drama, and a terror attack outside the British Parliament.

As all that happened, Acosta stuck carefully to a nondescript script, and the sparsely attended Senate hearing produced almost nothing of note.

“The president has directed each cabinet officer to review all rules and make determinations as to whether any rules should be revised,” he said again and again in various iterations, when asked about his plans should he be confirmed. “Based on that executive action, I can’t make a commitment.”

Acosta rarely moved from that position for much of the three-hour hearing, with the law school dean and former federal prosecutor declining to take a strong stance on a number hot-button topics that will be considered during the Trump administration. Several of these topics concern the implementation of Obama-era labor regulations: the salary threshold at which workers should earn overtime pay; the fiduciary rule regulating financial advisers; and rules on protecting workers from silica, a poisonous dust.

He was committed to a noncommittal position on them all.

Acosta also emphasized the authority of states in setting workplace policy, including controversial rules that allow some workers to be paid at below the minimum wage. At one point, when pressed to take a clearer position, Acosta stated, “I don’t think any cabinet secretary can make commitments, because ultimately, you have a boss.”

“That’s what worries me,” responded Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the ranking member on the Senate health, education, labor, and pensions committee.

Win Mcnamee / Getty Images

One position Acosta did take was on the definition of a “joint employer” — a contractual relationship that the Obama-era Labor Department had sought to define broadly to include large corporations whose frontline staff are directly employed by a local franchise owner. The joint employer fight has focused on fast-food chains like McDonald’s, which insists it has no legal obligations to the burger flippers in its restaurants.

Acosta said he supports the older, “traditional” definition over the more recent, expanded one, which threatened to bring disputes over minimum wage and worker safety rules directly to the doorstep of giant fast-food businesses.

Business groups and Senate Republicans say they are happy with Acosta and his performance Wednesday. He “came off as smart, accomplished, and an individual who will enforce the laws on the books, not pursue a political agenda,” said Trey Kovacs, who focuses on labor policy at the right-leaning Competitive Enterprise Institute.

David French, senior vice president at the National Retail Federation, wrote that Acosta would be “an effective and pragmatic leader at the Department of Labor,” while Matt Haller, a senior vice president at the International Franchise Association, said Acosta “has shown the appropriate balance needed to protect the interests of employees and employers.”

“Franchise owners around the country are facing a great deal of regulatory uncertainty as a result of the wreckage created by the previous administration’s out-of-control Department of Labor,” Haller told BuzzFeed News. “Following today’s hearing, we are hopeful that there will be bipartisan support for his nomination in the U.S. Senate, so a new Labor Secretary can address the regulatory issues facing the franchise model as quickly as possible.”

Win Mcnamee / Getty Images

Leading Republicans also cheered. GOP Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida called him “an outstanding choice” with a “sterling record of public service to our state and country,” and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said he was “someone who will fight for the working men and women of this country.”

But not every conservative or business group was so quick to praise the nominee. Richard Berman, the executive director of the Center for Union Facts — typically a vocal advocate for management- and industry-side interests — declined to comment on the hearing.

And some Senate Democrats remain unconvinced.

“I’m relieved that our hearing today wasn’t with Andrew Puzder, but that doesn’t mean the new standard is ‘not Puzder,’” wrote Sen. Murray in an emailed statement to BuzzFeed News. “Workers have made very clear they want someone in this role who will stand up for their rights and be an advocate within this administration, and unfortunately, the hearing only increased my concern about whether Alexander Acosta is truly willing to take on that role.”

Towards the end of her questioning, Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren expressed similar concerns.

“If you can’t give them straight answers on your views on this,” she said, “and commit to stand up for workers on these obvious and very important issues, then I don’t have any confidence you’re the right person for the job.”

Source: Donald Trump’s Second Nominee For Labor Secretary Is Quietly Coasting

The Republican-Democrat Divide Extends To Hats And Prepaid Cellphones

AP/Wilfredo Lee

The 2016 election showed how America is divided along political lines. Now, using data from 30 of last year’s congressional campaigns, one company is figuring out how those divisions can predict the things people want to buy.

Just like how Netflix uses viewing data to predict what you want to watch — if you watched Mad Men, you’ll should try Californication — the pattern of ads people click on is often used to guess the kind of ads they’re more likely to click on next. That type of predictive marketing can link interest in a product to interest in voting Democrat or Republican, according to advertising technology company Rocket Fuel.

A new Rocket Fuel report found people who’ve clicked on ads for prepaid cellphones, weddings and dogs are much more likely to click on ads for Democrats. For those leaning Republican, the kind of ads more likely to earn a click included ones for healthcare, religious organizations and hats.

The data gets more complicated once you drill into state-level differences, with significant differences in shopping preferences between Democrats in blue and red states. The same goes for Republicans.

“Political orientation or political party identity isn’t necessarily decisive in determining consumer interest,” Kenneth Rufo, a lead researcher at Rocket Fuel, told BuzzFeed News. “It might be a case of geography. Among Republicans and Democrats, where they live will have a huge influence on the cluster of attributes that matter.” Most significantly, socio-economic status can have a larger influence on what people buy, he said.

Take men’s accessories. In red states, people shopping for men’s accessories were more inclined — by 103% — to be clicking on ads for Republicans than Democrats. But Democrats in blue states were 37% more likely to have been interested in such ads than Republicans in red states. That gap widens even further for other geographic splits.

Rocket Fuel

Other findings of note: sunglasses and golf were more appealing to Republicans in deep-blue California and swing states than they were for red state Republicans. And soccer was more important to red state Republicans than swing state Democrats.

Rocket Fuel

“The political divide is also a cultural divide,” said Rufo. “There are a constellation of consumer interests and attributes that correlate to political engagement.”

Source: The Republican-Democrat Divide Extends To Hats And Prepaid Cellphones