Monday, March 28 Nine Circles of Hell!

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The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – for Monday, March 28, 2011, are:

National symbol of effective teaching may be a fraud

Worker morale hits three-year low

Job fair canceled due to lack of jobs

Execs start spending their record savings on mergers, acquisitions

Insiders called political vetting of government files “crazy”, “bananas”, “nuts”

FBI commits terrorist “investigations against completely innocent people”

Gadhafi’s son was in middle of red carpet US tour when uprising began

Libya’s rebel-held oil fields producingl; exports to start “in less than a week”

Highly radioactive water found outside Japan’s damaged reactor

National symbol of effective teaching may be a fraud
USA Today
(3/28/11)

When standardized test scores soared in D.C., were the gains real?

In just two years, Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus went from a school deemed in need of improvement to a place that the District of Columbia Public Schools called one of its “shining stars.”

Standardized test scores improved dramatically. In 2006, only 10% of Noyes’ students scored “proficient” or “advanced” in math on the standardized tests required by the federal No Child Left Behind law. Two years later, 58% achieved that level. The school showed similar gains in reading.

Because of the remarkable turnaround, the U.S. Department of Education named the school in northeast Washington a National Blue Ribbon School. Noyes was one of 264 public schools nationwide given that award in 2009.

Michelle Rhee, then chancellor of D.C. schools, took a special interest in Noyes. She touted the school, which now serves preschoolers through eighth-graders, as an example of how the sweeping changes she championed could transform even the lowest-performing Washington schools. Twice in three years, she rewarded Noyes’ staff for boosting scores: In 2008 and again in 2010, each teacher won an $8,000 bonus, and the principal won $10,000.

A closer look at Noyes, however, raises questions about its test scores from 2006 to 2010. Its proficiency rates rose at a much faster rate than the average for D.C. schools. Then, in 2010, when scores dipped for most of the district’s elementary schools, Noyes’ proficiency rates fell further than average.

A USA TODAY investigation, based on documents and data secured under D.C.’s Freedom of Information Act, found that for the past three school years most of Noyes’ classrooms had extraordinarily high numbers of erasures on standardized tests. The consistent pattern was that wrong answers were erased and changed to right ones.

Noyes is one of 103 public schools here that have had erasure rates that surpassed D.C. averages at least once since 2008. That’s more than half of D.C. schools.

Erasures are detected by the same electronic scanners that CTB/McGraw-Hill, D.C.’s testing company, uses to score the tests. When test-takers change answers, they erase penciled-in bubble marks that leave behind a smudge; the machines tally the erasures as well as the new answers for each student.

In 2007-08, six classrooms out of the eight taking tests at Noyes were flagged by McGraw-Hill because of high wrong-to-right erasure rates. The pattern was repeated in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years, when 80% of Noyes classrooms were flagged by McGraw-Hill.

On the 2009 reading test, for example, seventh-graders in one Noyes classroom averaged 12.7 wrong-to-right erasures per student on answer sheets; the average for seventh-graders in all D.C. schools on that test was less than 1. The odds are better for winning the Powerball grand prize than having that many erasures by chance, according to statisticians consulted by USA TODAY.

“This is an abnormal pattern,” says Thomas Haladyna, a professor emeritus at Arizona State University who has studied testing for 20 years.

A trio of academicians consulted by USA TODAY — Haladyna, George Shambaugh of Georgetown University and Gary Miron of Western Michigan University — say the erasure rates found at Noyes and at other D.C. public schools are so statistically rare, and yet showed up in so many classrooms, that they should be examined thoroughly.

USA TODAY examined testing irregularities in the District of Columbia’s public schools because, under Rhee, the system became a national symbol of what high expectations and effective teaching could accomplish. Federal money also was at play: Last year, D.C. won an extra $75 million for public and charter schools in the U.S. government’s Race to the Top competition. Test scores were a factor …

Haladyna notes, however, that when entire classrooms at schools with statistically rare erasures show fast-rising test scores, that suggests someone might have “tampered with the answer sheets,” perhaps after the tests were collected from students. Although not proof of cheating, such a case underscores the need for an investigation, he says.

At Noyes, USA TODAY found several grades with wide swings in their proficiency rates from one year to the next. In 2008, 84% of fourth-grade math students were listed as proficient or advanced, up from 22% for the previous fourth-grade class. The math scores for the fourth-grade class in 2010 dropped off to 52% proficient or better.

Worker morale hits three-year low
USA Today
(3/28/11)

Employee loyalty is at a three-year low

Employee loyalty is at a three-year low, but many employers are precariously unaware of the morale meltdown, according to new MetLife study.

While frustrated workers are griping, groaning and secretly sending out resumes, employers think they are just as loyal as they were three years ago, the benefits-provider reports in its 9th Annual Study of Employee Benefits Trends, to be released today.

“Businesses are understandably focused on expenses,” says Ronald Leopold, vice president of MetLife’s U.S. Business. “But they’re taking their eye off the ball with human capital issues, notably what drives employee satisfaction and loyalty.”

Morale fell — and stress levels skyrocketed — as cost-cutting employers froze wages, slashed bonuses and asked workers to assume the duties of laid-off colleagues during the downturn. Four in ten employees say a heavy workload, unrealistic job expectations and long hours have been significant sources of stress, according to the American Psychological Association.

Job fair canceled due to lack of jobs
The Associated Press
(3/28/11)

Massachusetts job fair canceled because of lack of jobs

A Massachusetts employment organization has canceled its annual job fair because not enough companies have come forward to offer jobs.

Richard Shafer, chairman of the Taunton Employment Task Force, says 20 to 25 employers are needed for the fair scheduled for April 6, but just 10 tables had been reserved. One table was reserved by a nonprofit that offers human services to job seekers, and three by temporary employment agencies.

Shafer tells the Taunton Daily Gazette the lack of employers means the task force won’t have enough money to properly advertise the fair.

The task force has been organizing the job fair nearly every year since 1984.

Execs start spending their record savings on mergers, acquisitions
Bloomberg
(3/28/11)

CEOs Tap Record $940 Billion Cash for Dividends as M&A at Post-Lehman High

U.S. executives are starting to spend the record $940 billion in cash they built up after the credit crisis, just in time for annual shareholder meetings.

Takeovers topped $257 billion this quarter, the most since the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in September 2008, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Standard & Poor’s 500 Index companies authorized 38 percent more buybacks in 2011 than a year earlier and dividends may increase to a record $31.07 a share in 2013, data compiled by Birinyi Associates Inc. and Bloomberg show.

Chief executive officers are looking for ways to increase investor returns after posting the biggest gain in profits since 1988 by relying on near-zero Federal Reserve interest rates and cost cuts that have kept the unemployment rate near a 26-year high. More than 139 companies in the U.S. equity benchmark index are preparing for shareholder meetings in the next two months after the S&P 500 almost doubled in the past two years and as profits approach a record.

Insiders called political vetting of government files “crazy”, “bananas”, “nuts”
The Associated Press
(3/28/11)

Emails: Insiders worried over political ‘meddling’

The Homeland Security Department official in charge of submitting sensitive government files to political advisers for secretive reviews before they could be released to citizens, journalists and watchdog groups complained in emails that the unusual scrutiny was “crazy” and hoped someone outside the Obama administration would discover the practice, The Associated Press has learned.

Chief Privacy Officer Mary Ellen Callahan, who was appointed by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, complained in late 2009 that the vetting process was burdensome and said she wanted to change it, according to uncensored emails newly obtained by the AP. In the emails, she warned that the Homeland Security Department might be sued over delays the political reviews were causing, and she hinted that a reporter might find out about the vetting. The reviews are the subject of a congressional hearing later this week and an ongoing inquiry by the department’s inspector general.

“This level of attention is CRAZY,” Callahan wrote in December 2009 to her then-deputy, Catherine Papoi. Callahan said she hoped someone outside the Obama administration would discover details of the political reviews, possibly by asking for evidence of them under the Freedom of Information Act itself: “I really really want someone to FOIA this whole damn process,” Callahan wrote.

Callahan is expected to be a central witness during an oversight hearing Thursday by the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee. Anticipating the hearing, the department announced internally Monday that any further political vetting of information requests will be completed within 24 hours. The congressional investigation into government transparency under President Barack Obama is among the earliest by Republicans since they won control of the House and targets one of the first pledges Obama made after he moved into the White House.

Less than one week after Callahan’s email, on Dec. 21, the AP formally requested the records about the controversial political vetting. The agency ultimately turned over more than 995 pages of emails last summer, after a seven-month fight, and the AP wrote about the program. But the emails were heavily censored under a provision in the Freedom of Information Act allowing the government to withhold passages that describe internal policy-making deliberations.

The newly obtained versions of the same internal emails are not censored. They show that insiders described the unusual political vetting as “meddling,” “nuts” and “bananas!” Together with other confidential emails obtained by the AP for the first time, the files reflect deep unease about the reviews and included allegations that Napolitano’s senior political advisers might have hidden embarrassing or sensitive emails that journalists and watchdog groups had requested. The government said this didn’t happen.

FBI commits terrorist “investigations against completely innocent people”
The New York Times
(3/26/11)

F.B.I. Casts Wide Net Under Relaxed Rules for Terror Inquiries, Data Show

Within months after the Bush administration relaxed limits on domestic-intelligence gathering in late 2008, the F.B.I. assessed thousands of people and groups in search of evidence that they might be criminals or terrorists, a newly disclosed Justice Department document shows.

In a vast majority of those cases, F.B.I. agents did not find suspicious information that could justify more intensive investigations. The New York Times obtained the data, which the F.B.I. had tried to keep secret, after filing a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act.

The document, which covers the four months from December 2008 to March 2009, says the F.B.I. initiated 11,667 “assessments” of people and groups. Of those, 8,605 were completed. And based on the information developed in those low-level inquiries, agents opened 427 more intensive investigations, it says.

The statistics shed new light on the F.B.I.’s activities in the post-Sept. 11 era, as the bureau’s focus has shifted from investigating crimes to trying to detect and disrupt potential criminal and terrorist activity.

It is not clear, though, whether any charges resulted from the inquiries. And because the F.B.I. provided no comparable figures for a period before the rules change, it is impossible to determine whether the numbers represent an increase in investigations.

Still, privacy advocates contend that the large number of assessments that turned up no sign of wrongdoing show that the rules adopted by the Bush administration have created too low a threshold for starting an inquiry. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has left those rules in place.

Michael German, a former F.B.I. agent who is now a policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, argued that the volume of fruitless assessments showed that the Obama administration should tighten the rules.

“These are investigations against completely innocent people that are now bound up within the F.B.I.’s intelligence system forever,” Mr. German said. “Is that the best way for the F.B.I. to use its resources?”

Gadhafi’s son was in middle of red carpet US tour when uprising began
ABC News
(3/28/11)

During Libya Protests Khamis Gadhafi Hurried Home… From Wall Street

When a popular uprising exploded in Libya in mid-February, Moammar Gadhafi’s son and military commander Khamis Gadhafi, charged with protecting the regime at all costs, was not there. Instead, Khamis was waltzing down Wall Street, just one stop on a whirlwind, cross-country tour of the U.S. organized by an American company with U.S. State Department approval.

The trip was part of an internship program with Los Angeles-based engineering giant AECOM, set to span just over a month, and take Khamis Gadhafi, head of Libya’s elite Khamis Brigade, to tours and meetings with high-profile universities and companies from Houston to L.A., San Francisco, Denver, Chicago, Washington D.C., New York and Boston, according to travel documents obtained by ABC News.

After beginning in Houston with an extensive tour and presentations at the Port of Houston Authority, Khamis jetted off to L.A. where he was scheduled to go on an “exclusive” VIP tour of Universal Studios. After that, it was a short trip to San Francisco for meetings with technology giants Google, Apple and Intel, among others. In Colorado, Khamis toured the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and then hopped a plane to Chicago where he toured Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

By mid-February, Khamis was scheduled to visit the nation’s capital to see famous landmarks like the National Mall before high-powered meetings with defense contractors including Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin, among others. Both U.S. military and civilian officials were present for Khamis’ meeting with Northrop, according to a company official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Next up, Khamis headed to Wall Street in lower Manhattan to walk through the heart of the U.S. economy at the New York Stock Exchange before taking in the Broadway show “Mama Mia.” But on the day he visited the floor of the stock exchange and was also scheduled to tour New York’s Columbia University, protests against his father’s regime rang out in Benghazi, Libya. A spokesperson for Columbia told ABC News the university canceled the visit in light of the protests and an AECOM spokesperson told ABC News that instead of heading uptown to Columbia, Khamis hopped a plane and flew back to his home country that night.

That meant Khamis missed out on further scheduled events including a tour of the West Point Military Academy, MIT and Harvard University …

In a statement posted on its website, AECOM said the company was “not informed of any military connection whatsoever” between Khamis and Libya and was “shocked and outraged” when they learned of Khamis’ role in the government’s efforts to stop the popular revolution …

Representatives at the Port of Houston, the U.S. Air Force Academy, Kellogg School of Management, Northrop Grumman and the New York Stock Exchange confirmed to ABC News Khamis’ visit to their institutions. Representatives for Lockheed Martin, Google, Intel and Apple did not immediately return requests for comment. Universal Studios declined to comment.

Khamis’ visit was not the first time the U.S. has welcomed members of Gadhafi’s regime with open arms. A secret diplomatic cable from December 2009 posted on the website WikiLeaks referred to an offer from the U.S. government inviting Khamis to “travel around the United States to tour U.S. military installations.”

In the same cable, an unidentified Libyan government representative was “surprised by the number of military exchange an training opportunities on offer,” but the cable said there had been no response to many offers.

Just after Khamis was in the U.S. in February, after widespread protests had already begun in Benghazi, a team of U.S. Air Force maintenance experts conducted a seminar for nearly 50 members of the Libyan air force at a Libyan air base in Tripoli that was “hoped to lead to a continuing training program for Libyan air force maintenance experts,” according to a report by the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli.

The reported noted, “In the last 18 months, the United States and Libya have made great strides regarding military cooperation,” including the signing of a defense Memorandum of Understanding.

In September 2009, three senior Libyan military officers were hosted at the U.S. Ramstein Air Base in Germany in hopes of helping the U.S. and Libya “build their military relationship,” according to a report by U.S. Africa Command, which is now playing a key role in operations against Gadhafi forces in Libya.

Though U.S. trade policy towards Libya does not allow the import or export of lethal “defense articles,” in 2008 and 2009 alone U.S. companies exported over $60 million in military wares to Libya, mostly aircraft equipment, according to two State Department reports. Part of the 2008 deal included more than $1 million in explosives. ForeignAssistance.gov notes that over the past three years, the U.S. government has also given more than $5 million in direct foreign aid to Libya — a practice that has been put on hold due to the “current violence and instability.”

Libya’s rebel-held oil fields producingl; exports to start “in less than a week”
Agence France Presse
(3/27/11)

Libyan rebels to start oil exports soon

Oil fields in rebel-held territory in Libya are producing between 100,000 and 130,000 barrels a day, and the opposition plans to begin exporting oil “in less than a week”, a rebel representative said on Sunday.

“We are producing about 100,000 to 130,000 barrels a day, we can easily up that to about 300,000 a day,” said Ali Tarhoni, the rebel representative responsible for economy, finance and oil, at a news conference.

He said the rebel government had agreed an oil contract with Qatar, which would market the crude, and that he expected exports to begin in “less than a week”.

Tarhoni said he had signed the contract with Qatar recently and that the deal would help ensure “access to liquidity in terms of foreign denominated currency”.

“We contacted the oil company of Qatar and they agreed to take all the oil we export and market that oil for us,” he said.

“We have an escrow account… and the money will be deposited in this account, and this way there is no middle man and we know where the money is going.”

Highly radioactive water found outside Japan’s damaged reactor
BBC News
(3/28/11)

Radiation leak found outside Japan nuclear reactor

Highly radioactive water has been found for the first time outside one of the reactor buildings at Japan’s quake-hit Fukushima nuclear plant, officials say.

The leak in a tunnel linked to the No 2 reactor has raised fears of radioactive liquid seeping into the environment.

Plutonium has also been found in soil at the plant, but not at levels that threaten human health, officials say.

Earlier, Japan’s government strongly criticised the plant’s operator, Tepco, over mistaken radiation readings.

Tepco announced on Sunday that a highly radioactive pool of water in the No 2 reactor was 100 times more radioactive than it actually was.

Officials said the radiation scare was caused by a partial meltdown of fuel rods.

The discovery of highly radioactive water outside a reactor building is a worrying development, says the BBC’s Mark Worthington in Tokyo.

Up until now, pools of water with extremely high levels of radiation have only been detected within the reactor buildings themselves.

The water was found in an underground maintenance tunnel, with one end located about 55m (180ft) from the shore.

Radiation levels were measured at 1,000 millisieverts an hour, a dose that can cause temporary radiation sickness. This is the same as the levels found on Sunday.

However, Tepco said there was no evidence that the contaminated water had reached the sea.

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Monday, March 28
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