Software developer, cyclist, photographer, hiker, reader.I work for the Library of Congress but all opinions are my own.Email: chris@improbable.org
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Trump administration to pull out of rural Job Corps program, laying off 1,100 federal workers

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The Trump administration announced Friday that it will kill a Forest Service program that trains disadvantaged young people for wildland fire fighting and other jobs in rural communities, laying off 1,100 employees — believed to be the largest number of federal job cuts in a decade.

The Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers enroll more than 3,000 students a year in rural America. The soon-to-close centers — in Montana, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Virginia, Washington state, Kentucky, North Carolina and Oregon — include hundreds of jobs in some of President Trump’s political strongholds. In Congress, members of both parties objected to the plan.

The demise of the program, starting in September, will result in the largest layoffs of civil servants since the military’s base realignment and closures of 2010 and 2011, federal personnel expert saids. Nine of the centers will close and another 16 will be taken over by private companies and possibly states.

The program will be transferred to the Labor Department, which will close some and hand over operations of others. The agency will continue operating its other Job Corps programs in urban areas. Officials said many of the Forest Service operations are low-performing, with inefficiencies and high costs, and that a reboot was necessary.

Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen, clearly distressed at having to relay unsettling news to her employees, announced the layoffs in a conference call Friday morning. She told hundreds of teachers, administrators, vocational and residential staff on the phone from multiple states that she learned of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s decision four days ago.

“We don’t have all the answers,” Christiansen told the employees, many of whom asked when and how they would be formally notified that they would lose their jobs and whether they would receive paychecks until that happens.

Christiansen called the decision a “high-level, pretty quick decision.”

“I know many of you have never heard what a RIF is and all that goes with that,” she said, referring to a reduction in force, the official federal government term for a layoff. “We’re going to work through this together.”

Shortly after the call finished, Labor announced in a news release that it is “modernizing and reforming part of the Job Corps program.”

“This action creates an opportunity to serve a greater number of students at higher performing centers at a lower cost to taxpayers,” the statement said.

In a brief letter to Labor Secretary Alex Acosta dated Friday, Perdue said his agency has other priorities.

“As USDA looks to the future, it is imperative that the Forest Service focus on and prioritize our core natural resource mission to improve the condition and resilience of our Nation’s forests, and step away from activities and programs that are not essential to that core mission,” Perdue wrote. The program was all but zeroed out in the president’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year.

Still, the closures already are meeting resistance from some Republicans in Congress whose districts will lose federal employees and students in rural communities.

“This organization has changed the lives of men and women across the country who otherwise might not have had a chance,” Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) said in an email. The center in his district, Jacobs Creek in Bristol, Tenn., is not on the list for closure, but its future was uncertain.

“Jacobs Creek has given many young people the opportunity to turn around their life, and I hope this will continue for generations to come,” Roe said, vowing to “remain as a strong advocate for this program” and press the Trump administration to keep the centers open.

Neither Labor nor Agriculture officials would publicly acknowledge the layoffs, with each agency referring personnel questions to the other.

Job Corps has been a troubled program, with student safety issues, staff turnover and, in some centers, a poor record of job placement.

But Democratic House aides and the National Federation of Federal Employees, the union representing Forest Service employees, said 1,100 job center workers, from welders to counselors, will lose their jobs at the soon-to-be-closed and privatized facilities.

“This is a politically motivated attack that oddly enough, offends both Democrats and Republicans in Congress and in communities across the country,” union president Randy Erwin said in a statement. He called the decision “a coordinated attack on the most vulnerable populations in the country: Rural and urban low-income young people hoping to succeed in life.”

Union spokeswoman Brittany Holder said in an interview, “What we’re saying is, ‘This is free labor to the taxpayers. You’re boosting the economy in the rural parts of the country. These are 16-year-old kids.’ ”

Job Corps has its roots in the New Deal-era Civilian Conservation Corps, the popular work-relief program for unemployed, unmarried men that operated from 1933 to 1942. The current program dates to the Johnson administration.

The administration does not need approval from Congress for the layoffs, but the Office of Personnel Management must approve them. The process has costs, though, because everyone losing their job must receive severance pay and be paid for unused leave.

“This would probably be the largest RIF in the government in a decade or more,” said Jeffrey Neal, former personnel chief at the Department of Homeland Security and now senior vice president at ICF, a consulting firm. The last large round of layoffs involved base closures that were ordered during the George Bush administration and took effect under Barack Obama.

Democrats, acknowledging the problems with the Job Corps, said nevertheless that the Trump administration is using performance problems to close the centers.

“We are disappointed by the Trump Administration’s decision to turn its back on the youth that depend on the Job Corps program in rural communities,” Democratic Reps. Rosa L. DeLauro (Conn.) and Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (Va.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said in a statement.

“These programs give young people valuable on-the-job experience and training — putting them on the path to a good job while learning about how to conserve and protect our natural resources.”

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I, Nancy Pelosi, wish someone would do something about Trump

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“I pray for the president of the United States. I wish that his family or his administration and staff would have an intervention for the good of the country.” — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

Something in our president is deeply broken. It pains me to look on, helpless, as he flails and burbles in the Oval Office. To watch him chewing listlessly on the Fabergé egg of this republic, throwing cherished norms to the ground just to hear the noise they make when they shatter — oh, it is agony to behold, and I, Nancy Pelosi, wish someone could exercise some oversight over him.

I am praying that maybe somebody, perhaps constitutionally empowered to wield equal power as a branch of government, might take some action, or even start the process of inquiring into taking some kind of action, to restrain his excesses. If only our system were set up in that way, and there were such a body, and the leaders of that body were not insensible to the wishes of me. Alas!

There is a word starting with “I” that I wish people would move forward on. That word is “infrastructure.” And as long as President Trump is not checked by any other branch of government, it looks as though we won’t be able to. Which is a shame.

I feel powerless as I, the speaker of the House of Representatives, look on and see this dreadful man carrying on in this way. I don’t think anyone could feel anything but helpless, looking at the things this man is doing. Did you see how he threw a news conference in the Rose Garden to insist that he was very stable and very smart and did not throw a tantrum? And then a day later he kept demanding that people who had not even been in the room insist that he had not had a tantrum. This is alarming! I am alarmed! And why is he so creepy and secretive about his finances? Are his tax returns wrapped around a human corpse? What is going on? What is happening?

Maybe his family could do something? They have, historically, succeeded at tempering his outbursts. Or am I thinking of the laws of New York State? Or am I thinking of — neither? Something, surely, must have been able to contain him. Surely his party cares about the kind of impression he is leaving on the world. Surely Republicans will rise to the occasion, like a very slow cake. Surely someone out there in a position of power could do something about this.

I will do the only thing that I, a legislator, indeed the speaker of the House, who could really move things onto the floor if such were my wish, am empowered to do at such times: Send my prayers. Prayers are the most powerful thing you can send. That is why we legislators send them so often after shootings, in lieu of legislation.

If someone could check him and force him to comply with congressional inquiries, that would be incredible. If only that power existed! Sure, it might be “divisive.” If you remove a drunk man from behind the wheel of a school bus, it is divisive — the schoolchildren are happy, but on the other hand, the man will be upset. But I am not sure why we are worried about upsetting him. Why would “divisive” be the standard we are holding ourselves to? Any act of political courage that has ever happened, ever, has been divisive, including but not limited to the Declaration of Independence and the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments. And, of course, whatever they did to Andrew Johnson. There’s a word. It’s on the tip of my tongue.

If only there were someone who could put a check on this man, constitutionally.

I, personally, wish that I could do something about this iniquitous scamp — maybe even something that starts with I. I could send an illustration, or perform an illusion, or give him an illuminated manuscript with a fisherman staring out of the first letter making a disapproving face. Gosh, something.

Something in this man is deeply broken, and I am doing all I can. I just wish I could do more.

Read more from Alexandra Petri:

When life begins and ends

I’m running! You’re welcome!

Other questions to go with ‘Which candidate would you like to have a beer with?’

How to talk to your daughter Khaleesi about that ‘Game of Thrones’ episode

I’m a state legislator and I’m here to substitute teach your biology class

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Distorted Videos of Nancy Pelosi Spread on Facebook and Twitter, Helped by Trump

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NASA executive quits weeks after appointment to lead 2024 moon...

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) - A top NASA executive hired in April to guide strategy for returning astronauts to the moon by 2024 has resigned, the space agency said on Thursday, the culmination of internal strife and dwindling congressional support for the lunar initiative.

Mark Sirangelo, named six weeks ago as special assistant to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, left the agency as NASA abandoned a reorganization plan due to a chilly reception on Capitol Hill, Bridenstine said in a statement.

Two individuals close to the space program and familiar with the situation said Sirangelo was escorted out of NASA’s headquarters in Washington on Wednesday after his resignation.

His departure came after lawmakers rejected NASA’s proposal to create a separate directorate within the space agency to oversee future lunar missions and ultimately develop human exploration of Mars.

“The proposal was not accepted at this time, so we will move forward under our current organizational structure,” Bridenstine said. “Given NASA is no longer pursuing the new mission directorate, Mark has opted to pursue other opportunities.”

Last week, the Trump administration asked Congress to increase NASA’s spending next year by $1.6 billion as a “down payment” on the accelerated goal of landing Americans back on the moon by 2024, more than half a century after the end of the U.S. Apollo lunar program.

The latest initiative was dubbed Artemis, after the goddess of the hunt and the moon in Greek mythology and the twin sister of Apollo.

NASA had aimed to return crewed spacecraft to the lunar surface by 2028, after putting a “Gateway” station into lunar orbit by 2024. However, the prospect of additional funding drew little enthusiasm from congressional appropriators.

The two people with knowledge of the matter said Sirangelo’s ouster was sealed by increasing skepticism that 2024 was a realistic deadline for moon landings.

In his statement, Bridenstine said the agency was still exploring what organizational changes were “necessary to maximize efficiencies and achieve the end state of landing the first woman and the next man on the moon by 2024.”

“If the $1.6 billion does not materialize, we will fall back on the previous plan, which was to land in 2028,” the NASA chief told reporters at a news conference earlier in the day.

NASA announced earlier on Thursday it had selected the space technology company Maxar Technologies Inc as the first contractor to help build the “Gateway” outpost.

Reporting by Joey Roulette at Cape Canaveral, Fla.; Additional reporting by Elizabeth Culliford in New York; Editing by Steve Gorman and Clarence Fernandez

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Bloomberg

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Corruption and Bubbles in New York: How the Taxi Medallion Scam Ruined Thousands

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The New York Times has a good piece today about the price of taxi medallions, which act as permission to operate a yellow cab in the city. Here’s what prices look like over the past few decades:

The crash starting in 2014 is almost universally described as the “Uber effect,” and it certainly makes sense that the growth of Uber would make the value of a yellow cab decline. But if you look more closely, the real question is different: why did prices for medallions go up in the first place? Between 2002 and 2014 the population of New York City didn’t grow much; the number of medallions didn’t change appreciably; and the average income from driving a cab didn’t go up. So why would the price of a medallion quintuple? According to the Times, the answer is corruption:¹

Much of the devastation can be traced to a handful of powerful industry leaders who steadily and artificially drove up the price of taxi medallions, creating a bubble that eventually burst. Over more than a decade, they channeled thousands of drivers into reckless loans and extracted hundreds of millions of dollars before the market collapsed.

….The practices were strikingly similar to those behind the housing market crash that led to the 2008 global economic meltdown: Banks and loosely regulated private lenders wrote risky loans and encouraged frequent refinancing; drivers took on debt they could not afford, under terms they often did not understand….Some industry leaders fed the frenzy by purposefully overpaying for medallions in order to inflate prices, The Times found.

….As in the housing crash, government officials ignored warning signs and exempted lenders from regulations. The city Taxi and Limousine Commission went the furthest of all, turning into a cheerleader for medallion sales. It was tasked with regulating the industry, but as prices skyrocketed, it sold new medallions and began declaring they were “better than the stock market.”…At the market’s height, medallion buyers were typically earning about $5,000 a month and paying about $4,500 to their loans, according to an analysis by The Times of city data and loan documents.

The victims of this scam were largely low-income, of course, and also largely immigrants. They were sold on medallions as an entry to the middle class: hard work, sure, but it would pay off. After all, medallions always increased in value.

But that was never true, something which had nothing to do with Uber. It’s true that after Uber and Lyft entered the New York market the average income of taxi drivers declined. By about 10 percent. That’s a lot for a low-income immigrant family, but obviously not enough to account for a price drop for medallions from $1 million back to $200,000. Mostly that happened because lenders and fleet owners engineered a massive, artificial bubble that was never sustainable.

In the end, then, we have an old story: basically a Ponzi scheme enabled by lots of money sloshing around and a lack of regulation from the people who should have been protecting the victims. The story about Uber and Lyft is mostly just a fairy tale invented to hide what really happened.

¹Corruption comes in all forms and sizes. This scam was small and local, but otherwise it was much the same as the housing bubble that wrecked the global economy in 2008. That’s why it’s important to root it out, no matter where it happens. If you want to donate to our Corruption Project, just click here.

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