Foster And Filch
April 23, 2021
The Good News
- Expedition hauls tons of plastic out of remote Hawaii atolls (AP)
- Tribune Cuts Off Talks, for Now, With Upstart Bidder (NYT, $)
“If you want your children to improve, let them overhear the nice things you say about them to others. — Haim Ginott “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” — Nelson Mandela
Bringing Up Baby, And Charging Them For It (Jeffrey Greenberg via Getty Images) Foster care is a public service that federal law and all 50 state laws require the government to pay for. Foster care agencies are funded through a web of federal and state grants and subsidies, which, again, taxpayers are supposed to pay for. 10% of children in the US foster care system are entitled to Social Security (SS) benefits, either because their parents have died or because they have a physical or mental disability that would leave them in poverty without financial help. This money — typically more than $700 per month — is considered the children’s property under federal law. Congress never intended that the SS benefits owed these children would be a funding stream for their foster care services. The Marshall Project is an award-winning, nonprofit, online journalism organization focusing on issues related to criminal justice in the US. It often collaborates with news organizations and magazines to publish investigations. The Project teamed up with NPR to expose how foster care agencies in at least 36 states and Washington, DC have been appropriating money owed to children in foster care to pay for the very services the government is supposed to provide with taxpayer dollars. Agencies do it by combing through their case files to find kids entitled to these benefits, then applying to SS to become each child’s financial representative, a process permitted by federal regulations. Once approved, the agencies take the money, almost always without notifying the children, their loved ones, or their lawyers. States first turned to for-profit companies to mine foster children for cash during the 1980s Reagan era. Today, at least 10 state foster care agencies hire for-profit companies to obtain millions of dollars in SS benefits yearly intended for the most vulnerable children in state care. One private firm hired by Alaska referred to acquiring benefits from people with disabilities as “a major line of business.” Some states also take veterans’ benefits from youngsters with a parent who died in the military. Children typically don’t find out about their cash until it’s already gone. Child Trends research shows that state foster care agencies collected more than $165 million from foster children in 2018 alone. And SS data indicates the number is likely much higher. A spokesperson for Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services defended the practice by analogizing what his agency does to that of what any parent would do — use kids’ funds to pay for their daily expenses rather than just giving them cash. Not everyone finds the explanation absolving. Alaska currently faces a landmark class action lawsuit over the practice that could reach the state Supreme Court this year. And two Democratic senators plan to introduce federal legislation that would prohibit states from taking kids’ cash to cover public expenses, require that every foster child and their lawyer be regularly notified about their benefits, and offer protected trust accounts to hold the money in until recipients reach adulthood. (Marshall Project, NPR, Child Trends)
- US drug manufacturer Pfizer confirms that counterfeit versions of its coronavirus vaccine have been seized by authorities in Mexico and Poland. The doses were tested and found to be fake. In Mexico, vials had false labels, while the substance in Poland was thought to be an anti-wrinkle treatment.
- A spokesman for the Mexican government’s Covid-19 taskforce said the fake vaccines had been detected by cyber police after being offered on social networks for up to $2,500 a shot. Several people were arrested. About 80 people at one Mexican clinic received a counterfeit version of the drug.
- On Wednesday, Poland’s health minister insisted that the risk of counterfeit doses appearing in official circulation was “practically non-existent.” The World Health Organization has warned that fake vaccines “pose a serious risk to global public health.”
- Researchers reported in March that they had seen a “sharp increase” in vaccine-related darknet ads offering Covid-19 vaccines, vaccine passports, and faked negative test papers for sale. (BBC)
- On Wednesday, tens of thousands of anti-Putin, pro-Alexei Navalny supporters marched in demonstrations across Russia, demanding the Kremlin release the imprisoned opposition leader now believed to be close to death.
- Authorities are reporting significantly lower numbers of protesters than the figures estimated by Navalny’s office. More than 1,700 people have been arrested in the crackdown that started even before the planned protests began.
- The rallies are being held in defiance of a national ban, but Navalny supporters say their mission will continue despite the risks. (NPR)
- Revealed: big shortfall in Covax Covid vaccine-sharing scheme (Guardian)
- Pfizer confirms fake versions of vaccine in Poland and Mexico (BBC)
- At Least 1,700 Protesters In Russia Arrested After Nationwide Anti-Putin Rallies (NPR)
- Ethiopian county, home to 25,000 people, seized by fighters (Al Jazeera)
- With eye on Islamist fight, France backs Chad military takeover (Reuters)
- Indonesian Navy Submarine Still Missing; Officials Say Time Is Running Out (NPR)
- India Sets Covid-19 Daily Case Record (NYT, $)
- ‘It was a torture chamber’: Ugandans abducted in vicious crackdown (Guardian)
- Disputed memo on partitioning Bosnia sparks fears of violence (Al Jazeera)
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Race To The Bottom (Johanna Geron via Getty Images)
- President Biden pledged at Thursday’s White House teleconference climate summit that America will aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 50% to 52% below levels set in 2005, and it will do it by 2030. It’s an aggressive near-term target among wealthy industrialized countries, although perhaps not as large as what the EU and Britain have already promised.
- Japan announced it would strengthen its climate targets by aiming to make — also by 2030 — a 44% cut below 2005 levels. And Canada updated its climate goals by committing to a 40% to 45% cut below 2005 levels by 2030. China, as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, has pledged that its emissions will peak around 2030. Thereafter, the country will aim to get down to net zero emissions by 2060.
- Scientists say the world needs to zero out emissions from fossil fuels and deforestation by mid-century to avoid catastrophic risks like the collapse of the polar ice sheets or widespread crop failure. As one energy researcher said: “If the ultimate goal is zero emissions, then the metric we really care about is how quickly countries can get to zero.” (NYT, $)
- In modern day Twilight Zone World, Arizona Republicans are beginning an audit of all 2.1 million ballots cast in the 2020 election in Maricopa County. The hand recount — to be conducted by a private Florida-based company and expected to take months — could be about the most absurd and alarming consequence yet of Donald Trump’s baseless lies about the 2020 election.
- The audit is focused solely on Maricopa County, the largest in the state and home to a majority of Arizona voters. Biden narrowly defeated Trump in the county, a crucial battleground that helped the President win the state by around 10,000 votes. The county has already conducted two separate audits of the 2020 election and found no irregularities.
- The Republican decision to continue “investigating” the results, months after they were certified by both county and state officials, extends the life of election conspiracy theories and comes at a time Republican lawmakers are advancing legislation to make it harder for Arizonans to vote by mail. Secretary of state Katie Hobbs is a Democrat and the state’s top election official. Hobbs says: “They’re trying to find something that we know doesn’t exist. It’s ludicrous that people think that if they don’t like the results they can just come in and tear them apart.” (Guardian)
- Chevron Lobbies to Head Off New Sanctions on Myanmar (NYT, $)
- More bodycam video released of fatal shooting of teen girl in Ohio and protesters again hit the streets (CBS)
- Biden Set to Raise Taxes on Rich to Fund Child Care and Education (NYT, $)
- Biden’s climate summit is full of hot air (WaPo, $)
- DC statehood approved by House as Senate fight looms (AP)
- Senate passes hate crimes bill to address rise in attacks against Asians (CBS)
- California public universities plan to require Covid-19 vaccines (Politico)
Rooms To Go: Space Edition
- The International Space Station has just seven permanent sleeping pods, each about the size of a phone booth. Four new crew members are about to arrive, and they’ll join the seven already on board. Math says that’s 11 astronauts. OK, so two astronauts can sleep in the docked SpaceX capsules. But that leaves two others without beds.
- NASA spokesman Dan Huot says No Problem. “The nice thing about sleeping in space is that just about anywhere can be your bedroom.” Since astronauts float in the station, pretty much any surface — floor, ceiling, wall — can be a great place to roll out a sleeping bag, Huot notes
- The situation is just temporary anyway. There will be a brief transition period between when the four astronauts who arrived last November return to Earth next week, and when SpaceX brings the next four astronauts up: two from NASA, one from Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency and one from the European Space Agency. Crew-2 will spend the next six months in space.
- The space station may be short of bedrooms, but at least a third toilet came up in a recent cargo launch. That brought the number of space commodes to three, which NASA astronaut Nicole Stott called a “blessing” for a crew of 11. Stott spent more than 100 days in orbit, in the space shuttle and the space station, so she should know.
- As a reminder, Stott also spent 100 nights in space, and she has something to say about that. “Sleeping in space was absolutely the best sleep I’ve ever had in my entire life. I always slept on the ceiling because where else can you sleep on your ceiling? You float into that bag and you find your position, and I would not wake up until the alarm went off.”
- Good anecdotal information. We always knew ceilings were good for dancing on. Now we know they’re good for sleeping on, too. (NPR)
- Nasa’s rover makes breathable oxygen on Mars (BBC)
- Amazon to bring pay-by-palm technology to Whole Foods (Guardian)
- Tile, Apple AirTags, and antitrust allegations, briefly explained (Recode)
- What Do You Call a Bunch of Black Holes: A Crush? A Scream? (NYT, $)
- 10 things we learned about Earth since the last Earth Day (Vox)
- Apple and Google ‘hold data hostage’ and stifle competition, Senate told (Guardian)
- Earth Day 2021: Fashion waste is out of control. Could nuclear power help? (Vox)
- Tesla founder Elon Musk has spent $150 million on charity in 2021 (Recode)
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