Archives for category: Fraud

We have heard a lot about some cult-like group called QAnon, but I for one know very little about it. I think it had some connection to Pizzagate, the incident when some guy rushed into a pizza place in D.C. with an assault weapon, in search of a basement where Hillary Clinton supposedly had imprisoned little children who were going to be sexually abused or someone was planning to drink their blood. As it turned out, there were no children, there was no basement. Fortunately, no one was killed.

QAnon is back in the news after Trump was asked about them,and he feigned ignorance (he has praised them in the past).

I know far less about QAnon than Trump (who gets briefed by the FBI). So when I saw that the Financial Times, a reputable publication, had released this video that is supposed to explain QAnon, I watched it.

I am now more confused than ever. I feel like I just slipped down a rabbit hole, but it’s not Wonderland.

Here is CNN’s summation of a very peculiar belief system.
https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/16/tech/qanon-believer-how-he-got-out/index.html

The New York Times published this editorial for its Sunday edition, accompanied by articles detailing the multiple failures of Donald Trump. This is my favorite line: “the lesson of the last four years is that he cannot solve the nation’s pressing problems because he is the nation’s most pressing problem.” The title of the editorial is: “End Our National Crisis: The Case Against Donald Trump.”

Donald Trump’s re-election campaign poses the greatest threat to American democracy since World War II.

Mr. Trump’s ruinous tenure already has gravely damaged the United States at home and around the world. He has abused the power of his office and denied the legitimacy of his political opponents, shattering the norms that have bound the nation together for generations. He has subsumed the public interest to the profitability of his business and political interests. He has shown a breathtaking disregard for the lives and liberties of Americans. He is a man unworthy of the office he holds.

The editorial board does not lightly indict a duly elected president. During Mr. Trump’s term, we have called out his racism and his xenophobia. We have critiqued his vandalism of the postwar consensus, a system of alliances and relationships around the globe that cost a great many lives to establish and maintain. We have, again and again, deplored his divisive rhetoric and his malicious attacks on fellow Americans. Yet when the Senate refused to convict the president for obvious abuses of power and obstruction, we counseled his political opponents to focus their outrage on defeating him at the ballot box.

Nov. 3 can be a turning point. This is an election about the country’s future, and what path its citizens wish to choose.

The resilience of American democracy has been sorely tested by Mr. Trump’s first term. Four more years would be worse.

But even as Americans wait to vote in lines that stretch for blocks through their towns and cities, Mr. Trump is engaged in a full-throated assault on the integrity of that essential democratic process. Breaking with all of his modern predecessors, he has refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, suggesting that his victory is the only legitimate outcome, and that if he does not win, he is ready to contest the judgment of the American people in the courts or even on the streets.

[Kathleen Kingsbury, acting editorial page editor, wrote about the editorial board’s verdict on Donald Trump’s presidency in a special edition of our Opinion Today newsletter. You can read it here.]

The enormity and variety of Mr.Trump’s misdeeds can feel overwhelming. Repetition has dulled the sense of outrage, and the accumulation of new outrages leaves little time to dwell on the particulars. This is the moment when Americans must recover that sense of outrage.

It is the purpose of this special section of the Sunday Review to remind readers why Mr. Trump is unfit to lead the nation. It includes a series of essays focused on the Trump administration’s rampant corruption, celebrations of violence, gross negligence with the public’s health and incompetent statecraft. A selection of iconic images highlights the president’s record on issues like climate, immigration, women’s rights and race. And alongside our judgment of Mr. Trump, we are publishing, in their own words, the damning judgments of men and women who had served in his administration.

The urgency of these essays speaks for itself. The repudiation of Mr. Trump is the first step in repairing the damage he has done. But even as we write these words, Mr. Trump is salting the field — and even if he loses, reconstruction will require many years and tears.

Mr. Trump stands without any real rivals as the worst American president in modern history. In 2016, his bitter account of the nation’s ailments struck a chord with many voters. But the lesson of the last four years is that he cannot solve the nation’s pressing problems because he is the nation’s most pressing problem.

He is a racist demagogue presiding over an increasingly diverse country; an isolationist in an interconnected world; a showman forever boasting about things he has never done, and promising to do things he never will.

He has shown no aptitude for building, but he has managed to do a great deal of damage. He is just the man for knocking things down.

As the world runs out of time to confront climate change, Mr. Trump has denied the need for action, abandoned international cooperation and attacked efforts to limit emissions.

He has mounted a cruel crackdown on both legal and illegal immigration without proposing a sensible policy for determining who should be allowed to come to the United States.

Obsessed with reversing the achievements of his immediate predecessor, Barack Obama, he has sought to persuade both Congress and the courts to get rid of the Affordable Care Act without proposing any substitute policy to provide Americans with access to affordable health care. During the first three years of his administration, the number of Americans without health insurance increased by 2.3 million — a number that has surely grown again as millions of Americans have lost their jobs this year.

He campaigned as a champion of ordinary workers, but he has governed on behalf of the wealthy. He promised an increase in the federal minimum wage and fresh investment in infrastructure; he delivered a round of tax cuts that mostly benefited rich people. He has indiscriminately erased regulations, and answered the prayers of corporations by suspending enforcement of rules he could not easily erase. Under his leadership, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has stopped trying to protect consumers and the Environmental Protection Agency has stopped trying to protect the environment.

He has strained longstanding alliances while embracing dictators like North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, whom Mr. Trump treats with a degree of warmth and deference that defies explanation. He walked away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a strategic agreement among China’s neighbors intended to pressure China to conform to international standards. In its place, Mr. Trump has conducted a tit-for-tat trade war, imposing billions of dollars in tariffs — taxes that are actually paid by Americans — without extracting significant concessions from China.

Mr. Trump’s inadequacies as a leader have been on particularly painful display during the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of working to save lives, Mr. Trump has treated the pandemic as a public relations problem. He lied about the danger, challenged the expertise of public health officials and resisted the implementation of necessary precautions; he is still trying to force the resumption of economic activity without bringing the virus under control.

As the economy pancaked, he signed an initial round of aid for Americans who lost their jobs. Then the stock market rebounded and, even though millions remained out of work, Mr. Trump lost interest in their plight.

In September, he declared that the virus “affects virtually nobody” the day before the death toll from the disease in the United States topped 200,000.

Nine days later, Mr. Trump fell ill.

The foundations of American civil society were crumbling before Mr. Trump rode down the escalator of Trump Tower in June 2015 to announce his presidential campaign. But he has intensified the worst tendencies in American politics: Under his leadership, the nation has grown more polarized, more paranoid and meaner.

He has pitted Americans against each other, mastering new broadcast media like Twitter and Facebook to rally his supporters around a virtual bonfire of grievances and to flood the public square with lies, disinformation and propaganda. He is relentless in his denigration of opponents and reluctant to condemn violence by those he regards as allies. At the first presidential debate in September, Mr. Trump was asked to condemn white supremacists. He responded by instructing one violent gang, the Proud Boys, to “stand back and stand by.”

He has undermined faith in government as a vehicle for mediating differences and arriving at compromises. He demands absolute loyalty from government officials, without regard to the public interest. He is openly contemptuous of expertise.

And he has mounted an assault on the rule of law, wielding his authority as an instrument to secure his own power and to punish political opponents. In June, his administration tear-gassed and cleared peaceful protesters from a street in front of the White House so Mr. Trump could pose with a book he does not read in front of a church he does not attend.

The full scope of his misconduct may take decades to come to light. But what is already known is sufficiently shocking:

He has resisted lawful oversight by the other branches of the federal government. The administration routinely defies court orders, and Mr. Trump has repeatedly directed administration officials not to testify before Congress or to provide documents, notably including Mr. Trump’s tax returns.

With the help of Attorney General William Barr, he has shielded loyal aides from justice. In May, the Justice Department said it would drop the prosecution of Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn even though Mr. Flynn had pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. In July, Mr. Trump commuted the sentence of another former aide, Roger Stone, who was convicted of obstructing a federal investigation of Mr. Trump’s 2016 election campaign. Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, rightly condemned the commutation as an act of “unprecedented, historic corruption.”

Last year, Mr. Trump pressured the Ukrainian government to announce an investigation of his main political rival, Joe Biden, and then directed administration officials to obstruct a congressional inquiry of his actions. In December 2019, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Mr. Trump for high crimes and misdemeanors. But Senate Republicans, excepting Mr. Romney, voted to acquit the president, ignoring Mr. Trump’s corruption to press ahead with the project of filling the benches of the federal judiciary with young, conservative lawyers as a firewall against majority rule.

Now, with other Republican leaders, Mr. Trump is mounting an aggressive campaign to reduce the number of Americans who vote and the number of ballots that are counted.

The president, who has long spread baseless charges of widespread voter fraud, has intensified his rhetorical attacks in recent months, especially on ballots submitted by mail. “The Nov 3rd Election result may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED,” he tweeted. The president himself has voted by mail, and there is no evidence to support his claims. But the disinformation campaign serves as a rationale for purging voter rolls, closing polling places, tossing absentee ballots and otherwise impeding Americans from exercising the right to vote.

It is an intolerable assault on the very foundations of the American experiment in government by the people.

Other modern presidents have behaved illegally or made catastrophic decisions. Richard Nixon used the power of the state against his political opponents. Ronald Reagan ignored the spread of AIDS. Bill Clinton was impeached for lying and obstruction of justice. George W. Bush took the nation to war under false pretenses.

Mr. Trump has outstripped decades of presidential wrongdoing in a single term.

Frederick Douglass lamented during another of the nation’s dark hours, the presidency of Andrew Johnson, “We ought to have our government so shaped that even when in the hands of a bad man, we shall be safe.” But that is not the nature of our democracy. The implicit optimism of American democracy is that the health of the Republic rests on the judgment of the electorate and the integrity of those voters choose.

Mr. Trump is a man of no integrity. He has repeatedly violated his oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Now, in this moment of peril, it falls to the American people — even those who would prefer a Republican president — to preserve, protect and defend the United States by voting.

A recent state audit of Epic Charter Schools documented many financial problems. As a result, the state’s Virtual Charter School Board has initiated a contract termination process in which Epic will have a chance to present its case against closure. The board voted 3-1.

The one board member who voted no was Phyllis Shepherd. It turns out that she is related to the founder of the Epic charter school. She had wished him “happy birthday” and “happy anniversary” on social media posts and signed it “Aunt Phyllis.”

One member of the board was missing:

Absent at Tuesday’s meeting was board member Mathew Hamrick, who was censured and stripped of his seat on a newly formed audit committee by a majority vote of his fellow board members in September.

Hamrick was accused of intentionally avoiding public votes by the board in 2019 and 2020 on matters seeking to unmask Epic’s use of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to date budgeted for student learning that Epic, the largest online school operator, is keeping private and for going rogue on the board’s official position in a legal battle over Epic Charter Schools’ spending records.

In late July, Hamrick signed an affidavit on behalf of Epic’s for-profit operator, which is shielding Epic’s Learning Fund spending records — and in direct opposition to the official position of the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board.

Hamrick ran for Senate District 45 during a 2017 special election but was defeated in the Republican primary. Records from the Oklahoma Ethics Commission show that Epic co-founder and co-owner of Epic Youth Services charter school management company David Chaney contributed to Hamrick’s 2017 campaign.

On Monday, the Oklahoma State Board of Education, which accredits all public schools in Oklahoma, voted unanimously to demand back $11.2 million in taxpayer funds based on the investigative audit by the State Auditor and Inspector’s Office.

A government agency that has long been trusted as nonpartisan relies on public trust for the information it releases. When that agency is the Centers for Disease Control, public trust is essential to persuading the public that its advisories represent the work of scientists, unaffected by political considerations. This article by ProPublica describes how the Trump administration persistently interfered in CDC guidelines in an attempt to convince the public that the pandemic was no big deal and that the administration was doing a fabulous job in handling it.

It begins:

At 7:47 a.m. on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, Dr. Jay Butler pounded out a grim email to colleagues at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Butler, then the head of the agency’s coronavirus response, and his team had been trying to craft guidance to help Americans return safely to worship amid worries that two of its greatest comforts — the chanting of prayers and singing of hymns — could launch a deadly virus into the air with each breath.

The week before, the CDC had published its investigation of an outbreak at an Arkansas church that had resulted in four deaths. The agency’s scientific journal recently had detailed a superspreader event in which 52 of the 61 singers at a 2½-hour choir practice developed COVID-19. Two died.

Butler, an infectious disease specialist with more than three decades of experience, seemed the ideal person to lead the effort. Trained as one of the CDC’s elite disease detectives, he’d helped the FBI investigate the anthrax attacks, and he’d led the distribution of vaccines during the H1N1 flu pandemic when demand far outstripped supply.

But days earlier, Butler and his team had suddenly found themselves on President Donald Trump’s front burner when the president began publicly agitating for churches to reopen. That Thursday, Trump had announced that the CDC would release safety guidelines for them “very soon.” He accused Democratic governors of disrespecting churches, and deemed houses of worship “essential services.”

Butler’s team rushed to finalize the guidance for churches, synagogues and mosques that Trump’s aides had shelved in April after battling the CDC over the language. In reviewing a raft of last-minute edits from the White House, Butler’s team rejected those that conflicted with CDC research, including a worrisome suggestion to delete a line that urged congregations to “consider suspending or at least decreasing” the use of choirs.

On Friday, Trump’s aides called the CDC repeatedly about the guidance, according to emails. “Why is it not up?” they demanded until it was posted on the CDC website that afternoon.

The next day, a furious call came from the office of the vice president: The White House suggestions were not optional. The CDC’s failure to use them was insubordinate, according to emails at the time.

Fifteen minutes later, one of Butler’s deputies had the agency’s text replaced with the White House version, the emails show. The danger of singing wasn’t mentioned.

Early that Sunday morning, as Americans across the country prepared excitedly to return to houses of worship, Butler, a churchgoer himself, poured his anguish and anger into an email to a few colleagues.

“I am very troubled on this Sunday morning that there will be people who will get sick and perhaps die because of what we were forced to do,” he wrote.

When the next history of the CDC is written, 2020 will emerge as perhaps the darkest chapter in its 74 years, rivaled only by its involvement in the infamous Tuskegee experiment, in which federal doctors withheld medicine from poor Black men with syphilis, then tracked their descent into blindness, insanity and death.

With more than 216,000 people dead this year, most Americans know the low points of the current chapter already. A vaunted agency that was once the global gold standard of public health has, with breathtaking speed, become a target of anger, scorn and even pity.

How could an agency that eradicated smallpox globally and wiped out polio in the United States have fallen so far?

ProPublica obtained hundreds of emails and other internal government documents and interviewed more than 30 CDC employees, contractors and Trump administration officials who witnessed or were involved in key moments of the crisis. Although news organizations around the world have chronicled the CDC’s stumbles in real time, ProPublica’s reporting affords the most comprehensive inside look at the escalating tensions, paranoia and pained discussions that unfolded behind the walls of CDC’s Atlanta headquarters. And it sheds new light on the botched COVID-19 tests, the unprecedented political interference in public health policy, and the capitulations of some of the world’s top public health leaders.

Senior CDC staff describe waging battles that are as much about protecting science from the White House as protecting the public from COVID-19. It is a war that they have, more often than not, lost.

Please open the link and read it all.

The Wall Street Journal reports that more than 1,000 current and former officials at the Centers for Disease Control denounced the Trump administration’s response to COVID-19.

More than 1,000 current and former officers of an elite disease-fighting program at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have signed an open letter expressing dismay at the nation’s public-health response to the Covid-19 pandemic and calling for the federal agency to play a more central role.

“The absence of national leadership on Covid-19 is unprecedented and dangerous,” said the letter, signed by current and former officers of the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service of outbreak investigators. “CDC should be at the forefront of a successful response to this global public health emergency.”

Signers included two former CDC directors: Jeffrey Koplan, who led the agency under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and Tom Frieden, who served under President Barack Obama.

All of the signatories were writing to “express our concern about the ominous politicization and silencing of the nation’s health protection agency” during the current pandemic, said their letter, which was published Friday in the Epidemiology Monitor, a newsletter for epidemiologists.

“CDC has today, as it has every day during its 74-year history, provided the best available information and recommendations to the American public,” the agency said in a response to the letter. “Since January, more than 5,200 CDC personnel have dedicated themselves to protecting the health of the American people.”

Long regarded as the world’s premier public health agency, the CDC normally plays a leading role globally in a response to epidemics.

The Trump administration has been deeply involved at times in the shaping of scientific recommendations at the CDC during the pandemic, raising objections to guidelines for reopening churches and schools and for wearing masks, The Wall Street Journal reported. An administration spokesman said that “the CDC occupies a critical seat on the (coronavirus) task force, which is made up of public health leaders with an array of valuable expertise.”

The children of prominent politicians are causing mighty waves. Kellyanne Conway’s daughter Claudia has one million followers on TikTok, Twitter and other social media outlets, where she regularly excoriates Trump and her parents. The niece of Donald Trump, Mary Trump, wrote a bestseller about the dysfunctional family that produced The Donald and regularly appears on cable news to denounce his policies.

But the latest shocker is this article in Vanity Fair by Caroline Rose Guiliani, daughter of Trump’s personal attorney and former Mayor of New York City. She argues with her father’s political views and urges readers to vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Caroline is a political activist, and she speaks out eloquently against her father and his famous client.

The article is titled: “Rudy Guiliani Is My Father. Please, Everyone, Vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.”

She writes:

I have a difficult confession—something I usually save for at least the second date. My father is Rudy Giuliani. We are multiverses apart, politically and otherwise. I’ve spent a lifetime forging an identity in the arts separate from my last name, so publicly declaring myself as a “Giuliani” feels counterintuitive, but I’ve come to realize that none of us can afford to be silent right now. The stakes are too high. I accept that most people will start reading this piece because you saw the headline with my father’s name. But now that you’re here, I’d like to tell you how urgent I think this moment is.

To anyone who feels overwhelmed or apathetic about this election, there is nothing I relate to more than desperation to escape corrosive political discourse. As a child, I saw firsthand the kind of cruel, selfish politics that Donald Trump has now inflicted on our country. It made me want to run as far away from them as possible. But trust me when I tell you: Running away does not solve the problem. We have to stand and fight. The only way to end this nightmare is to vote. There is hope on the horizon, but we’ll only grasp it if we elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

Around the age of 12, I would occasionally get into debates with my father, probably before I was emotionally equipped to handle such carnage. It was disheartening to feel how little power I had to change his mind, no matter how logical and above-my-pay-grade my arguments were. He always found a way to justify his party line, whatever it was at the time. Even though he was considered socially moderate for a Republican back in the day, we still often butted heads. When I tried to explain my belief that you don’t get to be considered benevolent on LGBTQ+ rights just because you have gay friends but don’t support gay marriage, I distinctly remember him firing back with an intensity fit for an opposing politican rather than one’s child. To be clear, I’m not sharing this anecdote to complain or criticize. I had an extremely privileged childhood and am grateful for everything I was given, including real-world lessons and complicated experiences like these. The point is to illustrate one of the many reasons I have a fraught relationship with politics, like so many of us do.

Even when there was an occasional flash of connection in these disagreements with my dad, it felt like nothing changed for the better, so I would retreat again until another issue I couldn’t stay silent on surfaced. Over the years other subjects like racial sensitivity (or lack thereof), sexism, policing, and the social safety net have all risen to this boiling point in me. It felt important to speak my mind, and I’m glad we at least managed to communicate at all. But the chasm was painful nonetheless, and has gotten exponentially more so in Trump’s era of chest-thumping partisan tribalism. I imagine many Americans can relate to the helpless feeling this confrontation cycle created in me, but we are not helpless. I may not be able to change my father’s mind, but together, we can vote this toxic administration out of office.

Trump and his enablers have used his presidency to stoke the injustice that already permeated our society, taking it to dramatically new, Bond-villain heights. I am a filmmaker in the LGBTQ+ community who tells stories about mental health, sexuality, and other stigmatized issues, and my goal is to humanize people and foster empathy. So I hope you’ll believe me when I say that another Trump term (a term, itself, that makes me cringe) will irrevocably harm the LGBTQ+ community, among many others. His administration asked the Supreme Court to let businesses fire people for being gay or trans, pushed a regulation to let health care providers refuse services to people who are LGTBQ+, and banned trans people from serving their country in the military.

Women, immigrants, people with disabilities, and people of color are all also under attack by Trump’s inhumane policies—and by his judicial appointments, including, probably, Amy Coney Barrett. Trump’s administration has torn families apart in more ways than I even imagined were possible, from ripping children from their parents at the border to mishandling the coronavirus, which has resulted in over 215,000 in the U.S. dying, many thousands of them without their loved ones near. Faced with preventable deaths during a pandemic that Trump downplayed and ignored, rhetoric that has fed deep-seated, systemic racism, and chaos in the White House, it’s no surprise that so many Americans feel as hopeless and overwhelmed as I did growing up. But if we refuse to face our political reality, we don’t stand a chance of changing it.

Ben Felder wrote a comprehensive review of the State Auditor’s report about EPIC charter schools. EPIC has previously been fined more than half a million dollars for overspending on administration. The audit proposes that for-profit management of charter schools should be ended. The following is an excerpt. Online charter schools are immensely profitable regardless of the quality of services they provide. Governor Stitt of Oklahoma is a Trump-DeVos ally. The state is fortunate to have a state superintendent, Joy Hofmeister, who is doing her best to improve public schools, which are underfunded. In a state that does not pay for its public schools, it makes no sense to fund an alternative system of charter schools using dollars subtracted from public schools.

Felder writes:

In presenting the findings of her investigation into Epic Charter School’s financial management, State Auditor Cindy Byrd opened her remarks at a Thursday news conference with a clarification that her audit was “not an indictment of charter schools or the charter school model.” 

But in her report, Byrd highlighted the ways in which current state laws, regulations and practices have failed to prevent the type of abuse she was accusing Epic of committing. 

She also recommended a significant change to how charter schools operate, including the end of for-profit organizations managing charter schools.

The Charter School Act has freed charter schools from some of the regulations created for traditional public schools and has provided a statutory shield that allows for some reduced financial accountability and less than full transparency,” the audit stated. 

“The generous privileges granted to charter schools by the legislature are ripe for potential abuse.”

There are around 20 charter school systems in Oklahoma, most located in Oklahoma City or Tulsa, and many with a focus on serving low-income students. 

“Brick and mortar” charter schools, which are managed much like a traditional school with a building and classroom teachers, operate with some anonymity, including the ability to set their own schedules and curriculum. 

Virtual charter schools operate with significantly more flexibility, including with attendance, staffing and disbursement of funding. 

Epic operates separate virtual and “blended” schools.

The state Department of Education oversees many aspects of a charter school’s finances, including compliance with federal programs, expenditure and revenue coding, and accreditation. 

However, the state’s audit of Epic said the school’s financial reports are “accepted at face value by (the state Department of Education) without on-site followup,” even when the reports appeared questionable, such as when hundreds of teachers were listed with the same 60/40 percentage split between Epic’s virtual and blended schools. 

“Again, oversight exists, but true accountability is lacking,” the audit stated.

The state Department of Education has penalized Epic in the past when it has spotted violations of state statute, including this year when the virtual school was penalized more than $530,000 for exceeding the state limit on administrative spending, a limit meant to keep the bulk of state education funding in the classroom. 

But Byrd’s audit claimed state education officials failed to enforce other financial reporting violations, even when they were known. 

In Fiscal Year 2016, the state auditor claims Epic officials intentionally misreported administrative costs in an apparent effort to avoid a possible $2.6 million penalty. State education officials questioned the practice but ultimately accepted Epic’s reporting. 

The audit said the state Department of Education and Epic “share the responsibility for the breakdown of the process, which resulted in no penalty to (Epic) and no accountability for the reclassified administrative costs.”

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister toured the Central Oklahoma PPE distribution warehouse for schools in Oklahoma City on Aug. 18, 2020. BEN FELDER/The Frontier

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said a rule change passed by the state Board of Education earlier this year has remedied some of the problems with the administrative cost reports that the department was forced to accept in 2016.

But she said the department is still limited in many ways when it comes to holding charter schools accountable. 

“The audit findings also point to clear limitations the Oklahoma State Department of Education has had for decades in terms of ensuring the full veracity of millions of data points and school-certified information submitted to the agency,” Hofmeister said in a statement to The Frontier. 

“This is unacceptable and investments in modernization efforts must be a collective priority. We must do better, and we will do better.”

Gov. Kevin Stitt, who ordered the audit of Epic last year, said the “initial findings are concerning,” but also said he did not see it as an indictment on charter schools as a whole. 

Gov. Kevin Stitt speaks during a media conference at the state Capitol on June 30, 2020. BEN FELDER/The Frontier

“I am grateful for Auditor Byrd’s extensive work on this report and agree that her findings are not representative of all public charter schools or alternative forms of education,” Stitt said in a Thursday statement.

Like the traditional school system, Oklahoma’s charter schools are diverse and operate under various agreements and procedures. Many are referred to as “mom and pop charters,” meaning they are locally controlled, rather than operated by a national organization. 

Oklahoma’s charter schools also vary in academic performance with some ranking high on state assessments, while others struggle with low test scores.

Charter schools have been a topic of political debate for decades and Epic has consistently responded to allegations of financial mismanagement with claims they are under political attack. 

In its initial response to the audit, Epic officials did not address its findings but instead accused Byrd of “attacking parents’ rights to choose” the school that is best for them. 

“Once you cut through the theatrics of today’s announcement, the conclusion of the report calls for changes to the law; it does not assert that laws have been broken,” Epic said in a statement. 

Byrd’s audit does call for law changes, including a reference to a California law that prohibits charter schools from being operated by a for-profit organization or entering into a subcontract for management services with a for-profit organization, which is how Epic operates. 

At least one other Oklahoma virtual charter school, E-School Virtual Charter Academy, uses a private company to manage many of its expenses, including paying its superintendent and assistant superintendent. 

“Other states have already determined for-profit charter management organizations do not benefit taxpayers,” Byrd’s audit said. “Oklahoma should consider the same.”

A new reader to the blog posted her own recipe to describe “reform,” which has an unfortunate habit of failing again and again but being revived by Betsy DeVos and/or Bill Gates and the Walton Family:

Sandy Dixon Forrest Recipe for sucking in public tax money and making obscene profits on the backs of public school teachers and students: FINANCE inappropriate “standards” to be implemented by all teachers, REQUIRE the use of products which financially benefit the creator of the “goals,” SMILE as hired “cheerleaders” tout the benefits of the mandated program, BEAM proudly as profits roll into the companies producing the “magic” solution, CRINGE privately at dismal results, REWRITE the “cheerleader” script, AND THEN…drum roll, please.. BLAME the teachers for disappointing results of the non-educators’ (but obscenely wealthy) magic elixir to cure the problems of all public school students. RESULTS?! The sponsors of this hoax made buckets of money! Wave goodbye to the career teachers; TFA folks are cheaper and more (desperate) cooperative anyway. Don’t worry about the kiddos; just give them a double dose of grit. It’s all good…right?

 

Commonweal is a liberal Catholic magazine. I read its articles and editorials regularly for their common sense and intelligence.

What actually motivates us to vote in presidential elections, other than a sense of duty? The answer depends on the election. Once in a while, we have the luxury of voting enthusiastically for the better of two good candidates. Sometimes—too often—the choice is between mediocre candidates with uninspiring agendas, and then we must vote, without enthusiasm but with a clear conscience, for the better mediocrity. Unfortunately, this isn’t quite one of those elections either. This year, what will matter most to voters who care about the future of our democracy and the rule of law is the candidate they will be voting against, not the one they’ll be voting for.

That’s because Donald J. Trump is uniquely unfit for the office he holds. It is not just a matter of his administration’s failed policies or its odious ideological proclivities—though we should never forget these. What sets Trump apart, and makes this election so urgently important, is the viciousness of the man himself: his malice and well-documented mendacity, his callousness and incompetence, his total lack of scruples. Trump may be only a symptom of a political disease that started before him and will likely outlast him, but sometimes you have to treat the symptom first—or else it will kill you.

It will take years, maybe decades, to undo the damage Trump has done. The sooner we get started, the better.

It can be hard to keep in view the full scope of this president’s failures and offenses; they have come so thick and fast, and from so many different directions. Let’s begin abroad. In pursuit of an America-first foreign policy, Trump has turned his back on our allies and befriended dictators. “It’s funny, the relationships I have [with foreign leaders], the tougher and meaner they are, the better I get along with them,” he told Bob Woodward. He has expressed envy for heads of state who get to rule for life and wondered aloud whether such an arrangement could be imported to the United States. (At his campaign rallies the chant is now “Twelve more years!”) After the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, had an American-based journalist murdered and dismembered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Trump boasted of protecting bin Salman from the consequences. “I saved his ass,” Trump told Woodward. “I was able to get Congress to leave him alone.” What mattered to Trump was only that Saudi Arabia buys expensive weapons from U.S. manufacturers for its war in Yemen. For this president and his administration, “America first” has always had less to do with American security or American values than with purely commercial considerations. Of course, other presidents have paid too little attention to our allies’ human-rights abuses, but Trump is the first to be openly indifferent to them. In general, cruelty does not seem to bother him, perhaps because it is a proof of power. Finally, Trump has invited foreign governments to interfere in U.S. elections and was even impeached for it—was it less than a year ago? But it says a lot about him that his impeachment may not even be one of the first things that come to mind when we remember what a disastrous president he was.

No, what will come to mind will be the thousands of migrant families he separated at the border, and the children he put in cages. It will be his unwillingness to condemn a white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia; his habit of inciting violence against his political opponents, members of the press, and immigrants; his description of American soldiers who died on the battlefield as “suckers” and “losers,” and his disgust at the prospect of amputees appearing in military parades. We will remember that he had peaceful protesters tear-gassed to clear the way for a risible photo op; that he pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accord and opened up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling; that, as the leader of the free world, he seemed to spend most of his time watching Fox News and retweeting conspiracy theories. Most of all, we will remember him as the president who misled us about a pandemic that has already killed more than 200,000 Americans, because he was afraid that telling us what he knew might spook the stock market and hurt his chances of reelection. As Trump’s presidency has degenerated from farce to tragedy, it’s become clear that his apparent cluelessness was often something much worse: a complete contempt for the truth and a lack of concern for anyone but himself.

It will take years, maybe decades, to undo the damage he has done. The sooner we get started, the better. Joe Biden is a decent and thoughtful man, curious about the world and capable of empathy. He may be past his prime; his agenda may be inadequate to the scale of the many crises we face; he still seems to be harboring sentimental illusions about the willingness of a post-Trump GOP to compromise. For now, none of that matters. What matters is that he isn’t Donald Trump, already the worst president in this country’s history and an existential threat to its future.

The Washington Post published this fascinating story about Trump’s determination to gain control of his ailing father’s estate, at the expense of his siblings. There are many links to depositions and audio recordings. Please open the story to read and hear.

Donald Trump was facing financial disaster in 1990 when he came up with an audacious plan to exert control of his father’s estate.
His creditors threatened to force him into personal bankruptcy, and his first wife, Ivana, wanted “a billion dollars” in a divorce settlement, Donald Trump said in a deposition. So he sent an accountant and a lawyer to see his father, Fred Trump Sr., who was told he needed to immediately sign a document changing the will according to his son’s wishes, according to depositions from family members.

It was a fragile moment for the senior Trump, who was 85 years old and had built a real estate empire worth hundreds of millions of dollars. He would soon be diagnosed with cognitive problems, such as being unable to recall things he was told 30 minutes earlier or remember his birth date, according to his medical records, which were included in a related court case.

Now, those records and other sources of information about the episode obtained by The Washington Post reveal the extent of Fred Trump Sr.’s cognitive impairment and how Donald’s effort to change his father’s will tore apart the Trump family, which continues to reverberate today.

The recent release of a tell-all book by the president’s niece Mary L. Trump and the disclosure of secret recordings of her conversations with her aunt reflect the ongoing resentment of some family members toward Donald Trump’s attempt to change his father’s will.

Play episode

Listen to Maryanne Trump Barry tell her niece Mary L. Trump how Donald Trump tried to take over the family estate.

With the election weeks away, the documents and recordings provide more fodder for Mary Trump’s continuing efforts to see her uncle defeated by Democrat Joe Biden, whom she has said she would do “everything in my power” to elect.

Trump’s sister Maryanne Trump Barry was recorded by her niece in January 2019 expressing outrage over her brother’s efforts to change the will as their father’s mental capacity was declining. “Dad was in dementia,” Barry said.

Listen to Maryanne Trump Barry, Donald Trump’s sister, say that their father had dementia when Donald sought to change his will.

Barry said that when she was asked by her father in 1990 to review the proposed changes, she consulted with her husband, John Barry, an attorney familiar with estate law who died in 2000. “I show it to John, and he says, ‘Holy s–t.’ It was basically taking the whole estate and giving it to Donald,” Barry said.

Barry helped convince her father to reject her brother’s effort. As a result, Donald Trump “didn’t talk to me for two years,” Barry said during one of several conversations her niece recorded. Mary Trump recently provided the tapes to The Post.

Listen to Maryanne Trump Barry, Donald Trump’s sister, tell her niece Mary L. Trump that after the fight over the family estate, Donald Trump “didn’t talk to me for two years.”

In other taped conversations, referring to immigration policy and other matters, Barry said President Trump has “no principles” and “you can’t trust him.” In a brief telephone conversation, Barry said, “At this point, I’m not making any comment.”

Underlying the episode about the will was a troubling question: Did Donald Trump try to take advantage of his father at a time when the senior Trump was in the early stages of dementia? In a deposition, Donald said he had no idea his father was suffering from dementia, saying his father was “very, very sharp” at the time. But medical records and accounts by two of his siblings indicate the elder Trump’s cognitive abilities were already declining.

Donald Trump’s deposition from 2000 inheritance case

Q. Do you recall your father suffering from any memory lapses in 1991?
A. No.

Q. Do you recall him being diagnosed as having senile dementia in 1991?

A. No, I don’t.

Q. Do you recall him exhibiting any confusion in 1991?

A. No.

Then, within months of Trump’s effort to amend his father’s will, Fred Trump Sr. was formally diagnosed with “early stages of dementia,” according to medical records that were disclosed in a 2000 court case brought by Mary Trump and others seeking a larger inheritance from the elder Trump’s estate. In that case, Donald Trump and two of his siblings were deposed, and Fred Trump Sr.’s medical records were disclosed.

Mary Trump on Thursday filed suit in a New York court against Donald Trump, Barry and the estate of their brother Robert Trump, alleging that they — as executors of their father’s estate — later deceived her about the “true value” of what she believes she should have inherited. Her complaint said she was “fleeced her of tens of millions of dollars or more.”
Mary Trump said in a statement to The Post that Donald Trump’s initial effort to change his father’s will when his mental state was in decline is still relevant today because it shows how he put his own interests above even those of his own family members.

“As demonstrated by his willingness to alter his father’s will illicitly and in secret, there are no limits to Donald’s unethical behavior,” she said. “Because doing so benefited Donald, however, he had no compunction about deceiving his father in order to defraud his own siblings. There is no code of conduct, no moral or ethical imperative that stands in the way of Donald’s craven willingness to achieve his ends no matter the means.”

White House spokesman Judd Deere, asked for comment, said via email: “Old News. Totally False.”

The state of Fred Trump Sr.’s mind, as it turned out, would prove to be a crucial factor for his son as the legal dramas over the estate escalated.

Trump’s business problems

By the end of 1990, Donald Trump’s financial problems were spiraling out of control, and he increasingly looked to his inheritance as his salvation.

“It was a very bad period of time and if for any reason I was not able to come out of this well, then this would be giving me a trust to protect the money” that he would inherit, Trump said in a deposition he gave in the 2000 inheritance case, explaining why he came up with the idea to amend the will.

His casino empire at the time was in “severe financial distress,” according to a report by New Jersey regulators, the Trump Shuttle airline was losing millions of dollars per month, and his latest project, his crown jewel called the Taj Mahal, was cannibalizing business from his other casinos.

Trump convinced bankers to give him a $100 million line of credit, he told The Post in an interview for the biography “Trump Revealed.” But the possibility of personal bankruptcy still loomed, and he pleaded with more bankers — one of whom later told The Post that they gave him a financial lifeline only because if he went down, they might go down, and thus was worth keeping “alive.”

Still, the debts kept mounting, and Trump relied even more heavily on the man who had repeatedly bailed him out: his father. Fred Trump Sr. sent a lawyer to one of his son’s casinos with a check for $3.35 million, which paid for 670 gambling chips worth $5,000 a piece, according to a New Jersey regulator’s report. The maneuver funneled desperately needed cash into the casino.

Donald Trump, right, waits with his brother Robert for the start of a Casino Control Commission meeting in Atlantic City in 1990, seeking final approval for the Taj Mahal casino.

But it still wasn’t enough. A string of six corporate bankruptcies would follow. Fearing that his future inheritance would be seized, Donald Trump came up with his plan for an amendment, known as a codicil, to his father’s will.

While Trump had been expected to be the lead executor in an initial version of the will, this amendment would have broadened that role, according to Mary Trump’s account in her book. She wrote that the codicil would have put his siblings “at Donald’s financial mercy, dependent on his approval for the smallest transaction.”

Don Novick of Novick & Associates, an expert on New York estate law who reviewed the documents at The Post’s request, said: “It gave [Donald Trump] an enormous amount of authority he didn’t have in the original will. It gave him essentially full control to do whatever he wanted to run these businesses and to use estate and trust assets for that purpose.”

The codicil, reported by the New York Times in 2018 as part of its investigation into the family’s tax-avoidance measures, also was designed to protect Donald Trump’s inheritance from efforts to seize it by creditors and Ivana.

Trump’s uncontested divorce from Ivana was finalized in December 1990, with cruel and inhuman treatment by Donald Trump cited as the grounds. The division of property was then to be decided. Ivana had originally asked for $2.5 billion, half of Trump’s estimated worth, but his lawyers said her prenuptial agreement allowed her to receive less than 1 percent of his assets. (A private settlement eventually would be reached. Ivana Trump said in a brief telephone conversation: “I have no idea what Donald Trump and his father did. I have no comment.”)

‘You’re not signing anything’

Donald Trump asked a lawyer, Peter Valente, to write the codicil, according to Barry’s deposition in the 2000 case. (Valente said he could not discuss the matter due to attorney-client privilege.) Then, instead of presenting the proposal to his father, Trump said in the deposition that he sent two of his father’s most trusted associates to make the pitch in December 1990. They were Fred Sr.’s lawyer, Irwin Durben, and his accountant, Jack Mitnick.
Durben died in 2016. Mitnick declined to comment.

When Durban and Mitnick brought the codicil to Trump’s father for his signature, Trump’s mother, Mary MacLeod Trump, looked at the document and told her husband, “You’re not signing anything until I have had a chance to read it,” Barry said in the recording made by her niece.

Maryanne Trump Barry’s deposition from 2000 inheritance case

Q. Can you tell us when you first became aware of that document?

A. I first became aware of this document when my father called me and said he had been given this document by Irwin Durben and Jack Mitnick and asked to sign it and he said he didn’t like what he saw in there and he wanted me to take a look at it.

Q. Do you know approximately when that phone call was?

A. It wasn’t, I am trying to remember. It was either late 1990 or early 1991 and I have a distinct recollection of him bringing the document to me when we were down at my brother Donald’s house in Florida for a weekend that early 91. Early 91 maybe. But in any event, he called me on it and brought it to me because he was disturbed by what he read.

After Fred Trump Sr. refused the request to sign the document, he called Barry. Fred Sr. later met with his daughter, showed her the proposed codicil and said he was annoyed at the way Donald had tried to use two trusted advisers to get him to “sign it immediately,” according to Barry’s deposition in the 2000 case.

As father and daughter discussed the document, Barry said, they concluded that it would mean “Donald has sole control of everything as the executor/trustee, can sell, do anything he wants, you know, with the properties,” Barry said in her deposition.

Maryanne Trump Barry’s deposition from 2000 inheritance case

Q. So he [Fred Trump Sr.] expressed to you some sort of concern that by dint of the instrument putting Donald in control of the assets, even as his capacity as fiduciary, that somehow creditors of Donald would be able to attach the assets?

A. Right. Rightly or wrongly, that’s how he perceived it and that is how it looked to me too.

“Dad was concerned because although he always had the highest respect for Donald and admiration for him, this was a time when Donald was in precarious financial straits by his own admission and Dad was very concerned as a man who worked hard for his money and never wanted any of it to leave the family,” she said.
“He said to me . . . ‘This doesn’t pass the smell test,’ ” Barry said. “Here’s his attorney giving him something that he reads [that] could potentially denude his estate and he was annoyed that should happen that way.” It was done “behind his back, he had not authorized it, didn’t know they were going to give it to him for signature.”

It was left to Barry to tell Donald Trump that their father was killing the codicil. Years later, Trump, who rarely admits a mistake, said in a deposition that “I blame myself” for the way he sought the change in the will.

Donald Trump deposition from 2000 inheritance case

Q. Did Mr. Mitnick ever tell you what aspect or aspects of the whole episode your father found annoying, if I can use that word?

A. I think the presentation was not handled properly and he didn’t know Mr. Valente, didn’t feel comfortable having a lawyer that he never met putting a codicil in front of him and that was it. He wasn’t happy about it and I blame myself for that because I think the presentation was probably, in retrospect, not done right but I had a lot of things on my mind at that the point and this is not the biggest thing at all.

“My father wasn’t happy about it,” Trump said in his deposition. “The man was very, very sharp and wanted to know, you know, who the lawyer was. He wanted to read the document, wanted to get to understand the document and in the end he just didn’t like maybe the concept of the document or didn’t like the way it was presented or he just wanted to review the whole situation.”

By the spring of 1991, Fred Trump Sr. was working on the new will that made Donald Trump a co-executor of the estate, along with two of his siblings, Robert, who died August 15, and Maryanne. (The other siblings are Fred Jr., who is Mary’s father and died in 1981, and Elizabeth, who was not an executor of her father’s estate and thus not actively involved in the matter.)

Another fight

It was at this time that a new question came up: What would be given to the two children of Fred Trump Jr., Donald’s older brother, who had died in 1981 of an alcohol-related disease?
Mary and Fred III went to court in 2000 to argue that Fred Trump Sr. was not of sound mind when Donald and his siblings sought changes in the will in September 1991 that led to their effective disinheritance.

To bolster their case, they obtained medical and other records that showed Fred Trump Sr. was increasingly in mental decline. Mary said in an affidavit that her grandfather suffered from “senile dementia” and alleged that the will was “the product of undue influence and coercion” by Donald Trump and his siblings.
Robert Trump, Donald’s younger brother, said their father had been in “notable decline” in his cognitive ability starting in 1990, the year that Donald wanted his father to sign the codicil, according to medical records.
Robert Trump’s deposition from 2000 inheritance case

A. My father was very angry that a document, again, a document which I had never seen nor was I aware of it, but a document had been presented to him for signature almost as if it was a fait accompli, and evidently the preparers of the document were Mr. Durben and Mr. Mitnick, and I later learned it was also Mr. Valente, whoever he was.

And my father was quite unhappy that they had not had the courtesy and the professionalism to tell him that they were working on something, truly on his behalf as well as Donald’s behalf, and gave it — gave him a document and said, sign this and we’ve got to get it fast, sign it. And when he read it I don’t believe he understood it completely. So he was very unhappy with those two individuals particularly.

Then in October 1991, Fred Trump Sr. went to see one of his physicians, C. Ronald MacKenzie. The doctor wrote in his report that Fred Trump Sr. had “significant memory impairment” and showed “early signs of dementia.” In his notes, MacKenzie wrote that Trump Sr. had “obvious memory decline in recent years.” MacKenzie declined to comment.

In February 1992, Fred Trump Sr. underwent a neuropsychological evaluation by Rajendra Jutagir. The doctor wrote in the report, which is included in court records, that Fred Trump Sr. “did not know his birth date, was unsure of his age, and turned to his son [Robert] for help in responding to some questions.”
Jutagir’s exam found that the senior Trump’s cognitive ability was below the 15th percentile for a person in his age group. He could not recall what he was told 30 minutes earlier, the report said. He was given standard tests and failed or performed poorly. He was able to recall only three of the previous nine U.S. presidents. He was unable to draw hands on a clock to show a requested time. After reading a story, he could only remember one detail out of 23. Jutagir could not be reached for comment.

Rajendra Jutagir’s report

Memory: Immediate recall of stories read to him was poor relative to his achievement. Although norms are not well established for his age group, conservative estimation suggests performance below the 15th percentile. After a delay of 30 minutes recall of stories was nil. Immediate recall of a story that he read to himself was also impaired as he could remember only one detail (out of a possible 23), and showed evidence of mild confabulation.

From a 1992 medical record about Fred Trump Sr.

Despite all of this, Donald Trump insisted in his deposition that he never saw or heard of any evidence of his father’s mental decline during this time.

“Do you recall him being diagnosed as having senile dementia in 1991?” Trump was asked by a lawyer in the deposition.

“No,” Trump responded.

“Do you recall him exhibiting any confusion in 1991?” the lawyer asked.

“No,” Trump said.

Then, when the lawyer asked Trump to look at a doctor’s report from October 1991 that said his father “has mild senile dementia,” Trump said he knew nothing about it.

2000 Donald Trump deposition

Q. Let’s look at the exhibit. On Page 3, under the entry in the middle of the page, October 3rd of 1991, the 3rd paragraph next to the last sentence. “He [Fred Trump Sr.] has mild senile dementia.” You indicated before you had never heard of that. Does this in any way refresh your memory that some doctor made such a diagnosis on October 3rd of 91?

A. No.

Q. And you never heard it at any time thereafter through the end of 1993?

A. No, I have not.

(When asked during the 2016 campaign about dementia in his family, Trump said on “The Dr. Oz Show” that his father developed signs of Alzheimer’s disease only in “the last few years” before dying in 1999.)

Mary Trump said in an affidavit in her 2000 case that the executors of Fred Trump Sr.’s estate, including her uncle Donald, had “lied in the probate proceeding” about the elder Trump’s mental health and coerced the elder Trump to effectively disinherit her and her brother.

Trump and his brother Robert led an effort against a challenge to the will made by Mary and her brother, Fred III, saying they would withdraw medical care that was being provided by a Trump company to Fred III’s son, William, who had cerebral palsy. Donald Trump told the New York Daily News that after he was sued by Mary and Fred III over the will, he decided, “Why should we give [William] medical coverage?”

Mary Trump’s 2000 Affidavit

At the time, my uncle [Robert Trump] reported to the neuropsychological examiner that my grandfather’s memory had been in “notable decline” for the past two years. This is the same man who swore at his deposition, as did his brother and sister, that his father was mentally fit at the time he made his Will.
In the end, Mary and Fred III settled the inheritance fight and signed confidentiality agreements.

But Mary said this year she wasn’t bound by secrecy because of what she had learned about the value of the estate. Based on records she provided to the New York Times, she said had she been told the estate was worth $30 million when it was actually worth closer to $1 billion. She said she began to secretly record her aunt in an effort to extract knowledge about what Mary considered the family’s deception.

The fallout, as it turns out, had been foreshadowed by one of Fred Trump Sr.’s advisers, whose name is not disclosed in court records. In 1991, the adviser wrote him a memo that referred to the way he was effectively disinheriting Mary Trump and her brother. Suggesting that he consider giving them a more equitable share of the inheritance, the adviser wrote: “You may wish to increase their participation in your estate to avoid ill will in the future.”

The elder Trump ignored the advice.
Nearly 30 years later, Mary Trump, still upset over the inheritance battle and deeply at odds with her uncle’s political views, published her book with the title “Too Much and Never Enough.”