Friday, February 15, 2013

Cultural Transformation, the USDA, and millions of dollars

Watch this (and let me know if you understand any of it):


That's a clip from a USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) "cultural sensitivity" training workshop. The man speaking is Samuel Betances, a partner in a Chicago-based company called Souder, Betances & Associates. What they do:
For over a decade Souder, Betances and Associates has been a leader in the field of diversity training and consulting. Do you think you have a diversity-related challenge we can't tackle?
According to Dr. Betances' biography, he's a "citizen of the world" with a doctorate from Harvard, who was a professor for decades, and is now the "foremost communicator on the challenge of casting away barriers to success," as well as being a "consultant to U.S. Presidents." That is some heavy stuff. His partner--Dr. Laura M. Torres Souder--at this company has an impressive biography, as well. She has multiple degrees, is another world traveler, acknowledged expert, and "has recently been elected president of the Board of Directors of the publishing company, New Century Forum, Inc."

I'll get to what's in this nutty workshop in a moment, but first I want to note a couple of red flags--huge red flags--that have gone up as I've looked into this company and its principles.

As a struggling writer, I'm familiar with a couple of writing sites that make it their business to help writers avoid scams, when it comes to both agents and publishers (interested in knowing more? Go here). Thus, I couldn't help but be curious about this New Century Forum publisher, as I've never heard of it.

New Century Forum has no website and a search through Amazon.com and ISBNdb.com yields exactly two books published by New Century Forum, both by Dr. Samuel Betances. Each book has exactly one review on Amazon.com, as well; both are five-star reviews and both were submitted anonymously.

But guess what? New Century Forum does have a physical address, it's 5448 N Kimball Avenue Chicago, the exact same address as Souder, Betances and Associates! Morever, New Century Forum was apparently founded in 1997 with a named preseident: Laura M. T. Souder! It published Betances' first book in 1998 and his second in 2013. That's the company that has supposedly "elected" Dr. Souder president of its board of directors.

Pardon my skepticism, but this all looks pretty fishy. It looks very much like New Century Forum is owned by Dr. Souder and/or Dr. Betances, that it's not a legitimate publishing company--in the traditional sense--at all, that it's merely an imprint for self-published books that are sold to people attending the workshops put on by Souder, Betances and Associates. I can't help but wonder how many of Dr. Betances' books the USDA bought with this program.

As to what Dr. Betances is saying, Judicial Watch has the entire program up on YouTube. There's a great deal of what amounts to nonsense in these videos; participants are told to repeat a number of things for the training. At one point, Dr. Betances says the following:
I want you to say that American was founded by outsiders – say that – who are today’s insiders, who are very nervous about today’s outsiders. I want you to say, ‘The pilgrims were illegal aliens.’ Say, ‘The pilgrims never gave their passports to the Indians.’
Regardless of whether or not these are fair statements, I'm unclear as to how this kind of stuff will help USDA employees do a better job. As Judicial Watch notes, the USDA paid Souder, Betances and Associates some $200,000 for this program.

But guess what? That's just the tip of the iceberg. According to USASpending.gov, Souder, Betances and Associates has received over $3 million from the government for its services. Over $2 million of that came from the U.S. Army. I have to assume it was to pay for the same sort of workshop for Army personnel.

This is big money, serious money. It may not be billions of dollars, but it's still enough to raise some eyebrows. Moreover, there are some serious questions that need to be answered about the company receiving all of this money. Most of it was awarded without competition. Why? There are some connections here that need to be uncovered, in my opinion. And the content of these workshops need to be seriously evaluated to make sure something of real value is being imparted to the participants. Because to me, it has all the markings of a scam.

Cheers, all.