Myanmar junta arrests dozens in bid to stabilize currency

Myanmar junta arrests dozens in bid to stabilize currency
Myanmar’s kyat hit a record low last week, plummeting to around 4,500 per dollar on the black market, according to five foreign exchange traders. (Reuters)
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Updated 04 June 2024
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Myanmar junta arrests dozens in bid to stabilize currency

Myanmar junta arrests dozens in bid to stabilize currency
  • The kyat currency hit a record low last week, plummeting to around 4,500 per dollar on the black market
  • Black market rates for the kyat have for years been significantly higher than official reference rates

Myanmar’s junta is cracking down on gold and foreign exchange traders and agents selling foreign real estate, with 35 arrests announced in the last two days as part of efforts to stabilize its rapidly depreciating currency.
State media said these include five people charged with illegally selling condominium units in Thailand and 14 people arrested for allegedly destabilising the foreign currency exchange rate.
The kyat currency hit a record low last week, plummeting to around 4,500 per dollar on the black market, according to five foreign exchange traders.
Black market rates for the kyat have for years been significantly higher than the reference rate of Myanmar’s central bank, currently set at 2,100 kyat per dollar.
“The government is working toward the stability of the country and the rule of law,” the Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper said on Tuesday, carrying photographs of over a dozen suspects.
“Security organizations have taken action against business people engaged in speculation to hinder the country’s economic development,” it said.
Another 21 people have been arrested for allegedly destabilising gold prices, the newspaper reported on Monday.
The impoverished Southeast Asian country of about 55 million people has been in political and economic turmoil since a 2021 coup when the military ousted an elected civilian government after a decade of tentative democracy and economic reform.
Myanmar’s economy, already fragile after decades of military rule and the pandemic, has wilted since the coup, with foreign investment drying up, exacerbated by western sanctions.
Poverty rates have almost doubled from 24.8 percent in 2017 to 49.7 percent in 2023, according to the United Nations Development Programme.
The shadow National Unity Government (NUG), comprising former lawmakers and other junta opponents, said the military government has printed large volumes of currency since taking power and ramped up military spending, exacerbating the country’s economic problems.
A junta spokesman did not respond to a call from Reuters seeking comment.
“We understand that they are continuing to print kyat,” NUG finance minister Tin Tun Naing said at an online press conference on Monday.


Biden is isolated at home as Obama, Pelosi and other Democrats push for him to reconsider 2024 race

Updated 11 sec ago
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Biden is isolated at home as Obama, Pelosi and other Democrats push for him to reconsider 2024 race

Biden is isolated at home as Obama, Pelosi and other Democrats push for him to reconsider 2024 race
  • Obama has conveyed to allies that Biden needs to consider the viability of his campaign, while Pelosi presented polling to Biden that she argued shows he likely can’t defeat Trump
  • In Congress, Democratic lawmakers have begun having private conversations about lining up behind Vice President Kamala Harris as an alternative

WASHINGTON: Democrats at the highest levels are making a critical push for President Joe Biden to rethink his election bid, with former President Barack Obama expressing concerns to allies and Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi privately telling Biden the party could lose the ability to seize control of the House if he doesn’t step away from the 2024 race.
Biden’s orbit, already small before his debate fumbling, has grown even smaller in recent days. Isolated as he battles a COVID infection at home in Delaware, the president is relying on a few longtime aides as he weighs whether to bow to the mounting pressure to drop out.
The Biden For President campaign is calling an all-staff meeting for Friday. It’s heading into a critical weekend for the party as Republican Donald Trump wraps up a heady Republican National Convention in Milwaukee and Democrats, racing time, consider the extraordinary possibility of Biden stepping aside for a new presidential nominee before their own convention next month in Chicago.
As anxiety and information swirled, Biden’s closest friend in Congress and his campaign co-chair, Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, told The Associated Press: “President Biden deserves the respect to have important family conversations with members of the caucus and colleagues in the House and Senate and Democratic leadership. and not be battling leaks and press statements.”
Campaign officials said Biden was even more committed to staying in the race even as the calls for him to go mounted. But there was also time to reconsider. He has been told the campaign is having trouble raising money, and some Democrats see an opportunity as he is away from the campaign for a few days to encourage his exit.
Biden tested positive for COVID-19 while traveling in Las Vegas and is experiencing “mild symptoms” including “general malaise” from the infection, the White House said.
The president himself, in a radio interview taped just before he tested positive, dismissed the idea it was too late for him to recover politically, telling Univision’s Luis Sandoval that many people don’t focus on the November election until September.
“All the talk about who’s leading and where and how, is kind of, you know — everything so far between Trump and me has been basically even,” he said in an excerpt of the interview released Thursday.
But in Congress, Democratic lawmakers have begun having private conversations about lining up behind Vice President Kamala Harris as an alternative. One lawmaker said Biden’s own advisers are unable to reach a unanimous recommendation about what he should do. More in Congress are considering joining the nearly two dozen who have called for Biden to drop out.
“It’s clear the issue won’t go away,” said Vermont Sen. Peter Welch, the sole Senate Democrat who has publicly said Biden should exit the race. Welch said the current state of party angst – with lawmakers panicking and donors revolting – was “not sustainable.”
Obama has conveyed to allies that Biden needs to consider the viability of his campaign but has also made clear that the decision is one Biden needs to make. The former president has taken calls in recent days from members of congressional leadership, Democratic governors and key donors to discuss their concerns about his former vice president.
Pelosi also presented polling to Biden that she argued shows he likely can’t defeat Republican Trump — though the former speaker countered Thursday in a sharp statement that the “feeding frenzy” from anonymous sources “misrepresents any conversations” she may have had with the president.
This story is based in part on reporting from more than half a dozen people who insisted on anonymity to discuss sensitive private deliberations. The Washington Post first reported on Obama’s involvement.
Biden said Monday he hadn’t spoken to Obama in a couple of weeks.
Pressed about reports that Biden might be softening to the idea of leaving the race, his deputy campaign manager Quentin Fulks said Thursday: “He is not wavering on anything.”
However, influential Democrats atop the party apparatus, including congressional leadership headed by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, are sending signals of strong concern.
Using mountains of data showing Biden’s standing could seriously damage the ranks of Democrats in Congress, frank conversations in public and private and now the president’s own few days of isolation, many Democrats see an opportunity to encourage a reassessment.
Over the past week, Schumer and Jeffries, both of New York, have spoken privately to the president, candidly laying out the concerns of Democrats on Capitol Hill. Control of the House and Senate is at stake, and leaders are keenly aware that a Republican sweep in November could launch Trump’s agenda for years to come.
Separately, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Rep. Suzan DelBene of Washington, spoke with the president last week armed with fresh data. The campaign chief specifically aired the concerns of front-line Democrats seeking election to the House.
Major political donors, particularly in Pelosi’s California, have been putting heavy pressure on the president’s campaign and members of Congress, according to one Democratic strategist. Schumer has told donors and others to bring their concerns directly to the White House.
Prominent California Rep. Adam Schiff, a close ally of Pelosi, called for Biden to drop his reelection bid, saying Wednesday he believes it’s time to “pass the torch.” And Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland used a baseball metaphor to suggest in a recent letter to Biden, “There is no shame in taking a well-deserved bow to the overflowing appreciation of the crowd.”
To be sure, many want Biden to stay in the race. And the Democratic National Committee is pushing ahead with plans for a virtual vote to formally make Biden its nominee in the first week of August, ahead of the Democratic National Convention, which begins Aug. 19.
Rep. James Clyburn, a senior Democrat who has been a key Biden ally, wrapped up several days of campaigning for Biden in Nevada and said: “Joe Biden has the knowledge. He’s demonstrated that time and time again.” He warned against those who he said “have an agenda.”
But among Democrats nationwide, nearly two-thirds say Biden should step aside and let his party nominate a different candidate, according to an AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll. That sharply undercuts Biden’s post-debate claim that “average Democrats” are still with him even if some “big names” are turning on him.
The Biden campaign pointed to what it called “extensive support” for his reelection from members of Congress in key swing states, as well as from the Congressional Black and Hispanic caucuses.
Other Democrats in Congress have shown less support, including when Biden’s top aides visited Democratic senators last week in a private lunch. When Sen. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania asked for a show of hands on who was with the president, only his own and a few others including top Biden ally Coons of Delaware went up, according to one of the people granted anonymity to discuss the matter.


Hunter Biden seeks dismissal of tax, gun cases, citing decision to toss Trump’s classified docs case

Hunter Biden seeks dismissal of tax, gun cases, citing decision to toss Trump’s classified docs case
Updated 39 min 50 sec ago
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Hunter Biden seeks dismissal of tax, gun cases, citing decision to toss Trump’s classified docs case

Hunter Biden seeks dismissal of tax, gun cases, citing decision to toss Trump’s classified docs case
  • Biden's lawyers are now saying that like in Trump's case, Biden was also prosecuted by a special counsel appointed by the US attorney general, and should therefore be dismissed
  • A district judge on Monday dismissed the classified documents case against Trump, ruling that the appointment of a special counsel who prosecuted Trump was not valid

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, asked federal judges on Thursday to dismiss tax and gun cases against him, citing a ruling in Florida this week that threw out a separate prosecution of former President Donald Trump.
The requests in federal court in Delaware and California underscore the potential ramifications of US District Judge Aileen Cannon’s dismissal Monday of the classified documents case against Trump and the possibility that it could unsettle the legal landscape surrounding Justice Department special counsels.
Both Hunter Biden and Trump were prosecuted by special counsels appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland. In dismissing the Trump case, Cannon ruled that the appointment of the special counsel who prosecuted Trump, Jack Smith, violated the Constitution because he was appointed directly to the position by Garland instead of being nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
Smith’s team has said the Justice Department followed long-establishment precedent — for instance, the Trump-era appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller to investigate Russian election interference was upheld by courts — and has appealed Cannon’s dismissal to a federal appeals court in Atlanta.
In a pair of filings Thursday, lawyers for Hunter Biden said the same logic should apply in his cases and should result in the dismissal of a pending tax prosecution in Los Angeles — currently set for trial in September — and a separate firearm case in Delaware, in which Hunter Biden was convicted in June of three felony charges.
Hunter Biden’s team had raised similar arguments before, unsuccessfully, but they say there’s now good reason to reconsider them. Both of Hunter Biden’s cases are being overseen by judges nominated by Trump. Cannon, the judge who threw out Trump’s case, was also nominated by the former Republican president.
“Based on these new legal developments, Mr. Biden moves to dismiss the indictment brought against him because the Special Counsel who initiated this prosecution was appointed in violation of the Appointments Clause as well,” Hunter Biden’s lawyers wrote. They also cited an opinion this month by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas that questioned the propriety of a special counsel appointment.
“The Attorney General relied upon the exact same authority to appoint the Special Counsel in both the Trump and Biden matters, and both appointments are invalid for the same reason,” the lawyers added.
Smith and the special counsel who prosecuted Hunter Biden, David Weiss, are different in that Smith was hired from outside the Justice Department while Weiss was working as the US Attorney in Delaware at the time of his appointment.
A spokesperson for Weiss said they are aware of the filings from Hunter Biden’s legal team and “will respond in due course.”
In her ruling, Cannon noted that a special counsel’s powers are “arguably broader than a traditional United States Attorney, as he is permitted to exercise his investigatory powers across multiple districts within the same investigation.”
Hunter Biden’s lawyers pointed out Thursday that that’s exactly what happened in his case, as Weiss in his role as special counsel filed cases against Biden in California and Delaware and separately brought charges against a former FBI informant charged with lying about the Bidens.
“Mere US Attorneys do not have that power. Given that Congress requires a US Attorney to be nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, it makes no sense to assume that Congress would allow the Attorney General to unilaterally appoint someone as Special Counsel with equal or greater power than a US Attorney,” Hunter Biden’s lawyers wrote. “That is what has been attempted here.”
Jurors found Hunter Biden guilty in June of lying about his drug use in 2018 on a federal form to buy a firearm that he had for about 11 days. The trial put a spotlight on a dark period in Hunter Biden’s life during which he became addicted to crack cocaine after the 2015 death of his brother, Beau. He has said he’s been sober since 2019.
Hunter Biden faces up to 25 years in prison when he is sentenced in the gun case by US District Judge Maryellen Noreika, though as a first-time offender he would not get anywhere near the maximum, and there’s no guarantee the judge would send him to prison. She has not set a sentencing date.
The tax case centers on at least $1.4 million in taxes prosecutors say he failed to pay over four years. The back taxes have since been paid.
The long-running federal investigation into the president’s son had looked ready to wrap up with a plea deal last year, but the agreement imploded after a judge raised questions about it. Hunter Biden was subsequently indicted in both cases.


Trump family reshapes Republican Party in its own image

Trump family reshapes Republican Party in its own image
Updated 19 July 2024
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Trump family reshapes Republican Party in its own image

Trump family reshapes Republican Party in its own image
  • During Trump’s first term in office between 2017 and 2021, they helped him make key decisions, and they now work to ensure the party leadership is comprised of loyal allies
  • In a marked break from precedent, Melania has been largely absent in recent months from her husband’s political life

MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin: For Donald Trump, the campaign to return to the White House is a family affair.

His sons Donald Jr. and Eric have been ubiquitous at the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, flanking their father at almost all his public appearances.
During Trump’s first term in office between 2017 and 2021, they helped him make key decisions, and they now work to ensure the party leadership is comprised of loyal allies.
Most recently, their input helped tip Trump toward picking Ohio Senator J.D. Vance as his running mate, a new addition to the inner circle.
“He couldn’t choose one of his sons or daughters or daughter-in-law, that just wouldn’t work, of course,” Natasha Lindstaedt, a political scientist at the University of Essex, told AFP.
“J.D. Vance and Don Jr. are very close. So he chose someone that maybe reminds him of his son or is close to his son,” she said.
A notable absence on the campaign trail this year, however, has been former first lady Melania Trump, who has been all but invisible throughout Trump’s rallies and protracted court appearances.

In a marked break from precedent, Melania has been largely absent in recent months from her husband’s political life, with the notable exception of a fiery statement after an attempted assassination attempt on him on Saturday.
Prior to that, however, she had spoken sparingly and not accompanied her husband during court appearances in a case that saw him convicted of covering up hush money payments made to porn star Stormy Daniels, who alleged she had a sexual encounter with the real estate tycoon.
“She’s a complete enigma,” Lindstaedt said, adding that the former model did not “play the typical role” of a former first lady.
“Although she seemed to share similar views to Trump on a lot of issues, not on all, but on a lot of issues, she has a very conservative world view, she doesn’t seem to care that much what people think and kind of does her own thing.”

The rest of Trump’s family has offered the former president a way to soften his image in the aftermath of the recent convictions and other legal woes.
His eldest granddaughter, 17-year-old Kai Trump, spoke at the RNC Wednesday night to describe the “very caring and loving” patriarch.
“He’s just a normal grandpa, he gives us candy and soda when our parents aren’t looking,” she said.
The teenage daughter of Donald Jr. spoke of their shared love of golf, even when the former president tries to psych her out when playing against her.
“I don’t let him get to me, but I have to remind him I’m a Trump, too,” she said.

Like wagons hitched to their father’s train, Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka have been pulled along to success, along with their friends and families.
Lindstaedt pointed to two examples of Trump spouses achieving power: Eric Trump’s wife Lara Trump, who was recently appointed co-chair of the Republican National Committee, and Ivanka’s husband Jared Kushner, who Trump appointed as an adviser and entrusted with figuring out peace in the Middle East.
“Suddenly people who have no expertise, no training, no ethics training, maybe they’re not even going properly through security clearances, are given access to the most powerful positions,” Lindstaedt said.
“And we see when this happens in non-democracies and the dictatorships, how it usually goes very badly.”
Natalie Koch, who researches geopolitics and authoritarianism at Syracuse University, said Trump’s nepotism is nothing new.
“The Trump organization is a family business, but once he took office the first time, and then you could really see that he brought that into the political realm and into the White House,” Koch told AFP.

Each of Trump’s children has been entrusted with different duties during this campaign.
Don Jr., the eldest at age 46, is a big proponent of his father’s far-right “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) ideology.
Speaking at the Republican National Convention, he extolled the image of his father raising his fist after the assassination attempt last weekend.
Ivanka, 42, had played a role in Trump’s administration but has since devoted herself to personal matters.
Eric, 40, has doubled down on Trump’s claims that the 2020 election was rigged. At the convention, he appeared with delegates from Florida and claimed — without evidence — that the Democratic Party was planning to win this year’s election fraudulently.
Trump’s fourth child, Tiffany, 30, was also in attendance at the Republican National Convention.
His youngest child, 18-year-old Barron, whom he had with current wife Melania, appears to take after his mother’s preference for the background, declining to be a delegate from Florida at the convention this year.
 


Ukraine’s Zelensky to BBC: We have to work with the US

Ukraine’s Zelensky to BBC: We have to work with the US
Updated 19 July 2024
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Ukraine’s Zelensky to BBC: We have to work with the US

Ukraine’s Zelensky to BBC: We have to work with the US
  • Zelensky's comments comes as the chances of Trump’s becoming US president looks more certain
  • Trump's choice of VP, Senator J.D. Vance, has said he "don't really care what happens to Ukraine one way or the other”

President Volodymyr Zelensky acknowledged in an interview published on Thursday that a victory for Donald Trump in the US election in November would be difficult for his country but Ukrainians were prepared.
Trump’s choice of Senator J.D. Vance as his running mate has underscored how Washington’s stand on Ukraine, locked in a 28-month-old war with Russia, could change if he won the election. Vance is on record in an interview as saying “I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or the other.”
Zelensky, speaking to the BBC while attending the European Political Community meeting in London, noted the comment, but added: “Maybe he really doesn’t care, but we have to work with the United States.”
Trump’s election, he said in remarks on the BBC website, would be “hard work, but we are hard workers.”
The administration of Joe Biden has provided weapons and supplies throughout the conflict, though the flow of assistance was halted for months by disputes within the US Congress.
Trump has said during the campaign that, once elected, he would bring the conflict to an end even before taking office by securing a deal at the negotiating table. He said there would have been no conflict at all had he been in office when Moscow sent troops into Ukraine in February 2022.
In other comments to the BBC, Zelensky said Ukraine was thankful for pledges from its partners to supply F-16 fighter jets, most likely this summer, though they had not yet arrived.
“It’s been 18 months and the planes have not reached us,” Zelensky told the BBC.
The planes, he said, were essential to help Ukrainians resist Russia’s aerial dominance and “unblock the skies.”
He said he anticipated no change in Britain’s support for Ukraine, but hoped new Prime Minister Keir Starmer would “become special — speaking about international politics, about defending world security, about the war in Ukraine.”
Ukraine, he said, “doesn’t just need a new page, we need power to turn this leaf.”


Largest housing provider for migrant children engaged in pervasive sexual abuse, US says

Largest housing provider for migrant children engaged in pervasive sexual abuse, US says
Updated 19 July 2024
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Largest housing provider for migrant children engaged in pervasive sexual abuse, US says

Largest housing provider for migrant children engaged in pervasive sexual abuse, US says
  • US justice department charged the company and a number of its employees, including supervisors for the crimes
  • The government awarded the provider more than $3 billion in contracts from 2015 to 2023

AUSTIN, Texas: Employees of the largest housing provider for unaccompanied migrant children in the US repeatedly sexually abused and harassed children in their care for at least eight years, the Justice Department said Thursday, alleging a shocking litany of offenses that took place as the company amassed billions of dollars in government contracts.
Southwest Key Programs Inc. employees, including supervisors, raped, touched or solicited sex and nude images of children beginning in 2015 and possibly earlier, the Justice Department said in a lawsuit filed this week. At least two employees have been charged since 2020.
The nonprofit organization is the largest provider of housing for unaccompanied migrant children, operating under grants from the US Department of Health and Human Services. It has 29 child migrant shelters — 17 in Texas, 10 in Arizona and two in California — with room for 6,350 children. The company’s largest shelter in Brownsville is at a converted Walmart with a capacity for 1,200.
Southwest Key disputed the accuracy of the claims in a written statement late Thursday.
The provider has been a major but somewhat low-profile player in the government’s response to the arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrant children traveling alone in recent years and during the separation of thousands of families in 2017 and 2018 under President Donald Trump’s administration. The government awarded the provider more than $3 billion in contracts from 2015 to 2023.
The Border Patrol must transfer custody of unaccompanied children within 72 hours of arrest to Health and Human Services, which releases most to parents or close relatives after short stays at Southwest Key or shelters operated by other contracted providers.
Health and Human Services reported 6,228 children at all of its facilities on June 17, according to the most recent data on its website, which does not break numbers down by shelter or provider. The department declined to say how many children are currently in Southwest Key’s care or if the agency continues to assign children to its facilities.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Austin, where Southwest Key is based, provides extensive details, saying authorities received more than 100 reports of sexual abuse or harassment at the provider’s shelters since 2015.
Among the suit’s allegations: An employee “repeatedly sexually abused” three girls ages 5, 8 and 11 at the Casa Franklin shelter in El Paso, Texas. The 8-year-old told investigators that the worker “repeatedly entered their bedrooms in the middle of the night to touch their ‘private area,’ and he threatened to kill their families if they disclosed the abuse.”
The suit also alleges that an employee of the provider’s shelter in Tucson, Arizona, took an 11-year-old boy to a hotel and paid him to perform sexual acts for several days in 2020.
Children were threatened with violence against themselves or family if they reported abuse, according to the lawsuit. It added that testimony from the victims revealed staff in some instances knew about the ongoing abuse and failed to report it or concealed it.
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said Thursday that the complaint “raises serious pattern or practice concerns” about Southwest Key. “HHS has a zero-tolerance policy for all forms of sexual abuse, sexual harassment, inappropriate sexual behavior, and discrimination,” he said in a statement.
Southwest spokesperson Anais Biera Miraclea said Thursday that the provider is still reviewing the complaint, which she said “does not present the accurate picture of the care and commitment our employees provide to the youth and children.”
Texas, like Florida, revoked licenses of facilities that house migrant children in 2021 in response to an extraordinary influx of people across its border from Mexico, creating what some critics said was an oversight void.
The lawsuit comes less than three weeks after a federal judge granted the Justice Department’s request to lift special court oversight of HHS’ care of unaccompanied migrant children. President Joe Biden’s administration argued that new federal safeguards rendered special oversight unnecessary 27 years after it began.
Special court oversight remains in place at the Department of Homeland Security, which includes the Border Patrol.
Leecia Welch, an attorney for unaccompanied children in the case for court oversight, said the allegations against Southwest Key are “absolutely disgusting” and blamed Texas’ revocation of licenses for “a powder keg waiting to explode.”
“While I applaud the efforts to right the grievous wrongs these children have experienced, I hope the federal government will also take some responsibility for the role it played,” said Welch, deputy legal director of Children’s Rights.
Neha Desai, another attorney involved in court oversight, called the allegations “profoundly disturbing and shocking.”
“I hope that the government takes the most aggressive measures possible to ensure that children currently placed at Southwest Key facilities are not in harm’s way,” said Desai, senior director for immigration at the National Center for Youth Law.
The Associated Press left email messages Thursday with the offices of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the attorneys general of Arizona and California.
Southwest grew as unaccompanied children began crossing the border in large numbers in 2014, overwhelming US authorities.
The company has found itself in the middle of controversies over immigration and has steadfastly maintained that its mission was to provide quality care for children. It names its facilities “casas,” Spanish for home.
“A typical day for children in a Southwest Key Casa includes breakfast, school, lunch, dinner, homework, snacks, and bedtime,” the Justice Department said in its complaint.