SpeakOut http://www.truth-out.org Sun, 23 Nov 2014 22:13:25 -0500 en-gb AP Reports That 99.8 Percent of Social Security Disability Payments Were Proper http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/27601-ap-reports-that-99-8-percent-of-social-security-disability-payments-were-proper http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/27601-ap-reports-that-99-8-percent-of-social-security-disability-payments-were-proper

If you doubt that AP would write a story to make this point, you guessed correctly. AP actually decided it was REALLY BIG NEWS that Social Security's inspector general found evidence that 0.2 percent of payments were improper.

The news service devoted a major article to reporting that $2 billion in benefit payments over the last seven years appear to have been given to people who did not qualify for disability. The piece neglected to mention that the program paid out close to $900 billion in benefits over that period. This means that improper payments identified in the inspector general's report were less than 0.3 percent of the total payments in the program.

If you doubt that AP would write a story to make this point, you guessed correctly. AP actually decided it was REALLY BIG NEWS that Social Security's inspector general found evidence that 0.2 percent of payments were improper.

The news service devoted a major article to reporting that $2 billion in benefit payments over the last seven years appear to have been given to people who did not qualify for disability. The piece neglected to mention that the program paid out close to $900 billion in benefits over that period. This means that improper payments identified in the inspector general's report were less than 0.3 percent of the total payments in the program.

Since the piece does not provide any context it is likely that many people will be led to believe that the disability program is rife with fraud when in fact the report is indicating the opposite. It would be great if improper payments were zero, but in a program that pays out $140 billion in benefits every year, this is not going to happen. It makes sense to try to reduce improper payments as much as possible, but it doesn't make sense to spend $10 billion to eliminate $2 billion in improper payments.

It is also important to note that there are undoubtedly people who should be getting disability who have been wrongfully denied benefit. We could have workers dying of cancer or unable to work due a heart attack or stroke or other disability who an a judge somehow decided was not eligible. If we put more pressure on judges to turn down claims then there will be more people improperly denied benefits.

There is another important point to keep in mind when the media decided to highlight relatively small amounts of waste or improper payments in government programs. AP has this information because the government investigated its own payment practices and issued a public report. Walmart, GE, and other private companies don't disclose instances of fraud and improper payments so we aren't likely to read AP stories about the waste and abuse in the private sector. (They could do their own investigations, but that's another story.)

Anyhow, if we start hearing political hysteria over $2 BILLION in improper disability payments over the coming months, remember to have sympathy for the folks who have problems with big numbers. 

]]>
SpeakOut Fri, 21 Nov 2014 12:59:32 -0500
Congressman Calls on President Obama to Pardon CIA Whistleblower John Kiriakou http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/27600-congressman-calls-on-president-obama-to-pardon-cia-whistleblower-john-kiriakou http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/27600-congressman-calls-on-president-obama-to-pardon-cia-whistleblower-john-kiriakou

Washington, D.C. – This week, Representative Jim Moran (D-VA) took to the floor of the House of Representatives and called on President Obama to pardon CIA whistleblower and Government Accountability Project (GAP) client John Kiriakou.

"Mr. Kiriakou is an American hero," Rep. Moran said in a moving speech chronicling Kiriakou's contributions to the country, including Kiriakou's "outstanding work in the always-demanding intelligence world" and whistleblowing activities. Rep. Moran elaborated, "John Kiriakou is a whistleblower, as well. The first American intelligence officer to officially and on-record reveal that the US was in the torture business as a matter of White House policy under President [George W.] Bush."

Washington, D.C. – This week, Representative Jim Moran (D-VA) took to the floor of the House of Representatives and called on President Obama to pardon CIA whistleblower and Government Accountability Project (GAP) client John Kiriakou.

"Mr. Kiriakou is an American hero," Rep. Moran said in a moving speech chronicling Kiriakou's contributions to the country, including Kiriakou's "outstanding work in the always-demanding intelligence world" and whistleblowing activities. Rep. Moran elaborated, "John Kiriakou is a whistleblower, as well. The first American intelligence officer to officially and on-record reveal that the US was in the torture business as a matter of White House policy under President [George W.] Bush."

Kiriakou is one of eight people the Obama administration has prosecuted under the Espionage Act for alleged mishandling of classified information, more than all past presidential administrations combined. Faced with incurring millions in legal fees and up to 45 years away from his wife and five children, Kiriakou pleaded guilty in October 2012 to one charge and received a 30-month prison sentence. The government dropped all four of the remaining criminal counts, including all charges brought under the Espionage Act.

Jesselyn Radack, GAP National Security and Human Rights Director and Kiriakou's attorney, stated:

"John Kiriakou is the only CIA officer to go to prison in connection with the George W. Bush-era illegal torture program, and Kiriakou refused to participate in torture and helped expose it publicly. If John Kiriakou had tortured detainees instead of blowing the whistle on torture, he would be free. The President should do everything in his power to correct such a perverse outcome."

While whistleblowers risk Espionage Act charges by telling the public about government misconduct, high-level government officials regularly leak classified information favorable to the government without consequences. The hypocritical double standard in so-called leak prosecutions was not lost on Rep. Moran, whose statement included a stinging condemnation of the selective prosecution of Kiriakou:

"The real issue here is the extremely selective prosecution of John and the ongoing efforts to intimidate him from talking about our intelligence community's misfires. Even former CIA Director Leon Panetta now concedes he accidentally revealed classified information to the writer of Zero Dark Thirty, but faces no legal ramifications. Jose Rodriguez, the CIA's former head of the Clandestine Service, admits to deciding without any legal authorization to erase videotapes of torture sessions so they could never be used in US courts, but has never been forced to answer for this destruction of evidence."

Kiriakou's conduct since beginning his prison sentence in February 2013 speaks to his courage. Kiriakou has continued to speak out about injustice through "Letters from Loretto" published on www.firedoglake.com, despite pressure from the government to stop writing.

]]>
SpeakOut Fri, 21 Nov 2014 12:53:09 -0500
First Yemeni Detainee Released From Gitmo in Years http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/27594-first-yemeni-detainee-released-from-gitmo-in-years http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/27594-first-yemeni-detainee-released-from-gitmo-in-years

November 20, New York – In response to the transfer of five men from Guantanamo, including our Yemeni client Abd Al Hakim Ghalib Ahmad Alhag, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) issued the following statement: “We are grateful to the Republic of Georgia for offering our client a new home where he can begin to rebuild his life after more than a decade in Guantánamo without charge or trial.”  This is the first transfer of a Yemeni man to any country since 2010.

Frank C. Razzano and John C. Snodgrass, who have represented Mr. Alhag for nearly nine years, said, “We are greatly gratified at the news of our client’s release, and we look forward to him building a new life for himself in Georgia.”

November 20, New York – In response to the transfer of five men from Guantanamo, including our Yemeni client Abd Al Hakim Ghalib Ahmad Alhag, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) issued the following statement: “We are grateful to the Republic of Georgia for offering our client a new home where he can begin to rebuild his life after more than a decade in Guantánamo without charge or trial.”  This is the first transfer of a Yemeni man to any country since 2010.

Frank C. Razzano and John C. Snodgrass, who have represented Mr. Alhag for nearly nine years, said, “We are greatly gratified at the news of our client’s release, and we look forward to him building a new life for himself in Georgia.”

Mr. Alhag was the subject of prior resettlement efforts that failed for no fault of his own.  Cleared for release unanimously by all relevant government agencies, his transfer was delayed for years as the US inexplicably opposed his release in court.  The US finally transferred him on the eve of new litigation by the Center for Constitutional Rights challenging his continued indefinite detention based on or because of his Yemeni citizenship.  Such arbitrary detention violates US and international law, including the Geneva Conventions, which the US is obligated to uphold. 

Of the 143 men who remain at Guantánamo, 84 are from Yemen.  Of those, 54 Yemenis are currently approved for transfer. CCR attorneys say they should not be held because of perceived instability in their home country. 

Said CCR Senior Attorney Wells Dixon, “As we welcome Mr. Alhag’s resettlement, we are reminded that the remaining Yemeni men should be sent home or resettled without further delay.”

Said CCR Yemen expert Ibraham Qatabi, “We appreciate the efforts of Ambassador Adel Ali Al-Sanini and the Yemen Embassy in Washington, and we are grateful for their assistance in this case.  We also appreciate their willingness to receive or resettle their remaining nationals as we continue to advocate for the release of our clients, who, but for their Yemeni citizenship, would no longer be detained.” 

]]>
SpeakOut Fri, 21 Nov 2014 12:13:58 -0500
Forbes Writer Smears Snowden, Misses the Boat: The NSA's Programs Aren't About Stopping Terrorism http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/27593-forbes-writer-smears-snowden-misses-the-boat-the-nsa-s-programs-aren-t-about-stopping-terrorism http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/27593-forbes-writer-smears-snowden-misses-the-boat-the-nsa-s-programs-aren-t-about-stopping-terrorism

Recently John Tamny over at Forbes penned a review of the movie Citizenfour. As one might expect, being an establishment columnist, he launches his sophomoric diatribe with a snarky ad hominem attack:

"To watch Cizenfour is to witness an overly paranoid crank. Snowden went through all sorts of hurdles to contact the documentarian in Poitras without being detected by US intelligence, clearly traveled to Hong Kong (where Poitras and Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald interviewed him) under deep cover, but not explained enough was why?"

Paranoid crank? Has Mr. Tamny ever worked as a technical specialist for US intelligence? Should readers genuinely accept that Tamny is a voice of authority on spy tradecraft? Anyone who calls Snowden's behavior paranoid clearly hasn't had a sufficient look at leaked NSA documents. There's an entire catalogue devoted to the kind of tools that literally keep chief security officers up at night. Bridging air gap has been honed to a fine art by US spies as Stuxnet demonstrated. The NSA has capabilities that former STASI officers could only dream of and not even heads of state are immune from them.

Recently John Tamny over at Forbes penned a review of the movie Citizenfour. As one might expect, being an establishment columnist, he launches his sophomoric diatribe with a snarky ad hominem attack:

"To watch Cizenfour is to witness an overly paranoid crank. Snowden went through all sorts of hurdles to contact the documentarian in Poitras without being detected by US intelligence, clearly traveled to Hong Kong (where Poitras and Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald interviewed him) under deep cover, but not explained enough was why?"

Paranoid crank? Has Mr. Tamny ever worked as a technical specialist for US intelligence? Should readers genuinely accept that Tamny is a voice of authority on spy tradecraft? Anyone who calls Snowden's behavior paranoid clearly hasn't had a sufficient look at leaked NSA documents. There's an entire catalogue devoted to the kind of tools that literally keep chief security officers up at night. Bridging air gap has been honed to a fine art by US spies as Stuxnet demonstrated. The NSA has capabilities that former STASI officers could only dream of and not even heads of state are immune from them.

Caution is Snowden's case was actually well advised. Recall how officials went so far as to force Bolivia's President to land his jet for inspection? Viewing this sort of power on display, if you're not paranoid, then you're not paying attention.

Tamny then goes on to claim that the government's surveillance apparatus is a complete failure. That it can't possibly protect the public from terrorists because NSA employees are a bunch of incompetent pretenders who couldn't find work in the private sector. There's no way such people could derive anything "actionable" from their runaway projects:

"Does anyone really believe that the NSA is the exception to the general rule? Do they once again want to believe that someone with an amazing head for numbers would toil for the relatively meager pay that defines government work?.....

"Tracking trillions of communications signals a lack of a strategy, not a serious one meant to find those who mean us harm. To gather trillions of internet searches, e-mails and calls is to gather none. It's presumably impossible to unearth actionable items amid all the information gathered."

While it's true that a larger haystack can make it more difficult to find a needle, there's a fundamental flaw with this train of thought. Not only is the NSA's global surveillance apparatus the product of analytically gifted minds, more importantly it isn't about stopping terrorist attacks. That's merely a pretext. As Snowden himself stated in an open letter to Brazil, the NSA's litany of codenamed programs are geared towards economic espionage, diplomatic manipulation, and social control. They're about power. That and channeling trillions of dollars to the defense industry. The global panopticon is one facet of the Deep State's campaign for perpetual war. In this sense, if you asked a former NSA official like Keith Alexander in confidence, they'd probably smile and tell you that the NSA's mass interception programs have been a tremendous success.

]]>
SpeakOut Fri, 21 Nov 2014 12:07:29 -0500
Report: US Cities Increasingly Spurn Water Privatization http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/27577-report-us-cities-increasingly-spurn-water-privatization http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/27577-report-us-cities-increasingly-spurn-water-privatization

AUSTIN—A new report by Corporate Accountability International (CAI) and Public Services International Research Unit (PSIRU) finds that US cities are rejecting water privatization and taking back public control of their public water systems at a growing rate. The report was released at the annual National League of Cities conference, a forum often exploited by the private water industry to lobby and market its services.  

The release of the report, titled “Troubled Waters: Misleading industry PR and the case for public water” comes in the midst of uncertainty about the state of public water systems nationwide. Prominent cases like Detroit’s recent shut-offs are stoking the public’s concerns about who controls America’s water systems and to what end. As federal funding for public water infrastructure dries up, corporations are rushing to fill the void with false promises that gloss over track records of rate hikes, water quality concerns, labor abuses and political interference.

AUSTIN—A new report by Corporate Accountability International (CAI) and Public Services International Research Unit (PSIRU) finds that US cities are rejecting water privatization and taking back public control of their public water systems at a growing rate. The report was released at the annual National League of Cities conference, a forum often exploited by the private water industry to lobby and market its services.  

The release of the report, titled “Troubled Waters: Misleading industry PR and the case for public water” comes in the midst of uncertainty about the state of public water systems nationwide. Prominent cases like Detroit’s recent shut-offs are stoking the public’s concerns about who controls America’s water systems and to what end. As federal funding for public water infrastructure dries up, corporations are rushing to fill the void with false promises that gloss over track records of rate hikes, water quality concerns, labor abuses and political interference.

The report finds that, since 2003, more than 30 US municipalities, including major cities like Atlanta and Indianapolis, have taken control of their water systems away from private water corporations like Veolia and Suez (known as United Water in the US). Water remunicipalization in the US is part of a global trend, with more than 100 cases of remunicipalization globally in the last two decades. In many cases, cities have saved millions of dollars after remunicipalizing; for example, Paris saved $46 million in the first year after terminating its contracts with Veolia and Suez.

“Make no mistake: Contracts with Veolia and Suez are bad deals for the community,” said Erin McNally-Diaz, director of Corporate Accountability International’s Public Water Works! campaign. “This report exposes what many communities across the country have learned the hard way: when you invite the private water industry into the picture, you jeopardize public health, affordable water, and the sustainability of your water system.”

The report cites specific examples of the failure of private water deals and the movement to take the systems back. In New Jersey, for instance, United Water avoids paying for critical infrastructure like underground pipes, despite profiting from water management contracts throughout the state. And in St. Louis  a groundswell of public opposition based on the corporation’s track record of abuse led Veolia to withdraw its bid.

Given the public’s mistrust of privatization, private water corporations are repackaging their services, using such terms as “public-private partnerships”—a euphemism for privatization—and “consulting contracts” which could lead to privatization. In St. Louis, for instance, Great Rivers Environmental Law Center, a law firm providing public interest legal services, concluded that Veolia’s Peer Performance Solutions contract model would have the effect of "privatizing the city’s Water Division,” making city residents “captive to Veolia.”

In addition to public relations, the private water industry also relies on political interference to expand its market in the US At the federal level, private water industry front groups have testified on behalf of public-private partnerships and have lobbied the IRS and Treasury Department to adjust domestic tax law in an effort to expand the market for water privatization in the US At the state level, United Water lobbied legislators to oppose bills designed to increase the industry’s transparency to communities where it operates. In Illinois, the industry contributed to a legislator’s campaign who led the charge to enact the state’s fast-tracked water privatization law.

And, perhaps most disturbingly, at the city level, Veolia and United Water have long track records of discussing private water contracts with public officials behind closed doors with almost no public discourse or transparency. Veolia, United Water and American Water, for example, are full advisory board members of the US Conference of Mayor’s Water Council, positioning themselves as experts to mayors with virtually no public scrutiny or alternative viewpoints in the room.

The report draws its conclusions from interviews with dozens of public officials, data about water remunicipalizations from more than 100 cities globally, and direct engagement with community members involved in water management in cities across the country. The report is authored by Emanuele Lobina, a Principal Lecturer, PSIRU, at the University of Greenwich, UK Business School. Lobina is one of the leading analysts of the impact of privatization and liberalization on public services, with a focus on water services.

To download the full report, visit Public Services International Research Unit or Corporate Accountability International.

]]>
SpeakOut Thu, 20 Nov 2014 14:11:39 -0500
Greenpeace Champions the Marshall Islands http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/27575-greenpeace-champions-the-marshall-islands http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/27575-greenpeace-champions-the-marshall-islands

Santa Barbara – Greenpeace, the most inclusive, people-powered collective movement in the world, is lending its strong support to the Marshall Islands and the Nuclear Zero lawsuits. In doing so, they are sending a clear message to the world that it is long past time for the nuclear Goliaths to begin negotiations for nuclear disarmament.

Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director of Greenpeace International said, “We stand with the people of the Marshall Islands in their fight to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Having seen their land, sea and people poisoned by radiation, they are now taking to task the nine nuclear-armed nations for failing to eliminate this danger which threatens humanity at large.”  He continued, “Greenpeace salutes their struggle and joins them in declaring that Zero is the only safe number of nuclear weapons on the planet.”

Santa Barbara – Greenpeace, the most inclusive, people-powered collective movement in the world, is lending its strong support to the Marshall Islands and the Nuclear Zero lawsuits. In doing so, they are sending a clear message to the world that it is long past time for the nuclear Goliaths to begin negotiations for nuclear disarmament.

Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director of Greenpeace International said, “We stand with the people of the Marshall Islands in their fight to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Having seen their land, sea and people poisoned by radiation, they are now taking to task the nine nuclear-armed nations for failing to eliminate this danger which threatens humanity at large.”  He continued, “Greenpeace salutes their struggle and joins them in declaring that Zero is the only safe number of nuclear weapons on the planet.”

“We are thrilled to have Greenpeace on board in this unprecedented effort,” said Rick Wayman, Director of Programs at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. “Their commitment to peaceful solutions and a better world could not be stronger, their bandwidth is huge and their ability to communicate creatively is unparalleled. Having their support will mean a great deal to the Marshall Islanders in their efforts to bring the nuclear-armed nations to the negotiating table.”

The Marshall Islands is a small island nation in the Pacific whose people have suffered greatly as a result of U.S. atmospheric and underwater nuclear tests in the 1940s and 1950s. Led by Foreign Minister Tony de Brum, this courageous nation is now at the forefront of activism for nuclear abolition. “After seeing what mere testing can do to human beings, it makes sense for the Marshallese people to implore the nuclear weapons nations to begin the hard task of disarmament. All we ask is that this terrible threat be removed from our world,” said Mr. de Brum.

On April 24, 2014, The Marshall Islands filed unprecedented lawsuits in the International Court of Justice and U.S. Federal Court to hold the nine nuclear-armed nations accountable for flagrant violations of international law with respect to their nuclear disarmament obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and customary international law. The lawsuits do not seek monetary reparations. Rather, they seek a judicial order to require the nuclear-armed countries to cease modernizing their nuclear arsenals and to commence negotiations for complete nuclear disarmament.

In a strong show of unity and strength, Mr. Naidoo has added his name to an open letter of support for the Marshall Islands lawsuits. The letter states, in part, “In taking this action, you [the Marshall Islands] and any governments that choose to join you, are acting on behalf of all the seven billion people who now live on Earth and on behalf of the generations yet unborn who could never be born if nuclear weapons are ever used in large numbers.” In addition to Mr. Naidoo, the letter is signed by Nobel Peace Laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mairead Maguire, Oscar Arias, Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, and Adolpho Pérez Esquivel and some 80 other peace and social justice leaders from more than 25 countries around the world. To read the letter in its entirety, go to www.wagingpeace.org/rmi-open-letter.

The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation has supported the Marshall Islands and their bold initiative since the project’s inception, serving as their strategic consultant while also assembling and coordinating a coalition of U.S. and international experts providing legal counsel to the Marshall Islands.

“The Marshall Islands has given humanity a wake-up call. Each of us has a choice. We can wake up, or we can continue our complacent slumber,” said David Krieger, President of the Nuclear Age Peace Founation. “The safety and security of every inhabitant of the planet, now and in the future, is at stake.”

Anyone wishing to support the Marshall Islanders can do so by signing the #NuclearZero petition calling on nuclear weapons nations to urgently fulfill their moral duty and legal obligation to begin negotiations for complete nuclear disarmament. Visit www.nuclearzero.org

Read the Greenpeace blog, Marshall Islands takes on the nuclear-armed states, for all our sakes, at www.bit.ly/gp-zero. Follow the Nuclear Zero lawsuits at facebook.com/wagingpeace and twitter.com/napf. And follow Greenpeace at facebook.com/greenpeace.international and twitter.com/greenpeace.

]]>
SpeakOut Thu, 20 Nov 2014 14:03:05 -0500
African Mayors Call for Debt Cancellation for Ebola-Stricken West Africa http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/27574-african-mayors-call-for-debt-cancellation-for-ebola-stricken-west-africa http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/27574-african-mayors-call-for-debt-cancellation-for-ebola-stricken-west-africa

Washington, DCAfrican mayors gathered in Accra, Ghana to call on the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank to cancel debts owed by the countries impacted by the Ebola epidemic. The Global Alliance of Mayors and Leaders from Africa and of African Descent made the call in a communique named "The Accra Accord on Ebola." This call follows efforts by Jubilee USA, a religious debt relief group, to move forward a debt relief plan for Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. The plan was endorsed by the US government who brought the plan to the G20 summit. 100 million dollars in debt relief could become available from a special IMF trust fund set aside for countries impacted by natural disasters.

"The call from African mayors must be heard," said Eric LeCompte, Executive Director of Jubilee USA. "Debt relief means a long term investment in health infrastructure in the countries affected by Ebola."

Washington, DC - African mayors gathered in Accra, Ghana to call on the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank to cancel debts owed by the countries impacted by the Ebola epidemic. The Global Alliance of Mayors and Leaders from Africa and of African Descent made the call in a communique named "The Accra Accord on Ebola." This call follows efforts by Jubilee USA, a religious debt relief group, to move forward a debt relief plan for Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. The plan was endorsed by the US government who brought the plan to the G20 summit. 100 million dollars in debt relief could become available from a special IMF trust fund set aside for countries impacted by natural disasters.

"The call from African mayors must be heard," said Eric LeCompte, Executive Director of Jubilee USA. "Debt relief means a long term investment in health infrastructure in the countries affected by Ebola."

Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia owe an estimated $370 million to the IMF, $55 million of which is due over the next two years. Guinea, where the outbreak began, spends more money annually on debt than on public health. US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew is negotiating with the G20 to make the debt relief plan a reality. The IMF trust fund, where the debt relief funds are available, was established in 2010 when Jubilee USA called for the cancellation of Haiti's debt after its devastating earthquake.

"Debt relief is not only needed to fight Ebola, but also to strengthen these health systems for the future," said LeCompte, who sits on UN expert groups that monitor the global debt crisis. "We stand with these African leaders and call for debt cancellation." 

Read more about the Global Alliance of Mayors and Leaders from Africa and of African Descent's statement on Ebola

Read more about Jubilee's efforts to win debt relief for Ebola-stricken countries.

Read Jubilee USA's release on the US Treasury's call for the G20 to support debt relief for Ebola affected countries.

]]>
SpeakOut Thu, 20 Nov 2014 13:32:54 -0500
The Government That Really Runs America http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/27572-the-government-that-really-runs-america http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/27572-the-government-that-really-runs-america

This is no conspiracy theory. This is a well-known fact by those inside the beltway. While the American people are told about the endless "gridlock" within our government, many aspects of the "Deep State" run completely smoothly no matter what the American people think. Wars do not stop, Wall Street does not slow, and NSA surveillance keeps going at a breakneck speed. "The Deep State" is how the US Government ACTUALLY runs.

This is no conspiracy theory. This is a well-known fact by those inside the beltway. While the American people are told about the endless "gridlock" within our government, many aspects of the "Deep State" run completely smoothly no matter what the American people think. Wars do not stop, Wall Street does not slow, and NSA surveillance keeps going at a breakneck speed. "The Deep State" is how the US Government ACTUALLY runs.

]]>
SpeakOut Thu, 20 Nov 2014 12:02:10 -0500
Paying Off Student Debt Is Saving http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/27571-paying-off-student-debt-is-saving http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/27571-paying-off-student-debt-is-saving

Hate to be the econ nerd here, but this is the sort of thing that folks writing on economics should get straight. (The failure by econ writers to get such things right is one reason that Jonathan Gruber thinks the public is "stupid.") Anyhow, Catherine Rampell messes this one up in an otherwise reasonable piece discussing differences in saving rates by age.

The piece notes the negative saving rate reported for people under age 34 and then comments:

"These numbers have inspired various condemnatory headlines and think pieces about my generation’s irresponsible savings deficit. The more sympathetic coverage has at least acknowledged the effects of student loan debt and high youth unemployment, but even those articles came loaded with judgment."

Hate to be the econ nerd here, but this is the sort of thing that folks writing on economics should get straight. (The failure by econ writers to get such things right is one reason that Jonathan Gruber thinks the public is "stupid.") Anyhow, Catherine Rampell messes this one up in an otherwise reasonable piece discussing differences in saving rates by age.

The piece notes the negative saving rate reported for people under age 34 and then comments:

"These numbers have inspired various condemnatory headlines and think pieces about my generation’s irresponsible savings deficit. The more sympathetic coverage has at least acknowledged the effects of student loan debt and high youth unemployment, but even those articles came loaded with judgment."

Paying off student loan debt, just like paying off credit card debt or paying down a mortgage, is a form of saving. If young people are actually paying off large amounts of student debt then they would have a high saving rate, not a low saving rate.

The chart accompanying the column is interesting not only for the breakdowns by age, but because it shows the overall saving rate. It shows that the saving rate is actually relatively low, meaning that people are spending a lot. (This would be even clearer if it went back to years before 1990.)

We have heard endless comments from economists and economic reporters trying to explain why people are not spending following the collapse of the housing bubble. The simplest explanation is that they are spending, albeit not at the same levels as when they had $8 trillion of ephemeral bubble wealth driving their consumption. This is one of those points that is far too simple for economists to understand. 

]]>
SpeakOut Thu, 20 Nov 2014 11:51:50 -0500
Commemorate Universal Children's Day: End Child Labor http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/27570-commemorate-universal-children-s-day-end-child-labor http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/27570-commemorate-universal-children-s-day-end-child-labor

November 20 is Universal Children’s Day, a day devoted to observing the welfare of the world’s children. Unfortunately, in the U.S and elsewhere, children are still denied fundamental human rights. Children worldwide suffer from corporal punishment in homes and schools, are denied access to schooling, are forced to join violent militias, and a endure a host of other atrocities that clearly violate the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and other international human rights treaties. One issue that has received attention in the past few months is that of child labor.

According to the International Labor Office, there are about 168 million child laborers globally, which accounts for approximately one in 10 of the world’s children. Albeit a one-third reduction since 2000, the problem remains acute. An estimated 13 million children work in India alone, despite laws prohibiting child labor and mandating school attendance.  About four percent of child laborers are in forced or bonded labor, prostitution, or fighting in armed conflict. The remainder of the world’s child laborers work in family businesses or on family farms, where they often toil as much as 27 hours per week and are, like the child tobacco laborers, exposed to a variety of dangerous chemicals and pesticides.

November 20 is Universal Children’s Day, a day devoted to observing the welfare of the world’s children. Unfortunately, in the U.S and elsewhere, children are still denied fundamental human rights. Children worldwide suffer from corporal punishment in homes and schools, are denied access to schooling, are forced to join violent militias, and a endure a host of other atrocities that clearly violate the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and other international human rights treaties. One issue that has received attention in the past few months is that of child labor.

According to the International Labor Office, there are about 168 million child laborers globally, which accounts for approximately one in 10 of the world’s children. Albeit a one-third reduction since 2000, the problem remains acute. An estimated 13 million children work in India alone, despite laws prohibiting child labor and mandating school attendance.  About four percent of child laborers are in forced or bonded labor, prostitution, or fighting in armed conflict. The remainder of the world’s child laborers work in family businesses or on family farms, where they often toil as much as 27 hours per week and are, like the child tobacco laborers, exposed to a variety of dangerous chemicals and pesticides.

In a report from May 2014, Human Rights Watch found that child laborers in the US were routinely exposed to nicotine, toxic pesticides, extreme heat, and other dangers. Interviews with these children found widespread reports of headaches, dizziness, nausea and vomiting whole working, which is suggestive of acute nicotine poisoning.  In the US, there is no minimum age for children to work on small farms, and children as young as 12 can work on tobacco farms with no regulations to protect them from the hazards of the work.

Thankfully, there does seem to be some movement on these issues. Kailash Satyarthi, co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prizes (with Malala Yousefzi), founded the South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude, which has raided factories across India, freeing more than 40,000 bonded laborers. Many of the workers were children who lived under armed guard.

On October 14, 2014, labor ministers and representatives of 25 Latin American and Caribbean countries signed a declaration launching an initiative to rid the region of child labor. And, while I have never been a smoker and am not a fan of the tobacco industry. I want to applaud tobacco giant Philip Morris International, however, for its initiative to reduce the harmful exploitation of child laborers in the US On November 5, 2014, Philip Morris International announced that it will begin buying US-grown tobacco only through third-party leaf supply companies. Previously, the company purchased tobacco directly from tobacco farmers. According to Human Rights Watch, of the world’s 10 largest tobacco companies, Philip Morris International has the most rigorous standards related to child labor. It prohibits children under the age of 18 from many of the most hazardous tasks on tobacco farms. According to researchers at Human Rights Watch (HRW), this decision will now mean that thousands of tobacco farms will now have to meet much higher child labor standards.

Still more can and should be done. In the US, we should move to ratify the CRC. Only the US and Somalia have not done so. While ratification of a human rights treaty by no means ensures that all human rights violations will cease, if nothing else it is a powerful symbol that the rights of children are important and it can be a much-needed prompt to address some of our inadequate protections for children. 

Globally, one of the obvious primary reasons that children work is because their families need the income. As Charles Kenny wrote recently in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, passing laws alone sometimes makes the situation worse. Economists Prashant Bharadwaj and Leah Lakdawala studied the impact of India’s 1986 child labor law and found that it drove wages for children down and the number of hours they worked up, with the biggest impact felt in poor families. Instead, we must support the education of children and help cover the costs of schooling for families who cannot afford it. Some countries have begun paying families to keep their kids in school. Mexico’s Opportunidades program gives mothers two-thirds of what their daughters would earn in the labor force if they keep the girls in school through the ninth grade, which has reduced that country’s child labor rates by as much as a quarter. Other efforts include covering some of the expenses associated with schooling in the developing world, like school meals and uniforms.

As Whitney Houston sang, “the children are our future. We must teach them well and let them lead the way.”

]]>
SpeakOut Thu, 20 Nov 2014 11:43:52 -0500