Archive for the 'Politics' Category

16
Aug
15

Political Correctness vs. Freedom of Thought – The Keith John Sampson Story

This is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard.

06
Aug
15

August 6, 2015 GOP debates

This has to be the most disturbing thing I’ve seen in all my my political watching. Original found at Slate.

20150806_GOP Debate Results

Seriously, were ya’ll watching the same debate as me? Trump is and was an absolute blathering idiot. I swear I was watching this going “after this people will see how truly unfit Trump is after this.” Then this poll?

OMG.

24
Mar
15

Why Mass Surveillance Can’t, Won’t, And Never Has Stopped A Terrorist

Benjamin Franklin said, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” So when do we step back and ask what is working and what is not – and also what freedoms are we giving up to gain this temporary security?

Original article found here.

Photo by pulparindo

Photo by pulparindo

In his latest bestseller,Data and Goliath, world-renowned security expert and author Bruce Schneier goes deep into the world of surveillance, investigating how governments and corporations alike monitor nearly our every move. In this excerpt, Schneier explains how we are fed a false narrative of how our surveillance state is able to stop terrorist attacks before they happen. In fact, Schneier argues, the idea that our government is able to parse all the invasive and personal data they collect on us is laughable. The data-mining conducted every day only seems to take valuable resources and time away from the tactics that should be used to fight terrorism.

The NSA repeatedly uses a connect-the-dots metaphor to justify its surveillance activities. Again and again — after 9/11, after the Underwear Bomber, after the Boston Marathon bombings — government is criticized for not connecting the dots.

However, this is a terribly misleading metaphor. Connecting the dots in a coloring book is easy, because they’re all numbered and visible. In real life, the dots can only be recognized after the fact.

That doesn’t stop us from demanding to know why the authorities couldn’t connect the dots. The warning signs left by the Fort Hood shooter, the Boston Marathon bombers, and the Isla Vista shooter look obvious in hindsight. Nassim Taleb, an expert on risk engineering, calls this tendency the “narrative fallacy.” Humans are natural storytellers, and the world of stories is much more tidy, predictable, and coherent than reality. Millions of people behave strangely enough to attract the FBI’s notice, and almost all of them are harmless. The TSA’s no-fly list has over 20,000 people on it. The Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, also known as the watch list, has 680,000, 40% of whom have “no recognized terrorist group affiliation.”

Data mining is offered as the technique that will enable us to connect those dots. But while corporations are successfully mining our personal data in order to target advertising, detect financial fraud, and perform other tasks, three critical issues make data mining an inappropriate tool for finding terrorists.

The first, and most important, issue is error rates. For advertising, data mining can be successful even with a large error rate, but finding terrorists requires a much higher degree of accuracy than data-mining systems can possibly provide.

Data mining works best when you’re searching for a well-defined profile, when there are a reasonable number of events per year, and when the cost of false alarms is low. Detecting credit card fraud is one of data mining’s security success stories: all credit card companies mine their transaction databases for spending patterns that indicate a stolen card. There are over a billion active credit cards in circulation in the United States, and nearly 8% of those are fraudulently used each year. Many credit card thefts share a pattern — purchases in locations not normally frequented by the cardholder, and purchases of travel, luxury goods, and easily fenced items — and in many cases data-mining systems can minimize the losses by preventing fraudulent transactions. The only cost of a false alarm is a phone call to the cardholder asking her to verify a couple of her purchases.

Similarly, the IRS uses data mining to identify tax evaders, the police use it to predict crime hot spots, and banks use it to predict loan defaults. These applications have had mixed success, based on the data and the application, but they’re all within the scope of what data mining can accomplish.

Terrorist plots are different, mostly because whereas fraud is common, terrorist attacks are very rare. This means that even highly accurate terrorism prediction systems will be so flooded with false alarms that they will be useless.

The reason lies in the mathematics of detection. All detection systems have errors, and system designers can tune them to minimize either false positives or false negatives. In a terrorist-detection system, a false positive occurs when the system mistakenly identifies something harmless as a threat. A false negative occurs when the system misses an actual attack. Depending on how you “tune” your detection system, you can increase the number of false positives to assure you are less likely to miss an attack, or you can reduce the number of false positives at the expense of missing attacks.

Because terrorist attacks are so rare, false positives completely overwhelm the system, no matter how well you tune. And I mean completely: millions of people will be falsely accused for every real terrorist plot the system finds, if it ever finds any.

We might be able to deal with all of the innocents being flagged by the system if the cost of false positives were minor. Think about the full-body scanners at airports. Those alert all the time when scanning people. But a TSA officer can easily check for a false alarm with a simple pat-down. This doesn’t work for a more general data-based terrorism-detection system. Each alert requires a lengthy investigation to determine whether it’s real or not. That takes time and money, and prevents intelligence officers from doing other productive work. Or, more pithily, when you’re watching everything, you’re not seeing anything.

The US intelligence community also likens finding a terrorist plot to looking for a needle in a haystack. And, as former NSA director General Keith Alexander said, “you need the haystack to find the needle.” That statement perfectly illustrates the problem with mass surveillance and bulk collection. When you’re looking for the needle, the last thing you want to do is pile lots more hay on it. More specifically, there is no scientific rationale for believing that adding irrelevant data about innocent people makes it easier to find a terrorist attack, and lots of evidence that it does not. You might be adding slightly more signal, but you’re also adding much more noise. And despite the NSA’s “collect it all” mentality, its own documents bear this out. The military intelligence community even talks about the problem of “drinking from a fire hose”: having so much irrelevant data that it’s impossible to find the important bits.

We saw this problem with the NSA’s eavesdropping program: the false positives overwhelmed the system. In the years after 9/11, the NSA passed to the FBI thousands of tips per month; every one of them turned out to be a false alarm. The cost was enormous, and ended up frustrating the FBI agents who were obligated to investigate all the tips. We also saw this with the Suspicious Activity Reports —or SAR — database: tens of thousands of reports, and no actual results. And all the telephone metadata the NSA collected led to just one success: the conviction of a taxi driver who sent $8,500 to a Somali group that posed no direct threat to the US — and that was probably trumped up so the NSA would have better talking points in front of Congress.

The second problem with using data-mining techniques to try to uncover terrorist plots is that each attack is unique. Who would have guessed that two pressure-cooker bombs would be delivered to the Boston Marathon finish line in backpacks by a Boston college kid and his older brother? Each rare individual who carries out a terrorist attack will have a disproportionate impact on the criteria used to decide who’s a likely terrorist, leading to ineffective detection strategies.

The third problem is that the people the NSA is trying to find are wily, and they’re trying to avoid detection. In the world of personalized marketing, the typical surveillance subject isn’t trying to hide his activities. That is not true in a police or national security context. An adversarial relationship makes the problem much harder, and means that most commercial big data analysis tools just don’t work. A commercial tool can simply ignore people trying to hide and assume benign behavior on the part of everyone else. Government data-mining techniques can’t do that, because those are the very people they’re looking for.

Adversaries vary in the sophistication of their ability to avoid surveillance. Most criminals and terrorists — and political dissidents, sad to say — are pretty unsavvy and make lots of mistakes. But that’s no justification for data mining; targeted surveillance could potentially identify them just as well. The question is whether mass surveillance performs sufficiently better than targeted surveillance to justify its extremely high costs. Several analyses of all the NSA’s efforts indicate that it does not.

The three problems listed above cannot be fixed. Data mining is simply the wrong tool for this job, which means that all the mass surveillance required to feed it cannot be justified. When he was NSA director, General Keith Alexander argued that ubiquitous surveillance would have enabled the NSA to prevent 9/11. That seems unlikely. He wasn’t able to prevent the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, even though one of the bombers was on the terrorist watch list and both had sloppy social media trails — and this was after a dozen post-9/11 years of honing techniques. The NSA collected data on the Tsarnaevs before the bombing, but hadn’t realized that it was more important than the data they collected on millions of other people.

This point was made in the 9/11 Commission Report. That report described a failure to “connect the dots,” which proponents of mass surveillance claim requires collection of more data. But what the report actually said was that the intelligence community had all the information about the plot without mass surveillance, and that the failures were the result of inadequate analysis.

Mass surveillance didn’t catch underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in 2006, even though his father had repeatedly warned the U.S. government that he was dangerous. And the liquid bombers (they’re the reason governments prohibit passengers from bringing large bottles of liquids, creams, and gels on airplanes in their carry-on luggage) were captured in 2006 in their London apartment not due to mass surveillance but through traditional investigative police work. Whenever we learn about an NSA success, it invariably comes from targeted surveillance rather than from mass surveillance. One analysis showed that the FBI identifies potential terrorist plots from reports of suspicious activity, reports of plots, and investigations of other, unrelated, crimes.

This is a critical point. Ubiquitous surveillance and data mining are not suitable tools for finding dedicated criminals or terrorists. We taxpayers are wasting billions on mass-surveillance programs, and not getting the security we’ve been promised. More importantly, the money we’re wasting on these ineffective surveillance programs is not being spent on investigation, intelligence, and emergency response: tactics that have been proven to work. The NSA’s surveillance efforts have actually made us less secure.

07
Mar
15

Remove everything that might be offensive!

I don’t get these people who eagerly try to eliminate everything that might be offensive. Seriously though, if you try hard enough couldn’t you find offense in everything? Original article found here.

 

americanflag_closeupIRVINE, Calif. — The student government at University of California, Irvine has voted to ban display of the American flag — or any flag — from its lobby.

A resolution that was narrowly approved by the legislative council of the campus’ Associated Students calls bans all flags from the common lobby area of student government offices, according to the Orange County Register. It prompted removal of the American flag from a lobby wall.

The student council approved the resolution on a 6-4 vote Thursday, with two abstentions. The executive cabinet was expected to consider a veto on Saturday.

The resolution authored by student Matthew Guevara of the university’s social ecology school lists 25 reasons for the ban, saying that the American flag has been flown in times of “colonialism and imperialism” and could symbolize American “exceptionalism and superiority.” The resolution says “freedom of speech, in a space that aims to be as inclusive as possible, can be interpreted as hate speech.”

The American flag had hung on a wall in the student government suite. A few weeks ago, someone removed the flag and put it on the desk of Reza Zomorrodian, the Associated Students’ president, with an anonymous note saying it shouldn’t be in the lobby.

The executive members decided to put up the flag again. Then the resolution was brought to the council.

Zomorrodian, an opponent of the ban, said the American flag was “an iconic and symbolic representation of our values in the U.S.”

On Friday, state Sen. Janet Nguyen, R-Santa Ana, said she and other legislators may introduce a state constitutional amendment to prohibit “state-funded universities and college campuses from banning the United States flag.”

03
Mar
15

What is race and why do politicians keep talking about it?

Original article found here.

aylmertwins

“There’s a set of biracial twins in the UK who are turning heads because one is black and the other is white.” That’s how the New York Post introduced a profile of Lucy and Maria Aylmer, 18-year-olds whose father identifies as white and whose mother is “half-Jamaican” (and, we’re to assume, thinks of herself as black).

It’s just the most recent story of fraternal twins born with such dramatic variations in complexion they’re seen by many — and even see themselves  — as members of two different racial groups.

Each of these situations and their accompanying striking images, is a reminder of how fluid and subjective the racial categories we’re all familiar with are.

What “black and white twins” can teach us about race: it’s not real

Lucy and Maria’s story, and all the other sensational tales in the ” Black and White Twins: born a minute apart” vein are actually just overblown reports on siblings who, because of normal genetic variations that show up in more striking ways in their cases, have different complexions.

But they’re fascinating because they highlight just how flimsy and open to interpretation the racial categories we use in the US and around the world are.

Even the Post’s description of the Aylmer twins is clumsy, asserting that they’re each “biracial,” but stating in the very same sentence that one is white and the other is black.

And the fact that the two, despite having the same parents,  see themselves as belonging to two different racial groups ( “I am white and Maria is black,” Lucy told the Post) proves that there’s a lot more than biology or heritage informing racial identity.

It’s a reminder that the racial categories we use are fickle, flexible, open to interpretation, and have just as many exceptions as they do rules when it comes to their criteria for membership— that’s why they have been described as “not real,” meaning:

  • They’re not based on facts that people can even begin to agree on. (If we can’t even get a consensus that people with the same parents are the same race, where does that leave us?)
  • They’re not permanent. (If Lucy decides one day, like many other people with similar backgrounds, that her Jamaican mother is black and therefore, so is she, who’s to stop her?)
  • They’re not scientific. (There’s no blood test or medical assessment that will provide a “white” result for Lucy and a “black” one for Maria.)
  • They’re not consistent (Other twins with the same respective looks and identical parentage as these twins, might both choose to call themselves black or biracial.)

For more on this, read 11 ways race isn’t real , and watch this short video.

“Not real” doesn’t mean not important

Of course, none of this changes the fact that the concept of race is hugely important in our lives, in the United States, in the UK where the twins live, and around the world.

There’s no question that the way people categorize Lucy and Maria, and the way they think of themselves, will affect their lives.

That’s because, even though race is highly subjective, racism and discrimination based on what people believe about race are very real. The racial categories to which we’re assigned, based on how we look to others or how we identify, can determine real-life experiences, inspire hate, drive political outcomes, and make the difference between life and death.

But it’s still  important to remember that these consequences are a result of human-created racial categories that are based on shaky reasoning and shady motivations. This makes the borders of the various groups impossible to pin down — as the “black and white” twins demonstrate — and renders modern debates about how particular people should identify futile.

23
Feb
15

Arizona SB1167: Fail to pass Senate

SB1167 failed to pass today with 13-15-2-0.

YEA:
Sen. Sylvia Allen [R]
Sen. Andy Biggs [R]
Sen. Judy Burges [R]
Sen. Jeff Dial [R]
Sen. David Farnsworth [R]
Sen. Gail Griffin [R]
Sen. John Kavanagh [R]
Sen. Debbie Lesko [R]
Sen. Don Shooter [R]
Sen. Steve Smith [R]
Sen. Kelli Ward [R]
Sen. Steven Yarbrough [R]
Sen. Kimberly Yee [R]

NAY:
Sen. Edward Ableser [D]
Sen. Nancy Barto [R]
Sen. Carlyle Begay [D]
Sen. David Bradley [D]
Sen. Lupe Contreras [D]
Sen. Andrea Dalessandro [D]
Sen. Adam Driggs [R]
Sen. Steve Farley [D]
Sen. Katie Hobbs [D]
Sen. Robert Meza [D]
Sen. Catherine Miranda [D]
Sen. Lynne Pancrazi [D]
Sen. Stephen Pierce [R]
Sen. Martin Quezada [D]
Sen. Bob Worsley [R]

NO VOTE:
Sen. Olivia Bedford [D]
Sen. Barbara McGuire [D]

22
Feb
15

The end of red-light SCAMeras in Arizona?

redlightcamera

Ticketing cameras have been popping up in increased numbers over the last decade. Some of them only measure speed, others red-light running, some actively scan licence plates, and some do a combination of all those. To be honest, we all want to be safe on the road. Nobody likes it when someone runs a red light and certainly not when someone runs a red light and causes an accident. The question remains however of whether or not these ticketing cameras help curb the problem of speeding or red-light running. In fact, some argue that the cameras do more harm than good.

I agree with the sentiment that these cameras do more harm than good and I think anyone that lives with them would agree. I remember here in Arizona we had speed cameras on the highway and red light cameras on the corners. It was nearly a death trap on the highway where everyone would be cruising along ([above the speed limit] and when you got in the area of a speed camera everyone would slam on their brakes. Of course, logic should tell you that if everyone is suddenly slamming on their brakes that there is eventually going to be an uptick of rear-end collisions.

Whiplash anyone?

So while the cameras may have stopped people from speeding, did it actually make us more safe? If we traded decreased speed for an increase in rear-end collisions then I’d personally say that the safety of our community was degraded and I think that many would agree.

Likewise with red-light cameras and safety. We may have stopped people from running red lights but we have also increased the likelihood that people slam on their brakes at the sight of a yellow light instead of safely proceeding through and avoiding a rear-end collision. I know that I personally know where the cameras are at in my neighborhood and I try to avoid them. If I can’t avoid them then I approach them with caution – I’m always super paranoid that if I stop on yellow (to avoid running the red light) then I will be rear-ended by someone behind me who isn’t paying attention or simply isn’t expecting me to stop. I literally go through these intersections staring at my rear-view mirror! Scary – shouldn’t my eyes be forward and scanning the road in front of me?

We have all heard the reports when these cameras were being put in about how safe they made people – how people drove slower and ran less red-lights. But were those “studies” done by independent organizations, by lobbyist, or by the camera companies themselves? It seems to me that these studies very well may have been done by the latter two groups. This is even more true due to the fact of all the scandals and judgments handed down against these camera companies – everything from bribery to changing the yellow light timing to ensure more captures.

Here in Arizona we are pushing to finally rid ourselves of this cancer and return ourselves to a more sane, logical, and Constitutional way of nabbing those who break traffic laws by passing SB1167, entitled “Photo radar; prohibition.” So far the bill has managed to pass all paces and has picked up some notable endorsements, to include:

  • Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) supports a ban on photo ticketing. (citation needed)
  • Pinal County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) – Sheriff Babeu ended photo ticketing in his county immediately after taking office. He wrote Senator Ward aletter in support of SB 1167.
  • Phoenix Law Enforcement Association voted unanimously last week to support SB 1167
  • Richard Mack, a former two-term Graham County Sheriff, and current candidate for Navajo County Sheriff has been calling Arizona Senate members in support of SB 1167. (citation needed)

Tomorrow, 23 February 2015, is the day that the Arizona Senate votes on SB1167. Please consider contacting your Senator and telling them to vote YEA for SB1167. If you do not know their contact information then click here. The email I sent simply said “Please represent me by voting YEA for SB1167.”

Other items that you may want to consider that make red light cameras Unconstitutional:

  • 4th Amendment: The cameras scan the license plate and run the MVD data (your personal information) of every motorist in Arizona that passes by them, tracking people like cattle. This is a unwarranted search.
  • 5th Amendment: Photo tickets demand a fine be paid, or face the seizure of capital and possessions without offering due process. It’s simply a rubber stamp by an employee of the company who is collecting the fine.
  • 6th Amendment: There is no way to exercise your right to face your accuser, when the accuser is a machine.
  • 7th Amendment: There is no option for a trial because they’ve taken that right away from you with photo tickets, even though the fines can go as high as $350 in the state of Arizona.
  • 14th Amendment: Two sets of standards have been created for the same offenses. Red light and speed camera tickets are treated completely differently by the courts, which is a clear violation of your right to equal protection under the laws. And no machine can replace a sworn peace officer conduction traffic stops.

Below is a link with a collection of studies on whether or not red-light cameras increase public safety.

Red Light Camera Studies show increase in accidents

Arizona can do this. I reported in May 2010 about how Arizona got rid of the speed cameras on the highways – so this is totally possible, especially if we all call our politicians and tell them to support this bill!

21
Feb
15

The Minimum Wage and Magical Thinking

My mother always told me that money doesn’t grow on trees, but apparently it does in some people’s world. It is baffling to think that people think that if you raise the minimum wage that there won’t be effects felt elsewhere. Do they think that companies (owners and CEOs) are just simply going to eat the loss? Or that patrons will simply buy the same food, at the same rate, for an increase fare? Magical thinking indeed. Original by  is found here.

If all other factors remain equal, the higher the price of a good, the less people will demand it. That’s the law of demand, a fundamental idea in economics. And yet there is no shortage of politicians, pundits, policy wonks, and members of the public who insist that raising the price of labor will not have the effect of lessening the demand for workers. In his 2014 State of the Union Address, for example, President Barack Obama called on Congress to raise the national minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour. He argued that increasing the minimum wage would “grow the economy for everyone” by giving “businesses customers with more spending money.” A January 2015 working paper by two economists, Robert Pollin and Jeanette Wicks-Lim at the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, claims that raising the minimum wage of fast food workers to $15 per hour over a four-year transition period would not necessarily result in “shedding jobs.” The two acknowledge that the “raising the price of anything will reduce demand for that thing, all else equal.” But they believe they’ve found a way to “relax” the all-else-being-equal part, at least as far as the wages of fast food workers go. Pollin and Wicks-Lim argue that “the fast-food industry could fully absorb these wage bill increases through a combination of turnover reductions; trend increases in sales growth; and modest annual price increases over the four-year period.” They further claim that a $15/hour minimum wage would not result in lower profits or the reallocation of funds away from other operations, such as marketing. Amazing. Pollin and Wicks-Lim calculate that doubling the minimum wage for 2.5 million fast food workers would cost the industry an additional $33 billion annually. They further calculate that reduced turnover will lower costs by $5.2 billion annually and that three years of sales growth at 2.5 percent per year and price hikes at 3 percent per year will yield $30 billion in extra revenues. Let’s consider turnover first. Pollin and Wicks-Lim claim that an increased minimum wage will substantially reduce the costs of employee turnover, saving money that can now go to pay higher wages. The two fail to grapple with, much less refute, a devastating response to this idea from no less a liberal than the Nobel-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. In his review of Pollin’s 1998 book The Living Wage, Krugman wrote: “The obvious economist’s reply is, if paying higher wages is such a good idea, why aren’t companies doing it voluntarily?” (That question goes unaddressed in the current study.) Krugman continues, “But in any case there is a fundamental flaw in the argument: Surely the benefits of low turnover and high morale in your work force come not from paying a high wage, but from paying a high wage ‘compared with other companies’—and that is precisely what mandating an increase in the minimum wage for all companies cannot accomplish.” So scratch $5.2 billion. What about Pollin and Wicks-Lim’s sales growth projections? Well, sales don’t always grow. McDonalds reported a sales decrease of one percent in 2014. Some analysts think that fast food sales may have peaked in the United States. But there’s a deeper problem. In the absence of the higher minimum wage, employers would generally hire more workers to meet any increased demand for fast food. Boosting the minimum wage means that the revenues that wohave otherwise been used to hire new workers is not available. The end result: fewer jobs created and more folks unemployed. Pollin and Wicks-Lim recognize that raising the price means that people will eat fewer hamburgers and fries. They calculate that a 3 percent per year price increase results in a 1.5 percent per year decline in what sales would have been, which means that revenues would increase by 1.5 percent. Then they assume that the price increases won’t affect the underlying 2.5 percent annual sales growth rate. (Rising prices never slow sales, apparently.) Pollin and Wicks-Lim roughly generate the revenues they want to cover the higher wages by calculating that a three-year increase in prices and sales growth will net $10.6 band $19.8 billion, respectively. Adding these to the postulated turnover savings of $5.2 billion yields $35.6 billion, which handily covers the extra wage costs of $33 billion. Voila. Since all companies would have to pay the new minimum wage, they argue that all fast food joints wouldn’t have to fear that competitors would try to lure their customers away by lowering their prices. In this scenario, the restaurants get to sell fewer burgers than they would otherwise have done while making more money which they then fork over as higher wages. Aficionados of cheap tacos, hot dogs, and burgers are the big losers. But doesn’t selling fewer burgers imply a need for fewer employees? Never mind. Going through the artful assumptions in this scenario brings to mind the hoary old joke where a physicist, a chemist, and an economist are stranded on an island with just a can of soup to eat. The physicist says, “Let’s smash the can open with a rock.” The chemist says, “Let’s build a fire and heat the can first.” The economist says, “Let’s assume that we have a can-opener…” Meanwhile, two new studies by economists using actual wage and employment data have just been published. Both find that in the real world, the law of demand still applies to labor. In the first paper, Andrew Hanson of Marquette University and Zack Hawley of Texas Christian University analyzed how low wage employment would be affected in each state by the imposition of a national $10.10 per hour minimum wage supported by President Obama. The Hanson/Hawley study takes into account how wages relate to the varying cost-of-living levels among the states. First they report the number of workers in a state that earn less $10.10 per hour. Next they apply the widely agreed upon formula that for every 10 percent increase in wages there is a corresponding 1 to 2 percent decrease in demand for labor. They then straightforwardly estimate that boosting the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour would result the loss of between 550,000 and 1.5 million jobs. States with higher numbers of workers making less than $10.10 per hour would lose the most jobs. Georgia, for example, would lose 51,000; Illinois would lose 65,000; Texas would lose 31,000; and Wisconsin would lose 34,000. The second study, published in December by Jeffrey Clemens and Michael Wither of the University of California, San Diego, parses how the actual increase of the federal minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour between July 2007 and July 2009 affected the employment rates of low-skilled workers. Using U.S. Census employment data, they can focus specifically on how low-skilled workers fared when the minimum wage rose as the Great Recession proceeded. They compare what happened to the employment rates of low-skilled workers in states where they were generally earning below the new minimum wage versus those where low-skilled wages were already higher. They refer to the first set of 27 states as being “bound” by the increase and the second set as being “unbound” by it. The minimum wage, they show, exacerbated unemployment. Their analysis starts in December 2006, when the employment-to-population ratio—defined as the portion of working-age Americans (ages to 16 to 64) in the labor market—stood at 63.4 percent and ends in December 2012 when it had dropped to 58.6 percent. They estimate that by the second year following the $7.25 minimum’s implementation, the employment rates of low-skilled workers “had fallen by 6 percentage points more in bound than in unbound states.” In other words, job losses were considerably higher in states where unskilled workers had been earning less than the new minimum. Overall, they estimate that the minimum wage increase “reduced the employment-to-population ratio of working age adults by 0.7 percentage points.” That would have boosted the 2012 employment-to-population ratio from 58.6 to 59.3, which implies that there were 1.4 million fewer jobs than there would have been had the minimum not been increased. The conclusion is clear. Defying the law of demand will end up harming lots of the people minimum wage proponents aim to help.

24
Sep
14

The Cost of Whistleblowing

In Communist Russia and Nazi Germany the people raising an eyebrow about what was going on were simply rounded up and killed. Today though those who speak out are simply ostracized by society – even if what they leaked was in the best interest for the society to know.

As Ron Paul said, “Truth is treason in an empire of lies.”

Original article below found at The Guardian.

This week, the Securities and Exchange Commission made history by promising an anonymous overseas whistleblower a reward of $30m.

It doesn’t usually work out that way for whistleblowers. Ringing the bell on abuse in a company or government usually means losing jobs and status. The norm is pariah treatment and low-wage jobs, as well as trips to the welfare office and the lingering threat of prosecution or intimidation.

Consider: it’s not every day that you get to buy an iPhone from an ex-NSA officer. Yet a number of people visiting the Washington metro-area Apple store get to do just that. For over a year now, several days a weekThomas Drake puts on his blue Apple work T-shirt and goes to work.

Drake, former senior executive at National Security Agency, is well known in the national security circles. In 2006, he leaked information about the NSA’s Trailblazer project to Baltimore Sun. Years later, in 2010, he was prosecuted under the Espionage Act, but the government ended up dropping all 10 felony charges against him. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge for unauthorized use of a computer.

Drake, unlike other NSA whistleblowers, has the freedom to move freely within any city or state within America. His freedom, however, comes with a very tangible price: his livelihood.

“You have to mortgage your house, you have to empty your bank account. I went from making well over $150,000 a year to a quarter of that,” Drake says in Silenced, a recently released documentary depicting the lives of several national security whistleblowers. Silenced, which made its debut at the Tribeca Film Festival, is to be screened at additional movie festivals this fall. “The cost alone, financially – never mind the personal cost – is approaching million dollars in terms of lost income, expenses and other costs I incurred.”

“Obviously, I am a persona non grata within the government … and so I am unemployed,” Drake says to the cameras in Silenced. “I did look for work. I spent a lot of time looking for work. I applied for a part-time position with Apple, and several month later I actually got a phone call. I ended up working at an Apple store in the metro DC area as an expert.”

This kind of result is what most whistleblowers can expect. The potential threat of prosecution, the mounting legal bills and the lack of future job opportunities all contribute to a hesitation among many to rock the boat.

President Obama has approved legislation to help protect federal whistleblowers against retaliation and economic ruin. In November 2012,Obama signed Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act into law, which was to expand whistleblower protections available to corporate whistleblowers to federal workers.

Yet whistleblowers have been left on their own to struggle with the consequences of going public.

Jesselyn Radack says whistleblowers need better protections. She is a former Justice Department ethics attorney and whistleblower who went on to defend Drake and Kiriakou. She is currently one of Edward Snowden’s lawyers.

“The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act … has a big loophole that covers national security and intelligence officials, people exactly like Tom Drake at the NSA, Edward Snowden at NSA, and John Kiriakou at CIA, Steven Kim at the State Department, Jeffrey Sterling at the CIA, Peter van Buren, who was at the State Department – the people that I would argue we most need to hear from and want to hear from,” says Radack, noting that Obama’s order applies only to employees – not to contractors such as Edward Snowden.

Finance whistleblowers can, theoretically, collect awards ranging from $300,000 to $104m for disclosing secrets about their employers cheating on taxes and violating securities law. Activist investor Bill Ackman offered a $250,000-per-year-for-10-years deal to an employee of Herbalife for supporting Ackman’s thesis that the company fools its workers and customers. The company and other hedge fund managers, including Carl Icahn, dispute Ackman’s remarks.

The price of leaking national security problems, in particular, is steep. National security whistleblowers have no prospect of financial rewards.

Kiriakou, a former CIA analyst, became the first former government official to confirm the use of waterboarding against al-Qaida suspects in 2009. Three years later, in 2012, he was prosecuted for leaking classified information under the Espionage Act. After he was accused of violating the Espionage Act, Kiriakou had to look for employment outside the field of national security.

“I have applied for every job I can think of – everything from grocery stores to Toys R Us to Starbucks. You name it, I’ve applied there. Haven’t gotten even an email or a call back,” Kiriakou says at some point in the film. “I’ll be honest with you, I really miss working and so regardless of what the job is, I’ll be happy to just pass eight hours a day.”

He was not the only one in his family to lose his job as a result of his disclosures. His wife quit her job because of threats of security investigations, says Kiriakou.

After both of them were unemployed for seven months, she informed him that they couldn’t afford food for the next week. In the days to follow, they found themselves at a welfare office, where they were told they qualified for a variety of assistance including food stamps, medicaid and job training.

The stark reality of their financial situation was enough to get Kiriakou to consider changing his plea. That, and the possibility of not seeing his children grow up.

“She doesn’t make enough money to support our household. We could borrow enough for two years to keep her going,” he says. “But if I am found guilty and get more than two years, I mean – we think we are ruined now? – we’d be ruined permanently after that. I want to fight it but I have kids and I just can’t risk them losing me for six to twelve years.”

Kiriakou is currently serving a 30-month jail sentence. Instead of telling his children that he is going to jail, Kiriakou and his wife have told them that he is going to Pennsylvania to “teach bad guys how to get their diplomas.”

With Kiriakou in jail, his family continues to struggle to make ends meet.

“They are still in dire straits, living from pay check to pay check,” Radack told the audience at the New America after recently held screening of Silenced. A Facebook page, Defend John Kiriakou, lists instructions on how to contribute to Kiriakou’s commissary account. Another post invites supporters to buy him a subscription to The New York Times’ Sunday edition. Radack already purchased him a Monday through Saturday subscription. He receives all papers two days after they are published.

“I am sitting in front of you as a free human being, I can’t tell you what it means to be free,” Drake told the audience after the screening. “I paid an incredibly high price.”

24
Aug
14

2014 Mesa, Arizona, Mayor race

2014 Mesa, Arizona, Mayor race – check out Danny Ray.

Mesa_DannyRay

Mesa has a choice this August:

• Do you want to continue building massive debt? The City of Mesa has amassed a total debt of nearly $1.5 BILLION (billion with a B). Since 1984, our debt has increased tenfold. Since just 2003, our debt has nearly doubled with no significant change in population size.

• Do you want your cost of living to keep rising? The cost of city services and taxes (water, sewer, trash, sales tax, and property tax) is rising much faster in Mesa than in neighboring communities. In 2004, Mesa boasted the lowest average cost of living and provided services at less than $1,200 per household. We have since increased to over $1,800 annually, surpassing Chandler, Gilbert, and even Scottsdale. This rapid increase reflects the fact that all city fees have been creeping up to satisfy interest payments on our massive debt.

• Do you want a healthy local economy? Economic vitality comes from free-market principles with a level playing field for businesses of all sizes. It is not within the scope of government to pick winners and losers; rather, government is obligated to treat all businesses equally under the law. This is not the way things currently stand. In addition, red tape created by an inefficient and costly permitting process is driving employers, shops, and services to neighboring communities.

Danny is working to bring attention to these important issues and increase citizen engagement in government. The burden is on us as citizens to fully engage and keep the rights and liberties that our Founding Fathers secured for us. We CAN work together as the people of Mesa to reverse the trend toward more control and less freedom.

Danny’s opponent is for continuing Mesa’s “upward momentum” but Danny believes we can continue to have positive growth and preserve the community we love WITHOUT massive debt.




Quotes:

"We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth... For my part, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst; and to provide for it." - Patrick Henry

"Politicians and diapers both need to be changed, and for the same reason." - Anonymous

"Right is right, even if everyone is against it, and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it." - William Penn

"Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country" - Hermann Goering

"I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do this I keep on doing." - Romans 7:18-19

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." - Mark Twain

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