Monthly Archives: April 2015

Civil Disobedience and the Mailman

by Save The Post Office, published April 22, 2015

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From the Tampa Bay News, “Ruskin gyrocopter pilot says postal officials are telling him not to talk to media,” April 20, 2015

The Ruskin mail carrier who last week flew a gyrocopter into restricted airspace over Washington D.C., to make a political statement says he has been put on paid leave with the U.S. Postal Service with orders not to discuss his story with the media.

“I was informed by the acting postmaster—and he sounded like he was reading from a script—that I was on administrative leave pending an investigation,” Hughes wrote in an email to the Tampa Bay Times.

“I am NOT allowed on postal property without advance permission and I can only enter the building through the front if I do visit with permission. (This injunction always precedes a termination.) I asked about the nature of the administrative leave—it’s with pay BUT I’m not allowed to talk to the media AT ALL.”

It is another restriction that Hughes said he intends to violate. He said the move amounted to a “gag order” that he did not respect.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service said she could not discuss Hughes’ employment status.

“I can confirm that he is a rural mail carrier,” said Enola Rice, the USPS regional communications director for Central Florida. “We don’t discuss the status of employees.  All I can do is confirm that he is an employee.”

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From NBC News, “Gyrocopter Pilot, Doug Hughes, Frustrated His Message Isn’t Getting Through,” April 19, 2015

Hughes spent a night in jail after Capitol Police arrested him.  The ultralight aircraft and its cargo—a U.S. Postal Service bin carrying the letters—were seized.

Hughes’ Russian-born wife, Alena, told the AP that her husband acted out of patriotism for the United States.

Asked Sunday if he too thinks he’s a patriot or simply crazy, Hughes said. “Everyone gets to make up their own mind about me, that’s what I’d say.”

“But do you consider yourself a patriot?” a reporter asked.

“No, I’m a mailman,” he said.

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From his Letter to Congress, Doug Hughes, April 15, 2015

“The unending chase for money I believe threatens to steal our democracy itself. They know it.  They know we know it.  And yet, Nothing Happens!” —John Kerry, 2-13

Continue reading Civil Disobedience and the Mailman

US Congress to vote on ‘cybersecurity’ bills that are basically surveillance bills in disguise

by Trevor Timm, published April 22, 2015

Congress is expected to vote on two ‘cybersecurity’ bills sometime in the next week that are essentially surveillance bills in disguise. Trevor Timm writes in this editorial, cross-posted on the Freedom of the Press blog, about how they affect journalists and whistleblowers.

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Along with dozens of other civil liberties organizations, Freedom of the Press Foundation has signed on to two letters strongly opposing the dangerous “cybersecurity” bills making their way through Congress and expected to be voted on sometime in the next week.

The bills are little more than new surveillance powers wrapped in a cheap disguise, and you can read the full letters that describe the bill’s deficiencies here and here.

If passed, the bills will adversely affect all Americans’ privacy, but they have particularly critical consequences for journalists and whistleblowers, so we wanted to highlight those concerns that the letters did not fully cover.

First, as Politico’s Josh Gerstein reported on Monday, the bills “could create the first brand-new exemption to the Freedom of Information Act in nearly half a century.” The bills aim to allow private companies to share large swaths of private information with the government with no legal process whatsoever, essentially carving a giant hole in the country’s myriad privacy laws. But worse, the proposed FOIA exemption would prevent the public from ever being able to find out what type or amount of information these companies handed over.

Gerstein explains the multiple ways the bills attempts to cut off transparency and accountability:

A bill approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee last month would add a new tenth exemption to FOIA, covering all “information shared with or provided to the Federal Government” under the new measure.

Another provision in the legislation would require that “cyber threat indicators and defensive measures” which companies or individuals share with the federal government be “withheld, without discretion, from the public.” The Senate bill, which is expected to come to the floor soon, also seeks to shut off any access to that information under state or local freedom of information laws.

Continue reading US Congress to vote on ‘cybersecurity’ bills that are basically surveillance bills in disguise

March Payrolls Decline in 31 States Plus DC

by Robert Oak, published April 22, 2015

The March state employment statistics shows the unemployment situation might be forming more dark clouds over workers. From February a whopping 31 states cut jobs. The national unemployment rate was 5.5% yet, only 23 states showed any unemployment decrease. Below is the BLS map of state’s unemployment rates for the month.

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March showed a -0.4 percentage point drop in the Oregon and state of Washington unemployment rate while West Virginia increased half a percentage point.  There is now just Nevada and the District of Columbia with unemployment rates above 7%.  Those states with unemployment rates above 6.0% are Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina, West Virginia, New Jersey, Alaska, California, Connecticut, Georgia and Rhode Island.  North Dakota’s 3.1% unemployment rate, a 0.2 percentage point increase from last month, is no longer the lowest, Nebraska is with 2.8%.  This is due to the decline in oil prices.

The unemployment change from a year ago nationally has declined by -1.1 percentage points.  Only three states saw unemployment rate annual increases, Louisiana with a 1.1 percentage point increase, North Dakota’s unemployment rate has increased 0.4 percentage points from a year ago.  South Carolina a year ago unemployment rate has increased 0.6 percentage points.  The decrease in unemployment rates can be due to declining labor participation rates.

Continue reading March Payrolls Decline in 31 States Plus DC

New Study: Low Wages Cost Taxpayers Big

by Bud Meyers, published April 20, 2015

From another new study, this time from the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education (April 2015) “Poverty-Level Wages Cost U.S. Taxpayers $152.8 Billion Each Year  in Public Support for Working Families”

They report that wages of the bottom decile of earners were 5 percent lower in 2013 than in 1979. Trends since the early 2000s are even more pronounced. Inflation-adjusted wage growth from 2003 to 2013 was either flat or negative for the entire bottom 70 percent of the wage distribution … 73 percent of enrollees in America’s major public support programs* are members of working families; and the taxpayers bear a significant portion of the hidden costs of low-wage work in America.

* Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF aka “welfare”) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP aka “food stamps”).

Between 2009 and 2011 the federal government spent $127.8 billion per year on these four programs for working families; and the states collectively spent $25 billion per year for a total of $152.8 billion per year. In all, more than 56 percent of combined state and federal spending on public assistance goes to working families.

Continue reading New Study: Low Wages Cost Taxpayers Big

Rauner’s dangerous talk of Chicago schools bankruptcy

by Greg Hinz, published April 20, 2015

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Bankruptcy, as one lawyer familiar with the legal process puts it, works best as kabuki theater.

The actors get all gussied up in outlandish outfits—some as samurai warriors with scary swords and scarier faces. Everyone postures and gestures and engages in exaggerated argument. In the end, they’re hopefully all frightened enough that they’ve worked out a compromise rather than pulling the trigger on Chapter 9.

I sure hope Gov. Bruce Rauner knows it’s theater. And I hope that his political foes—particularly in organized labor—know that theater sometimes echoes reality as Chicago Public Schools heads down the horrid path to fiscal collapse.

CPS has been making lots of news lately, almost all of it bad. Even before CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett was ensnared in a federal corruption probe, the agency faced a $1.1 billion hole for the budget year that begins July 1, a hugely underfunded pension plan and tough negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union.

V2-304189994Rauner’s seeming solution: bankruptcy. “The state has a crisis. The city has a crisis. I’m concerned that (CPS) is going to have to go bankrupt,” he told attendees at a school conference April 14. “Bankruptcy code exists to help the organization get out of financial trouble. There’s a reason for the bankruptcy code.”

The governor has his allies in pushing for a state law that would allow local governments to declare bankruptcy and bust those union contracts Rauner so detests. “I’m not saying it’s a good thing, but it ought to be an option,” Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey says. “Sometimes it’s better to let a court work it out.”

But even Morrissey considers actually doing the deed “a last resort.” Others liken it to opening Pandora’s box—risky in the extreme.

Continue reading Rauner’s dangerous talk of Chicago schools bankruptcy

Brochures for lump-sum pension offers don’t tell all you need to know

by Mark Miller, published March 19, 2015

Jim Hart from New York feeds the birds in Battery Park in the Manhattan borough of New York
Jim Hart from New York feeds the birds in Battery Park in the Manhattan borough of New York, December 18, 2014. REUTERS/CARLO ALLEGRI

(Reuters) – If you are due a pension from a former employer, there is a good chance you were or soon will be offered a lump-sum payment in exchange for giving up that guaranteed monthly check for life.

Should you take it? Probably not, but making a smart decision depends on a complex set of assumptions about future interest rates, possible rates of market returns and your longevity. It is a tough analysis unless you have an actuarial background.

Unfortunately, employers are not providing enough information.

That is the conclusion of a recent review by the U.S. Government Accountability Office of 11 lump-sum-offer information packets provided to beneficiaries by pension plan sponsors.

The key failings included unclear comparisons of the lump sum’s value compared with the value of lifetime pension payouts. Also lacking were many of the explanations of mortality factors and interest rates used to calculate the lump sums.

Continue reading Brochures for lump-sum pension offers don’t tell all you need to know

Another Fight For 15: A $15,000 Dividend for Every American Family

by Paul Buchheit, published April 20, 2015 mirrored from Common Dreams

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Every American deserves a share of our country’s co-owned wealth. While the Kochs and the Waltons may not be lining up to collect their checks, most families will, and they will benefit immensely, as will the economy in an inevitable surge of consumer spending. It’s not redistribution or a handout, because each family will be reimbursed for the use of its share of the air and the land and the water, and for 70 years of labor and taxes.

Americans want to work, but available jobs don’t provide a living wage. Almost three-quarters of people receiving public assistance are members of working families.

As a result of their low pay, almost two-thirds of Americans would be unable to cover a $1,000 emergency room visit with funds from their bank accounts. A national dividend would help to fix that. There are several powerful reasons why this should happen.

Reason 1: Our Tax Money Has Been Used To Eliminate Our Jobs 

The process is insidious, quietly executed, still evolving after 60 years, deadly to America’s middle class. The immeasurable benefits of doing business in our productive nation have led to innovations that demand less of workers, but without compensation for their years of labor and taxes. In fact, corporations have reduced their payment for our many resources. Yet they continue to take from the taxpayers.

Over half of basic research is provided by our tax dollars, and as of 2009 universities were receiving ten times more science and engineering funding from government than from industry.  Continue reading Another Fight For 15: A $15,000 Dividend for Every American Family

Would Hillary Clinton Expand Social Security?

by Bud Meyers, published April 18, 2015

So far, as Talking Points Memo points out, Hillary Clinton is noncommittal on expanding Social Security. On the other hand, two other potential Democratic primary contenders — former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) — have championed Social Security expansion, which primarily involves providing more generous benefits and paying for them by lifting the income cap on payroll taxes. The cap is currently $118,500 — which is less than congressional salaries ($174,000).

A non-binding budget amendment to expand Social Security last month offered by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) won the votes of 42 out of 46 Democratic senators. The amendment lost on a vote of 56 to 42. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) didn’t vote (although their votes wouldn’t have mattered). Just two Democrats (pictured below) voted against it: Senators Tom Carper (D-DE) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND).

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Progressive advocates, with the blessing of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), are pushing Democratic 2016 candidates to embrace the expansion of Social Security (as opposed to Republican cuts.) But if they can’t get Elizabeth Warren to run for the White House, the progressive Democrats want to shape Hillary Clinton’s candidacy in Senator Warren’s image — and expanding Social Security will be one metric to measure that endeavor. It won’t be enough for Clinton to attack Republicans and just run against cutting benefits (or privatizing Social Security).

Continue reading Would Hillary Clinton Expand Social Security?

The Real Keynesians are the Chinese

by  Bud Meyers, published April 18, 2015

(* Editor’s note: Most of the comments and links below are excerpts from readers at Mark Thoma’s blog.)

The Real Keynesians were the Chinese. Not only did they invest massively in infrastructure, they have strongly emphasized increasing domestic consumption as well. As a result, they have experienced strong economic growth … China’s official policy now is to increase domestic consumption in order not to be as dependent on exports as it has been hitherto. Obviously China is far behind the U.S., but our policy, unlike China’s, has not been to increase consumption as the late great economist, John Maynard Keynes, had advocated:

“Moreover, I should readily concede that the wisest course is to advance on both fronts at once. Whilst aiming at a socially controlled rate of investment with a view to a progressive decline in the marginal efficiency of capital, I should support at the same time all sorts of policies for increasing the propensity to consume. For it is unlikely that full employment can be maintained, whatever we may do about investment, with the existing propensity to consume. There is room, therefore, for both policies to operate together; — to promote investment and, at the same time, to promote consumption, not merely to the level which with the existing propensity to consume would correspond to the increased investment, but to a higher level still.” — Keynes, The General Theory, p. 325

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No other country (developed or developing) has come close to the per capita GDP growth that China has experienced since 2007 — though the experience was a continuation of per capita growth that averaged 8.7% annually in the 37 years since 1977.

The Wall Street Journal: “Richard C. Levin, president of Yale — and also a professor of economics — said an early mistake during the recession was not targeting more stimulus funds to job creation. He contrasted America’s meager pace of growth in gross domestic product in the past few years with China’s often double-digit pace, noting that after the crisis hit, Washington allocated roughly 2% of GDP to job creation while Beijing directed 15% of GDP to that goal.” Continue reading The Real Keynesians are the Chinese