Article 43

 

Thursday, August 09, 2018

ATT Pension Clawback

image: happy retirement - not

Remember the ENGERS VS ATT lawsuit?

The one that took 10 years and WE LOST?

Looks like pensioners who didn’t get screwed back then - are getting hit now.

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AT&T overpaid some pensioners. Now the company wants the money back
The telecom giant has enlisted a collection agency, a step other companies in similar situations have declined to take.

By Theo Francis Bloomberg
Business Standard
August 4, 2018

When James Mizelle retired in 2001, he started drawing a pension from his 27-year career with AT&T and other phone companies.

Fifteen years later, he got a letter saying his benefits were miscalculated and demanding he repay $32,116.05. Mr. Mizelle, living in Round Hill, Va., replied that he couldnt repay. Within weeks, he heard from a collection agency.

ғThat money had been spent, says Mr. Mizelle, 70, who had incurred medica bills in a battle with prostate cancer. ԓI could not pay it back.

The former programmer and human-resources worker is among potentially hundreds of ex-employees whom AT&T Inc. has dunned in recent years for what it calls pension ԓoverpayments. AT&T sometimes has enlisted a collection agency to recover the money, a move retiree advocates, pension lawyers and some former Treasury Department officials call unusual.

Among them are 17 retirees from whom AT&T and Fidelity Investments, the pension planԒs record-keeper, have demanded a combined $1 million and who have contacted lawyers working with the Pension Rights Center, a retiree-advocacy nonprofit in Washington, DC, or related groups around the country, the center says.

AT&T spokesman says the pension overpayments affect significantly less than 1/10th of 1%Ӕ of its about 517,000 participants, with a very small percentageӔ referred to collections. He declines to say how the company identified the errors or how much money is at stake.

A Fidelity spokesman says the firm helped zero in on errors at AT&Ts direction, including some predating FidelityҒs role. AT&T and Fidelity decline to address the individual cases in this article.

Companies for years have been taking measures to recoup pension overpayments, an issue federal tax officials have tried to address going back to the 1990s with a series of refinements to rules governing when and how companies must rectify such errors.

AT&T appears to have gone a step beyond many other large companies by sticking to its demands of full repayment and hiring a collection agency in some cases, even where retirees make the case that they lack the wherewithal to repay.

Sydney Smith, a former AT&T information-technology analyst living in the St. Louis area, received a letter in July 2016 saying she owed AT&Ts pension plan $19,306.95 - money she had received, the company later told her, because she provided a date in the pension-benefit calculation that the plans website shouldn’t have let her use.

Ms. Smith says she told Fidelity she didnt have the money. A single mother, she had cashed out her pension to pay debts and living expenses. ғI used it, says Ms. Smith, 42. ԓIts gone.Ҕ

She asked about a repayment plan and was told she could make two payments of nearly $10,000 each, she says. She didnt have that. Days after the plan denied her appeals, Ms. Smith says, she began getting calls from Lyon Collection Services Inc., the same agency that demanded repayment of Mr Mizelle. “They started to call pretty constantly.” Ms. Smith enlisted Roger Curme, a lawyer with the South Central Pension Rights Project, a legal-assistance service funded in part by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “We havent seen that before,” Mr. Curme says of a big companys using a collection agency. “These tactics that AT&T is using - they’re kind of harsh.

Ms. Smith filed a claim with the plan asking it to waive repayment but was denied. The plan also denied her subsequent appeal. She hasn’t heard from the company since February, she says, and is hopeful she wont. Yet, she adds, “its not resolved - its still up in the air.”

Lyon Collection President Rick Mantin says his firm follows laws governing consumer collections and his employees are persistent without harassing customers. He declines to comment on individual cases or clients and says the company doesn’t focus on retirees. “Debtors have the right to request that Lyon cease any further communication with them,” he says, “which we immediately honor.”

In general, pension lawyers say, it is legal for a company to demand back pension overpayments. Pension-plan sponsors and administrators have an obligation to safeguard a plan’s assets. Companies for years have interpreted that obligation to include not just stopping overpayments but also requiring repayment. Often, plans recoup what they can by reducing retirees remaining benefits.

“Not recouping the monies would mean that there would be fewer funds available for distribution to other participants,” the Fidelity spokesman says.

Pension lawyers say that in recent years some employers and plan administrators have grown skittish about giving retirees a pass for even small overpayments. They point to Internal Revenue Service guidance that suggested plans had to pursue repayments vigorously or risk losing key tax benefits, such as deductions for employer contributions and tax-free investment returns.

Among companies recently requesting paybacks is Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s U.S. unit, which says that in 2016 it notified several hundred retirees that their pension checks were incorrect. About 300 people, or 0.3% of its pension recipients, received more than they were supposed to, it says.

The company says it followed federal regulations when asking retirees to return overpayments and doesnt use a collections service. On average, it says, those getting extra payments were receiving benefits of $24,000 a year. Three-quarters of them were asked to repay $3,000 or less. Of the rest, the average recovery the company sought was 3.7% of the retireeҒs monthly benefit,and none was more than 8%.

Had they known the correct payment amount, some retirees might have made different life decisions, such as when to retire or where to move, says Jay Kuhnie, president of the National Chrysler Retirement Organization, a retiree-advocacy group. They might have said, that’s not as much as I thought, Im going to work another 4 to 5 years,Ҕ he says. The retiree has no way of going back.Ӕ

AT&Ts collection agency AT&T’s pension plans have $45 billion in assets, enough to pay about 77 cents on every dollar of pension benefits earned so far by all current and former employees and retirees for their full life expectancy, as well as other beneficiaries. Lawyers who work with retirees say they rarely see referrals to collections agencies by a large company. Some former Treasury Department officials who worked on recoupment issues say it wasn’t something they had seen before.

ғAn awful lot of plan sponsors, just as a matter of culture, are not very enthusiastic about chasing down their retirees to recover overpayments, says Brian Dougherty, co-leader of the plan-sponsor task force at the law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP.

The AT&T spokesman says ԓour approach is common and similar to how most other employers handle this issue and follows federal pension rules, treating retirees ethically. The Fidelity spokesman says that ԓhaving a third party to assist with contacting plan participants in seeking reimbursement is a common practice among many employers in the industry.

Faced with complaints from retirees whose pension benefits had been reduced, officials at the Treasury Department and the IRS in 2015 issued new guidance, clarifying that plans could recover funds in other ways instead, including from contractors responsible for errors. Companies could also replace the missing funds themselves, or modify plan rules retroactively to accommodate the overpayments, according to the guidance. “It clarified that plan sponsors were not always required to recoup inadvertent overpayments and pursue all available legal remedies to do so,” says Mark Iwry, a Treasury Department official from 2009 to 2017 who worked on retirement policy. The guidance “took a step toward making the system more practical, workable, and humane.”

Some pension experts have concluded that overpayments essentially never harm plan finances, says Richard Shea, who advises employers as head of the employee-benefits law practice at Covington & Burling LLP. That’s because employers must set aside enough money to cover a lifetime of benefits based on what retirees actually receive, not some earlier estimate.

The way the funding rules work, you’ve already got it, he says. “You don’t have to get it back.” Telephone-company pensions may be more prone to mistakes than others, thanks to the federal breakup of the Bell System monopoly in the mid-1980s. Often, workers pensions accompanied them as they moved among the company’s successors.

An operators case Some errors AT&T identified amount to double-counting, in which retirees received benefits reflecting their full careers plus additional payments reflecting part of the same history.

Eileen Ralston of Daytona Beach, Fla., joined what was AT&T’s Pacific Telephone in 1970 as an operator. She left telephone work in the mid-1980s, then rejoined the new AT&T in 1986 as an operator. She began collecting her AT&T pension of $921.83 a month soon after leaving in 1999. Shortly before turning 65, she says, she called AT&Ts pension administrators and was surprised to hear she was entitled to another $546.73. “I said, are you sure about this? Because I get an AT&T pension,” says Ms. Ralston, 75. “They said, no, this is your pension for your previous service.”

Just before Ms. Ralston’s September 2017 birthday, Fidelity told her in a letter that the additional benefit was a mistake and that she owed $58,500.11.It was about two years after she suffered a heart attack. “I thought I was going to have another one,” she says. Every time I get something in the mail from AT&T that says “benefits department, I get a cold chill up my back.”

AT&T offered to halve her remaining pension to $444.89 a month. After Ms. Ralston consulted a lawyer, she received a letter from AT&T in February reaffirming the debt but adding that “your overpayment information will not be sent to an outside collections agency at this time.”

She hasn’t repaid and worries AT&T might come after her again.

Claudia Jones worked for Bell South and then AT&T for about 16 years, she says, before being laid off in 2015. She took her pension in a lump sum and invested it in an annuity that pays about $600 a month.

In March, she got a letter from AT&T and Fidelity saying her benefit had been miscalculated and that she would have to repay $45,300.17. “Say they did miscalculate,” says Ms. Jones, 66. “We shouldnt be punished for that.” In late June, she says, she started receiving calls from Lyon Collection. She can’t afford to pay, she says, and isn’t sure what shell do.

AT&T left Mr. Mizelle, too, in limbo. Fidelity in a letter wrote that “the Plan will recover the excess benefit amount by any means that are available.”

He enlisted a lawyer to file a claim with the plan, arguing that he no longer had the additional money and that requiring repayment would cause him financial hardship. The plan rejected his claim. The committee that denied his subsequent appeal wrote him reiterating the debt but saying it decided not to pursue further collection attempts of the overpayment amount at this time, without waiving any rights to resume the collection process in the future.

SOURCE

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Here’s another topic about AT&T:

They changed my wireless plan and raised the bill without notice.

Rep on the phone wasn’t too friendly and only offered plans that cost more.

No grandfathering.

I found THIS on the internet.

Posted by Elvis on 08/09/18 •
Section Pension Ripoff
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Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Squeezed

image: dying america

There exists a common theme amidst these signs of societal decay: The super-rich keep taking from the middle class as the middle class becomes a massive lower class. Yet the myth persists that we should all look up with admiration at the “self-made” takers who are ripping our society apart.
- Signs of a Dying Society, Paul Buchheit, 2015

America’s White Collar Middle Class Takes a Terrifying Slide Down the Mobility Ladder

By Lynn Parramore
Institute for New Economic Thinking
July 24, 2018

The children of America’s white-collar middle class viewed life from their green lawns and tidy urban flats as a field of opportunity. Blessed with quality schools, seaside vacations and sleepover camp, they just knew that the American dream was theirs for the taking if they hit the books, picked a thoughtful and fulfilling career, and just, well, showed up.

Until it wasn’t.

While they were playing Twister and imagining a bright future, someone apparently decided that they didn’t really matter. Clouds began to gather - a ?dark shimmer of constantly shifting precariousness, as journalist Alissa Quart describes in her timely new book SQUEEZED: WHY OUR FAMILIES CAN’T AFFORD AMERICA.

The things these kids considered their birthright - reputable colleges, secure careers, and attractive residences - were no longer waiting for them in adulthood.

TODAY, with their incomes flat or falling, these Americans scramble to maintain a semblance of what their parents enjoyed. They are moving from being dominant to being dominated. From acting to acted upon. Trained to be educators, lawyers, librarians, and accountants, they do work they can’t stand to support families they rarely see. Petrified of being pushed aside by robots, they rankle to see financial titans and tech gurus flaunting their obscene wealth at every turn.

Headlines gush of a humming economy, but it doesn’t feel like a party to them - and they’ve seen enough to know who will be holding the bag when the next bubble bursts.

The “Middle Precariats,” as Quart terms them, are suffering death by a thousand degradations. Their new reality: You will not do as well as your parents. Life is a struggle to keep up. Even if you achieve something, you will live in fear of losing it. America is not your land: it belongs to the ultra-rich.

Much of Quart’s book highlights the mirror image of the downwardly mobile middle class Trump voters from economically strained regions like the Midwest who helped throw a monkey wrench into politics-as-usual. In her tour of American frustration, she talks to urbanites who lean liberal and didn’t expect to find themselves drowning in debt and disappointment. Like the falling-behind Trump voters, these people sense their status ripped away, their hopes dashed.

If climbing up the ladder of success is the great American story, slipping down it is the quintessential tragedy. It’s hard not to take it personally: the ranks of the Middle Precariat are filled with shame.

They are somebodies turning into nobodies.

And there signs that they are starting to revolt. If they do, they could make their own mark on the country’s POLITICAL LANDSCAPE.

The Broken Bourgeoisie

Quart’s book takes a sobering look at the newly unstable bourgeoisie, illustrating what happens when Americas off-the-rails inequality blasts over those who always believed they would end up winners.

There’s the Virginia accountant who forks over nearly 90% of her take home pay on care for her three kids; the Chicago adjunct professor with the disabled child who makes less than $24,000 a year; and the California business reporter who once focused on the financial hardships of others and now faces unemployment herself.

There are UBER-DRIVING teachers and law school grads reviewing documents for $20 an hour or less. Ivy Leaguers who live on food stamps.

Lacking unions, church communities and nearby close relatives to support them, the Middle Precariats are isolated and stranded. Their labor has sputtered into sporadic contingency: they make do with short-term contracts or shift work. (Despite the much-trumpeted low unemployment rate, the New York Times reports that jobs are often subpar, featuring little stability and security). Once upon a time, only the working poor took second jobs to stay afloat. Now the Middle Precariat has joined them.

Quart documents the desperate measures taken by people trying to keep up appearances, relying on 24/7 extreme day care to accommodate unpredictable schedules or cobbling together co-living arrangements to cut household costs. They strain to provide things like academic tutors and sports activities for their kids who must compete with the children of the wealthy. Deep down, they know that they probably can’t pass down the cultural and social class they once took for granted.

Quart cites a litany of grim statistics that measure the quality of their lives, like the fact that a middle-class existence is now 30% more expensive than it was twenty years ago, a period in which the price of health care and the cost of a four-year degree at a public college nearly doubled.

Squeezed is especially detailed on the plight of the female Middle Precariat, like those who have the effrontery to procreate or grow older. With the extra burdens of care work, pregnancy discrimination, inadequate family leave, and wage disparities, (not to mention sexual harassment, a subject not covered), women get double squeezed. For women of color, often lacking intergenerational wealth to ease the pain, make that a triple squeeze.

The Middle Precariat in middle age is not a pretty sight: without union protection or a reliable safety net they endure lost jobs, dwindled savings, and shattered identities. In one of the saddest chapters, Quart describes how the pluckiest try reinvent themselves in their 40s or 50s, enrolling in professional courses and certification programs that promise another shot at security, only to find that they/ve been scammed by greedy college marketers and deceptive self-help mavens who leave them more desperate than before.

Quart notes that even those making decent salaries in the United States now see themselves barred from the club of power and wealth. They may have illiquid assets like houses and retirement accounts, but they still see themselves as financially struggling. Earning $100,000 sounds marvelous until you’ve forked over half to housing and 30% to childcare. Each day is one bit of bad luck away from disaster.

The spectacular success of the 0.1 percent, a tiny portion of society, shows just how stranded, stagnant, and impotent the current social system has made the middle class - even the 10 percent who are upper-middle class, Quart writes.

Quart knows that the problems of those who seem relatively privileged compared many may not garner immediate sympathy. But she rightly notes that their stresses are a barometer for the concentration of extreme wealth in some American cities and the widening chasm between the very wealthy and everybody else.

The Dual Economy

The donor-fed establishment of both political parties could or would not see this coming, but some prescient economists have been sounding the alarm.

In his 2016 book THE VANISHING MIDDLE CLASS, MIT economist Peter Temin detailed how the U.S. has been BREAKING UP INTO A DUAL ECONOMY over the last several decades, moving toward a model that is structured economically and politically more like a developing nation - a far cry from the post-war period when the American middle class thrived.

In dual economies, the rich and the rest part ways as the once-solid middle class begins to disappear. People are divided into separate worlds in the kinds of jobs they hold, the schools their kids attend, their health care, transportation, housing, and social networks - you name it. The tickets out of the bottom sector, like a diploma from a first-rate university, grow scarce. The people of the two realms become strangers.

French economist THOMAS PICKETTY provided a stark formula for what happens capitalism is left unregulated in his 2015 bestseller, CAPITAL IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY. It goes like this: when the rate of return on the investments of the wealthy exceeds the rate of growth in the overall economy, the rich get exponentially richer while everyone becomes poorer. In more sensible times, like the decades following WWII, that rule was mitigated by an American government that forced the rich pay their share of taxes, curbed the worst predations of businesses, and saw to it that roads, bridges, public transit, and schools were built and maintained.

But that’s all a fading memory. Under the influence of political money, politicians no longer seek a unified economy and society where the middle class can flourish. As Quart observes, the U.S. is the richest and also the most unequal country in the world, featuring the largest wealth inequality gap of the two hundred countries in the Global Wealth Report of 2015.

Who is to Blame?

Over and over, the people Quart interviews tend to blame themselves for their situation - if only they’d chosen a different career, lived in another city, maybe things wouldn’t have turned out this way. Sometimes they point the finger at robots and automation, though they arguably have much more to fear from the wealthy humans who own the robots.

But some are waking up to the fact it is the wealthy and their purchased politicians who have systematically and deliberately stripped them of power. Deprivations like paltry employee rights, inadequate childcare, ridiculously expensive health care, and non-existent retirement security didn’t just happen. Abstract words like deregulation and globalization become concrete: somebody actually did this to you by promoting policies that leave you high and dry.

As Quart indicates, understanding this is the first step to a change of consciousness, and her book is part of this shift.

Out of this consciousness, many individuals and organizations are working furiously and sometimes ingeniously to alter the negative trajectory of the Middle Precariat. Quart outlines proposals and developments like small-scale debt consolidation, student debt forgiveness, adequately subsidized day care, and non-traditional unions that could help.

America also has a track record of broad, fundamental solutions that have already proven to work. Universal basic income may sound attractive, but we already have a program that could improve the lot of the middle class if expanded: Social Security.

Right now, a worker stops having to pay Social Security tax on any earnings beyond $128,400a number that is unreasonably low because the rich wish to keep it so. Just by raising that cap, we could the lower the retirement age so that Americans in their 60s would not have greet customers at Walmart. More opportunities would open up to younger workers.

The Middle Precariat could be forgiven for suspecting that the overlords of Silicon Valley may have something other than altruism in mind when they tout universal basic income. Epic tax evaders, they stand to benefit from pushing the responsibility for their low-paid workers and the inadequate safety net and public services that they helped create onto ordinary taxpayers.

Beyond basic income lies a basic fact: the American wealthy do not pay their share in taxes. In fact, American workers pay twice as much in taxes as wealthy investors. That;s why infrastructure crumbles, schools deteriorate, and sane health care and childcare are not available.

Most Americans realize that inequality has to be challenged through the tax code: a 2017 Gallup poll shows that the majority think that the wealthy and corporations don’t pay enough. Politicians, of course, ignore this to please their donors.

And so the Middle Precariat, like the Trump voters, is getting fed up with them.

From Depressed to Energized

Quart astutely points out that income inequality is being written into the law of the land. Funded the efforts of billionaires like the Koch brothers, politicians have altered laws and constitutions across the country to cement the dual economy through everything from restricting voting rights to defunding public education.

Several Middle Precariats in Squeezed have turned to independent or renegade candidates like Bernie Sanders who offer broad, substantial programs like debt-free college and universal health care that address the fissures in their lives. They are listening to candidates who are not afraid to say that markets should work for human beings, not the other way around.

If Donald Trump’s political rise can be understood as an expression of the gulf between middle-class citizens and America’s ruling classes, as Quart observes, then the recent surge of non-establishment Democratic candidates, especially democratic socialists, may be the next phase of a middle class revolt.

Recent surprise victories in Pennsylvania and New York in the Democratic primaries by female candidates openly embracing democratic socialism, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who bested Democratic stalwart Joe Crowley by running for Congress on a platform of free Medicare and public college tuition for all, may not be the blip that establishment Democrats hope. In New York, democratic socialist Julia Salazar is looking to unseat long-time state senator Martin Dilan. Actress Cynthia Nixon, running against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, has just proclaimed herself a democratic socialist and promises to raise taxes on the rich and boost funding for public schools. Michelle Goldberg recently announced in the New York Times that “The Millenial Socialists are Coming,” indicating the intense dislike of traditional politics in urban centers. These young people do not think of things like debt-free college or paid family leave as radical: they see it done elsewhere in the world and don’t accept that it can’t be done in America.

Historically, the more affluent end of the middle class tends to identify with and support the wealthy. After all, they might join their ranks one day. But when this dream dies, the formerly secure may decide to throw their lot in with the rest of the Precariats. That’s when you have the chance for a real mass movement for change.

Of course, people have to recognize their COMMON CIRCUMSTANCES and fates. The urban denizens of New York and San Francisco have to see what they have in common with middle class Trump voters from the Rust Belt, as well as working class Americans and everybody else who is not ultra-rich.

If the growing ranks of Precariats can work together, maybe it won’t take a natural catastrophe or a war or violent social upheaval to change America’s unsustainable course of gross inequality. Because eventually, something has to give.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 08/08/18 •
Section Revelations • Section Dying America
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Friday, August 03, 2018

Propaganda American Style Part II

gagged-free-speech.jpg image: gagged free speech

I remember reading about AMERICAN IMPERIALISM and the NDAA:

An amendment that would legalize the use of propaganda on American audiences is being inserted into the latest defense authorization bill, BuzzFeed has learned.The amendment would strike the current ban on “domestic dissemination” of propaganda material produced by the State Department and the Pentagon, according to the summary of the law at the House Rules Committee’s official website.

The tweak to the bill would essentially neutralize two previous acts - the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 and Foreign Relations Authorization Act in 1987 - that had been passed to protect U.S. audiences from our own governments misinformation campaigns.

The rationale behind the bill is that current legislation prevents the use of propaganda overseas, as American audiences might see it via the internet. The critics say it’s a way of legalizing lying to the the American public.

And WOLFOWITZ DOCTRINE:

Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union. This is a dominant consideration underlying the new regional defense strategy and requires that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power. These regions include Western Europe, East Asia, the territory of the former Soviet Union, and Southwest Asia.

With the recent loss of NET NEUTRALITY:

Wednesday’s move by the Trump administration to end net neutrality marks a milestone in the offensive by the US government and major corporations to put an end to the free and open internet, paving the way for widespread government censorship of oppositional news and analysis.

... we can expect more CENSORSHIP of the news and storytelling by mainstream media.

full-of-crap.jpg rel=image: media is full of crap

Chomsky: Mainstream Media Is “Basically a Joke” Now, And Fox News Is “State Media”
The professor has strong words for America’s most popular press operations.

By Amy Goodman
Democracy Now
August 3, 2018

The New York Times reports special counsel Robert Mueller is scrutinizing President Trumps tweets as part of Mueller’s expanding probe into Trump’s ties to Russia. This latest revelation in the Mueller investigation is part of a nearly 24-hour stream of headlines about Trump, Russia and the administration’s various scandals. But is the mainstream media missing the real stories amid its obsession with Russiagate? For more, we speak with world-renowned political dissident, linguist, author and professor Noam Chomsky on media manipulation in the Trump era.

Transcript

AMY GOODMAN: We continue our interview with Noam Chomsky, world-renowned dissident, linguist and author, now in Tucson at the University of Arizona. I asked him about a recent mix-up on Fox & Friends, in which the hosts thought they were interviewing former Democratic congressional candidate, a current one, Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona, who supports Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, known as ICE, but, in fact, they were actually speaking to a Massachusetts Democratic congressional candidate, Barbara L’Italien, who opposes ICE. Here is how the interview started.

SEN. BARBARA LITALIEN: Good morning. I’m actually here to speak directly to Donald Trump. I feel that whats happening at the border is wrong. I’m a mother of four. And I believe that separating kids from their parents is illegal and inhumane. I’m actually Barbara L’Italien. I’m a state senator representing a large immigrant community. I’m running for Congress in Massachusetts. I keep thinking about what were putting parents through, imagining how terrifying that must be for those families, imagining how it would feel not knowing if I’d ever see my kids again. We have to stop abducting children and ripping them from their parents arms.

ROB SCHMITT: OK

SEN. BARBARA L’TALIEN:  stop putting kids in cages

ROB SCHMITT: You want to

SEN. BARBARA L’ITALIEN:  and stop making 3-year-olds defend themselves in court.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Barbara L’Italien said a lot there, but she was then cut off, with the shock of the Fox & Friends crew in the morning that they had the wrong Democratic congressional candidate. But this kind of media activism also just goes to the whole issue of the media, Noam Chomsky, the issue of Fox News becoming really state media, with you have the person who supported the sexual harasser Roger Ailes, Bill Shine, now a top aide to President Trump in the White House. That’s gotten little attention. So you have Fox being a mouthpiece for Trump and a place for him to hear what people have to say, and the other networks very much running counter to Trump, on certain issues, CNN and MSNBC. But your thoughts?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, MY FRANK OPINION is that I must say I don’t pay much attention to television, so I don’t know a great deal about it. But, in general, I think the media - first of all, FOX NEWS is, by now, basically a joke. It’s, as you said, state media. The other media, I think, are focusing on issues which are pretty marginal. There are much more serious issues that are being put to the side. So, the worst of - even on the case of immigration, once again, I think the real question is dealing with the roots of immigration, our responsibility for it, and what we can do to overcome that. And that’s almost never discussed. But I think that’s the crucial issue. And I think we find the same across the board.

So, of all Trump’s policies, the one that is the most dangerous and destructive, in fact poses an existential threat, is his policies on climate change, on global warming. That’s really destructive. And were facing an imminent threat, not far removed, of enormous damage. The effects are already visible but nothing like what’s going to come. A sea level rise of a couple of feet will be massively destructive. It will make todays immigration issues look like trivialities. And it’s not that the administration is unaware of this. So, Donald Trump, for example, is perfectly aware of the dangerous effects, in the short term, of global warming. So, for example, recently he applied to the government of Ireland for permission to build a wall to protect his golf course in Ireland from rising sea levels. And Rex Tillerson, who was supposed to be the adult in the room before he was thrown out, as CEO of ExxonMobil, was devoting enormous resources to climate change denial, although he had, sitting on his desk, the reports of EXXONMOBIL SCIENTISTS, who, since the 70s, in fact, were on the forefront of warning of the dire effects of this accelerating phenomenon. I don’t know what word in the language I can’t find one - that applies to people of that kind, who are willing to sacrifice the literal - the existence of organized human life, not in the distant future, so they can put a few more dollars in highly overstuffed pockets. The word EVIL doesn’t begin to approach it. These are the kinds of issues that should be under discussion. Instead, what’s being there is a focus on what I believe are marginalia.

So, take, say, the huge issue of interference in our pristine elections. Did the Russians interfere in our elections? An issue of overwhelming concern in the media. I mean, in most of the world, that’s almost a joke. First of all, if you’re interested in foreign interference in our elections, whatever the Russians may have done barely counts or weighs in the balance as compared with what another state does, openly, brazenly and with enormous support. Israeli intervention in US elections vastly overwhelms anything the Russians may have done, I mean, even to the point where the prime minister of Israel, Netanyahu, goes directly to Congress, without even informing the president, and speaks to Congress, with overwhelming applause, to try to undermine the president’s policies -what happened with Obama and Netanyahu in 2015. Did Putin come to give an address to the joint sessions of Congress trying to - calling on them to reverse US policy, without even informing the president? And that’s just a tiny bit of this overwhelming influence. So if you happen to be interested in influence of “foreign influence” on elections, there are places to look. But even that is a joke.

I mean, one of the most elementary principles of a functioning democracy is that elected representatives should be responsive to those who elected them. There;s nothing more elementary than that. But we know very well that that is simply not the case in the United States. There’s ample literature in mainstream academic political science simply comparing voters attitudes with the policies pursued by their representatives, and it shows that for a large majority of the population, they’re basically disenfranchised. Their own representatives pay no attention to their voices. They listen to the voices of the famous 1 percent the rich and the powerful, the corporate sector. The elections - Tom Fergusons stellar work has demonstrated, very conclusively, that for a long period, way back, US elections have been pretty much bought. You can predict the outcome of a presidential or congressional election with remarkable precision by simply looking at campaign spending. That’s only one part of it. Lobbyists practically writelegislation in congressional offices. In massive ways, the concentrated private capital, corporate sector, super wealth, intervene in our elections, massively, overwhelmingly, to the extent that the most elementary principles of democracy are undermined. Now, of course, all that is technically legal, but that tells you something about the way the society functions. So, if you’re concerned with our elections and how they operate and how they relate to what would happen in a democratic society, taking a look at Russian hacking is absolutely the wrong place to look. Well, you see occasionally some attention to these matters in the media, but very minor as compared with the extremely marginal question of Russian hacking.

And I think we find this on issue after issue, also on issues on which what Trump says, for whatever reason, is not unreasonable. So, he’s perfectly right when he says we should have better relations with Russia. Being dragged through the mud for that is outlandish, makes Russia shouldn’t refuse to deal with the United States because the US carried out the worst crime of the century in the invasion of Iraq, much worse than anything Russia has done. But they shouldn’t refuse to deal with us for that reason, and we shouldn’t refuse to deal with them for whatever infractions they may have carried out, which certainly exist. This is just absurd. We have to move towards better - right at the Russian border, there are very extreme tensions, that could blow up anytime and lead to what would in fact be a terminal nuclear war, terminal for the species and life on Earth. We’re very close to that. Now, we could ask why. First of all, we should do things to ameliorate it. Secondly, we should ask why. Well, its because NATO expanded after the collapse of the Soviet Union, in violation of verbal promises to Mikhail Gorbachev, mostly under Clinton, partly under first Bush, then Clinton expanded right to the Russian border, expanded further under Obama. The US has offered to bring Ukraine into NATO. That’s the kind of a heartland of Russian geostrategic concerns. So, yes, there’s tensions at the Russian border and not, notice, at the Mexican border. Well, those are all issues that should be of primary concern. The fate of the fate of organized human society, even of the survival of the species, depends on this. How much attention is given to these things as compared with, you know, whether Trump lied about something? I think those seem to me the fundamental criticisms of the media.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky, world-renowned political dissident, author and linguist, now a laureate professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Arizona, Tucson. He taught for 50 years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Tune in next week when we continue our conversation with Noam Chomsky about Gaza, Israel’s new nationality law, the recent Trump-Putin summit, Iran, North Kora, the war in Yemen and more. In December, Noam Chomsky will be celebrating his 90th birthday.

SOURCE

Speaking of censorship - what do you think of JULIAN ASSANGE:

The failure on the part of establishment media to defend Julian Assange, who has been trapped in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since 2012, has been denied communication with the outside world since March and appears to be facing imminent expulsion and arrest, is astonishing. The extradition of the publisher - the maniacal goal of the U.S. government - would set a legal precedent that would criminalize any journalistic oversight or investigation of the corporate state. It would turn leaks and whistleblowing into treason. It would shroud in total secrecy the actions of the ruling global elites. If Assange is extradited to the United States and sentenced, The New York Times, The Washington Post and every other media organization, no matter how tepid their coverage of the corporate state, would be subject to the same draconian censorship. Under the precedent set, Donald Trumps Supreme Court would enthusiastically uphold the arrest and imprisonment of any publisher, editor or reporter in the name of national security.

Ecuador may be close to ejecting WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from its London embassy

By Doug Stanglin
USA Today
July 21, 2018

Ecuador appears to be finalizing plans to withdraw its asylum protection for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange as early as next week, eject him from its London embassy and turn him over to British authorities, according to media reports.

Assange, 47, has been holed up in the embassy since 2012, after taking refuge to avoid extradition to Sweden where he was wanted for questioning over allegations of sexual assault and rape.

Although Sweden has since dropped its investigation into the rape accusation, Assange has chosen not to leave the embassy out of concern that the U.S. would immediately seek his arrest and extradition over the leaking of classified documents to WikiLeaks by Chelsea Manning.

WikiLeaks is also the focus of the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections by distributing hacked materials.

Ecuador has grown increasingly unhappy with the asylum arrangement in recent months. In March, Ecuador barred Assange from using the Internet from the embassy for violating an agreement he signed at the end of 2017 not to use his communiques to interfere in the affairs of other states.

Ecuador has toughened its stance following the election in May of President Lenin Moreno, who has described Assange as a “hacker,” an “inherited problem” and a “stone in the shoe.”

Assange, an Australian computer programmer, particularly drew the ire of Ecuador by angering the Spanish government with his support for separatist leaders in Spain’s Catalonia region who sought to secede last year.

The Times of London reported last week that British ministers and senior Foreign Office officials were “locked in discussions over the fate of Assange.”

In addition, RT, the Russian news outlet, quoted unidentified sources as saying Ecuador is ready to hand over Assange to the British authorities “in coming weeks or even days.”

Glen Greenwald, editor of the The Intercept, reported Saturday that he expects Moreno to finalize an agreement with British authorities during his trip to London on Friday ostensibly for a world disabilities summit. Greenwald said Moreno also notably plans to travel to Madrid during his trip.

Greenwald quoted an unidentified source close to the Ecuadoran Foreign Ministry and the president’s office as confirming that Moreno is close to a deal as early as this week.

Greenwald, former reporter for The Guardian, is a journalist and author who writes extensively about national security issues. He published a series of articles about U.S. and British global surveillance programs based in part on classified documents disclosed by Edward Snowden, a one-time U.S. contractor for the National Security Agency, who fled the country and found refuge in Russia.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 08/03/18 •
Section Revelations • Section Dying America
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Trump Putin And Fascism

We Can Criticize U.S. Imperialism and Oppose Putin, Too
The rise of fascism is not to be taken lightly.

B James Thindwa
In These Times
August 2, 2018

Some on the American Left feel the attention given to the Trump-Putin alliance and the ongoing Mueller investigation is problematic. The incredible phenomenon of a president who behaves like a Russian intelligence asset - his inability in Helsinki to criticize Russian interference in U.S. elections when asked - makes for riveting television. But critics argue the outrage expressed by many progressives toward Putin is overblown and hypocritical. The wall-to-wall media coverage, they say, distracts from underreported crises locally and globally, including racist police violence, nuclear proliferation, domestic voter suppression, the war in Syria and so on.

Critics also suggest the focus on the Mueller investigation comes at the expense of a potential focus on American warmongering. They remind us that the United States also interferes in other countries elections, and contend that people of color in the United States are so besieged with other concerns that Trump’s Russian connections are of little interest or import. But as progressives, we should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

It is true the liberal media has obsessed about the Russia story at the expense of other compelling developments, such as the ravages of global warming. But that’s not the fault of the Left, which has a broader focus. The fact is, folks on the Left have consistently condemned U.S. interference in many parts of the world, including Central America, Iran and Chile, to name just a few. Furthermore, U.S. social movements have acted in solidarity with oppressed people around the world and supported many in their quest for independence, including in South Africa, Zimbabwe, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Those on the Left who criticize Russian interference and Putin’s authoritarian posturing - his xenophobia, racism, homophobia and sexism - are simply being consistent, resisting the “bad campist” habit of confusing principled anti-imperialism with reflexive support for Washington’s antagonists.

Putin, a self-enriching reactionary, is building an international alliance of autocrats, as evidenced by his partnerships with far-right nationalist parties in Hungary, France and Italy - partnerships built around the promotion of ethno-nationalism, xenophobia, racism, Islamophobia and the rejection of democracy. In this endeavor, he has also forged ties between Russia and the American religious Right, which shares his White Christian nationalist and anti-gay ideology. It is an open question whether Russian interference altered the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. But if the Russians get more adept at hacking state voting systems, it could be a real problem in the future. Unfortunately, discounting that interference reflects a tendency on parts of the Left to not take electoral politics seriously.

Such dismissal also risks alienating the very people whose interests the Left purports to champion = Black and Brown people, and immigrants. The cruel and gratuitous separation of refugee families seeking asylum, the rollback of Obamacare, withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, a colossal tax bill that shifted wealth upward, and the failure to raise the minimum wage (which Democrats would have raised) - all these things are happening because Trump got elected, and they are hurting the least among us the most.

A truly internationalist Left must persist in resisting reactionary global actors everywhere. As Bree Newsome, the young woman who took down the Confederate flag in Columbia, S.C., warned, the situation with Russia is not a side issue or a distraction: The Trump-Putin alliance is part of the global white supremacist fascist movement. Let’s not forget that.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 08/03/18 •
Section Revelations
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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Down Skilling

image: jobs

I think it’s great if companies stop complaining that we’re TOO STUPID for the jobs out there, stop INSISTING ON DEGREES to apply for jobs pouring coffee, or insinuate that we’re LAZY BUMS that would rather starve than work.

It BEATS THE USUAL threats of outsourcing, offshoring, REPLACING AMERICAN WORKERS with robots or H1-B visas, or the lie we’ve been hearing for years about a SKILLS MISMATCH.

---

Employers Eager to Hire Try a New Policy: No Experience Necessary
Inexperienced job applicants face better odds in the labor market as more companies drop work-history and degree requirements

By Kelsey Gee
Wall Street Journal
July 29, 2018

Americans looking to land a first job or break into a dream career face their best odds of success in years.

Employers say they are abandoning preferences for college degrees and specific skill sets to speed up hiring and broaden the pool of job candidates. Many companies added requirements to job postings after the recession, when millions were out of work and human-resources departments were stacked with resumes.

Across incomes and industries, the lower bar to getting hired is helping self-taught programmers attain software engineering roles at Intel Corp. INTC 0.63% and GitHub Inc., the coding platform, and improving the odds for high-school graduates who aspire to be branch managers at Bank of America Corp. BAC 1.20% and Terminix pest control.

“Candidates have so many options today, said Amy Glaser, senior vice president of Adecco Group, a staffing agency with about 10,000 company clients in search of employees. “If a company requires a degree, two rounds of interviews and a test for hard SKILLS, candidates can go down the street to another employer who will make them an offer that day.”

Ms. Glaser estimates one in four of the agency’s employer clients have made drastic changes to their recruiting process since the start of the year, such as skipping drug tests or criminal background checks, or removing preferences for a higher degree or high-school diploma.

Cutting job-credential requirements is more common in cities such as Dallas and Louisville, where unemployment is lowest, Ms. Glaser said, as well as in recruiting for roles at call centers and warehouses within logistics operations of retailers such as Walmart Inc. and Amazon.com Inc.

In the first half of 2018, the share of job postings requesting a college degree fell to 30% from 32% in 2017, according to an analysis by labor-market research firm Burning Glass Technologies of 15 million ads on websites such as Indeed and Craigslist. Minimum qualifications have been drifting lower since 2012, when companies sought college graduates for 34% of those positions.

Long work-history requirements have also relaxed: Only 23% of entry-level jobs now ask applicants for three or more years of experience, compared with 29% back in 2012, putting an additional 1.2 million jobs in closer reach of more applicants, Burning Glass data show. Through the end of last year, a further one million new jobs were opened up to candidates with no experience necessary,Ӕ making occupations such as e-commerce analyst, purchasing assistant and preschool teacher available to novices and those without a degree.

It all marks a sharp reversal from the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis, when employers could be pickier. Economists say job requirements were harder to track then, because many companies didn’t post positions publicly and many resums werent delivered electronically.

Now, recruiters say, the tightest job market in decades has left employers looking to tamp down hiring costs with three options: Offer more money upfront, lower their standards or retrain current staff in coding, procurement or other necessary skills.

Rodney Apple, president of SCM Talent Group LLC in Asheville, N.C., said if companies won’t budge on compensation, experience or education requirements, he walks away.

We tell them,"I’m sorry, but we can’t help you fish for the few underpaid or unaware applicants left out there,” he said. SCM finds workers for dozens of small and midsize companies seeking supply-chain managers and logistics and warehouse operators across the U.S. Mr. Apple said talent shortages are more extreme than he has seen in nearly 20 years of recruiting.

Average wages have climbed steadily in the past year, but rising prices of household goods have made those pay raises less valuable to workers, keeping pressure on employers to increase salaries or re-evaluate their target hire.

To attract more entry-level employees, toy maker Hasbro Inc. HAS -1.20% divided four marketing jobs, which it previously designed for business-school graduates with M.B.A.s, into eight lower-level positions. The new full-time roles included a marketing coordinator, retail-planning analyst and trade merchandiser, all involving more routine activities supporting higher-level staff in the division.

Hasbro hiring managers originally sought candidates with a two-year degree for the jobs but ultimately dropped any college requirement, a spokeswoman said. The Pawtucket, R.I. company received more than 100 applications and hired nine people.

The new shift, called down skilling, bolsters a theory articulated by Alicia Modestino, a Northeastern University economist: When more people are looking for work, companies can afford to inflate job requirements to find the best fitand did so as unemployment spiked in 2008.

As college graduates and midcareer professionals raised their hands for jobs as hotel managers and bookkeepers after the recession, hires with more qualifications took a larger share of positions normally filled by the 75 million U.S. workers who lack a college degree.

After the recession, Terminix raised the bar for over 1,000 pest-control branch- and service-manager positions to require a two-year degree or a bachelor’s degree. In January, it reversed course and made degrees “preferred” but not mandatory, said Betsy Vincent, senior director of talent acquisition.

Anthony Whitehead worked for five years as a Terminix branch manager in Florida before he was promoted to regional director in early July. That position now accepts candidates with college degrees or equivalent experience, helping Mr. Whitehead clinch the role despite his earlier decision to enter the military instead of college.

Mr. Whitehead, 35 years old, said his approach to jobs requiring a degree has been apply anyways if I have the right experience, and then have the education conversation “if I need to,” he said, acknowledging his luck in working for companies like Terminix with flexible requirements.

A lot of employers are loosening college requirements even as the proportion of Americans with a bachelors degree continues to rise. Bank of America Corp. currently has 7,500 job openings world-wide and fewer than 10% require a degree, said spokesman Andy Aldridge. Mr. Aldridge said a surprising number of jobs could be filled by nongraduates, including most of the bankԒs tellers and employees handling customer-service and fraud-protection calls from cardholders.

In June, the bank unveiled plans to hire 10,000 more retail workers from low-income neighborhoods over the next five years, with or without degrees, said Chris Payton, head of talent acquisition.

Not every company is relaxing requirements: Economists say positions that require high levels of technical expertise, such as information security, still need advanced knowledge.

The tech industry has been quick to dismiss credentials like a bachelor of arts degree as irrelevant, especially in emerging fields such as data analytics, where demand for talent has risen faster than universities can churn out new graduates.

GitHub, recently acquired by Microsoft Corp., said it hasnt required college degrees for most positions in years. Degrees are optional for many Ғexperienced hire positions at chip maker Intel, which also has a Ӕtech grad job category the company describes as fitting candidates with relevant classroom or work experience from technical programs, such as coding boot camps.

Intel’s career website advertises roles, including a lab employee testing experimental devices in Santa Clara, Calif., and a components researcher improving the semiconductor process in Hillsboro, Ore., as available to candidates with a two-year degree, military training or other nondegree certifications.

Write to Kelsey Gee at kelsey dot gee at wsj dot com

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Posted by Elvis on 07/31/18 •
Section Job Hunt
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