Our information is unimpeachable

The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the federal government has the right to refuse to explain to rejected visa applicants why they’ve been refused visas.  The specific case involved a naturalized U.S. citizen from Afghanistan and her Afghan husband, whom she wanted to bring to the United States to immigrate.  He was denied because of unspecified concerns related to terrorism, but the government refused to explain those concerns or allow an appeal or anything.  Five justices said the government has no responsibility to provide any information or explanation.  Four said the wife deserved an explanation.  In other words, the five have such confidence in U.S. information that they reject the thought of it ever being challenged by applicants.

The thought that government bureaucrats, without having to explain themselves and without being subject to challenge, can make such momentous decisions about people’s lives is quite amazing.

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Firing Americans

Hardly a week goes by that we don’t see reports on American companies’ efforts to take advantage of cheap foreign labor — usually abroad but also in the United States.  The U.S. government’s H-1B visa program provides 85,000 visas a year to foreigners with skills that American workers supposedly don’t have (but who work for a small fraction of the pay).  Disney World just laid off a couple hundred American workers to make way for cheaper replacements from India.  South California Edison, a power utility, did the same thing to 450 workers.  Neither company even bothered to try to argue that the American workers lacked the necessary skills.  The U.S. government has done nothing to investigate and stop such practices, while it spends billions to keep out and kick out low-wage workers.  It just keeps issuing the visas.

No surprise that legislation to require companies importing this labor to demonstrate a good-faith effort to hire Americans first can’t pass.

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Is anyone watching?

A retired Army lieutenant colonel receiving millions in U.S. federal contracts has engaged in bizarre, abusive acts — and the money just keeps on coming.  The government has given the company of the officer, John Hagmann, more than $10 million since he retired in 2000 to train soldiers and medical personnel how to treat battlefield wounds.  He hasn’t just used live, wounded pigs to simulate combat injuries — bad enough.  He gave his trainees drugs and liquor and then instructed them to perform medical procedures on one another, according to an investigation by the Virginia Board of Medicine.  Among the exercises students did while under the influence was inserting catheters into the genitals of their classmates.  Two students were subjected to “penile nerve block procedures,” and other were put through “shock labs,” during which Hagmann withdrew their blood, monitored them for shock, and then put the blood back in them. The officer claimed he was doing nothing out of the ordinary and that “absolutely no ‘sexual gratification’ was involved.”

Is there no adult supervision?

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Sort of depressing

An article in Slate about an FDA advisory board’s vote in favor of “viagra for women” probed whether the drug would be for women’s bodies or for their minds.  The piece points out that the pill’s purpose is to create desire, not just act upon it, and it underscores the trickiness of the task because of the skyrocketing use of anti-depressants.  According to the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, one in 10 Americans now takes an antidepressant medication; among women in their 40s and 50s, the figure is one in four.

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Getting to know you (more than you want)

The Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania has found that many Americans do not think trading their personal information in return for personalized services, giveaways or discounts is a good idea, but they are resigned to having little say over what companies do with their info.  According to a survey conducted by the school, 55 percent of respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed that “it’s O.K. if a store where I shop uses information it has about me to create a picture of me that improves the services they provide for me.”  Ninety-one percent of respondents disagreed that it was fair for companies to collect information about them without their knowledge in exchange for a discount.

Profiling by either government or the “private sector” has serious implications for our rights.

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Feeling safer?

Transportation Security Administration screeners failed to detect weapons and other prohibited items 95 percent of the time when their agency’s inspectors put them to the test.  Inspectors routinely got through security with all kinds of dangerous stuff in their bags and on their bodies.  According to ABC News, one undercover agent was stopped when he set off an alarm, but the TSA screener failed during a pat-down to detect a fake explosive device taped to his back.  The Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, said he took the findings “very seriously” and ordered TSA to retrain airport security officers, retest screening equipment and increase the use of covert testing in airports.

The companies that have made billions selling machines to TSA should be examined as well.

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What you don’t know will hurt you

Atlantic Monthly reports that, despite laws banning the practice, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research has found that roughly half of American employees are not allowed — overtly or tacitly — to discuss their pay with coworkers.  In the private sector, some 61 percent of employees say their bosses impose pay secrecy rules.

The oldest trick in the book for bad, manipulative managers: keep it all secret.

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Defending the American way

The Wall Street Journal reported recently that more than two-thirds of America’s youth would fail to qualify for military service because of physical, behavioral or educational shortcomings.  The military deems many youngsters ineligible due to obesity, lack of a high-school diploma, felony convictions and prescription-drug use for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. But others are now also running afoul of standards for appearance amid the growing popularity of large-scale tattoos and “ear gauges” that create large holes in earlobes.

No great crisis for the Army, which the report says each year still successfully recruits about 180,000 volunteers.  But where do the rejects go next?

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Another good idea gone awry

Europe’s highest court recently decided that Google, Bing and others must allow people in Europe to ask that links to information about themselves be removed from search results.  The idea was a good one — to enable individuals to protect their reputations — but Google has begun informing legitimate, prestigious news organizations that it will no longer provide search links to articles that people don’t want discovered.  The news agencies will, of course, still have the articles in their archives, but you and I won’t be able to find them with Google.  The rich and famous are already using this law to make it harder for researchers to find incriminating information.  More than 50,000 requests have already been submitted to Google, and the debate over what should — and should not — be removed is likely to be contentious.

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The raw power of money

Salon.com reports that nine U.S. states have “ag-gag” laws on the books — laws that make it illegal for anyone to record what occurs on farms without the owner’s permission.  The purpose is to make sure that practices that would horrify consumers of any meat are not made public.  The laws come in the wake of videos showing factory farms’ illegal practices, such as beating animals, dragging them across floors with chains around their necks, etc.  The most recent anti-whistleblower law, in Idaho, ensures that the criminal in such cases is the person exposing the practices.  Salon.com writer Lindsay Abrams says, “But that these laws effectively allow animal cruelty to go undetected and unreported only scratches the surface of why critics find them so appalling. In the interest of protecting the agriculture industry, ag-gag laws criminalize whistleblowers and, ultimately, ensure consumers remain in the dark.”

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