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Social Security Administration Continues With Its Tradition of Punishing Whistleblowers

in First Amendment, Liberator Online, News You Can Use by Alice Salles Comments are off

Social Security Administration Continues With Its Tradition of Punishing Whistleblowers

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

Recently, Watchdog.org published a report claiming that Ronald Klym, a long-time federal employee is paying a hefty price for blowing the whistle on the waste and abuse taking place in the Social Security Administration.

SSAAfter blowing the whistle to the media, Klym was put on administrative leave as he was forced out of the Milwaukee building he worked for years.

Klym who had been with the SSA for 16 years, was accused of violating the public trust by discussing issues within the administration with the press. But during the years he has been working for administrative judges who decide Social Security disability benefits cases, he started paying attention to what Daily Caller calls serious management problems within SSA. Among some of the issues raised by Klym, Daily Caller highlights some of the problems with the Milwaukee SSA office regularly transferring claims for disability benefits from its original offices to other SSA addresses around the country in order to make it look like the local administration was reducing the backlog. This move, Klym contends, made Milwaukee’s SSA office appear to be making major progress. While Klym tried to discuss some of these problems with his legislators for years, nothing was done to put an end to the abuse, forcing him to go to the media.

As Klym waits to learn more about his future with the government agency, others who, like Klym, have spent years in SSA’s bureaucratic hell attempting to make waste and abuse within government agencies public share their personal stories of censorship and persecution.

Sarah Carver, a former senior case technician at the Huntington, West Virginia Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, claims she now suffers the consequences of her actions by having to deal with the ostracism and trauma related to how the agency penalized her for reporting on waste and fraud within the system.

Along with whistleblower and colleague Jennifer Griffith, Carver stood up to the SSA’s pressure.

After reporting on corruption problems within the federal agency that later led to the indictment of an administrative law judge, a psychologist, and an attorney over their participation in a scheme to defraud taxpayers of $600 million, Griffith paid the price for speaking out.

During an entire year after attempting to get attention to her reports, Griffith claims to have been placed in “solitary confinement” within her own office. Instead of being allowed to do her job, Griffith was put in “a room that had no windows, and there were no other coworkers.” According to the whistleblower, she wasn’t able to even take part in staff meetings.

What Watchdog.org claims is that the SSA has a history of punishing whistleblowers who see abuse, fraud, and corruption and speak out.

As another governmental agency encourages individuals to step up and alert potential security problems to the authority, government workers who put the concerns of taxpayers first are punished.

As NSA whistleblower famously pointed out: If the whisteblower is a traitor, who are they betraying? Not the American people.

Libertarian Law Firm Fights Eminent Domain Abuse in North Carolina

in Liberator Online, News You Can Use, Personal Liberty, Property Rights by Alice Salles Comments are off

Libertarian Law Firm Fights Eminent Domain Abuse in North Carolina

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

Property rights just won big in North Carolina.

With the help of Institute for Justice, a non-profit libertarian public interest law firm, property owners in Mt. Airy, NC created an organization to keep local officials from violating property owners’ rights. The Mt. Airy Property Rights Alliance (MAPRA), as they are now called, were able to put an end to the city’s plan to use privately owned property in their redevelopment effort recently. And IJ wants you to know how it all went down.

NorthCarolinaThe grassroots movement was launched when the city decided to include privately owned businesses and homes in the redevelopment plan put together by the Mt. Airy Redevelopment Commission, a committee created by the City Board of Commissioners.

The original plan was to give the new board the authority to initiate efforts to redevelop government-owned property in the city. But the newly-created commission had other plans. That’s when private properties were added to the mix.

When the city began eyeing an abandoned factory known as the Spencer’s property, a building that had once been a children’s clothing manufacturer, everyone started to pay attention.

In September of 2015, the redevelopment commission notified that the Westside Redevelopment Plan announced that at least 20 privately owned properties had been declared “blighted.” The 20 new parcels, along with the former factory, made it to the final list of properties targeted by the city’s new commission. If owners didn’t cooperate, the commission would authorize eminent domain, and properties would become officially condemned. At the time, Commissioner Steve Yokeley told The Mount Airy News that owners who weren’t “interested in developing” their property on their own would have their property taken away.

But eminent domain is designated as a public tool, which is to say, officials often make use of it to build roads and bridges, not to pick and choose which corporations or constructors get to develop a designated area for economic purposes.

In order to fight the local officials, IJ and MAPRA targeted the media without mercy.

By launching a major PR campaign and having the media focus on the eminent domain issue, the two groups forced the city commission to debate the case at every subsequent meeting. The result was eye-popping.

As the media helped grassroots organization make the inclusion of private properties in the new development plan a hot topic, the four of the five city commissioners, as well as the mayor were pressured to go against the city plan during their reelection campaigns. Once the elections were over, the Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 to dissolve the Mt. Airy Redevelopment Commission. As the board took on the responsibility of taking on the project on their own, they decided to redraw the boundaries of the redevelopment plan, and all privately owned properties remained protected.

Eminent domain is the central subject of Steven Greenhut’s book Abuse of Power: How the government misuses eminent domain. According to Greenhut, major corporations and developers often refer to local government officials whenever they see an opportunity to earn big on the expense of property they do not own. The Mt. Airy case is a great example.

With the help of a strong and aggressive PR campaign, IJ and MAPRA beat the local government officials, giving private property owners a reason to hope that the same could be done again.

As Presidential Candidates Promise to Use Torture, Pentagon Releases Photos of Detainee Abuse

in Liberator Online, News You Can Use by Alice Salles Comments are off

As Presidential Candidates Promise to Use Torture, Pentagon Releases Photos of Detainee Abuse

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

The Pentagon recently released nearly 200 photos related to its investigation into the US use—and abuse—of torture against detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to The Intercept, the released images are the most innocuous of the more than 2,000 images the government has been fighting to keep confidential.

The pictures were taken between 2003 and 2006. Most of them are close-up shots of detainees’ limbs. Some of them show scabs or bruises. Faces are covered with black bars to keep the detainees’ identities under wraps.

Torture

According to government attorneys, the release of the 2,000 photos documenting the abuse would harm national security. Admitting that the actions perpetrated by US forces against detainees are used as a recruitment tool, government attorneys have argued that the release of the bulk of images would be used as propaganda by the Islamic State or al Qaeda.

In 2004, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to force the Defense Department to release the 2,000 photographs in the agency’s possession. The request was filed after images from the prison at Abu Ghraib leaked.

According to Vice News, many of the unreleased images show soldiers posing with dead bodies, while others show soldiers punching and kicking prisoners. Many allegedly show detainees stripping naked next to female guards. None of those incidents were documented in the 198 photos released by the Pentagon in response to ACLU’s lawsuit.

To Katherine Hawkins, the senior counsel at the Constitution Project, released images “are only about 10 percent, and presumably the least graphic 10 percent, of the larger set the ACLU sued for.” Despite the lack of graphic content, Hawkins says released photos are enough to prove US forces abused their power.

While the Barack Obama administration initially promised to release the images by 2009, it changed its stance.

The change of heart is reportedly due to pressure from the top US commander in Iraq, Bush-era holdovers at the Defense Department, and the then-Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

After the change of policy, the administration reported that the publication of the images would not add “any additional benefit” to the public understanding of what happened. The administration reported that abuse was perpetrated by “a small number of individuals.” The administration also confirmed that the release of the images would “inflame anti-American opinion,” which could put troops in danger.

The Defense Department has claimed that the investigations tied to the released images were associated with 14 allegations of abuse that resulted in “some form of disciplinary action.” At least 65 service members were reprimanded in some capacity.

As presidential election debates force candidates to share their views on torture and whether US forces should make use of it in the country’s efforts to combat terrorism, many believe candidates sound somewhat desperate to please the pro-war crowd. Among conservatives, however, many have made the case against torture in the past by claiming that the policy signals that the “beacon of freedom is lowering the legal bar on what it means to be a human being.”

Senator Rand Paul, one of the few Republican presidential candidates who made anti-torture comments in the past, has recently dropped out of the race. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has had different opinions on the use of torture in the past, while Senator Bernie Sanders opposes the practice.

Despite the antiwar rhetoric, candidates like Sanders have voted to fund wars and US bombing campaigns in the past.

Without a consistent voice against torture and intervention in the election cycle, Americans lose the opportunity to hear different perspectives. With so many candidates making pro-torture comments, it’s hard to see the mainstream political discourse shifting any time soon.

Best Libertarian Science Fiction/Fantasy of the Year Announced

in Liberator Online by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the Intellectual Ammunition section in Volume 19, No. 11 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Cory Doctorow's Homeland

Want some great libertarian-oriented reading? The Libertarian Futurist Society has some new recommendations for you.

For more than three decades, the Libertarian Futurist Society has given its coveted annual Prometheus Awards, which celebrate outstanding current and classic works of science fiction and fantasy that stress the importance of liberty as the foundation for civilization, peace, prosperity, progress and justice.

This year’s Best Novel Award was a tie: Homeland by Cory Doctorow and Nexus by Ramez Naam.

FREE DOWNLOAD: Cory Doctorow has generously allowed readers to download Homeland — and some of his other works — for free here.

Homeland, the sequel to Doctorow’s 2009 Prometheus winner Little Brother, follows the continuing adventures of a government-brutalized young leader of a movement of tech-savvy hackers — who must decide whether to release an incendiary Wikileaks-style exposé of massive government abuse and corruption as part of a struggle against the invasive national-security state.

This is Doctorow’s third Prometheus Award for Best Novel. He won last year for his Pirate Cinema. All three are young-adult novels with strong libertarian themes.

Nexus by Ramez Naam is described as “a gripping exploration of politics and new extremes of both freedom and tyranny in a near future where emerging technology opens up unprecedented possibilities for mind control or personal liberation and interpersonal connection.”

The other finalists:

* A Few Good Men by Sarah Hoyt
* Crux by Ramez Naam (sequel to his Best Novel-winning Nexus)
* Brilliance by Marcus Sakey

The Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame) winner is Falling Free, a 1988 novel by Lois McMaster Bujold that explores free will and self-ownership by considering the legal and ethical implications of human genetic engineering.

The other 2014 Hall of Fame finalists: “As Easy as A.B.C.,” a 1912 short story by Rudyard Kipling; “Sam Hall,” a 1953 short story by Poul Anderson; “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman,” a 1965 short story by Harlan Ellison; and Courtship Rite, a 1982 novel by Donald M. Kingsbury.

In a separate awards ceremony, four-time-Prometheus Award-winning author Vernor Vinge will receive a Special Prometheus Lifetime Achievement Award.

Author-filksinger Leslie Fish — according to Prometheus “perhaps the most popular filk song writer of the past three decades and one who often includes pro-freedom themes in her songs” — will receive a Special Prometheus Award in 2014 for the combination of her 2013 libertarian-themed novella “Tower of Horses” and her related filk song, “The Horsetamer’s Daughter.” (No, that’s not a misspelling. Filk songs are songs created from within science fiction and fantasy fandom, usually dealing with related subject matter.)

The Prometheus Award will be presented in a ceremony during the 2014 World Science Fiction Convention, to be held in London, England August 14-18, 2014.

For further great libertarian fiction reading recommendations, see the list of past Prometheus Award winners and nominees.