Archive for February 3rd, 2012

03
Feb
12

Trouble found in air marshal report

A long-awaited report on alleged misconduct within the Federal Air Marshal Service concludes that while supervisors do not engage in “widespread” discrimination and retaliation against rank-and-file air marshals, the agency is far from trouble-free.

The report, from Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General and obtained by CNN, paints an unflattering picture of the agency, saying air marshals share the widespread “perception” that they are being mistreated, and adding that investigators “heard too many negative and conflicting accounts” of misconduct to dismiss them.

“Federal air marshals repeatedly portrayed their supervisors as vindictive, aggressive, and guilty of favoritism,” the report says.

A “substantial percentage” of air marshals surveyed believe they are victims of discrimination or unfavorable treatment. And many fear retaliation if they report violations of laws or regulations, the report says. “There is a great deal of tension, mistrust and dislike.”

At the same time, the report says, rank-and-file air marshals share in the blame. Air marshals with grievances sometimes take their bosses’ actions out of context, fail to disclose the whole story, and misinterpret management decisions as harassment, the report says.

Importantly, the report says, the divisiveness and tension on the ground “do not appear to have compromised” the agency’s mission” in the sky.

The 21-month investigation was triggered by a January 2010 CNN report about air marshals based at the Orlando, Florida, field office.

An air marshal there alleged that supervisors created a “Jeopardy”-style game board and labeled it with terms such as “pickle smokers,” “our gang” and “creatures,” which, he said, alluded to gay men, African-Americans and lesbians. The names ridiculed air marshals who had fallen out of favor, and targeted them for retaliation, he said.

But the Office of the Inspector General says it “found no evidence” that the board resulted in unfair treatment of air marshals.

The report says the game board was created by three people — a supervisor, an air marshal and a civilian training officer. The air marshal said the “Jeopardy” board was used to make fun of the training staff, not others. And he provided “relatively innocuous explanations” for the terms used on the boards, the Office of the Inspector General said.

But a training staff member, who was not involved in the board’s creation, gave a different explanation. He said the training staff “used the game board to make fun of federal air marshals they disliked, including African-Americans, gays and lesbians, and others who had filed complaints against the office,” the report says.

All three people responsible for creating the board have left the agency, it says.

Though the game-board disclosure triggered the inspector general’s investigation, the scope of the investigation expanded as air marshals stepped forward with other allegations about their bosses. More than 300 people were interviewed, and investigators visited Air Marshal Service offices in Orlando and Tampa in Florida; Charlotte, North Carolina; Cincinnati; Minneapolis; and Dallas.

The degree of animosity varied at different field offices, according to the report, which called the animosity at Orlando “unsettling.”

“We conducted numerous interviews at offsite locations because interviewees did not want to be seen talking to us,” the report says.

It says the inspector general’s office received numerous individual allegations of misconduct, but did not investigate them, leaving open the true extent of the mismanagement.

“Determining whether one employee retaliated or discriminated against another is a complex matter” that would require a court to determine, the report says.

A Federal Air Marshal Service spokeswoman contacted by CNN late Thursday reiterated that the report found no evidence of widespread discrimination or retaliation. Employees’ perceptions of discrimination stem from poor communication with the work force, she said.

“While the (agency) faces organizational challenges, the (inspector general’s office) notes that these challenges do not interfere with the mission of the agency,” Kimberley Thompson wrote in an e-mail statement. “Through working groups, listening sessions, and advisory councils, (Federal Air Marshal Service) leadership has demonstrated its commitment to improving communications within the workforce.”

She added the Transportation Security Administration “took a proactive approach to the issues raised and has developed and implemented solutions ahead of the conclusion of the investigation.”

But Tom Devine of the Government Accountability Project, a nonprofit whistle-blower organization, called the report “a significant vindication for air marshal whistle-blowers.”

“It confirms a perceived pattern of retaliation against air marshals who challenged security breaches by Federal Air Marshal Service management,” he said.

The inspector general’s report puts a spotlight on common complaints that many air marshals have against their supervisors, and vice versa. Many air marshals “harbor strong feelings” that former U.S. Secret Service employees, who flooded the top ranks of the agency following the September 11th terrorist attacks, created their own “elite culture” within the agency that was not held accountable. Conversely, supervisors “did not hide their view” that the government, in its haste to create the agency, hired unqualified people, the report says.

The government investigators said they identified factors that contributed to the allegations of a hostile work environment. There was limited transparency to management decisions, it said, and there is limited interaction between managers on the ground and the officers, whose job requires extensive travel.

The report said the TSA and the Federal Air Marshal Service are committed to addressing the factors that led to the investigation and the problems that air marshals say still exist.

The inspector general recommended the TSA “create and implement an action plan” to address workplace issues. “The plan should include training for supervisors on communication and conflict management that is tailored to the unique Federal Air Marshal Service mission,” the report stated.

03
Feb
12

Optimism over jobs outlook

Companies are saying the job market is getting better. Workers are saying it’s already kicked into high gear.

Friday’s jobs report showed a gain of 243,000 jobs. But a separate survey of households used to determine the unemployment rate shows much, much stronger job gains.

The number of people saying they were employed increased by 631,000 in January alone. That’s the biggest one-month gain since just before the Great Recession started in late 2007.

And the three-month and six-month increases are similarly impressive — 1.1 million more say they have jobs compared to October, and nearly 2 million more people say they’re working since July’s reading.

That is the best six-month job gain since August 2005, when the unemployment rate was a healthy 4.9%. January’s unemployment rate is still a painfully high 8.3%. But the unemployment rate has fallen from 9.1% in the last six months on the strength of the increasing number of those saying they have found work.

Finding a job in 2012

So the spike in Americans saying they’re working could be an early sign of much stronger-than-expected economic growth ahead.

Typically economists pay more attention to the jobs number produced by the survey of employers than to the households survey. But the employer survey can miss hiring by very small businesses, start-ups and self-employed workers.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, says the household survey serves as a better sign of where the economy is heading at turning points like when it’s going into recession and when it’s ready to take off.

He said one reason job growth has been so disappointing since the official end of the recession in June 2009 is that there has been weaker than expected new business start-ups during that period.

He and other economists said this employment reading, and other data showing a pick-up in demand for credit by small businesses, makes them hopeful we’re finally getting that long-overdue business creation.

The jump in those saying they found work “probably represents people finally feeling good enough, and credit is flowing freely enough, to start businesses,” Zandi said. “That augers very, very well.”

Dr. Charles W. Hodges, professor of finance at University of West Georgia, said that despite a persistent problem with home foreclosures, other economic signs point to a strengthening recovery.

To get a better feel of current economic activity, it’s better to look at jobless claims, state tax collections or to talk with your neighbors, he told the Associated Press.

“Are they getting jobs, being laid off and are their children getting jobs?” Hodges said.

He said construction is important to the economy but monthly foreclosure figures are not a good predictor. He said overall economic indicators are looking better.

“Take a look at the tax collections in Georgia,” Hodges said. “They are increasing significantly, telling us that economic activity is going up.”

 

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03
Feb
12

Zakaria: Democracy takes time

February 3rd, 2012
12:07 AM ET

Editor’s Note: Make sure to tune in Sunday at 10a.m. or 1p.m. EST for Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN.

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

Dozens of Egyptians were killed in a soccer stadium brawl this past week. This was the deadliest outbreak of violence since Hosni Mubarak was ousted one year ago. The violence didn’t stop at the stadium and it begs the question: What has Egypt gained since its revolution? Take a step back and ask: What has the Arab Spring achieved in the last year? Has people power failed the people? What in the world is going on?

In Egypt, the military might be more entrenched than before. Meanwhile a quarter of the seats in parliament have gone to a group of ultra conservative Islamists. Only 2% have gone to women. Or consider Libya. It’s veering towards anarchy. The local militias that helped topple Moammar Gadhafi have reneged on a pledge to give up their arms.

Look at Tunisia. You’ll remember that a fruit vendor there sparked the Arab Spring by setting himself on fire. Well, now there are reports of many more such incidents of self-immolation. From Tunisia, to Egypt, to Libya, democracy has unleashed turmoil and long-suppressed expressions of Islamic fundamentalism.Perhaps, some will say, the Arab world didn’t fully understand what it was getting into. Perhaps, others will argue, after years of living under tyranny, Arabs just don’t know how to rule themselves.

I say, let’s look at some history. Democracy has never been easy. Consider what so many democratic revolutions looked like – a year or two after they started. Take America: After the revolutionary war, the country was in economic, political, and social turmoil. By 1779, inflation was at close to 400%. Per-capita income had halved between 1774 and 1790. Remember the armed Shays’ Rebellion of 1786? It was seen by many as evidence that people power would go awry and upend the union.

Or consider France. After the onset of the French Revolution things got really bad. The symbol of the revolution became not libertéégalité, fraternité but the guillotine.

Or look at India, the world’s largest democracy. It welcomed freedom in 1947 after centuries of foreign rule. And yet the ensuing months brought with it mass riots over Partition, the deaths of millions of Hindus and Muslims. Five months after freedom, the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi, was assassinated. In Indonesia, in the 1990s, a year after Suharto fell, a hapless man, BJ Habibie became president amidst economic collapse and rising Islamic radicalism. His presidency lasted exactly 17 months.

Now we remember the Eastern European revolutions of 1989. But those are really the exceptions that prove a much more messy rule. The process of becoming democratic has always been chaotic. Mistakes are made. Lives are lost. And in the most dire moments, people have always doubted that there would be a good outcome. We need to keep that in mind when we assess the Arab Spring.

Democracy might be messy. It’s certainly complicated. It takes a while to consolidate. But for the first time in perhaps a millennium, the Arab people are taking charge of their own affairs. So let’s cut them some slack. It’s only been a year.

Make sure to tune in Sunday at 10a.m. or 1p.m. EST for GPS on CNN. For more of my thoughts throughout the week, I invite you to follow me on Facebook and Twitter and to visit the Global Public Square every day. Also, for more ‘What in the World’ pieces, click here.

03
Feb
12

Newt, Mitt and Latinos

Editor’s note: Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a CNN.com contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist.

San Diego, California (CNN) — On the eve of the Nevada caucus, here’s some advice to Newt Gingrich: If you still want to draw contrasts with Mitt Romney over immigration, don’t toss in your cards. Double down.

Why? Because you’re not in Florida anymore.

In the Sunshine State, Gingrich used a controversial and hard-hitting ad to try to paint Mitt Romney as “anti-immigrant.” The goal was to weaken the frontrunner’s support with Hispanic voters. Despite the fact it made some party loyalists nervous, the label fit. Romney got carried away in the GOP primary, railing against anything resembling “amnesty” in an attempt to offer himself as the preferred candidate for the hostile, intolerant, and frightened. There’s a reason that Romney was endorsed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, an opportunistic, anti-illegal immigration zealot who helped write many of the constitutionally challenged pieces of legislation clogging up the federal courts in a half dozen states.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

Thus, Gingrich had the right strategy. And yet it backfired. Members of the Hispanic establishment in Florida criticized him and demanded he pull the ad. So what went wrong? Ethnicity and geography played a key role in the Florida result.

The overwhelming majority of Hispanic voters in Florida are either Cuban-American or Puerto Rican. They don’t have a dog in the immigration fight. While supportive of comprehensive immigration reform and measures like the Dream Act, which would give undocumented students legal status if they go to college or joined the military, these groups aren’t directly impacted by the debate. Their lives aren’t affected one way or the other by the fact that there are 11 million people in the United States without legal status or that the Obama administration has deported a record 1.2 million people in three years.

Since Puerto Rico is a U.S. commonwealth, Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens at birth. Meanwhile, Cubans have carte blanche due to the Cuban Adjustment Act, which gives automatic legal status to Cuban immigrants and makes it all but impossible to remove them once they set foot on the U.S. shoreline.

However, Mexican immigrants are not so lucky. Along with Mexican-Americans, they represent more than two-thirds of the U.S. Latino population. For this group, the immigration debate is deeply personal. In a December 2011 study by the Pew Hispanic Center, nearly one quarter (24%) of all Hispanics said they knew someone who had been deported or detained in the past year.

Most Mexicans and Mexican-Americans live in the Southwest. This is the same area of the country where the Republican candidates for president will be spending a lot of time in the next few weeks. After voters go to the polls on Saturday in Nevada (where Hispanics account for 26.5 percent of the population), they’ll cast ballots on February 7 in Colorado (20.7 percent) and on February 28 in Arizona (29.6 percent).

These groups of voters are unlikely to do what the Florida voters did and simply shrug off the charge that Romney is anti-immigrant. They’re more likely to take umbrage at some of the positions that Romney has taken — for instance, his opposition to the Dream Act as presently written. The bill has the support of 90 percent of Hispanics. So while Romney won a solid majority of the Hispanic vote in Florida, 54 percent to 29 percent for Gingrich, the challenger should not be discouraged. Instead, Gingrich should dust off the “anti-immigrant” ad he used against Romney there and air it again in Colorado and Arizona. He should reopen the immigration debate and force Romney to defend himself. The presumptive GOP nominee needs to explain whether he sees immigrants — legal and illegal — as a net positive or negative to the United States.

Romney also needs to take responsibility for a massive flip-flop: Having spent months attacking his opponents for supporting proposals that would allow the undocumented to pay in-state university tuition or work legally in the United States, Romney told a roomful of Hispanic conservatives in Florida that he supports giving illegal immigrants “temporary worker permits.”

Under the Romney plan, the undocumented could remain in the U.S. to work for a certain period of time. After the time is up, the immigrants would hopefully “self-deport” but the government wouldn’t make them leave. It’s the very thing that the old Romney would have derided as a form of amnesty — that is, before he discovered Florida’s sizable Hispanic population and felt the urge to pander to it.

Romney is vulnerable with Hispanics. Gingrich needs to use the primaries and caucuses in the Southwest to go back on the offensive. The immigration issue lets him do that. Gingrich has to stop whining about what he calls Romney’s stunning level of dishonesty. What did he expect from a fellow politician?

Instead, Gingrich needs to start making the case to Republican voters that the road to the White House goes right through the U.S Hispanic community and that he alone can lead the way.

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