All posts by Liz Wolfe

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The Backwards Thinking of #DeleteUber

It’s no secret that taxi unions and Uber have been in competition with each other since Uber’s inception in 2009, but the battle has reached new and increasingly petty heights. New York City taxi drivers went on strike in solidarity with those affected by Trump’s new immigration policy at John F. Kennedy International Airport while Uber continued serving the airport and surrounding areas. Uber even turned off surge pricing (an element of their pricing system that often comes under fire during crises) as they carried protesters, attorneys, and the press back and forth from JFK late Friday evening.

Uber was accused of ruining the strike by continuing to run routes to JFK and the #DeleteUber social media campaign was started on Twitter. Why? To lambast the company for making the decision to increase human mobility and choice by providing uninterrupted service. The irony is clear, given that this was all a response to an immigration policy crisis that restricts human mobility and freedom of choice.

Although the intentions of the striking taxi drivers were undoubtedly good, it’s unreasonable to demonize Uber or to assume that the company was focused only on profiting during a time of humanitarian crisis.

Continue reading at FEE.

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Solitary for Suicide Attempts: The Brutal Punishment of Chelsea Manning

On August 10, Army Secretary Eric Fanning received a petition with 115,000 signatures, part of an ongoing effort by activists to ensure Chelsea Manning’s additional suicide-related charges are dropped. Although public pressure has mounted, there has been no sign that the charges will be dropped any time soon.

Manning’s case has been fraught with government abuses of power, ranging from1,000 days of detention without trial to denial of medical resources when dealing with gender dysphoria. Now, after a suicide attempt, Manning is facing potential conviction that would force her back into solitary confinement. This horribly inhumane treatment is used for many prisoners, particularly those seen as threatening to the state. But Manning hasn’t just been punished because of her charges; she has been denied basic resources necessary for dealing with the complexity of both gender dysphoria and the mental ramifications of solitary confinement.

In her personal account of her whistleblowing ordeal, Manning describes how releasing documents revealing “the deliberate diplomatic and economic exploitation of developing countries” would show the public elements of war that had so long been hidden from them. This case was deemed unconvincing by the US military: Manning was found guilty of five accounts of espionage and five of theft, and in August 2013, after a lengthy and abuse-ridden period of trial-less detention, was sentenced to 35 years.

Continue reading at Truthout.

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The DOJ was right to phase out private prisons, but there’s much more work to be done

Earlier this week, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced that the federal government will be halting its use of private prisons. Although very few federal prisoners are held in private prisons compared to at the state level, this is still an important symbolic decision in response to a recent Office of Inspector General (OIG) report that found less safety and weaker security in privately run prisons than public ones.

Although the libertarian instinct might be to criticize this decision—why should the federal government have a prison monopoly?—it’s worth recognizing that private incarceration facilities have long been mismanaged and fraught with problems, with disastrous consequences for inmate quality of life. This is a step in the right direction: towards the proper and humane treatment of inmates, and away from punitive experiences and over-incarceration.

Private prisons began in the 1980s, largely as a response to the War on Drugs and subsequent overcrowding. Since private prisons are profit-motivated, their operators (in theory) have incentives to run them well while keeping costs as low as possible.

Continue reading at Rare.

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Costly loan forgiveness amendment will burden universities

The Department of Education is pushing a loan forgiveness amendment to federal student loan policy that would relieve students of their debt if they could make the case that the school “substantially misrepresented” the education received. This new policy would have vast financial implications, is poorly thought-out, and is unlikely to be adjudicated properly.

Under the current policy, there are two main situations in which a student can apply for loan forgiveness: when the borrower succeeds in legal action against the school or when the school fails to meet contractual obligations.

This policy change would add a third component, stating that when the school makes substantial misrepresentations toward the borrower, the borrower can be eligible for loan forgiveness.

At first glance, this amendment looks as though it is protecting the small guy against big, powerful universities. However, the wording of this amendment, “substantial misrepresentation,” goes well beyond the legal definitions of fraud, making it easier for borrowers to make expansive and unreasonable claims. “Substantial misrepresentation,” as defined here, could take the form of a university advertising salary expectations or job prospects which the borrower did not find themselves able to achieve. Or, it could mean the university providing a school ranking institution with any flawed or misleading statistics — a common practice.

While universities should provide honest and detailed statistics to college ranking outlets, the famed U.S. News and World Report rankings are well-known to be fraught with problems; metrics are played around with every year, changed in small ways. Universities must report their acceptance rates, so some have been known to artificially inflate their applicant pool numbers.

A large element of the ranking is subjective, based on reputation or intangible factors like faculty dedication to teaching. It should be no surprise that rankings are far from a precise science. Yet with this new Department of Education ruling, these flimsy metrics could be used to dole out costly loan forgiveness. This amendment is unlikely to bring about greater accountability in college advertising and ranking reporting. Rather, it will simply create an avenue for individuals to drag universities through mountains of paperwork in attempts to get vengeful claims. According to the proposed rule, these claims could cost taxpayers anywhere between $2 and $42 billion.

Continue reading at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.