greek

Slovenia – The new Greece?

Slovenia, a tiny picturesque country located south of Austria, has been described for many years as a role-model for how to transition from a planned to a market economy. Slovenia was the first Eastern European country to join the Eurozone, had until recently a healthy public-debt-to-GDP ratio, and its location between Austria, Italy, and the Balkans promised a bright future.

Nearly a decade after joining the EU, Slovenia marches towards a collapse of its economy with an all-but-nationalized financial sector, and growth numbers which seem to point towards joining the PIIGS club rather than prolonging its membership with vibrant European economies such as Estonia, Austria, or Germany.

matej-meme

When looking into the causes for the loss of competitiveness of Slovenia one can analyze various fields of fiscal and economic policies, which led to sclerotic structural problems of an economy of two million people.

Labour regulations are rigid and extremely risky for employers. Strong labour unions hold virtually all stakeholders of the economy captive and de facto rule the country in this respect. Minimum wage laws reduce hiring possibilities for young and unskilled labor. Thus students and recent graduates have problems finding a job and often head for opportunities in neighboring countries.

Government spending as a share of GDP amounted to 49% in 2012. These are levels which can usually only be observed in rich Nordic welfare states. A VAT raise to 22% in 2013 crippled the already weak domestic demand even more and its negative long term effects are still unknown. Even as far back as 2007 Forbes Magazine was reporting that Slovene workers were some of the most taxed in the world.

Slovenian politicians never actually really seriously attempted to privatize the economy, and thus they retain a large influence on the domestic industry. Many of the largest corporations are still in outright government ownership. According to the former Slovene Minister of Economic Development, as much as 30% of our economy consists of state-owned enterprises. That brings us to a staggering number: 80% of our economy is, in one way or another, centrally planned and directed by politicians and bureaucrats.

Two-thirds of Slovene banks ran deficits in 2012. Most of the 17 largest banks’ assets are either outright state-owned or largely state-owned through other state-owned enterprises or holdings. These banks lent millions of Euros for Management Buy Outs and other non-viable investments during the boom years in Slovenia and are now dumping the cost on taxpayers. Due to the strong role of government and public ownership in the Slovene economy, perpetrated as some kind of mystical “national interest,” many larger foreign firms were not very successful in entering the market and bringing additional foreign capital to Slovenia.

Given the uncertainty concerning future tax hikes and even more regulations, some of Slovenia’s best and most successful entrepreneurs have stopped their investments here and moved their activities abroad.

After countless and widespread corruption scandals, which caught even the highest officials in our political sphere, and a few government swings from left to right and back, there is widespread disbelief, especially among the youth, that politicians are willing or able to solve the structural problems we are facing. Politicians and their friends are often moving directly from public office to C-level executive jobs in state-controlled enterprises in broad daylight and with everyone watching.

The structural problems of Slovenia and the apathy of politicians when it comes to solving them can only lead us to the same path Greece is on, which is one that left more than half of young people without jobs.

I don’t want Slovenia to become the new Greece. In order to prevent this and allow young people to prosper in our home country, politicians have to wake up and smell the coffee. They need to understand that the way back to prosperity requires that they step out of the way and facilitate a private sector which is private not only by name, but actually run by entrepreneurs and managers instead of politicians and cronies.

dc

Young Voices Associate Published in the Daily Caller!

Young Voices Associate Cathy Reisenwitz made the top spot in the Daily Caller’s Opinion sidebar, and the front page of the section with her piece Police brutality in America: These are not isolated incidents.

Check it out!

Just last week, several police officers in Stockton, California beat a mentally disturbed man during an arrest, one officer putting a knee on his head and another pulling him by his braids. Earlier this month a police officer beat an Iowa shoplifter so brutally that she was carried to the hospital in a stretcher and left her with sustained vision impairment. The beating happened in front of her daughter. The Minneapolis Police Department is currently facing 61 lawsuits regarding allegations that officers used excessive force that led to injuries.

These are not isolated incidents. There are many reasons why America has a problem with police brutality. First, police departments are not required to report instances of abuse at the federal level. And most cities and states have no reporting requirements either. Data is so sparse that the Office of Justice Programs cites a study that is more than 13 years old, only covers two years, and was paid for by the country’s oldest police chiefs union to counter claims of out-of-control use of force by officers.

But according to journalist Mike Riggs, the biggest contributor to the problem of officers’ use of excessive force is a piece of legislation called the “law enforcement bill of rights.” He  describes its sole purpose as “to shield cops from the laws they’re paid to enforce.”

Riggs tells the story of Officer Edward Krawetz of the Lincoln Police Department, who became famous after a still from a surveillance camera showed him kicking a seated woman with her hands cuffed behind her in the head. Though he was convicted of felony battery and sentenced to ten years in prison, his sentence was immediately suspended, and he did not lose his job.

As Rise of the Warrior Cop author Radley Balko reported, a Florida police officer named Kevin Kilpatrick is alleged to have committed a DUI and attempted to cover up domestic abuse. Charges have not been filed. Kilpatrick was on paid leave for seven years, receiving full pay and benefits, plus annual raises. Taxpayers have been put out more than a half million dollars.

What happened? Both times the department tried the fire Kilpatrick their decision was overturned by an arbitrator, and then by a federal judge, for violating agreements in the union-negotiated police contract.

Obviously police officers have tough jobs and have to make tough decisions. It’s reasonable that they don’t want every decision second-guessed by people who don’t understand the situations they face. And of course they don’t want decisions to terminate officers made without thorough review. But thorough, informed review should not mean secretive boards or special privileges.

Communities are stepping up with their own solutions to these problems. In New York City, where last week a federal judge ruled the NYDP’s thousands of racially discriminatory street stops were unconstitutional, the city has appointed a monitor to ensure changes are made. New Orleans has hired a private law firm to help implement changes meant to combat brutality and corruption so intense and widespread it drew attention from the Department of Justice, a first for a city police department. In Fullerton, California the citizens recalled three city council members who chose to cover up an incident where officers beat a schizophrenic homeless man to death.

These are all good moves. But before, after, and in addition to hiring monitors and law firms and recalling council members, we need laws that make it easier to fire officers who abuse citizens.

Authorizing officers to use violence on citizens requires an extreme amount of trust. Young people are especially suspicious of bestowing trust on organizations that have proven to be opaque in their reporting, manipulative and unclear in their claims of appropriate use, and supportive of efforts to make holding abusers accountable more difficult. In every state, the “law enforcement bill of rights,” should be replaced by a review process which quickly and effectively gets dangerous officers off the street.

radha

The New Addiction: War Fever

The Nation just released a strangely relevant excerpt from the recently published in ebook format Vonnegut by the Dozen, a collection of 12 essays by Kurt Vonnegut.  The excerpt is from the essay “The worst addiction of them all.”

Vonnegut starts by praising Alcoholics Anonymous as America’s “most nurturing contribution” to the world we see today. This support group encourages people to begin recovery by identifying their vice. This is undoubtedly a powerful statement to make, it is the steepest step of all twelve. A number of authors writing about their experiences in AA have made the 12 steps the crucial plot element, and have seen accolades by Oprah’s book club and on other more reputable platforms. By requiring a confession of just what you are, the AA scheme is attributed “measurable success in dealing with the tendency of some human beings, to become addicted to substances that give them brief spasms of pleasure but in the long term transmute their lives and the lives of those around them into ultimate ghastliness.”

This is Vonnegut’s statement on what addiction is. While more may be said by those in the know, we can stick with that definition for our present purposes.

For example alcohol, or narcotics or gambling. Vonngeut is gonna focus on gambling to make his point, since gamblers do not ingest any particular substance. The actions they take, through their own biochemical processes, create for them a high unmatched by any of the substances we classify as drugs. Thus far gambling is unscheduled, probably because the chemicals and/or substances causing the high can be produced by every human brain. As it turns out, humans have the capacity to create their own toxic high through a variety of activities. We can get that brief spasm of pleasure through video games, through pornography, or even through shopping, not just placing bets and risking money, and not just through illicit activities.

Kurt Vonnegut identifies a new class of addiction in Vonnegut by the Dozen:

It is more like gambling than drinking, since the people afflicted are ravenous for situations that will cause their bodies to release exciting chemicals into their bloodstreams. I am persuaded that there are among us people who are tragically hooked on preparations for war.

Of course he’s correct. They’ve been around just as long as alcoholics and sex-addicts and probably even longer. Compulsive war-preparers are “more tragically addicted” than the stockbroker, the alcoholic or the gambler, who just wants a dollar bet on who can spit farther than whom. But what might it take to get the war-preparer his high?

For us to give a compulsive war-preparer a fleeting moment of happiness, we may have to buy him three Trident submarines and a hundred intercontinental ballistic missiles.

…aaaahhh. For a fleeting moment of happiness, “we” have to get him what?

A couple of these:

missile

Hmmm.

Vonnegut goes on to identify the sick few who have fallen between the cracks: “If Western Civilization were a person, we would be directing it to War-Preparers Anonymous.” Thereafter, Vonnegut fails to clarify the sick entity that he dubs “Western Civilization,” except in an unacceptably overbroad fashion. His further characterization/personification of Western Civilization is completely erroneous. It takes his substantive addendum to the character of the West from a tautology to a simple buzz in the temporo-parietal junction (TPJ) and maybe not even the buzz that you might pass on.

By dubbing this new category of addict Western Civilization, he makes all of us geographically located in the Western Hemisphere feel guilt, without assigning responsibility to those who are actively seeking their fix. He doesn’t stop there. He says, “Western Civilizations, which surely now includes the Soviet Union, China, India, Pakistan and so on…” What a claim to make! So we all are sick? The whole globe is afflicted? We have a collective addiction to preparing for War? I cannot submit that this is what Kurt intends to mean because he goes on to say:

Let us recognize how sick such people are. From now on, when a national leader, or even just a neighbor, starts talking about some new weapons system which is going to cost us a mere $29 billion, we should speak up. We should say something on the order of, “Honest to God, I couldn’t be sorrier for you if I’d seen you wash down a fistful of black, beauties with a pint of Southern Comfort.”

That is, I couldn’t be sorrier for you (national leader, or just a neighbor) than if you were drowning in alcohol, with a liver the size of your ribcage, and you were whining for more booze. I couldn’t be more sorry for you. At this point. we should speak up. We should say to such a person, craving for the urgent, weighty sting of preparing for combat, you need help. You seek a brief spasm of pleasure from a substance that will transmute your life into ultimate ghastliness. The first step is a confession. This will be the first of many steps on the long journey back to sobriety that those people will have to take.

Finally, Vonnegut’s solution: Let us not mock them. All we have to do is separate them from the levers of power.

Here, Vonnegut admits that Western Civilization itself it not sick with this kind of addiction. Rather, Western Civilization, in failing to recognize this condition as an illness, has venerated these persons by rewarding them with complete control over the levers of power. Western Civilization, in the act of insinuating war on others, seeks to appease, not antagonistic nations, but its own addicts to war preparation. Moreover, nations will lose most of their freedom and wealth in seeking to appease such addicts.

After describing how war-prep addicts come into being (“it starts innocently enough in childhood, under agreeable, respectable auspices”), Vonnegut clarifies the contours of the addiction and how to recognize it. But until now, Vonnegut is just bringing the reader to the precipice. He lets the reader glance over when he asks:

Should addicts of any sort hold high office in this or any other country?

Absolutely not, for their first priority will always be to satisfy their addiction, no matter how terrible the consequences may be–even to themselves.

aca

Affordable Care Act is a Nightmare for Young People

Health insurance and health care have gotten a lot of attention in the US lately. Since the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (commonly called the ACA or ObamaCare), the federal government has released a litany of new regulations. These rules govern everything from which policies are offered to how research is funded to which drugs can get approved.

sloane

Due to the introduction of mandatory premium ceilings, we are now all held responsible for the higher costs of people in the state in which we live or company for which we work. This is good from an insurance perspective, because it spreads the risk, but it’s a nightmare from the perspective of a young person trying to afford insurance. When the average risk of a consumer base increases, that means premiums must also increase. Insurance companies need to be able to pay for the services they cover, and when they cannot charge certain people more money, they charge everyone more.

The consequence for most young people is that they see premiums skyrocket. When premiums skyrocket, healthy people drop out of the insurance market or select into different plans with different risk sharing. This is called a death spiral: when fewer healthy people buy insurance, insurance companies must raise premiums to cover their costs. Higher premiums mean more people drop out, and the people who are left with more premiums therefore buy even higher-price policies. It used to be that people could buy different policies with customized deductibles and coinsurance rates so as to fit their budgets. However, that’s now illegal.

A similar effect results from insurance packages required to cover more services. As you may have heard from the controversial protests of such a policy, the ACA requires non-grandfathered health plans to cover contraceptive services for women without cost sharing. Certain groups (religious employers and their affiliated health plans) have won exemption from the rule.

While it seems like a great thing to have your contraception covered for “free”, the consequences are again deeper than they appear. When insurance companies are required to provide any service without sharing the costs with consumers, the price mechanism is disrupted. Instead of seeing a price tag right away, we get fooled. No one likes to pay for things, so that part seems nice. The truth, however, is that we all still pay.

The actual cost of these services is still passed along to the consumer. Just because we don’t see the check right away doesn’t mean that there are no costs; instead, the true cost of the service gets added to our premiums and still ends up hurting our wallets. People have to pay for these services somehow, so they pass it along to those of us paying premiums.

These are just a few of the problems with the ACA. As the Exchanges open for business in October and other changes come into effect on January 1, we will continue to see the effect of third-party intervention and distortion. Everyone deserves to have the best health care, and the ACA will not help young people achieve that goal.

This is why my generation demands a true market for healthcare in this country.

If you’d like to speak with or book Sloane or any of our other Advocates, please contact Young Voices now.

alex

Snowden might be “Enemy of the State” but Surveillance State is “the Enemy of the People”

The ongoing NSA revelations and the debate on how to deal with those who inform the public about our rights being violated shows that the United States is at a pivotal point in our history. We need to decide whether we want to be governed by secret courts and institutions which don’t hesitate to testify falsely in front of congressional committees or if we want to live in a society where we are protected against those who feel they have the authority to do.

Today’s youth have grown up in the most connected world that has ever existed.  Our generation recognizes modern communications, social media, and especially the Internet as one of the greatest innovations in human history. We love sharing, liking, and collaborating via the web, keeping in touch with friends from overseas, and being able to work in virtual offices. We share information on the web willingly and voluntarily, knowing that it is available to others. We use free-of-charge services such as Gmail with the awareness that their business model is based on advertisement and marketing. We accept that trade-off: We share a limited amount of our information to gain the significant benefits that come from high-quality email services and online collaboration. But we do not consent to share everything with everyone.

When politicians such as President Obama and representatives of various intelligence services tell us that there is a trade-off between privacy and security, they are not actually offering a trade. Not only are we offered any meaningful mechanisms to defend privacy from these latest encroachments. There is little-to-no proof that programs such as PRISM add any value to counter-terrorism efforts. They are asking for a blank check to override our privacy and offering us nothing in return.

Screen Shot 2013-08-26 at 7.15.20 PM

The Obama Administration and hawkish politicians on both sides of the aisle have labeled Edward Snowden as an “enemy of the state.” As long as they define “the state” by the individuals who hold the power within the state and the systems that exist to exert their powers, without regard to the lawfulness of their activities, then they are right. However, if we recognize the state as more than that, as an embodiment of principles of justice, to achieve certain ends such as protecting human rights, whose authority is derived from the people, who must be able to check what those in power are doing, then they are wrong. To the extent that a person is an “enemy of the state” for holding that state accountable to the principles of justice it is meant to embody and protect, we should call that state an “enemy of the people.”

My generation is frightened by the fact that we have been ruled by two presidential administrations and multiple intelligence services that bear greater resemblance to a dystopian Hollywood movie than the model of liberal and constitutional values we are taught in history and government classes. Lavabit founder Ladar Levison cannot even talk about the reasons why he shut down his service, for to do so would bring about criminal charges. It is unbelievable that this is possible in the country that brought about modern Democracy.

Our government, and the court system in particular, needs to start protecting people’s privacy instead of snooping around and massively collecting data of innocent citizens. Real security can only come about when we are secure in our rights.

For this reason, my generation demands more oversight for US surveillance practices.

If you’d like to speak with or book Alexander or any of our other Advocates, please contact Young Voices now.