• The Great (Re)Training Robbery

    October 3, 2014 // 5 Comments »




    Barack Obama told Americans every worker deserves to know “if you lose your job, your country will help you train for an even better one.” A nice sentiment,and politically safe; it’s just the wrong answer. Those “better jobs” don’t exist, and training doesn’t create jobs. Despite all that, every year the U.S. government spends billions of dollars on job training, with little impact. What’s the right answer?

    In 2007 then-candidate Obama visited Janesville, Wisconsin, location of the oldest General Motors plant in America. Echoing his current promise to support unemployed Americans with job training, Obama proclaimed “I believe that, if our government is there to support you, this plant will be here for another hundred years.” However, two days before Christmas and just about a month before Obama’s inauguration, the plant closed forever, throwing 5,000 people out of work. This devastated the town, because most residents either worked in the plant or in a business that depended on people working in the plant. Congress paid for a $2 million retraining program, using state community colleges the way the government once used trade schools, a century ago, to teach new immigrants the skills they needed to work at GM.

    This time around, however, those who finished their retraining programs for the most part simply became trained unemployed people, rather than untrained ones. Having a certificate in “heating and ventilation” or training in new welding techniques did not automatically lead to a job in those fields. There were already plenty of people out there with such certificates, never mind actual college degrees (the United States graduated 1,606,000 students with bachelor’s degrees in 2014.) Of those that completed some form of training, nearly 40 percent did not find work. And those in Janesville who did find work in some field saw their take-home pay drop by 36 percent. A look at Craigslist job ads for the town shows one ad for heating and ventilation work, with a demand for three years experience. Under “General Labor” the work is for janitors, newspaper delivery and things like light manufacturing at $8.50 an hour.

    Obama’s calls for job training also belies the fact that the government already spends approximately $18 billion a year to administer 47 job training programs. The actual value of those programs remains unclear. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that only five programs assessed whether people who found jobs did so because of the program and not some other cause. In addition, the GAO learned that almost all training programs overlap with at least one other training program. “Federal job training sounds like something that should boost the economy,” writes the Cato Institute, “but five decades of experience indicate otherwise.”

    The panacea myth of job training crosses party lines. The GAO reported that in 2003, under the George W. Bush administration, the government spent $13 billion on training, spread across 44 programs. Job training may again be on the GOP agenda, even if the parties differ on the details. Politically, some sort of job training just sounds good. The problem is that it won’t really help America’s 10.5 million unemployed.

    So the $18 billion question is: if training is not the answer, what is?

    Jobs. Jobs that pay a living wage. The 2008 recession wiped out primarily high and middle wage jobs, with the strongest employment growth in the recovery taking place in low wage employment, to the point where the United States has the highest number of workers in low wage jobs of all industrialized nations.

    There are many possible paths to better-paying jobs in America whose spending power can spark a “virtuous cycle.” That would mean more employment leading to more spending and more demand, followed by more hiring. One kickstarter is simply higher wages in the jobs we do have. For example, recent Department of Labor studies show that the 13 states which raised their minimum wages added jobs (at higher wages of course) at a faster pace than those that did not. On a larger, albeit more contentious scale, are options such as a WPA-like program, changes to tax and import laws to promote domestic manufacturing, infrastructure grants and the like. There’s $18 billion to work with for a start.

    No matter the path forward, the bottom line remains unchanged: Training does not create jobs. Jobs create the need for training. Anything else is just politics.



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    Obama to Create Thousands of Jobs: In Iraq

    October 22, 2011 // Comments Off on Obama to Create Thousands of Jobs: In Iraq

    (Originally published on the Huffington Post)

    The US is prepared to spend up to five billion dollars to create more jobs for police officers, paying $100-$150k a year. The Government can’t find enough people to take the jobs, and is looking for recruits, no experience necessary, all training provided, right in your hometown.

    One catch: the jobs are for Iraqis, in Iraq. No Americans need apply.

    The secret mantra of the Iraq war has always been “training,” specifically the always-just-out-of-reach goal of training the Iraq security forces to take over from the US. The cry has been heard for years: George W. Bush even made “we’ll stand down as they stand up” a campaign slogan in 2008.

    Now, as the war in Iraq proceeds through its eighth year, the State Department was on Capitol Hill October 12 in front of the Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations begging a skeptical Congress for more money. “Training” is again being cited as the cure-all for America’s apparently insatiable desire to throw money away in Mesopotamia. The latest tranche of taxpayer cash is for one billion dollars a year, every year for five years, to pay police instructors and cop salaries in Iraq.

    A Long Train

    The US has been training Iraqi cops for years, under the auspices of Army and State contractors. In fact, the US government has spent $7.3 billion for Iraqi police training since 2003. Now, with the Army shifting to teaching Iraqis how to operate the hi-tech weapons they will be buying from the US, the State Department is picking up the cop training gig full-time. A job announcement last year hired contract police instructors to go to Iraq, where, under the watchful eye of State’s own internal Stasi, Diplomatic Security, they are preparing to start teaching at thirty locations around the country.

    Given that the Army and State have been teaching police work in Iraq now for several years, the student cops must either be the world’s slowest learners, or have the world’s highest job turnover. Sadly, it looks like the latter. Iraqi cops tend to have very short life expectancies and that is why, even with the healthy salary offer of $150,000 a year (the average per capita income in Iraq is only $3800; cops in the US make concededly less than what State is willing to pay in Iraq. Starting salaries run $40-65k a year), State can’t find enough, um, bodies, to fill up the recruit classes.

    The Hard, Short Life of an Iraqi Cop

    As an example of how life is for an Iraqi law officer, this week alone attacks included two suicide car bombs minutes apart at Baghdad police stations, killing at least 25 people in the capital’s deadliest day in a month. More than 70 people were wounded. In one instance, the street in front of a police station had been closed from 2004, but was reopened about four weeks ago, sadly allowing the suicide bomber to get close to the station house. In other attacks the same day, a bomb wounded a police brigadier general in north Baghdad, while two police were shot in south Baghdad.

    These attacks took place in an Iraq still occupied by some 41,000 American soldiers. Come January 2012, the US Army posture will diminish to an as yet undetermined number, likely around 5000 troops. The State Department hopes to conduct its police training under these conditions, protected by its own mercenary army of 5000 security contractors, using hand-me-down Army gear.

    Corruption, Mismanagement and Torture Play a Part

    The killing of Iraqi cops is probably the main issue holding back recruitment. However, the lack of organized control by their parent organization, the Iraqi Ministry of Interior (MOI), is another impediment to a well-run police force, regardless of how much training they receive.

    In December 2006, the Iraq Study Group reported that the Iraqi Interior Ministry was filled with corruption, infiltrated by militia and unable to control its own police. In July 2007, the Los Angeles Times reported that Iraq’s MOI had become a “federation of oligarchs” where various floors of the headquarters building were controlled by rival militia groups and organized criminal gangs. The report described the MOI as an eleven-story powder keg of factions where power struggles were settled by assassinations in the parking lot. In its September 2007 report, the congressionally-mandated Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq described Iraq’s MOI as a ministry in name only, dysfunctional, sectarian and suffering from ineffective leadership. To make matters worse, the police have been implicated in multiple incidents of torture.

    Who Will Guard the Guards?

    There remain significant questions on if State will be able to oversee the huge police training program.
    The State Department’s International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) bureau came under fire from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) for its management of the contract with DynCorp to train police. A 2010 audit concluded that “INL lacks sufficient resources and controls to adequately manage the task orders with DynCorp. As a result, over $2.5 billion in US funds are vulnerable to waste and fraud.” Most of $1.2 billion State was given to train Iraqi police remains unaccounted for. Though not directly related to police training, State’s own Inspector General just found that INL mismanaged another Dynacorp contract in Afghanistan to the tune of $940,000, in large part because of lack of staff to oversee the project.

    Following the negative report by SIGIR, State did the logical thing: they slammed the door on the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction auditors. State’s coordinator for Iraq transition, Patricia Haslach, told Congress that SIGIR has almost no jurisdiction over State Department spending in Iraq, including that five billion sought for police training. State’s reluctance to submit to the audits is understandable; SIGIR stated that 400,000 Iraqis received training and are on the force, but the “capabilities of these forces are unknown because no assessments of total force capabilities were made.”

    The Bright Side

    Undersecretary of State Pat Kennedy reminded Congress October 12 without irony that “We have a robust contracting oversight system firmly in place and being executed by our Bureau of Administration. The Bureau of Diplomatic Security is overseeing its competitively awarded security task orders using the enhanced oversight and management system put in place over the last several years.”

    Pat Kennedy also said that providing assistance to the Iraqi police and security forces “will eventually reduce the cost of our presence as security in the country improves and we can rely on Iraqi security for our own protection.”

    And it is not like State has just been sitting on its hands. In July 2011, out of Iraq’s 400,000 cops, the State Department invited nine of them to the US for three weeks with local police forces in Vermont, Pittsburgh and Denver, cities that no doubt offer a lot of points of commonality with policing in Iraq.

    With plans like that, what could go wrong?



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    It looks like Iraq is off its Meds Again

    June 22, 2011 // Comments Off on It looks like Iraq is off its Meds Again


    It looks like Iraq is off its meds again.

    On Tuesday, at least 27 people, many of them police, were killedand more than 30 wounded when a pair of bombs exploded by the house of the provincial governor in the central Iraqi city of Diwaniyah.

    The explosion in Diwaniyah followed the bombing of a French embassy convoy in Baghdad on Monday, wounding several Iraqis, and a blast Sunday targeting a western security company guarding a client in the southern oil region of Basra. That attack, on a route traveled by oil companies and western firms, left one Iraqi and one Westerner wounded.

    Meanwhile, despite elections in March 2010, and forming a government in December, the cabinet has failed to date to name its security ministers.

    Meanwhile, most Iraqis live with minimal services, intermittent power, murky water, nonexistent sewers. Lack stalks the country; this article delves into the lives of those in Iraq who make a living scavenging US-left behind trash, reminding that some 23% of Iraqis live in poverty.

    Gunmen blasted their way into government offices in central Iraq on last week with two car bombs and suicide blasts that killed seven people. Militants involved in the attack in Diyala’s provincial capital of Baquba exchanged fire with Iraqi security forces, holding them at bay, in a siege that lasted nearly three hours.

    The fight only ended after US military assistance, including troops, armored vehicles and helos, arrived and intervened.

    But we sort of knew the Iraqi Army just isn’t all that it can be. The Washington Post tells us:

    According to Iraqi politicians and military officers, the country’s armed forces remain dysfunctional, with power dangerously decentralized and wielded by regional fiefdoms controlled by Iraq’s top politician.

     

    Ho, ho, it’s funny. We have spent billions training the Iraqi Army and there is not much to show for it; these guys must be the slowest learners on the planet (ED: No, that would be the Afghan Police). The Iraqi Army remains an almost gleefully silly Third World organization. US soldiers whose unrelished task it was to “train” the Iraqis would tell tales of rifles so dirty and rusty that they would not fire, and levels of discipline so poor that it was scary just to be around the troops and their weapons.

    On joint bases, such as FOB Loyalty (Peter had more than a few sleepovers there) where five Americans lost their lives in early June, Iraqi vehicles with mounted machine guns, full belts of ammo in the weapon, would be left parked here and there, sometimes left running out of fear they would not start later. It was not odd to see a loaded AK leaning against the wall, its owner having run off to the toilet. One training trooper watched with some sense of entertainment as a company of Iraqi BMPs tried to start their engines, only to find that about one out of three would not even turn over.

    It’ll be awhile before the Iraqi Army is ready for varsity play. Eight years after invading, decimating and then disbanding the Iraqi Army, let’s not make their ineptitude a reason to remain in Iraq, ‘Kay?

    It is critical not to buy into the media vibe that these attacks are “bad guys versus the government.” They are not. The “government” in Iraq is a hodge-podge of militias, gangs and factions, each one controlling a part of the whole. An attack against the police in an area is one faction seeking turf or exacting revenge. We use the term “government” only a a convenience.

    And please note that these attacks continue in a steady stream while the US still maintains a sizable combat force in Iraq. A smaller, hold-on force post-December 2011 will be even more limp. Even worse, since these are factional struggles, anytime the US intervenes the US is choosing a side, whether we do it willingly or (most often) out of ignorance. That can only weaken our overall position by setting up US forces for a revenge strike, or allowing us to wake up one morning on the losing side without even knowing it.

    Really kids, time to come home.



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