WASHINGTON, Oct. 16 (UPI) -- The UPI Think Tank Wrap-Up is a daily digest covering brief opinion pieces, reactions to recent news events, and position statements released by various think tanks.
The Cato Institute
WASHINGTON -- Surveillance Powers Already Far-Reaching, Alarming, Cato Study Says: Without expanded powers, government already has access to information on every American
Congress is poised to expand law enforcement's surveillance powers, but a new Cato Institute study shows that current powers are already ominously extensive.
In "Watching You: Systematic Federal Surveillance of Ordinary Americans," attorney and Boise State University economics professor Charlotte Twight explains in detail how the federal government maintains databases on every citizen's financial, medical, employment, and education records.
"These databases, linked by individuals' Social Security numbers, now empower the federal government to obtain an astonishingly detailed portrait of any person in America," Twight says, "including the checks he writes, the types of causes he supports, and even what he says 'privately' to his doctor."
The study focuses on data-collection programs that share one defining characteristic: they compel the production, retention, and dissemination of personal information about every American citizen. These programs have been enacted in the name of "reducing fraud" or "promoting government efficiency," Twight says. And according to her, government has made the cost of avoiding participation in their databases too high (e.g. not qualifying for tax deductions without acquiring a Social Security number for claimed dependents -- even for those under one year of age.)
According to Twight, businesses and state governments similarly are compelled to provide the federal government with extensive information on their employees and citizens. The federal government has calculated the cost of the information collection burden imposed on private citizens by its department and agencies at over 7 billion hours a year.
"That is the equivalent of forcing over three-and- a-half million private individuals to work full time at uncompensated labor for the entire year just to gather the data that the federal government demands," writes Twight.
The report is available as Briefing Paper No. 69 on the Cato Institute website.
Institute for Public Accuracy
(The IPA is a nationwide consortium of policy researchers that seeks to broaden public discourse by gaining media access for experts whose perspectives are often overshadowed by major think tanks and other influential institutions.)
Food to Afghanistan: Commentary by Roger Normand, executive director of the Center for Economic and Social Rights.
WASHINGTON -- "Millions in Afghanistan need immediate food aid in order to survive the harsh winter that begins in one month. Today is World Food Day; we call on all parties to allow humanitarian operations to resume."
Dominic Nutt, spokesman for Christian Aid in Islamabad.
"Air-dropping ration packs is about as useful as dropping leaflets telling Afghan people not to worry. Indeed, we fervently hope that the drops don't actually kill people. Our experience tells us that much will end up in the hands of warring parties and that fighting over the food will occur. It's likely that the weakest -- women, children and the old -- will go without. The policy of airdrops, then, is either extremely naive or a cynical attempt to mask the real needs of the situation. Within days after Sept. 11, overland deliveries all but ceased; what has resumed is miniscule. Those dependent on food aid now number 7.5 million, an increase of about 50 percent -- entirely attributable to the ensuing crisis. ... The bombing must stop as soon as possible."
Alina Labrada, spokesperson for CARE.
"Failed crops due to the worst drought in 30 years have left almost nothing for the fierce winter ahead. Meanwhile, the U.S. military has air-dropped tens of thousands of food packages which many people have seen on TV. Even if all these reach their intended recipients, these airdrops would only feed roughly one half of 1 percent of Afghans in need. Plus, the people of Afghanistan need supplies that can't be dropped from the sky: fuel for cooking, shelter, and of course, clean water. On-the-ground is the most effective way to distribute food and supplies."
Diderik Von Halsema, spokesperson for Doctors without Borders in Islamabad.
"Besides being a drop in the bucket, airdrops are problematic for many reasons. Without aid workers on the ground, we have no way of ensuring that the food gets to the needy. It's likely that women, children and other vulnerable segments of the population are not able to get to the food. Also, airdrops could pose a danger to the intended recipients, as Afghanistan is the most heavily mined country in the world. And last, we are seriously concerned about the mix-up of the military effort with the humanitarian action. Recipients should know that the aid they are getting is free of political agendas. The Geneva Conventions define humanitarian action as neutral, independent and impartial."
Torrente is the group's U.S. director.
Sam Barratt, spokesman for Oxfam International in Islamabad.
"Our main concern is getting food into the heartland of Afghanistan before the winter sets in -- we only have four weeks."