More Than Half the World’s Population Lacks Social Protection

The International Labor Organization says a majority of the world’s population, four billion people, have no social protection, leaving them mired in an endless cycle of poverty. 

The report says 45 percent of the global population is covered by at least one social benefit.  But that leaves 55 percent without any social protection, a situation ILO Director General Guy Ryder calls unacceptable.

“That means that they do not receive any child benefit, any maternity benefit, any unemployment protection, any disability benefit, any old age pension and that they do not actively contribute to social security systems,” Ryder said.

The consequences are severe and tangible.  The report finds the lack of social protection leaves people vulnerable to illness, poverty, inequality and social exclusion.  The ILO regards the situation as a significant obstacle to economic growth and social development.

Ryder tells VOA governments would benefit from considering social protection as an investment in their populations.

“Social protection is a human right and we should be pursuing it because it is a human right,” Ryder said. “But, also, I think there is a great deal of evidence to demonstrate that when social protection systems are in place and where they function well and one can think of the whole cycle of protection from kids right through to old age, then you reap economic benefits from it.” 

The report says the lack of social protection is most acute in Africa, Asia, and the Arab States.  It recommends those regions increase their public expenditure to at least guarantee basic social security coverage to all their people.

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Eurozone Recovery Fueling Jobs But Wages, Prices Lag

The buoyant economic recovery across the 19-country eurozone has pushed unemployment down to its lowest level in nearly nine years but has yet to translate to a sustained pick-up in wages and prices, official figures indicated Thursday.

 

Eurostat, the European Union’s statistics agency, said the jobless rate fell to 8.8 percent in October, from 8.9 percent the previous month. That’s the lowest since January 2009, when the region, like the world economy, was reeling from the global financial crisis and the ensuing deep recession.

 

Across the region, there were 14.34 million people out of work, down 1.5 million in the past year. That’s clear evidence that the economic recovery, which has gathered momentum during 2017, has invigorated the jobs market, especially in some of those countries that saw the biggest spikes in unemployment after the financial crisis. That’s especially true in Spain, which for much of the past few years lumbered under the weight of an unemployment rate of around 25 percent. Now, following strong growth, unemployment has fallen to 16.7 percent.

 

Though the eurozone is growing strongly, inflation is still a way short of the European Central Bank’s goal of just below 2 percent, a level it considers healthiest for the economy.

 

Eurostat said its headline measure of consumer price inflation rose to 1.5 percent in November, largely because of higher energy prices. While up from October’s 1.4 percent, it was below expectations in markets for a rise to 1.6 percent and indicates that underlying inflation pressures largely related to wages remain modest despite falling unemployment. The core rate of inflation, which strips out volatile items like food, energy, alcohol and tobacco, was stuck at 0.9 percent in November – again below expectations of a rise to 1 percent.

 

ECB President Mario Draghi has said there are a number of reasons why wages are not rising strongly, including the possibility that after years of low interest rates and weak inflation, wage negotiators may have been focused more on keeping jobs than on securing higher pay. He said these kinds of factors are likely to be “transitory” and that the recent “remarkable” increases in employment should start to show in a rise in nominal wages. With spare capacity in the economy diminishing, the hope is that a pick-up in wages that can support consumer demand and give inflation a boost.

Over the past few years, the ECB has enacted a series of stimulus measures, including cutting its main interest rate to zero, in the hope of getting inflation back up to target. Recently it eased up on its bond-buying stimulus program, which aims to keep market interest rates low, amid mounting evidence of economic growth.

 

Economists are not predicting any further changes soon, with Thursday’s figures adding to that perception.

 

“Today’s figures are unlikely to prompt the bank to accelerate the process of monetary normalization,” said Pablo Shah, an economist at the Center for Economics and Business Research.

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Facebook Suspends Ability to Target Ads by Excluding Racial Groups

Facebook Inc. said on Wednesday it was temporarily disabling the ability of advertisers on its social network to exclude racial groups from the intended audience of ads while it studies how the feature could be used to discriminate.

Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, told African-American U.S. lawmakers in a letter that the company was determined to do better after a news report said Facebook had failed to block discriminatory ads.

The U.S.-based news organization ProPublica reported last week that, as part of an investigation, it had purchased discriminatory housing ads on Facebook and slipped them past the company’s review process, despite claims by Facebook months earlier that it was able to detect and block such ads.

“Until we can better ensure that our tools will not be used inappropriately, we are disabling the option that permits advertisers to exclude multicultural affinity segments from the audience for their ads,” Sandberg wrote in the letter to the Congressional Black Caucus, according to a copy posted online by ProPublica.

It is unlawful under U.S. law to publish certain types of ads if they indicate a preference based on race, religion, sex or certain classifications.

Facebook, the world’s largest social network with 2.1 billion users and $36 billion in annual revenue, has been on the defensive for its advertising practices.

In September, it disclosed the existence of Russia-linked ads that ran during the 2016 U.S. election campaign. The same month it turned off a tool, also reported by ProPublica, that had inadvertently let advertisers target based on people’s self-reported jobs, even if the job was “Jew hater.”

Sandberg said in the letter that advertisers who use Facebook’s targeting options to include certain races for ads about housing, employment or credit will have to certify to Facebook that they are complying with Facebook’s anti-discrimination policy and with applicable law.

Sandberg defended race- and culture-based marketing in general, saying it was a common and legitimate practice in the ad industry to try to reach specific communities.

U.S. Representative Robin Kelly of Illinois, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, said Facebook’s action was appropriate.

“When I first raised this issue with Facebook, I was disappointed,” Kelly, a Democrat, said in a statement. “When it became necessary to raise the issue again, I was irritated. Thankfully, we’ve been able to establish a constructive pipeline of communication that’s resulted in a positive step forward.”

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Cloud Clothing Packs Computing Power Under Your Shirt

For individuals, storing information in the cloud means it can be available to them anywhere they have a connection to the internet. It can be cheap, and it can be useful, but because all that data is going back and forth, it’s not quite as secure as storing everything on your phone or home computer. But what if you could wear your information? That’s the idea behind some National Science Foundation-supported research into cloud clothing. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

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Russian Network RT Loses US Capitol Hill Credentials

Broadcast reporters for Russian state-funded TV channel RT will no longer be able to report daily from the U.S. Capitol.

A committee that governs Capitol Hill access for broadcast journalists has withdrawn credentials for RT after the company complied earlier this month with a U.S. demand that it register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. The law applies to people or companies disseminating information in the U.S. on behalf of foreign governments, political parties and other “foreign principals.”

The action also comes just days after Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed legislation allowing Russia to register international media outlets as foreign agents, an act seen as the Kremlin’s retaliation for the Trump administration decision on RT. The new rules require disclosures to the Russian government and are seen as stigmatizing the news outlets as promoters of American propaganda.

 

In Washington, C-SPAN’s Craig Caplan informed RT that its credentials were being withdrawn after a unanimous vote of the executive committee of the Congressional Radio and Television Correspondents’ Galleries.

Caplan, the chairman of that committee, wrote that gallery rules “state clearly that news credentials may not be issued to any applicant employed by ‘any foreign government or representative thereof.’ ” He said the FARA registration made the network ineligible to hold news credentials, and their withdrawal is effective immediately.

Many news outlets with ties to foreign governments are required to similarly register. English-language newspaper China Daily is registered due to its affiliation with the Chinese government, for example. But the pressure on RT has angered Russian officials, who have said they will retaliate with restrictions on U.S. news outlets.

The letter was sent to Mikhail Solodovnikov of RT’s U.S.-based production company, T & R Productions. RT did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

U.S. intelligence agencies have alleged RT served as a propaganda outlet for the Kremlin as part of a multi-pronged effort to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Russia denies interfering.

 

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Undocumented Youths Wait on Government Funding Battle in Congress

The future of almost 800,000 undocumented young people in the United States is hanging in the balance in an end-of-year legislative pileup on Capitol Hill that could result in the shutdown of the federal government.

The government will run out of money December 8 unless Congress approves a new budget or budget extension. While the focus this week has been largely on the Senate’s approval of its tax cut bill, the budget bill could have greater short-term ramifications. The Republican-dominated Senate cannot pass it alone; Democratic votes will be needed.

But both houses of Congress will have to vote on a spending measure before it can go into effect.

And underlying all the discussions of spending priorities is finding a permanent solution for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which gave temporary protection from deportation, and permission to legally work, to undocumented young people brought to the U.S. as children.

Trump calls for legislation

President Donald Trump rescinded the Obama administration measure earlier this year, calling on Congress to pass legislation that would provide DACA recipients with a path to permanent status in the U.S. before the program phases out in March 2018.

Democrats initially pushed for stand-alone legislation to address the problem, but given the country’s contentious immigration debate, they have instead tried to tie DACA legislation to the spending bill.

Some Democrats have vowed to vote against any budget bill that does not include a DACA fix, threatening a government shutdown when the funding runs out.

But House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin has said the fix to the DACA program should “be considered on its own merits” and not as part of a larger spending bill.

Action stalled

Moves toward any bipartisan agreement stalled before a planned meeting Tuesday when Trump tweeted that he “didn’t see a deal” with Senate and House Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer of New York and Nancy Pelosi of California, respectively.

Trump tweeted a claim that a deal was being held up, in part, because Schumer and Pelosi “want illegal immigrants flooding into our Country unchecked.”

House Democratic Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland responded to Trump’s tweet in a background briefing with reporters Tuesday morning, saying, “That is absolutely false. That has nothing to do with reality — he is pandering to his angry base. DACA kids are here. They’re not flooding across the border. They’re here.”

Hoyer reiterated a Democratic claim that if brought up for a floor vote, DACA legislation would pass by 300 votes.

Schumer and Pelosi responded by withdrawing from the meeting with Trump, asking to work instead with Senate and House Republican leaders Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Ryan, respectively. The White House meeting continued with all Republicans present and no Democrats.

On the face of it, the March 2018 deadline for the program gives lawmakers room to maneuver if Congress were to pass a short-term spending bill and kick DACA down the road. The budget could be extended to Christmas to give Democrats and Republicans more room to work on a compromise.

But some DACA recipients have already lost their status.

Renewal failures

The Department of Homeland Security said in October that about 22,000 DACA recipients had failed to renew their two-year permits before an October 5 deadline. That number may come down after a review of renewal applications that may have been lost in the mail.

And while support for DACA is bipartisan, it may not be enough. Both parties are reluctant to risk the political blowback that would occur if either side appears responsible for a government shutdown.

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Poll: Nearly Half of Americans Oppose Republican Tax Bill

Opposition has grown among Americans to a Republican tax plan before the U.S. Congress, with 49 percent of people who were aware of the measure saying they opposed it, up from 41 percent in October, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday.

Congressional Republicans are trying to rush their tax legislation to a vote on the Senate floor before the end of the week. President Donald Trump strongly backs the bill and wants to sign it into law before the end of the year.

In addition to the 49 percent who said they opposed the Republican tax bill, 29 percent said they supported it and 22 percent said they “don’t know,” according to the Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll of 1,257 adults conducted from Thursday to Monday.

When asked “who stands to benefit most” from the plan, more than half of all American adults surveyed selected either the wealthy or large U.S. corporations. Fourteen percent chose “all Americans,” 6 percent picked the middle class and 2 percent chose lower-income Americans.

The tax bill being crafted in the Senate would slash the corporate tax rate, eliminate some taxes paid only by rich Americans and offer a mixed bag or temporary tax cuts for other individuals and families.

As congressional discussion on the bill has unfolded, public opposition to it has risen, on average, following Trump’s unveiling of a nine-page “framework” on September 27 that started the debate in earnest, Reuters/Ipsos polling showed.

On October 24, for example, among adults who said they had heard of the “tax reform plan recently proposed by congressional Republicans,” 41 percent said they opposed it, while 31 percent said they “don’t know” and just 28 percent said they supported it.

Trump and his fellow Republicans are determined to make a tax code overhaul their first major legislative win since taking control of the White House and Congress in January.

The House of Representatives on November 16 approved its own tax bill. The Senate is expected to decide on Wednesday whether to begin debating its proposal, as the measure moves toward a decisive floor vote later this week.

The two chambers would need to reconcile differences between their plans before legislation could be sent to the White House for Trump’s signature.

In the November 23-27 poll, 59 percent of Republicans supported the tax bill, 26 percent said they did not know and 15 percent opposed it. Among Democrats, 82 percent opposed it, 11 percent said they did not know and 8 percent supported it.

 

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Snapchat Seeks to Attract More Users by Redesigning App

Snapchat is separating what friends share and what media organizations publish in an attempt to appeal to a broader range of users.

The photo messaging app has not been gaining enough users, especially beyond its core of younger people. Parent company Snap Inc.’s stock is down sharply since its initial public offering earlier this year.

Users will now see two separate feeds — one from friends and one from publishers and non-friend accounts they follow. Before, Snapchat was mixing those posts, much the way Twitter, Facebook and other rivals continue to do. Snap hinted at changes three weeks ago, but didn’t provide details then.

CEO Evan Spiegel took a jab at rivals, writing that social media “fueled ‘fake news’” because of this content mixing.

 

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US Supreme Court Considers Limits on Government in Key Privacy Case

The U.S. Supreme Court signaled Wednesday it may be open to new limits on the government’s ability to track someone’s movements by accessing data on that person’s cellphone.

A case before the high court could result in a landmark decision in the ongoing debate over civil liberties protections in an era of rapid technological change.

At issue is whether law enforcement will be able to access cellphone data that can reveal a person’s whereabouts without having to first obtain a court-issued search warrant.

The case stems from the conviction of Timothy Carpenter for a series of robberies back in 2010 and 2011. Prosecutors were able to obtain cellphone records that indicated his location over a period of months, information that proved crucial to his conviction.

Get a warrant

On Wednesday, lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union argued that law enforcement should be required to obtain a court-ordered search warrant before obtaining such information.

They also argued that allowing law enforcement to access the cellphone data without a warrant would violate the prohibition on unreasonable search and seizures contained in the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“It is impossible to go about our daily lives without leaving a trail of digital breadcrumbs that reveal where we have been over time, what we have done, who we spent time with,” said ACLU attorney Nathan Freed Wessler, who spoke to reporters outside the Supreme Court following oral arguments. “It is time for the court, we think, to update Fourth Amendment doctrine to provide reasonable protections today.”

Some of the justices also raised concerns about privacy in the digital age.

“Most Americans, I think, still want to avoid Big Brother,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who often sides with the liberal wing of the court, said.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who often sides with conservatives on the court, said the central question was whether the cellphone information should be accessible to the government “without a warrant.”

Privacy versus security

Justice Department lawyers defended the process of obtaining the data without a court warrant, arguing that even though the technology has changed, the need to rapidly obtain such information for law enforcement has not. The government also argued that privacy rights are not at issue because law enforcement agencies can obtain information from telecommunications companies that record transactions with their customers.

Justices Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy indicated they were open to the government’s position in the case.

Legal experts say whichever way the court eventually rules could have an enormous impact on privacy rights in the digital age.

“I don’t think that this is a world that anybody anticipated a couple of decades ago,” Stanford University law professor David Alan Sklansky said via Skype. “These new data capabilities are rapidly increasing the things that government can do for good and for evil. And figuring out how we allow the government to make full use of these new capabilities, without endangering political liberties and endangering the privacy that is necessary for us to have the kind of flourishing democratic social life we want, is a huge ongoing challenge.”

Sklansky added that the United States “has historically been a leader in thinking about privacy rights, particularly with regard to privacy from the government.”

And he predicted that other countries will be closely following the high court case as they wrestle with similar conflicts. “This is a global problem. Countries around the world are trying to figure out how to deal with it. I think that people in all democratic countries should care about how the United States winds up resolving this question,” he said.

Past rulings

Twice in recent years the Supreme Court has ruled in major cases related to privacy and technology and both times ruled against law enforcement.

The court ruled in 2012 that a warrant is required to place a GPS tracking device on a vehicle. And in 2014, the high court ruled that a warrant is required to search a cellphone seized during an arrest.

A decision in the current case, known as Carpenter v. U.S., is expected sometime before the end of June.

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Things You Might Not Know About Bubbly Bitcoin

Bitcoin blasted past $11,000 to hit a record high for the sixth day in a row on Wednesday after gaining more than $1,000 in just 12 hours, stoking concerns that a rapidly swelling bubble could be set to burst in spectacular

fashion.

Here are some facts that you might not know about the largest and best-known cryptocurrency.

HOW MANY ARE THERE?

Bitcoin’s supply is limited to 21 million — a number that is expected to be reached around the year 2140. So far, around 16.7 million bitcoins have been released into the system, with 12.5 new ones released roughly every 10 minutes via a process called “mining,” in which a global network of computers competes to solve complex algorithms in reward for the new bitcoins.

ENERGY DRAIN

These mining computers require a vast amount of energy to run. A recent estimate by tech news site Motherboard put the energy cost of a single bitcoin transaction at 215 kilowatt-hours, assuming that there are around 300,000 bitcoin transactions per day. That’s almost enough energy as the average American household consumes in a whole week.

BITS OF BITCOIN

Bitcoin’s smallest unit is a Satoshi, named after the elusive creator of the cryptocurrency, Satoshi Nakamoto. One Satoshi is one hundred-millionth of a bitcoin, making it worth around $0.0001 at current exchange rates.

BITCOIN BILLIONAIRES

Bitcoin has performed better than every central-bank-issued currency in every year since 2011 except for 2014, when it performed worse than any traditional currency. So far in 2017, it is up around 1000 percent. If you had bought $1,000 of bitcoin at the start of 2013 and had never sold any of it, you

would now be sitting on $80 million. Many people consider bitcoin to be more of a speculative instrument than a currency, because of its volatility, increasingly high transaction fees, and the fact that relatively few merchants accept it.

EXCHANGE HEISTS

More than 980,000 bitcoins have been stolen from exchanges, either by hackers or insiders. That’s a total of more than $10 billion at current exchange rates. Few have been recovered.

MYSTERY CREATOR

Despite many attempts to find the creator of bitcoin, and a number of claims, we still do not know who Satoshi Nakamoto is, or was. Australian computer scientist and entrepreneur Craig Wright convinced some prominent members of the bitcoin community that he was Nakamoto in May 2016, but he then refused to provide the evidence that most of the community said was necessary. It is not clear whether Satoshi Nakamoto, assumed to be a pseudonym, was a name used by a group of developers or by one individual. Nor is it clear that Nakamoto is still alive — the late computer scientist Hal Finney’s name is sometimes put forward. Developer Nick Szabo has denied claims that he is Nakamoto, as has tech entrepreneur Elon Musk more recently.

INFLATED CHINESE TRADING

Until earlier this year, it was thought that Chinese exchanges accounted for around 90 percent of trading volume. But it has become clear that some exchanges inflated their volumes through so-called wash trades, repeatedly trading nominal amounts of bitcoin back and forth between accounts. Since the Chinese authorities imposed transaction fees, Chinese trading volumes have fallen sharply, and now represent less than 20 percent, according to data from website Bitcoinity.

“MARKET CAP”

The total value of all bitcoins released into the system so far has now reached as high as $190 billion. That makes its total value — sometimes dubbed its “market cap” — greater than that of Disney, and bigger than the market cap of BlackRock and Goldman Sachs combined.

CRYPTO-RIVALS

Bitcoin is far from the only cryptocurrency. There are now well over 1,000 rivals, according to trade website Coinmarketcap. 

“SHORTING”

It is already possible to short bitcoin on a number of retail platforms and exchanges, via contracts for difference (CFDs), leveraged-up margin trading or by borrowing bitcoin from exchanges without leverage. But a number of big financial institutions — including CME Group, CBOE and Nasdaq — have

recently announced that they will offer bitcoin futures, which will open up the possibility of shorting the cryptocurrency to the mainstream professional investment universe.

Reporting by Jemima Kelly.

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