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In Brief | Nation & World 9-14-13

Police end occupation of Mexico City center by striking teachers

MEXICO CITY — Riot police swept thousands of striking teachers out of the heart of Mexico City Friday, driving protesters through the streets with tear gas and water cannons in a swift end to the weeks-long occupation of the Zocalo plaza over reforms to the dysfunctional national education system.

It was a dramatic reassertion of state authority after weeks of near-constant disruption in the center of one of the world’s largest cities. The teachers have marched through the capital at least 15 times over the last two months, decrying President Enrique Pena Nieto’s plan to break union control of education with a new system of standardized teacher testing that become law on Tuesday.

Authorities did not immediately report any injuries. Federal police chief Manuel Mondragon said more than 20 demonstrators were arrested.

The teachers’ demonstrations have slowed passage of Pena Nieto’s education reform and the pace of his wider agenda of structural reforms, which seeks to reengineer some of Mexico’s worst-run institutions, including the weak tax-collection system and underperforming state oil company.

Pena Nieto will almost certainly gain significant political capital if the Friday afternoon operation, led by federal instead of city police, definitively ends the demonstrations that have snarled traffic for weeks in Mexico City.

Thousands of workers got $1.3B in improper disability payments

WASHINGTON — Social Security made $1.3 billion in potentially improper disability payments to people who had jobs when they were supposed to be unable to work, congressional investigators said in a report Friday.

An estimated 36,000 workers got improper payments from December 2010 to January 2013, according to the Government Accountability Office.

The numbers represent less than 1 percent of beneficiaries and less than 1 percent of disability payments made during the time frame. But GAO said the overpayments reveal weaknesses in Social Security’s procedures for policing the system.

“The report lays out clear, common-sense steps that the agency can and should take in order to avoid improper payments,” said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “However, if we’re serious about preventing waste and fraud and ensuring that these critical benefits get to the people who need and deserve them, Congress must also do its part and provide needed resources and access to basic anti-fraud data to the Social Security Administration.”

The Social Security Administration said its accuracy rate for disability payments is more than 99 percent. But the agency noted that even small errors translate into big numbers.

NPR aims to cut staff by 10 percent as money woes loom

WASHINGTON — A brewing financial crisis is forcing NPR to make one of the largest staff reductions in its history — at a time when the radio and digital news organization had seemed to be on the upswing.

Washington-based NPR disclosed a buyout plan Friday that it hopes will reduce its 840-member payroll by about 10 percent over the next year. NPR said the buyout is necessary to close a persistent deficit, projected at $6 million in its upcoming fiscal year.

Until Friday’s news, NPR had escaped many of the worst effects of the Great Recession and the digital revolution that has laid low many media organizations.

In April, it opened its new headquarters building in the shadow of the Capitol, a $201 million edifice complete with in-house restaurant with an executive chef, health care facilities, an employee gym and gift shop.

By wire sources