United States News Digest
Probe Illegal Use of Tax Dollars To Promote Social Security Privatization
A group of eight top Democratic Senators, in a letter to Comptroller General David Walker dated Jan. 26, requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) launch an investigation into the White House's forcing the Social Security Administration (SSA) to peddle propaganda touting its privatization scheme, an action that violates two laws that prohibit the use of taxpayer dollars for "grassroots lobbying."
"We are writing to alert you to an illegal use of taxpayer funds by the Social Security Administration, and request an expedited legal decision on the matter," the Senators insisted. The letter pointed to the Wehner memo (a memo written by White House aide Peter Wehner attacking the current Social Security system), as well as SSA's "Communications/Marketing Tactical Plan" and Social Security statement, mailed to 140 million Americans. Signing the letter were Sens. Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Edward Kennedy (Mass), Hillary Clinton (N.Y.), Minority Whip Richard Durbin (Ill), Jon Corzine (N.J.), Jack Reed (R.I.), Carl Levin (Mich) and Mark Dayton (Minn).
Bush Plans To Eliminate Civil Service System
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced, on Jan. 26, the DHS's new personnel system, which replaces the General Schedule pay system with a system that bases pay on performance, and groups employees into eight to 12 "clusters" based on occupation. A pay raise or a promotion will now depend largely on a satisfactory performance rating from a supervisor, as opposed to longevity. Overall, the new system reduces the rights of employees and increases the authority of managers over employees.
OPM Director Kay Cole James said that the new system "can truly serve as a model for the rest of the Federal government," which has probably been the intent all along, since DHS was established in 2002. Republicans in the Congress, notably then-Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, screeched that anyone who joined with the unions in opposition to the civil service reforms in the DHS bill was putting the interests of union bosses over the security of the United States. The DHS "reform" was quickly followed by the "National Security Personnel System," for the Pentagon, which was passed by Congress in 2003, which was an even more far-reaching measure. The Pentagon authors of the plan argued that they needed "more flexibility" in the hiring and firing of civilian employees to meet security needs.
The White House is expected to propose legislation in a month or so, that would allow all agencies to restructure their personnel systems in the same way, and finish off what is left of the civil service system. The switch-over to the new system in DHS is expected to take until early 2008.
The Federal employees' unions are up in arms. John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said, "They are encouraging a management of coercion and intimidation. This is not a modern system. This is a step backwards." Colleen Kelly, president of the national Treasury Employees Union, agreed. "These regulations were designed to ensure there is no outside judgment of what goes on within the Department." The two unions have joined in a lawsuit to block new restrictions on collective bargaining and employee appeals. Even Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn), who co-wrote the legislation that created the DHS, expressed concern. He said that while the new rules are better than earlier drafts, the new system "will undermine key employee protections that prevent workplace abuses and improve employee performance."
Pentagon Blames Veterans for Budget Squeeze
Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness David Chu is complaining that veterans' benefits have grown so much in recent years that "they are taking away from the nation's ability to defend itself." Rising veterans benefits are being blamed for the billions of dollars in cuts in weapons programs to be proposed in the fiscal 2006 budget to be released on Feb. 7. The Wall Street Journal, on Jan. 25, lumped growing spending on veterans benefits, including health care and concurrent receipt (when a disabled retiree receives both retirement and disability pay), with the overall entitlement issue, where spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid is squeezing out funding for other programs. About 50% of the beneficiaries of the military's Tricare health program are now retirees, causing the Pentagon to shift about $2 billion a year into the program from other accounts. "It is quite painful to reallocate that money," says Chu.
The Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), whose president, retired Admiral Norb Ryan, was interviewed for the Journal article, replied that Chu's statements are "disappointing and misleading." What Chu left out, the MOAA said, "is that Congress, over the past two years, has passed legislation specifying that no money for Tricare for Life or concurrent receipt is to come out of the DoD budget, but is to come from elsewhere in the Treasury." The MOAA statement also took issue with Chu's assertion that retirement benefits have little effect on recruitment and retention, pointing to the battle to repeal benefit cuts in the 1990s because they were contributing to serious retention and readiness problems.
GOP to Bush: Social Security Privatization Not Selling
In a private White House meeting Jan. 25, President Bush got an earful from selected Republicans, who told Bush that the public is not buying the administration's line on Social Security privatization, according to the Washington Post Jan. 26.
The Post obtained a private memo which says: "Both President Bush and Republicans in Congress are deficient on messenger credibility and issue handling confidence on reforming Social Security." The 35-page analysis was prepared for Republican legislators when meet at upcoming retreat in West Virginia. They will also be shown polling data that reportedly shows that, while "the majority of voters 55 or older believe that major changes to Social Security are necessary," the pollsters, the Tarrance Group, and Public Opinion Strategies also found that "a majority of respondents believe that GOP policies have hurt seniors," the Post reports.
No Democrats were invited to this White House meeting, and Bush promised the Republicans that he would take the point on the Social Security issue by talking about it in his State of the Union speech on Feb. 2, and then going on a multi-city tour of town meetingsrunning the campaign just like the election.
Unfortunately, lazy Democrats like DNC chairman, Terry McAuliffe, and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), are already crowing that "the Republicans are in disarray," the Post said. This kind of cockiness can kill them, warned a well-placed Washington, D.C. intelligence source.
The biggest danger is that the Dems are counting on dissident Republicans to vote against Social Security privatization, the source told EIR. The White House knows that it cannot lose a single important issue, or else Bush will be a "lame duck" for the next four years. They are already negotiating like crazy with all the Republican opponents to privatization, to come up with something with which they can beat the Democrats. After Bush gives his Social Security speech, a series of ads promoting the program will kick in. The source emphasized the crucial role that Lyndon LaRouche has played in seriously wounding the Social Security privatization, but the Democratic Party has to be kicked into action, to make sure this is defeated.
Conyers Requests Investigation of Vote Suppression
In a Jan. 19 letter to Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. John Conyers and eight other Democrats on the committee requested that the panel "hold hearings and investigate the vital issue of protecting our citizens right to vote."
Conyers cites the evidence of irregularities gathered in Congressional forums in Washington and in Columbus, Ohio, which is compiled in the 102-page Conyers report. These include:
* manipulation of voting machines that disenfranchised possibly hundreds of thousands of predominantly minority Democratic voters;
* GOP "caging" tactics which targetted 35,000 predominantly minority voters for intimidation;
* GOP use of partisan challengers, which disenfranchised many legal voters who were intimidated, and discouraged by long lines in adverse weather;
* numerous instances of "intimation and disinformation ... that would appear to violate the Voting Rights Act."
* illegal dirty tricks, such a fake, but official-looking notices, telling voters that their polling place or date for voting had changed.
"The fact that many of these instances appear to be focused particularly on minority voters is all the more disheartening," Conyers wrote, "and triggers even more clearly our jurisdiction involving civil rights."
Senators Warn Against Imposing Austerity on Veterans
The possibility that the budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs may be subject to a freeze or even cuts in services, especially health care, dominated the confirmation hearing this morning of Jim Nicholson, as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hi) pointedly told Nicholson, "It's a non-starter to cut back services or cut who is eligible for VA care." He added that because we are at war, "we must do everything we can to show our military that VA health care will be there for all veterans who serve." Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt) noted that many of the hundreds of thousands who have gone to war "have suffered both visible and invisible wounds. They require immediate care today, and many will require extensive care for the rest of their lives. We cannot equivocate in providing that care; nor is it morally acceptable to provide that care at the expense of veterans of previous eras."
Jeffords later asked Nicholson if he would fight for additional funding if, as all indications suggest, the fiscal 2006 budget cuts the VA budget. After invoking the "balancing act" between resources and needs, Nicholson said that his commitment in accepting the nomination "is to the veterans and their needs." He also agreed with Jeffords and other members of the committee that mental-health issues, which are being magnified by the Iraq war, present "an unprecedented challenge," and that more effort needs to be brought to bear to deal with veterans affected by that. The Senate confirmed Nicholson by a voice vote on Jan. 26 with little debate.
U.S. Special Forces Operating Domestically
Special Forces commando units are operating inside the United States, and were deployed around the Presidential Inaugural events in Washington this past week, the New York Times reported Jan. 23. The exact number of Special Operations forces who were in Washington is highly classified, the Times says. Under a top-secret military plan, code-named Power Geyser, the commandos are also conducting counterterrorism missions in support of civilian agencies within the United States. The units belong to the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the joint command for military special operations units which is based at Fort Bragg, N.C. They also work in coordination with the new Northern Command. In the past, the Times notes, the command has also provided support to domestic law enforcement agencies during events such as the Olympics and political party conventions, according to reports by GlobalSecurity.org. The Times says that these deployments come under a program begun in 1997; however, as we report below, JSOC was involved in the 1986 raid directed against Lyndon LaRouche.
The 1878 Posse Comitatus Act prohibits the use of military troops for law enforcement inside the U.S., but that law has been amended several times to make exceptions for public health, drug interdiction, and, most recently, for assisting civilian agencies in the event of a national emergency, particularly one involving nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons.
Power Geyser and other secret code names, were mentioned publicly for the first time this week, on a web site for the new book by former Army intelligence analyst William Arkin, called "Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs and Operation in the 9/11 World." The book also discusses "Special Access Programs" and military operations in many countries.