From Volume 38, Issue 3 of EIR Online, Published Jan. 21, 2011

United States News Digest

Coalition Says Strengthen Social Security, Don't Cut It

Jan. 15 (EIRNS)—A coalition of 215 labor and liberal interest groups is telling President Obama, and members of the Democratic Party who might be soft on the issue, that Social Security doesn't need to be cut. The Strengthen Social Security Campaign, led by the AFL-CIO, the Alliance for Retired Americans, the NAACP, and many other groups, points out that Social Security didn't cause the Federal deficit, and therefore, its benefits should not be cut, it should not be privatized, and the retirement age should not be increased any further.

Frank Clemente, campaign manager of the coalition, told The Hill that as a candidate for office, President Obama made very clear statements about Social Security: no raising the retirement age, no cuts in the cost of living adjustment. "Our campaign is looking for him to be as unequivocal in the State of the Union address. That's where the American people are." The Hill also reported that Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) have expressed some agreement with the proposals of Obama's deficit commission to decrease benefits and raise the retirement age, although Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said last week, on NBC's "Meet the Press," "Stop picking on Social Security."

Obama himself was described by a Democratic staffer as "murky" on the question, and rumors are rife that Obama plans to propose cuts to Social Security, among other austerity measures, in his State of the Union speech on Jan. 25.

Unions Can't Fight Austerity Without Glass-Steagall

Jan. 15 (EIRNS)—Because of the lack of leadership at the national level, states are turning to murderous austerity to try to solve their fiscal crises. Public sector trade unions are a particular target of this austerity drive, because they have acted historically to protect their members' wages and benefits. Now those wages and benefits are under attack from budget officials at both the state and the local level, because those officials believe in the accounting fiction that if wage and benefit costs are reduced, then they can balance their budgets.

The only real solution is the reimposition of the Glass-Steagall Law and emergency Federal aid to the states and municipalities to maintain essential government functions, but this is not what the unions that are under attack are fighting for. Instead, as reported in today's Wall Street Journal, unions are filing lawsuits to challenge cutbacks, and are offering their own ideas on how to cut the budget without cutting union wages and benefits. The union campaigns in Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida, and New Jersey, will include phone calls and visits to union members, as well as demonstrations and meetings with elected officials. The goal is to get union members to convince state officials to oppose these measures and turn public opinion in their favor.

Cover-up Around CMS Euthanasia Regulation: What Are They Hiding?

Jan. 14 (EIRNS)—Something very irregular went on around Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Director Sir Donald Berwick's promulgation of a now-withdrawn regulation authorizing annual death-counselling for Medicare recipients. In attempting to find out what happened, EIR has encountered a very solid stone wall—and this from the Obama Administration, which had promised "openness" and "transparency" in agency rule-making.

In its Dec. 26 story disclosing that Section 1233, the euthanasia rule authorizing end-of-life counselling, had been secretly inserted into Medicare regulations published in November, the New York Times identified Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) as leading a group of Congressional Democrats who urged Berwick to have Medicare pay for end-of-life counselling. Blumenauer told the Times in an interview that he and Rockefeller had sent a letter to Berwick in August, demanding that "advance care planning" be included in the regulations. The Times also quoted from a Blumenauer e-mail to supporters, directing them to keep quiet about the death regulation, since "we aren't out of the woods yet," and the regulation could still be "modified or reversed" if the media or blogs learn of it—which, in fact, is what happened.

After two weeks of strenuous efforts, EIR has been unable to obtain the letter from either Blumenauer's or Rockefeller's offices, or from CMS itself, despite repeated requests to their respective press offices, and numerous phone calls and e-mails. That letter was apparently filed as part of the "public comment" process after the draft regulations were published in July, but the letter is not among the hundreds of "public comments" posted by CMS.

An apologetic CMS press officer told EIR on Jan. 12 that he had been unable to obtain the letter or any other information from his agency, and that EIR would have to file a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

Anticipating this response after the first week of requests, EIR had filed an FOIA request a week before.

What are they hiding?

Michigan Legislature Fixates on Balancing Budget

Jan. 10 (EIRNS)—The folly of debating how to balance the budget, when the entire financial system is disintegrating, was demonstrated when the top Democratic and Republican legislative leaders in Michigan appeared on WKAR-TV on Jan. 7. The state, whose legislature comes into session Jan. 12, and dozens of its municipalities, are facing dissolution, but still, the number one question on the minds of lawmakers was whether the budget can be balanced without raising new revenues.

State Sen. Randy Richardville, the leader of the Republicans in the Senate, declared, "We're looking to run the government like a business." Richardville, along with Republican House Speaker James "Jase" Bolger, promised that there is going to be "pain" for state employees and municipalities alike. Municipalities, which have already suffered tremendous drops in revenues, are likely to see more cuts from the state, as revenue sharing—whereby the state refunds its sales tax and gas tax revenues to cities and towns—will be reduced. Republicans and Democrats agreed that municipal bankruptcies are likely.

Camden Drug Dealers 'Salivating' over Police Layoffs

Jan. 10 (EIRNS)—The prospect of elimination of half the police force of Camden, N.J., has drug dealers salivating. Columnist Jeremy Rosen, writing in the Cherry Hill (N.J.) Courier Post yesterday, hit hard at Camden Mayor Dana Redd's plan to lay off half the police force. "If half of Camden's police force is laid off this year," he wrote, "the nation's second-most dangerous city will crumble."

Rosen noted that, in public, city officials downplay the effect of the layoffs; but in Camden's application for transitional state aid, city officials wrote, "It is anticipated that the reduction of sworn officers within our Police and Fire Departments will result in a severe public safety crisis affecting residents, workers and visitors." Rosen provides the evidence to back up that statement: "Convicted and current drug dealers tell me they're salivating at the thought of escalating business once Camden officers are let go and the now-solid police presence is diminished. Jumps in drug activity typically come with increases in violent crimes."

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