United States News Digest
Attack on Pensions Major Issue in N.Y. Transit Strike
Transit Workers Union Local 100 ended its three-day strike against New York City's Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), to get the city's subways and buses running again while contract negotiations resume. Union leaders faced jail time and fines of $1,000 per day each, and the union has already been assessed $1 million in penalties for each day of the walkout; striking union members face a fine under the Taylor Law (which prohibits strikes by public employees) of two days' wages for each day of the strike.
The central issue of the dispute is the MTA's three-year contract offer, which would have established a two-tier pension plan, requiring new employees to contribute more of their wages6%, rather than the 2% paid by current employees. The renewed negotiations are proceeding under a press blackout, and the status of the pension demand is unclear. Previously, Local 100 president Roger Toussaint said that the MTA was asking the union to sell out its "unborn," and that the workers would end the strike if the pension proposal were removed from the negotiating table. Toussaint argues that under the Taylor Law, it is illegal for the MTA to include a pension demand as part of a settlement. Local 100 is composed mostly of people of color, and in a recent speech, Toussaint invoked Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, saying, "There is a higher calling than the law. That is justice and equality."
SEC Charges Hospital Looter with Fraud
The Securities and Exchange Commission has sued National Century Financial Enterprises (NCFE) and several of its officers in Federal court in Ohio, alleging they schemed to defraud investors who purchased securities between 1999 and 2002. The individual defendants are NCFE principal and former CEO Lance Poulsen, principal and COO Donald Ayers, principal and former accounts-receivable director Rebecca Parrett, and former CFO Randolph Speer.
NCFE was the financial partner of Doctors Community Healthcare (DCHC) of Arizona, which was given the franchise for the shutdown of Washington's D.C. General Hospital, and which owns other hospitals in Washington, D.C. and around the country. Extensive evidence of the criminality and fraudulent operations of National Century and DCHC was presented at the time of the fight to stop the closing of D.C. General, led by the LaRouche movement, and was ignored by Wall Street's D.C. Financial Control Board.
NCFE and its subsidiaries were in the business of purchasing receivables for cash from hospital owners such as Doctors Community, and then issuing and selling notes to securitize the receivables, on which they were to ultimately collect (to a large extent from government health programs such as Medicare).
The SEC charges that during that time, NCFE subsidiaries offered and sold $3.25 billion in notes, and that in the meantime, the defendants depleted the required reserve accounts and collateral base, by advancing at least $1.2 billion to health-care providersmany of them at least partly owned by NCFE or its principalswithout obtaining receivables in return. NCFE declared bankruptcy in late 2002, followed two weeks later by Doctors Community; ultimately, according to the SEC's charges, NCFE's collapse led to the bankruptcy of about 275 health-care providers.
The SEC has already won civil judgments against three other former NCFE executives, who have also pleaded guilty to Federal criminal charges.
Military Recruiters 'Leave No Child Behind'
An op-ed in the Baltimore Sun Dec. 22 by the parent of two boys attending school in Anne Arundel County, Md. says that Bush's "No Child Left Behind" law has a provision "that allows military recruiters to obtain student information, including names, addresses, and telephone listings." Writer John Schneider says that this allows recruiters to contact students without the knowledge or permission of their parents. He says that regardless of one's support or opposition to the Iraq war, every parent has the right to be involved in such major decisions about their children as joining the military.
The commentary says that the Pentagon has acknowledged having compiled a database on millions of high school and college students with information such as that listed above, plus their date of birth, gender, Social Security numbers, e-mail addresses, ethnicity, grade-point averages, and more. This database has not been disclosed by the Defense Department, as required by the Privacy Act. (The Privacy Act, passed in the wake of the Watergate revelations along with the FOIA, requires publication in the Federal Register of detailed descriptions of agency record systems containing information about individual citizens.) This information can also be shared with law enforcement and other government agencies, as well as foreign governments.
Appeals Court Blasts Administration on Padilla Case
In an angry ruling, the usually pro-government Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals castigated the Bush Administration and the Justice Department for trying to evade Supreme Court review of its holding Jose Padilla as an "enemy combatant" for three years. Padilla is an American citizen who was arrested on American soil, then transferred to military custody and thrown into isolation in a Navy brig.
The Fourth Circuit's opinion, written by the ultra-conservative J. Michael Luttig, clearly reflects the institutional anger in the courts over the Bush-Cheney disregard for judicial review and constitutional checks and balances. Based on the government's arguments that Padilla posed a serious threat to the national security, and that he intended to detonate a "dirty bomb" in a U.S. city, the Fourth Circuit had previously upheld the classification of Padilla as an "enemy combatant."
But, as the court pointed out, within days of the Supreme Court's expected decision as to whether it would review the case, the government tried to transfer Padilla from military to civilian custody, and brought criminal charges against him, "for alleged offenses considerably different from, and less serious than, those acts for which the government had militarily detained Padilla." Indeed, as Luttig writes, the government made an "emergency application" to transfer Padilla, without ever even mentioning the "dirty bomb" allegations or the alleged national security threat.
The appearance given, buttressed by leaks in the media, was that the government was attempting to avoid review by the Supreme Court, the Fourth Circuit statedand it left the impression that Padilla may have been held "by mistake."
One of Padilla's lawyers, Donna Newman, said that she hopes that today's ruling gives an incentive for the Supreme Court to hear Padilla's case. "I think it speaks loud and clear," she said.
Pentagon May Cut 34,000 Soldiers from National Guard
Pentagon officials are considering cutting as many as 34,000 soldiersmostly from the National Guardat a time when U.S. ground forces are stretched thin in Iraq, the Baltimore Sun reported Dec. 21.
The White House has ordered the Defense Department to reduce spending over the next five years. Top army leaders have decided to sacrifice troop strength in order to provide money for new weapons systems and equipment, although the Sun says Rumsfeld has not decided what to cut.
A 34,000 cut from the National Guard would be 10% of its total strength. Governors oppose it, because they command the various state National Guards and rely on them in disasters, like Hurricane Katrina.
Neo-Cons Present Plan for Walls Along U.S. Borders
What decades ago Kissinger-ally William Paddock could only propagandize for, has now become part of a bill before the U.S. Congress: "Shut the borders and let them scream."
One of the Cheney gang's useful fools in Congress, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif), has slipped an item into a bill passed by the House on Dec. 16 that calls for a study "on the use of physical barriers" on the U.S. border with Canada. It also calls for building a 700-mile security fence, with lights and cameras, along the border between Mexico and the U.S. states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.
Mexican President Vicente Fox has called the plan "shameful." "It is not possible that in the 21st century, we're building walls between two nations that are neighbors, between two nations that are brothers," he said.
Canadian officials said they have no interest in the plan. Saying it's never been discussed at regular meetings on border security, a spokesman for Canada's Public Safety Ministry noted that such a barrier would be impractical. "Just look at the Great Lakes," he said. "It's an indication of a lack of understanding about what the true challenges are on the northern border."
The U.S.-Canadian border has been known as the world's longest unfortified international border. (See Ibero-American Digest for more on this story.)