United States News Digest
Obama Breaks Campaign Promise, Persecutes Whistleblowers
June 19 (EIRNS)As a Presidential candidate, Barack Obama said that whistleblowing by government employees was an act "of courage and patriotism" that should be "encouraged rather than stifled," as David Wise reported in Smithsonian magazine dated August 2011. But once elected, he has brought five criminal cases against government officials charged with whistleblower disclosures to news media, compared with only three under all previous administrations combined, reported Scott Shane in the June 17 New York Times. Obama has filed criminal charges under the World War I-era Espionage Act, designed to deal with enemy spies, so that officials who gave information to news media in order to expose government corruption, are faced with possible decades or life in prison.
And even as he has continued the illegal Bush-Cheney programs of warrantless government wiretapping, Obama has pursued cases against the officials suspected of bringing that illegal conduct to light through the press during the previous administration.
Stephen J. Kim, a lifelong public servant with a distinguished record, faces a possible 15 years in prison for giving a Fox News reporter more information than his superiors, who had told him to talk to the news network, thought appropriate. Kim is a leading U.S. expert on North Korean arms who has worked for Lawrence Livermore, for DOD, and then the State Department, and was tasked to brief then Vice President Cheney on North Korean weapons programs.
Most recently, Obama's case against fired NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake ended in a fiasco. Drake had leaked a story of NSA corruption and Constitutional violations to Congress and to a Baltimore Sun reporter, after the NSA Inspector-General and others refused to pursue his story. He was charged with ten felonies under the Espionage Act and other laws, and faced up to 35 years in prison. But on June 9, he accepted a plea bargain in which he admitted to a misdemeanor, under condition that would serve no prison time, and pay no fine.
Nevertheless, Drake, who has worked in intelligence most of his adult life, was forced out of the NSA in 2008, and now works in a computer store.
Dems, Christie Join in Attack on N.J. Public Workers
June 17 (EIRNS)Yesterday, in Trenton, N.J., Obama Democrats in the state assembly, led by Senate president Stephen Sweeney, joined with Republican Gov. Chris Christie, in an attack on organized labor in the state. That attack, in the form of a pension and benefits reform bill that shifts greater costs for benefits onto 500,000 public sector workers, triggered a protest demonstration of 3,500-5,000 union members, teachers, firefighters, police, and other public workers.
Demonstrators not only condemned Christie, but also those Democrats who aligned themselves with him. In Sweeney's case, the turnabout is especially egregious, as he is an organizer in the ironworkers' union. The new package that the Senate's budget committee agreed to yesterday, would increase state and local government workers' contributions from $900 per year to $2,056 per year, or $3,230 per year for a family plan. It would also increase workers' pension contributions and raise the retirement age for new hires from 62 to 65.
Democratic leaders expect to muscle the bill through the legislature, but without the support of a majority of their own party. Several Democrats, in fact, marched out to the rally to condemn the legislation. "There's a lot of sheep, inside, and the lions are out here fighting," said Democratic Rep. Reed Gusciora. Pro-union Democrats and union leaders argued that, instead of being legislated, worker contributions towards health benefits should be negotiated through collective bargainingbut the bill restricts collective bargaining rights, as well.
Democrats siding with Christie were also denounced inside the hearing room by labor leaders who testified against the bill, and about two dozen union members were arrested and removed from the room, after they stood up, locked arms, and chanted, "Kill the bill!" Bob Master, political director of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), told the crowd that "Real Democrats would kill this bill, because workers' rights are human rights." AFSCME number-two national officer Lee Saunders accused the state's leading politicians of being nothing more than fronts for corporate CEOs. "We are under attack from coast to coast," he said. "All working people are at risk when voices are silenced."
Christopher Shelton, international vice president of CWA's District 1, compared Christie to Adolf Hitler. "In Nazi Germany," he said, "the first thing they did was go after the unions, and that's what Christie and his two generals are trying to do in New Jersey!"
More Bipartisan Pressure on Obama on Afghan Troop Drawdown
June 16 (EIRNS)A group of 27 Senators, representing both sides of the aisle, have signed onto a letter calling on President Obama to begin a sizable and sustained U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan this Summerthe latest indication of the war's deepening unpopularity on Capitol Hill, and the brewing revolt against Obama's Presidency more broadly. The letter doesn't specify how many of the roughly 100,000 troops currently in Afghanistan should return home, but it stresses that the withdrawal should be sizable and sustained, and include combat forces as well as logistical and support troops.
The timing of this letter is of great significance, in light of the fact that a strong bipartisan voice has already been raised on the Hill against the White House over the Administration's violation of the War Powers Act by not seeking Congressional authorization for the military intervention in Libya.
The letter's signatories include conservative Democrats like Montana's Max Baucus, to outspoken progressives like Minnesota's Al Franken, and from veterans with safe seats like Michigan's Debbie Stabenow, to freshmen like Ohio's Sherrod Brown, in addition to Chuck Schumer of New York, the party's third-ranking official, and Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
C-130s Finally Deployed To Fight Fires in Arizona/New Mexico
June 16 (EIRNS)Seventeen days after the Wallow fire started in Arizona, the Federal government has finally deployed two Air National Guard C-130s, equipped with the modular airborne firefighting system, to help fight fires in that state and in New Mexico. They were expected to make their first retardant drops today. The Wallow fire has now burned 478,000 acres, making it the largest wildfire in Arizona history. Fire officials said, today, that they have the fire 29% contained, but that containment is being threatened by hot, dry winds that are forecast to continue for the next several days. In addition to the Wallow fire, there are at least five other large fires burning in Arizona, and five more in New Mexico.
Wisconsin Supreme Court Backs Gov. Walker's Anti-Union Bill
June 15 (EIRNS)Yesterday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court, newly packed by Gov. Scott Walker, ruled 4-3 in favor of his anti-collective bargaining bill that had been blocked by Dane County Judge Maryann Sumi, last month. The majority, including newly elected Justice David Prosser, a Walker crony, ruled that Sumi's ruling was invalid from the outset. Democrats in the legislature had accused the GOP of violating the state's open meetings law, when they passed a stripped-down version of the bill in March without the presence of the Democrats. The majority on the court decided that not only were the Republicans not in violation of the law, but that they don't even have to follow it, despite the fact that it stems from the state constitution.
Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, who voted with the minority, blasted the majority in her dissenting opinion. She wrote that the order seems to open the court to the charge that the majority has "reached a predetermined conclusion not based on the facts and the law...." The majority justices "make their own findings of fact, mischaracterize the parties' arguments, misinterpret statutes, minimize (if not eliminate) Wisconsin constitutional guarantees and misstate case law, appearing to silently overrule case law dating back to at least 1891," she wrote.
The battle over the law is by no means dead, however. There are still two lawsuits pending against the bill, on other grounds, and the mass strike is still very much alive in Wisconsin. In fact, when the news of the Supreme Court's action broke, there were an estimated 2,500 protestors in and around the state capital in Madison, who were demonstrating against Walker's austerity budget, which the Republicans are trying to ram through the state legislature. Mahlon Mitchell, the president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin, told the crowd, with reference to the court ruling, "This fight is not over." Wisconsin AFL-CIO president Phil Neuenfeldt added that the fight now goes out to the districts where six GOP senators face recall elections set for July 12.