Bush pitches privatization plan

The crowd roared its approval, especially when Bush expressed his determination to press forward. ''My job as president is to confront problems, and not pass them on to a future president and future congress,'' Bush said, bringing the crowd to its feet. His stop here was part of a two-day, four-state Southern swing to get support for the proposal from the public and fellow Republicans. He has made his pitch earlier in the day in Memphis.
''I intend to take my message out week after week after week,'' Bush said, smiling.
Attempts were made by Bush opponents to counter his message -- and not just on Social Security. A small group of protesters on a hillside near the arena where Bush spoke stuck small portraits of soldiers killed in Iraq into the grass during his speech.
There was one arrest; Lacey Anderson, 18, was charged with obstructing a public passage after police said she sat on a sidewalk outside the school, blocking the way and refusing to get up.
In Baton Rouge, a group of Democrats with reservations about the Bush plan held a forum they said was attended by more than 200.
Bush, however, heard from a friendly crowd.
''Your program is very attractive,'' Bishop Larry Brandon, pastor at the Praise Temple Full Gospel Baptist Cathedral, told Bush, turning to him on the stage. ''I thank God for your approach that you are running towards this Goliath, to slay this Goliath.'' The crowd of about 3,000 like that, too.
''With your reforms, it's a positive incentive,'' said Sarah Hays, the LSU student next to Bush.
On the details -- the borrowing that will be needed to finance Bush's idea of privately invested Social Security accounts -- there were some questions afterwards. ''He didn't talk about how much it will cost,'' Robby Cole, a 34-year-old manager at a manufacturing plant here, who nonetheless said he was ''all for'' the private accounts.
Opponents have been pointing to the transition costs, estimated in the trillions of dollars to cover current benefits while shifting to personal accounts for future retirees.
While Bush told the crowd that ''all ideas are on the table,'' he focused on the one that he is partial to. ''By putting money aside, by investing in the private market, you'll be able to get a better rate of return than if the government invests your money,'' he said -- an idea economists say presupposes a far better performance from the stock market than it has enjoyed in recent years.
He ended with a veiled warning to balky Democrats: ''Woe to the politician that doesn't come to the table,'' Bush said, and the crowd roared again.
Earlier, thousands waited hours in an open field outside the stadium for the chance to hear Bush. Many had been waiting outside since early morning to hear Bush talk about his plan, which will allow workers to invest some of their tax contributions in private accounts, including stocks, in exchange for a reduction in guaranteed benefits. Key details have yet to be released.
''I want to hear all of his views on Social Security reform,'' said Jerome Scott, the mayor of Pollock, La., who had been waiting in line since 8 a.m. after a drive of several hours. ''I am open minded. I want to hear all of the pros and cons. At this point I'm not completely convinced,'' Scott said.
Robert Thomas, a farmer from Gibsland, said: ''I believe I can handle my money better than the federal government.''
Louisiana politicians, including the state's Republican Senator, David Vitter, and U.S. Rep. Jim McCrery, the local congressman, who heads the House subcommittee on Social Security, joined the crowd in the Gold Dome.
The Bush administration says that by 2018, the system will pay out more in benefits than it collects; Economists, point out that there is ample principle and interest in Social Security's trust fund to cover any shortfall in 2018. Bush officials say that by 2042, the system will have exhausted its surpluses; Economists say it will still be able to pay 75 percent of benefits, and a small adjustment in taxes now would take care of the shortfall.
Groups opposed to the Bush plan did their best to try to counter the influence of a presidential visit.
''I believe that the plan would disadvantage the American people and make their retirement less secure,'' said Dana McCracken, president of the American Federation of Government Employees following a midday news conference in Shreveport.
McCracken said the Bush plan would only contribute to budget deficits.
In Baton Rouge, Sen. Mary Landrieu, U.S. Rep. Charles Melancon, Treasurer John Kennedy and Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, all Democrats, led a forum on the Social Security issue. Organizers, striving to point out the difference in approach from that used by supporters of the Bush plan, said that supporters of the plan also took part in the discussion.
''There is no immediate crisis but there is a problem on the horizon,'' Landrieu said in a later interview. But she likened the system to a home that constantly needs ''minor repairs and admustments'' and not an attempt at a permanent fix.
Estimates of problems beginning in 2042 are based on very modest economic growth projections, she said.
In Kentucky on Thursday, Bush told an audience that he wants a plan that will stabilize the program's long-term solvency. He has traveled to 11 states in support of his plan since his Feb. 2 State of the Union address.
Borrowing to make up for the shortfall in tax collections caused by their diversion to private accounts says will lead to debt equivalent to 24 percent of gross domestic product by 2060, according one government estimate.


KC Program Helps Troops Stay Connected With Families
Drop-Off Site Located On First Floor Of KC Veterans Hospital
POSTED: 12:38 pm CST March 14, 2005
UPDATED: 1:00 pm CST March 14, 2005
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A local program is helping troops stay connected with their families with a donation of an old cell phone, KMBC's Natalie Moultrie reported.
"What helped me to get through, when I was on duty, was to keep in touch with family. I called every other day," Cpl. Richard Gibson said.
Dr. Hement Tahkur said service members who stay in touch with their family while serving can handle the stress of war better. But calling home is not as easy as it sounds and it is expensive.

A local union at the Kansas City Veterans hospital joined the Cell Phones for Soldiers program.
"It will take a great burden off them, not to mention financially. The phone bills are absolutely outrageous," Gibson said.
Cell Phones for Soldiers was started by two teenagers in Massachusetts. The program is now nationwide and the Kansas City VA hospital is an official drop-off site for old cell phones.
When you donate an old cell phone, troops in the Middle East won't get the old phone, but they will get a phone card that will allow them to call home, Moultrie said.
"We send the cell phones to a company that recycles the cell phones, and with the money purchase prepaid phone cards," said June Tisinger, of AFGE Local 910.
People interested in donating can drop off their old cell phones with the batteries attached on the first floor of the Kansas City VA in room 1164.


From Washington Dispatch.com
US Government Fails to Defend Its Own Citizens
Commenary by Donald A. Collins
March 14, 2005
While most of us often get “mad as hell” about some issue, few of us rush out into the street and scream or take physical action. That is especially true of many pundits such as myself.

However, late last month a group of hardy, brave and angry Arizonans and others did just that!

According to the Associated Press, over 1000 men “have already joined the Minuteman Project, anointing themselves civilian border patrol agents determined to stop the immigration flow that routinely, and easily, seeps past federal authorities. They plan to patrol a 40-mile stretch of the southeast Arizona border throughout April when the tide of immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border peaks.”

"I felt the only way to get something done was to do it yourself," said Jim Gilchrist, a retired accountant and decorated Vietnam War veteran who is helping recruit Minutemen across the country.

These guys are going to places along this 370 mile border where US border patrol agents have been attacked and killed. Yet, the image of citizens trying to defend their own country because our government, Federal, State and local, have largely failed to do so, makes compelling news.

So far there has been small coverage in our main stream media, who would like to ignore this sight. But American citizens clearly understand that this is not about the failure of the US Border Patrol, but a failure of our government to make adequate laws and take appropriate actions that would quickly lessen this massive flow.

For starters, the Bush Administration has refused to fund the hiring of more border patrol officers and much of the huge border between Mexico and the US where thousands of illegal aliens cross into the US every day.

Most observers agree that the majority of those coming here illegally are coming here to find work and to send money home to Mexico. Estimates run around $14 billion per year in so called remittances by such laborers. It is often vigorously argued by everyone from President Bush down that these workers “do jobs that Americans won’t do” and that is partially true. American always performed menial labor, often for low wages, but the wages paid these immigrant slaves are too low even for many Americans who would like to take such work.

That is one aspect, but only one of several others. Another is the matter of certain businesses not having to mechanize some operations if there are slaves to do the job. This is likely widely true in agriculture, but extends to many other places as well.

Another reason our government has failed stems from not setting tough standards for worker identification and severe penalties for companies who hire illegal aliens. Business has for years demanded government allow open borders to keep labor cheap. At the same time, business is supporting with grants the ethnic lobbies such as LULAC and others, which scream racial epithets at anyone daring to call for less immigration. One punch at the LULAC web site (www.lulac.org) will give you the idea of how this works.

The most disconcerting point, however, is that recent intelligence discloses that al Qaida terrorists are the most like to enter here. The border patrol officials admit in that 2/21/05 AP article that “the 370-mile Arizona border is the most porous stretch on the U.S.-Mexico line. Moreover, recent intelligence show that al-Qaida terrorists are likely to enter the country through the Mexico border, James Loy, the deputy secretary of the Homeland Security Department said last week.”

"Several al-Qaida leaders believe operatives can pay their way into the country through Mexico, and also believe illegal entry is more advantageous than legal entry for operational security reasons," according to James Loy, deputy secretary of the Homeland Security Department in written testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

So here are a few among many frustrated American citizens who have long pleaded for help to stop illegal immigrants from traipsing into our country via their back yards. Group leader Jim Gilchrist says "We've been repeatedly accused of being people who are taking the law into our own hands," said Gilchrist, 56, of Aliso Viejo, Calif. "That is an outright bogus statement. We are going down there to assist law enforcement."

Gilchrist is certainly putting his troops in the right place. According to AP, “Of the 1.1 million illegal immigrants caught by the U.S. Border Patrol last year, 51 percent crossed into the country at the Arizona border. While the number of agents has been upped from 1,700 to 2,100 over the last 18 months, there are still not enough according to Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Robert C. Bonner. About 10,000 federal agents now patrol the 2,000-mile southern border, he said.”

There could be trouble, as some of the Minuteman patrols plan to arm themselves during their 24-hour desert patrols. Most lack training in handling illegal border crossings. That they are there at all shows the intensity of feeling about the failure of our government to do its job.

Is this just a public relations grandstand play? Probably partly, but failing to get proper response from their elected officials certainly set the stage for this latest effort to curb crossings. It is indeed the largest such effort and perhaps could foreshadow other attempts by private citizens to protect their homeland. The Minutemen "clearly have every reason to be upset with the federal government for abandoning them," said National Border Patrol Council president T.J. Bonner, no relation to the commissioner. While Gilchrist has issued strict orders to only ID intruders and follow them, then alerting border officials, violence could occur. It could get very dangerous.

Isn’t this a sad pass to come to? Citizens so mad they feel they must act, while a crass uncaring government remains inattentive to their pleas. Someone is very likely to get killed, just as several regular US Border Patrol agents have already. When, oh when, will a totally fixable situation be addressed by our leaders? Answer, when enough voters show enough backbone to kick out those leaders who keep failing to “protect and defend” us as the Constitution states is their duty.


OPM Reports Increase in Spending on Performance Bonuses
By Stephen Barr

Tuesday, March 15, 2005; Page B02
Spending on cash awards to recognize the good work of federal employees has continued to grow, hitting $1 billion for the first time in fiscal 2003, according to an Office of Personnel Management report on the federal workforce.
In 2003, there were more than 1.17 million "individual cash" awards made, with the average award worth $858, OPM reported.
That was up from fiscal 2002, when the government spent about $923 million on more than 1.15 million cash awards, averaging $800 each, OPM said.
Although $1 billion in bonuses may seem large, the OPM report noted that the individual cash awards amounted to less than 1 percent of the federal payroll.
Still, the data suggest that the government has in place a method for rewarding good performance -- one of the Bush administration's key goals. The bonus money was awarded based on performance ratings given employees as part of their annual job evaluations or as a way to recognize specific accomplishments.
The report notes that in 2003, an additional $111.4 million went for "group" awards that recognized special achievements. There were 197,597 of those awards, and the average award was $564.
In addition to individual and group bonuses, the government spent $49.3 million on merit raises, known as "quality step increases," in fiscal 2003. Agencies granted 60,913 of the raises, which averaged $809, OPM said. That was up from the previous year, when the average raise was $797. Merit raises go to federal employees who receive an outstanding or other high job rating.
Federal agencies also granted more "time-off" awards in fiscal 2003, with the average award worth 14.1 hours of paid time, about the same as in 2002, OPM said.
The Bush administration changed the reporting requirements for cash awards in fiscal 2001, making it difficult to compare the most recent data against data for previous years, including those during the Clinton administration. But the data indicate that since 1997, the government has steadily increased spending on bonuses that reward top-notch job performance. The OPM report was released Friday and posted on the agency's Web site (www.opm.gov).
The OPM data also show that agencies spent $10 million on "rank awards" given to 332 members of the Senior Executive Service in fiscal 2003, slightly less than the $10.4 million given to 348 award winners in fiscal 2002. A "distinguished rank" award was worth 35 percent of basic pay; a "meritorious rank" award was worth 20 percent of pay.
The government's ability to reward good performance has been faulted through the years, especially by employees who contend that award programs are not well managed.
In 2002, only 30 percent of federal employees said their agency's awards program gave them an incentive to do their best, an OPM survey found. Less than half of the survey respondents said high-performers were rewarded on a timely basis.
A survey of federal employees conducted in 2000 by the Merit Systems Protection Board found that just 33 percent believed that awards in their workplace were based on merit and that only 37 percent were satisfied with the recognition they received for their work.
Ken Abosch, a senior consultant at Hewitt Associates, said the firm's most recent compensation study found that 78 percent of corporations provide performance awards similar to those given in the government. Most of the companies are spending an estimated 9.9 percent of payroll on performance awards, he said.
"It seems like the government is getting into the game, but the level of spending is behind what we see on the corporate side," Abosch said.
Defense to Testify
Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio), chairman of the Senate government management and federal workforce subcommittee, has scheduled a hearing for this morning on the Pentagon's plan to overhaul the Defense Department's civil service system.
Among those asked to testify on the proposed National Security Personnel System are Charles Abell, principal deputy undersecretary for personnel and readiness at Defense; George Nesterczuk, a senior policy adviser at OPM; and two presidents of unions that represent Defense Department employees, John Gage and Gregory Junemann.

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