The Next Battle in Washington

Social Security Mobilizes Troops

As the dregs of the impeachment show-trial continued to careen across the capital, politicians were drawing up new battle lines for the big debate on Social Security.

Fresh from his vociferous defense of Clinton in the House Judiciary Committee, New York's Congressman Jerry Nadler is leading another of the president's battles, this one as the top liberal proponent of Clinton's plan for investing Social Security trust funds in Wall Street. "I think the president's proposal is good," Nadler said, although he admitted the entire debate is something of a nonissue. "There is probably no problem" with the Social Security system, except for a shortfall of 2.2 percent over a 75-year period, the congressman said. But since the right wing has successfully convinced the nation that there is something wrong, "What you have to do is to appear to solve this problem which isn't really a major problem."

As for Alan Greenspan's worries about the government meddling in the stock market, Nadler said, "You're saying the government will have more influence to pressure for more decent, socially responsible corporate behavior. That's terrible?"

A group of 20 other "progressive" Democrats gathered last Thursday to question the president's plan, which would invest perhaps 15 percent of the Social Security system trust funds, swollen by projected budget surpluses, in Wall Street stocks. "While the president does not propose privatizing Social Security," said the group's leader Dennis Kucinich, the Cleveland Democrat, "he has created an opening and a vehicle for privatizers to radically dismantle Social Security."

Critics of the scheme wonder what happens if there are no budget surpluses and the economy enters a recession, something that's bound to happen sooner or later. And why invest $1 trillion in the stock market at a time when just about everyone, including Alan Greenspan, has widely speculated that it is grossly overvalued and when there is little serious regulatory protection against swindles? Last month the Securities and Exchange Commission fined 28 broker- dealers $26 million for manipulating the market and failing to keep accurate books and records, among other charges. In 1998 alone the SEC entered into nearly 400 consent decrees to settle civil and criminal litigation in the securities markets. Why put workers' retirement funds in such a chancy arena when many confused investors in recent months have been fleeing to the safety of government bonds where Social Security is now invested?

Oklahoma City Fallout
Grand Jury Indicts Reporter

Those who never believed Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols acted alone in blowing up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995 looked to a special grand jury convened in that city to investigate all the evidence. Hopefully, the grand jury would get to the bottom of the conspiracy the feds were ignoring. Instead, it emphatically came down on the side of the federal government, which says the bombing was the work of the two men.

But it did hand up one indictment. That was for jury tampering, a misdemeanor, and was directed at a hapless San Francisco journalist named David Hoffman, editor of the Haight-Ashbury Free Press. He had sent copies of his book, The Oklahoma City Bombing and the Politics of Terror, last year to jury members, urging them "to check it out." Hoffman thinks the bombing resulted from a federal sting operation "which went wrong." He says, "It's the World Trade Center all over again." Denying the grand jury charge, Hoffman said, "I should have gotten a good citizen medal." He's free on $10,000 bond, but can't leave the state to travel to Washington to undertake his new book, Murdergate, the story of the unsolved murders supposedly swirling around Clinton.

Meanwhile, the Oklahoma City case is taking a new and curious turn with flamboyant Ohio Democratic Congressman Jim Trafficant springing into action. Trafficant is the ranking Democrat on a House Public Buildings subcommittee that oversees security in federal buildings. In the past he's always been a keen supporter of the local police, having been a controversial sheriff himself. Since April 19 had been long forecast as an important date in right-wing mythology (the date of the feds' final assault on Waco, for one thing), Trafficant wants to know whether federal law enforcement agencies sufficiently alerted the building managers to all possible dangers. According to a spokesperson, Trafficant has been working with a private detective gathering evidence on the bombing, and if he uncovers new evidence, the congressman will turn it over to Henry Hyde's judiciary committee.

Connecticut attorney Richard Beider said he still plans to file a civil case on behalf of 170-odd surviving family members against government agencies, arguing they had prior knowledge of the blast. The civil case— if it ever goes through— could become the vehicle for an additional investigation.

Ethnic Warfare
Biological Weapons Might Not Be Color Blind

Lying behind the nightmare fears of 21st-century germ warfare is the scarcely imaginable prospect of an "ethnic bullet" that could allow a racist aggressor nation to wipe out its ethnic enemy. Such fears underline Clinton's own worries about constructing a defense against new genetic warfare.

Adding to press accounts of Israeli research into an ethnic bomb came a report, "Biotechnology, weapons and humanity," last week from the esteemed British Medical Association, warning that "weapons could theoretically be developed which affect particular versions of genes clustered in specific ethnic or family groups." It adds: "As genetic manipulation becomes a standard laboratory technique, there is a risk that this new information will also become widely available and procedures to monitor against the misuse of this new knowledge are urgently needed."

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