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The missing 'left,' Social Security myths

Reader feedback 3.16.05 

WHERE'S THE LEFT?

Gil French highlights an important point (The Mail, January 19) when he correctly says that Kerry ran "an abortion of a campaign" and in regards to Bush, asks, "Who voted for this fool?"

            How come the supposed "opposition party" isn't very oppositional? And how could people vote for Bush, seemingly against their own economic and social interests?" No one is talking about these questions.

            "Who voted for this fool?" Thirty-three percent of the population. As Howard Zinn suggested in a column for The Progressive magazine: "If we were truly democratic, then maybe the 40 percent nonvoters who were the plurality might have their wish: no president at all."

            The elephant in the room (no pun intended) is that the Daily Show with John Stewart is the ideological leadership of the "left." In all its hilariousness and genius, it's a TV show and not a guidepost for organizing. I'm not one for labels, but generally speaking, and according to polls, 50 percent of the people disapprove of the war and only a small minority is organizing to stop it. This is the "left," but right now, it's not answering those big questions, so the gap between those organizing and those who agree with the organizers is huge.

            This past Saturday, 100 people discussed these issues at the first-ever Rochester Antiwar Conference. This was a tremendous first step. The next one is to get out and protest at 4 p.m. on March 19 at the Blue Cross Arena.

            But what we need is a sustained forum to answer these big questions and a group that can organize to do something with what we learn. On March 20, there is an interest meeting at Java's on Gibbs Street at 3 p.m. for a citywide Rochester Antiwar Committee, for anyone who is against the war and wants to do something about it.

            Peopleare out there who agree with us, but they aren't going to organize themselves or answer their own questions. We have to debate, discuss, and then organize --- together, and for a purpose.

            Brian Lenzo, Monroe Avenue, Rochester


NO CRISIS?

Paul Van Ness listed a number of very impressive "basic facts" regarding Social Security's "trust fund" (The Mail, March 2), but he omitted the most important one: The "trust fund" is an accounting fiction, a myth. Its $1.4 trillion is made up, mostly, of government IOU's, because they have already been spent by other branches of the government. So when the receipts from payroll taxes start falling short of the outlays (and we can argue about when that will happen), those IOU's will be as good as wallpaper unless backed up by tax increases, or benefit cuts, or both.

            One cannot really blame Mr. Van Ness for holding onto the pious illusion that we have a real trust fund. After all, somebody who should know better, like Paul Krugman of the New York Times, never tires of telling us about this "trust fund."

            For myself, I remember with amusement when President Clinton, back in 1998, launched the alarm: "Save Social Security first," as the Reagan economic reforms were starting to produce the first budget surpluses. Democrats were all applauding then.

            They have, since then, created the other myth of the $10-billion surplus supposedly squandered by Dubya. Hello, out there! It was just a projection! Not a real surplus! Other things and other priorities have intervened since. Not that Clinton, as usual, ever did anything about Social Security except, in his good old Bubba fashion, talk about it, but here we are, seven years later, without the demographics having improved a bit, and, lo and behold, there is no crisis according to the Dems! Go figure!

            Italo G. Savella, FernwoodPark, Rochester


IF, BUT, AND...

Paul Van Ness makes the argument that there is no impending crisis with the Social Security Trust Fund (The Mail, March 2), stating, "the money is held in the form of government bonds which pay interest at an average rate of 6 percent a year." He then cites a litany of "ifs" (if life expectancy changes, if inflation decreases, if wages increase, etc.) to make his case.

            Mr. Van Ness, along with most Americans, misunderstands how the Social Security Trust Fund functions. It contains no assets. It has no money, either cash or "investments." The Trust Fund is really just a "promise to pay" in the future, guaranteed by the Social Security Administration and backed by the government. Payments made today by workers are used immediately to pay benefits to Social Security recipients, and no actual "surplus" exists in any form.

            What does the Social Security Administration itself say about the Trust Fund balances? "They do not consist of real economic assets that can be drawn down in the future to fund benefits. Instead, they are claims on the Treasury that, when redeemed, will have to be financed by raising taxes, borrowing from the public, or reducing benefits or other expenditures. The existence of large Trust Fund balances, therefore, does not, by itself, have any impact on the government's ability to pay benefits." (From FY 2000 Budget, Analytical Perspectives, page 337.)

            There's an old rhyme that goes: "If 'ifs' and 'buts' were fruits and nuts, we'd all have a very merry Christmas."

            I'm not willing to gamble on the stability of the Social Security System for young workers and younger citizens. Sticking one's head in the sand is OK for ostriches but raises hell with people. Even reasoned middle-of-the-road analyses predict future shortfalls in the ability of Social Security to pay its obligations to those who are currently funding the system. Fix Social Security now.

            John Walsh, HoneoyeFalls


WRITING TO CITY

We welcome and encourage readers' letters for publication. Send them to: themail@rochester-citynews.com or The Mail, City Newspaper, 250 North Goodman Street, Rochester14607.

            Our guidelines: We don't publish anonymous letters --- and we ask that you include your street name and city/town/village. We don't publish letters that have been sent to other media --- and we don't publish form letters generated by activist groups. While we don't restrict length, letters of under 350 words have a greater chance of being published. We do edit letters for clarity and brevity. And in general we don't publish letters (or longer "op-ed" pieces) from the same writer more often than about once every two months.

  • The missing 'left,' Social Security myths

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