- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 26, 2000

Penalties create social insecurity for seniors

I heartily support a rapid reform of the outdated penalty on earnings for Social Security recipients between ages 65 and 70 ("For seniors' sake," Editorials, Feb. 22). It's my ox that is being gored.

I ran into the penalty by taking early retirement when I started having heart attacks. But I earned too much one year and now owe the Social Security Administration (SSA) $8,000. Although I was a practicing attorney, I misread the booklet put out by the SSA and thought the payments would automatically be decreased as my reported earnings increased. Not so.

I have no one to blame but myself, but in years of law practice, I did quite a bit of estate planning, and many seniors would not be as sophisticated as I, and doubtless ran into the same trap.

Now I am 66, partially disabled, but still able to work. However, if I earn more than $17,000 a year, which barely exceeds minimum wage, I effectively incur an additional 33 percent "tax" on my excess earnings. I cannot live on Social Security alone, can barely live on an additional $17,000 a year and cannot find suitable employment that does not violate this archaic rule.

I still owe the SSA. By the time it got around to notifying me that I owed them, I was not working and had no money to pay them back. My options were payment in full or a reduction in my monthly benefits until the debt was paid, or a reconsideration and an appeal.

I asked for reconsideration and appealed. Nothing has come of it.

The workers at the local office of the SSA refer me to their headquarters. It is too remote for me to visit. Phone calls there are an exercise in voice menus and futility. Letters go unanswered. But I know Big Brother is still watching me because when I get notified of an increase in benefits, a portion of the first month's increase is always deducted to pay against the debt, even though my appeal is technically still pending.

As a retired attorney, I realize my best option is to appeal to the federal courts, but if I were well enough to do that, I wouldn't be retired.

Seniors are tacitly discriminated against in the workplace as it is, and this additional burden must be lifted as quickly as possible.

ROBERT E. JOHNSON

Antioch, Calif.

Some government mandates just cause more trouble

I'm sure we can all agree that hearing tests are of great benefit to our newborn infants ("Hearing-test benefit for babies outlined," first edition, Feb. 20). I cannot, however, think of any benefit derived from the fact that state governments are mandating this procedure. I offer my own recent case as an example.

Since Virginia passed legislation to mandate this procedure last year, my newborn was automatically given the auditory exam at Inova Fairfax Hospital. When the bill for this procedure was submitted to Kaiser Permanente, it was rejected.

Last week, I called Kaiser Permanente to find out why the bill for a mandatory procedure was rejected. A representative politely informed me that although Virginia passed legislation to mandate the procedure, there is nothing in the statute that requires a health maintenance organization to cover the test. Guess who will be paying the bill?

Here again, we have a situation where good intentions on the part of government results in a direct cost to the consumer. If the true cost was really $25, most patients would gladly cover it out of pocket. However, my bill for the test was $48, a figure almost double the amount quoted in the article.

If this cost continues to escalate, as I suspect it will, then there will probably come a time when our friendly state legislature will step in to "fix" the flaw in their original mandate. Any bets on how that will turn out?

TERRENCE MCGRATH

Woodbridge

Late official unfairly criticized in 'China Game'

In the review of the BBC documentary on "Nixon's China Game," which aired on PBS in late January, the reviewer delivers a swipe at the late Ambassador Walter J. Stoessel Jr., who made our first approach to the Chinese in Warsaw in 1969 ("Nixon's remarkable 'China Game,' " Arts and Entertainment, Jan. 29).

As the Warsaw Embassy officer responsible for liaison with the Chinese, I was the one who collared the Chinese attache on the steps of the Palace of Culture on Dec. 3, long enough for Mr. Stoessel to come up and make his statement on the president's behalf. This was almost three months after Sept. 9, when Mr. Nixon asked him to make the approach, and the rap on Mr. Stoessel, by Henry Kissinger in the documentary and then by the reviewer, is that he was "balk[ing]" because the approach "was so against orthodoxy and in a sense so dangerous." Former Chinese Embassy staffer Jiang Zhicheng then piles on: We "shout[ed]" at them, he says, and then Mr. Stoessel "pant[ed]" out the message.

I was with Mr. Stoessel in every meeting with the Chinese during those years, and later served with him when he was ambassador to Moscow and deputy secretary of state. When he died in the mid-1980s, he remembered his part in the opening to China as the high point of a career of extraordinary distinction. Since he cannot speak for himself, it is up to me to set his record straight.

I assume Mr. Jiang was the diplomat standing about 30 yards away, at the foot of the palace stairs, when Mr. Stoessel and I made the approach to the attache. There were just the four of us, besides drivers. It was a crystal cold night, and sound carried: At that distance, Mr. Jiang could have taken my call for a shout, especially if he was stunned or excited. By the same token, Mr. Jiang was not present at the exchange itself; I was, and I can assure him and your readers that Mr. Stoessel did not "pant."

Mr. Kissinger is tougher on Mr. Stoessel in the documentary than he was in the first volume of his memoirs, "White House Years" (1979, page 188), where he called him "expert, thoughtful, disciplined."

But even there, he got things wrong: For instance, he featured Chinese charge Lei Yang, who was nowhere in sight that night. Working closely with Mr. Stoessel through the months between Sept. 9 and Dec. 3, I had no inkling that he was being bashed privately by Mr. Kissinger for his "balkiness." (If we was not, Mr. Kissinger's remarks are truly gratuitous.) I had no inkling of any balkiness. What I felt instead what we all felt was excitement, but also the need to get things right.

In the documentary, I appear briefly to describe the strange and wonderful problem of not knowing what the Chinese looked like, and not being able to ask anyone else, in our embassy or outside. But the real problem was finding a neutral site, to make the contact as anonymous as possible. That meant a scheduled event sponsored by the embassy of a country we both had relations with; in those days, there were only a few such countries.

For one scheduling problem or another, a Finnish event slipped by. We then targeted the Yugoslav national day; but a recent earthquake made the Yugoslavs replace their normal party with a fashion show, with proceeds going to the victims, at the Palace of Culture. And that was where we made the contact, but only after another delay.

I am satisfied that the only reason the delay stretched out to three months was this technical problem. Mr. Kissinger now grumbles; imagine his reaction if we had botched the contact by premature publicity. Since Mr. Stoessel did get things right, I expect he would have taken these baseless slurs with his customary good humor.

THOMAS W. SIMONS JR.

Stanford, Calif.

Thomas W. Simons Jr. served in the Foreign Service for 35 years before retiring in 1998. He is now a professor of history at Stanford University and a distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Free speech for a few

In his Feb. 6 column "Re-education camp for Rocker" (Commentary), Cal Thomas asked: "Is the right to free speech granted only to certain people?"

The answer is, yes. Blacks can say what they wish about whites, homosexuals can say what they want about heterosexuals and feminists can demonize men to their heart's content. But any comment in the other direction is proof that the person is racist, a homophobe and a sexist.

In the United States today, there are no longer any independent standards for truth. "Truth" is what serves the interests of minorities, homosexuals and feminists. By definition, everything else is untruth and proof of moral turpitude.

PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS

Panama City Beach, Fla.

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