- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 15, 2001

Social Security is not 'progressive'

Bruce Bartlett is correct that "Republicans should strenuously resist any cut in the payroll tax rate that is unrelated to long-term Social Security reform," but he errs regarding Social Security's treatment of the poor ("Bait and switch tax tactics," Commentary, Feb. 12).
Mr. Bartlett claims, "Social Security benefits are highly progressive, giving significantly higher benefits to those with low lifetime wage earnings." In fact, high-income workers live longer and collect more benefits, making Social Security regressive on a lifetime basis.
For instance, data from the National Center for Health Statistics show that a 45-year-old white male from a household earning more than $25,000 can expect to live to age 79, while a similar individual from a household earning less than $10,000 would live to just 72. Moreover, many low-income workers do not even live to see retirement, meaning they lose thousands of dollars in payroll tax contributions over their lifetimes.
Mr. Bartlett also argues that high payroll tax rates are not a disincentive to work because they are pension contributions that will be repaid, often with very high interest. Yet most young workers have little expectation of seeing any Social Security benefits and thus view payroll tax contributions as a pure tax.
The solution is to transform payroll taxes into true pension contributions, which would earn high returns in personal retirement accounts. Individuals would face no disincentive to work, and low-income workers could build wealth and pass it on to their heirs.

ANDREW G. BIGGS
Social Security analyst
The Cato Institute
Washington

Don't replace car tax with other taxes

In all the discussions on whether Virginia can "afford" the repeal of the car tax, one major point has been sadly missing. Instead of concentrating on what other tax revenues could make up for the shortfall, our legislators should be looking at ways to cut spending so that the tax is not necessary. Gov. James S. Gilmore III was elected with a clear mandate to end the hated car tax. I find it appalling that many Virginia legislators not only refuse to look at cutting spending, but instead wish to preserve the car tax and increase the budget. If their concern is a slowdown in the economy, maybe they should do what the rest of us must do and tighten the belt a little. It is time for the Virginia legislature to do the right thing: cut spending and end the car tax. DAVID NEMZOFFSecretaryLoudoun Libertarian PartyPurcellville, Va.www.lploudoun.org

Contraceptive criticism doesn't go far enough

Dr. Alma L. Golden, clinical associate professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, and Shepard Smith, president of the Institute for Youth Development, in their Feb. 11 article, "Warning labels for condoms?" pointed out some of the well-known but little publicized deficiencies of condoms. This was a welcome admission of the truth that condoms don't provide "safe sex." However, the writers also left the false impression that condoms are the solution to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
They wrote, "If we divulge the inadequacies of condoms, the experts seem to think, the public will 'lose faith in the condom' and fail to utilize it for the conditions for which it may be most protective, such as HIV/AIDS. Consequently, public health experts overstate the known efficacy of the method."
In 1999, the Alan Guttmacher Institute released an estimate of contraceptive failure rates, taken from a survey of women in their first 12 months of contraceptive use. AGI estimated that 72 percent of low-income cohabiting couples under age 20 who used condoms experienced pregnancy (contraceptive failure), as did 51 percent of similar higher-income couples. (The report can be found at www.agi-usa.org/pubs/journals/3105699.html.)
Dr. Willard Cates Jr., former head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who has extensive experience in this field, wrote in the February 1997 Medical Bulletin of International Planned Parenthood, "Clearly, sexual abstinence will eliminate all the risk… . [The] use of condoms reduces by approximately 70% the total risk between unprotected sex and complete sexual abstinence."
Dr. Cates' conclusion verifies the findings of Dr. Susan Weller of the University of Texas, who said in 1993, "It is a disservice to encourage the belief that condoms will prevent sexual transmission of HIV." Her studies show condoms are only 69 percent effective in preventing HIV infection. Implicit in these findings is a 30 percent risk of contracting HIV when using condoms and having sex with someone who has HIV or AIDS. Note that Drs. Cates and Weller are speaking to each occurrence of sex, not a failure rate over 12 months, as the Guttmacher Institute data indicate.
Dr. Golden and Mr. Smith offer a mild criticism of condom pushers in view of the lifelong disasters such as abortions and sexually transmitted diseases resulting from the misinformation cruelly fed to our teens when they are told condoms make sex safe.

CAROLYN NAUGHTON
Silver Spring

Illegal poster plastering no better than vandalism

The Feb. 10 article "Poster-plastered property a priority" was welcome and maddening at the same time. The topic of illegal posters gets little coverage by the local media. Yet these advertisements are every bit as unsightly as graffiti, and they have the same negative impact on the appearance of our neighborhoods. Hopefully, the article raised awareness about illegal posters in the District and made residents consider how offensive they are.
The posters are placed blatantly along our main streets in broad daylight. The photo accompanying your article shows four young men standing near a lamppost and, having already fastened six advertisement posters, they are in the process of fastening more. The article even gives their names. If your reporter found it so easy to spot posters going up and to obtain the names of the culprits, why can't our police?
The article is correct in stating that D.C. laws regarding enforcement and penalties are weak, but this does not excuse our police from allowing this illegal activity to take place under their noses. It appears that most of our police don't recognize it as an offense or don't care.
In addition to advertisement posters, many lampposts and utility boxes are plastered with stick-on messages conveying social and political messages. These stick-ons are not easy to remove. It is strange that the purveyors of such messages don't realize that by defacing public property, they convey the message that vandalism is permissible. Yes, with some effort and elbow grease, even the glued-on posters can be removed, but the problem is analogous to a having a plumbing leak and mopping up the water without addressing the source of the leak.
The Department of Public Works and many residents have been fighting the battle for years by removing posters as soon as possible after they go up. Even the mayor's Clean City Coordinator, Vince Spaulding, can be seen removing posters near his house almost every weekend. As long as there is no consequence for affixing them, however, the posters will continue to blight our neighborhoods. Residents who remove posters can and do make a difference, but we can never win the battle without stronger laws and police who are interested in enforcing them. Those who trash our city with posters, litter and graffiti should be subject to steep fines, and those fines should be collectible like traffic fines. Until our city leaders take a stand against all types of littering by putting strong laws in place, we taxpayers will continue to throw resources at mopping up the water as the leak continues to get worse.

KATHY CHAMBERLAIN
Washington

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