- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 15, 2002

Don't bank on Social Security

I was pleased to read that Donald Lambro had a productive discussion with Jo Anne Barnhart, Social Security's executive director, on the subject of Social Security reform ("Retiring Social Security scares," Commentary, June 13). However, it was surprising to read that Mrs. Barnhart posits an exact analogy between someone depositing money in a bank and the same person paying into Social Security. There is, in fact, a profound and fundamental difference.

The funds raised by a bank from its customers are invested in real interest-bearing assets. A bank receives interest on its loans in cash that it, in turn, reinvests. If necessary, it can repossess the assets of a borrower who defaults on principal payments to make good on its obligations to other customers. Thus, a bank has real assets to pay its depositors on demand or repay certificates of deposit. In other words, its obligations are fully funded.

In contrast to the funded obligations of a bank, the special-purpose bonds that the Treasury Department puts in the Social Security Trust Funds are unfunded obligations, backed by imaginary assets. The proceeds from these bonds are spent on government operations and can be redeemed only by imposing new taxes on American taxpayers both the workers who already paid their money into the trust fund and the retirees who pay taxes on their Social Security income. Furthermore, the interest on the bonds is simply invested in more special-purpose bonds, creating an even bigger unfunded obligation.

The nature of the Trust Funds balance was spelled out clearly in the Clinton administration's budget statement of 2000: "These balances are available to finance future benefits and other Trust Fund expenditures, but only in a bookkeeping sense. They do not consist of real assets that can be drawn down in the future to fund benefits." Imagine a bank advertising such a statement to its customers.

If there is any banking scenario that could serve as an analogy to the government's management of Social Security, it would be a bank that collects money from its depositors only to blow it on office parties.


McLean, Va.

Rights and wrongs of indecent exposure

Despite devoting three days' worth of Inside the Beltway columns to a trivial incident involving me, a Nazi flag and the First Amendment, John McCaslin has managed to miss the point entirely by choosing to ignore the distinction between individuals' right to do certain things and the propriety of their doing so.

Last Sunday, my husband, adult son and I asked an antiques dealer in Purcellville, Va., where we all live, to put away a Nazi flag he had displayed on a table on the lawn outside a local gun store, telling him it was deeply offensive to us. We acknowledged that the dealer had the right to display the flag, just as he would have had the right to exhibit pornographic pictures, a crucifix in a jar of urine, or an excrement-smeared American flag. The First Amendment protects the right to display all these things, but propriety, decency and respect for others keeps most of us from exercising those rights certainly in the middle of Main Street on a Sunday afternoon.

I have never been accused of being a high priestess for political correctness when I have condemned public displays of dung-encrusted Madonnas or urine-soaked crucifixes inside museums. Yet Mr. McCaslin's Thursday column clearly implies I have become one for complaining about a swastika on the public street of my local community. Why the double standard?



Center for Equal Opportunity

Sterling, Va.

It is troubling that anyone would take issue with Linda Chavez for being offended by the public sale of Nazi memorabilia. A reader wrote, "Could we not make the case that any number of groups and their symbols represent hate?" (Inside the Beltway, June 13). Such a question overlooks the fact that unlike "any number of groups," the Nazis openly professed and practiced hate, systematically murdering some 6 million Jews and some 3 million others. Symbols that represent hatred, oppression and genocide offend Mrs. Chavez's sensibilities, and for that she is condemned?

It is uncontested that the antiques dealer had a right to sell these artifacts publicly. The point is that there is a difference between protesting against his right to take that action and protesting his decision to do so. Mrs. Chavez did not argue for curtailing an antiques dealer's right to sell Nazi memorabilia on Main Street in her town, but that does not mean she is wrong to be offended by it and to protest his decision to do so.


Director of public policy

Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America


Kentucky fried politics

The Washington Times' front page article about my state's Kentucky fried politics did not surprise me ("Mudslinging at local levels hits new lows," June 3). Maybe they are lower than usual, but not by much. After all, this is the home of the Hatfields and McCoys.

But our politics-as-usual has its lighter moments, also. I remember sitting in the soda fountain with some friends when I was 17 in 1962. It was election night. One of our classmates, who had already turned 18, came walking in from casting his first ballot wearing a trench coat with both hands in his pockets. He walked up to the gang with a big grin on his face, till all of a sudden out from under the trench coat fell a pint of "old rot gut," which broke and splattered all over the concrete floor.

The grin on Bobby's face suddenly changed to a big frown, and he looked up almost in tears and proclaimed, "There went my vote." He had just sold his vote to the first, not necessarily the highest, bidder he had encountered on his way into the poll.


Harlan, Ky.

Hey, did you hear the one about immigration 'control'?

If Americans wonder why there are so many illegal aliens depressing our wages, filling our emergency rooms, and creating crowded conditions in our schools and on our highways, they ought to read your front page article "Illegals in U.S. exploit loophole" (June 13).

All it takes to get a green card and stay here, essentially forever, is to pay a fine? Give me a break. Just this one loophole in our Swiss cheese immigration policy reveals the hypocrisy of our government. Although our leaders say they are doing all they can to protect our borders, the truth is that if an alien gets past the border, he's home our home free.

The census report informs us that if fertility rates among immigrants and the annual immigration influx remain the same, our population will double every 54 years. What a horrendous prediction.

Who benefits from the crowding of America? Politicians who pander to the ethnic vote and businessmen who want a continual supply of cheap labor. Alas, the interests of citizens mean nothing.


Duxbury, Mass.

The June 13 article, "Illegals in U.S. exploit loophole," just begins to show how warped the Immigration and Naturalization Service truly is.

Often unmentioned in news coverage of the INS is the conflict of interests raised by its sources of funding. While some of its budget is appropriated by the federal government, it also heavily relies upon fees. This pits those in the INS who are charged with excluding aliens against those who profit from them.

While the Border Patrol incurs huge costs and then keeps fee payers out, the INS bureaucrats want any and all to come in because that beefs up their budgets. Clearly, any agency that is so vital to our internal security and public safety should not be funded in this manner.

Add to this contradiction the cultural dysfunctionality of the INS Border Patrol agents are police officers, INS inspectors are social adjudicators, and INS investigators are just doormats and it is no wonder why U.S. immigration "control" is a joke.


Annandale, Va.

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