Social Security Debate Continues

Well, the President has made few friends on the conservative side of the conservative side this week with his declaration that raising the caps on income subject to social security taxes is being considered. Many of them are calling the President on it because he said emphatically that he wasn’t going to raise taxes. While I’ll likely be accused of splitting hairs, I’d like to point out that he’s most certainly not raising taxes. He’s including more money in the category that’s taxable and that raises the revenue generated, but it’s not (strictly speaking) raising the tax. In some ways, it’s less fair than that.

Raising the tax in general means that everyone paying into the income-transfer system will pay more. Everyone. By leaving that rate alone and “only” raising the cap, then the burden of generating the additional social security revenue falls only on those making more than the previous cap, in this case $90,000 per year. The US Census for 2003 (latest year for which these figures are available) show that less than 20% of households make in excess of $86,900 per year. The number of people making more than that (let alone more than $90K) individually would logically be significantly less. But just for the sake of argument, let’s say 15% of the US working population makes more than the $90K cap. That means that while everyone’s social security has a problem – the funding is insufficient to maintain the system – it’s being casually suggested that the fix be forced from the hands of 15 out of 100 people. The person making $40K per year will have the issue resolved (allegedly) and not pay a dime for that benefit while the person making $100K per year will be paying taxes on that extra $10K and receive no additional benefit at all. Sound democratic to you?

However, the fact is that the system’s design makes it inevitable that if nothing is done, it will fail. We, taken as a whole, do not want it to fail. Ergo, something must be done. The question remains, what? The question of what will fix the system in as close to a permanent solution as possible remains open to debate and that is why the President is completely correct to keep the issue of raising caps on the table. Taken by itself, I don’t think raising the caps is a fair solution, but it might be a necessary part of a larger solution. The only way to know for sure is to examine it as an option and that’s what the President is doing. Frankly, that’s his job and I’m glad he’s doing it.

I would suggest, however, that something more than moving the caps needs to be done. As I mentioned, it’s not really fair to demand that a small segment of our society pay for the fix for all members of our society and get nothing in return. This is where the the President’s PRA’s come in. As it is right now, the money paid into the system goes to fund the retirement income of someone who’s already retired. Its not an account for each of us where the money we pay into it is generating interest to be paid back later. The PRA’s would make it exactly that. The opponents of the system usually leave out 2 very important items. First, we’re talking about an amount up to 4%. The impression a lot of the opposition is leaving the audience with is that all of a person’s social security taxes would go into the PRA. Not so. Second, and this one is really being obscured, the participation in the plan is completely volutary. If you don’t think it will work for you, decline the plan.

These issues deserve real and complete discussion and they should also be approached in a spirit of compromise. I applaud the President for that attitude in this matter.

Not Over Until It’s Over

MCI bought by Verizon? Not so fast. Seems Qwest’s not done.

:::::::: Qwest Communications International Inc. said yesterday it plans to make a revised bid for MCI Inc. in an attempt to scuttle Verizon Communications Inc.’s deal to buy the Ashburn-based communications company.

In a letter to MCI’s chairman, Qwest chief executive Richard C. Notebaert appealed to MCI’s board of directors to reconsider its vote to merge with Verizon.

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Tribute To Swift Boat Vets

Quick note: I saw this story about the Swift Boat Vets being recognized for their courage under the withering fire of our rather biased MSM. I’m glad to see this. Their opposition to John Kerry’s presidential campaign was crucial in being sure that the real story about Kerry got out there. Were it not for them and their tenaciousness, Kerry would likely still be telling his Cambodian fairy tale and flip-flopping his little heart out. They held the line being called liars, repeatedly, by all manner of “journalists”. (Lawrence, O’Donnell? Grown up enough to actually discuss things like an 8-year-old yet?)

And yet, to this day, the huge majority of their claims have never been even addressed by their critics in anything remotely resembling rational discussion. Left-wing commentators like David Brock of Media Matters continue to get on the news and say how the Swiftees just “confused” people, implying that they’re lying. Several of their “claims” were apparently true enough that Kerry backed off of his own positions when confronted by them. They have also never wavered from their story or their position. They deserve the tribute being paid them and they have my thanks.

UN “Unprepared” For OFF Program

A UN official is saying that they weren’t prepared to handle the tasks required under the Oil-for-Food program.

:::::::: U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette said the United Nations was unprepared for the mammoth task of providing humanitarian relief for 24 million Iraqis and hoped it would never be given a job like the oil-for-food program again. ::::::::

Well, there’s 2 things we agree on.

:::::::: “We certainly have taken pride in the fact that the program has served to feed and provide basic necessities to people and that their own personal faith improved over the life of the program,” Frechette said on Tuesday. “But we have also seen that the program has revealed some basic weaknesses in our own internal systems.” ::::::::

Considering the situation the Iraqis were in while under the auspices of OFF, I’m not sure that pride is warranted. Actually, scratch that. I’m real sure it’s not warranted. And I suppose if you consider rampant corruption in the guise of graft, blatant conflict of interest, and willful dereliction of responsibility as “basic weaknesses” in the UN’s internal systems, then I guess we can agree that OFF showed those off pretty well. I might term them something other than “basic weaknesses”, but I’m willing to let that slide for the moment.

:::::::: In order to ensure that action is taken on recommendations of internal and external audit and oversight bodies, the United Nations is setting up an internal oversight committee that would constantly monitor management responses and implementation, she said.

“We expect to have this committee in place shortly,” she said, adding that it would have at least one non-U.N. member “to ensure that we have the benefit of an outsider’s view on how well our management teams are doing.”

Volcker’s report also found “convincing and uncontested evidence” that selection of three U.N. contractors for the oil-for-food program — Banque Nationale de Paris, Saybolt Eastern Hemisphere BV, and Lloyd’s Register Inspection Limited — did not meet established financial and competitive bidding rules.

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I found myself chuckling a bit at the announcement that the UN, faced with a corruption scandal larger than any other ever seen in modern times, springs into action by (drumroll, please) forming a committee. Amusing, perhaps, but it’s actually one part of the proper response, so I’m glad to see that they’re doing this. I would be happier if they also made absolutely certain that no officials from any country who was involved in skimming the money is on that committee. This remains to be seen whether they’ll do that, of course, but it’s my sincere recommendation. That last little bit of the quote is very telling for those people who have been claiming that this investigation was all just a VRWC &trade plot to smear the UN.

I have to wonder, in the light of this report and the UN’s admissions that the corruption was absolutely there, whether there’s a more basic issue at work here. Bear in mind that the OFF program was born of the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam’s Iraq. What we basically had there was an attempt to win a war without winning. To defeat a foe and yet leave him in place. Knowing that we couldn’t trust him to not build up his forces for another try, we slapped sanctions on him. (Sanctions that were undercut by some of the most powerful members of the UN who, incidentally, were supposed to be some of our closest allies.) Somehow, the onus for what would happen to his people as a result of his decision to invade Kuwait became our problem, not his. It became a duty of those of us who had ejected his forces from Kuwait to see to it that his people were fed, had medicines, and were able to get what they needed to survive and thrive. Recall that we couldn’t trust him to do this on his own. How, then, did we find him trustworthy to do it so long as we were the ones handing him the money?

History now shows us that we couldn’t trust him and he did not use the money to handle his people’s needs. So the more basic question that needs to be answered before we ever consider starting up such a program again is this: if a leader provokes other nations into taking military action against him so as to halt him from making or continuing an unprovoked invasion, do we leave him in that leadership position? Should we ever again simply try to push him back over his own fence and not take the battle to him in earnest? These are serious questions on serious matters. They deserve serious thought and serious discussion.

German Forced Prostitution Urban Legend?

I had written earlier about a story that appeared in the UK Telegraph regarding a woman whose unemployment benefits were going to be taken away unless she accepted a job in Germany’s sex industry. I have noted that there’s a report now that it’s an urban legend:

    A news story about a 25-year-old German woman who faced cuts to her unemployment benefits for turning down a job providing “sexual services” at a brothel was carried by a variety of English-language news sources in January 2005. It has struck a chord in many readers as an example of liberal morality and bureaucracy run amok: if prostitution is legalized (as it was in Germany back in 2002), this story suggests, then society has conferred its approval upon that trade, and prostitution can therefore be proffered to (and even foisted upon) women as a valid choice of employment.

    We were initially skeptical about the literal truth of the version reported in the English press, however, because the issue seemed to have received scant attention in the German press. In fact, the origin of this story was evidently a 18 December 2004 article published in the Berlin newspaper Tageszeitung (also known as TAZ) which did not report that women in Germany must accept employment in brothels or face cuts in their unemployment benefits. (Although it claimed there had been “isolated cases” of such, it did not provide any source or documentation to back up that statement.)

The report goes on to say that TAZ had presented the scenario as a “what-if” situation; a possibility, nothing more. The Urban Legends site makes the same error it claims the Telegraph has, however, in not providing the details of who they spoke with in determining this was a hoax. I certainly hope it’s a hoax, but I also realize that the law, as written, allows this kind of thing to occur.

In any case, since I wrote about the Telegraph article, I felt it was important that I also highlight this one and let you readers make your own decisions about which report you weigh more heavily.