Social Security: risky business

Jonathan Cowan's May 16 opinion piece correctly notes that we're "Dodging honesty on Social Security." Last week, Al Gore argued that allowing workers to invest in the stock market is too risky since the market could fall, endangering workers' retirement.

Riskier than what? Riskier than a system that has required 17 payroll-tax increases since 1951, and is still approaching bankruptcy? Payroll taxes have climbed 20 percent since 1980. As a result, many workers will never see all the money they've put into the program - unless they live to be more than 100. Today, even without privatization, more than 40 percent of Americans already have investments in the stock market through direct stock ownership, mutual funds, or pension plans. How is it that we can choose careers, get married, have and raise children, buy cars and houses, and make any number of major life choices on our own without government telling us what to do - yet we are considered to be totally brain dead when it comes to planning our retirements?

Daniel John Sobieski Chicago

Women's groups help Afghans

Megan Reif's May 3 opinion piece "Beyond the veil - bigger issues" asserts the campaign launched by the Feminist Majority Foundation to raise awareness on the human rights atrocities committed against the women and girls of Afghanistan is instead hurting Afghan women by causing a cut in humanitarian aid.

Such criticism flies in the face of facts. While in 1995 no US funds were allocated for UN social-sector programs for women, in 1999 President Clinton announced that the US will spend $2 million to improve education and health for Afghan women and children, and an additional $1.5 million for emergency aid for those internally displaced by the recent Taliban offensives.

But perhaps the most disturbing theme of the opinion piece is its effort to gloss over and minimize the brutality of the gender-apartheid regime of the Taliban and its impact on the lives of Afghan women and girls. Women have been beaten, publicly flogged, and killed for violating Taliban decrees.

By contrast, just four years ago, women made up more than half of the students and 60 percent of the teachers at Kabul University; 70 percent of schoolteachers and 40 percent of doctors were women; and Afghan women played a vital role in their society.

How can the author claim that the Taliban's policies "seem to be relaxing," when on May 1 of this year a woman was stoned to death in public for an alleged affair?

Mavis Leno Katherine Spillar Washington Feminist Majority Foundation

Anti-abuse law should have passed

Regarding your May 16 article "Court curtails power of Congress": The Supreme Court clearly ignored the body of evidence that justified the creation of the Violence Against Women Act when it deemed the law unconstitutional. For example, the surgeon general's assertion that domestic violence is the greatest cause of injury to women, or that 1 to 4 million women are annually beaten by their partners. In particular, Chief Justice William Rehnquist is in error in suggesting that violence against women is not "economic."

The Bureau of National Affairs reports that domestic violence alone costs the US economy $5 billion a year in lost productivity, healthcare expenses, and absenteeism, a figure which doesn't include the costs of rape and sexual assault. The Violence Against Women Act is both morally and constitutionally sound.

Earl Hadley Brussels, Belgium Gender Consultant, European Parliament

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