Social Security: not just a retirement program

Regarding Jonathan Cowan's May 16 opinion piece "Dodging honesty on Social Security": Mr. Cowan treats Social Security as if it were exclusively a retirement program.

It is, in fact, a social insurance program designed to meet the needs of the rank-and- file American. In addition to retirement benefits, it includes, for example, disability benefits and dependent survivor benefits throughout one's working career - insurance that would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars if purchased in the open market.

On the cost side, the facts are that it is a very efficient social insurance program costing only a very small fraction of the benefits administered. I might add that there is nothing to prevent Cowan or anyone else from establishing their own personal investment programs by means of IRAs, 401(k) plans, etc., to supplement their Social Security and employer retirement plans, which make up the three components of sound retirement planning.

Howard J. Baumgartel Lawrence, Kan.

The drive for privatization of Social Security, especially for individual accounts, is coming from people in the investment business and advocated by many who mistakenly equate Social Security with individually managed tax-sheltered IRA and 401(k) programs.

Most Social Security critics are concerned only with how their FICA tax is used to benefit them personally. In fact, Social Security as a pay-as-we-go program is designed principally to support today's Generation X parents and grandparents to keep them above the poverty line, as well as help disabled citizens. It is indeed a tax, but with the promise of a return to the taxpayer or family at critical points in the individual's life.

But for Wall Street groups, the prospect of opening up trillions of dollars now kept under the US government's portfolio and diverting them to their management (fees and percentages included), is just too tempting not to mount campaigns to move huge amounts of money in their direction.

David Giltrow Santa Fe, N.M.

Normalize trade with China

Regarding Paul Rogat Loeb's May 15 opinion piece "... and a big con for Democrats": Those "progressive grass-roots activists" that oppose the normalization of trade with China are wrong. They want instant changes on a massive scale. They ignore the record and the historical experience. When a formerly closed society opens itself to trade on a massive scale, it opens itself to the social, legal, and political consequences as well.

These changes do not happen instantly, as Mr. Loeb demands. But even over a period of five years, the changes are noticeable. I believe that normalizing trade relations with China will be good for both countries as well. Increase the trade volume tenfold, and the environmental, social, political benefits to the Chinese people will follow. Not to mention the economic benefits.

Wai L. Chui Dallas

Protect ranchers' grazing rights

Regarding your May 1 article "In a battle over cattle, both sides await grazing ruling": I am extremely concerned that it has come to the point that ranchers may be about to lose their grazing rights in many places. As mentioned in the article, ranchers would be forced to sell to developers. Do we really want to give up our history, culture, and beautiful landscapes to suburban sprawl?

Last summer I spent some time on a ranch in Wyoming. I realize how hard these ranchers work to survive, and how conscious many of them are of protecting grazing land - after all, a large part of their livelihood depends on how healthy the grass is.

Rachel Adams (age 14) Kimberton, Penn.

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