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Smart Bombs: Social Security a safe bet

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that Social Security won’t be there for future retirees, I could comfortably retire without this government benefit. This claim is often made in the context of privatizing the program by letting individuals invest the money as they see fit.

You’d think this argument would’ve been smothered by The Lost Decade of Investing. On June 30, 2000, the Dow Jones industrial average was at 10,447. Ten years later, it was at 9,872, or 575 points lower. Even when the market is doing well, there are people who invest unwisely. Quite simply, we are not going to let bad investors starve when they retire, so we’ll need a safety net.

Fortunately, we already have one, and fixing it isn’t as daunting as the Chicken Littles suppose.

For one thing, Social Security is far too popular. Just ask those politicians who had to quickly backtrack when they supported privatization. Last summer a poll was commissioned by the Rockefeller Foundation and the National Academy of Social Insurance, and 77 percent of respondents said they would accept a tax increase if it meant the program would remain alive for future generations.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. In fact, there are many ways to preserve the program. Aside from a payroll tax increase, we could slowly phase in a higher retirement age to match increased longevity, slowly reduce the annual increase in benefits, tax benefits more or raise the cap on how much income is exposed to the payroll tax.

In fact, if we were to completely lift the income cap, the projected Social Security shortfall would turn into a surplus, according to the Congressional Research Service. Currently, only the first $106,800 a person earns annually is exposed to the Social Security tax.

It’s more likely that a combination of changes will be implemented, but with such solid support and so many avenues to a solution, don’t be scared by those who say Social Security is a goner. The numbers are on its side.

Spies like us. It seems the 11 Russian spies who were recently arrested went to extraordinary lengths to appear to be typical Americans. One spy couple got married, had kids and bought a house in suburban New Jersey. What is more American than that?

Imagine the conversation between this latter-day Boris and Natasha as they considered their options.

Husband: “What is the point of house? We’ll live in apartment, just like in Moscow!”

Wife: “No. Too convenient. We must buy overpriced coffee drinks and then drive great distances each day for work. Otherwise, neighbors will get suspicious.”

Husband: “But a house? Too expensive! Plus, guess who will get stuck with the mowing?”

Wife: “Relax. I just read about an immigrant fruit picker in California who makes $14,000 a year. He was given a $750,000 home loan.”

Husband: “The illegals are killing our country! I mean, this country.”

Wife: “If we go to the right bank, like Washington Mutual, we won’t even have to produce documents or proof of employment.”

Husband: “You mean we could say we live in Frostbite Falls or near Veronica Lake and attended Wossamatta U?”

Wife: “Yep.”

Husband: “Hokey smoke! How did we lose Cold War to these people? But you are right. This is the American way. Besides, house prices always go up. Then we can get a second mortgage and buy plasma TV and minivan.”

Wife: “That is what I am talking about! One small problem. Our son is classically trained pianist. We need him to switch to rap.”

Husband: “Okey dokey. I am down with the boom-boom music. But must we pay for our daughter’s jewel-encrusted cell phone and Miley Cyrus tickets? Two hundred and fifty dollars for concert!”

Wife: “Afraid so. And we must decide who should win ‘American Idol’ and who should get kicked off the island, and then post it on Facebook.”

Husband: “I choose Gilligan.”

Natasha: “You have much catching up to do. Also we must register to vote, but only vote occasionally. Like when we are really mad.”

Husband: “I admire that Barack Obama. He’s gone further than us without a birth certificate.”

Wife: “No! We are in suburbia. We must register as Republicans and refer to the motherland as ‘Evil Empire.’ Tea party is another option.”

Husband: “Okey dokey. We will support Sarah Palin. Drill, baby, drill. What could go wrong with that?”

Wife: “Did you know she can see Russia from her house?”

Husband: “Makes me homesick just thinking about it.”

Smart Bombs is written by Associate Editor Gary Crooks and appears Sundays on the Opinion page. Crooks can be reached at or at (509) 459-5026.