March 31, 2005

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Even though the Senate has voted 51 to 49 to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, we will continue to fight to preserve the Arctic Refuge and our nation’s wild lands and creatures, while pushing for new technologies and energy sources that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

After viewing the film "Oil on Ice," members of the College Democrats and the
Environmental Action Team signed the following letter to send to President Bush, Senators Frist and Alexander, and Congressman Duncan. If you would like to have your names added to the letter, simply send an email to Alex Youn with your Maryville College post box number and your name.

Dear Representative,

I am writing you about an issue in this film that concerns me deeply: protecting the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge is one of the most biologically productive regions on the planet and is the feeding and breeding grounds for over 180 species of resident and migratory birds, a herd of 130,000 caribou, all three species of North American bears, plus Dall sheep, muskox, weasels, lemmings, wolves, foxes, wolverine, and porcupine. It is a sacred place for the Gwich'in People who depend upon the caribou for their subsistence needs and cultural identity.

The moment has arrived for a technological system that depends upon renewable energy resources. There is no need to drill for oil in one of the planet's most beautiful and thriving regions. We would save more oil by increasing the fuel efficiency of cars than we could ever get from the calving grounds of the Arctic Refuge. Ninety-five percent of America's arctic coastal plain is already open for oil development; we must protect this remaining five percent for the sake of future generations, and for nature itself.

I hope you will support the permanent protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. I look forward to your reply.

--Maryville College Democrats

March 09, 2005

Young Americans and Social Security

You've probably heard what George Bush and his Washington Republican friends are saying: By the time you retire, Social Security won't exist. Of course, only a fool blindly believes that.

The truth is that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office numbers say the program is solvent until 2052, when most of us will be near the ripe age of 70 years old. Even at that point, with no reforms, Social Security will meet 80 percent of its obligations. If this is a crisis, the paper cut I just received is a medical emergency.

The Bush administration, facing this paper cut, is proposing a full-course triage and amputation solution. George W. Bush calls his plan "personal accounts" because privatization doesn't sound quite as safe. And he proposes allowing young private citizens like ourselves to divert money from Social Security based on the idea that this will result in a higher rate of returns.

There's a big problem with this, and it's called the national debt. By now, we'd think old George would be familiar with it, since it hovers over his administration the way the job search looms in our future.

His plan would cost nearly $5 trillion over the first 20 years. Yes, you read that right; it says trillion with a "t", adding to the current $420 billon deficit. This is money that hasn't been budgeted anywhere. That money would need to be paid off eventually, which usually means higher taxes, slower economic growth, and, higher interest rates on those pesky credit cards and student loans.

During Bush's State of the Union address he said that people over 55 years of age are guaranteed not to have any benefit cuts under his privatization plan. What about the rest of us? Privatization would slash benefits by more than 40 percent by changing the way Social Security benefits are calculated, even for those who do not choose to open a private account. A young worker today would lose about $152,000 in benefits under the leading privatization plan.

What about a young worker who has a spouse and two children who becomes disabled or dies at the age of 27? Right now Social Security provides the equivalent of a $403,000 life insurance policy and a $353,000 disability insurance policy. Would those guaranteed benefits still be there in full under Bush's privatization plan? I doubt it.

But even this misses the real threat of privatization. Privatization would weaken Social Security by gutting the guaranteed benefit. As we all know, private accounts are not 100-percent stable. Just ask the employees of Enron. The guaranteed benefit brings in a steady cash flow, that along with investments, savings, and 401(k)s make up a diversified retirement portfolio.

For 70 years, Social Security has been the bottom-line commitment to America's retired generations, to our great-grandparents, grandparents, and parents. The program stands for "we will not let forces beyond your control force you into poverty." Eighty-year-olds should not be forced into backbreaking labor to bring home enough money to eat. This is an enduring social principle.

Proponents of privatization pay lip service to the common ethics of our society, pledging that all will be protected and that our grandparents will even get a higher rate of return. It is true that private investment will virtually always outperform the return of Social Security.

But Social Security isn't a promise of lavish riches upon retirement. It is not a promise that early retirement be universal. It is a promise that none of our elderly be denied the dignity they deserve after a lifetime of labor. It is a guaranteed benefit that helps seniors maintain a basic standard of living.

Surely some will protest: but there's still a paper cut, we need to fix the problem. At this point, though, we should remember that even the paper cut is a prophecy foreseeing the future from 50 years away.

Even if Social Security does fall short, there are a handful of reform solutions that can solve the problem without upending the American social contract. Politicians should come together in a bi-partisan fashion for a solution just like Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democratic Speaker Tip O'Neill did to solve the Social Security problem in 1983.

We cannot afford to trust just one side of the aisle on such a crucial issue. If we learned one lesson from the Iraq War, it is that this administration will play fast and loose with facts and figures to achieve the goals it deems worthwhile. This administration played those games with our generation once and ended up with a war and a potential draft.

They are playing the same games again. This time the threat affects our grandparents, our parents, us and our children. Don't let George W. Bush cut Social Security's benefits, instead let's fight to keep the promise of Social Security alive for our generation and the generations to come.

--Alex Youn, President