On Social Security and Black Lives Matter movement

Sen. Bernie Sanders must be mulling over Voltaire's quote: "Lord protect me from my friends, I can take care of my enemies."

Sanders was scheduled to speak at a rally in defense of Social Security. When it came time for him to speak, women from the Black Lives Matter movement took over the podium and Sanders, ever the gentleman, simply retired while the moderator negotiated with the BLM women concerning how long they were going to speak. Sanders, from the days of Martin Luther King Jr. to the present, has an enviable record of support of minority rights.


Now why do we need a rally to defend Social Security, one of the most successful and non-controversial of our government programs, legislatively called the "third rail" of American politics? Recently I read a post by a young woman from Fox News complaining that young people should not be taxed to support people just because they are old. Ah, ignorance is bliss.

Social Security Retirement Benefits — the biggest program under Title 2 of the Social Security Act of 1935 as amended — does not pay benefits just because you are old. That Title 2 program requires that you and your employer have paid FICA taxes for enough years and you have reached retirement age. The amount of your benefit depends on the average monthly wages that you paid taxes on during your working lifetime. Until the incumbency of George W. Bush there was a meaningful retirement test. If you continued working, you could file for retirement benefits but your benefit was reduced proportionally to the amount you continued to earn. If that retirement test was reinstated for all retirees (including my wife and I), the date when the Trust Fund runs short will be extended into the indefinite future.

Another misrepresentation of the state of the Social Security System is that the Trust Fund supporting it has been raided by this administration or that. In fact the Trust Funds have always been invested in government bonds. Unless the government defaults on its bonds (a frequent Republican threat that is never carried out) the Trust Funds are safe.

In short, this benefit is insurance against income lost because of retirement, not just old age. And it is not government largesse. It was and is an earned right, a prepaid pension, and those young people paying taxes now will be eligible when they reach retirement age. There was a huge program in 1935 called Old Age Assistance that was indeed the government giving money to people just because they were old and impoverished. When Social Security began paying benefits, the Old Age Assistance program shriveled almost out of existence from lack of clients.

But back to the BLM folks. It seems that the only black lives that matter to them are black people injured or killed by law officers. They worry not about the skyrocketing deaths from drug wars in the inner city. And in Baltimore the murder rate is higher than it has been in decades, not by a little bit, but a lot.

So why did this happen now? Well six police officers in Baltimore — some black, some white — have been indicted for murder in the death of Freddie Gray, who had multiple convictions for dealing drugs. More than 100 officers were injured in the resulting riots. The perpetual drug wars in the inner city, and the current hesitancy of police to enforce drug laws after the recent riots followed by indictments, are causing the skyrocketing homicide rate.

There is a joint panel to study ways to reduce this homicide rate. But that train has left the station. The surest way to reduce that rate is to return to the "zero tolerance" policies of former Mayor Martin O'Malley.

However the citizens of Cherry Hill, once the most dangerous of Baltimore's neighborhoods, in cooperation with the police have largely taken their streets back from the gangs. The BLM members need to study that example.

John Culleton writes from Eldersburg. His column appears every second Tuesday. Email him at