Friday, January 22, 1999
PRESIDENT Clinton made a significant policy switch in the State of the Union address when he proposed to invest some Social Security in the stock market. Conservatives have long argued that Americans can realize a much higher return by investing their retirement savings in securities than in the Social Security system. But Clinton erred in taking the Big Brother approach -- the government would do the investing under his plan.
Clinton suggested using 62 percent of government surpluses over the next 15 years to bolster Social Security's cash reserves. Administration officials say the president will push for the government to invest about a quarter of that money in the stock market.
This idea was swiftly rejected by congressional Republicans. They were joined by perhaps the most respected voice on economic matters in the nation -- Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan. "I do not believe it is politically feasible to insulate such huge funds" from political interference, Greenspan told the House Ways and Means Committee.
The biggest problem with political interference is that it can distort the flow of capital investment away from the most promising enterprises and prop up businesses that should be allowed to fail. This is the sort of practice that has led to the current problems in the Japanese economy.
A better way would be to let the individual Social Security taxpayer use some of the tax money to invest personally, choosing from a variety of investment options. Safeguards to discourage or prevent high-risk investments might be provided. The government should stay out of the stock market.
IT'S encouraging that the Clinton administration is finally admitting that the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty may have to be amended or scrapped. This is a pact negotiated with a country that no longer exists -- the Soviet Union -- and which the Soviets flagrantly violated. The concept behind it was to maintain a "balance of terror" by leaving most population centers in the Soviet Union and the United States unprotected against attack by intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Russia, the chief successor state to the Soviet Union, still has missiles but poses no real threat to the United States. However, the Pentagon rightly fears missile attacks by rogue nations such as North Korea and Iraq. Defense Secretary William Cohen declared, "We are affirming that there is a threat, and the threat is growing, and that it will pose a danger not only to our troops overseas but also to Americans here at home."
Cohen said the administration wants to amend the 1972 treaty to permit deployment of a defense against long-range missile attack but plans to build the defense in any case. If Moscow balks, the administration may withdraw from the treaty.
Cohen announced that the administration now believes it probably will take two years longer than previously estimated to build a defense against long-range missile attacks. At the same time, he said the need for such a defense system is greater than ever. The administration moved its target date for deploying a national missile defense from 2003 to 2005. Deployment is estimated to cost $10.5 billion.
There is, of course, the matter of developing an effective system that will actually knock down attacking missiles. Progress has been made but not to the point that the administration is ready to claim success. This is a problem that cannot be evaded indefinitely by mocking "Star Wars."
PREGNANCY and birth rates among teen-agers have gone down nationally this decade, and Hawaii's decline is among the sharpest. While the reductions have occured in every state, a study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation ranks Hawaii's rate of decline as sixth, with an 18 percent drop in births to women under 20 compared with the national decline of 12 percent.
Teen birth rates
U.S. teen pregnancy rates still remain the highest among industrialized nations. According to the study, 40 percent of American women become pregnant before the age of 20, resulting in about 1 million pregnancies each year among women ages 15 to 19. Half of those pregnancies result in births, often to young people ill-prepared for parenthood. The babies often are cared for by other relatives or through public assistance.
Hawaii's birth rate for 15- to 19-year-olds in 1996 was 48 per 1,000, compared with a national average of 54. The rate fell in Hawaii the following year to 44 per 1,000. Maria Hartsock, project coordinator with the University of Hawaii Center on the Family, attributes the decline to programs focusing on adolescent wellness.
Authors of the Casey study cite two major explanations: Fewer teens are having sex, and more of those who are use contraceptives. Researchers attribute those trends to greater emphasis on delaying sexual activity, more responsible attitudes toward casual sex and out-of-wedlock child-bearing, increased fear of sexually transmitted diseases and the growing popularity of long-lasting contraceptive measures such as implant and injectable options. One factor present in most areas of the country but not Hawaii is a stronger economy, with better job prospects for young people.
Even if the birth rate remains constant, the total number of births is likely to increase "as the children of the 'baby boomlet' swell the ranks of teen-agers over the next few years," according to the study. The authors project a 14 percent increase in the number of babies born to teen mothers in the year 2005.
Results of the study are good news, but more work needs to be done to achieve greater reductions in the teen birth rate. Programs involved in advising young people about responsible sex should be encouraged to further their efforts.
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