Phone companies delaying donations to Japan …a message from Weldon and the team

As Japan struggles to overcome a disastrous string of events — including a possible nuclear catastrophe — millions of us have sought to help, often by donating money to urgent relief efforts.

Tell AT&T and Verizon to stop delaying donations to Japan

But if you donate via text message, your donations may take up to 90 days to reach aid organizations that need the money as soon as possible.

Even though they’re getting large amounts of free media attention for their text-to-donate programs, companies like AT&T and Verizon have chosen not to release the donation money right away. Many customers assume that they’re sending funds straight to disaster zones in the crucial days after the earthquake, but donations are transferred after the end of your next billing cycle, a process that can take up to three months.

Masaya Uchino, a law student in San Francisco with family in Japan, started a petition on to demand that AT&T, Verizon, and other major phone service providers stop delaying much needed donations from reaching organizations doing relief work in Japan. Please add your name to the petition now:

After the earthquake in Haiti, members and others asked phone companies to provide donations immediately — and the phone companies came through. But so far they’ve refused to take the same step, and it’s up to us to join Masaya in speaking out.

Thanks for taking action,

– Weldon and the team

P.S. If you want to donate immediately to relief efforts, join the staff in contributing to one or more of these great organizations:

Oxfam America:

International Medical Corps:

Habitat for Humanity:

UN Foundation:

American Red Cross:


5 Social Security Myths That Have to Go …By Eric Schurenberg

Social Security isn’t the only cause of America’s fiscal problems, but it is Exhibit A in why it is so hard to fix them. No serious solution to our debt can ignore a program that will tax and spend about 4.8% of GDP this year and account for about 20% of all federal spending-and that within a few decades will count almost a third of the population as beneficiaries. But whenever I write about Social Security here at CBS MoneyWatch, I’m always struck by how much disagreement there is about how the system really works.

A handful of misconceptions tend to crop up repeatedly-often having to do with that fiscal fun-house mirror, the Social Security trust fund. And despite the efforts of writers like Allan Sloan and experts like the Urban Institute’s Eugene Steuerle, the myths won’t die. This column won’t kill them either, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take a whack. Here goes:

Myth: Social Security didn’t create the deficit and shouldn’t be cut to fix it

This is a much loved progressive slogan. “Blaming Social Security for the deficit is like blaming Iraq for 9/11,” writes Dave Johnson of in one of the cleverer examples of the genre.

Technically, the first part of the myth is true-or rather, used to be true. From 1983 until last year, Social Security revenues actually lowered the Treasury’s need to borrow in the public markets, as excess payroll taxes collected under Social Security’s flag helped fund other government programs.

The surplus years are over, however. The Social Security trustees’ report estimates that last year payroll taxes fell short of the sums paid out to beneficiaries. Small surpluses will return for a few years; then the red ink will return for good in 2015. To make up the annual shortfall, Social Security will have to draw on revenues from the general budget. In other words, from here on out, year after year, Social Security only makes the deficit larger.

Myth: Social Security benefits are earned; reducing them amounts to confiscation

It’s not hard to see why this illusion exists, since Social Security’s own website refers to “earned credits” and sometimes refers to payroll taxes as contributions. But despite Social Security’s fetish for language that echoes private pensions, no one ever vests in Social Security. You don’t own your benefits until you cash the check.

It’s more accurate to say your benefits are an entitlement granted by act of Congress and subject to change at any time by another act of Congress. As long as voters consider benefits inviolate, they will be. When voters decide fiscal responsibility is more important, then Social Security benefits- “earned” or not-will be up for review.

Myth: Social Security is funded until 2037

The Social Security trust fund–the ledger on which Uncle Sam records the surplus taxes that the program has accumulated over the years–is large enough that the program need not ask for extra money to pay benefits until 2037, the year that the trust fund “runs dry” if nothing changes. But that’s not the same as being funded-at least not in a way that has any economic meaning.

As you may know, the trust fund is, for accounting purposes, assumed to be invested in IOUs from the U.S. Treasury. When Social Security needs money beyond what it expects to collect in payroll taxes, it can redeem some of these IOUs. But it’s not as if the trust fund is a giant 401(k). It’s more like access to a rich but cash-strapped daddy’s credit card.

What that means is that Social Security can get what it needs from Treasury without having to ask permission from Congress. But when it redeems one of these IOUs, the Treasury (just like Daddy) has to come up with the money the old-fashioned way, by raising taxes or, more likely, borrowing more.

Dolly Madison at Daily Kos seems to think that Social Security’s need for cash can be met from the interest credited to the trust fund-that is, with more IOUs. Allan Sloan disagrees:

You know, of course, why this wouldn’t work — at least, I hope you know. It’s because the U.S. government ultimately has to pay its bills with cash, not with its own IOUs. In the long run, you need cash — real money — not funny money.

“Fully funded” suggests that the money to maintain today’s benefits until 2035 is already locked up. It isn’t. Redeeming IOUs from the trust fund (and the income imputed to those IOUs) will only put another burden on taxpayers who are simultaneously paying for Medicare, interest on the debt, and all the other purposes of government. At some point, the total burden will be too much.

Myth: The trust fund is invested in Treasury bonds, the most secure investments in the world. To suggest that the trust fund wouldn’t pay is blatant fear mongering.

The trust fund’s IOUs are entered on the Treasuries books as non-trading “special issue” bonds, paying interest at a rate equal to an average of outstanding Treasuries. And yes, the Treasury will undoubtedly pay if Social Security asks.

But that’s not the issue. The issue is whether taxpayers think it’s so important to maintain Social Security benefits that they will gladly absorb the burden of paying off those bonds on the current schedule. Remember, Congress (that is, you know, taxpayers) can cut benefits-and thus postpone the need for Social Security to redeem any bonds–just by passing a law.

In other words, the myth misses the point. Whether Social Security continues to pay benefits at today’s rates isn’t a question of credit quality. It’s a question of politics and priorities.

Myth: Social Security is an easy fix

Any policy wonk worth his or her spreadsheet can quickly come up with ways to bring Social Security into long-term actuarial balance. You can conjure up solutions yourself using the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget’s calculator. You’ll find it’s not that hard to wipe out the system’s long-term deficit.

The only problem is, most such solutions regard Social Security as a closed system. They assume that the trust fund is an ATM that gushes cash whenever the trustees demand, and that workers will never balk at stepping up to higher payroll taxes.

Which brings us to what may be the most destructive myth of all: The idea that Social Security is, fiscally speaking, an end in itself. In the real world that Social Security actually operates in, the government and its citizens all have other obligations. As Steuerle puts it:

Social Security as a budget issue revolves not simply around its internal accounting balances and trust funds, but rather how much of the economy it occupies and how much of future growth it absorbs.

The discussion we need to have, then, isn’t simply whether we can pull the levers to bring Social Security into balance. That is easy. Instead, we need to ask a larger, tougher question: In light of all we owe-to our creditors, our children and our future-how much do we want to spend supporting everyone who happens to live past 62? We want to spend something, to be sure, and maybe a lot. But myths and slogans shouldn’t persuade us that we can avoid the question. We can’t.

[A version of this post previously appeared on The Fiscal Times]

Follow me on Twitter: @EditorBNET

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It’s Time to Move Forward and Protect Women’s Health Care

A year ago today, the President signed the Affordable Care Act into law changing the lives of millions of women and their families across this country. And states have an important role to play in shaping how the law is implemented. We need each Governor to move forward and implement the health care law in a meaningful way, which will lead to improvements in the health of women and their families throughout their state.

Tell your Governor: help move us forward by protecting women’s health care.

Thanks to the new health care law, women and their families are already benefitting from this critically important law. For example:

A mother who is diagnosed with cervical cancer can focus on her treatment and not worry about whether her insurance company will drop her because she got sick;

A woman can go to her gynecologist and get a pap smear without a referral and without paying a co-pay;

A child with asthma won’t have trouble getting health care coverage because of a pre-existing condition or face a lifetime cap on coverage.

The new health care law puts an end to insurance companies treating women like a pre-existing condition. Already, the law is helping women and their families by making it illegal for insurance companies to drop people once they get sick, prohibiting insurers from denying coverage to kids with pre-existing conditions, and ensuring new health plans provide no-cost preventive health care services, such as mammograms and pap smears.

Tell your Governor we can’t go back — protect women’s health care in implementing the health care law.

On this important one  year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, it’s time to move states forward and protect women’s health care.


Judy Waxman

Vice President for Health and Reproductive Rights

National Women’s Law Center

P.S. Don’t forget tomorrow we’re hosting a webinar on women and the Affordable Care Act. We’re excited to announce we’ll be joined by Melody Barnes and Jeanne Lambrew from President Obama’s administration. Register now!

Our Purpose … a message from kathleen Rogers

climate deniers in the House worked long hours loading a spending bill with amendments to weaken the EPA, block regulation of mountaintop removal, and stymie the federal climate research program. Even scarier, the bill was passed.

Clearly, the political winds are changing. So is our climate, and the reckless antics of Congress speak to the need for broad-based action to defend our environment.

Ironically, the House just gave us a perfect lead-in to Earth Day 2011. This year, Earth Day is themed after A Billion Acts of Green – our campaign to generate acts of environmental service and promote Earth Day events worldwide. Our goal is to reach a Billion Acts by the Rio Earth Summit: an environmental statement no one could ignore. Especially the climate deniers in Washington.

We need you to get involved! Join A Billion Acts of Green in honor of Earth Day 2011: organize a local event or pledge an Act of Green – starting with a phone call to your members of Congress demanding that they stop threatening to block the EPA.

Billion Acts of Green is our strategy to make Earth Day 2011 a success on the ground. We created a new community-powered website filled with ideas for simple things you can do to make a difference. We created easy-to-follow guidebooks for event organizers. Getting involved is easy or multifaceted: it’s really your choice.

Already, Our community has generated over forty-five million acts, but we need your contribution to take Billion Acts of Green to the next level.

Join us today – register an event or pledge an Act of Green on our website. Together, we will build the largest environmental service and advocacy project in the world.

Thank you for taking action, we can’t wait to credit your Acts of Green.

Kathleen Rogers

President, Earth Day Network

P.S. You can also do your part by supporting The Canopy Project. For every dollar you donate, we will plant a tree in one of many areas where they are needed most. Each tree you plant is an Act of Green!

Will Disney do right by rainforest​s?

Reading a bedtime story to your kids shouldn’t mean you’re contributing to the destruction of irreplaceable rainforests. Pretty obvious, right? But Disney Publishing and HarperCollins disagree.

These two publishing giants are using paper linked to Indonesian rainforest destruction to print their children’s books. We can change that.

We’re taking the fight to protect Indonesia‘s rainforests straight to the companies responsible for this tragic destruction—and we need you with us. Make a gift today to help RAN shine a spotlight on those responsible for the destruction of Indonesia’s tropical forests.

Already, you and I are having a significant impact. After months of conversations and negotiations—and good old-fashioned RAN activism—eight of the largest American book publishers have committed to get controversial Indonesian fiber out of their books.

We need your support to make sure these eight publishers do what they say they’re going to and push the last two laggards, Disney and HarperCollins, to follow suit. Donate today to support the campaign to protect Indonesia’s rainforests.

Rainforest-free paper is a readily available alternative – there’s no reason for these publishers to support the devastation of a precious and fragile ecosystem. It’s up to us to make sure Disney and HarperCollins get the message and change their ways.

Help us keep the momentum going by making a donation to stop the destruction of some of the richest tropical forests on the planet.

Every little bit helps. Your voice – and your generous support – can change the way HarperCollins and Disney do business. We’ve already had a big impact with this campaign. Only with your support can we take on—and win—ambitious fights like this. Click here to make your gift.

Let’s show them what committed activism can do and make sure this story has a happy ending. Nobody should have to choose between books and rainforests.

Thank you for all that you have done to get us this far—and all that we will do together in the future.

For the forests,

 Robin Averbeck

Rainforest Free Paper Campaign