Saving Social Security

“What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

Those classic words were spoken by the actor Strother Martin in the film “Cool Hand Luke.” But failure to communicate is not something that Queens native Larry Ward is likely to be guilty of. President of Interactive Political Media, he is one of the most sought-after Internet marketing professionals on the East Coast.

Thanks to Mr. Ward and his company, which he operates with partner Alan Skorski, we’re able to catch the Yankees on Cablevision. Remember that flap a while ago when George Steinbrenner and Cablevision were at war over carrying the YES network on Cablevision? For a full year, the New York Yankees and New Jersey Nets could not be seen on Cablevision, and it appeared that the blackout would continue. Then a New Jersey assemblyman wrote a bill claiming Cablevision was breaking antitrust laws by blocking the new network. The bill had very little chance of passing – until IPM sent an e-mail on behalf of YES, which allowed a response to go directly to the New Jersey Assembly. Soon, 25,000 e-mail messages from New Jersey residents in support of the bill were delivered to every member of the Assembly, and the bill passed overwhelmingly.

IPM was also responsible for getting out the vote during the Bush re-election campaign, by blasting more than 50 million e-mail messages into cyberspace. Working with 527 organizations, IPM was able to reach out to everyday Americans and engage them in the election debate.

But the greatest test of Larry Ward’s ability to communicate messages using IPM’s unique Internet connection services will likely be the debate on Social Security reform.

IPM has teamed up with Jack Kemp, who is co-chairman of Alliance for Retirement Prosperity ( In the short time I sat with Mr. Ward listening to the goal of ARP and how vital it is to mount an aggressive search for options to save Social Security, I finally saw some hope for addressing an issue that was just too politically hazardous for most office-holders even to consider until now.

Many Americans my age simply do not believe that Social Security will be there for us when we become eligible within the next decade. The hard fact is that if something isn’t done soon, Social Security commitments will exceed revenues by 2018 and the system will be bankrupt by 2042. The battle being waged now about reform seems to pit senior citizens against their children and grandchildren. This is totally unnecessary, because there is no reason for senior citizens to fear reform.

Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Senator Sununu of New Hampshire have introduced innovative legislation creating large personal retirement accounts, or PRAs, which provide a reasonable solution to the problem. It will satisfy everyone except those politicians who want to continue pillaging the Social Security trust fund to finance their own projects. Unfortunately, invoke the word “privatization” and citizens are likely to envision catastrophic changes resulting in the loss of their retirement security.

Instead of privatization, Mr. Ward says, we should be viewing changes as modernization. If the bill is enacted, we will be able to place a portion of our payroll taxes into PRAs, which would be invested in the private sector. The important thing to remember is that we are guaranteed to receive at least the amount we would have under the old plan. We also have the opportunity to grow money, depending on the type of investment we choose – that is, high-risk or low-risk investments.

The other important change is that we will own the account and can pass it on to our beneficiaries. That’s something we cannot do now.

It seems to me that all around it’s a win-win situation, and I asked Larry Ward why anyone would object to this necessary reform of this increasingly endangered system. Congress would lose control of the Social Security trust fund, he answered, and that’s why the current administration will have an uphill battle trying to get reform legislation through, unless all Americans get involved. Larry Ward is much better at getting the message out to the public, and I hope the radio and cable networks will discover why Mr. Kemp chose to team up with IPM. Senior citizens are the fastest-growing group of new computer owners and will now have access to information on Social Security reform unfiltered by special political interests.

“People’s lives and security are at stake,” Mr. Kemp said in a press release. “The only way we are going to engage people in the debate is to change the way we communicate the message.”

Failure to communicate is not an option.