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Social Security and Water -- It Doesn't Get More Basic Than That

I just love it when we can cut out the middleman, and the middlewoman, and get right to it: no spokesmen, no assistants, but the head honcho himself/head honcha herself.

First it was the Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, here in California to check out some new solar systems -- no, not the Galilean type, but the kind that generates power from the sun. Solar power is finally catching on; ''free'' is pretty appealing, after all.

But there's the front-end investment cost of getting solar up and running, and the cost of making sure that solar power can run 24/7, and run from where it's generated to where it's needed -- and the Secretary acknowledged that that's still an obstacle to going entirely solar.

He was also happy to acknowledge that California farmers will be getting a much bigger water allotment than they'd expected, thanks to some winter deluges, but this boom-and-bust H20 thing, he agreed, simply can't keep going. The feds, and the state, need a sustained, sensible water policy without the flood and drought cycles. Think ant, not grasshopper.

This won't be the last time you hear from him on our program. In a fortnight or so, the feds will announce a new offshore drilling policy, and although I tried with all my powers of persuasion, I couldn't get Secretary Salazar to spill the beans on how this might affect California. So we'll have him back when he's ready to talk about that.

And the commissioner of Social Security himself showed up. No, I didn't ask him to see his Social Security card -- it's not supposed to be used as run-of-the-mill ID.

He was in LA because Social Security is releasing a new promotional campaign with the cast of the old Patty Duke show to encourage boomers to check their Social Security accounts online [we'll have it on the Patt Morrison page as soon as it's available.] The nudge to online is in no small part because, as the commissioner said, they just don't have the staff to talk to the thousands of folks who need their questions answered.

They're not the only ones who need questions answered. When I asked the commissioner about common Social Security myths, he admitted that even a few ''senior'' people in D.C. are under the impression that the money each of us puts into Social Security goes into some account with our own names on it, when in fact the money we pay now pays for the checks being issued now; the next generation will pay for the generation retiring ahead of it.

Social Security's always been regarded as a political ''third rail'' -- touch it at your peril. But as the commissioner said, the fiscal woes of Social Security really do demand to be addressed, and to put it baldly, fixing the system will take either higher taxes or fewer benefits.

What's your choice? Cast your blog-vote right here.

Next time -- while the health care bill got all the hoopla, Congress also voted Sunday evening to take the government student loan program away from private bankers, which could give students more money to study and more time to repay. Is there a downside? If there is you can count on us to tell you. All you have to do is put your lips together and -- listen.

Patt Morrison