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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

I am about to give up, dear readers! No sooner did I finish a couple of recent columns that dealt with silly Internet rumors and lies about Social Security, when I opened my email and found three more!

Q: I am forwarding something I found on the Internet. You’ll see that it proves the Social Security Administration is helping to hide the true identity of Barack Obama. They were involved in preparing a false birth certificate, and assigned three different Social Security numbers that have been used throughout his lifetime. What do you know about this?

A. OK, I’ll fess up.

Shortly after I was hired by the Social Security Administration (SSA), I was assigned to a secret task force, along with representatives of other government agencies. We were sent to Africa to hand pick a Kenyan baby. We snuck him off to Hawaii and set him up with a phony family. For years, we groomed him to become president of the United States — and eventually the socialist leader of the world.

We made only one mistake. We gave him a foreign-sounding name: Barack Hussein Obama. We should have called him John Wayne Smith, or something more American! And now you’re onto us!

Of course, this stupid Internet rumor is sad and pathetic. And I might be laughing it off as a joke if I didn’t get emails about this from nearly 10 people, half of whom said they’re inclined to believe it. Get real, people! And get a life!

Q: A friend forwarded a news story he said he found on the Internet. It claims President Obama is using Social Security money to pay for the war in Afghanistan. Can you shed any light on this?

A. Well, I’ll add it to the list. Let’s see … Obama is using Social Security money for the Afghan war; President Bush used Social Security money to pay for the war in Iraq; and in the 1990s, President Clinton paid for the Bosnian war with Social Security funds. And the precedents were set by Presidents Nixon and Johnson, both of whom tapped Social Security trust funds to pay for the war in Vietnam. Or that’s how the stories go, at least.

But unlike the preposterous rumor about the SSA hiding Obama’s true identity, this one is actually based on a kernel of truth.

I have explained many times in this column that all Social Security money is invested, by law, in U.S. Treasury notes. Almost $2 billion per day flows into the Treasury Department in Washington, D.C., in the form of Social Security tax receipts. Every nickel of that money is instantly converted to treasury bonds that earn the prevailing rate of interest.

Three times each month, SSA’s financiers cash in about $20 billion in bonds to pay for the Social Security checks that are sent out on the second, third, and fourth Wednesdays of every month. The government makes good on those bonds and fills the Social Security coffers with enough money to cover that week’s Social Security checks.

That’s the way Social Security has always been financed — for 75 years now. So Social Security trust funds do not hold cash. They hold Treasury notes. The actual cash funnels its way into the general funds of the Treasury and is used to help pay for all operations of government.

So in that respect, there would be some Social Security money used to pay for the war in Afghanistan, just as there is some Social Security money used for everything from running the Smithsonian museums to paying for the last space shuttle launch.

Think of it this way: millions of investors hold U.S. government bonds as part of their portfolios, and the treasury is spending the money they invested in those bonds to run the government. The Social Security system is just another one of those investors. In fact, during the recent debates on raising the debt ceiling, it was frequently pointed out that the Social Security program is the single largest holder of our nation’s debt.

Q: I am sending you a link to a website that claims Social Security money has been used to build housing developments for foreign nationals. It also says that everyone living in these housing units is getting a Social Security check. No wonder Social Security has problems if we’re wasting money like this!

A: This should be another absurd website I’d hope most of my readers would readily dismiss as too stupid to be true. But a couple hundred of you sent it to me, and quite a few of you said you believe it to be factual. Think these things through, folks!

However, I’ve got to admit there probably are housing projects around the country that have been financed, in part, with federal help. And maybe wrapped up in that federal funding are a few nickels of Social Security money via the investment scenario explained above. And there could be foreign nationals living in some of those housing projects.

And I guess there’s a chance that a couple of those folks — assuming they are living here legally, had worked and paid Social Security taxes, and are over age 62 — might be getting Social Security benefits. So you can see how so many of these rumors about Social Security are based on a teeny, tiny kernel of truth.

But, of course, the problem is that most people who buy into all the misinformation perpetrated on these websites don’t understand that subtle, little nugget of knowledge about Social Security financing. They believe that the government is writing checks directly out of Social Security’s bank account to pay for flak jackets for soldiers and housing projects for immigrants — not to mention to fund a clandestine scheme to install a Kenyan as president of the United States!

Please, dear readers, stop falling for all this garbage that’s on the Internet about Social Security!

If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at thomas.margenau@comcast.net. To find out more about Tom Margenau and to read past columns and see features from other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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Danziger Draws

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star.