How Raising The Retirement Age Screws the Poor

From Mother Jones:

By Kevin Drum
Fri May. 13, 2011

I’ve never been a fan of raising the Social Security retirement age. It’s a blunt instrument mainly favored by journalists and policymakers who don’t plan to retire at age 65 anyway and figure that asking people to work a little bit longer than they used to is no big deal. But people who don’t have white collar jobs quite plainly don’t feel the same way about it, as the skyrocketing number of people who retire early at age 62 demonstrates. We’ve already raised the full retirement age to 67 (this was part of the 1983 Social Security deal put in place by the Greenspan Commission), and I think there are plenty of better ways of bringing Social Security into balance than by raising it yet again.

Aaron Carroll demonstrates this dramatically with the chart below, taken from a paper by Hilary Waldren. As you can see, life expectancy in the top half of the income distribution has indeed risen dramatically over the past few decades. But in the bottom half of the income distribution, it’s barely risen at all.

I want to make it crystal clear what this means, using further data from Waldren’s paper combined with the increase in retirement age that’s already scheduled to take effect. This is for workers in the bottom half of the income distribution:

  • If you retired in 1977 at age 65, your life expectancy was 14.8 years.
  • If you retired in 2006 at age 65 years and 8 months, your life expectancy was 15.4 years.
  • Using a simple linear extrapolation, if you retire in 2025 at age 67, your life expectancy will be 14.9 years.

So that’s it. Over the course of half a century, thanks to the increase in retirement age already scheduled by law1, the poor and the working class will have seen the length of their retirements increase by a grand total of one month. Yippee!

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Tax Payers Dollars Funneled into Funding “Christian” “Emergency Pregnancy Resource Centers” that Disseminate Anti-choice Propaganda

From The Columbia Missourian:

BY Jessica Pupovac
Thursday, May 12, 2011

COLUMBIA — Pregnancy resource centers are faith-based organizations that promote abstinence before marriage, direct pregnant women and teens to the resources they might need to carry their pregnancies to term and talk to them about their options. Their primary objective is to prevent abortions.

“It is our mission to defend the right of every pregnant woman to give birth and the right of every child to be born,” says Lori Shultz, director of Birthright of Columbia, which opened its doors in 1983.

Since 2007, Missouri’s Pregnancy Resource Center tax credits have diverted $4.4 million of state revenue to 52 centers. The state has given another $2.5 million of taxpayer funds to several of the organizations during that same time period through the state’s Alternatives to Abortion grant program.

Both chambers of the Missouri General Assembly are deciding whether to extend the pregnancy resource tax credit or force it to sunset in 2015. On Tuesday, the House passed a resolution applauding the organizations’ efforts to “encourage pregnant women to make positive life choices by equipping them with complete and accurate information regarding their pregnancy options and the development of their unborn children.”

But critics say the information they distribute is riddled with inaccuracies and falsehoods and is intended to scare women and teens away from accessing options to which they are legally entitled.

“We don’t think taxpayers should be forced to support organizations that distribute medically inaccurate information,” Paige Sweet, a representative of abortion rights organization NARAL Missouri, told the House Committee on Economic Development at a March hearing on extending the tax credit program. “We just really want women in Missouri to have access to comprehensive, medically accurate information, especially when they are in the very vulnerable position of facing an unwanted pregnancy.”

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Friday Night Fun and Culture Potpourri Edition

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Friday Zinnea Fix

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UK Hit By Same Astro-Turf type Protests as US: Pro-cuts activists to rally against debt

From The Guardian UK:

Hundreds of right wing and libertarian activists expected to gather in London to press for deeper cuts to public spending

Robert Booth and Matthew Taylor, Friday 13 May 2011

Hundreds of pro-cuts activists are expected to descend on Westminster on Saturday to “rally against debt”, in the first sign of a radical Tea Party-style mass movement to challenge the anti-cuts lobby.

The protest will be attended by an alliance of rightwing and libertarian activists including members of the TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA), the anti-Europe UK Independence party and the Freedom Association, a libertarian pressure group set up by Norris McWhirter, better known for co-founding the Guinness Book of Records.

More than 1,000 people have indicated online that they plan to attend and many said they believed the government was not cutting public spending deeply enough. The Conservative MPs Priti Patel and Bill Cash and the Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, are due to make speeches, and Toby Young, the broadcaster and free school pioneer, said he would attend.

The action comes amid a growing interest among rightwing groups in learning from the US Tea Party movement, which has mobilised hundreds of thousands of activists to march against Barack Obama’s policies. Electoral Commission records show that in March Ukip activists registered the name Tea Party as a political party. It is not yet active but they said they could field candidates in general elections, byelection or local elections.

“We have seen the Tea Party in the States and although I am not sure if it would take off here … we have set it up so we feel we can use it any time we want to get it off the ground,” said Michael McGough, national executive committee member of Ukip, who will attend the rally. “If we have to bail out Greece then there may be potential in the longer term, so we have got it in reserve for when we need it.”

Last year it emerged that the TPA was being advised by Freedom Works, a powerful Washington organisation credited with helping to destabilise the Obama administration through its mobilisation of 800,000 grassroots activists under the Tea Party banner.

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The Great Corporate Tax Swindle

From Common Dreams:

by Richard Wolff
Published on Tuesday, May 10, 2011 by The Guardian/UK

More and more, we hear that nothing can be done to tax major corporations because of the threat of how they would respond. Likewise, we cannot stop their price-gouging or even the government subsidies and tax loopholes they enjoy.

For example, as the oil majors reap stunning profits from high oil and gas prices, we are told it is impossible to tax their windfall profits or stop the billions they get in government subsidies and tax loopholes. There appears to be no way for the government to secure lower energy prices or seriously impose and enforce environmental protection laws. Likewise, despite high and fast-rising drug and medicine prices, we are told that it is impossible to raise taxes on pharmaceutical companies or have the government secure lower pharmaceutical prices. And so on.

Such steps by “our” government are said to be impossible or inadvisable. The reason: corporations would then relocate production abroad or reduce their activities in the US or both. And that would deprive the US of taxes and lose more jobs. In plain English, major corporations are threatening us. We are to knuckle under and cut social programmes that benefit millions of people (such as college loan programmes, Medicaid, Medicare, social security, nutrition programmes, etc). We are not to demand higher taxes or reduced subsidies and tax loopholes for corporations. We are not to demand government action to lower their soaring prices. If we do, corporations will punish us.

Three groups deliver these business threats to us. First, corporate spokespersons, their paid public relations flunkies, hand down the word from on high (corporate board rooms). Second, politicians afraid to offend their corporate sponsors repeat publicly what corporate spokespersons have emailed to them. Finally, various commentators explain the threats to us. These include the journalists lost in that ideological fog that always translates what corporations want into “common sense”. Commentators also include the professors who translate what corporations want into “economic science”.

Of course, there are always two possible responses to any and all threats. One is to cave in, to be intimidated. That has often been the dominant “policy choice” of the US government. That’s why so many corporate tax loopholes exist, why the government does so little to limit price increases, why government does not constrain corporate relocation decisions, etc. No surprise there, since corporations have spent lavishly to support the political careers of so many current leaders. They expect those politicians to do what their corporate sponsors want. Just as important, they also expect those politicians to persuade people that its “best for us all” to cave in when corporations threaten us.

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Study: Transgender Discrimination Costs Mass. Millions

From The Edge Providence RI:

by Peter Cassels
EDGE Contributor
Wednesday May 11, 2011

Excluding transgender citizens from its employment non-discrimination laws costs Massachusetts millions of dollars a year, according to a new study.

Trans workers suffering underemployment or loss of employment often result in lost wages and health insurance coverage and housing instability. A study the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law released on Wednesday, May 11, found that the Commonwealth experiences lost tax revenues and higher public assistance costs as a result.

Advocates will likely use the impact on the state’s budget as ammunition in pushing for passage of a trans rights bill that is now pending in the Massachusetts Legislature. “The added cost to Massachusetts for public health insurance coverage alone is $3 million annually,” Jody Herman, a public policy fellow at the Williams Institute and the report’s author, told EDGE.

She added the state also loses millions in income tax revenues.

Herman believes the study is the first of its kind in the United States.

She extrapolated the figures by examining input from Massachusetts respondents who participated in the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey that the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force conducted.

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Are All Religions Equally Crazy?

From Alternet:

Are less established religions really crazier than older mainstream ones? Or are mainstream religions just more familiar?

By Greta Christina
May 9, 2011

Does any religion make more sense than any other?

Atheists, by definition, don’t think any religion has any reasonable likelihood of being true. And yet, for some weird reason, we’re often asked to choose between them. Believers often accuse us of ignoring more moderate and progressive religions while we trash the low-hanging fruit of hard-line fundamentalism. We’re accused of disregarding sophisticated modern theology so we can zero in on the simplistic faiths held by the hoi polloi. (Neither accusation is fair; many atheists, including myself, have taken aim at both modern theology and progressive religion, and in any case fundamentalism and other widely held religions are valid targets for critique — but that’s another rant.) Yet at the same time, many believers seek our approval for their particular beliefs. “Sure,” they’ll say, “a lot of those other religions are silly — but my religion makes sense! Don’t you agree? Don’t you? Huh?”

For the most part, it’s a game I don’t like to play. I think all religions are equally implausible, equally based on cognitive biases, equally unsupported by any good evidence whatsoever. But sometimes, the battiness of a particular religion is powerfully borne in on me, to the point where it becomes impossible to ignore. And it forces me to consider the question: Is this religion really any more batty than any other? Or is it just less popular? Less familiar? Is it simply newer, and thus has had less time for the more wildly ragged edges of its wackiness to smooth out? Is this religion really as crazy as it seems — or are all religions equally crazy?

Magic Hats Versus Magic Snakes

First, just to be very clear: I’m not saying all religious believers are crazy. I’m saying religious beliefs are crazy. I’m criticizing the ideas, not the people. And when I say “crazy” (or “nutty” or “batshit” or “lunatic” or what have you), I don’t mean “literally, clinically mentally ill.” I mean “crazy” in the colloquial sense — radically out of step with cultural norms, or out of touch with reality.

I was in Salt Lake City a few weeks ago giving a talk, and I took the opportunity to visit the Mormon Temple Square. If you’re not a Mormon, you can’t go inside the Mormon Temple itself; but Temple Square has all sorts of attractions for the non-Mormon visitor, including the tabernacle, the assembly hall… and two different visitors’ centers, specifically designed to explain Mormonism to the non-Mormon, and to make the religion seem inspiring, and to entice people into the faith.

I have no doubt that it has that effect on many people. Mormonism is one of the fastest-growing religions on the planet; there must be something about it that people like. But its effect on me… Well, it was inspiring, all right. It inspired me right into a roller-coaster ride of hilarity and horror. It inspired me, at one point, to out-loud laughter that I was literally, physically unable to control. It inspired me to get the hell off their property, take several deep breaths, and rant with my wife about what a nightmare of indoctrination and brainwashing it was, before we plunged back in. It inspired me to work on my atheist activism ten times harder than I ever had.

But then I started thinking.

How much crazier is this, really, than any other religion?

Let’s not mince words. There is some profoundly crazy stuff in Mormonism. The magic underwear. The retroactive baptism of the dead. Getting to be a god on your own planet after you die. The Garden of Eden being in Missouri. The foundational story of Joseph Smith reading secret magical golden plates through a magic hat. The baptismal font sitting on the backs of 12 cows. (Okay, fine, oxen. Still.) The washings and anointings and veils and temple garments and secret handshakes and other highly ritualized pseudo-Masonic ceremonies. Lying for the Lord. (No, really. Look it up.) The casual shrugging-off of well-known, thoroughly documented facts of history and archaeology that contradict Church doctrine. The shameless, barefaced retroactive continuity, to the point of actually lying about the religion’s history. (“Polygamy is not a central tenet of Mormonism, and it never was. Racial bigotry is not a central tenet of Mormonism, and it never was. Stop looking at the Book of Mormon. No, stop it. We’ll tell you what our religion says, thank you very much.”) Mormonism loves to present a wholesome, clean-cut image of almost obsessive normality to the public… but when you scratch the surface, what you see is howling, chaotic lunacy. That assessment may seem harsh — but if these ideas were presented in any context other than a religious one, nobody would be debating it.

But then I started thinking:

How much crazier is this than any other religion?

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Rapture Cancelled

SPLC to U.S. Commission on Civil Rights: Combating Anti-LGBT Bullying Requires Focus on School Climate

From Southern Poverty Law Center:


Protecting students from anti-LGBT bullying requires school-wide efforts that include specific anti-bullying policies as well as a focus on nurturing school climates where respect for differences is an integral part of school life, the Southern Poverty Law Center told the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in written testimony submitted for a public briefing today.

The testimony was submitted by Teaching Tolerance Director Maureen Costello and LGBT Rights Attorney Sam Wolfe as part of the commission’s briefing on “Peer-to-Peer Violence and Bullying” in Washington, D.C.

“We must recognize that anti-LGBT bullying is not ‘kids being kids,'” the SPLC officials told the Commission. “It’s not some rite of passage that students must endure. All bullying is about an imbalance of power. It’s a mindset that dehumanizes others. Bullying because of race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation is, at its heart, a denial of an entire group’s right to exist equally with others.”

Surveys consistently show that virtually every LGBT student experiences bullying at school, the testimony notes. And students subjected to anti-LGBT bullying often report lower grades, less interest in college and greater levels of depression and anxiety.

Among the materials submitted with the testimony was Teaching Tolerance’s anti-bullying documentary, “Bullied.” The SPLC has made the film and its viewer’s guide available free to every school in the country. Since it was released in September, approximately 53,000 copies have been distributed, and an estimated 7 million schoolchildren have seen it. It has also been screened by community groups in cities across the country.

Testimony of Maureen Costello, Teaching Tolerance Director, and Samuel Wolfe, LGBT Rights Attorney, Southern Poverty Law Center Before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
May 13, 2011

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It Gets Better – Janet Mock Reveals Her Trans Experience

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Sen. Schumer: On Economy, Boehner Not Entitled To ‘His Own Facts’

From The Democratic Daily:

By: Scott Nance
May 12th, 2011

The fiscal policies that House Speaker John Boehner demands are divorced from economic reality, according to an array of commentators and data.

In a major speech Monday night in New York, the Ohio Republican called for “cuts of trillions, not just billions” while simultaneously taking his traditional hard line against any tax increases.

Boehner outlined what are expected to be GOP demands to be met if congressional Republicans are to allow an increase in the federal debt limit. That increase will be needed in coming weeks if the government is not to default on its financial obligations.

However, his position not only has been panned by a wide variety of news commentators, including the New York Times editorial board, it simply isn’t supported by the facts, Senate Democrats say.

“The Speaker is entitled to his own opinions about how to reduce our debt, but not his own facts. We will never cure what ails our economy if the Republicans keep misdiagnosing the problem because of their ideological blinders,” says Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, a top Senate Democratic leader.

For instance, Boehner alleges that a “government spending binge … is crowding out private investment and threatening the availability of capital needed for job creation.”

The reality, Democrats say, is that business investment was up more than 15 percent in 2010 and up more than 11 percent in first quarter of 2011, citing the Bloomberg news service, which says that Boehner’s speech is contradicted by market realities.

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Catholic academics slam Boehner for ‘anti-life’ voting record

From Raw Story:

WASHINGTON – More than 80 Catholic professors decreed in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) that his policies are “anti-life” and out of line with the teachings of the Church because they harm the “poor and vulnerable.”

“Mr. Speaker, your voting record is at variance from one of the Church’s most ancient moral teachings,” the academics wrote. “From the apostles to the present, the Magisterium of the Church has insisted that those in power are morally obliged to preference the needs of the poor. Your record in support of legislation to address the desperate needs of the poor is among the worst in Congress. This fundamental concern should have great urgency for Catholic policy makers. Yet, even now, you work in opposition to it.”

The letter goes on to chide the most powerful Republican in the country for supporting budget measures that cut important programs for the poor and needy, as well as pregnant women and children. It pointedly cites his support for the House-passed GOP budget that cuts Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps.

“The 2012 budget you shepherded to passage in the House of Representatives guts long-established protections for the most vulnerable members of society. It is particularly cruel to pregnant women and children, gutting Maternal and Child Health grants and slashing $500 million from the highly successful Women Infants and Children nutrition program.”

The letter was written in advance of a commencement speech that Boehner, who grew up in a Roman Catholic family, is poised to give this Saturday at the Catholic University of America. The professors wrote that the GOP budget “invokes the deficit to justify visiting such hardship upon the vulnerable, while it carves out $3 trillion in new tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.” They called out “the anti-life implications of this budget in regard to its impact on poor and vulnerable American citizens.”

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