As they do every year (so far unsucessfully), Republicans in the House of Representatives introduced a bill last month that would repeal the “employment test” requirement in the Social Security Act, according to the ASSOCIATED PRESS. The test is used to calculate the income of Social Security recipients to make sure they really need the money. This year, as a result of all the talk about “saving Social Security,” the bill has a chance of passing.
Obviously, that elderly woman behind the counter at McDonald’s still needs her check from Uncle Sam. For every three dollars over $15,500 that she earns at work, she loses a dollar from her Social Security check. Under the Republican bill, she’d get to keep that money.
Fair enough. But what about the elderly folks who don’t actually work, and instead live on fat dividends from savings retirement accounts that are spewing truckloads of money at the moment? They certainly don’t need an extra few sawbucks on top of their already cushy incomes.
According to FEDERAL REGISTER, while any earnings (from employment or otherwise) are ostensibly subject to the penalty, only working people get smacked with it. That’s because working stiffs get W-2 or 1099 forms from their employers, who send copies to the IRS. The IRS then tells the Social Security Agency. Non-working elderly folks, however, are on the honor system to report their earnings. Good luck.
Republicans, meanwhile, are pitching this bill as a Social Security reform bill intended to get the soon-to-be-bankrupt Social Security Administration rolling. Never mind that repealing the earnings test would result in the Feds paying out more in benefits, not less.
Pot advocate appeals for refugee status
On Monday, the Canadian government will consider whether to grant a U.S. woman’s rare application for political refugee status or to extradite her to California on charges of marijuana cultivation, according to the COAST INDEPENDENT in British Columbia.
Renee Boje applied for refugee status in February when the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who held her in connection with a British Columbia pot bust at a medical marijuana cultivation garden, threatened to deport her. The RCMP then discovered an outstanding warrant in the U.S. for her arrest stemming from a 1997 DEA bust in Bel Air, near California.
Boje was arrested with eight others at the home of the “Pot Prince of Bel Air,” medical marijuana activist and cancer patient Todd McCormick. McCormick had hired Boje as a graphic artist for a pro-marijuana magazine he planned to publish, and was growing marijuana with a then-valid (under the state’s voter-approved Proposition 215) license for medical research.
Boje, who claims she was “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” cited the United States’ unusually strict penalties for drug-related crimes as the basis for her refugee claim. She also claimed that she had been sexually abused at the hands of Los Angeles police after her Bel Air arrest, and faced more harassment and abuse if deported.
Boje said she fled to Canada only after her lawyers told her the charges had been dropped. Unfortunately, according to the L.A. WEEKLY, the charges were reinstated in July.
If Boje is convicted, she could receive a life sentence. The same charges in Canada carry no mandatory sentences and are often penalized with fines or dismissed.
Fueling the fires of year 2000 paranoia, an article on nuclear weapons safety and the Y2K bug in the March/April issue of THE BULLETIN OF THE ATOMIC SCIENTISTS is more frightening than the idea of President Ross Perot. THE BULLETIN (you know, those zany doomsday clock folks) paints a shaky picture of the world’s nuclear weapons arsenal as the year 2000 approaches.
The article contends that both the United States and Russia are seriously behind schedule on getting systems up to speed. It states that the Y2K failure rate will be somewhere between 2 and 5 percent. Although this percentage seems small, the problem lies in the possible ripple effect in which one system failure would trigger many others. It further points out that in some cases, there will be no Y2K compliance at all, but rather a patchwork effort to sidestep the problem. For example:
“[T]he Defense Department’s Quarterly Report contains an ambiguous reference to the ‘mission critical portion of the Trident strategic weapon system.” According to the report, “One mission critical subsystem that requires a workaround will be notified of the workaround by naval message on 15 December 1999.’ In other words, the problem will not be corrected, and contingency plans for system failure will be forwarded to submarine crews two weeks before the year 2000.”
And if you think that’s bad, just wait until you read the Russian response to the millennium bug. THE BULLETIN quotes Boris Mikhailov, director of Russia’s nuclear development agency, the Impulse State Scientific Production Association, as stating, “I have worked here since July of 1980, and I never heard of anything like this.” Even more reassuring is Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev, who said there is no Y2K problem for Russia’s nuclear weapons, “since in the Strategic Missile Forces we use special technologies.”
Exposing the “economic boom” myth
The Dow Jones’ flirt with the 10,000 mark has been the focus of much media hoopla over the last few weeks. And amid much fanfare, today it closed above 10,000 for only the second time in history. It seems as though nothing — not even war in the Balkans — can derail the market’s maniacal ascent. The stock market is stronger than ever before; the economy is stronger than ever before … right?
Well, not quite. Despite highly-touted market gains, the vast majority of Americans are working harder and earning less, according to Shifting Fortunes: The Perils of the Growing American Wealth Gap, a report released by the Boston-based UNITED FOR A FAIR ECONOMY. Benefits from our supposed “economic boom” accrue to the nation’s wealthiest, while income disparity worsens. Although the full 94-page report isn’t available online (you can order it for $6.50), the shortened online version has enough information to bring even the most resolute optimist down from economic la-la-land. For example: between 1983 and 1995, the net worth (adjusted for inflation) of the top 1 percent of American households increased by 17 percent, while the net worth of the lowest 40 percent fell 80 percent. Average Americans earn less (adjusted for inflation) than they did when Richard Nixon was president. And the top 1 percent of households have actually doubled their share of our wealth since the 1970s.
And how about that “thriving” stock market, anyway? Well, the Dow Jones index only reflects the stock prices of 30 stocks (out of several thousand total) and thus is hardly representative of the market as a whole. The average stock price has actually lost 22 percent of its value in the last year. Even within an index, a few large companies can skew perceived growth — like Microsoft and America Online, whose stock growth alone accounts for one-third of the Standard & Poor 500’s impressive performance in this year’s first quarter.
In fact, the last time the Russell 2000 index (which reflects the worth of 2000 smaller stocks) had a record day was in April of last year. So, looking at the whole picture, the past few years’ supposed “economic boom” doesn’t look so impressive after all.