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Chris Christie's Social Security Proposal is Cruel and Callous

| Thu Apr. 16, 2015 11:14 AM EDT

So Chris Christie is going to campaign on the bold idea of reducing Social Security benefits. My guess is that Christie is going to learn that Social Security remains the third rail of American politics, and will get therefore get charred to a crisp before much longer. For this and many other reasons, we probably don't have to worry much about Christie.

Still, it's worth looking at his proposal. It has two parts:

  1. "I propose a modest means test that only affects those with non–Social Security income of over $80,000 per year, and phases out Social Security payments entirely for those that have $200,000 a year of other income."

Even a lot of us liberal types don't have a big objection to this. But there's a problem here: I don't have exact numbers in front of me, but I'd guess that perhaps 5 percent of retirees have outside incomes of $80,000 and maybe 1 percent have incomes over $200,000. A phaseout that affects such a small number of retirees would hardly save anything. At a guess, maybe it would reduce total payouts by 1-2 percent or so.

But here's the second part of Christie's proposal:

  1. "I’m proposing we raise the age to 69, gradually implementing this change starting in 2022 and increasing the retirement age by two months each year until it reaches 69."

Ouch! As Matt Yglesias points out, life expectancy for the poor at age 65 has barely budged over the past three decades, sitting stubbornly at about 15 years. A 2-year cut forces the poor to work longer and effectively slashes their lifetime Social Security payout by nearly 15 percent. This is a huge reduction for anyone with a low income, and it's especially cruel since it would mostly target people who perform manual labor and have the hardest time working into their late 60s.

I am part of a dwindling band of liberals who is willing to cut a deal on Social Security that would reduce future payouts in return for higher funding rates. Unfortunately, this was never going anywhere because conservatives weren't willing to deal on the funding side, and it's even deader today because liberals are increasingly demanding increases in Social Security, not cuts.

But regardless of how you feel about all this, you should hate Christie's proposal. As I and others have pointed out repeatedly, raising the retirement age is the worst possible way of fixing Social Security's finances, doing its work primarily on the backs of low-income workers while making only token demands on the rich. It's a cruel and callous proposal and everyone should recognize it for what it is.

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As Cities Raise Their Minimum Wage, Where's the Economic Collapse the Right Predicted?

| Thu Apr. 16, 2015 9:45 AM EDT
The Fight for 15 protest in New York City Fast Food Forward

Fast-food cooks and cashiers demanding a $15 minimum wage walked off the job in 236 cities yesterday in what organizers called the largest mobilization of low-wage workers ever. The tax-day protest, known as Fight 4/15 (or #Fightfor15 on Twitter), caused some backlash on the Right:

Conservatives have long portrayed minimum-wage increases as a harbingers of economic doom, but their fears simply haven't played out. San Francisco, Santa Fe, and Washington, DC, were among the first major cities to raise their minimum wages to substantially above state and national averages. The Center for Economic and Policy Research found that the increases had little effect on employment rates in traditionally low-wage sectors of their economies:

Economists with the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California-Berkeley have found similar results in studies of the six other cities that have raised their minimum wages in the past decade, and in the 21 states with higher base pay than the federal minimum. Businesses, they found, absorbed the costs through lower job turnover, small price increases, and higher productivity.

It's the taxpayers who ultimately pick up the tab for low wages, because the government subsidizes the working poor.

Obviously, there's a limit to how high you can raise the minimum wage without harming the economy, but evidence suggests we're nowhere close to that tipping point. The ratio between the United States' minimum wage and its median wage has been slipping for years—it's now far lower than in the rest of the developed world. Even after San Francisco increases its minimum wage to $15 next year, it will still amount to just 46 percent of the median wage, putting the city well within the normal historical range.

The bigger threat to the economy may come from not raising the minimum wage. Even Wall Street analysts agree that our ever-widening income inequality threatens to dampen economic growth. And according to a new study by the UC-Berkeley Labor Center, it's the taxpayers who ultimately pick up the tab for low wages, because the federal government subsidizes the working poor through social-service programs to the tune of $153 billion a year.

Even the World Bank Has to Worry About the Competition

| Thu Apr. 16, 2015 8:20 AM EDT

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has just published a deep look into the World Bank's track record of ensuring that the projects it sponsors don't end up harming local communities.

Since 2004, more than 3.4 million people have been economically or physically displaced by Bank projects, according to the report's analysis of the lender's data. And while the Bank has policies requiring it to reestablish and resettle such communities, the ICIJ's investigation found that they were falling short, operating under a troubling lack of safeguards, through bank officials too willing to ignore abuses committed by local partners, and with an institutional culture that values closing big deals over following up on human rights.

After being presented with the ICIJ's findings, the bank quickly promised reforms. But one part of the investigation contains this interesting passage, which suggests an unexpected reason the Bank may not be able to clean up its act: competition has gotten too stiff.

As it enters its eighth decade, the World Bank faces an identity crisis.

It is no longer the only lender willing to venture into struggling nations and finance huge projects. It is being challenged by new competition from other development banks that don’t have the same social standards—and are rapidly drawing support from the World Bank’s traditional backers.

China has launched a new development bank and persuaded Britain, Germany and other American allies to join, despite open U.S. opposition.

These geopolitical shifts have fueled doubts about whether the World Bank still has the clout—or the desire—to impose strong protections for people living in the way of development.

United Nations human rights officials have written World Bank President Kim to say they're concerned that the growing ability of borrowers to access other financing has spurred the bank to join a "race to the bottom" and push its standards for protecting people even lower.

Today's package of stories, published with the Huffington Post, is the first installment of a series reported in 14 countries by over 50 journalists. More than 20 news organizations were involved in the effort.

Health and Logistical Update

| Wed Apr. 15, 2015 8:45 PM EDT

Howdy everyone. I'm back. But I'll bet you didn't even know I was gone.

I spent most of the day up at City of Hope in Duarte getting a few final tests plus a final visit with my transplant physician before I go up next week for the final stage of chemo. For those who are interested, here's my final and (hopefully) firm schedule.

On Monday I go up to CoH and check in to the Village. This sounds like something from The Prisoner, but it's actually just a small collection of houses on the grounds of the campus. Unless something goes wrong that requires round-the-clock observation and care, this is where I'll be staying. It's obviously nicer and more convenient than being cooped up in a hospital room, and it comes complete with its own kitchen so I'm free to make my own meals if I want. (I can also order out from the hospital cafeteria if I don't feel like cooking my own stuff.)

On Tuesday and Wednesday I go into the Day Hospital for an infusion of high-dose Melphalan, a powerful chemotherapy drug. This will kill off all my remaining cancerous bone marrow stem cells, and, along the way, kill off all my healthy stem cells too. So on Thursday they'll pump my own frozen stem cells back into me.

And that's about it. Within a few days of all this I'll be laid low with fatigue, mouth sores, and loss of hair—and hopefully not much more, since that would require transfer to the hospital, which I'd sure like to avoid. For the two weeks after that, I'll take a wide variety of medications and check into the Day Hospital every morning for testing and whatever else they deem necessary (for example, IV fluids if I'm not drinking enough). The rest of the time I spend in my little house, waiting for my immune system to recover enough for me to be sent home.

That will take me through the middle of May, at which point I should be in fairly reasonable shape. Full and complete recovery will take longer—possibly quite a bit longer—but that's unknowable at this point. I'll just have to wait and see.

The next time you see me after this weekend I'll be bald as an egg, as any true cancer patient should be. Yes, there will be pictures. I wouldn't deprive you of that. Between now and then, wish me luck.

McDonald's Franchisees: "We Will Continue to Fall and Fail"

| Wed Apr. 15, 2015 7:11 PM EDT

McDonald's opened its first franchise in Des Plaines, Ill., 60 years ago today, but its franchisees aren't exactly celebrating.

"The future looks very bleak. I'm selling my McDonald's stock," one operator wrote in response to a recent survey of McDonald's franchises across the country, as quoted by Business Insider. "The morale of franchisees is at its lowest level ever."

"McDonalds' system is broken," wrote one franchisee.

"McDonalds' system is broken," another wrote, according to MarketWatch. "We will continue to fall and fail."

Is the fast-food giant having a mid-life crisis?

McDonald's has some 3,000 franchises in the United States, and 32 of them—representing 215 restaurants—took part in the latest survey by Wall Street analyst Mark Kalinowski of Janney Capital Markets. Many of them complained about poor business this year and blamed corporate executives. When asked to assess their six-month business outlook on a scale of 1 to 5, they responded grimly with an average of 1.81. Maybe that's because, according to the survey, same-store sales for franchises declined 3.7 percent in March and 4 percent in February.

Only three of the 32 franchisees said they had a "good" relationship with their franchisor, while about half described their relationship as "poor." The average score for this question was 1.48 out of 5, the lowest score since Kalinowski first started surveying the franchisees more than a decade ago.

Reuters reported that a McDonald's spokesperson responded to the survey by noting the poll size and saying that the company appreciates feedback from franchisees and has a "solid working relationship with them."

Last month, McDonald's executives invited franchisees to a "Turnaround Summit" in Las Vegas, to address its US sales decline. But the get-together didn't seem to boost anyone's spirits. "The Turnaround Summit was a farce," one franchisee wrote in the survey, as quoted by AdAge. "McDonald's Corp. has panicked and jumped the shark." Another added, "McDonald's management does not know what we want to be."

Some franchise operators slammed McDonalds' decision to raise pay by giving employees at company-owned stores $1 an hour above minimum wage. "We will be expected to do the same," one wrote, according to Nation's Restaurant News. "Watch for $5 Big Macs, etc. and Extra Value Meals in the $8 to $10 range."

Next week, McDonald's is set to report its first-quarter earnings.

Billionaire Casino Magnate Sheldon Aldelson's Israeli Paper Is Obsessed With Marco Rubio

| Wed Apr. 15, 2015 6:02 PM EDT

For years, Republicans who aspire to the presidency have sought the support of Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino magnate and GOP mega-donor. Adelson spent $150 million backing Republicans during the 2012 election cycle, and the candidate who secures his support this time around will get a big boost in a crowded GOP field. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who announced his campaign on Monday, already has one billionaire backer—Norman Braman, a Miami car dealer. But Rubio also seems to have impressed Adelson himself.

Israel-watchers on Twitter have pointed out that Israel Hayom, the daily newspaper owned by Adelson, has been particularly interested in the junior senator from Florida.

It's too early to call the Adelson primary for Rubio. As in the past, Adelson will want each of the major candidates to court him; the casino magnate is known to be fond of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.), both of whom are seriously considering runs. But Rubio—who dined one-on-one with Adelson last month—is off to a good start.

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Democrats in Oregon of All Places Just Torpedoed a Bill to Expand Abortion Rights

| Wed Apr. 15, 2015 4:21 PM EDT
An abortion protester shows off his pro-life tattoo, because Portland.

Here's how quickly the prospect of expanding abortion rights can kill a piece of legislation: In February, a group of state lawmakers introduced a bill that would require insurers to cover the full spectrum of women's reproductive services at an affordable price. Just two months later, the same lawmakers have killed the bill. The section calling for abortion coverage proved just too controversial.

This didn't happen in the Rust Belt, or in a purple state where Democrats hold the statehouse by just a vote or two. It happened in Oregon, where the Democrats control both chambers of the legislature by a supermajority and where the party has a lengthy history of going to the mat for abortion rights.

Nina Liss-Schultz of RH Reality Check (and a MoJo alum) has the full story. The tale is an illuminating one as progressives contemplate how to respond to the historic number of anti-abortion laws that have passed in the last five years.

It's also an important dose of reality.

Conservatives have enacted more abortion restrictions in the past few years than they have in the entire previous decade. In January, though, several news reports circulated that made it seem as though a full-fledged progressive counter strike was already under way. The stories were based on reports by the Guttmacher Institute and the National Institute for Reproductive Health, pro abortion-rights think tanks. They found that in 2014, dozens of lawmakers introduced dozens of bills—95, by Guttmacher's count—supporting women's reproductive rights, surpassing a record set in 1990. "A Record Number Of Lawmakers Are Starting To Fight For Reproductive Rights," one headline announced. Another read, "Inside the quiet, state-level push to expand abortion rights."

It's certainly true that the tidal wave of new abortion restrictions has inspired a progressive backlash. But the suggestion that the two sides are evenly matched, or even approaching that point, is out of line with reality. Just four of those 95 measures were eventually passed into law. One of them was a Vermont bill to repeal the state's long-defunct abortion ban, in case the makeup of the Supreme Court allowed the justices to overturn Roe v. Wade—a looming danger, but not the most pressing issue facing abortion rights.

By contrast, last year alone conservative lawmakers introduced 335 bills targeting abortion access; 26 passed. And in two states that are overtly hostile to abortion rights—Texas and North Dakota—the legislature wasn't even in session. That's part of why you can expect this year's abortion battles to be even uglier.

But it's not just about sheer numbers. At the same time that progressive lawmakers were pushing forward-thinking laws, the 2014 midterms undermined their efforts. In states where there were serious efforts to expand reproductive rights—Colorado, Nevada, New York, and Washington—Democratic losses on Election Day have placed those plans on indefinite hold.

Here's how things fell apart in Oregon, according to the Lund Report, an Oregon-based health news website.

[Democratic health committee chair Sen. Laurie] Monnes Anderson said the abortion language was so toxic that "leadership"—her caucus leaders—would not even allow her to have a public hearing on SB 894, let alone move it to the Senate floor. She said House Democratic leaders were also involved in the discussion over whether the bill could see the light of day.

Meanwhile, in the time it took for Oregon to abandon this bill, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, and West Virginia passed 10 new abortion and reproductive rights restrictions. What happened in Oregon shows just how much reproductive rights advocates are playing catch-up, even in states that appear friendly to their agenda.

McDonald's Is 60 Years Old. On Its "Opening Day" It Bragged About Having Served 15 Million Burgers.

| Wed Apr. 15, 2015 2:45 PM EDT

Here is a hilarious thing that I find hilarious. The first McDonald's franchise opened its doors 60 years ago today in Des Plaines, Illinois. This is the day McDonald's Corporation celebrates as its birthday. When you dive into Google to find the opening day menu for the McDonald's that opened in Des Plaines, Illinois, on April 15, 1955, this is what you find:

source: kottke.com

 

Notice anything funny? On its opening day menu, McDonald's bragged about having already served "over 15 million burgers." So what's going on? Is this just a hilariously transparent case of false advertising or something else?

It turns out something else. Though McDonald's as we know it traces its origins to April 15, 1955, in Des Plaines, Illinois, that was actually just the first franchise. McDonald's had actually already existed for years in California. It was founded by brothers Dick and Mac McDonald in the 1940s. The site's official history explains:

[Entrepreneur Ray] Kroc pitched his vision of creating McDonald’s restaurants all over the U.S. to the brothers. In 1955, he founded McDonald’s System, Inc., a predecessor of the McDonald’s Corporation, and six years later bought the exclusive rights to the McDonald’s name. By 1958, McDonald’s had sold its 100 millionth hamburger.

So there was nothing nefarious about this claim, but it is still pretty amusing.

Correction: This post originally said Des Plaines was in Iowa. It is in Illinois. I'm dumb. 

Hillary Clinton to Supreme Court: Legalize Same-Sex Marriage Nationally

| Wed Apr. 15, 2015 2:13 PM EDT

Hillary Clinton's now-official presidential campaign has so far opted for gauzy announcement videos and vague feel good promises over much in the way of policy specifics. But on Wednesday, Clinton's team clarified one stance she she will take: same-sex marriage is a constitutional right that should be legal in every state.

"Hillary Clinton supports marriage equality and hopes the Supreme Court will come down on the side of same-sex couples being guaranteed that constitutional right," campaign spokesperson Adrienne Elrod told The Washington Blade, referring to four cases on gay marriage the court is scheduled to hear later this month.

Clinton hasn't always supported same-sex marriage. In the 2008 Democratic primary, Clinton, like then-Sen. Barack Obama, supported civil unions for LGBT couples but opposed marriage rights. She avoided weighing in on domestic politics while at the State Department and didn't announce that she supported marriage equality until March, 2013—but maintained that same-sex marriage was up to the states and not a nationwide, constitutional right. Last year, she ducked probing questions from NPR's Terry Gross about how she had evolved on the issue. Earlier this week, Buzzfeed called out the Clinton campaign for not saying where the presidential candidate stood on the upcoming court case.

Now Clinton seems ready to strike a different tone. Her top campaign operative, Robby Mook, will be the first openly gay presidential campaign manger, as my colleague Andy Kroll and I reported last week. Among the gauzy images in the video she released on Sunday announcing her presidential campaign were scenes of a gay couple discussing their upcoming wedding. And, thanks to her statement today, she's fully on board with the idea that LGBT couples should enjoy the same constitutionally protected rights as heterosexual couples.

Awful People Write Hilariously Mean Letter To Friend Who Shared Too Many Photos Of Child On Facebook

| Wed Apr. 15, 2015 1:17 PM EDT

You know how parents are always going on and on about their kids? "My kid this and my kid that" and shut up already, ok? Some of us don't even have kids and others of us have kids but those kids are really just sacks of potatoes dressed in clothes and we bring them around and introduce them to people like they're our kids but then we get hungry and we rip off their little baseball caps and eat the potatoes and OH MY GOD I ATE MY KID!

So parents! On Facebook! Annoying! Sometimes you want to just write them a nasty letter that's like, "no one cares about your dumb kid. Shut up." But you never actually do that because you understand that the parent just loves their kid and parents are supposed to love their kids and they want to be proud of their adorable kid and sing its praises from the rooftops and you understand in your heart, in your bones, that that is ultimately a good thing and complaining about it would not be a good look.

Some people in Australia apparently did do that, though. According to news.com.au's Em Rusciano, a woman named Jade Ruthven received the following enraged letter from a group of "friends" who were miffed by her over-sharing:

Jade's friends are not necessarily bad people, but they are not Jade's real friends. Real friends are willing to suffer your annoying child-bragging. Jade can do better.