blindly reposting political memes on social media doesn’t make you look informed

I’m not trying to offend anyone here, so keep in mind that I’m trying to help you before you get all worked up about this.

When you hit “share” or “retweet” on that pithy politically-oriented picture that somebody painstakingly put together, you’re telling all your friends or followers that you believe the content of that picture to be true.

If you’re not 100% sure it’s true – or at least funny, I guess – you should hesitate before you clickety-click.

I’ll give you an example.

72665_10202164193810299_2124226652_n

This is one of many graphics getting shared/reposted/retweeted on social media that is simply just wrong.

Let me break it down for you so you know the truth.

The president of the United States earns $400,000 a year.  He also receives another $50,000 (untaxed) for expenses related to the job – travel, holding meetings at the White House, etc.

When he’s no longer president, he gets a pension – yes, for life – that is equivalent to the pay of current Cabinet secretaries (like the Secretary of Defense or the Secretary of State). Currently, that amount is $191,300.  This is called “Executive Schedule Level I” and it does increase from time to time.  This pension/salary is taxed as normal income.

There you go – the very first line of “data” in that graphic is patently and completely false. Period.  You know how long it took me to discover that?  Well, actually, I already knew it, so no time, but seriously, I looked it up anyway.  Google “presidential salary” – it’ll take you five fucking seconds. Click the first link.  Info. Bam!

Now let’s take a look at the other numbers in that graphic.

  • Senators/Representatives earn $174,000
  • Majority/minority leaders of the Senate earn $193,400
  • The speaker of the House of Representatives earns $223,500

(Please note that there is one majority leader, one minority leader and one Speaker of the House. 532 of the 535 Members of Congress receive the standard pay, as do several other non-voting MCs, like Eleanor Holmes Norton, the “delegate” for Washington, DC.)

Those numbers aren’t even transcribed 100% correctly in the graphic, which has the majority/minority leaders at $194,400, but let’s skip over that tiny error and look at the glaring error:  FOR LIFE.

Guess what?  WRONG AGAIN.

No Congressman (or woman) earns a pension unless they achieve one the following criteria:

  • Must be 62 years old AND must have served for at least 5 years (3 terms for Reps, 1 term for Senators)
  • Must be 50 years old AND must have served in Congress for 20 years
  • Must have served in Congress for 25 years (by default this means he’d be 50, as you can’t be a Representative unless you’re 25 years old)

Here’s the kicker, though: to receive the pension, the Member of Congress must have paid into the congressional pension system (which, I believe, is mandatory since 1984).  Since that is at least vaguely important, I’d like to repeat it.

To receive a congressional pension, a member of Congress must have paid into the (mandatory) congressional pension system.

The pension they receive, then, is based on how long they served and their average salary for their highest-earning three years of service.  There’s a whole confusing formula, but the bottom line is that the average pension received by any former Member of Congress is between $41,000 and $55,000.  The highest current Congressional pension paid is just over $84,000. Again, I found this with just a little searching on Google – in under a minute.  UNDER A MINUTE.

Once again using my google-fu, I found (in about 3 seconds) the Army’s website that clearly lists max pay for each grade:

  • Private, E1 – $18,194
  • Private, E2 – $20,398
  • Private First Class, E3 – $24,178
  • Specialist/Corporal, E4 – $28,840
  • Sergeant, E5 – $32,490
  • Staff Sergeant, E6 – $35,226
  • 1st Lt, O1 – $43,430
  • 2nd Lt, O2 – $55,037
  • Captain, O3 – $64,338
  • Major, O4 – $69,296    391,427

Since this is public record, you shouldn’t be surprised how easy it was to find.

You know what was also easy to find?  The combat pay differential.  A soldier deployed to a combat zone – like Afghanistan – earns $225 extra per month. This amount is prorated if they don’t serve a full month – that’s $7.50 a day.  Think about what you buy for $7.50 in any given day.  That’s what a US soldier gets – extra, mind you – for getting shot at.  How’s that $4 Starbucks mochafrappelatte taste now?

(Sorry – I apologize for getting a little soldier-righteous on you there.)

There’s also something soldiers can get called Hazardous Duty Incentive Pay (HDIP), which is an extra $150 a month.  This is based on their jobs, though, and not their location. If you want to earn this princely sum, you have to be directly in contact with something hazardous, like explosives or a flight deck, or do something hazardous, like work in the Arctic or jump out of airplanes.

Let’s do a little math.  Let’s say a Private First Class (PFC) is both an explosives tech and deployed in Afghanistan.  He’s there from 1 Jan to 31 Dec – 12 full months – so he earns the full combat differential for one year – that’s $2,700.  His HDIP for the year is $1,800, bringing his total extra pay to $4,500.  Add that to his salary – provided he has 4+ years of experience, he’s earning the max pay for a PFC – and he’s making a grand total of $28,678.

Based on a 40-hour work week, a PFC in Afghanistan who handle explosives every day earns $13.78 an hour.

(By the way, based on a 40-hour work week, 52 weeks a year, a rank & file Member of Congress earns $83.65 an hour. Yes, I realize they often work more than 40 hours a week, but they don’t work 52 weeks a year, so let’s just agree that it evens out.)

To figure out the average pay for soldiers deployed in Afghanistan, you’d have to know some specific data points, including how many soldiers are there and what grade each of them is.  Even if you just do a straight average on the listed max pay (without differentials) for 1 of each soldier from the list above, the average isn’t $38,000 – it’s just over $39,000.  When you take into consideration that there are dozens of privates in the field for every major, I have a really hard time accepting the $38,000 average stated in the graphic. I’m sure it has to be lower than that.

(A typical US Army rifle platoon – the basic unit of an infantry formation – has 36 riflemen (privates & corporals), 4 staff sergeants, at least one sergeant first class (E7), and at least a 2nd lieutenant.  Soldiers at the bottom of the pay scale outnumber soldiers at the top of it by a ratio of 6:1.)

Last but not least, let’s look at the very last number – the assertion that the average Social Security income for US seniors is $12,000.

According to the Social Security website (shit, I didn’t even need Google for that!), the average monthly benefit for a retired senior citizen is $1,230. Simple math tells us that, extrapolated to a full year, that number is $14,760. It’s not a lot more than $12,000, but my point being that the numbers are just wrong is upheld thanks to a little googling and a little math.

How far these numbers are off isn’t why I wrote this post – I wrote it because these numbers – and their assertions – are just plain fucking WRONG.

Educate yourself before you repost something. Stop being part of the problem and become part of the solution.

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don’t be alarmed – it’s happened before

Of course, since I live in the Washington, DC area, nearly everybody I know is affected in some way by the government shutdown.

I’m here to tell you it might not be that big a deal.

CLOSED

If you’ve got a short memory – or weren’t born yet (hey, I suppose that could be the case) – you’ll clearly remember that the last government shutdown was the longest (and worst) in US history.

Government shutdowns have only been a part of American life since 1976, when the first one lasted a grand total of 10 days.  Americans thought that was it, only to find themselves undermined by their leaders again the following years.  These shutdowns tend to happen at the same time of year – October/November – because of the fiscal year the federal government uses for its accounting practices.  The fiscal year starts on 1 October, so any time the budget isn’t squared away by then due to some disagreement between Congress and the president, bang! shutdown.  Sometimes they’ll reach a last-minute compromise at the end of September to extend the accounting trickery for 30 days (or even 60), which pushes the shutdown into November (or even December).

Let’s take a look at when & why the US government has closed its doors since 1976.

1976 – 1 closure for 10 days.  President Ford said Congress’ bill to fund the Department of Labor & the Dept of Health, Education & Welfare (DHEW) was too rich; he vetoed it, which partially shut down the government.  It took 10 days for the Democratic-controlled Congress to override the veto.

1977 – 3 closures for 28 days.  The Democrats still controlled both houses of Congress & wanted Medicaid to cover abortions in the case of rape & incest or when the health of the mother is at stake. This funding was tied to DHEW & the 2 houses of Congress couldn’t come to an agreement over the exact terms.  After a 12-day shutdown, they passed a temporary funding bill, which expired, leading to the 2nd shutdown, which lasted 8 days.  They did another temporary bill, which also expired, leading to the 3rd shutdown – another 8 days – before they finally reached a compromise neither side was terribly happy about.

1978 – 1 closure for 18 days.  President Carter vetoed two bills, one funding massive public works projects & another funding the construction of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. The Medicaid-paying-for-abortions issue was also part of the problem.

1979 – 1 closure for 11 days.  The House wanted to give Members of Congress (MCs) & some high-ranking federal employees a 5% pay raise.  The Senate disagreed.  The House & Senate also continued to disagree on exactly when Medicaid should pay for abortions; the House said only when the mother’s life is at risk, but the Senate insisted on only in cases or rape or incest.

1981 – 1 closure for 2 days.  President Reagan wanted $8.4 billion in budget cuts.  The House wanted more of the budget cut – in defense spending – as well as pay raises for MCs.  Reagan vetoed the bill Congress sent him.

1982 – 2 closures for 4 days.  For the first closure, Congress took an extra day of arguing to pass the budget bill.  The 2nd closure came from another fight between Congress & President Reagan.  The Democrats controlled the House & the Republicans controlled the Senate, but they were able to (more or less) get along with each other & united against Reagan, who wanted more money spent on nuclear missile programs & aid to Israel.

1983 – 1 closure for 3 days.  Once again, Congress & President Reagan couldn’t come to an agreement over spending, this time fighting over budget items related to education, nuclear missiles, foreign aid, oil & gas drilling in federal wildlife refuges, and whether or not the government’s employee health care plan should cover abortion costs.

1984 – 2 closures for 3 days.  The first closure was – surprise! – due to a fight between Congress & President Reagan.  This time, the issues were related to crime and public works.  The 2nd closure was due to the expiration of a temporary budget bill.

1986 – 1 closure for 1 day.  The Democratic-controlled House is once again fighting with the Republican-controlled Senate, which is (of course) backed by President Reagan. The House eventually gave in.

1987 – 1 closure for 1 day.  The Democrats took control of the Senate in the mid-term elections in 1986, and wanted foreign aid programs in Central America defunded or significantly altered.  President Reagan disagreed, but eventually gave in when Congress promised to continue sending non-lethal aid to Central American groups like the Contras in Nicaragua.

1990 – 1 closure for 4 days.  President First George Bush (basically an extension of Ronald Reagan in a more pleasant package) followed through on a promise to veto any spending bill that didn’t include budget cuts related to deficit reduction. The House tried – and failed – to override the veto, leading to an eventual compromise.

1995-96 – 2 closures for 26 days.  The first (5-day) closure came from President Clinton vetoing a bill passed by Congress – controlled by Republicans – that put off the budget battle for another time.  The second shutdown – at 21 days, the longest of all of them – stemmed from a fight between Clinton & Congress.  They both agreed that the US needed a balanced budget & that we should have a law saying so.  However, they disagreed on which set of statistics to use to achieve that balanced budget bill. Congress wanted to use numbers from the supposedly nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, while Clinton wanted to use numbers provided by the Office of Management & Budget, which is not only part of the White House, but at the time was run by Clinton appointee Alice Rivlin, who went on to work as governor of the Federal Reserve after this crisis was resolved in January 1996.

As you can see, the idea of shutting down the government is a relatively new one.  Since the first shutdown in 1976, there have been a total of 18 shutdowns (including the one that started today) for a total of 112 days (including today).  That’s a pretty slim number of days, considering it’s been 13,515 days between 30 Sep 1976 & 1 Oct 2013.  Most of the closures are 4 days or fewer, with only 5 of them lasting 10 days or more.

Statistically speaking, the likelihood that this closure will run relatively short is high, but the possibility that it could drag on for weeks is, I fear, also very high.  From an ideological standpoint, Democrats and Republicans are dug in over the various issues each holds dear, and few on either side – including President Obama – seem willing to give any ground.

I’ve said this before & I’m sure I’ll say it again:  We need a revolution.  We need an all-new set of leaders in government, leaders that truly have the best interest of Americans at heart.

If you aren’t happy with the way government is being run, I urge you to write a letter to your representative, your senator & the president.  Tell them to get their shit together & stop acting like children fighting over a ball on the playground at recess.

In 2014, we’ll face mid-term elections.  Don’t forget then what your MCs are doing to you now.  In 2016, we’ll get another presidential election.  Don’t forget then what your president is doing to you now.

Two words:  CLEAN SLATE.  Vote every incumbent out of office!!

(don’t) stand by your man

During an interview with CNN, New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner said his sexting scandal has hurt his wife’s career. Of course my first reaction to hearing that was “DUH!!! YA THINK???!!!”

His wife (and mother of his child), Huma Abedin, was a top aide for ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when the first sexting scandal emerged, the one that forced Weiner to resign from Congress.

Weiner swore he’d ended the salacious behavior, but sure enough, when he started running for mayor of New York City, allegations came out that he was not only still doing it, but he had kept doing it after he resigned from Congress.

I’ve read a lot of feminist rhetoric recently about how important it is for Abedin to stick by him, and that her doing so in no way diminished the cause of feminism or her place in that long, honored chain of activism.

At this point, though, I have to call bullshit on that. I’m sorry, I just can’t stand it any longer.

I disagree that staying with a lying bastard who sends photos of his dick to women he’s not married to is a positive aspect of feminist behavior. A real feminist would have kicked his lying ass to the curb the second time he got caught sending pictures of his dick to other women. Why the second? Because everybody deserves a chance to correct inappropriate behavior.

Caught once? “Don’t do it again.”

Caught twice? “My lawyer will be in touch.”

Staying married to this piece of shit is a slap in the face to every woman that fought for women’s rights. I’m sure she loves the guy, that much is obvious since she didn’t leave him the first time he got caught. I get it. Sometimes our heart is more powerful than our brain. In this case, though, it’s time Abedin listened to her brain and told her heart to shut up.

Standing by your spouse, partner or significant other when they screw up is a time-honored tradition, but the inference is that they have learned from their mistake and don’t do it again. Weiner has clearly fallen short of that expectation and needs to be free to sign up on eHarmony in the very near future.

I’m not alone in that I judge people by the decisions they make. Should Abedin ever show up on the national political scene, I’d vote against her in a heartbeat if she was still married to Anthony Weiner because staying with him clearly shows that she doesn’t make good decisions.

Danger is my *middle* name

The nerve of some people never fails to amaze me.

Normally, you’d think I’d be talking about Anthony Weiner, former Congressman and current candidate for mayor of New York City.  This is the guy that resigned from Congress in disgrace a couple years ago after word (and photos) got out that he was “sexting” – sending sexually explicit text messages – with women other than his beautiful and then-pregnant wife.

He’s back, and he thinks he’s the man for the job of mayor of the United States’ largest metropolis.  Being a denizen of the greater Washington, DC area that for some inexplicable reason continues to worship at the crack-littered shrine of “mayor for life” Marion Barry, I say New York City will get the mayor they deserve.

It’s that deserving I want to talk about today – and the balls, excuse me – nerve – some people display.

This morning I was watching the news on BBC America (best news in the country – your local news SUCKS in comparison if you’re at all interested in anything – ANYTHING I TELL YOU – that goes on outside the confines of your little town, wherever it may be). I was a little surprised that Weiner made BBC, but what really stunned me was a interview they did with a random young woman on the street.

(I’m paraphrasing here) “I think the sexting thing has no bearing on his ability to be a good leader.”

What the fuck, over?

Let’s look at the sexting thing.

In May 2011, Weiner took a photo with his cell phone of his underwear-obscured boner and sent it to at least one woman, a 21-year old college student in Seattle. There were reports that he sent similar photos to at least 6 other women. In the meantime, the photo “leaked” onto the internet and Wiener claimed his account/phone was hacked.

Weiner soon admitted to sexting with several women, both before and after he got married. At the time all this came to light, his wife was a highly-placed advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and – I think I mentioned this above – pregnant.

Now Weiner is admitting that he continued sexting with women other than his wife AFTER he resigned from Congress and AFTER he claimed to be getting “treatment” for his sexting problem.

Follow me on this, woman-on-the-street-interviewed-by-BBC: If a man can’t be trusted to be faithful to his pregnant wife EVEN AFTER GETTING CAUGHT AND EXPOSED IN FRONT OF THE WHOLE NATION FOR HIS LASCIVIOUS BEHAVIOR, then he can’t be trusted to help run the country or, indeed, to even run its largest city.

Anthony Weiner has consistently shown he is eminently untrustworthy. By ‘untrustworthy’ I mean ‘not deserving of trust,’ as in he cannot be trusted.

I have to wonder what his wife sees in him that she continues to support, defend and even speak out for him when he consistently shows he disrespects her. Anthony Weiner isn’t just a bad husband, he’s a bad choice for political leadership no matter the level. I wouldn’t trust the bastard to run a parking commission.