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February 2008

EEOC Ruling Ignores Age Discrimination Law

category_bug_journal2.gif In the last week of 2007, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a new regulation, effective immediately, allowing employers to discriminate against retirees 65 and older by reducing or eliminating healthcare benefits.

The change negates a previous court decision that required all retirees to be offered equal retirement healthcare benefits whatever their age. Now, the EEOC chairwoman, Naomi C. Earp, says the new ruling is necessary,

“…to protect employer-provided retiree health benefits which are increasingly less available and less generous. Millions of retirees rely on their former employer to provide health benefits, and this rule will help employers continue to voluntarily provide and maintain these critically important benefits in accordance with the law.”
- Associated Press, 27 December 2007

The preamble to the new regulation states (full text here),

“The final rule is not intended to encourage employers to eliminate any retiree health benefits they may currently provide.”

And if you believe either of those statement, well…

No law requires employers to provide health benefits to employees or retirees, and more companies drop coverage every year leaving people to fend for themselves in a health insurance market that is already unaffordable for at least 47 million Americans.

But because the price of healthcare benefits is breaking the backs of some employers too and because people become eligible for Medicare at age 65, there would appear to be some logic to the new regulation. However, when examined closely, that logic disappears for two reasons:

  1. It is in direct conflict with the federal government’s own laws protecting against discrimination based on age. When that legislation is chipped away at once, it becomes precedent and easier to repeat with other kinds of legislation in the future.
  2. It will leave more families without coverage. A 65-year-old retiree is covered by Medicare, but not his or her younger spouse or children, who are covered with employer-provided insurance.

The first reason is a civil rights disaster and the second, a human calamity that will add even more to the already uninsured millions.

Relying on employers for health coverage was a mistake from the beginning, and a single-payer/universal coverage system, as all other western nations use, would remove that inappropriate burden. Healthcare has emerged as a top domestic issue in the current presidential campaign and it appears that if a Democrat is elected, the country will move toward universal coverage of some sort.

But in the intervening years while the details are hashed out in Congress and before it is implemented, additional millions will be without coverage due to the EEOC ruling. Some, who otherwise would not, will die.

Plus, that a long-established anti-discrimination right can be so easily removed - by an agency ruling, not through legislation or a court ruling that can be publicly monitored - is both frightening and wrong. What's next - surveillance of our email and phone calls? Oh. I forgot. The government already does that.

AARP is asking the Supreme Court to review the EEOC ruling.

“This policy is a civil rights and economic fiasco,” said David Certner, AARP’s legislative policy director. “It is a wrong-headed move to legalize discrimination, allowing employers to back off their health-care commitments based on nothing more than age.”
- Chicago Sun-Times, 28 December 2007

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz tells of a group who appears to be much better at intelligence gathering than our government in The FBI Has Nothing on St. Labre.]



Yet Another Old-is-Bad-Bad-Bad Book

Here's some stuff many readers sent to Crabby Old Lady that will make your day:

"Aging sucks...We're going to fight aging."

"We're not going to grow old gracefully...We're not going to celebrate our wrinkles...We're not going to look old."

"You need to look youthful, like you're still swimming in the stream of all things current."

"If it's on your body and headed south, it needs to make a U-turn."

"...we can fight like hell to do everything we can to look younger."

Crabby Old Lady gives Charla Krupp a lot of credit. In those statements from interviews and excerpts from her new book, she is doing more to set back the cause of elders than the entire culture has done in the past ten years. No small accomplishment.

The title says it all: How Not to Look Old, proving once again that ageism is the last acceptable prejudice.

For a moment, Crabby thought she had run into a soul mate when she read this from Liesl Schillinger, writing in The New York Times:

"Ms. Krupp's brisk tone of cheerful self-loathing will be familiar to readers of women's magazines, and her myriad product endorsements could win her a spot in the publicist's hall of fame."

Properly dismissive, thought Crabby, until Ms. Schillinger followed up with, "That said, the woman knows what she's doing."

Mainstream media can't repeat Ms. Krupp's "advice" enough in the past couple of weeks. Crabby's favorite is Ms. Krupp's advocacy of what is now, apparently, called "shapewear" - the girdles and corsets of Crabby's youth when even young girls were not supposed to jiggle when they walked. We happily ditched those when the women's movement began and Crabby is appalled they have resurfaced.

Another fun piece of advice to "make you look young, hip and powerful" is fishnet stockings. Oh, yeah - Crabby can't wait to take a gander at herself wearing those. And it goes without saying that Ms. Krupp abhors gray hair.

But it takes much more than a girdle, fishnets and hair dye to meet Ms. Krupp's specifications for not looking old. Here is the pile of products required:

Charlakruppproducts
[Still frame from YouTube book promotion video]

When the Time magazine interviewer, Andrea Sachs, asked if her book isn't all just an "excess of vanity," Ms. Krupp explained her point of view:

"I really, really believe that we have to stop thinking of beauty as superficial because it's what makes us feel good. It gives you the confidence you need to exist in this world, and to survive...I just think if you treat yourself better, you'll just feel so much better, competent and happier."

Crabby Old Lady submits that on the level of appearance, neat, clean and appropriate are all that is necessary to feel good. Cosmetics and dressing up can be a fun, girly thing even in our old age now and then. But this book and others like it equate beauty only with youth, turning it into a fetish that denigrates old people and makes a large contribution to the prevailing cultural mindset that nothing is worse past the age of 25 than looking your age. And you can't convince Crabby that that doesn't make age discrimination in healthcare and the workplace possible.

Ms. Krupp sees beauty (which in her case means fighting the appearance of age as if it were leprosy) as the "ultimate feminist statement". Crabby is offended and would like to smack Ms. Krupp; Crabby and millions of other women didn't march for the right to wear a girdle and fishnets. It was exactly the opposite.

Crabby Old Lady, however, appears to be a minority of one. Ms. Krupp's book is currently at No. 5 on the Amazon best sellers list.

[Hat tip to everyone who sent Crabby this story.]

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mort Reichek tells it like it was in Memoir: Coming Home From the War (WWII, that is.]



This Week in Elder News: 5 January 2008

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Today we inaugurate a new feature at TGB that will appear each Saturday - links to news items from the preceding week relating to elders and aging, along with whatever else catches my fancy that I think you might like to know about. Suggestions are welcome.]

At the Guardian UK, Dean Baker explains how Medicare Part D, the prescription drug plan, is designed to profit insurance and pharmaceutical companies and “soak granny.”

On the Op-Ed page of The New York Times on Friday David Brooks, with whom I rarely agree, eloquently notes the “political earthquake” represented by the Huckabee and Obama wins in Iowa.

Chris Pirillo (the terrific tech guru who invited me to speak at Gnomedex last year) has been an advocate for elders' use of technology from his earliest days online. He posted a new video this week about some ways to help elders use computers more easily. Here’s the video. You can read the text at his video blog. (6:50 minutes)

Only one of the current presidential candidates has a proposal for true universal health coverage; the rest would, instead, maintain insurance companies as middlemen. But as Stephen Crockett reports, there is already a House bill, HR 676, introduced by Rep. John Conyers (D - MI) that would expand Medicare to everyone.

And if you don’t think that idea (or some form of universal coverage) has merit, consider the two new studies, reported in an editorial at The New York Times, showing how much health improves for those who finally get coverage after being without it.

Paul Craig Roberts, who served as assistant secretary of the treasury in the Reagan administration and has since experienced a shift in political perspective to the left, has written Jane Harman and Liberty's Lost Light about S.1959, the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Act (the thought crime bill). Little by little, this dangerous legislation is gaining wider notice. (Hat tip to Darlene Costner)

Another hat tip goes to Cowtown Pattie of Texas Trifles for turning me on to this interview with Lillian Rubin about her recent book, 60 On Up. I don’t agree with everything she says, but it’s an excellent and thoughtful interview. (56:41 minutes - from FORA.tv)



Picture of Average Oldest Boomers

The oldest boomers, born in 1946, become eligible for early Social Security benefits this year which makes them candidates for elderhood – although they apparently don’t like that designation. The average 62-year-old boomer, according to a recent survey, won’t think of him- or herself as “old” until age 77 and 10 months.

Since average life expectancy in the U.S. today is about 77 years, boomers, ever the innovators according to the media, have accomplished their goal of never getting old; just don’t call yourself old until you’re dead. In fact, those surveyed say one of the worst things about becoming 62 is “getting older.”

The survey [pdf], from MetLife Mature Market Institute, conducted interviews in November 2007, with a thousand American boomers who will turn 62 in 2008. Among the other findings:

They are married with 2.4 children older than 18 not living at home and two grandchildren. Both parents are dead.

They like the name “baby boomer” and they like the word “retirement” to describe the next phase of their lives. They expect to be fully retired by the time they are 66 and four months, and the best things they like about being 62 are “freedom” and “not having to work.”

Right now, they are still working full-time with an average annual income of $71,000 and a net worth, excluding their homes, of $257,000. They have received or expect to receive between $113,000 and $210,000 in inheritance from their parents.

The survey also reports that boomers say, “They have done a good job of ensuring a steady stream of income for their future, and in planning to live their early retirement years to the fullest.”

Maybe, maybe not. Reading this rosy picture, one wonders who it is that MetLife interviewed. The national savings rate dipped into the negative in 2005 and 2006 and will likely be so for 2007 too. The only other time in U.S. history with a negative savings rate occurred during the Great Depression in 1932 and 1933. In mid-2007, consumer debt (not including mortgages) was at $2.5 trillion which works out to about $8,200 for every man, woman and child in the U.S.

The report buries a couple of related items: those who do not already have long-term care insurance have no plans to buy it any time soon, but if they were to take out a reverse mortgage, they would use the funds to purchase that insurance and pay down debt. [emphasis added]

Of course, this report comes from a marketing organization that advises corporations on how to part boomers from their money, so it is understandable that there are no figures on actual debt that could curtail the oldest boomers’ retirement plans.

One other item of note: the average boomer born in 1946 (being, then, 23 in 1969) did not go to Woodstock. Sometimes I think I’m last person alive who did.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Kay Richard steps back - quite literally - into her childhood in Ashes to Ashes.]



Senate Thought Crime Bill Sponsor Responds

category_bug_politics.gif [Before the holidays took over our lives for several weeks, I had been intent on keeping up the public conversation on S.1959, The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown terrorism Prevention Act (full text here), better known at Time Goes By and elsewhere on the web as “thought crime bill.”

Now that we have returned to real life, it's time to get back to basics. If you need a refresher on this bill, there are stories listed here, and you can track the progression of the bill through the Senate at govtrack.us.

In mid-November, I emailed Senator Susan Collins through her senate.gov webpage objecting to this bill and to her sponsorship of it, explaining my reasons. In addition to being one of my senators, Collins is the ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs where S.1959 now sits waiting for debate to be scheduled.

Two days after Christmas, I received a snailmail response from Senator Collins dated December 10. The letter is filled with the empty patriotic rhetoric and excuses for excessive government intervention in citizens’ lives that have become routine in Congress since 9/11:

“Many terrorism experts, including Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, list homegrown terrorism as a significant and growing threat to America’s homeland.”

Let’s stop there for a moment. I've been meaning to mention that I’m not the only one who felt (and still feels) creeped out when the name of the Department of Homeland Security was announced following the attacks on the World Trade Center. I’m 66 years old and I had never heard or read the word except in the context of Nazi Germany. Now, one of my senators (as many others do too) is using the word as though it is a synonym for “land of the free and home of the brave.” In regard to this usage, it’s worthwhile to listen to Naomi Wolf from page 7 of her cautionary book, The End of America:

“By 1930 Nazi propagandists referred to Germany not as ‘the nation’ or ‘the Republic’ – which it was – but rather as ‘the Heimat’ – ‘the Homeland.’ Homeland is a word that memoirist Ernestine Bradley, who grew up in Nazi Germany, describes as saturated with nationalist power […] A Department of Domestic Security is simply a bureaucracy, capable of mistakes; a department protecting our ‘Homeland’ has a different authority.”

Senator Collins continues in her letter repeating what I had made clear in my email note that I already understand (I dislike being patronized):

“[S.1955] will help our intelligence community and homeland security experts better understand the process of violent radicalization, helping to reduce the risk of future terrorist attacks. To do this, the bill established a National Commission on the Prevention of Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism, and requires the Secretary of DHS to establish or designate a National Center of Excellence for the study of violent radicalization and homegrown terrorism. The Commission would examine and report upon the facts and causes of violent radicalization and ideologically based violence. The Commission also would examine how radicalized individuals are enticed to commit violent acts.”

The name, “National Center of Excellence” is almost as creepy as the word “homeland” and I had hoped for an explanation from the senator of how a commission examines facts and causes of “ideologically based violence” without questioning people about their political beliefs, a sacrosanct, personal secret among Americans if we so wish. Alas, Senator Collins repeats only what is in the bill itself.

She finishes her letter with what she appears to believe are assurances of privacy and civil liberties:

“I would like to emphasize that this bill takes specific care to ensure that Americans’ civil rights and liberties are protected. It directs DHS’ Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Officer to ensure that the Commission’s activities do not infringe on civil rights.”

Uh-huh. Just like senators who swear to uphold the Constitution of the United States and then vote for two Patriot Acts and a Military Commissions Act that together limit citizens’ constitutional rights to habeas corpus, free speech, freedom of association, freedom from illegal search, prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, and freedom from the illegal seizure of private property.

I wonder why I don't feel reassured by Senator Collins.

Senator Collins is up for re-election this year and she just lost my vote based on the vapidness of this boilerplate letter that instead of taking my concerns seriously, beats me over the head with her patriotism. The senator's current announced opponent, Tom Allen, the House member from my district, voted for the thought crime bill, but he is otherwise better aligned with my positions on other issues than Senator Collins and there is talk of other candidates entering the senatorial race.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lia muses on the wider implications of city gardens in Subculture II.]



Maine Snowscape

category_bug_journal2.gif I had something more serious planned for the first "real" day of the new year, but the fourth and fifth (or is it fifth and sixth?) snowstorms of the season hit on Monday and Tuesday. I’m 5 feet 2 inches tall and the piles of snow at the curbs are now above my head.

Kids

These kids are from the 20 December storm. Even then the piled snow was deep enough that Mom didn’t need to find a hill for the children to play on.


Diggingout

Native and long-time Mainers have a lot more practice than I do at snow maintenance and these folks were clearing paths and cars on Monday, New Year's Eve, two hours before the storm ended.


Pinetree

Today is only 2 January, spring arrives much later this far north than in New York City, and I’ve had just about as much snow as I care to see already. Nevertheless, Mother Nature has some tricks up her sleeve that even I, in my now dampened enthusiasm for the beauties of winter, can appreciate.


Roofladder

Workmen started fixing the roof of this house behind mine about two months ago. I doubt they’ll have much use for that ladder to finish the job for awhile.


Ptcruiser

This is my little, red PT Cruiser (shot from my second-story window) when there were still another two or three hours worth of snow to be dumped on us Monday.


Snowtruck

Understandably, the city of Portland, Maine, has all the right equipment for moving and removing snow. Early Tuesday morning, they had gone beyond plowing it off to the sides of the road to trucking it out of neighborhoods. This is what may be the world's largest snow blower and I'll bet it's a tricky operation driving the dump truck so close behind the blower truck that their bumpers are kissing.


Secondstormbegins

As if Monday's storm were not enough, Tuesday dawned with weather predictions of another storm to begin in the afternoon that would leave an additional eight to 11 inches of the white stuff behind. A few flakes began to flurry at 3PM and the city sent out an email alert informing residents there would be a "parking ban" that night - the second in two days: no cars on any streets from 10PM to 6AM.


Secondstormdusk

By dusk, two hours later, the snow was beginning to pile up a bit, but my newly-acquired, northern snow antennae were telling me the weather people were blowing more smoke than snow about the size of the second storm.


Dudstorm

And I was right - the second storm was, thankfully, a dud. When I looked out the front window this morning, the snow had been neatly cleaned off the street during the night and there are barely two inches needing to be removed from the sidewalk.

And so it goes in a Portland, Maine, winter - until next time. After all, it's only January 2. But take a look at these birds on a wire – and on a roof – lined up at the height of Monday's storm. Snow and cold don’t seem to bother crows much, nor the seagulls (the smudge in the upper right corner) who soared as high as on a clear, summer day.

Birdsonawire

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz explains what a clever husband she has in Roy Wins the Thermostat War.]