Archive for October, 2013


Eat Your Heart Out Americans: 10 Remarkable Facts You Didn’t Know About Australia

The land Down Under has a lot more to offer than just picturesque scenery and Crocodile Dundee.

When Americans think of Australia they generally imagine a vast and arid desert, inhabited by killer wildlife and famous for Crocodile Hunter, Sydney Opera House and glorious beaches. However, the land Down Under is far more progressive than many countries care to understand and in fact could actually teach the United States a thing or two about how to look after its own population. Here are some interesting facts and policies found in Australia that you probably haven’t head about.

1. Minimum full-time wage is almost $17 per hour.

For those seeking a good excuse to move to Australia, look no further. Australia’s minimum wage is $16.38 an hour ($15.77 USD), demonstrating that high wages do not necessarily hamper a country’s economic growth. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in May 2013 the average full-time adult weekly earnings were $1,105.20.

While the minimum wage for youth is still on the lower side, the hourly rate actually increases by $2 every two years between the ages of 15 and 21. Casual workers are covered by a national minimum wage and paid an extra 24 percent, which equates to up to $20.30 an hour. In the state of New South Wales, the average hourly rate for a 21-year-old is $18.30 an hour, with casual employees paid an extra $4 an hour: $22.33 per hour.

Despite the fact that Australia is comparatively more expensive to live in than the United States (a Big Mac costs approximately 53 cents more), the system is working to Australia’s advantage with unemployment in the country sitting at only 5.6 percent.

2. Youth are paid to study and look for jobs.

For Australian youth aged between 16 and 24 years currently studying, undertaking an apprenticeship or looking for work, the Australian government rewards them by providing a generous monetary allowance, which is income-tested. A person under 18 years of age and living at home with her parents can earn up to $223 biweekly, which increases to $268.20 ($258.30 USD) once she reaches 18 years of age.

Yet, the benefits do not end there. If or when a youth decides to leaves the parental home for study reasons or to look for work, her youth allowance can be increased to $407.50 biweekly. Alternatively, if a youth is single, lives away from the family home and has a child, the government will pay her up to $533.80 ($514.10USD) biweekly.

3. Healthcare is a universal right.

Australia’s public health system, called Medicare, is one of the best in the world providing universal basic coverage to all citizens and free treatment at public hospitals. The Department of Human Services branch of the federal government pays for Medicare benefits and includes coverage for dental, optho, and mental health as well as services for the elderly and disabled.

There is some cost-sharing at private hospitals and for certain doctors but even then the government foots the majority of the bill (up to 75%). Medicare is funded partly by a 1.5% income tax Medicare levy. An additional levy of 1% is imposed on high-income earners without private health insurance. In addition to Medicare, there is a separate Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme that considerably subsidizes a range of prescription medications.

4. Aussies receive up to 30 paid days of vacation per year.

Unlike the United States, where mandatory paid holidays for employees simply do not exist, Australia is the vacation nation capital. At the minimum, each Australian is legally entitled to 20 days (4 weeks) of vacation per year, plus 10 paid annual public holidays, with public servants receiving even more generous vacation benefits.

Two weeks of vacation can be “sold” or cashed-out. Australians also get “Long Service Leave” to encourage Aussies to stay with a company which is payable after 10 years service at the same employer or seven years in the public service—accumulated at one week leave for every 60 weeks of employment or 8.5 weeks additional leave for 10 years service.

5. The government pays people to have babies…plus additional allowances.

To encourage population growth, Australians can apply for the “Baby Bonus,” an income-tested payment of up to $5,000 which is made in 13 biweekly installments to help with the cost of a newborn baby or adopted child under 16 years of age. This scheme has been criticized in the past for being “wasteful middle-class” welfare and was almost abolished by the Labor government this year, but to date is still alive and kicking much to the delight of many clucky young couples.

The government also offers a number of civilized allowances for its citizens with financial help available at every corner to assist with rent assistanceage pensionbereavement allowancecarer paymentdisability support pensionorphan pensionfamily tax benefitpartner allowancesickness allowance and widow allowance.

6. Prostitution is legal.

Australia has some of the most modern prostitution laws in the world and often cited as a success storyin an effort to make sex work a safe and reasonable job for women. Unlike the United States where prostitution is outlawed, in Australia the state governments regulate prostitution generally.

From complete decriminalization in some states to licensing and regulation of legal brothels in others, Australia is constantly reviewing its prostitution laws with sex workers considered to be service providers who can even file “unfair dismissal” employment claims in New South Wales and have the right to receive pay.

In Victoria, licensed commercial brothels are legal and single-owner managed brothels with one additional worker are also legal if the owners obtain a license to work. Pimping is also legal as non-sex workers are allowed to manage licensed brothels and benefit economically from prostitution.

Some organizations such as Scarlett Alliance Australian Sex Workers Association view prostitution as a legitimate occupation. While the system has its flaws—obtaining brothel permits can be tough; sex workers still don’t have civil protections to the same degree as other occupations; and licensed brothels have to compete with unlicensed operations—the laws are definitely headed in the right direction in recognizing the rights of sex workers.

7. Bikie-gangs are outlawed.

Australia is currently in the midst of “bikie warfare” with a number of states recently having outlawed motorcycle gangs following a series of violent incidents involving notorious bikie gangs Hells Angels and the Finks (affiliated with the US bikie gang Mongols MC).

Queensland is the latest state to criminalize bikie gangs declaring 26 motorcycle gangs to be “criminal organizations” under tough new laws which provide mandatory sentences of up to 15 years for serious offenses committed as part of a motorcycle gang activity. The state has also introduced “bikie-only” maximum-security facilities.

Such laws, which are now being followed in other states such as Victoria, have been criticized for being draconian, particularly for likening gang members to terrorists. Nonetheless, efforts to tame the “Bikie Wars” in Australia are gaining momentum.

8. Gun laws have been “hailed” by Obama.

President Barack Obama recently commended Australia on its gun laws at the Navy Yard Shooting Memorial. Since Australia’s gun laws were reformed in 1996 following the Port Arthur Massacre in which a lone gunman opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle killing 35 people in Tasmania, there has not been a single shooting massacre in the country’s history, whereas prior to the gun law reforms, there had been 13 massacres in 18 years.

Australia’s gun laws prohibit all automatic and semi-automatic weapons and impose strict licensing rules. Even paintball guns need a permit. There are also background checks and lengthy waiting periods for all purchases. Following the laws, more than 600,000 prohibited weapons were destroyed at a cost of half a billion dollars. Consequently Australia’s homicide rate is 1.1 murders per 100,000, while the United States’ murder rate remains at 4.7 murders.

9. Ranked #1 “Happiest Developed Country” in the world.

Despite the United Nations World Happiness Report this week declaring Denmark as the happiest country, earlier this year Australia took the title as the World’s Happiest Developed Country for 2013 for the third year in a row as ranked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Better Life Index.

Australia fares exceptionally well in the following areas: safety, income, housing (on average each person has 2.3 rooms), life expectancy (which stands at an average age of 82 years) and lifestyle—more than 80 percent of the population live on the coast and 84 percent say they are satisfied with life.

Australia also ranks high in having a strong sense of community and high levels of civic participation with 94% of people believing they know someone they could rely on in a time of need. In Australia, 71% of people say they trust their political institutions, in direct contrast to the United States where polls show Americans have high general distrust in government institutions.

10. Aussies don’t do diets well…with majority exceptionally fat.

Despite the image of the bronzed, muscled and tanned beach babe depicted in pop culture, Australia is in fact one of the most obese countries in the world. According to a new report, 40% of the country is “dangerously fat” with 75 percent of the northeastern state considered to be grossly overweight. As a result, last week the federal government announced a plan to launch a major anti-obesity advertising campaign to fight the obesity epidemic.

The best part? For those Americans seriously considering moving to Australia, while you won’t necessarily be entitled to the same degree of benefits as an Aussie, the government does offer new arrivals a range of payments and services to help out while you settle, subject to certain waiting periods, as well as extensive information on job resources and visa options. Best be packing your bags!


Surprise! Atheist Marriages May Last Longer Than Christian Ones

Conservative Christians see themselves as the last defenders of traditional marriage. Yet many don’t quite live up to the ideal.

  

Conservative Christians think of themselves as the last line of defense for a time-honored and holy tradition, marriage. In the conservative Christian view, marriage is a sacred union ordained by God. It binds one man and woman together so that the “two become one flesh” until they are parted by death.

This view of marriage is unbiblical, to be sure. See Captive Virgins, Polygamy, Sex Slaves: What Marriage Would Look Like If We Actually Followed The Bible. But hey, who actually reads the Bible? Surely, what God meant to say is that marriage should take the form that is most familiar and traditional to us: One male plus one female who is given to the male by her father–that part is biblical–for life.

In this worldview, Christian marriage is under assault by an anti-trinity of powerful and dark forces: feminism, homosexuality and godlessness. Faith, on the other hand, saves both souls and marriages. When I was young, a slogan made its way around my church: The family that prays together stays together. Tom Ellis, former chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Council on the Family boldly claimed that “born-again Christian couples who marry…in the church after having received premarital counseling…and attend church regularly and pray daily together… experience only 1 divorce out of nearly 39,000 marriages.”

But then came data. According to research by the Barna Research Group over a decade ago, American divorce rates were highest among Baptists and nondenominational “Bible-believing” Christians and lower among more theologically liberal Christians like Methodists, with atheists at the bottom of the divorce pack. When the findings were made public, George Barna took some heat because Christians expected the difference to be more dramatic and to favor believers. Ellis suggested that maybe Barna had sampled badly. Perhaps some people who called themselves born again had never really devoted their lives to Christ. But Barna held his ground, saying, “We rarely find substantial differences” [in the moral behavior of Christians and non-Christians].

Fancy that.

In 2008, Barna again sampled Americans about divorce rates. The numbers fluctuated a bit, but once again atheists came out painfully good from a prays-together-stays-together perspective. Thirty percent reported ever being divorced, in contrast to 32 percent of born-again Christians. Slicing the U.S. by region, the Bible belt has the highest divorce rate, and this has been the case for over a decade, with the institution of marriage faring better in those dens of blue-state iniquity to the north and west.

What is going on? Even some secularists are puzzled. Churches provide strong communities for families. Many offer marital counseling and parenting classes. Love, they say, is a commitment, not a feeling. God hates divorce. They leverage moral emotions in the service of matrimony: a righteous sense of purity rewards premarital abstinence and post-marital monogamy—replaced by guilt and shame when nonmarital sex is unveiled or a marriage dissolves. Couples who split may find themselves removed from leadership positions or even ostracized. On the face of it, even if there were no God, one might expect this combination to produce lower divorce rates.

The reality, however, appears complex. Churches do honor and support marriage. They also may inadvertently promote divorce, especially—ironically—those churches which most bill themselves as shining lights in a dark world.

To prevent that greatest-of-all-evils, abortion, such communities teach even high school students to embrace surprise pregnancies as gifts from God. They encourage members to marry young so they won’t be tempted to fornicate. But women who give birth or marry young tend to end up less educated and less financially secure, both of which are correlated with higher divorce rates.

After marriage, some congregations, such as those in the “quiver-full” movement, encourage couples to leave family planning in God’s hands. Leaders echo the chauvinistic beliefs of Church fathers like St. Augustine and Martin Luther or the Bible writersWomen will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety (1 Timothy 2:15). Such teachings grow congregations, literally, from the nursery up, but the very same attitudes that help to fill church pews can erode marital bliss. Ample research shows that for couples under age 30 marital satisfaction declines with the birth of each child. (Parenting tends to make couples happier only after age 40, when kids become more independent, and only in countries with comparatively weak social supports for aging adults.)

Secular couples tend to see both marriage and divorce as personal choices. Overall, a lower percent get married, which means that those who do may be particularly committed or well-suited to partnership. They are likely to be older if/when they do formally tie the knot. They have fewer babies, and their babies are more likely to be planned. Parenting, like other household responsibilities, is more likely to be egalitarian rather than based on the traditional model of “male headship.” Each of these factors could play a role in the divorce rate.

But a bigger factor may be economics, pure and simple. In the words of some analysts, marriage is becoming a luxury good, with each partner, consciously or subconsciously looking for someone who will pull their weight financially and declining to support one who won’t. “The doctor used to marry the nurse,” says Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. “Today the doctor marries the doctor.” Sixty percent of college educated women get married, as compared to 50 percent of women who hold only high school degrees or lower. Couples who stay married also tend to be wealthier than those who divorce. In Barna’s 2008 sample, couples with an income of less than $20,000 a year broke up almost twice as often as those earning $75,000 or more (39 percent vs 22 percent). Advocates who want to promote traditional marriage might do well to foster broad prosperity.

Even if they did, though, they might be swimming upstream. In 1960, almost three quarters of American adults were married; by 2008 that number had fallen to a half. The difference came from a combination of two factors—more divorce and more people who had never married. The concept of family isn’t becoming less important, but Americans are increasingly flexible in how we define the term. Over 80 percent say that a single parent living with a child or an unmarried couple with a child is a family. Over 60 percent say that a gay couple with a child is a family. A growing number say that marriage is obsolete.

In one of those peculiar twists of fate, conservative Christian obsessions with abortion and sexual purity may be accelerating this trend. Naomi Cahn and June Carbone, authors of Red State, Blue State, propose that Bible-belt opposition to abortion has increased the non-marital birthrate and acceptance of single parent families:

The working class had long dealt with the inconvenient fact of an accidental pregnancy through the shotgun marriage. As blue-collar jobs paying a family wage have disappeared, however, so has early marriage. Women are then left with two choices: They can delay childbearing (which might entail getting an abortion at some point) until the right man comes along or get more comfortable with the idea of becoming single mothers. College-educated elites have endorsed the first option, but everyone else is drifting toward the second.

Conservative Christians thought they could have it all by promoting abstinence until marriage. But virginity pledges and abstinence-only education have failed. If anything, they have once again accelerated the trend, leaving Christian leaders fumbling for answers. Some hope that more flexible, egalitarian roles for Christian wives and husbands may be the answer. Others think that doubling down on traditional gender roles is where it’s at. Either way, gone is the bravado that once proclaimed marital salvation by faith alone. “Marriages and families within faith communities are no healthier than in the rest of society,” concedes Christian author Jonathan Merritt. “Faith communities must provide support systems to salvage damaged marriages.” Whether the institution of marriage itself can or should be salvaged is, perhaps, a question none of us are prepared to answer.

Do atheists do it better? That is unlikely. Divorce rate differences between theists and nontheists tend to depend on how you slice the demographic pie, and for both groups, the shape of marriage itself is changing. As culture evolves, we’re all in uncharted territory together.

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington and the founder of Wisdom Commons. She is the author of “Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light” and “Deas and Other Imaginings.” Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.

DeLay: ‘God Created This Nation And God Created The Constitution’                 
Submitted by Kyle Mantyla

New illustrations!

During a service last weekend, John Hagee spent a half hour interviewing former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay during which DeLay revealed that God has commissioned him to write a book and promised him that he’ll play a role in the coming spiritual revival.

Hagee praised DeLay for being victorious over the Devil by beating the corruption charges that ended his political career, while DeLay asserted that God was the author of the United States Constitution.

“Jesus died for our freedom,” DeLay said. “And Jesus destroyed Satan so that we could be free and that is manifested in what is called the Constitution of the United States. God created this nation and God created the Constitution; it is written on biblical principles.”

DeLay went on to recount a recent experience he had in which he spent four hours “on a conference call with the Lord” during which God told DeLay that he is to write a book called “Shut It Down” about the need for Constitutional revival. On top of that, God also told DeLay that He has heard the voice of His people and that “my awakening is beginning,” in which DeLay will play a role:

 


More manufactured, fake outrage, from the Republican swill geyser
Here Is What’s Wrong With That Story About Obama Knowing That Your Health Care Policy Would Get Cancelled

By Igor Volsky

obama-sad

The NBC News investigations unit is reporting that “50 to 75 percent of the 14 million consumers who buy their insurance individually can expect to receive a ‘cancellation’ letter or the equivalent over the next year because their existing policies don’t meet the standards mandated by the new health care law” — a fact administration officials knew but kept from the public.

The cancellations are a result of so-called grandfather rules promulgated by President Obama’s Health and Human Services. The rule exempts health insurance plans in existence before March 23, 2010 — the day the Affordable Care Act became law — from many of the new regulations, benefits standards and consumer protections that new plans now have to abide by, but says that policies could lose their designation if they make major changes. From NBC:

Buried in Obamacare regulations from July 2010 is an estimate that because of normal turnover in the individual insurance market, “40 to 67 percent” of customers will not be able to keep their policy. And because many policies will have been changed since the key date, “the percentage of individual market policies losing grandfather status in a given year exceeds the 40 to 67 percent range.”

That means the administration knew that more than 40 to 67 percent of those in the individual market would not be able to keep their plans, even if they liked them.

This all sounds very ominous until you consider that the naturally high turnover rate associated with the individual market means that it’s highly unlikely that individuals would still be enrolled in plans from 2010 in 2014. In fact, the Obama administration publicly admitted this when it issued the regulations in 2010, leading Republicans like Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) to seize on the story in order to push for repeal of the grandfather regulations. Here is a story in The Hill from Sep. 22, 2010 pointing to this very same 40 to 67 percent range:

Hill screengrab

The debate was widely covered in the press, so it’s unclear what exactly the NBC investigation unit has uncovered.

The goal of grandfather regulations is to allow a consumer to keep their existing policies, while also ensuring that there are some basic patient protections built into these plans. If insurers make changes that significantly burden enrollees with lower benefits and increased costs they have to come into compliance with all consumer protections. Therefore, policies lose their grandfathered status if insurers cancel coverage when a person becomes ill, impose lifetime limits on benefits, eliminate all benefits for a particular condition and reduce the cap for covered services each year, among other changes. (In fact, in November of 2010, the federal government loosened some of these standards.)

So yes, individuals can keep the plans they have if those plans remain largely the same. But individuals receiving cancellation notices will have a choice of enrolling in subsidized insurance in the exchanges and will probably end up paying less for more coverage. Those who don’t qualify for the tax credits will be paying more for comprehensive insurance that will be there for them when they become sick (and could actually end up spending less for health care since more services will now be covered). They will also no longer be part of a system in which the young and healthy are offered cheap insurance premiums because their sick neighbors are priced out or denied coverage. That, after all, is the whole point of reform.

Update

 

Here is how Marilyn Tavenner — the head of CMS, the agency responsible for implementing the law — responded to questions about what she would tell an American who has received a cancellation notice during Tuesday’s health care hearing:


The Tea Party is fixated on destroying what is salvageable and necessary

By Patrick White

We had out-of-town company over the weekend and planned a BBQ yesterday for them with a couple of our kids and their families. Since our weather has cooled we knew we needed to use our patio heater plus several other gas electric appliances most homes have. So far, so good.

At the appointed time, I started setting up the patio heater and found a couple of bird’s nests I’d missed earlier, so I cleaned those out. But, as soon as I opened the propane tank I smelled gas…not a good sign, shouldn’t be a gas smell. I needed to find the leak since I’m not a fan of gas explosions.

GOP-TP

I asked one of our kids (well, officially he’s one of our kids even though he’s about 46) to start the BBQ while I tried to find the gas leak.

Ok, leak fixed. Lit the pilot and turned the unit on, all is well and we’ll have heat soon. Then checked on the BBQ and, well, it wouldn’t start. I checked the pressure gauge I have on the unit and it showed about 50 percent full, but, well, it wouldn’t start. I put on my “one” spare (and full) tank and it lit, but the gauge was stuck at 50 percent. In the middle of this I was informed that the patio heater quit. Well, guess what…empty propane tank. In my mental calculations the day before, I thought that we had enough propane to use the heater. Wrong! Hint: don’t ask me to do mental calculations and deliver opinions on important things.

My wife told me that we were moving everything except the cooking inside. She also told me that she was using the microwave to melt butter and it shut off the kitchen lights, not once, not twice but three times! Never happened before!

Believe it or not, I made it through all that without turning the air blue…not even one little, tiny bad word. Ah, what fun am I?

Now, had I been a Teabagger, the BBQ, patio heater and microwave would all be in the creek and the kitchen lights would still be off. Because, you see, their position is to destroy not fix. Destroy the ACA, destroy the government, destroy voting and women’s rights, destroy, destroy, destroy.

Today our newspaper published a column titled, “Inarticulate republicans keep missing their audience” by Thomas Sowell. When we cut through the verbiage we really see that Thomas thinks it’s perfectly fine for republicans to use continuing resolutions (“CR” Thomas…he hates the use of the term “CR”) to manage the government. In my opinion, every time congress uses a CR they are telling the world that they can’t do their job and pass a budget. Back to Thomas…he refers to the ACA when he writes, “We are in the midst of a national crisis, immediately affecting millions of Americans and potentially affecting the kind of country this will become if ObamaCare goes into effect…” The bold and italics are mine, the “national crisis” belongs to Thomas. A national crisis? Affordable health care is a national crisis? Dismantling the government and using extortion to accomplish political goals isn’t a crisis? Thomas, what planet did you just visit?

In another column from today’s paper titled, Obamacare is Sick, But Worth Fixing”, Clarence Page gives us an opposing view and it seems that the ACA isn’t the crisis Thomas declares it to be. Any time a program is enacted by congress, any time a program is coded, there are going to be problems because it’s virtually impossible to anticipate every situation. Smart people move to correct the errors, congress doesn’t. Congress is the only organization I know that will use multiple cruise missiles to kill a single fly.

Republicans articulating their position? How do you convince people that slicing cheese by taking big swings with a splitting mall is the best way to accomplish the goal of getting smaller slices. It ain’t gonna happen. The Teabaggers are driving the republican train and they aren’t interested in governing, just destruction anyway they can get it and they are dragging the Republican Party down with them. How do you articulate that position Thomas?


Seth Andrews Interviews Richard Dawkins   

On September 24th, Richard Dawkins’ new book, “An Appetite For Wonder: the Making of a Scientist” released worldwide.

Four days later in Washington DC, Dawkins sat down for a one-hour conversation with Seth Andrews, host of the online community and radio show “The Thinking Atheist,” to talk about a variety of subjects…including childhood, music, evolution, apologist “fleas,” Christopher Hitchens and the memoir itself.

Thanks to The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science for making this interview possible.  (http://www.richarddawkins.net)


Tea Party Politician on Obama: “Assassinate the fucken nigger and his monkey children”

By Anomaly

Tea Party candidate and Libertarian Jules Manson just called for the assassination of President Obama and his children on Facebook, but I’m sure it was just a ‘misspeak’ (wink wink).

In an unnerving display of racism and violence today, this Ron Paul supporting libertarian, who ran for a seat on the City of Carson’s City council last march, and thankfully failed, wrote:

“Assassinate the fucken nigger and his monkey children”

What’s a fucken? Grammar ‘misspeaks’ aside, behold the world of Jules Manson (no relation to Marylin Mason, who apparently is a kinder, gentler person):

Manson posted his visceral diatribe on his Facebook wall apparently angry over the passing of NDAA, however, someone should enlighten him that 86 Senators passed that abomination of a bill, which makes vetoing it successfully problematic; more than 2/3rds of the Senate majority supported this bill. But hey, don’t let the facts stop the racist rhetoric. Manson removed his offensive (and illegal) post when hundreds of Facebook users poured out their outrage. At this point, Manson (and no, this is not bad satire) felt compelled to explain that he is not really a racist. No, really.

Examiner.com’s Michael Stone reports, “Manson argued that using the word “nigger” does not make him a racist.” Sane America would beg to differ.

Americans Against the Tea Party‘s Facebook page posted a screen capture of the offensive remarks and recived over a 100 angry and outraged comments in a little over an hour. The following is a small sample of those remarks:

sure hope the Secret Service and FBI get this creep, he is dangerous to everyone! We can thank the Republicans for this brand of extremism.

reported to secret service…who seemed interested enough to ask for the url and a screen shot

“And his monkey children” smfh. That part bothers me the most.

I’d like to see how Fox News will defend THIS!

I hope the FBI has seen what he has said and will be showing up at his door soon.

The best way to stick it to idiots like this is vote to re elect Obama and then Warren in 2016.

Manson will be running for Senate next year (I joke). The failed politician’s Facebook page has since been removed and he’s most likely in a fetal position on the floor sucking his thumb waiting for the Secret Service. Good luck on that.

Big thanks to Michael Stone