My boyfriend David and I were in Ft. Lauderdale the other day, having lunch at the delicious East Coast Burrito Factory when we spotted an interesting billboard.  It was one of the big, expensive ones, and it looked like this:

I was intrigued, so I wrote down the url, and looked it up.  It turns out, I recognized the name “Atheist Bob” as someone who used to call into my morning show on WINZ, and reached out to invite him on the show to talk about this.  Atheist Bob Senatore is the president of the group Florida Atheists and Secular Humanists (FLASH), who are putting on a Rapture Party to coincide with the date some wingnut radio preacher, Harold Camping, says will be judgment day.

Ironically enough, the story of The Rapture coming as predicted by Camping is on the front page of today’s South Florida Sun Sentinel, with a piece called “Billboards Along Florida’s Turnpike Warn that May 21 is Judgment Day.”  I had never noticed those billboards, but am anxiously anticipating how Mr. Camping will explain the lack of massive earthquakes shaking the planet to its core on May 21 beginning at 6pm.  It should be fun.

Although my conversation with Bob Senatore and Ken Loukinen, National Director for American Atheists was mostly in fun and jest, I did bring up a few serious questions about the intrusion of religion into our government – on the local, state and national levels.  Unfortunately, the right wing evangelical nutjobs seem to have more and more power, while the constitutional provision of separation of church and state is increasingly ignored.

Once again, I’ll point you to my being ejected from a supposed “town hall meeting” with MY congressman by private security and an off-duty Ft. Lauderdale police officer hired to do security for the mega-church at which the “meeting” was held.  The entire thing is, to me, evidence that the Calvary Chapel should lose its tax-exempt status.  But more on that at a later date (I promise!).

We covered a lot of territory on the show today, including a look at the austerity measures and cuts to social programs that benefit the neediest in New York City that Mayor Michael Bloomberg is attempting to push through.  I spoke with Allison Sesso, Deputy Executive Director of Human Services Council of NYC about this week’s activities and tomorrow’s main events, coordinated by the OnMay12 coalition.  People all over the country are finally standing up and saying “ENOUGH!”

And finally, will Alan Simpson just please go home already?  This buffoon of a man continues to show what an absolute ass he is.  Yesterday, I played some audio from his appearance at an event for the Investment Company Institute, in which he said Social Security is “not a retirement plan” but a “Ponzi” scheme.  He also excoriated AARP for doing what his audience seems to be in the business of doing – making money – and then finished his statement by flipping them off.  No, I’m not kidding. Watch for yourself:


The highlighted part of the clip runs around 9 minutes, and it’s worth watching for the absurdity of it all. Again, I played some of the clips on the show yesterday, and afterwards came across this piece by Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim, in which he writes of his interview with Simpson, when he attempted to point out the errors in Simpson’s alleged facts.

HuffPost suggested to Simpson during a telephone interview that his claim about life expectancy was misleading because his data include people who died in childhood of diseases that are now largely preventable. Incorporating such early deaths skews the average life expectancy number downward, making it appear as if people live dramatically longer today than they did half a century ago. According to the Social Security Administration’s actuaries, women who lived to 65 in 1940 had a life expectancy of 79.7 years and men were expected to live 77.7 years.

“If that is the case — and I don’t think it is — then that means they put in peanuts,” said Simpson.

Simpson speculated that the data presented to him by HuffPost had been furnished by “the Catfood Commission people” — a reference to progressive critics of the deficit commission who gave the president’s panel that label.

Told that the data came directly from the Social Security Administration, Simpson continued to insist it was inaccurate, while misstating the nature of a statistical average: “If you’re telling me that a guy who got to be 65 in 1940 — that all of them lived to be 77 — that is just not correct. Just because a guy gets to be 65, he’s gonna live to be 77? Hell, that’s my genre. That’s not true,” said Simpson, who will turn 80 in September.

Understanding life expectancy rates at age 65 in 1940 is central to understanding Social Security itself. If the very nature of the population has changed dramatically since the program’s creation, it stands to reason that the program itself requires dramatic changes: Means testing, creating private accounts and further upping the retirement age for the program have all been proposed by its opponents.

But if the population is largely similar today, then only modest changes would be needed to maintain Social Security. Critics of the program therefore have an incentive to dramatize life-expectancy stats.

But those dramatic claims aren’t buttressed by the data: A man who turned 65 in 2010 has a life expectancy of 83.1 — barely five years more than he had in 1940. Women have increased their life expectancy at roughly the same rate. Since 1940, the retirement age for drawing Social Security benefits has been lifted from 65 to 67, meaning that people are receiving a net of only three extra years of benefits than they were 70 years ago.

The second prong of the Social Security critique relies on the coming wave of Baby Boomer retirements. This flood of retirees will tip the ratio of workers to pensioners out of whack, the argument goes.

“The statistics right now show a totally unsustainable program that cannot possibly function when 10,000 a day are coming into the Social Security system at 65,” Simpson explained to HuffPost. “Was that ever planned

[for]? That 10,000 a day would suddenly coming into the system?”

In fact, it was planned for: The Social Security Administration tracks births every year and knew by 1947 that 1946 had been a boom year. When the system was reformed in 1983 by the Greenspan Commission, the Baby Boom was specifically taken into account.

“The fundamental ratio of beneficiaries to workers was fully taken into account in the 1983 financing provisions and, as a matter of fact, was known and taken into account well before that,” Social Security’s actuaries noted in 1994.

The explanation for the shortfall — the program will only be able to pay roughly four-fifths of scheduled benefits after 2037 — is much simpler: Social Security’s actuaries didn’t see the wild swing in income inequality that came about since 1983. Income has been largely flat for the middle class while rising for the wealthy. Social Security taxes apply only to the first $106,000, so increases for the rich don’t contribute to the trust fund. And compensation increases that come in the form of more expensive health care benefits are also not subject to Social Security taxes.

Simpson said that questioning his data wasn’t helping to solve the underlying problem.

“This is the first time, the first time — and Erskine [Bowles, the deficit commission co-chair,] and I have been talking for a year and many months — that anyone’s going to sit around and play with statistics like this,” he told HuffPost. “Anything I tell you, you repudiate. You’re the first guy in a year and a half who’s stood out here with a sharp pencil playing a game that doesn’t have a damn thing to do with: ‘What the hell are you going to do with the system?'”

The former senator enjoys a pension for his service in Congress, which lasted fewer than 20 years.

Ryan joined me on the show to discuss this mind-boggling interview with the man who should never have been tapped to co-chair the Deficit Commission in the first place.