|One of the more influential letters to the editor in American history appeared on September 30, 1933, in the Long Beach Press-Telegram. It was penned by a broke citizen named Francis Townsend, a one-time hay farmer, dry-ice manufacturer, real estate agent, and physician living in Southern California. His letter pitched a simple idea for how to end the Great Depression: The government should send $150 a month to every American over the age of 60 as a reward for a life of toil. Doing so, he argued, would stanch mass poverty among the elderly and kick-start the economy with new spending.
The elderly doctor’s message spread like wildfire. “Townsend clubs” sprang up across the nation, gathering at least 1.5 million members in the first couple of years. By 1935, 56 percent of Americans favored adoption of the so-called Townsend plan—influencing the establishment of the Roosevelt administration’s Social Security Act that same year. […]
Duncan Black’s neighbors probably can’t hear him tapping away on his laptop in his Philadelphia row house, but he has been doing his best to become Townsend’s modern heir. An economist and former college professor, Black—who goes by the pseudonym “Atrios” online—is one of America’s most popular political bloggers; his typical output consists of short, snarky quips on the news from a liberal perspective. But in late 2012 he embarked on a sustained crusade, on his blog and in a series of columns for USA Today, to inject a single idea into America’s policy discourse: “We need an across-the-board increase in Social Security retirement benefits of 20 percent or more,” he declared in the opening of a column for USA Today. “We need it to happen right now.”
The proposal was not exactly attuned to the political winds in Washington. Indeed, for anyone inclined to think in terms of counting potential votes in Congress—especially this Congress—the idea of expanding Social Security is the epitome of a political non-starter. Black’s proposal was attuned, however, to a mounting pile of research and demographic data that describes a gathering disaster. The famously large baby boom generation is heading into retirement. Thanks to decades of stagnant wages and the asset collapse of the Great Recession, more than half of American working-class households are at risk of being unable to sustain their standard of living past retirement. To put it even more starkly, according to research by the economists Joelle Saad-Lessler and Teresa Ghilarducci, 49 percent of middle-class workers are on track to be “poor or near poor” after they retire.
There is very little safety net left to break this fall. The labor market for older workers is bleak. Private pensions are largely a thing of the past. Private savings are so far gone that some 25 percent of households with 401(k) and other retirement plans have raided them early to cover expenses, and a growing number of Americans over age 50 find themselves accumulating, not settling, debt. On the whole, 401(k)s have proved a “disaster,” as Black puts it, one that has enriched the financial sector but lashed the country’s retirement security to a volatile stock market—and left 75 percent of Americans nearing retirement age in 2010 with less than $30,000 in their accounts.
What’s left? Social Security. Though it was never meant to be a national retirement system all by itself, that’s increasingly what it has become. For Americans over age 65 in the bottom half of the income distribution, Social Security makes up at least 80 percent of retirement income.
And yet, when Social Security has been in the news in recent years, it has usually been because someone wants to cut it. […]
Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2010—Suppressing the vote:
|The late Chief Justice of the Supreme Court William Rehnquist cut his political teeth suppressing the vote in Arizona. It was an issue at his confirmation hearings, but it didn't prevent his being seated.
One of the more under-reported stories about the stolen Florida presidential election of 2000 was the racist and partisan purging of legitimate voters, to suppress the Democratic vote count. And in Florida, it didn't end there. […]
We later found out that the Bush White House had been replacing U.S. attorneys for refusing to play along with their attempts to intimidate voters.
In 2007, the Republican Secretary of State of Louisiana purged tens of thousands of mostly minority voters, without going through proper procedures.
This year, groups tied to Koch Industries are continuing their efforts to suppress the vote in Wisconsin, where a champion of campaign reform may lose his Senate seat to a climate denierand enabler of pederasts.
On today's Kagro in the Morning show, Greg Dworkin recaps the Sebelius appearance on the Hill, the continued debunking of ACA "horror" stories, and the latest polling. We were joined by Joan McCarter, discussing the "can you keep" your crappy insurance flap, the next Senate nominations standoff, NSA snooping (including brain-shattering statements from House Intel chair Mike Rogers), and the Food Stamp Cliff. Tired of "sexy" everything costumes (including "Sexy Hamburger")? Tired enough to say a website featuring better costumes for women & girls should get $10,000+? And from Joshua Holland at BillMoyers.com, "The High Cost of Low Taxes."