Jon Cowan: Once Again, Ginning Up Faux Youth Outrage

Coming soon: a new pressure group called “The Can Kicks Back,” which aims to turn younger Americans into an anti-deficit avenging army. It will surely attempt to play a role in the post-election talks surrounding the “fiscal cliff.” This offensive bears a slight odor of deja vu, however, because one of its organizers is Jonathan Cowan, who 20 years ago attempted to recruit Gen Xers in a similar campaign propelled by a brash, ultimately buffoonish group called Lead … Or Leave.

Today, Jon Cowan is the president of Third Way, which calls itself “the nation’s leading centrist policy institution” and is certainly one of the most prominent center-right pressure groups in Washington. Its board of trustees reads like a Who’s Who of Wall Street, hedge fund and real estate barons and it enjoys privileged access to Continue reading →

Democracy Now: Ryan’s Push to Dismantle Social Security

 

 

Expand Social Security? How Outlandish!

The Rebuild America Act, introduced in March by Sen. Tom Harkin, as a wish-list of progressive ideas that would be widely discussed in this election if it reflected anything other than the standard Washington agenda. One very important section but little-noticed of the bill would actually expand Social Security.

Thanks to Ken Buffin of Buffin Partners, Inc., and the Buffin Foundation, for calling attention to the Social Security provisions of the Rebuild America Act in his latest monthly Commentary. Two of the three main provisions are familiar: Continue reading →

Pie in the Sky in Eastern Europe: The Ryan Plan in Action

Vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan has been pushing Social Security privatization for the better part of a decade. What if his plan was actually implemented? An important new paper looks at what happened when Hungary and Poland attempted something similar with their national pension systems. The results were ugly.

It’s been reported that Paul Ryan is no longer pushing Social Security privatization. House Republican leaders “refused” to let their Budget Committee chair “add changes to Social Security” into the budget he wrote last year and that passed the chamber with solid GOP support. This year, he and his colleagues again “left the program untouched.”

That’s not quite true. Ryan has now written two budgets, both of which include Continue reading →

Why You Should Celebrate Social Security’s Birthday on Aug. 14

Social Security’s 77th birthday comes up on Tues., August 14. The Alliance for Retired American is planning events all over the country to celebrate (see details below!). As well it might – Social Security’s benefit checks keep 20 million people out of poverty every year and are helping to prop up consumer spending while the rest of us dig ourselves out of debt. Some people, however, would prefer you stayed home.

I recently spoke with a prominent, U.S.-based money manager for an unrelated project. First, he lambasted the Federal Reserve for keeping interest rates too low, “monetizing the debt,” and preventing a much needed dose of government austerity. Then he told me why Continue reading →

Live from the Village: Social Security and the Washington Press Corps

Frustrated defenders of Social Security have been wondering for years why the Washington Press Corps – the elite of American journalism – are so nakedly eager to see our national retirement system gutted. FAIR explained it to us back in 1996. Time for a revisit.

In the classic ’60s TV series The Prisoner, a disgruntled espionage agent resigns. He is then kidnapped and taken to the Village, a deceptively innocuous  seaside community where everybody is happy and content to believe exactly what they’re told, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Washington – by which I refer to Pennsylvania Avenue, K Street, the think-tank community, Georgetown, and their various satellites – is a little like The Village in that Continue reading →

Social Security in Dorothea Lange’s America – and Today

Dorothea Lange, the great documentary photographer, traveled to Oregon in 1939 as part of her ongoing project to record the plight of the rural poor for the federal Resettlement Administration. Among the many stunning, often heartbreaking images she captured was the one reproduced here. The exact location isn’t known, but it shows an unemployed lumber worker and his wife in the shelter they were then living in. The tattoo on his arm is his Social Security number.

Before questioning the necessity of any institution, it’s usually a good idea to review the conditions that made that institution necessary to begin with – and ask ourselves how much has really changed. When Dorothea Lange began her historic project in 1935, the Social Security Act was just clearing Congress and heading to Roosevelt’s desk. In budgetary terms, Old Age Insurance, the section that evolved into today’s national retirement system, was a tiny portion of the whole. The checks that the elderly Continue reading →

Reading FDR’s Mind: “Full Funding” and the Original Intent of Social Security

What kind of a program did Franklin Delano Roosevelt want Social Security to be? A narrowly designed, fully self-funded system, or a more expansive institution whose funding sources might change over time? Today’s three-way struggle between progressives, conservatives, and the center-right over Social Security’s future makes the question of FDR’s “original intent” more timely than ever.

When I was writing The People’s Pension, my history of the past 30 years of the Social Security debate, I sidestepped – for the most part – the question of what Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s precise intentions were for the program he signed into law in 1935. The early history of Social Security is extremely tangled. The political context was unique. FDR himself was a complex and contradictory figure, and Social Security was much changed by the time my story began, in 1980. But activists on all sides continue to evoke the debates that took place within and around the Roosevelt administration in the 1930s to defend their particular visions of what Social Security should be. In spite of myself, I got interested – and started forming opinions.

So have a lot of other people, at a time when Continue reading →

“The People’s Pension” Available as an Ebook

Quick note for all of you who like your reading compact and fully mobile: The People’s Pension – the book – is now available as an ebook from Amazon.com for $10.99.

Meanwhile, don’t forget to check the People’s Pension Facebook page for news about my upcoming tour in support of the book. New York, Boston, Washington DC (the belly of the beast), Philadelphia, Portland OR, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco and the East Bay, Chicago, Baltimore (a return engagement), and Miami are just some of the burgs I’ll be touching down in between now and early fall.

ALEC’s Bigger Target: Social Security

The low-key “legislative exchange” group has been in the news a lot, promoting right-wing bills in state governments. But it seeks a role on the national level as well. One of its longtime targets is one of the biggest: Social Security.

The American Legislative Exchange Council is taking some flack – and burnishing its conservative credentials – due to the remarkable success of some controversial initiatives. Model bills that have made it onto the books in multiple states thanks to ALEC members of those state’s legislatures include laws mandating stringent new voter ID rules and “stand your ground” laws that helped create the poisoned atmosphere accompanying the tragic gunning down of Trayvon Martin.

What’s sometimes overlooked is that part of ALEC’s goal is for its work at the state level to have a cumulative effect – leading, wherever possible, to legal changes in Congress as well.

One of ALEC’s oldest and most consistently pursued causes has been the dismantlement of public-employee pension systems. Continue reading →