Wednesday, February 9, 2011

All The News That's Fit To Remember

Here's some of what I learned by reading the Feb 9, 1961 issue of the (Toledo) Blade today:

----- The new president, John F. Kennedy, sent to Congress a plan to provide health care benefits to 14.2 million Americans over the age of 65. These benefits were presented as an expansion of the Social Security program. Kennedy stressed that this would be a self-sustaining program that would be paid for by a tax increase of 0.25% on one's first $5000/year of income (an increase amounting to less than $20 a year for the average worker). "This program is not a program of socialized medicine," Kennedy declared. "It is a program of prepayment of health costs with absolute freedom of choice guaranteed." A companion story reported that "Arrayed against the program and still crying 'socialized medicine' are nearly all Republican members of Congress, the powerful lobby of the American Medical Association, and a substantial number of conservative Southern Democrats. This combination of forces showed its muscles last year when the health insurance plan... was killed in the Democratic-controlled House Ways and Means Committee, 17 to 8." That's the way things went, year after year, ever since the first such plan was submitted by New York's Sen. Robert A. Wagner back in 1938. (Medicare was finally signed into law on July 30, 1965 by President Johnson.)

----- Kennedy also proposed the creation of a new national institute of child health and human development. He pointed out that in the last decade "our country has slipped from 6th to 10th place among the advanced nations of the world in the saving of infant lives." (In 2006 the UN ranked the US 33rd; in 2009 the CIA World Factbook ranked the US 46th. See Wikipedia for the details.)

----- In London the British Parliament was wrestling with its own health care problems. The House of Commons "broke up in disorder" as Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillon's government proposed raising the cost of prescriptions from 14 cents to 28 cents! (There were other issues, too, but that seems to have been one of the biggest.)

----- Back in the US, people were alarmed by a recession that sent the unemployment rate above 6%. A Labor Department spokesman declared the situation to be the "worst since early World War II."

----- In Ohio, Republican legislators pledged to cut $150 million from the state budget that Governor Michael DiSalle (a Democrat) had wanted to spend on education, mental health, and welfare.

----- President Kennedy started his day by going to a prayer breakfast and declaring that "Each of the nation's presidents has in his own way placed a trust in God. Those presidents who were strongest intellectually were strongest spiritually. The guiding principle of this nation has ever been, is now, and shall ever be 'In God we trust.'" (No word yet on where God was on Dec 7, 1941. Or Nov 22, 1963, for that matter.)

----- Although original reports said that President Kennedy's sister, Patricia, and her husband, Peter Lawford, had suffered a loss of $31,000 when their New York City hotel suite was burglarized while they were away in Washington for the recent inauguration festivities, the Manhattan district attorney now reports that the loss amounted to no more than $2000. Among the items taken: $1100 in cash and a watch that had been purchased for $800 several years earlier.

----- New York Hospital reports that Marilyn Monroe was admitted four days ago for "an illness of undetermined origin" and is now in "satisfactory" condition. Monroe had divorced playwright Arthur Miller just two weeks previously due to "incompatibility of character." (Monroe and Miller married in 1956. According to Wikipedia, Monroe was admitted to the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic in Feb 1961. Former husband Joe DiMaggio secured her release.)

----- Twelve Ohio cities are among 130 across the US suing major electrical manufacturers for rigging their prices. A Blade editorial on the subject makes for interesting reading: "When virtually the entire heavy electrical equipment industry pleads guilty or enters no defense to charges of a criminal conspiracy to fix prices and rig bids, when large fines are levied against dignified corporations and some of their second-echelon executives are jailed for these offenses, a shock wave runs through the business community. And loud are the cries that the temple of free enterprise has been besmirched. There is no leg for apologists to stand on. The case was clean-cut. What has been admitted, without recourse to the usual tedious appeals, is secret collusion that has cheated utility customers, state, federal, and municipal governments. A profiteer's tribute was levied on the American economy and taxpayers when this country bore the weight of heavy domestic and foreign burdens.... As embarrassing as this affair is for business partisans in the political and economic wars, it could and should have a healthy purgative effect. It should replace with honest self-appraisal the false piety that spokesmen for big business too often assume in treating of the lapses of others. It is not only politicians, public officials, and union leaders who go astray. All virtue does not repose among the men who make the wheels of industry turn. More important still, perhaps the heavy electric industry standing sheep-faced before the judgment seat will prompt all of us to take a shrewder look, adopt a more candid attitude toward the way our free enterprise and competitive economy operates. Our thinking has been muddled, our propaganda given a hollow ring, and our practical difficulties in conducting America's business increased because our practices do not jibe with our slogans. We tread our way through a complex, highly industrialized, and extensively regulated economic life while giving loud lip service to cliches that no longer entirely reflect the realities of our system...."

----- And speaking of that economic system.... An ad on page 5 tells me that you could get a new muffler in 1961 for $5.88 - with free installation. Or you could get 2 dresses for $5 even at Penny's. (I'm told they make fabulous Valentine's Day gifts.) Looking for something a little bigger for your sweetie? How about a 1961 Dodge Lancer - just $1756. Put $156 down and agree to pay $12.64 a week and it's yours!


  1. "All virtue does not repose among the men who make the wheels of industry turn."
    It sounds like the Blade wielder was responding to Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged.
    Did government subsidies drive up the cost of health care or did government policies drive down the value of the dollar, precipitating price increases by anybody who is smart enough to understand inflation and powerful enough to receive equitable compensation if they demand it for their efforts?

  2. Kennedy sounds like he was protesting too much, claiming whatever it was he claimed about the relation between spirituality and intellect. I find I can't put it into my own words.
    Thomas Jefferson was widely reported to be an atheist in Federalist newspapers of his era. Federalist newspapers were the Fox "News" of the day, trying to contain and retain power for the influential families of the day.
    It's been a trip reading about Aaron Burr because it seems at least as many lies were printed about him in anonymous pamphlets as are smeared around the web by anonymous bubbas against Barack Obama.
    As your snapshot of 1961 shows, much of the day-to-day drama stays constant over the years.