Friday, October 21, 2016

Drinking lead for the rich in New York

Above: WPA laborers on a waterworks project in Loudonville, New York, ca. 1935-1940. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.

Yesterday, we learned that schoolchildren have been drinking leaded water at public schools in Lackawanna, New York. Lead contamination frequently comes from aging water lines and fixtures. Like everywhere else in the United States, New York's drinking water infrastructure is old and deteriorating. In fact, as news was breaking about children drinking lead in Lackawanna public schools, an old water main broke in Hudson, New York, disrupting water service to residents there. One person said, "I’ve got soap on my face and I’m sick, so this isn’t helping." The water disruption also hurt at least one business. The owner of a breakfast-and-lunch diner said, "A couple hours is our whole day. We’re losing a day’s business." The Hudson Superintendent of Public Works noted: "The old stuff needs to be updated. About 20 of our mains are 4-inch mains, which means they’re probably 120 years old at least."

Americans have been warned, year after year after year, by engineering experts and public health experts, that their drinking water infrastructure needs to be updated. If we were smart, we would have done what President Franklin Roosevelt and his fellow New Deal policymakers did in the 1930s and 40s. For example, between 1935 and 1943, WPA workers installed over 1,200 miles of new water lines in New York. But we weren't smart, were we? Instead, millions of Americans scoffed at the pointy-headed experts (or were oblivious to them altogether), and elected wave after wave of conservatives into high political office. And those conservatives were far more interested in pampering the wealthy than they were with infrastructure. Result? America's children are drinking lead and damaging their brains, while the super-wealthy are smiling and enjoying record wealth.

Sadly, even after all this, tens of millions of Americans continue to hold their hands to the sky, in joyous rapture, and exclaim, "job creators... Job Creators... JOB CREATORS!!!" Meanwhile, the "job creators" are buying more politicians and pushing hard for the TPP, so they can outsource more American jobs to third world labor markets, and thus increase profits for executives & wealthy shareholders.

When will we ever learn?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Children drink lead in Chicago parks, while the Forbes 400 set personal wealth records

Above: President Franklin Roosevelt at Soldier's Field, Chicago, 1944. Roosevelt and his fellow New Deal policymakers made large infrastructure investments in Illinois. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.

Two days ago, we learned that 43% of Chicago's parks have too much lead in their water fountains. Avalon Park, at 1215 E. 83rd St., had 1,800 parts per billion. That's 120 times higher than what the EPA considers safe (15 ppb). The CDC, meanwhile, says no amount of lead is safe for children. A water quality expert concludes: "Sadly, what people should make of these reports is that tap water at Chicago parks is not lead-free and they are on their own to protect their children from exposures. Demanding that public officials abandon the misleading crutch of the 15 (parts per billion) 'action level' and develop solutions that reflect current scientific understanding about lead in water would be a good first step."

Unfortunately, this story from Chicago is just the latest in a long list of stories highlighting how America's children are being poisoned by lead (see, e.g., my blog post, "We're still drinking lead for the rich").

But don't worry too much; because while children are drinking contaminated water from outdated infrastructure, and having their brains permanently damaged, we do have something to be ecstatic about: "The country’s 400 richest [people] are wealthier than ever, with a combined net worth of $2.4 trillion and an average net worth of $6 billion, both record highs" ("Inside The 2016 Forbes 400: Facts And Figures About America's Richest People," Forbes, October 4, 2016).

Isn't that great news?!?

Above: Here are some of the richest billionaires of the Forbes 400 - beneficiaries of inherited wealth, or deregulation, or Reaganomics, or all of the above. They certainly look happy, don't they? I wonder if their children and grandchildren are drinking lead too, like the children of working-class Americans. Screenshot image from, used here for educational and non-commercial purposes.

In 2014, prominent Republican strategist Matthew Dowd wrote, "we need to have a well-paying jobs program tied to infrastructure improvements administered locally by cities, counties and states where people still trust government to get the job done. And this should be funded by tax policies at the federal level which put a much bigger burden on the wealthy in this country."

This is what was done during the New Deal, under the Roosevelt Administration. For example, between 1935 and 1943, federally-funded WPA workers performed over 1,800 projects to create or improve public parks, playgrounds, athletic fields, swimming pools, and wading pools in Illinois. They also installed 853 miles of new water mains so that the children of Illinois (for example, the children of Chicago) could have clean drinking water. We could do the same today if we weren't so doped-up on trickle-down economics, and if we didn't worship the rich as gods. But we are, and we do. So, America's children will continue to drink lead and continue to incur brain damage... so that billionaires can keep more of their money. After all, living on $20 billion of wealth is unacceptable - it must be $30 billion.

The billionaires of the Forbes 400 who fight for "limited government," and bribe politicians with campaign contributions (to keep their tax rates low); and those people who serve as their financial bodyguards (i.e., conservative voters - both Republican and Democrat), should be ashamed of themselves.

Of course, it doesn't matter much what I say, or what clean water advocates say. In Plutocratic America, your message and your warnings are only as strong as the money you have to support them. And so we can scream from the rooftops, everyday for the rest of our lives, and our corporate-bought politicians will only snicker at us... while drafting the next piece of legislation that coddles the wealthy, or blocking the next piece of legislation that addresses our infrastructure.

"Now, a lot of people remember it as boondoggles... raking leaves... Maybe in some places it was. Maybe in the big city machines or something. But I can take you to our town and show you things, like a river front that I used to hike through once that was a swamp and is now a beautiful park-like place built by WPA."

--Ronald Reagan, recalling his young adult years in Illinois (from the book In the Shadow of FDR: From Harry Truman to George W. Bush, by William Leuchtenburg)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

"How will we pay for it?!?" Answer: With the $2 trillion we lose every year to military adventures and coddling the wealthy.

Above: In this video segment, taken from Thom Hartmann's show "The Big Picture" (10-17-2016), a whistle-blower describes how he blew the top off a massive tax evasion scandal. These type of tax evasion actions by the super-wealthy drive up the tax burden on non-wealthy Americans, in the form of increased taxes, tolls, fees, fines, and utility rates at the state & local level. YouTube link:

Whenever it's proposed that we fix our infrastructure, or make public college free, or forgive all student loan debt, or give more assistance to the needy, or create a public jobs program for the unemployed, conservatives typically respond with an exasperated "How will we pay for it?!?"

Well, there are all sorts of facts & figures out there, detailing the amount of money we spend on fruitless military adventures; and all the revenue we miss out on thanks to the tax shenanigans of the rich & powerful, as well as their historically low tax rates. Here are just a few things to consider:

"The $5 Trillion Wars," Boston Globe, October 17, 2016 (written by Linda Bilmes, Harvard professor and former assistant secretary of commerce).

"What could raising taxes on the 1% do? Surprising Amounts," New York Times, October 16, 2015.

"The Cost of Corporate Tax Avoidance: America’s largest corporations have been storing profits in offshore companies for decades," The Atlantic, April 14, 2016.

"Federal Revenue Lost to Tax Evasion," Demos, estimating $3 trillion in revenue lost to tax evasion (separate from tax avoidance losses) between 2001 and 2010.

"Tax Rate for Richest 400 People at Its Second Lowest Level Since 1992," Tax Justice, January 29, 2015.

"U.S. Military Spending Dwarfs Rest of World," NBC News, February 24, 2014.

Above: In this video segment, Dr. Richard Wolff, professor emeritus at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, gives one of the best explanations I've ever heard, of how the wealthy are causing so many problems with their tax evasion & avoidance. YouTube link:
You can do your own math, based on the sources I've listed above (and others), but I estimate that the U.S. loses, and misspends on military adventures, about $2 trillion each year (note: this figure includes lost revenue and debt taken on by the U.S. government). By my estimate then, about $34 trillion has been lost on military adventures and coddling the wealthy, since 2000. So, what could have been done, domestically, with that $34 trillion?

We could have done all of the following; not one or the other... but all of it:

We could have eliminated all existing student loan debt. We could have replaced or repaired all of the infrastructure in America. We could have created a new WPA to hire unemployed Americans on useful projects (historic preservation, environmental conservation & restoration, artwork for public buildings, improved roads & bridges, etc.). We could have jump-started a single-payer health care system, thereby getting rid of the greedy financial executives who arrogantly stand between us and our health care providers. We could have strengthened and expanded Social Security. We could have created a system of public financing for high political office, so that the rich & powerful could no longer corrupt our democracy. We could have done all this, and more; and the rich would still be rich (though a little less so) and our military would still be the largest in the world.

But we didn't focus on domestic needs, did we? Instead, we handed out massive tax cuts to the wealthy, these past 10, 20, 30, 40 years and more, and watched them buy private jets, private compounds, private islands, and their own private little politicians - little marionettes who sit on Capitol Hill, devising more ways to allow more financial predators to victimize more working-class Americans. And we also let our political "leaders" start wasteful and misguided military adventures in various parts of the Middle East - adventures that show no sign of ending, even after 10 to 15 years of troop deployments & troop withdrawals, then more troop deployments & withdraws, bombings, bombings, bombings, weapon sales, weapon losses, questionable contracts with private security firms, and Lord knows what else.

And worse than all of the above, is that none of this foolishness will end any time soon. Millions of people are saying "I'm With Her," throwing their support behind a war hawk who is a Wall Street darling and a multi-millionaire - a woman who has utterly no personal stake in the problems caused by our vast income & wealth inequality. Millions of others are saying "Make America Great Again," and throwing their support behind a man who has no governing experience and wants to hand out even more tax breaks to the wealthy. What about Bernie Sanders? The one major candidate who actually cared about the middle-class and poor? Oh, he was thrown out long ago - a victim of media bias, paranoia of the masses ("Socialist!!!"), and likely collusion between the Clinton Campaign and the biased DNC.

So, "How will we pay for it?" (i.e., our domestic needs)? Well... I guess we won't.

"When it came to taxes, [Franklin] Roosevelt simply believed that rich people should pay more than poor people. And in emergencies, they should pay a lot more." 

--Joseph J. Thorndike, Their Fair Share: Taxing the Rich in the Age of FDR, Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press, 2013, p. 45.

Monday, October 17, 2016

New Deal Book Projects

Above: The description for this photograph (ca. 1935-1940) reads, "One of the several stack rooms at Morgan State College Library [Maryland] and three of the girls employed on the NYA [National Youth Administration] out-of-school work program. At the typewriter is Miss Geraldine Hawkins typing shelf list cards. In the center is Miss Ida Tyler whose principal activity is the preparation and checking of periodicals for binding. In the background is Miss Rose Smith whose activities include pasting book plates, embossing and listing gift books." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: The description for this 1939 photograph reads, "This NYA girl is in the process of shellacking a new book for the school library of the [San Francisco] State College. This was done as a preservative measure after the books were catalogued and filed." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: "[WPA] Poster promoting reading as an avenue to adventure, showing a knight in armor and fleur-de-lis." Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Above: "Stream in [Franklin] County, Kentucky - main trail for horseback librarians. A few miles beyond this point, the librarians part, taking four trails into the mountains." During the New Deal, work-relief programs like the Federal Emergency Relief Administration and the WPA hired unemployed librarians to deliver books and magazines to remote rural areas. Photo (ca. 1933-1935) courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: "Memorial Library, Williamsport, Maryland - This library was built [by WPA workers] as a memorial for the fourteen Williamsport High School students who were killed in the tragic bus accident at Rockville, Maryland. The library is located in the Community Park. The building is constructed of semi-fireproof material - red brick walls, with ornamental doors and windows, and portico painted white. There are about 1200 sq. ft. of floor space on the first floor, divided into library room, adults reading room, and children's reading room. In the basement there is an exhibition hall and lecture room and public comfort stations." Across the country, WPA workers built or improved over 1,000 libraries. Photo (1938) courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A WPA poster encouraging Americans to read books about African Americans and their contributions to the country. Note the soldier and the Tuskegee Airman. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Above: A WPA bookmobile awaits customers in Bayou du Large, Louisiana, ca. 1935-1943. As this photo shows, there was a great hunger in rural America for books, news, magazines, and information. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library & Museum and the New Deal Network.

Above: "Reading to the illiterate is all in a day's work for the Works Progress Administration's Pack Horse Librarians in the Kentucky mountains. Most of the people yearn to have the Bible or other religious works read to them." This photo also shows how the New Deal tried to bring Americans closer together. In today's America, if you suggested that the federal government pay unemployed librarians to read to illiterate or lonely citizens, you'd be laughed out of the room. Today, after decades of Ayn Rand's toxic philosophies, and decades of trickle-down economics, many Americans are more likely to scold and ridicule those in need, calling them "parasites," "takers," or "weak." Maybe that's why record numbers of our fellow citizens are committing suicide and dying deaths of despair. After shunning the New Deal, and embracing hyper-individualism instead, we're becoming a happily coarse and mean-spirited culture. And while it's true that we've always had nasty elements in our society, the New Deal worked hard to change that. And so it's sad to see how we've turned away from (and forgotten) the New Deal, and embraced the sociopathic tenets of Reaganism and Neoliberalism instead. Photo (1938) courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.

Above: A WPA poster promoting a book written by the WPA's Federal Writers' Project. WPA writers created about 1,500 books, booklets, brochures, magazine articles, etc. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Above: The WPA made "talking books," so that blind Americans could enjoy books too. The WPA also transcribed books into Braille. Photo taken in Washington, DC, 1938. Courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.

Above: Two Maryland women on a WPA book repair project, ca. 1935-1943. Across the nation, WPA workers repaired over 94 million books. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.

Above: A poster advertising a WPA "story hour" project in Illinois, ca. 1936-1939. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Above: The New Deal not only built libraries, but staffed them too. Here, two workers in the National Youth Administration (NYA) check in books at the Franklin High School library, Los Angeles, California, ca. 1935-1943. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: "NYA girls at Anne Wallace branch of the Atlanta Public Library cleaning, repairing and cataloguing some of the 10,000 books donated to the NYA in Atlanta for rural libraries in districts where there are no library facilities. In the small towns and villages where WPA and NYA maintain these libraries they are bringing to poor under-privileged whites and negroes the opportunity to read which they have seldom had before and which they are eager to have." Photo (1936) courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.

Above: October is a good time to read! WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Friday, October 7, 2016

On Vacation

Above: "Tourists," a screenprint by Elizabeth Olds (1896-1991), created while she was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1935-1939. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

An 83-year-old water main broke in Berkeley, California. A New Deal could have prevented that.

Above: The description for this photograph (ca. 1933-1939) reads, "Tractors and heavily loaded graders level off an area to be used in the San Francisco, California waterworks system." This project was funded by the New Deal's Public Works Administration (PWA). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Yesterday, an 83-year-old water main broke in Berkeley, California. The break caused traffic problems and water service disruptions (see, e.g., "Water main breaks in Downtown Berkeley, closing several city blocks," The Daily Californian, October 4, 2016). 

240,000 water main breaks occur in the United States, every single year - many of them due to old age. We could replace these old lines by creating a new WPA. During the New Deal era, WPA workers installed 1,200 miles of new water lines in California. The Civil Works Administration (CWA) and Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) installed new water lines too; and the Public Works Administration (PWA) funded dozens of large waterworks projects across the state. Californians are still utilizing many of these New Deal projects today, well past their intended lifespan.

Unfortunately, we're not going to have another New Deal, or another WPA. Republicans and neoliberals are much too busy babbling on about "job creators," "innovators," and "entrepreneurs," to be overly concerned about the deteriorating water lines that are poisoning our children with lead and closing our schools & small businesses. And, as long as our political "leaders" keep pampering the super-wealthy, in the hope of securing more campaign contributions, our infrastructure will continue to crumble. That means America's children will continue drinking lead and other toxins, while the rich enjoy tax breaks, tax loopholes, tax exemptions, tax deductions, tax avoidance, and tax evasion.

Above: Here is some money that could have been used to replace our poisoned water lines and protect the health of our children. Instead, this money was used to buy private jets, private compounds, private islands, and, of course, politicians. Image courtesy of

Monday, October 3, 2016

WPA Portable Theatre

Above: "Caravan Theatre," a lithograph by Raymond White Skolfield (1909-1996), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1937. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Above: A WPA portable theatre in New York City, ca. 1938-1939. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: Children enjoying a WPA portable theatre show in New York City, 1935. Conservatives in Congress fought against the WPA theatre. They disapproved of the racial integration they saw, both on stage and in the audience. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library & Museum and the New Deal Network.

Above: Disabled and injured children enjoying a WPA portable theatre show in New York City, ca. 1935-1936. Conservatives in Congress thought the WPA Theatre program was a waste of money. Like today, they thought it would be better to give tax breaks to the rich. Photo courtesy of FDR Presidential Library & Museum and the New Deal Network.

Above: A WPA portable theatre production showing the nativity. Conservatives in Congress eliminated the WPA Theatre program in 1939. They thought it would turn Americans into communists. Photo courtesy of FDR Presidential Library & Museum and the New Deal Network.

In 1982, the Washington Post reported that, "During its brief life, the [Federal Theatre Project] produced 'Caravan Theatre,' a portable theater that went from town to town offering dramatic works to the people. 'They were one of the innovators of theater-in-the-park,' [Lorraine Brown, professor at George Mason University] said. "Joe Papp has always claimed originating it, but they were doing it in 1935."

The WPA Theatre program also produced circuses, puppet shows, variety shows, and more.