Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Drinking lead for the rich in Connecticut

Above: "The Water Tower," a drypoint on paper, created by Lawrence Kupferman (1909-1982) while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1937. Water infrastructure was very important to New Deal policymakers. They made heavy investments in water towers, water lines, reservoirs, treatment plants, pumping stations, consumer connections, and more. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

This morning, it was reported that three Connecticut schools have too much lead in their drinking water. And, "Since 2011, 20 Connecticut schools were found to have lead-contaminated water. The number could be higher, but some parents may never know because only the 170 out of 1,100 Connecticut schools that use independent water systems are required by the state to check" ("More Lead Found in Connecticut School Drinking Water," NBC CT, September 28, 2016).

The EPA sets its safe lead limit at 15 ppb (one of the Connecticut schools tested at 53 ppb); but the CDC has warned that no amount of lead is safe for children to ingest. Yet, we're letting our children drink lead all across the country (see my recent blog post here). 

Any rational culture would have, by now, begun a massive program to replace its aging, poisonous drinking water infrastructure - and paid for it by asking the most obscenely wealthy people to pay more. After all, if the super-wealthy can afford to buy private jets, private compounds, and private islands - and can also afford to spend millions buying politicians, surely they can help pay for infrastructure repairs & improvements. 

So, why haven't we started such a program? Answer: Because Americans are addicted to trickle-down economics, and addicted to worshiping and pampering the wealthy. Yes, even after all the multi-billion dollar frauds committed against us by the super-wealthy, a lot of Americans still want to pamper them with another round of tax cuts. They want to eliminate the estate tax, so people born into wealth will never have to work (and are able buy politicians with their inherited money); they want to lower the top marginal tax rate, even though it's already historically low; and they want to surrender to extortion, by lowering the corporate tax rate to (supposedly) "bring the money home" from foreign, and often shady tax havens.

Interestingly, in 2014, Republican strategist Matthew Dowd said: "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. The federal government would merely be a collector of the money, then disburse it to more trustworthy entities, and the money would be managed and spent at the local level."

Makes sense. For example, during the New Deal, the WPA gave federal money to cities and towns in Connecticut to create 33 new or improved utility plants and to install over 300 miles of new water & sewer lines. Across the nation, WPA workers installed 16,000 miles of new water lines.

We could do the same today (and more), if we just pushed aside our bottle of trickle-down economics and sobered up. But, as long as we keep allowing Republicans, Tea Partiers, and neoliberals to hold high political office, well, our children will continue drinking lead for the rich.

Monday, September 26, 2016

WPA Museum Models: Egyptian Woman and Cro-Magnon Man

Above: A model of an Egyptian Woman, ca. 1500 B.C. The model was created during a WPA museum project in Baltimore, Maryland, 1938. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A model of Cro-Magnon man, ca. 50,000 B.C. The model was created during a WPA museum project in Baltimore, Maryland, 1938. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: Egyptian Woman, Cro-Magnon Man, and other models on display at the National Museum (Smithsonian), in July 1938. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Friday, September 23, 2016

California's NYA Quintet

Above: The description for this photograph (ca. 1935-1942) reads, "A band within a band is this 'hot quintet' - part of a National Youth Administration band newly organized in Los Angeles, California, where they will play at various community events. Left to right are Lee Cretarolo, Paul Dunlap, Hall Brant, Jimmy Pullara, and Terry Cruse." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

A man named Lee Cretarolo, who was born in Massachusetts in 1921 and died in Palo Alto, California in 2008, may be the man pictured above. According to his obituary, he "spent his early post-World War II service years playing bass in small jazz groups" and also worked as a "senior executive of American Building Maintenance Company, headquartered in San Francisco, dealing with sales and operations across much of Northern California..."

Interestingly, there was a famous Hollywood composer named Paul Dunlap (1919-2010) who, according to his Variety magazine obituary, composed music for many films, for example, The San Francisco Story, and for television shows, for example, Gunsmoke, and also seems to have played piano. However, I'm not 100% sure if that is the same Paul Dunlap that we see playing piano in the photo above. The age would be about right though; approximately 16 to 23 years old in the photograph (the NYA hired young Americans between the ages of 16 and 24).

I couldn't find any information on Brant, Pullara, or Cruse. What happened to them? Did they serve in World War II? Did they have musical careers? Did they settle in California? Maybe someone out there in the Internet world knows...

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

NYA hope and training vs. today's insults and shaming

Above: The description for this photograph (ca. 1935-1942) reads, "Henry Suzuki, James Taiamon, and Sanaye Kitazone, shown sawing and nailing sheathing, are National Youth Administration workers on a construction of a $57,000 student union building for Compton Junior College, Los Angeles County, California." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Recently, an economist from George Mason University gave his opinion on why America has a lingering labor force participation problem: "There are a few reasons, but the internet may be the biggest. It is easier to have fun while unemployed. That's a social problem for some people... Maybe employers just aren't that keen to hire those males who prefer to live at home, watch porn and not get married" ("Debating Government's Role In Boosting Growth: Cowen and Smith," Bloomberg, September 12, 2016). Presumably, when the economist says "live at home," he means something along the lines of "live in their parent's basement," a common cultural shaming of people who can't find decent-paying jobs.

Of course, this is just the latest in a litany of insults cast upon low-income Americans and the jobless - insults that have included "takers," "parasites," "lazy," "lazy pigs," "wild animals," and "white trash."

There are many problems with the viewpoint that the unemployed enjoy being unemployed, including:

1. For most people, unemployment is not "fun." If someone asks, "Where do you work?" and you respond, "I don't have a job," it's incredibly embarrassing. The Internet, or video games, or whatever, are merely diversions from the pain of not being able to afford a car, or vacations, or a nice home, or nice clothes, etc. 

2. Most young adults do not want to live in their parent's home and not get married. Speaking from a male point of view, I believe that most men want a decent-paying job so that they can live on their own, support a relationship, and get married and have kids. But when a man's income is low or non-existent, and there doesn't seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel, the man's hope may slowly fade away, especially when his fellow Americans hate him and label him a wild animal. So, again, realizing that the better things in life might not be attainable, a man might settle for whatever source of enjoyment or escape he can obtain (drugs, alcohol, video games, Internet porn, food, whatever).

3. Insulting the unemployed, especially in a public forum like Internet news stories (where the opinion is broadcast out to millions of people), only makes the problem worse for low-income workers and the long-term unemployed. If employers are constantly told that these folks are, essentially, sub-human (i.e., parasites, lazy pigs, wild animals), they are probably less likely to hire them or give them a significant raise.

Above: The description for this photograph (ca. 1935-1942) reads, "NYA girl preparing to become an air mechanic in a work shop in South Charleston, West Virginia." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

During the 1930s, New Deal policymakers tried something new. They decided to create opportunities instead of insults. They initiated nationwide work programs for the unemployed, for example, the Civil Works Administration (CWA) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). For youth specifically, they created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the National Youth Administration (NYA). The result? Well, many young Americans learned skills and discipline. For example, many young women in the NYA learned aircraft trades and went on to work in the defense industries during World War II - the so-called Rosie the Riveters and Wendy the Welders. Many young men in the CCC served in the Armed Forces and, because of their CCC experience, they rose quickly through the ranks into leadership positions. General Mark Clark, the commander of the Allied Fifth Army during World War II recalled: "To my way of thinking the CCC... became a potent factor in enabling us to win WW-II... though we did not realize it at the time, we were training Non-Commissioned Officers" (see my blog post here). 

There are other legacies from the New Deal work programs for youth, for example, infrastructure and state & national parks that we still use today, but most Americans are not very aware of American history, and so they're very susceptible to the right-wing claims that the unemployed are simply lazy people, or perhaps even wild animals. And right-wing politicians are clever. They want nothing to do with a national work program that might prove their claims wrong, so they ignore and block such proposals (see, for example, "Senate GOP blocks veterans jobs bill," CBS, September 20, 2012). For them, it's better that the unemployed remain unemployed, and thus convenient political punching bags to insult, shame, and scapegoat for easy political points.

Which approach would you prefer today? A national jobs program for the unemployed, so we could begin to work on our national park system's multi-billion dollar maintenance backlog; and replace the nation's aging drinking water infrastructure that's poisoning our children with lead? Or, would you prefer that we continue the current right-wing approach: Ignoring contaminated water and labeling jobless Americans as lazy Internet porn junkies? Well, if you chose the first option, you're in the minority. The majority people have spoken--either through their voting behavior or their apathy--and they are simply not interested in clean water, infrastructure modernization, or a national jobs program for the unemployed - at least, not interested enough to actually take action and/or vote for progressive-minded candidates.

Unfortunately, there will not be another New Deal. Instead, tax-breaks-for-the-wealthy, voodoo economics, reduced spending on our crumbling infrastructure, insulting the unemployed, and a massive prison system will remain the prescriptions for our national ailments. For tens of millions of Americans, the poisons are still seen as the cure.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

WPA Museum Models: Roman Lictor and Egyptian Woman

Above: A model showing a Roman lictor from 66 A.D. The model was created during a WPA project in Baltimore, 1938. Image courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A model showing an Egyptian woman from 1500 B.C.. The model was created during a WPA project in Baltimore, 1938. Image courtesy of the National Archives.

Friday, September 16, 2016

WPA Museum Models: Queen Elizabeth and Gothic Knight

Above: A WPA model of Queen Elizabeth. Image courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A WPA model of a Gothic knight. Image courtesy of the National Archives.

These two models were created on a WPA Museum Extension project in Baltimore, Maryland, 1938. The Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43 describes the type of help that the WPA provided to museums during the 1930s - when many museums were experiencing funding problems: 

"WPA workers assisted museums in the making of dioramas, models, maps, lantern slides, and other visual-aid devices for extension work in public schools. These workers also assisted museums in the rearrangement and modernization of exhibits, and in the creation of accurate miniature representations of scenes illustrating (for example) the use of garments, dwellings and implements by aborigines or prehistoric peoples. WPA clerical workers assisted in the classifying and indexing of art, archaeological, and historical materials" (p. 63).

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

New Deal fish conservation and propagation

Above: The description for this photograph (ca. 1937-1942) reads, "The man sitting on the platform at the left counts salmon as they use a Bonneville Dam fish ladder to work upstream." The Bonneville Dam was constructed with the assistance of the New Deal's Public Works Administration. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A WPA laborer works on a fish hatchery near Lewiston, Maryland, in November 1937. Across the nation, WPA workers built 161 new fish hatcheries, expanded 135 others, and repaired or improved 159 more (Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program 1935-43, p. 132). Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.

Above: "Fish Market," an etching and aquatint on paper, created by Sarah Berman (1895-1957) while she was in the WPA's art program, ca. 1939. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

New Deal policymakers and workers did much to conserve and propagate fish species. For example, the Civilian Conservation Corps built about 4,600 fish rearing ponds (and maintained nearly 1,200 others), and "stocked streams, ponds, lakes and reservoirs with the enormous number of 972,203,910 fish or fingerlings!" (Federal Security Agency, Final Report of the Director of the Civilian Conservation Corps, April 1933 through June 30, 1942, p. 47).

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has highlighted that a "New Deal for Conservation" occurred during the Roosevelt years. This included the construction of Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel, Maryland (built in large part with WPA and CCC labor), the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act (1934), and the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act (1937).

Though there were certainly some environmental mistakes during the New Deal (for example, the benefit of predators was not fully appreciated), all the wildlife refuges created, and all the billion of trees planted, and all the millions of bushels of oysters planted, and all the hundreds of millions of fish stocked in ponds, lakes, and rivers, shows that, long before Rachel Carson's highly influential book, Silent Spring, New Deal policymakers and workers were engaging in a massive environmental conservation movement. (Carson, by the way, worked in the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries during the New Deal.)

So, to those who enjoy catching and eating fish (which includes myself), I say: Give a little thanks to the New Deal.