Saturday, January 21, 2017
"Do not forget that every people deserves the regime it is willing to endure."
--The first leaflet of the White Rose, 1942-1943 (see full cite at end of blog post).
Above: The description for this photograph reads, "Set backs are effectively used in the Jersey City Medical Center to give patients light and air." This building was financed by the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (which President Roosevelt strengthened) and/or the New Deal's Public Works Administration, ca. 1934-1936. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Going to the hospital to get sick
This week we learned that high levels of lead were found in the drinking water of Englewood Hospital and Medical Center in New Jersey. The CDC has warned us that no amount of lead in our bodies is safe, and that it "can seriously harm a child's health... increasing their risks for damage to the brain and nervous system, slowed growth and development, learning and behavior problems (e.g., reduced IQ, ADHD, juvenile delinquency, and criminal behavior), and hearing and speech problems." Hence, the Englewood hospital "will test workers, patients and visitors who have been at the hospital since September 2015. The hospital is especially encouraging anyone who was pregnant and children under the age of six to get tested."
Imagine that. You go to the hospital to get better, and you end up drinking a neurotoxin.
We're poisoning our children through willful neglect
The problem of lead poisoning is not limited to the Englewood Hospital of course. The CDC has informed us that "Millions of children are being exposed to lead in their homes." We also know that Americans are drinking lead in schools, parks, and buildings. In Chicago, for example, nearly half the parks tested positive for high levels of lead. And a recent Reuters investigation found "thousands of U.S. locales where lead poisoning is worse than in Flint [Michigan]" (from all sources, not just water).
Old water mains, old connection lines, and old plumbing fixtures are poisoning adults and children all across the country. Why? Because over the past 30-40 years, instead of focusing on infrastructure needs, we have (a) focused on handing out massive tax breaks to the rich and (b) engaged in an endless stream of expensive military adventures across the globe, e.g., bombings, troop deployments, base constructions, and "regime change."
Folks, it doesn't have to be this way. During the New Deal, there was massive spending on domestic needs, and higher taxes on the wealthy. The WPA, for example, built 226 new hospitals, increased the size of another 156, and repaired or improved 2,168. They also installed 16,000 miles of new water lines. (Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, 1946, pp. 131 and 136).
Above: Between 1933 and 1939, the New Deal's Public Works Administration added tens of thousands of hospital beds for Americans in need. Graphic is from America Builds, 1939, p. 145.
Trump and the New Deal?
Our new president, Donald Trump, knows full well that the New Deal was the golden age of American infrastructure. In his 2015 book, Great Again: How To Fix Our Crippled America, he suggested that we should duplicate the New Deal's bold infrastructure program, writing "we can create the biggest economic boom in this country since the New Deal when our vast infrastructure was first put into place." But here's the problem: Trump and his Republican colleagues in Congress are planning to hand out enormous tax cuts to the wealthy. Republican state legislatures across the country, no doubt, want to do the same thing. Therefore, the only way that we can modernize our infrastructure--while increasing our already-massive military spending (a Republican priority)--is by taxing the middle-class and poor more - at the state & local level; going deeper into debt - which Republicans say they don't like; cutting our already-anemic social safety net - which might pay for a handful of bridges I suppose; or privatizing our infrastructure - which will inevitably lead to more toll roads, more toll bridges, and higher utility rates.
We can look to Kansas, among other places, to see what happens when you pass out tax breaks to the rich like candy. Kansas has been constantly raiding its highway funds, as well as other funds, to make up for the revenue shortfalls they created by handing out massive tax breaks for the rich. That doesn't bode well for infrastructure repair and improvement. Yet, astonishingly, right-wing voters & politicians want to replicate this disastrous Kansas experiment, on the the entire country. (See, e.g., "Kansas' experiment in voodoo economics is floundering. And spreading." St Louis-Post Dispatch, January 14, 2017)
When will we stop being suckers for the rich?
Only when Americans cease their slavish devotion to the super-wealthy will we fix our infrastructure problems. Until then, it will just be band-aid solutions (if any solutions at all). Unfortunately, Americans are showing no signs of ending their pitiful submission to the super-wealthy - as evidenced by their recent placement of even more super-wealthy sociopaths in our state and federal governments, e.g., Trump's billionaire cabinet and administrative picks. And make no mistake about it, American voters have put them there. Whether it was by misinformed voting, voting on social issues alone, failing to vote at all, failing to support Bernie Sanders (a sincere candidate for the people), etc., the American electorate put these psychopath billionaires in positions of authority. Just as the White Rose told German citizens--after the latter allowed Hitler to rise to power--the American electorate is "guilty, guilty, guilty!" (see longer quote below).
Collectively, we've deluded ourselves into thinking that the people who are financially pounding us into the ground will make our lives better. And that's why American children will continue to incur brain damage from lead-contaminated water; and also why huge numbers of children across the planet will continue dying from air pollution. It seems that we're quite willing to sacrifice the health and lives of children, if that's what it takes to please billionaires. We dare not tax them more, these holy "JOB CREATORS," even as they continue hoarding record wealth while we fall deeper into debt, toxicity, and misery.
Isn't that amazing?
Above: Laborers in the New Deal's Civil Works Administration building a medical facility in Salisbury, Maryland, ca. 1933-1934. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.
The White Rose: A lesson for today?
The following is from the second leaflet of the White Rose (full citation at the end). When reading this quote, think of the increasingly fascist & plutocratic nature of American government, the apathetic behavior of many Americans, and the millions of children being poisoned by crumbling infrastructure - infrastructure that always takes a back seat to tax-cuts-for-the-wealthy and military spending:
"Why do the German people behave so apathetically in the face of all these abominable crimes... The German people slumber on in their dull, stupid sleep and encourage these fascist criminals; they give them the opportunity to carry on their depredations; and of course they do so."
"Is this a sign that the Germans are brutalized in their simplest human feelings, that no chord within them cries out at the sight of such deeds, that they have sunk into a fatal consciencenessless from which they will never, never awake? It seems to be so, and it will certainly be so, if the German does not at last start up out of his stupor, if he does not protest wherever and whenever he can against this clique of criminals, if he shows no sympathy for these hundreds of thousands of victims..."
"For through his apathetic behavior he gives these evil men the opportunity to act as they do... Indeed, he himself is to blame for the fact that it came about at all! Each man wants to be exonerated of a guilt... each one continues on his way with the most placid, and calmest conscience. But he cannot be exonerated; he is guilty, guilty, guilty!"
(Inge Scholl, The White Rose: Munich, 1942-1943, Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1983, pp. 78-79)
Thursday, January 19, 2017
In Davos, the super-wealthy use "mindfulness" to distract us from death, mass poisoning, and the hideous income & wealth inequality they've created
"a constellation of egos involved in massive orgies of adulation"
--London Mayor Boris Johnson's description of the "World Economic Forum" in Davos, Switzerland ("From Goldie Hawn to Bill Gates: The most powerful people in the world are gathered in Davos to save the world and find their Zen," Yahoo Finance, January 22, 2014)
Above: President Roosevelt didn't need or use "mindfulness" to improve the lives of millions of Americans. He just signed the Social Security Act in 1935. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.
"... solutions that have currency seem calculated to spare corporations and the wealthiest people from having to make any sacrifices at all, as if there is a way to be found to tilt the balance of inequality while those at the top hang on to everything they have. More entrepreneurialism, mindfulness training, education focused on the modern ways of technology: These are the sorts of items that tend to get discussed here as the response to the plight of those left behind by globalization. That perhaps private equity overseers should not be paid 1,000 times as much as teachers while availing themselves of tax breaks is thinking that gets little airing here" ("Davos Elite Fret About Inequality Over Vintage Wine and Canapes," New York Times, January 18, 2017, emphasis added).
Davos is a yearly gathering of the financial elite. They meet to talk about solutions to global warming, after their private jets have spewed tons of filth into the atmosphere to get them there. They meet to talk about income inequality, while they giggle to themselves about the billions they've hidden in offshore bank accounts. They meet to talk about the problems of third world countries, after they've invested in companies that have poisoned and killed the residents of those countries (for example, the military-industrial complex and the fossil fuel industry).
Above: New Deal administrators like Harry Hopkins and Harold Ickes didn't need or use "mindfulness" to modernize American infrastructure, like this 1936 WPA waterworks project in Birmingham, Alabama. Indeed, these two no-nonsense administrators would probably have considered "mindfulness" for a moment or two, and then said, "Look, we've got work to do, we don't have time for that silliness." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Here is a definition of mindfulness from Psychology Today: "Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you're mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience."
In other words, it doesn't really mean anything at all. It's just a neat-sounding word, like "innovation," that the super-wealthy can use to make themselves appear a little less monstrous that they actually are. A word they can use to avoid paying higher taxes or installing pollution control devices that might reduce their profits by an intolerable 1.3%.
Above: The young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps, shown here in northern California, didn't need or use "mindfulness" to create or improve our parks and forests, or to fight forest fires. They simply hopped in trucks, went to the work sites, and did the job. That's how they did things back then. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Since "mindfulness" has become the hip new thing (within the last 2 to 3 years I suppose), children are still being poisoned by lead-contaminated water, thanks to infrastructure neglect; hundreds of thousands of children are still dying from air-pollution, caused by the fossil fuel industry; the military-industrial complex is still gleefully bombing the hell of out of people, so that already-rich investors can become richer still; non-wealthy college graduates are still suffocating under a trillion+ debt, while their super-wealthy fellow students graduate debt-free and secure the choicest jobs within a network of well-heeled politicians and businessmen; and yes, despite the serene "mindfulness" of billionaires, the planet is still getting hotter - 2016 was the warmest on record. (Also see, "Corporate mindfulness is bullsh*t: Zen or no zen, you're working harder and being paid less," Salon, September 27, 2015)
And the reason these plagues continue unabated? Because the gobbledygook of "mindfulness" is a pathetic alternative to the New Deal. "Active, open attention to the present" is no replacement for strong unions. Observing "your thoughts and feelings from a distance" is not nearly as helpful as an expansion of Social Security would be. "Living in the moment and awakening to experience" doesn't help our national parks and forests - but a new Civilian Conservation Corps certainly would.
But alas, "mindfulness" doesn't cost any money - higher taxes would. So, the super-wealthy prefer the former. They prefer to mentally pleasure themselves into happiness and peace, instead of funding programs that would actually improve people's lives - like debt reduction, free public college, infrastructure repair, single-payer health insurance, work programs for the unemployed, higher wages for workers, expansion of Social Security, and so on.
The World Economic Forum in Davos should be shut down and discontinued. It is a foolish and impotent exercise, or, as Jeff Macke of Yahoo Finance described it, a "willfully oblivious mix of greed and altruism." Instead, the super-wealthy should be taxed more--much more--so that we have the revenue to improve the planet and lift people out of poverty. We've tried greed and low-wages. It hasn't worked. Let's return to, and improve, the New Deal.
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
Above: The description for this photograph reads, "Story telling at Avondale Park [Birmingham, Alabama]. Sponsored by Park and Recreation Board 1936. Story hour held daily on 46 playgrounds throughout the City by WPA and NYA workers." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Above: A WPA poster advertising a WPA "Story Hour Club." This poster was created in Illinois, by Shari Weisberg, between 1936 and 1939. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Monday, January 16, 2017
"The impact of her personality and its unwavering devotion to high principle and purpose cannot be contained in a single day or era."
--Martin Luther King, Jr., on Eleanor Roosevelt, after her death in 1962 (from "Eleanor Roosevelt and Civil Rights," George Washington University).
Above: The WPA's "Negro Advisory Board," July 1937. On July 11, 1936, WPA chief Harry Hopkins had issued an administrative order which held that "workers who are qualified by training and experience to be assigned to work projects and who are eligible as specifically provided by law and by these regulations shall not be discriminated against on any grounds whatever, such as race, religion, or political affiliation." The order echoed an Executive Order President Roosevelt had issued a year before (Donald S. Howard, The WPA and Federal Relief Policy, New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1943, p. 285, citing WPA Administrative Order No. 44). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Above: The Council of Negro Women, outside the Interior Department building in Washington, D.C., April, 1938. Mary McLeod Bethune (front row, center, with the flower on her jacket) founded this organization of women in 1935. Bethune was also a member of FDR's "Black Cabinet," an administrator in the National Youth Administration, and a founder of Bethune-Cookman University. There is a statue of her in Lincoln Park, in Washington, D.C. The National Council of Negro Women is still an active organization today. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Above: A closer look at the left-hand side of the photo, with Bethune at lower right.
Above: A closer look at the right-hand side of the photo.
There were many ways that the New Deal advanced civil rights and expanded opportunities for African Americans, as well as other minority groups. The above are just a few examples. Could FDR and his fellow New Deal administrators have done more to promote civil rights, opportunity, and integration? Perhaps. But the New Deal needed the support of southern Democrats, many of whom were open and ardent racists. Failure to compromise with them may have doomed many, or even most New Deal policies (policies that ultimately helped many minority Americans). Indeed, the exuberant integration shown in some WPA Federal Theatre performances almost certainly contributed to that program's demise via congressional defunding in 1939. Southern Democrats just didn't like the idea of whites and blacks acting, singing, and dancing together on stage (see, e.g., the Howard book cited above, pp. 294-295).
What the New Deal did for minority groups, especially African Americans, was revolutionary for the day. Viewed through a modern lens, it may seem like baby steps. But transport yourself back to America of the 1920s and 30s, which in many places resembled South Africa's apartheid, and you can appreciate some of the groundbreaking policies and actions of the New Deal. Make no mistake about it, the New Deal laid the groundwork for the civil rights movements of the 1950s and 60s. It also laid the groundwork for a more fair and just society, which has only recently been unraveling thanks to trickle-down economics, corporate greed, and the fear & anger-based politics of the political right.
Saturday, January 14, 2017
Above: An African American band in the National Youth Administration (NYA), Mobile, Alabama, 1937. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Above: Another picture of the African American NYA band in Mobile, Alabama. According to the Final Report of the National Youth Administration (1944), "NYA orchestras and choral groups were formed in a number of States... In organizing a NYA orchestra, the following steps were taken: Securing a sponsorship, usually the city; provision of NYA funds for scores, some instruments, and equipment such as stands; securing a conductor, either by a small payment for his services (about $125 a month) or by arrangement through the co-sponsor; payment of youth wages for rehearsals and performances... Performances were given at municipal parks and halls. In the fiscal years 1941 and 1942, NYA orchestras gave 3,976 performances... Often radio time was secured for broadcasts... a series of NYA musical broadcasts were given, featuring musical contributions of various racial groups. These programs were broadcast on a Nation-wide hook-up from a dozen different cities and short-waved to South America" (pp. 173-174). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Thursday, January 12, 2017
Above: "Winter Sports," a mural study by Paul Faulkner, created while he was in the New Deal's Section of Fine Arts. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Above: A closer look at the left-hand side of the painting.
Above: A closer look at the center of the painting.
Above: A closer look at the right-hand side of the painting. The finished mural, located in the Kewaunee, Wisconsion Post Office, has some significant changes from this mural study. It can be viewed on the website of the Living New Deal, here.
Above: The New Deal not only painted winter sports, it made winter sports, such as this WPA-built ski jump in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, ca. 1935-1943. Across the United States, WPA workers created 1,101 ice skating areas, 65 ski jumps, and 310 miles of ski trails (Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, 1946, p. 131). Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Above: A woman takes aim in a WPA archery class in San Francisco, ca. 1935-1943. The Final Report on the WPA Program noted that the "WPA recreation projects provided leadership and instruction in recreational activities of many kinds, supplementing existing public services of local communities. The aim of this work was the year-round operation of a varied and well-balanced recreation program, including social, cultural, and physical activities, for adults as well as young people" (p. 62). Today, we've become fat, and perhaps less social too. Maybe we could use a new WPA to bring us together and also get our muscles moving. In 2016, conservative commentator David Brooks wrote: "solidarity can be rekindled nationally. Over the course of American history, national projects like the railroad legislation, the W.P.A. and the NASA project have bound this diverse nation." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Above: On this WPA project, somewhere in northern California, ca. 1935-1943, students learn how to make archery equipment. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
Above: A WPA poster, advertising recreational programs in archery, dancing, drama, and more. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.