Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A New Year's resolution for a new and stronger New Deal

(In 2014, Americans need to come together and create an economic system that offers more opportunities, and allows for shared prosperity. WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Instead of creating policies that add billions to the fortunes of billionaires, I think we should all make a New Year's resolution to fight for an economy that provides a living wage for everyone willing to work, a public jobs program for people shut out by the private sector, an expansion of Social Security, and universal health care for our citizens (sorta like the health care that every other developed country has).

In other words, a New Year's resolution for a new and stronger New Deal--a deal where no American is kicked to the curb.

Heck, I bet even some billionaires would agree with me on this! In fact, billionaire investor Bill Gross recently wrote, "...it’s time to kick out and share some of your good fortune by paying higher taxes or reforming them to favor economic growth and labor, as opposed to corporate profits and individual gazillions."

Monday, December 30, 2013

The New Deal and the American Dream are alive and well....in Australia

Above: The Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor is responsible for enforcing the minimum-wage law. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

The minimum wage in America was created in 1938, during the New Deal. Some conservatives feel that a government-mandated minimum wage is a job-killer. Yet, after World War II, with the minimum wage firmly in place, the American middle-class blossomed, unemployment was low, and America became an economic powerhouse. How was this possible, when the very concept of a minimum wage is supposed to be a job-killer?

Let's look at two countries, and their minimum wages: The United States and Australia.

In the United States, the minimum wage is a stingy $7.25 (when tied with inflation and the increasing cost of living, it's lower than it has been in the past). In Australia, the minimum wage is $16.88 (with some exceptions for very young workers). Now, let's look at the unemployment rate, average wealth per adult, and median wealth per adult in the United States and Australia:

Unemployment: The United States currently has a 7% unemployment rate, and Australia has a 5.8% unemployment rate.

Average Wealth: In the U.S., the average (or mean) wealth per adult is $301,140. In Australia, it's $402,758.

Median Wealth: In the U.S., the median wealth per adult is $44,911. In Australia, it's an astounding $219,505. ("Median" is a middle point, where half are above and half are below.)

(Mean and median wealth per adult statistics taken from the 2013 Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report.)

So, why all the hand-wringing about increasing the minimum wage in America? Why so many doomsday prophets warning us about the Apocalypse if we raise it, especially when there is clear evidence that a higher minimum wage can exist alongside shared prosperity?

Ah, "shared!" There ya go! That's why. In America, there are many (not all) wealthy people who don't want shared prosperity, they want it all for themselves. And so they pay politicians to create policies that bring more wealth to them and less to everyone else. They evade taxes by placing money in secret offshore accounts, while soldiers fight for our country and then come home, oft-times disabled, to have their pensions cut. They shift money in and out of trusts to avoid estate taxes, while the politicians they bribe with campaign contributions wink and nod approvingly. Meanwhile, the very same bribed politicians cut food assistance to children and low-income senior citizens, declaring "we can't afford it!"

Above: Warning: Strong (but very accurate) language. George Carlin was right, many wealthy Americans "want more for themselves and less for everyone else." And now they're going after Social Security, a large pot of money they can take from the masses and use to build their personal fortunes. They've already gotten rid of fixed-pensions, thus setting Americans up for old-age poverty with pathetic 401k's, and now they're going after Social Security. As Carlin says, "They want your f&ckin' retirement money...so they can give it to their criminal friends on Wall Street."
In America today, we are seeing a level of greed and selfishness not seen since the days of slavery, when many (not all) wealthy people saw other people as property, to be whipped and worked mercilessly, for profit and amusement. As David Simon, creator of The Wire television series recently wrote about income & wealth inequality in America, "...in my country you're seeing a horror show." And it's only going to get worse, now that the genie of campaign contributions has been let out of the bottle. It's like a snowball rolling down a hill, getting bigger and bigger. Once you allow the wealthy to buy Congress, as well as state legislatures, they will use that power to make sure you never reverse the trend, and that you never again have a say in your government. More money to the wealthy = more campaign contributions = more policies that distribute wealth upwards = more money to the wealthy = more campaign contributions, and so on and so on. And now, our bribed politicians are creating voter suppression laws--under the guise of trying to ferret our voter fraud--to make sure campaign contributions by the wealthy are not the only tactic available to destroy democracy.

So, if you want to experience the American Dream, or see where the New Deal went, try to make it to Australia, or some other country that truly cares about its citizens. Staying in America is a very risky proposition. (See, e.g., "Senior Poverty: Food Insecurity Rising Among Older Americans" & "Retirement Inequality Chartbook: How the 401(k) revolution created a few big winners and many losers")

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The "Hammock" of Homelessness

(A memorial stone at a cemetery on Roanoke Island reads, "These are the graves of homeless men who died in work camps while employed by the Department of the Interior, National Park Service, on beach erosion control work in the counties of Dare, Hyde and Currituck, 1936-1941." Information from local residents, as well as a project summary card at the National Archives, indicates that these men worked in the WPA, and that their work camp was located at, or near, what is now Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. Photo by Brent McKee.)   

In March of 2012, U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wis) said "...we don't want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency, that drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives." (See "Paul Ryan Wants 'Welfare Reform Round 2'")

The fact of the matter is that most developed countries have stronger social safety nets than the United States; and many of these countries have more equitable economies and lower unemployment rates than the United States. (See, e.g., "U.S. poverty rates higher, safety net weaker than in peer countries," "U.S. median wealth only 27th in the world," and "The World Factbook, Country Comparison: Unemployment Rate"). If having a strong social safety net equals a lazy, complacent society, unwilling to work, as Ryan suggests, then shouldn't all countries with social safety nets stronger than the United States be experiencing sky-high unemployment?

(William Born was homeless, and passed away in 1939, while employed in the WPA. He was 64. Mr. Born must have had a rough life, but at least he had the dignity of passing away under a roof (the work camp--see previous picture and caption) and while working on a useful project. Today's homeless have no such opportunities. They are demonized--for political purposes--as lazy "takers," living on the social safety net "hammock." Some homeless Americans are even freezing to death on their "hammocks." Photo by Brent McKee.)     

Consider: After unemployment insurance was instituted into a national program, during the New Deal, why did America's unemployment rate not increase to astronomical levels? Shouldn't this cushy "hammock" of a program caused the majority of people to stop working? And why did America's economy boom in the mid-1930s (during the height of the New Deal) and boom again after World War II, when social safety net programs, like unemployment insurance, were formulated and then implemented? I mean, we were repeatedly warned, right? For example, in the 1930s, one business leader warned Congress that unemployment insurance "would undermine the fabric of our economic and social life by destroying initiative, discouraging thrift, and stifling individual responsibility." (See "Will Heartless Republicans Screw Themselves By Screwing The Jobless?") Wow, isn't it amazing that America still exists, after eight decades of Darth Vader's evil unemployment insurance program?!?

And if America's social safety net is such a hammock, then why do we have so many homeless citizens? Shouldn't our social safety net "hammock" allow them to live in luxury condos, sipping martinis and laughing at all the poor saps who have to work for a living? Hasn't anyone showed our tens of thousands of homeless veterans where their hammocks are? 

(In the United States, losing a job can easily lead to homelessness, especially if you don't come from a well-to-do family. In this picture, we see a homeless person enjoying a Paul Ryan Safety Net Hammock. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)

The truth is, America has a very miserly social safety net because (1) we do not, as a nation, believe in the concepts of market failure & market imperfection (and thus, we blame the individual for everything), and (2) we have very little empathy for our fellow citizens. Thus, a charlatan like Paul Ryan can come along and declare that our social safety net is fast becoming a "hammock," despite facts and data to the contrary, and millions will nod and say, "Yep, yep....it certainly is!!" Politicians like Ryan know that stereotyping the less fortunate as lazy "takers" who want to ride on the backs of others, is a sure-fire way to get votes and campaign cash from conservative circles. That's why you will never see Ryan, and those like him, spend too much time (if any time at all) on issues like tax evasion by the wealthy, insider trading, junk securities, or accounting fraud. After all, no politician wants to piss off the people who are filling up their campaign trough. (And yes, many Democrats are turning a blind-eye to white collar crime too, and for that very same reason.)

Anyway, for 2014, I guess we should all pray, and cross our fingers, that we lose our jobs, so that we can finally enjoy the better quality of life that comes with the Paul Ryan Safety Net Hammock.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Fewer Good-Paying Jobs, Weaker Government Programs, Less Charity......More Pain & Suffering

(New Deal policy-makers were advocates of good-paying American jobsWPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Good-Paying Jobs: Over the past 30+ years, wages for average Americans have stagnated. Meanwhile, the super-wealthy (the supposed "job creators") keeping vacuuming up more and more wealth. Trickle-down economics was sold to us as a way to "lift all boats." It was a fraud, a clever marketing gimmick to create massive income & wealth inequality. The fraud worked.

(New Deal policy-makers were advocates of good government programs. After all, why shouldn't We the People help We the People? Image courtesy of Wikipedia.) 

Good Government Programs: Right-wing politicians, pundits, and plutocrats have engaged in a massive war against the U.S. Government, starving it of revenue, shutting it down, and manufacturing one crisis after another. And, over the past few decades, more and more Democrats are standing by idly, either afraid to appear too pro-government or eager to cash in on the political bribes campaign contribution gravy train. During the New Deal however, policy-makers created jobs for the unemployed, protections against old-age poverty, insurance against bank account losses, infrastructure to modernize our country, and much, much more. 

(New Deal policy-makers understood that charity can be a good thing, but they also understood that charity cannot replace good government programs. WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Less Charity: We are frequently told by the people who want "limited government," and also by the people who don't see massive income & wealth inequality as a bad thing, that charity will pick up the slack. But the habits of many of the super-wealthy point to a different conclusion. The super-wealthy give a smaller percentage of their income & wealth to charity than do other income classes, and they frequently give in ways that do not benefit the less fortunate, for example, giving to elite & private schools.   

(New Deal policy-makers understood that massive income & wealth disparities created a toxic culture, so they set in motion a series of policies to create a more equal society. For example, America's post-World War II economic prosperity occurred along New Deal roads, across New Deal bridges, inside New Deal buildings, and out of New Deal airports. Infrastructure built by programs like the WPA, PWA, and CCC facilitated economic expansion, allowing more Americans to experience the American Dream. Indeed, America's middle-class grew like never before or since. WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)   

More Pain & Suffering: As many super-wealthy Americans engage in tax evasion and tax avoidance, we, as a nation, are cutting off extended unemployment benefits for people who can't find work, reducing cost-of-living pension increases for disabled veterans, scaling back funding for programs that feed low-income senior citizens, and shutting down government, thus preventing children with cancer from starting their clinical trials. As David Simon, creator of The Wire television series, recently wrote: "...in my country, you're seeing a horror show."

And all the while, of course, we are told to keep our mouths shut, because complaining would be "class warfare." Instead, apparently, we should just "pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps" while Corporate America sends jobs overseas and big financial institutions cooks the books, create fraudulent securities, and dabble in insider trading. Those are the rules of the new plutocratic America. Do you like them?     

We should all make a New Year's resolution to create a more just society, with more opportunities. In other words, a new and stronger New Deal. I fear, however, that we are going to stand by and watch the 1% draw in even more wealth, while their defenders repeat, inanely, "work hard and you'll be successful too!"    

Friday, December 27, 2013

Why have we abandoned the long-term unemployed?

(WPA workers restoring the historic Rossborough Inn in College Park, Maryland, September 1938. The Inn still stands strong today, thanks, in part, to the workers of the WPA. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

The five-year-long recession (and yes, it's still a recession for the non-wealthy) has shown that America, as a whole, is quite willing to abandon the long-term unemployed, even if it means that the long-term unemployed will be financially ruined, emotionally destroyed, and more likely to commit suicide.


1. Recently, Republicans have been quite happy to allow extended jobless benefits to expire, and Democrats haven't had much interest in challenging that desire. (See, e.g., "The Quiet Death of Long-Term Unemployment Insurance in 2013")  

2. Recent research has shown that only about 8% of wealthy Americans agree with the statement "The federal government should provide jobs for everyone able and willing to work who cannot find a job in private employment." (See "Democracy and the Policy Preferences of Wealthy Americans")

3. In September of 2012, Republicans blocked legislation that would have created a new CCC-type program for unemployed veterans. (See "GOP Senators Block Veterans Jobs Bill")

4. Even when one Democrat--the late Senator Frank Lautenberg (NJ)--introduced legislation to create a new WPA, his fellow Democrats stood by quietly and let it die in committee.

5. Research has shown that employers discriminate against the unemployed, thereby facilitating the financial destruction and emotional ruination of many of their fellow Americans. (See, e.g., "Unemployed Face Discrimination Just One Month After Losing Their Jobs, Report Says")

6. The American people, as a whole, are not voting for political candidates who are focused on solving unemployment. Instead, they are voting (if they are voting at all) for wealthy candidates who are backed by wealthy campaign contributors. And the wealthy have little interest in solving the problem of unemployment, given that the stock market, and their finances, are doing quite well.

(New Deal policy-makers cared about the unemployed, and created work opportunities for them. The WPA employed 8.5 million different Americans between 1935 and 1943. Sadly, most modern policy-makers are more interested in campaign contributions from the wealthy, than in helping people who need jobs. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.) 

So, why have we turned our backs on our fellow citizens who are crying out for help? One reason is plutocracy. Since the wealthy are not interested in a public jobs program for people who can't find work in the private sector, and since they also bankroll our politicians, a direct job-creation program is off-the-table. A second reason is because the wealthy profit from unemployment. A large pool of unemployed workers will suppress wages and thereby increases investment returns for the wealthy.

A third reason we have turned our backs on the long-term unemployed is apathy, often fueled by intellectual laziness. A lot of people don't vote. And a lot of people who do vote, will vote for politicians who demonize the unemployed as "lazy takers." If a voter has a job, he/she may have no sympathy for the jobless. A phenomenon I have seen, over and over again, is the application of one's life experiences onto everyone else. A person will look at an unemployed person and think/say, "If I can do it, so can they!" or "If they would've worked hard like me, they'd be successful too!" 

The complexity of life is lost on many people. They simply cannot understand how different life experiences can result in different outcomes. They cannot, for example, understand how graduating from college during a period of high labor demand may result in a different outcome than graduating during a period of low labor demand. This takes too much effort, especially when a simple knee-jerk explanation is readily available and reinforced by right-wing politicians and pundits: "They're lazy! They don't want to work, they just want to collect unemployment benefits!!" Afterall all, why expend energy thinking about structural problems, when you can just blame the jobless instead, and then go about your day feeling superior?

In sum, we have turned our backs on our fellow citizens because we have a plutocratic national government, because we have an economic system that enriches the 1% when unemployment stays high & wages go down (lower labor costs = higher investment returns), and because our nation suffers from a serious case of apathy & intellectual laziness.  

(America would benefit greatly if more people studied the issues, looked at data, and turned off Hate Radio. WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Affordable Housing During the New Deal

Above: A WPA poster advertising the availability of affordable housing, circa 1936-40. This was from an era when many legislators cared about middle and low-income Americans. Today, unfortunately, many politicians are more concerned about categorizing Americans as "makers" or "takers," so they can rake in campaign cash from those they label the "makers." (Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Above: WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Above: This WPA poster was created between 1941 and 1943. It shows how Americans came together when the going got rough, i.e., the Great Depression and World War II. Today, we're seeing very little of this camaraderie in America. Instead, we're seeing a massive domestic spying program, the largest prison-industrial complex in the world, and the increasing militarization of our police. We're exchanging the hope, optimism, and positive outcomes of the New Deal for a culture of pessimism, mistrust, and punishment. (Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.) 

Above: New Deal policymakers understood the role of one's environment in criminal behavior; so they created clean, planned communities that still thrive today, such as Greenbelt, Maryland. (Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)  

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Christmas Carol with WPA Marionettes

(A WPA poster, advertising a WPA marionette show of "A Christmas Carol." Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

(Children enjoying a WPA marionette show in New York, 1935. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Lost WPA Posters?

While doing research at the University of Maryland College Park Archives, I found photographs that showed the WPA posters shown below (images are cropped from the original photographs). The Library of Congress has 900 of the "2000 WPA posters known to exist." None of the posters below appear to be included in the Library of Congress's collection. Could some of the originals still be out there somewhere?    

(All images courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

God, Nature, and the New Deal

(Harold Ickes, photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

Harold L. Ickes (1874-1952) was the Secretary of the Interior, and the director of the Public Works Administration, during the New Deal. He once said, "If I had my way about National Parks, I would create one without a road in it. A place where man would not try to improve upon God." (From the Ken Burns' documentary series The National Parks: America's Best Idea

(Theodore Roosevelt, photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)

President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) once said of the Grand Canyon, "I want to ask you to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is. I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon. Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it." (From http://www.nps.gov/thro/historyculture/theodore-roosevelt-quotes.htm)

(WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

During the New Deal, the WPA planted 177 million trees across America. The Civilian Conservation Corps? About 3 billion. The formerly unemployed reforested vast areas of America. Today, unfortunately, we have no such creativity or ingenuity regarding the issue of unemployment.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Worker safety during the New Deal vs. worker safety during the Raw Deal

(WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

During the New Deal, WPA artists made posters promoting workplace safety, the Civilian Conservation Corps taught safety to its enrollees, and legislators gave protections to unions, who in turn bargained with management for safer working conditions.

Today, as we are being forced to live under a Raw Deal instead of a New Deal, things are quite different. In an effort to bring more profits to the 1%, Corporate America is making life more dangerous for workers. Workers are being killed and injured so that fewer and fewer families can live in greater and greater luxury.

(WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Instead of well-paying, unionized jobs with good benefits and protections, Corporate America is forcing the temp worker world down our throats. Corporate America has been very successful at getting rid of unions and fixed pensions (thus giving us lower wages and setting us up for old age poverty) and now they're going after worker safety. Temp workers have less workplace protections than regular, permanent workers, so Corporate America is seeing a gold mine in disposable workers, towards whom they have little or no responsibility...legally speaking. (See, e.g., "Temp Work Isn't Only Insecure -- It's More Dangerous Too")

But the question isn't so much "Why are corporations destroying the middle-class?"--we know what humans are capable of when they have too much power, i.e., slavery, genocide, insatiable greed--the questions are "Why are we putting up with this relentless assault on the quality of our lives?" and "Why are we allowing the American Dream to be pummelled into the ground?" We keep allowing the super-wealthy to vacuum up more and more of our nation's wealth because--we are told--they're the "job creators." But the simple fact of the matter is that the super-wealthy are not creating a plethora of good, middle-class jobs. Indeed, the more wealth the super-wealthy acquire, the more they seem to pursue strategies that crush the American Dream, e.g., the increasing utilization of low-paid temp workers over well-paid permanent workers, and the increasing utilization of part-time workers to whom they give less benefits.

Ironically, the America Dream (social mobility) is actually stronger in other developed countries that it is here (see, e.g., "USA! USA! America Now Has Less Class Mobility Than Most Of Europe"). That's what the "job creators" have done for us, in exchange for the colossal tax breaks and tax loopholes we've given them over the past 30+ years. That's the Raw Deal. 

(WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

So, if it isn't time for another, stronger New Deal, when will it be? When there are only two income classes: The Fortune 400 and their serfs? Or will the complete elimination of the middle-class still not be enough to wake us from our trickle-down slumber? And how many temp workers have to die or get severely injured before we say, "You know, plutocracy and cutthroat capitalism just isn't right."

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Reverse New Deal: A Ruthless, In-Your-Face Plutocracy

(WPA poster, promoting respect towards veterans. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.) 

A recent Congressional budget deal, brokered by Paul Ryan (R-Wis) and Patty Murray (D-Wash) will, among other things, reduce cost-of-living pension increases for disabled veterans.

This is an attempt to "balance the budget," those three words that have been used repeatedly to shift more wealth to the top 1% of Americans.

Meanwhile, we learn that many rich Americans are playing financial games--shifting money in and out of trusts--to avoid paying estate and gift taxes. This is on top of the $300 billion we lose--annually--to illegal tax evasion, practiced mostly by rich folks, and the tens (perhaps hundreds) of billions we lose via corporate tax avoidance.

Some congressmen have tried to close the estate and gift tax loophole, but Congress, as a whole, will not act.

Why not?

Well, a lawyer who engineered one of the key estate and gift tax loophole strategies has the obvious answer: Political contributions to politicians, by the wealthy.

(WPA poster, promoting the purchase of war bonds to help soldiers during World War II. This spirit of the common good is disappearing in America, in favor of personal profit. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.) 

Sheldon Adelson, a right-wing billionaire, complains: "How many times do you have to pay taxes on money?" Adelson must feel burdened by all the taxes he has to pay; he must feel that taxes have kept him from becoming successful. After all, he's only worth about $30 billion. Yes, the harmful and oppressive U.S. tax code has restricted his wealth to only 30,000 million dollars. Isn't that horrible? And did you know that he only has six private jets? I mean, how can a person live with only six jets?

So, to summarize, Congress targets the pensions of disabled veterans to "balance the budget," but does not close a tax loophole that the super-wealthy use to avoid paying taxes. If this does not inform us that our Congress is corrupt, and has fully embraced plutocracy, nothing will. What else does Congress have to do before we demand fundamental changes, before we demand economic justice and a restoration of democracy?

Welcome to the Reverse New Deal: A Ruthless, In-Your-Face Plutocracy.

(WPA poster asking the public to conserve water for the war effort. Given today's emphasis on wealth and vanity, and the demonization of the common good as "evil socialism," would Americans work together to conserve water if another world war broke out? Or would we, instead, seek ways to turn water into personal fortunes, the war effort be damned? Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.) 

Monday, December 16, 2013

FDR's New Deal vs. Republicans' Raw Deal

Above: President Franklin Roosevelt and his fellow New Deal policy-makers envisioned an America where citizens worked together, sharing prosperity. In the past 30+ years, as we've steered away from New Deal policies & principles, and have embraced trickle-down economics instead, the middle-class is being decimated while the top 1% keeps vacuuming up all the wealth. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Above: This chart, from a 2011 Mother Jones article, shows how worker productivity has increased.....and also how the wealthy have hoarded all the profits from that extra productivity. But remember, according to right-wing extremists, it's really food stamp recipients and public school teachers who are the "takers." (!) 

Above: This Mother Jones graph highlights the impact of trickle-down economics on America. As you can see, trickle-down economics works best if you're already wealthy. For the non-wealthy, it means stagnation. Add in higher prices, and you have the death of the American Dream. And indeed, for most Americans the American Dream is just that--dead. As Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz stated in 2012, "The life chances of a young US citizen are more dependent on the income and education of his parents than in any other advanced industrial country for which there is data. The belief in the American dream is reinforced by anecdotes, by dramatic examples of individuals who have made it from the bottom to the top -- but what matters most are an individual's life chances. The belief in the American dream is not supported by the data."

Labor leader Leo Gerard recently wrote, "In response to massive unemployment, bread lines, homelessness and misery, FDR gave America Social Security, unemployment insurance, minimum wage, public works jobs and collective bargaining. He gave hope to everyday Americans. In the decades since then, Republicans have tried relentlessly to destroy the New Deal. They weakened collective bargaining rights in 1947. They delayed minimum wage increases and opposed stimulus to create public works jobs in the Great Recession. They want to privatize Social Security and voucherize Medicare...Republicans have redoubled their efforts to kill the New Deal. They're intent on crushing the social insurance programs that enable Americans to care for one another when tragedy or natural disaster or hard times hit. Republicans want to enshrine in law their belief that workers must display devotion and loyalty to employers, but corporations bear no reciprocal responsibility to pay living wages and keep pension promises. Theirs is a raw deal."

What a shame that so many Americans don't understand American history. They don't understand that the New Deal set the stage for our nation's prosperity. Our post-World War II economic expansion occurred along New Deal roads, across New Deal bridges, inside of New Deal buildings, and out of New Deal airports. The New Deal was the infrastructure for our economic growth. 

Today, we have a choice: We can either have another, even stronger New Deal, or we can have a plutocratic banana republic. Unfortunately, it looks as though we've chosen the latter (see, e.g., "Look at the Stats--America Resembles a Broken Banana Republic"). 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Perfect Storm for the Long-Term Unemployed

(WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

During the Great Depression, New Deal policy-makers were very concerned about the unemployed, and especially the long-term unemployed; so they created millions of job opportunities for them. For example, the WPA employed about 8.5 million different Americans between 1935 and 1943. New Deal policy-makers also expanded unemployment insurance into a national concept.

Today, the story couldn't be more different. The unemployed are scolded by elected officials, threatened with drug testing, and discriminated against by private business. Federal funding for job re-training has been cut, the idea of a public jobs program is off the table, and it looks as though Congress is going to cut off 1.3 million Americans from extended unemployment benefits...just in time for the holidays.

And all the while, there are far more unemployed Americans than job openings. But, to our plutocratic congressmen and women, who take their marching orders from wealthy campaign contributors, this fact is meaningless. It is far more politically profitable for them to demonize the unemployed, or at least ignore them, than it is to help them.

For the long-term unemployed, it's the perfect storm of nastiness, apathy, discrimination, and anemic job growth. And, to add insult to injury, many of the jobs that are being created are low-wage, no-benefit, no-future jobs. Hardly the stuff of the American Dream.  

Friday, December 13, 2013

WPA Waterways!

(WPA workers constructing Pier 8 in Baltimore, Maryland, during May of 1936. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

From 1935 to 1943, WPA workers across the country constructed 193 miles of jetties & breakwaters, built 169 miles of bulkhead, improved 4,400 miles of river bank & shoreline, and laid down 17 million square yards of riprap.

(The WPA helped widen the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal in 1935. The widening would prove useful to the war effort, as ships were able to avoid much of the Atlantic Ocean--and thus potential U-Boat attack--when traveling to or from Baltimore. Photo by Brent McKee.)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

WPA Clean Up & Restoration

Above: WPA workers clearing debris from the Pocomoke River, in Wicomico County, Maryland (1935). All across America, WPA workers helped clean up and restore the environment. Image courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.

Above: The WPA planted nearly 177 million trees during its 8-year existence, helping America restore its natural environment. This WPA poster, made in Ohio in 1938, appears to depict the Ohio Buckeye Tree, which is Ohio's official state tree. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Monday, December 9, 2013

Freeing corporate greed, corruption, and crime from New Deal shackles

(The Securities and Exchange Commission is a New Deal creation that curbed Wall Street chicanery for decades. Unfortunately, as we continue our departure from New Deal ethics and principles, white collar crime and corporate greed are becoming normalized. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

"Wall Street, freed from its New Deal shackles, loaded companies up with debt, cut R&D (research & development), raided pension funds, slashed wages and benefits, and decimated good paying jobs in the U.S. while shipping many abroad." So writes Les Leopold--quite accurately--in his op-ed, "Wall Street's Police State?"   

Leopold asks, "Where is the jobs program for the millions who need it?," and then correctly answers, "...financial interests and their crony politicians have no interest at all in traditional jobs programs that could put millions of young people to work. Instead, they are doing all they can to bring austerity policies to America. The less government spends on public services and safety net programs, the more money it has to support Wall Street."

Indeed, in September of 2012, Senate Republicans blocked legislation that would have created a new CCC-type program for unemployed veterans. As Leopold points out, "...public jobs programs are out of the question, and both parties have been 'convinced' (with campaign contributions) that we can't afford them."

And so this is what happens when a citizenry allows its government to become a full-blown plutocracy. White collar crime is lightly punished (if punished at all), the common good is demonized as "socialism," wages fall, incarceration rises, greed flourishes, and the public will is brushed aside like garbage. As David Simon, creator of The Wire television series, recently wrote in a brilliant piece on economic inequality in America, "...in my country you’re seeing a horror show." 

It's long past time for a new and stronger New Deal. Unfortunately, as long as we continue to allow corporations to control Congress, the White House, and the Supreme Court, we'll never see it.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The WPA and Public Health

Above: One of the many posters created by WPA artists to persuade Americans to be proactive in their healthcare needs. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

WPA Repairs

(WPA workers putting a new roof on a hospital in Baltimore. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

Across the nation, formerly jobless Americans, working in the WPA, repaired or improved tens of thousands of public buildings. 

Today, there are over 24 million Americans looking for work, or additional work, but can't find it (http://njfac.org/). 

Earlier this year, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave America's infrastructure a letter grade of D+ (http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/).

So....why aren't we connecting the dots? (Hints: Plutocracy, apathy, demonization of the less fortunate, and a farcical reliance on the mythical "job creators" to make things better.)

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Reverse New Deal: A "globalization of indifference"

(President Franklin Roosevelt, image courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.)

President Franklin Roosevelt once declared, "We are going to make a country in which no one is left out."

Unfortunately, over the past few decades, as we've turned away from New Deal policies, and as countries around the world have imposed austerity measures upon the middle-class and poor (to make up the difference for revenue lost through white collar crime and illegal tax evasion), we are creating what Pope Francis recently described as a "globalization of indifference" where "we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own."

Pope Francis connects the "globalization of indifference" to supply-side economics: "...some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting."

Indeed, in America 30+ years of economic policies that have largely favored the wealthy have created nothing short of cultural chaos: An enormous national debt, the largest prison system in the world, stagnant (or even dropping) wages, high unemployment, and a right-wing political culture that screams "stop the nanny state!!" even as data clearly shows that the social safety net of the United States is weak compared to other developed countries.

The question is, how do we fight the "globalization of indifference," especially when it is coupled with wide-spread ignorance?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

General Welfare vs. Common Defense

(A WPA poster promoting a public health program. In addition to creating public awareness posters, the WPA operated health clinics and hired unemployed nurses to provide healthcare to low-income Americans. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

In the preamble to the U.S. Constitution, we see that two of the primary reasons that the United States was created was to "provide for the common defence" and "promote the general welfare." Article I, Section 8 emphasizes this by giving Congress the power of taxation and the power to "provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States."

Unfortunately, there are currents of hatred & fear that run through American culture that have created a massive imbalance between welfare and defense. For example, hatred of the poor has limited our social safety net to one of the stingiest in the industrialized world, while fear has contributed to the creation of America's military & prison systems--the largest in the world. And our plutocratic political system keeps these realities firmly in place, year after year, decade after decade.   


General Welfare: "...the United States stands out as the country with the highest poverty rate and one of the lowest levels of social expenditure—16.2 percent of GDP, well below the vast majority of peer countries...peer countries are much more likely than the United States to step in where markets and labor policy fail in order to lift their most disadvantaged citizens out of poverty." (Elise Gould and Hilary Wething, Economic Policy Institute Report, "U.S. poverty rates higher, safety net weaker than in peer countries," July 24, 2012)   

Common Defense: "The United States spent $728 billion on its military in 2010, about 45% of the world’s $1.6 trillion total. U.S. spending amounts to more than the next fourteen largest military spending countries combined." (Veronique de Rugy, Mercatus Center, George Mason University, "World's Top Military Spenders: U.S. Spends More than Next Top 14 Countries Combined," December 9, 2011). 

(Unlike most of today's national policy-makers, New Deal policy-makers were very concerned about youth unemployment. To help jobless youth, they created the Civilian Conservation Corps and the National Youth Administration. Both agencies provided work and training opportunities for America's young adults. WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

President Franklin Roosevelt once said: "If, as our Constitution tells us, our Federal Government was established among other things 'to promote the general welfare,' it is our plain duty to provide for that security upon which welfare depends." (From The New Deal: A Modern History by Michael Hiltzik, 2011)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

New Deal Trust

(WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

A recent poll indicates that Americans are trusting each other less and less with each passing decade. Is it any wonder? We have the largest prison-industrial complex in the world, unemployment is high, wages have stagnated in the face of rising prices, income inequality is soaring, the big financial institutions are pillaging our economy with impunity, Congress has become the embodiment of plutocracy, illegal tax evasion is rampant, corporations have sent our prosperity overseas, "hate radio" scapegoats the less fortunate, and so on and so on.

Also, in response to the survey, it is noted that "Less socializing and fewer community meetings make people less trustful than the 'long civic generation' that came of age during the Depression and World War II."

Indeed, the New Deal brought us together, and another, even stronger New Deal could do the same. For example, instead of calling the unemployed "parasites" we could create a new WPA and CCC to provide work opportunities for them. They could, among other things, create and improve national, state, county, and municipal parks. The unemployed would have useful jobs and Americans would have better parks. That's how you create good will, and build trust, in a citizenry.    

 (A bas relief in Greenbelt, Maryland, created by Lenore Thomas during a New Deal project, depicting Americans working together. Photo by Brent McKee.)

Friday, November 29, 2013

WPA Sewing

(WPA poster "promoting occupations related to sewing, such as power machine operator, alteration worker, dress designer, hand finisher, basting trimmer, packer, swatcher." Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

During the Great Depression, WPA workers created over 500 million sewing room products. These products included diapers, hospital gowns, military blankets, canteen covers, and various items of clothing for men, women, and children. WPA sewing room projects provided job opportunities & skills for the unemployed, clothing for low-income Americans, and supplies for the military during a critical time in world history. It was a win, win, and win situation. It also highlighted what the unemployed are capable of when they are given opportunities instead of insults. It showed that the jobless are not "lazy bums," but merely people victimized by the vagaries of the U.S. economy and the vagaries of the labor market. Unfortunately, we have learned very little (if anything) from this history, evidenced by the fact that many Americans continue to demonize the unemployed whenever there are recessions and layoffs. 

(WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Pope Francis and the New Deal

(WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Pope Francis recently wrote: "Just as the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills...How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses 2 points?...As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world's problems or, for that matter, to any problems...I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor."

A medical professional in Texas recently wrote an article, "I watched my patients die of treatable diseases because they were poor," describing, well, it's pretty self-explanatory isn't it?

And we also know that the rate of suicide has increased, and diseases have needlessly spread, due to the Great Recession that began in 2008, and due to the subsequent austerity measures that have been crafted to punish the poor for the crimes of large financial institutions (see, e.g., "How austerity kills").

These things (and much, much more) bring two questions to the forefront: Are we allowing people to die to protect the fortunes of the 1%? And, if so, is this an intentional killing, or a killing that is occurring through apathy?

(WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.) 

The New Deal set us on a path towards more compassion for our fellow citizens. Programs were created to mitigate poverty (e.g., Social Security), to provide job opportunities for the unemployed (e.g., the WPA and CCC), to provide power to low-income rural areas (e.g., TVA), to build new hospitals (e.g., PWA-funded projects), and much, much more. And the beauty of these programs were that they not only helped the downtrodden, but they also set the stage for the greatest period of economic prosperity in American history. America's post-WWII economy expanded along New Deal roads, across New Deal bridges, inside New Deal buildings, and out of New Deal airports.

Unfortunately, since the "Reagan Revolution" began we have steadily moved away from New Deal policies and New Deal ethics. In their place we have adopted devil-may-care polices and ruthless attitudes towards those who need help (policies and attitudes so cruel, in fact, that they counter much of what Reagan wrote in his autobiography). If someone says, for example, "I've applied to 500 jobs, I can't find employment, and I need help," our collective response seems to be "tough sh#t parasite, no one cares about your problems! Stop asking us for help!" 

So, we should ask ourselves: Do we want an economy (and a system of ethics) of the type that New Deal policy-makers created, and of the type Pope Francis is advocating for? Or, do we want an economy based on greed, corruption, and white collar crime? I fear that we have chosen the latter and/or we don't have the courage or energy to create the former. In either case, the result is that we are allowing people to die needlessly.