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. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

WPA Retaining Walls

(WPA-built retaining wall in Frostburg, Maryland. Photo by Brent McKee.) 

Across America, the WPA built 1,820 miles of new retaining walls and revetments. Some of these constructions are still serving us today. 

(Information plaque on the retaining wall in Frostburg, Maryland. Photo by Brent McKee.)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Americans Would Be Happier With New Deal Policies

(Image courtesy of

In discussing the larger role of government in countries like Denmark and Norway, and how it seems to create a happier citizenry, Dr. Benjamin Radcliff of Notre Dame University wrote:

"Traditional New Deal policies are precisely those that best allow citizens to pursue the happiness that the founders of our republic so famously argued to be the final justification for the American experiment."

(See "Western nations with social safety net happier")

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


Above: A WPA poster, promoting hiking. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Friday, November 15, 2013

2,000 WPA Posters

Above is an interesting and unusual WPA poster. The WPA created at least 2,000 posters.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Reverse New Deal: An Acceptance of White Collar Crime

(Public domain image, courtesy of Wikipedia.)

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) was a creation of the New Deal, and was designed to combat financial fraud.

Regulation of financial fraud--through the SEC and other legal & regulatory bodies--must be diligent and it must be dynamic, adjusting to new types of fraud and new types of technology. Unfortunately, as we have seen over the past few decades, and especially since the Great Recession of 2008-to-present, America has dropped the ball with respect to policing white collar crime. For example, for a criminal wrongdoing in the financial sector, a fine is typically imposed, a fine that can easily be worked into a firms's business plan (i.e., the profit from the crime exceeding the fine).    

William Dudley, chief of the New York Federal Reserve recently stated that America's large financial institutions had an "apparent lack of respect for law, regulation and the public trust." U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) recently warned that big American financial institutions are in an even greater position to damage the economy than when the Great Recession started in 2008. And a survey of people who work in the financial service industry showed that, among other things, "24% thought you have to break rules to be successful" and "16% admitted that they'd engage in illegal insider trading if they would not be caught."    

All of this, however, doesn't seem to bother our Congress too much. This is probably because many of our Congressional "leaders" benefit from white collar crime, in the form of campaign contributions, and lord-knows-what-else, from the very institutions that are repeatedly breaking the law.

Welcome to the Reverse New Deal where, instead of creating new ways to combat white collar crime, we accept it with a wink and a nod. 

And the result of this acceptance of white collar crime? 16.4 million children living in poverty, tens of thousands of homeless veterans, 25 million Americans who wish they had a full-time job but can't find one, stagnant middle class wages, $300 billion in revenue lost (annually) through illegal tax evasion, the largest prison-industrial complex in the world, and much, much more.

We need a new, and stronger, New Deal.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veterans Day

(WPA poster, promoting the buying of war stamps to help fund the war effort during World War II. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

On this Veterans Day, let's remember the service of all our soldiers and veterans. 

And, as we let their food assistance shrink, and block efforts to give them employment, and hinder efforts to process a backlog of disability benefits, let's hope that some future generation of Americans will once again embrace the idea of a common good and give the proper amount respect to the men and women who have served our country. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

New Germany State Park

During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps created New Germany State Park. Above is a picture of New Germany Lake where, today, park visitors can swim, fish, and boat. The CCC improved the lake by draining it, removing logs and stumps, re-filling it, and stocking it with fish. (Photo by Brent McKee)

Above is one of several CCC-built cabins at New Germany State Park. (Photo by Brent McKee

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Exhibit A as to why we need another, stronger New Deal: A stock market that thrives on misery.

(New Deal policy-makers tried to improve the lives of Americans. WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.) 

On November 6, 2013, the Associated Press reported that the Dow Jones closed at a record high: 15,746.

On that same day, we learned that 50 million Americans live in poverty, and that "half of U.S. wage earners made less than $30,000" in 2012 (see "Everyone in America is even more broke than you think").

According to Les Leopold, who frequently writes on the topic of income inequality, there are 442 billionaires in America and 16.4 million children living in poverty (see "America's greatest shame: Child poverty rises and food stamps cut while billionaires boom").

We also know that over 25 million Americans would like a full-time job but can't find one (

("One Third of a Nation" was a WPA Theatre play that highlighted the poverty that many Americans lived in during the Great Depression. WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)  

What does it say about our economy, and our morals, when billionaires see their wealth expand while millions of children live in poverty, and the frequency of suicide rises (due, in part, to financial distress), and millions can't find jobs, and middle-class wages stagnate or drop?

And, as if all this were not bad enough, there are those who feel that billionaires should be taxed less because they're the "job creators." These people seem perfectly oblivious to the fact that the super-wealthy are already enjoying historically low tax rates and historically high income & wealth...and are still doing nothing to create decent, middle-class jobs.

The fact of the matter is, we don't need to give tax breaks to billionaires. Instead, we need to raise taxes on billionaires to help create a new, and stronger, New Deal, i.e., programs and policies to help middle and low-income Americans. Indeed, a prominent & wealthy investor recently wrote to his super-wealthy colleagues to pay more taxes and work towards an economy for the common good. Will it happen? Well, if the past five years are any indication, the answer is a resounding "no." President Obama doesn't have the fortitude and/or desire to propose such a policy, and billionaire-worshiping politicians in Congress would never pass a law that inconveniences the people they're hoping to get their bribes, oops, I mean "campaign contributions" from. Hence, we have many more years of high suicide rates, stagnant wages, and childhood poverty to endure.

Misery has become the lifeblood of Wall Street, and Wall Street wants more.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The WPA Theatre: "A Roaring Success"

(WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

The WPA made efforts to hire unemployed actors, stagehands, directors, and others, by creating a federal theatre program. The director of the WPA Theatre was Hallie Flanagan. Though many conservatives in Congress--both Republican and Democrat--portrayed the program as a communist plot to take over the country, as well as a dangerous mixing of the races, the WPA Theatre enjoyed great success. Fortune magazine wrote, "From any point of view save that of the old-line box-office critics to whom nothing is theatre unless it has Broadway stars and Broadway varnish, the Federal Theatre Project is a roaring success" (from the book Furious Improvisation: How the WPA and a Cast of Thousands Made High Art out of Desperate Times, by Susan Quinn, 2008).      

Above: It Can't Happen Here was a fictional play by Sinclair Lewis about a Nazi-like government taking control of America. It enjoyed a good run in the WPA Theatre: "It Can't Happen Here wound up playing a total of 260 weeks, or five years, in theatres all around the country. It was seen by more than 316,000 people" (Susan Quinn, Furious Improvisation). WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Above: A scene from It Can't Happen HerePhoto courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.

Above: Some members of Congress were not pleased with the racial integration in WPA Theatre plays. As author Susan Quinn points out: "When opponents of the (WPA Theatre) got up to speak in the House and in the Senate, they might start off by talking about incompetence, or boondoggling, or communism, or immorality, but they wound up talking about race." Senator Robert Reynolds of North Carolina voiced his concerns quite clearly: "Through such material the cardinal keystone of communism--free love and racial equality--is being spread at the expense of the god-fearing, home-loving American taxpayer." Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.

Above: In addition to integrated plays, African Americans had opportunities in the WPA Theatre's "Negro Unit." Indeed, though it could have done more, the WPA opened many workplace opportunities for African Americans. WPA Poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Above: The WPA even offered circuses.....for the enjoyment of American audiences and the employment of jobless and hungry performers. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum. 

Above: These children are enjoying a marionette show put on by the WPA Theatre program. In addition to consternation over integrated performances, some members of Congress were displeased with the racial mixing they saw in audiences. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.  

Above: The WPA Theatre program also put on vaudeville shows. Vaudeville shows could include magicians, comics, jugglers, dancers, animals shows, and just about anything else to entertain audiences. WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Above: The WPA Theatre program also offered dance performances. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Cutting food assistance to veterans, while some wealthy folks evade taxes

(During the New Deal, efforts were made to help veterans and soldiers. Here, WPA workers are building new living quarters for non-commissioned officers at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, 1939. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

As we approach Veterans Day, we have decided to honor our low-income veterans by reducing the amount of food assistance they receive. Why? Because, as with any government program that helps the less fortunate, "we can't afford it!!!" Of course, if the expenditure was for bomb-making or prison-building, oh yeah, you better believe we could afford that!     

At the same time that we are rewarding the service of our low-income soldiers & veterans by reducing the amount of food they will have for Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, we hear about the biggest tax fraud in U.S. history, where "the wealthy and well-connected" hid their money from Uncle Sam. (See "Paul Daugerdas, Chicago Lawyer, Convicted In 'Largest Tax Fraud In History'")  

For the people connected to this tax fraud, having historically low tax rates wasn't enough. They wanted more money--the jobless, homeless, and hungry be damned.   

(WPA artists created this poster to honor our soldiers and veterans, and to remind citizens to respect and reward their service. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Of course, reducing food assistance to low-income soldiers & veterans, while some (or perhaps many) of the "wealthy and well-connected" avoid & evade taxes, is part of a larger cultural phenomenon where, on the one hand, we are told we can't afford a social safety net, and we can't afford Social Security, and we can't afford health care for all our citizens, while, on the other hand, we witness historically low tax rates on the super-wealthy, corporate tax avoidance on a monumental scale, illegal tax evasion to the tune of $300 billion annually, and federal revenue that, when measured as a percentage of GDP, is at a 60-year low.

Well, maybe the reason we "have to" cut food assistance to soldiers & veterans is because we value personal profit over service to one's country. If that's true, is that a characteristic of a healthy society? Is that in tune with the Christian morality that so many on the political right declare we should live by? (The very same people who are constantly clamoring for more tax cuts for the wealthy and less aid to the needy--related to this, be sure to see the last picture on this blog post)

(The Civilian Conservation Corps was designed for unemployed young men. However, an exception was made for unemployed veterans who wanted to join. Today, our Congress is not so kind to those who have served our country. In 2012, Senate Republicans blocked legislation that would have created a CCC-type program for unemployed veterans. WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Things are becoming so ruthless and cold-hearted in America, that even some billionaires and right-wing politicians are starting to revolt against their peers. Republican Governor John Kasich (Ohio) recently said: "I’m concerned about the fact there seems to be a war on the poor. That if you’re poor, somehow you’re shiftless and lazy. You know what? The very people who complain ought to ask their grandparents if they worked at the W.P.A.” (see "Ohio Governor Defies GOP With Defense of Social Safety Net"). And billionaire Bill Gross recently wrote: "And now 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" (See "Billionaire Feels 'Guilty' About 'Having Gotten Rich At The Expense' Of All Of Us").   

Today, we are cutting food assistance to low-income soldiers & veterans--because "we can't afford it!!!"--while the super-wealthy acquire record-breaking wealth. Today, there are 442 billionaires, controlling $1.9 trillion in wealth, while 16.4 million children live in poverty (see "America's Greatest Shame: Child Poverty Rises and Food Stamps Cut While Billionaires Boom").

How much poverty, injustice, and income & wealth inequality are we going to tolerate before we demand a new, and even stronger, New Deal? 

("One Third of a Nation" was a WPA theatre production, based on President Roosevelt's statement, "I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished." WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)  

(A frustrated citizen questions why trickle-down economics, i.e., historically low tax rates on the super-wealthy and extreme income & wealth inequality, has not resulted in the plethora of good jobs that trickle-down economics was marketed on. Public domain image, courtesy of   

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The New Deal worked for our soldiers and veterans

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

As we approach Veterans Day, let us remember that during the New Deal there were many efforts to help soldiers and veterans. For example, above is one of the many posters that WPA artists created to remind Americans to be careful of what they said during World War II.

Sadly, the story is quite different today, as Congress seems to be going out of its way to hurt soldiers, veterans, and their families. The Tea Party government shutdown delayed payments to families of fallen soldiers. Senate Republicans blocked legislation that would have created a CCC-type jobs programs for unemployed veterans. And more recently, Democrats and Republicans have both done their part to scale back food assistance to soldiers and veterans (as well as other Americans in need). We could increase taxes on the super wealthy of course--men & women who have seen their fortunes grow while tens of million of Americans remain unemployed, homeless, and crushed under immense debt--but Congress has decided that it's better to protect those fortunes and, instead, make soldiers and veterans pay the price for our economic problems. This, no doubt, ensures that many in Congress will continue to receive campaign contributions from corporations and the super wealthy.

Hopefully, some future Congress will be more respectful of what soldiers and veterans have done for our country. Hopefully, some future Congress will understand that compassion is better than apathy, and that programs designed to assist millions are better than action (or inaction) designed to service the 1%.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Cutting food assistance, just in time for Veterans Day and Thanksgiving

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

In preparation for Veterans Day and Thanksgiving, America is cutting off food assistance to low-income veterans, children, disabled Americans, the elderly, and the working poor. (See, e.g., "Millions on food assistance facing benefits cuts," "Cuts will take food off the table for 47 million Americans," and "When veterans get food stamps cut, it's time to prioritize our budget") 

While we're cutting back on food assistance, just in time for the holiday season, the rich are getting richer, corporate tax avoidance is thriving, taxes are historically low on the super-wealthy, and America is losing $300 billion annually to illegal tax evasion--thanks to offshore bank accounts where Americans can hide money, while the soldiers who fought for them wonder how they're going to feed their families. 

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

During the New Deal, the mentality was a little different. Surplus food programs provided food to those in need, the Civilian Conservation Corps provided food and work to jobless young men, the WPA school lunch program provided over 1.2 billion meals across the country, etc. Indeed the Food Stamp program (now called "SNAP") had its origins in the New Deal. 

Today, we're abandoning New Deal policies, in favor of policies that benefit the rich at the expense of everyone else. So, what can we do about it? Well, one American billionaire might have the answer, encapsulated in a recent statement he made to his fellow super-wealthy citizens: "And now 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." (See here)

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

We frequently hear that America is a Christian nation. And, in the Bible, we see verses like, "Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him" (Proverbs 14:31). Of course, many "limited government" types would say, "Those verses are intended for the people, not the government!!" But isn't American government supposed to be "We the People"? Isn't American government supposed to be a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, as a famous Republican once said? Why wouldn't a verse about the welfare of others apply to the American government, especially in light of Article I, Section 8 of our Constitution: "The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States"? (emphasis added)

Also, relying on the super-wealthy to give freely, instead of taxing them at a higher rate, might not provide the best outcome. Why? Because, as was recently highlighted: "Donations to provider agencies are down because the middle class provides most donations, 'and they are still having a hard time making ends meet'" (see "Local food pantries feeling the pinch: Demand driving greater need for donations"). And, as journalist Judith Warner noted in the New York Times: "surveys have shown that upper-income Americans don’t give away as much of their money as they might and are particularly undistinguished as givers when compared with the poor, who are strikingly generous."  

In any event, many Americans will now have a little less food this holiday season, thanks to our plutocratic government's ruthless and hypocritical policies. Welcome to the new America: Pushing away the New Deal.....and embracing cruelty.