Monday, March 31, 2014

The Reverse New Deal: Worker productivity rises, corporate profits soar, workers are punished

(New Deal policymakers felt that hard work should pay. Today's mentality--dominated by right-wing, anti-union philosophy--seems to be the opposite: Work harder, and be happy with lower wages, so that executives and wealthy investors can have (a) lives of ever-increasing luxury and (b) families that never have to work again, i.e., inheritance. WPA poster image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)     

It was recently reported that corporate profits hit another record high in 2013. We also know that worker productivity has been on the rise as well. On the other hand, worker pay has been dropping and the middle-class has been shrinking. What gives? Why aren't workers reaping the benefits of their increased productivity? Why are executives and wealthy investors pocketing all the extra profit?   

We know that the nationwide decline in union membership has coincided with the nationwide stagnation of wages. Of course, this is common sense. Going to see your manager about a raise, by yourself, is not nearly as effective as the entire workforce of a business requesting a raise.

I once had the misfortune of working for a big retailer. During the orientation, they played an anti-union video. A very attractive young woman in the video told us that unions weren't necessary and that, if there were any problems, you could just go talk to the manager. Our employer then went on to describe the low-wages we would be paid, and the very systematic and miserly raises we would be eligible for over time. This, of course, negated the whole "talking-to-your-manager-is-just-as-effective-as-being-in-a-union" argument. It was very clear that there would not be any one-on-one negotiations, between workers and managers, about wages or anything else that might benefit workers.

(The National Labor Relations Board is a product of the New Deal. It monitors unfair labor practices. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

During the New Deal, policymakers created the National Labor Relations Act which protected the right of labor unions to exist and to negotiate for better pay and work conditions. These policymakers pushed us in the direction of more equitable income opportunities. We followed their lead for decades but, since the "Reagan Revolution," we've dropped the ball. Hence, the American Dream is dead for millions of workers stuck in low-wage, stingy-benefit, no-future jobs....while struggling with higher prices and (thus) higher debt.

Bamboozled by trickle-down economics, free market fantasies, and Ayn Rand comic books, younger generations of Americans will have to learn why unions are so important, i.e., why their elders and ancestors fought bullets and corporate thugs to gain better pay, benefits, and working conditions.  

(A WPA poster promoting worker safety. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

WPA Poster: Smoking Stacks Attract Attacks

WPA artists created many public information posters during World War II. The poster above was created between 1940 and 1941 by artist Phil von Phul (his initials appear on the right-hand side of the poster, in the water). Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Friday, March 28, 2014

Our Soldiers & Veterans Need A New Deal

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

It can be argued that America has never fully respected or appreciated its veterans and soldiers (think about black soldiers who served their country and then faced segregation when they returned home). But at least New Deal policymakers tried to push us in the right direction. World War I veterans were accepted into the Civilian Conservation Corps, WPA workers improved facilities & living areas for soldiers, and there were various New Deal activities to assist in the war effort (e.g., WPA collection of scrap metal and rubber).

Today, the story is quite different. Big banks have illegally foreclosed on soldiers, debt collectors are targeting soldiers for harassment, the 2013 government shutdown delayed the processing of veteran disability benefit applications, and in 2012 Senate Republicans blocked legislation that would have created a new CCC-type program for unemployed veterans. With respect to the latter, unemployed veterans would have worked in our national park system which, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, has a maintenance backlog of about $11 billion. It would have been a win-win situation.  

In the past few years, the suicide rate has risen sharply for young veterans. Why do you think that has happened?

(WPA workers building new living quarters for non-commissioned officers at Aberdeen Proving Ground, in Harford County, Maryland, 1939. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

151 WPA Libraries

(The WPA built this library in Williamsport, Maryland, 1936-1937. Photo by Brent McKee, 2011.)

During the New Deal era, WPA workers built 151 new libraries, and repaired or improved hundreds more. The WPA also conducted reading and literacy programs, delivered books to rural areas, translated books into Braille, repaired 95 million books, and more.

(The Williamsport Library, shortly after its completion in 1937. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)     

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

2,500 WPA Garages

(Photo by Brent McKee, 2011.)

Across America, the WPA built 2,522 new garages, and repaired or improved hundreds more. Some might label these projects "boondoggles," but they served very useful purposes. For example, the garage pictured above was built by WPA workers at Patuxent Research Refuge (PRR)--in Maryland--and has served the science and maintenance staff at PRR for decades. At PRR, scientists have performed important research on waterfowl, the pesticide DDT, and much more. (The WPA played a large role in the creation of PRR, this garage was just a small part of their work.)

Monday, March 24, 2014

The WPA and Beethoven

(WPA poster, promoting a WPA concert. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

During the Great Depression, millions of Americans enjoyed thousands of WPA concerts. Some WPA orchestras spawned longer-lasting state & municipal orchestras, such as today's Utah Symphony Orchestra (see here).

(WPA poster, advertising free music instruction. Note the lessons offered, in the border of the poster. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Nightmare of Plutocracy

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

According to a recent report by OxFam International, the 85 richest people in the world have as much wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest people.

According to tax attorney Bob Lord, the wealth of America's 400 richest individuals is equal to the wealth of the entire African American population of the United States.

According to U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, and a subsequent fact check, the Walton family (Walmart) have more wealth than the bottom 40% of the U.S. population.

What does all this mean, politically? Well, it means that the wealthiest of Americans have more and more money (power) to influence public policy, while the rest of us have less and less money (power) to do so. As Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig argues, campaign funding by wealthy donors means that "the tiniest fraction of the one percent have the effective power to block reform desired by the 99-plus percent."

In other words, plutocracy.

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

If all this concentrated wealth actually made our lives better, as the peddlers of trickle-down economics told us it would, that would be one thing. But we know that the opposite is occurring: Wages are stagnant despite increased worker productivity; many college graduates are having a hard time finding good jobs and are defaulting on their student loan debt; the middle-class is shrinking; long-term unemployment remains a problem; there is only one job opening for every three job seekers; the labor force participation rate is at a 35-year low; we have the largest prison-industrial complex in the world; suicides rates have risen (and unemployment and financial duress are factors in suicide rates); and much, much more. In sum, as the wealth of the financial elite increases, the quality of life for everyone else decreases. And, to add insult to injury, the financial elite are pouring millions of dollars into our electoral and political systems to ensure that their wealth continues to grow and ours continues to decline.

As if all this were not bad enough, millions of Americans simply don't care. Millions do not vote and, among those that do, many will continuously vote for candidates backed by big banks, fraudulent corporations, and the billionaires who want to shred our social safety net (see, e.g., "Peter Peterson Spent Nearly Half A Billion In Washington Targeting Social Security, Medicare").

For those of us who value democracy, these are the worst of times. The American Dream has been replaced by the Nightmare of Plutocracy. Further, as long as millions of voters continue to believe that politicians backed by Corporate America will make things better, the Nightmare of Plutocracy will continue to degrade our quality of life.

(In the audio above, we hear President Franklin Roosevelt warning us about the danger of plutocracy. Unfortunately, we have failed to heed his warning.)

Friday, March 21, 2014

58,000 miles of WPA landscaping

(According to an article from the June 10, 1940 edition of the Baltimore Sun, the WPA landscaped this section of Ritchie Highway, in Anne Arundel County, Maryland (near the Severn River and the Naval Academy). The article reported that more WPA landscape work on Ritchie Highway would include the planting of "1,000 dogwood trees, 100 large and 2,000 small pines, 150 redbuds, 16,000 coralberry plants, and 250,000 honeysuckle plants.").

Across the country, WPA workers landscaped 58,209 miles of roadways. That's enough miles of landscaping to go around the Earth twice, and then some.

(A WPA poster promoting care and appreciation. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

WPA Theatre: "The Sun Rises in the West"

"The Sun Rises in the West" seems to have been a play about agricultural problems in California during the Great Depression. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

65 WPA Ski Jumps

(Image courtesy of

WPA laborers built 65 new ski jumps, and repaired or improved a handful of existing ski jumps. Interestingly, the Gunstock Mountain Historical Preservation Society, in New Hampshire, helps preserve some of these ski jumps (see here and here).

 (A WPA poster, advertising a WPA book. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Monday, March 17, 2014

New Deal Alphabet Soup vs. Corporate America's Alphabet Soup

The political right is fond of telling us that the New Deal was a failure, and that government should just "get the hell out of the way" and let Corporate America do whatever it wants, because, well, you know, they're the "JOB CREATORS."

So, I thought it would be interesting to compare the alphabet soup programs of the New Deal with the alphabet soup programs of Corporate America. Let's take a quick look at 5 programs from each.

The New Deal's Alphabet Soup:

1. TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority): 

Provided power to rural areas (and still does).

2. FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation): 

Protected the bank deposits of ordinary Americans (and still does).

3. WPA (Works Progress Administration): 

Offered job opportunities to millions of unemployed Americans and modernized our nation's infrastructure.

4. CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps): 

Offered job opportunities to young adult men and World War I veterans. These men developed hundreds of parks and planted 3 billion trees across the country, including many areas denuded by a timber industry run amok.

5. SSA (Social Security Administration): 

Provided protections against poverty (and still does).

Corporate America's Alphabet Soup:

1. WSA (Wage Suppression Authority): 

Makes certain that all profits go to the 1%, and that American workers see no positive change in their paychecks--even if worker productivity increases. (In other words, makes sure that hard work doesn't pay.)

2. MSFC (Mortgage & Securities Fraud Commission): 

Specializes in selling junk securities.

3. FSA (Foreclosing on Soldiers Administration): 

To honor their service, this administration looks for ways to foreclose on soldiers' homes.....while the soldiers are in combat zones.

4. MLD (Money-Laundering Division): 

This division of Corporate America "cleans up" profits from illegal drug sales.....usually with a wink, a nod, and an ever-so-slight grin.

5. JDC (Job Destruction Corps):

The mission of the Job Destruction Corps (JDC) is to destroy the American Dream. By demonizing unions, outsourcing jobs to foreign labor markets, discriminating against the long-term unemployed, and paying Congressmen and women to impose austerity on the middle-class and poor (while corporate executives rake in larger and larger bonuses) the JDC has proven to be one of the most successful alphabet soup programs of Corporate America. To illustrate how effective the JDC has been, consider that despite paying historically low effective tax rates, and amassing record profits, Corporate America isn't creating many good middle-class jobs. That's why 24 million Americans wish they had a full-time job but can't find one; why 3.8 million Americans are considered long-term unemployed; why there are three unemployed people for every job opening; and why the labor force participation rate is at a 35-year low.

So, which alphabet soup do you prefer? The New Deal's or Corporate America's?


Here are some fun headlines from the past few years:

"JPMorgan to pay $614 million in U.S. mortgage fraud case" (Reuters, February 4, 2014)

"Bank Of America Will Pay $20 Million For Illegal Foreclosures On Active-Duty Soldiers" (Business Insider, June 4, 2011)

"FDIC Sues 16 Big Banks For Rigging LIBOR Rates" (Huffington Post, March 14, 2014)

"Goldman Sachs Will Settle Fraud Case for $550 Million" (CNBC, July 15, 2010)

"Wachovia to settle drug-money laundering case" (Associated Press, March 17, 2010)

"Hedge Fund SAC Capital Admits To Insider Trading" (CBS, November 9, 2013)

"7 Stunning New Details About Walmart's Mexican Bribery Scandal" (Business Insider, December 18, 2012)

"BP Oil Refinery Waste Stored At Koch Brothers-Owned Site Polluting Nearby Chicago Neighborhoods" (Huffington Post, October 22, 2013)

"How Koch Industries Makes Billions Corrupting Government And Polluting For Free" (ThinkProgress, March 1, 2011)

(In the video above, Bartlett Naylor, former Chief of Investigations for the U.S. Senate Banking Committee, explains the role of big banks in the Libor interest rate-rigging scandal. At 4:25, Naylor states: "I think what this scandal shows is that Wall Street is making this money, it's overtaking our economy, any way it can...and that includes cheating.")

(In the video above, law professor William Black, a former federal regulator, explains rampant fraud in the modern financial world, and the failure of regulatory oversight.)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

WPA Poster: Jack and the Beanstalk

This WPA poster was made by artist Aida McKenzie, in New York City, between 1936 and 1941. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

2,200 WPA Horseshoe Courts

(Photo by Brent McKee.)

Between 1935 and 1943, WPA workers constructed 2,261 new horseshoe courts, and repaired or improved dozens more. The construction of horseshoe courts was part of the larger WPA effort to increase the number of recreational opportunities for Americans.

What do you think? Useful endeavors, or "godless communism!"?

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

Friday, March 14, 2014

3,000 WPA Athletic Fields

(WPA workers creating an athletic field at Clifton Park in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

Between 1935 and 1943, WPA workers created 3,026 new athletic fields, and repaired or improved hundreds more.

(WPA poster, promoting a WPA recreation project. Considering all the lures to stay indoors--e.g., television, video games, and the Internet--wouldn't it be nice if we, as a culture, engaged in more recreation projects? Especially when exercise has been linked to longer life? Image provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

805 WPA Swimming Pools

(The WPA constructed this swimming pool, and also a large bathhouse, at Constitution Park in Cumberland, Maryland, 1938-1939. Both the pool and bathhouse still serve the community today (see here). Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)  

Across America, WPA laborers built 805 new swimming pools, and also engaged in 339 projects to repair or improve existing swimming pools. WPA laborers also built 848 new wading pools (while repairing or improving about 80 more).  

The New York City Department of Parks & Recreation describes the pool construction work of the WPA in New York City:

"A new era in active recreation arrived in the 1930s and 1940s, when the Department of Parks assumed jurisdiction over the city's bathhouses and harnessed Works Progress Administration labor to develop a series of outdoor pools for the city."

"The WPA swimming pools were among the most remarkable public recreational facilities in the country, representing the forefront of design and technology in advanced filtration and chlorination systems. The influence of the pools extended throughout entire communities, attracting aspiring athletes and neighborhood children, and changing the way millions of New Yorkers spent their leisure time."

"The pools were not just huge but also examples of state-of-the-art engineering and fine design..."

"Massive filtration systems, heating units, and even underwater lighting provided a more controlled bathing experience than the often treacherous and polluted waterfront currents in which the city's masses had traditionally swam. The palette of building materials was mainly inexpensive brick, concrete, and cast stone, but the styles ranged from Romanesque Revival to Art Deco."

"The WPA pools were designed to adapt to off-season uses such as paddle tennis, shuffleboard, volleyball, basketball, and handball. Wading pools were used as roller skating rinks, and indoor locker rooms and changing areas were adapted for boxing instruction and evening dance halls for teens."

Read full article here: "Parks' Swimming Pools"

(WPA poster, promoting swimming. This was one of many WPA posters promoting recreation, exercise, and health. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Some people, even today, have expressed their opinion that WPA workers were lazy good-for-nothings and that the projects they worked on were utterly useless. 

Do you believe them? 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

President Obama goes after TVA.....again

(A photograph of a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) switchyard in Tennessee, taken during the early years of TVA. A switchyard modifies voltage between the power plant and the customer. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

President Obama is continuing his push for the privatization of TVA proving, yet again, that he places the interests of corporations & big banks over middle-class & poor Americans. For more proof, consider his administration appointees (Wall Street executives), his secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership talks that welcomed corporations but excluded the public, his betrayal of the public option during health care reform negotiations, his repeated failures to stand up for unions (see here, here, and here), his failure to promote a new WPA (thereby ensuring--either intentionally or unintentionally--a steady pool of desperate workers that Corporate America can leverage against), his administration's refusal to aggressively prosecute financial fraud, and his corporate-friendly insult to the Post Office: "UPS and FedEx are doing just fine. ... It's the Post Office that's always having problems."

The president's fiscal year 2015 budget proposal states "The Administration recognizes the important role TVA serves in the Tennessee Valley and stands ready to work with the Congress and TVA’s stakeholders to explore options to end Federal ties to TVA, including alternatives such as a transfer of ownership to State or local stakeholders" (p. 41). Obama also notes a (false) "risk to taxpayers." So, can there be any doubt that what Obama is ultimately proposing is the transfer of TVA ownership to Corporate America?; which will surely bust unions at TVA, thereby lowering the wages of even more middle-class Americans. And, indeed, unionized workers at TVA seem very aware of this.  

(How cool is this? Mobile housing for TVA workers. I want one! Photo taken between 1933 and 1945, provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)  

Interestingly, President Obama's fiscal year 2014 budget, which also threatened to privatize the TVA, noted that TVA produces "low-cost electricity" (p. 51). The 2015 budget, on the other hand, leaves out the words "low-cost" and merely notes that TVA "has been producing electricity" (p. 40). Why remove the words "low-cost" in the new budget proposal? Even more interesting, some Republicans have fought Obama's proposed privatization of TVA, noting the low cost of electricity for TVA's 9 million customers! How do you like that--Republicans defending one of the prime achievements of the New Deal against our supposedly progressive president. 

After what we've witnessed from Corporate America these past few decades, e.g., mortgage & securities fraud, interest rate rigging, Enron's manipulation of the energy market, etc., do we really want Corporate America taking over TVA? That seems far more risky to taxpayers (i.e., consumers) than simply letting TVA continue on, unmolested by the greed & selfishness of private interests.

President Obama has done some noteworthy things for the middle-class & poor, e.g., certain parts of the Affordable Care Act and promoting an increased minimum wage. He has also, on occasion, called for higher taxes on the wealthy. But he is far too accommodating to Corporate America--that powerful sector of American culture that has wrecked the American Dream by destroying unions, shipping good American jobs overseas, lobbying for (and obtaining) endless tax loopholes, and engaging in financial fraud & incompetence.

Is there any doubt that Corporate America wants to get its greedy hands on TVA, and then cut wages and raise utility rates, so that wealthy executives and investors can make millions off the ensuing misery? I mean, that's what Corporate America does--that's its modus operandi. Hence, we should all be horrified by Obama's call to sell off our TVA.  

(The caption for this 1942 photograph reads, "'Big Pete' Ramagos, rigger at work on dam (TVA) Douglas Dam, Tenn." For decades, TVA has provided good middle-class jobs for many thousands of Americans. We can be sure that Corporate America wants to put an end to that. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

10,000 WPA Tennis Courts

(WPA workers grading an area for tennis courts at Fort Hill High School in Cumberland, Maryland, 1937. View from the south. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

During the New Deal era, WPA workers created 10,070 new tennis courts across America. On 3,086 other work projects they repaired or improved tennis courts. As amazing as this is, tennis courts were but a small fraction of the WPA's overall accomplishments.

(The Fort Hill High School tennis courts today. View from the west. Photo by Brent McKee.)

Monday, March 10, 2014

125,000 WPA Public Building Projects

(The Williamsport Town Hall in Washington County, Maryland, built by WPA workers in 1939. Photo by Brent McKee, 2014.)

Between 1935 and 1943, WPA workers engaged in 125,000 public building projects. These projects included new constructions, repairs, painting, utility improvements, etc. The types of buildings worked on included schools, firehouses, libraries, gymnasiums, hospitals, jails, warehouses, and more. We are still utilizing thousands of these buildings today.

The town hall you see above is an example of what can result when the unemployed are given job opportunities instead of insults. Sadly, many of our policymakers today can think of no other response to pervasive unemployment that extended unemployment benefits (Democrats) or perpetual scorn and insinuations of laziness (Republicans).

Sunday, March 9, 2014

WPA Electric

(Image courtesy of
WPA workers built 49 new electric power plants, and repaired or improved nearly 200 others. WPA workers also put up 3,300 miles of new electric power lines, and repaired or improved 1,200 miles of existing lines.

In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave America's energy infrastructure a letter grade of D+, noting: "The electric grid in the United States consists of a system of interconnected power generation, transmission facilities, and distribution facilities, some of which date back to the 1880s. Today, we have an aging and complex patchwork system of power generating plants, power lines, and substations that must operate cohesively to power our homes and businesses...Aging equipment has resulted in an increasing number of intermittent power disruptions, as well as vulnerability to cyber attacks. Significant power outages have risen from 76 in 2007 to 307 in 2011."

Considering (a) our infrastructure issues, (b) that there are 24 million Americans who would like a full-time job but can't find one, (c) that there are 3.8 million Americans who are considered long-term unemployed by the Department of Labor, (d) that the labor force participation rate is at a 35-year low, and (e) the tremendous accomplishments of the original WPA (accomplishments that even Ronald Reagan praised), you would think that Congress would at least consider the idea of a new WPA, right?

Well, you'd think so.....but you'd be wrong.

In fact, when one brave congressman stepped outside the bounds of plutocracy, and suggested a new WPA, his bill was almost unanimously disregarded and died a quiet death in committee. The bill received little support from his fellow Democrats, no support from President Obama, Republicans, or Tea Partiers, and no attention from our corporate-controlled mass media. Hence, most Americans don't even know that the bill existed. And so, as our congressmen and women rake in more campaign contributions from multinational corporations & the super-wealthy, the rest of us can look forward to more deteriorating infrastructure. More water line breaks, more power outages, more pot holes.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

138 WPA Outdoor Theatres

(According to records at the National Archives, and the August 16, 1937 edition of the Gastonia Daily Gazette, both the WPA and the CCC contributed to the construction of the Waterside Theatre at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site on Roanoke Island. Photo by Brent McKee, 2013.)

Between 1935 and 1943, WPA workers built 138 new outdoor theatres. These constructions were just a small part of the WPA's overall activities to get Americans "out and about." There were also outdoor concerts by WPA orchestras, recreation & leisure-time activities (e.g., wildlife clubs, dances, physical education courses), and thousands of new sites & structures developed for physical activity, including, playgrounds, municipal parks, athletic fields, horseshoe courts, ski trails, ice skating areas, golf courses, and much more.

Considering the problems associated with our current sedentary lifestyles (e.g., obesity, type 2 diabetes, less frequent social interaction), and our continuing un- and under-employment problems, wouldn't it be nice if we had a WPA today, to engage in similar projects?

Friday, March 7, 2014

After big business promises not to discriminate against the long-term unemployed, the number of long-term unemployed Americans rises by 200,000

Above: New Deal policymakers didn't rely on the word of Corporate America with respect to hiring unemployed Americans, and for good reason. Instead, they simply hired over 10 million jobless Americans into public work & construction programs like the CWA, CCC, WPA, and NYA. In the photo above, we see some of these (formerly) jobless Americans on a bulkhead project on Hooper's Island in Maryland, 1938. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.

On January 31st, 2014, it was reported that about 300 businesses promised President Obama not to discriminate against the long-term unemployed. Among those business elites who signed the pledge were "21 of the top 50 and 47 of the top 200 largest companies ranked by Forbes Magazine..."

On March 7, 2014, a little over a month later, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the number of long-term unemployed Americans shot up by 200,000. So much for promises...

It looks like discrimination against the long-term unemployed--which has been proven by empirical research, not just anecdotal evidence--continues to flourish despite the promises (and crocodile tears) of Corporate America.

The promises of Corporate America are about as valuable as the happy-words and job search gimmicks that business leaders, academic administrators, and government officials have used to brush off encourage unemployed Americans for the past 5-6 years: "Hey, be an entrepreneur!" "Wow, be innovative!" Yippee, tap into your creative energy!" "Holy smokes, have you tried LinkedIn?!?" "Zowie! You just need some new skills!"

All this nonsense--the pledges, the happy-words, the job search gimmicks--are more about PR than substance. Business leaders, academic administrators, and government officials know that saying "be innovative" requires much less energy than changing the structural problems of the U.S. labor market that have persistently caused long-term unemployment, stagnant wages, bankruptcy, family breaks-ups, and increased rates of suicide. The simple fact of that matter is that there are not nearly enough jobs for everyone (let alone good jobs). That's why the labor force participation rate is at a 35-year low.

Above: In the audio above, we hear President Franklin Roosevelt explain why he and his fellow New Dealers created work & construction programs like the WPA and the CCC (the statement was made at Madison Square Garden in 1936): "We will provide useful work to the needy unemployed, because; we prefer useful work to the pauperism of a dole!" Unlike today's Democrats, who fight continuously for extended unemployment benefits but rarely for a public works program, and unlike today's Republicans & Tea Partiers, who consistently try to cut off extended unemployment benefits and tell the unemployed they should go on the church dole if they need help, New Deal policymakers believed that government could provide useful work as an alternative to long-term government cash relief, non-profit charity, or church hand outs. They believed in the dignity, hope, and skills that such useful work could preserve. The results were nothing short of phenomenal, which is why even Ronald Reagan praised the WPA. America's infrastructure was modernized and served as the backbone for America's post-World War II economic expansion. And we still utilize thousands of WPA projects today. Image courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum. Audio courtesy of the Miller Center, University of Virginia.              

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The New Deal and Malaria

(CWA workers on a malaria control project in Arkansas, circa 1933-1934. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.)

New Deal programs were instrumental in the virtual elimination of malaria from the United States. For example, Dr. Carl Kitchens writes: "Malaria was effectively eradicated in the United States by 1950" and "The magnitude of the observed drop in malaria mortality attributable to the WPA is very large" ("The Effects of the Works Progress Administration's Anti-Malaria Programs to Control Malaria: Georgia 1932-1947," Explorations in Economic History 50(4), pp 567-581, 2013).

Indeed, New Deal programs were so effective in helping to eliminate malaria from the United States that (I would bet) most Americans don't even know that malaria was ever a problem here. Isn't that amazing? New Deal programs assisted in the eradication of a deadly disease, but then we completely forgot about this achievement because it was so successful that it erased the problem from our minds. And now, right-wing politicians, pundits, authors, and Internet comment-makers all across the country tell us that the New Deal was a failure, that WPA workers were lazy good-for-nothings, that New Deal projects were boondoggles, and that all the great things about America actually came from the holy "job creators," not from Darth Vader's evil "big government!!" And millions of Americans believe this garbage, and vote accordingly. Wow, what a slap in the face to the thousands of public workers who helped eliminate a deadly disease for us, thereby saving the lives of many Americans. What a great case study in national memory loss (or national ingratitude, take your pick).

According to the World Health Organization, "there were about 207 million cases of malaria in 2012...and an estimated 627,000 deaths...Most deaths occur among children living in Africa where a child dies every minute from malaria." WPA workers--and workers in other New Deal programs--played a vital role in keeping this type of tragedy from happening to us. Maybe we should show some respect. Maybe we should applaud this, and other accomplishments of the WPA, as both Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan did. And maybe America, and the world, should implement a new and even stronger New Deal, instead of relying on the holy "job creators" who sip champagne and tell us, for example, "it's fantastic" that the 85 richest people on the planet have as much wealth as the three and a half billion poorest--among whom include those children who are dying every minute from malaria.

(WPA workers on a malaria control project in Georgia, 1936. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

(The caption for this 1942 photograph reads: "Wilson Dam, Alabama (Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)). Testing insecticide for malaria-carrying mosquito at malaria control laboratory. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

(A headline from the Baltimore Sun newspaper, December 17, 1933. The Civilian Conservation Corps engaged in many mosquito control projects across the United States.)

Considering some of the mosquito problems in the United States today (see, e.g., "Mosquitoes are worse this summer in parts of USA" and "CDC issues warning about painful virus from mosquitoes") wouldn't it be nice if our Congress stopped coddling the holy "job creators," and started offering real job opportunities for America's long-term unemployed workers, in programs similar to the WPA and CCC?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The WPA brought communities together

In a variety of ways, the WPA brought communities together. Recreational projects were created, community centers were built, WPA artists highlighted local events (see image above), free classes were offered in the arts & crafts, concerts were performed, and much more.

Today, such government activity--especially if it simultaneously helped the unemployed--would be labeled as "wasteful spending!!" and "socialism!!" Far superior, in the eyes of many, is to (a) coddle greedy executives & wealthy investors, (b) keep government (and unions) off their backs, (c) turn a blind-eye to white collar crime, and (d) lovingly accept whatever unsafe, low-pay, no-benefit, zero-future jobs Corporate America offers us. And, unlike the activities of the WPA, this submission to Corporate America is driving communities apart. Wealth & income inequality is becoming more extreme every year and the American Dream has been effectively neutralized by those who value profit over country.

See, "Why are US corporate profits so high? Because wages are so low" and "The 85 Richest People In The World Have As Much Wealth As The 3.5 Billion Poorest."

So, which do you prefer? Governmental action that would bring communities together, or the current governmental & cultural submission to Corporate America that is driving communities apart?

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

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Great American Infrastructure Oblivion, 2008-2014

Above: Construction safety expert Timothy Galarnyk describes America's infrastructure problem. He states: "The United States of America is the best country in the entire world. But our infrastructure is falling to the condition of a third world nation. Our bridges are in bad condition. Our roads, our dams...our flood protection, our sewers, our water, our electrical grids, and all of our infrastructure, including our airports, need our attention." Galarnyk hosted the televison show Inspector America, which highlighted deteriorating infrastructure across the country. He's interested in bringing the show back and has a Facebook page where people can show support:


On February 4, 2014, former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said, "The country is in a disaster when it comes to infrastructure. ... Bridges are falling down, roads are crumbling. We need a big, bold vision in Washington." A few days later, former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich wrote, "We need a new WPA to rebuild the nation's crumbling infrastructure..."

In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave American Infrastructure a letter grade of D+, noting significant problems with America's airports, bridges, water utilities, parks, and more.

Today, there are 3.6 million Americans who are classified by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as long-term unemployed, there are 24 million Americans who wish they had a full-time job but can't find one, and the labor force participation rate is at a 35-year low.

Above: In 2011, U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced legislation called the "21st Century WPA Act." This new WPA would have hired unemployed Americans to engage in the following types of projects: "residential and commercial water use (improvement)," "highway, bridge, and rail repair," "school, library, and firehouse construction," "trail maintenance," and more. The legislation received little or no support from President Obama, no support from Republican & Tea Party politicians, and little support even from Lautenberg's own fellow Democrats. Thus, the legislation died in committee. It died in committee despite high unemployment, deteriorating American infrastructure, and the proven success of the WPA during the Great Depression (as evidenced by our continued use of thousands of WPA projects). If you ever needed proof of a dysfunctional federal government--a government that has largely ignored the needs of the people and the country--this would be it. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.


During the New Deal, the Public Works Administration provided funds to private contractors to modernize American infrastructure. New Deal policymakers also hired well over 10 million unemployed Americans into the Civil Works Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Works Progress Administration, and the National Youth Administration. These formerly unemployed Americans built bridges, preserved historic sites, constructed schools, improved roads, developed parks, etc., etc., etc.

The result of all these New Deal initiatives? Well, the WPA alone built, repaired, or improved 650,000 miles of roads, highways, and streets. That's enough roadwork to circle the Earth 26 times. WPA workers also built, repaired, or improved thousands of bridges, schools, water lines, sewers, and more. As a researcher noted in 1943, "So vast have the WPA's achievements been that attempts to present them in quantitative terms only stagger the imagination." (The WPA and Federal Relief Policy, by Donald S. Howard, New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1943).

Indeed, the WPA was so effective that even "limited government" icon Ronald Reagan praised it in his autobiography, writing: "The WPA was one of the most productive elements of FDR's alphabet soup of agencies because it put people to work building roads, bridges, and other gave men and women a chance to make some money along with the satisfaction of knowing they earned it."

Above: A CCC worker, on a bridge construction project in New York state. The CCC built thousands of trails and bridges for our nation's parks. In 2012, Senate Democrats tried to create a new CCC-type program for unemployed veterans, offering work opportunities in our National Park system. Republicans blocked the legislation, even though (a) young veteran unemployment was high (and still is), (b) young veteran suicide was high (and still is), (c) unemployment can be a risk factor for suicide, and (d) the American Society of Civil Engineers, in 2009, noted a "$7 billion maintenance backlog" in our National Park system (which has since risen to $11 billion). Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum and the New Deal Network.


Today, our federal policymakers are completely incapable of connecting the dots of a deteriorating infrastructure and a depressed labor market. Instead of providing more work to construction firms, and hiring the unemployed into public works programs, our Congressmen and women spend half their time bickering with each other and the other half seeking campaign contributions from the big banks and the multinational corporations that are constantly trying to ship more American jobs overseas. This is probably why Congress has a 13% approval rating. Interestingly, The Detroit News recently reported that Congressman John Dingell (D-Mich.)--the longest serving Congressman in history--decided to retire because of the "poisonous partisanship and...growing disregard for serving the interests of the people" that exists in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Welcome to the Great American Infrastructure Oblivion, 2008-2014.

(Don't forget to show support for Timothy Galarnyk's efforts to bring back Inspector America by visiting the show's Facebook page:

Sunday, March 2, 2014

WPA Theatre: "If Ye Break Faith"

According to the book Dangerous Theatre: The Federal Theatre Project as a Forum for New Plays, by George Kazacoff, "If Ye Break Faith" was a play about 6 soldiers who return from the dead to discourage war and encourage peace. (WPA poster image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Saturday, March 1, 2014

You might be living in a plutocracy if...(part 10 of 10)

(The caption for this photo reads, "The Lower West Side Health Center which PWA built in New York City." During the New Deal, many hospitals were built, repaired, or improved with PWA funds or WPA labor. New Deal policymakers thought that the health of citizens was more important than personal profit. Image courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

You might be living in a plutocracy if...

...right-wing millionaires & billionaires pay politicians to keep low-income Americans from voting, and also pay politicians to keep low-income Americans from receiving comprehensive healthcare.

Right-wing politicians across the country are trying to keep low-income Americans from voting, under the guise of trying to ferret out "voting fraud." They're limiting voting days and requiring various forms of identification, depending on which form of identification will be most difficult for low-income, and especially minority, voters (See, as just one example, "GOP Official Resigns After Saying Purpose Of Voter ID Is To Suppress Votes Of Democrats, ‘Lazy Blacks’").

Funny thing is, I don't remember right-wing politicians being overly concerned with voting fraud when George W. Bush was in office. But, after the first African American in U.S. history was elected president, right-wing politicians are suddenly very worried about "voting fraud!" Just a coincidence I'm sure.

(The caption for this photo reads, "WPA Traveling Health Clinic of the Board of Health, NY City, shown in consultation and fitting glasses for patients at 74 West 124st Street." The WPA frequently hired unemployed healthcare workers to provide medical services to low-income Americans. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.) 

Right-wing politicians are also preventing low-income Americans from receiving comprehensive healthcare. Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), states can expand Medicaid to more of their low-income residents, and the federal government will pay the entire bill for the first few years and 90% thereafter. Despite this, many Republican-managed states have refused to expand Medicaid, thus sentencing their lower-income residents to shorter and less healthy lives (see, e.g., "I Watched My Patients Die of Treatable Diseases Because They Were Poor" and "27,000 May Die Next Year Because Republican Governors, Lawmakers Refuse to Expand Medicaid").

Now, we know that the billionaire Koch Brothers are major contributors to right-wing politicians, giving them millions. We also know that the Koch Brothers despise the ACA, and are spending millions to demonize the ACA (see, e.g., "Billionaire Koch Brothers Spending Millions To Deny Health Coverage To Low-Income Americans"). So, is it a coincidence that Republican-managed states have refused to expand Medicaid, even though it would cost them next-to-nothing to do so under the ACA?

This is an example of how plutocracy kills people, literally. The Kochs hate the ACA, the Kochs pay right-wing politicians to sabotage the ACA, right-wing politicians deny ACA Medicaid expansion to their low-income residents (in obedience to their Koch sugar daddies), and people die. Yes folks, people will die because right-wing politicians want more Koch money.

Is there anything more evil than millionaires & billionaires using their money to prevent low-income Americans from voting, and also to prevent them from receiving comprehensive healthcare?

This is plutocracy. A system of government that rips apart the entire moral fabric of a culture, and places money, greed, and selfishness above life, health, and happiness.