Wednesday, April 30, 2014

New Deal Response to Natural Disasters

(WPA laborers in Rhode Island, during the New England Hurricane of 1938, being transported to areas in need of help. Photo by the WPA.)

Recently, America has seen many natural disasters in the form of mudslides, tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. During the New Deal, policymakers utilized the skills and labor of unemployed Americans to assist in natural disaster response. These unemployed Americans helped search for survivors, repaired utilities, put out fires, built levees & flood walls, made clothes for those who lost their homes, and much more.

During the New England Hurricane of 1938, the governors of affected areas requested help from the WPA. WPA director Harry Hopkins stated, "There are sufficient funds to meet this emergency. We will do whatever needs to be done." And Robert Fechner, director of the Civilian Conservation Corps responded to calls for help with 10,000 men. (Federal Writers' Project, New England Hurricane: A Factual, Pictorial Record, p. 188, Boston: Hale, Cushman & Flint, 1938) 

This type of action--utilizing unemployed labor to assist during natural disasters (and with lightning speed)--is unheard of today. Too many of our political "leaders" are way too busy catering to the super-wealthy, and labeling the unemployed "lazy" and "moochers" (to score political points), to be bothered with connecting the dots of unemployment and natural disaster response. Indeed, many of our congressional "leaders" question whether the federal government has any business helping victims of natural disasters at all (unless, of course, the disaster happens in their state; see, e.g., "31 Senate Republicans Opposed Sandy Relief After Supporting Disaster Aid For Home States"). Yes, this is how ruthless our political situation is today. Our "leaders" will deny disaster aid to their fellow citizens, and not lose a wink of sleep over it.

Today, we have too many politicians and policymakers whose primary (or exclusive) concern is, "How can I make rich people happy?" With a few exceptions, leaders like Harry Hopkins are absent from our federal political and bureaucratic systems. This is probably why Winston Churchill wrote, "We shall not see his like again," when Harry Hopkins passed away in 1946 (Henry H. Adams, Harry Hopkins: A Biography, p. 26, New York: G.P. Putnam and Sons, 1977, citing New York Times, January 30, 1946).

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Dolly Sods Wilderness and the Civilian Conservation Corps

(Dolly Sods Wilderness, image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

The Dolly Sods Wilderness area consists of 17,000 acres in Grant, Randolph, and Tucker counties, West Virginia. Visitors can hike, hunt, camp, and picnic. Some fantastic photographs of the area can be found at American Byways, here

Like so many areas across the nation, Dolly Sods had been damaged by logging in the late 1800s / early 1900s. The Civilian Conservation Corps was called in to plant trees and rehabilitate the area. This was but a small part of the CCC's national reforestation work.

The CCC also helped construct Forest Road 75 which runs through, and provides recreational access to, the Dolly Sods Wilderness.

(See, "Dolly Sods Regional Project," U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.)   

(Photo by Brent McKee, 2014.)

Sunday, April 27, 2014

WPA Theater: "Hansel and Gretel"

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

Friday, April 25, 2014

WPA Poster: Art Exhibition

(Poster created by WPA artist Katherine Milhous, in Philadelphia, circa 1936-1938. There is an interesting Wikipedia page about Milhous here. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Newly paved roads? Socialism! Pot holes? The triumph of freedom!

(A WPA work crew creating a road in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, in April of 1938. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

Economist and former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Larry Summers recently wrote an op-ed advocating increased investment in our nation's infrastructure. Summers points out that such investment would help address a number of national problems, for example, unemployment and debt.

Summers highlights the need to modernize our nation's airports, and he also notes the current low interest rates that exist for government borrowing, and asks: "If now is not the moment to rebuild these airports, when will that moment ever come?" (And for those who don't understand how current borrowing can reduce long-term debt, read his piece.) Summers also highlights the problem of potholes after such a harsh winter, and how poor road conditions result in more repair costs for Americans.

An impediment to improving our nation's infrastructure, which Summers does not touch on, is the ever-increasing paranoia of "socialism" embedding itself in the right-wing movement. For example, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate recently said that democracy is socialism, and a Republican legislator in Ohio recently declared that "Public education in America is socialism." And anyone who follows news and politics knows that this is only the tip of the iceberg with respect to the "socialism" paranoia and rhetoric that emanates from the political right. Unless it pertains to the military or prisons, the political right is likely to block any proposals for increased public investment. In other words, things that honor the "common defense" clause of the U.S. Constitution are okay, but things that honor the "general welfare" clause are "socialism!"  

So, anyway, the next time you hit a pothole, remember to cry out in a victorious tone: "Freedom!!!"

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

"They must have their chance"

(President Franklin Roosevelt, image courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum.)

In dealing with the problem of youth unemployment, President Franklin Roosevelt stated in 1935: "I have determined that we shall do something for the Nation's unemployed youth because we can ill afford to lose the skill and energy of these young men and women. They must have their chance in school, their turn as apprentices, and their opportunity for jobs--a chance to work and earn for themselves. In recognition of this great national need, I have established a National Youth Administration, to be under the Works Progress Administration" (from the Final Report of the National Youth Administration: Fiscal Years 1936-1943, p. 23, Washington, DC: Federal Security Agency, War Manpower Commission, 1944).

Today, of course, the story is quite different. Since corporations and the super-wealthy have no need for a national jobs program, and since they control our government with campaign contributions and lobbyists, unemployed young adults have fewer and fewer opportunities for a good middle-class life (see "Middle Class Poorer, Earning Less And Shrinking"). Meanwhile, super-wealthy Americans like the Koch brothers are seeing their fortunes increase (see, e.g., "Koch Brothers Net Worth Soars Past $100 Billion"). 

To make matters worse, tens of millions of Americans stand ready to hand our entire Congress over to Republican and Tea Party politicians--politicians who are ready to give massive tax breaks to the super-wealthy and, of course, cut aid to Americans in need. The political right feels that super-wealthy Americans don't have enough money to invest, even though super-wealthy Americans control a historically high share of our nation's wealth (for example, the six Walmart heirs have more wealth than the bottom 40% of the U.S. population). The political right also feels that the super-wealthy are overtaxed, even though the super-wealthy are enjoying historically low tax rates.      

If you're an unemployed young adult these are the darkest of times. There is no National Youth Administration for you, only economic irrationality, plutocracy, and greed.     

(A young woman learns sewing skills in the National Youth Administration. This type of training helped young adults find jobs in private business. Image courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum.)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Friday, April 11, 2014

WPA School: Circleville, West Virginia

Above: This school building in Circleville, West Virginia, was one of 40,000 school construction projects performed by WPA workers (the projects included new constructions, repairs, and improvements). The building is on the National Register of Historic Places. Photo by Brent McKee, 2014.

   Above: Plaque on Circleville School. Photo by Brent McKee, 2014.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Eleanor Roosevelt and the National Youth Administration

(Eleanor Roosevelt and New York City Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia, 1941. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Aubrey Williams, head of the National Youth Administration, wrote: "One of the NYA's ablest and wisest friends was Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt...Her unfailing interest, her deep and sympathetic understanding of the problems of youth, and her endless courage were a source of great strength and guidance to the NYA, to the youth on its program, and to the youth of America. I speak of her with a grateful and thankful heart that youth have had and will continue to have such a friend."

From the publication Final Report of the National Youth Administration, Fiscal Years 1936-1943, by the Federal Security Agency, War Manpower Commission (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1944), p. viii.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Unemployment and Jobs: The Intellectual Dishonesty of the Political Right Exposed for All to See

Above: WPA workers raising a flagpole at Baltimore National Cemetery. New Deal policymakers did not play political games with the unemployed, as the political right does today. They saw a jobs crisis during the Great Depression so they hired unemployed Americans who wanted to work. That's why Ronald Reagan wrote, "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 projects...it gave men and women a chance to make some money along with the satisfaction of knowing they earned it" (from his autobiography, Ronald Reagan: An American Life). Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.

House Republicans will not allow extended unemployment benefits to continue. The reason? Well, Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), argued that Democrat proposals to extend unemployment benefits have not include measures to increase private sector job growth and that "The American people are still asking, 'Where are the jobs?'"  

However, U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI), just weeks before, said that the unemployment problem is rooted in that fact that inner-city men are lazy and don't want to work: "We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work. There is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with."

This is the same intellectual dishonesty that has played out over the past 6 years. When Republicans scold President Obama and the Democrats, they say "You're ruining the economy! Where are the jobs??" But when Republicans turn to scold the unemployed, they say "You're lazy! There's plenty of jobs out there! Get off the couch!"

White House economic adviser Gene Sperling recently pointed out that there is only one job opening for every three unemployed people, which PolitiFact confirmed. But we know that the situation is even darker for the jobless because they are discriminated against by employers. Hence, they not only have to face competition amongst each other, but they also have to face discriminatory competition against workers who already have jobs and are merely looking to switch jobs. Indeed, the employment situation today is quite often a game of musical chairs, where those without jobs always end up standing and those with jobs always find a new chair. And to pour salt into the wound, the jobless workers who are left standing have to deal with a merciless barrage of insults and insinuations of laziness from right-wing politicians, pundits, and Internet comment-makers. Imagine what it must feel like to send out hundreds of resumes, be ignored by employers, and then be called a "parasite," "taker," "moocher," and "lazy-good-for-nothing." (I know what it feels like because I've been there.)

The worst thing of all, of course, is that millions of American voters have no problem with the intellectual dishonesty coming from the political right. They are also not bothered by the cruelty that the political right has shown towards the unemployed. Indeed, millions of voters stand ready to hand over our entire Congress to right-wing politicians--so that (a) unemployed workers will continue to be insulted, discriminated against, and cut off from public assistance, and (b) super-wealthy Americans can receive more tax breaks and more wealth.....even though they're already enjoying historically low tax rates and a historically high share of our nation's wealth (while not creating good middle-class jobs).

As we continue to move away from New Deal policies & principles (and instead embrace policies & principles that enrich the already-rich) the middle-class deteriorates and the super-wealthy gobble up more and more of our nation's prosperity (see graph here). And millions of voters--by continuing to elect intellectually dishonest right-wing politicians--are essentially saying "more, more, more." Is it any wonder that socio-economic mobility in the United States "is among the lowest of major industrialized economies"? And is it any wonder that unemployment is a factor in suicide and that the suicide rate in the United States has soared?

Saturday, April 5, 2014

WPA Theatre: No More Peace


Information about WPA theatre productions is not always easy to find. There does not appear to be a comprehensive, easy-to-use online database (i.e., their plots, lengths of performance, attendance records, etc.). From the WPA poster above, and from information about this poster from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, we know that "No More Peace" was a satire that played in Cincinnati in 1937. A Wikipedia page about the playwright Ernst Toller (spelled Ernest in the poster above) reports that "No More Peace" was a short-lived, poorly received play about the rise of the Nazis.

Being a satire, "No More Peace" may have been similar to the WPA Theatre production of "It Can't Happen Here," a satirical play by Sinclair Lewis about the rise of a Nazi-like government in the United States. "It Can't Happen Here" ended up being very popular. According to author Susan Quinn, the play "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." (Furious Improvisation: How the WPA and a Cast of Thousands Made High Art Out of Desperate Times, New York: Walker and Company, 2008, p. 127).

Friday, April 4, 2014

Fight, educate, and welcome the hatred

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

With the recently decided McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, our right-wing controlled Supreme Court has opened the door for millionaires & billionaires to pour even more money into our electoral and political systems. This development will, without a doubt, continue to drown out the voices of non-rich Americans (i.e., the majority). 

Shaun McCutcheon, the wealthy man behind this case (and a donor to the Republican Party), turned democracy into a farce when he said of the Court's decision, "Ensuring that citizens are able to contribute to multiple candidates or causes who share their views only provides further support to a system in which 'We the People' hold the ultimate reins of power."

But we know what the Supreme Court's decision really did to the reins of power--it put them more firmly in the hands of the super-wealthy.

People who donate large amounts of money to politicians gain special access. As former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson (R-WY) pointed out: "Large donors of both hard and soft money receive special treatment...Staffers who work for members know who the big donors are, and those people always get their phone calls returned first and are allowed to see the Member when others are not." (McConnell v. Federal Election Commission, 251 F. Supp. 2d. 176, at 481-482).


(In the audio above, FDR warns us about the dangers of plutocracy and then speaks the greatest words ever spoken by a president. Regarding wealthy individuals and corporations who were spending money to obliterate democracy, and thus create a country of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich, he boldly said "I welcome their hatred." Given the trends in America today, those of us who value democracy should embrace FDR's fighting words. We should fight plutocracy and then welcome the hatred that will surely be directed at us for doing so.)

Far from being troubled by America's continued journey to complete plutocracy, millions of voters stand ready to hand our complete Congress over to right-wing politicians who will, in turn, appoint right-wing judges. These right-wing judges will continue deciding cases in favor of plutocracy, thereby ensuring that the rich have more political power than the non-rich. These voters are essentially voting themselves out of the political process. They are voting to ensure that their voices will never be heard again. What an amazing and frightening phenomenon to witness.

Of course, this is not just a right-wing phenomenon. According to a recent poll, Democratic voters strongly prefer Hillary Clinton over Elizabeth Warren--with respect to a presidential run--even though Hillary Clinton has received massive financial support from entities that have engaged in multi-billion dollar frauds, while Elizabeth Warren has fearlessly fought those entities

Surrounded by millions who prefer plutocracy (or, at the very least, are unconcerned or oblivious to its development) what are the rest of us to do? My opinion: Fight, educate, and welcome the hatred. 

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

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Recollections of the Great Recession: Corporate America and the political right worked together to pummel the unemployed


(In the video above, we see FDR advocate for an economic bill of rights. Among these rights, was the right to employment.)

There are two things I will remember most about the Great Recession. First and foremost, I will remember how a lot of Americans turned their backs to their fellow citizens when the going got rough. Instead of placing blame where blame belonged (e.g., corporations that sent jobs overseas and big financial institutions that engaged in multi-billion dollar frauds), millions of Americans chose to blame unemployed workers, low-wage workers, and public sector workers. It was amazing and horrifying to see how a banking crisis was converted into a crisis of "the unemployed are lazy!!" Regarding this type of phenomenon (people turning their backs to their fellow citizens during stressful times), Robert Reich recently said: "You have so many people who are afraid of downward mobility they are going to put up fences and separate themselves from the people who are even more needy than they are."

The second thing I will remember most about the Great Recession is how Corporate America and the political right teamed up to pummel the unemployed. It was a 1-2-3-4 beating that worked like this:

1. Punched in the face: Corporate America--via layoffs, job outsourcing, and massive fraud that brought down the economy--caused millions of Americans to lose their jobs. 

2. Punched in the gut: Corporate America--via employment discrimination against jobless workers and the hoarding of profits--showed little interest in employing, or helping to employ, the jobless. 

3. Shoved to the ground:  The political right engaged in an endless barrage of insults against the unemployed (see, e.g., here, here, here, and here). And this incessant message of "the unemployed are lazy" was certainly internalized by many employers who, in turn, became reluctant to hire the unemployed.   

4. Kicked when they were down: As if losing one's job, facing employment discrimination, and being ridiculed as a "parasite" or "taker" were not enough, the political right worked feverishly to reduce, cut, and block government assistance for jobless workers, like unemployment benefits, food assistance, and Medicaid. Senate Republicans even blocked legislation that would have created a public jobs program for unemployed veterans.


(In the audio above, we hear why New Deal policymakers preferred public work programs--for example,  the CCC & WPA--over other forms of assistance like long-term cash relief or reliance on charity. The WPA was so successful, that even Ronald Reagan praised it in his autobiography. Sadly, today's right-wing movement has scoffed at Reagan's positive view of a public works program for the unemployed, and has instead chosen to embrace the extreme political cruelty that has being directed against the jobless for the past 6 years.)  

So, let's sum up the 1-2-3-4 pummeling of unemployed Americans: (1) Corporate America starts the beating by causing mass unemployment; (2) Corporate America then practices employment discrimination against those very same people; (3) The political right then lays into the unemployed with a merciless barrage of insults and insinuations of laziness; and finally, (4) the political right works obsessively to deny government assistance for the unemployed.     

To add to the insanity, there's a very real possibility that Americans will soon vote to give the political right complete control of our Congress. What an amazing and utterly terrifying display of cruelty that would be: Politicians focused on demonizing the less fortunate, and an electorate that is eager to back them up. Is it any wonder that the American Dream is dead and that the suicide rate in America has increased dramatically? We have a significant portion of the voting population saying, in effect, "Yes, we like how you insult the unemployed! We like how you try to punish them by cutting off their food assistance!" What a nightmare America is today, for people who value compassion, justice, and rational thought.  

(Harry Hopkins, head of the WPA, once said: "The things they have actually accomplished all over America should be an inspiration to every reasonable person and an everlasting answer to all the grievous insults that have been heaped on the heads of the unemployed." Sadly, reasonableness is something that is sorely lacking in America today. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)