Saturday, May 31, 2014

Accomplishments of the National Youth Administration (part 4 of 10): Conservation and Environmental Work

(WPA poster, by artist Stanley Thomas Clough. Clough created this poster in Ohio, 1938. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

From 1935 to 1943 the National Youth Administration planted 19 million trees and shrubs. They also engaged in other conservation and environmental projects, such as building firebreaks, eradication of insect pests, building levees & retaining walls, stocking fish, and much more (Final Report of the National Youth Administration, pp. 141-143).

Considering the environmental challenges today, and the high rate of youth unemployment, do you think a new National Youth Administration would be useful?  

Friday, May 30, 2014

Accomplishments of the National Youth Administration (part 3 of 10): Museums

(A WPA poster by artist Angelo Tartaglia. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Participants in the National Youth Administration worked in museums as "guides, assistants in mounting and casing exhibits, and catalogers. NYA youth cataloged 1,123,000 museum articles in the fiscal years 1937 through 1942, and prepared or renovated 361,000 museum articles. NYA youth assisted in organizing museums for grade and high schools. These were usually nature exhibits of local flora, fauna, and historical items." (Final Report of the National Youth Administration, p. 175).

On the grounds of the Witte Museum in San Antonio, Texas, National Youth Administration workers constructed a cabin that represents the the type of dwelling used by Texas pioneers ("Log Cabins and Historical Homes: Old San Antonio in the backyard").

Wouldn't it be nice to have a National Youth Administration today, to offer work, training, and recreational opportunities for unemployed young Americans? It would be a great service to them, and to us. 

***See recent op-ed by Gene Budig and Alan Heap, "Unemployment a Crisis for Youth: Good news for the economy doesn't translate to good news for young Americans" (USA Today, May 4, 2014).

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Accomplishments of the National Youth Administration (part 2 of 10): Toys

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

According to the Final Report of the National Youth Administration, "Every State reported toy making and repair. In many instances, it was a pre-Christmas activity in woodworking shops. Charitable agencies collected broken and discarded toys for NYA youth to repair and paint. Much new equipment such as blocks, doll beds, and small pieces of furniture was made for WPA nursery schools. In some localities, toy-lending libraries for underprivileged children were NYA-furnished and maintained" (p. 173). 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Accomplishments of the National Youth Administration (part 1 of 10): Cancer Research

(A WPA poster urging early medical care. Compare the spirit of this poster--as well as the spirit of the WPA health clinics for low-income Americans--with the scatterbrained philosophy of President George W. Bush: "People have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room." Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

According to the Final Report of the National Youth Administration: Fiscal Years 1936-1943, "NYA students at the Medical School of the University of Wisconsin have done unusual work in cancer research. Through centrifugation these young medical students have advanced the knowledge available on cancer by determining the substances in normal tissue which regulate cell growth, either inhibiting or stimulating such growth" (p. 61).

Interestingly, at least one participant of the National Youth Administration went on to become a world renown cancer researcher at the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research, at the University of Wisconsin--Madison. See "Memorial Resolution of the Faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison on the Death of Professor Emeritus James A. Miller." 

Wouldn't it be nice if we had a National Youth Administration today, to tap into the wasted potential of America's unemployed young adults? See John Hooper's op-ed "Ten Reasons for a National Youth Service" on the website of the Living New Deal. Hooper writes "A NYS would have long-term benefits for both the individual and society."

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Living New Deal Map and Newsletter


Above: The Living New Deal (LND) has mapped over 6,000 still-existing sites, structures, and works of art from the New Deal era--and there are many more thousands to add. LND argues that "government can work for all the people by creating useful infrastructure, jobs for the unemployed, and things of beauty like public murals and elegant buildings." Isn't that a more positive philosophy than "tax cuts for the rich" and "trickle-down economics" which result in wealth for the already-wealthy and stagnant wages & shrinking job opportunities for everyone else? See LND's latest newsletter here. Also, consider supporting LND by volunteering, submitting a site to map, donating funds, or spreading the word.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Our veterans need a New Deal, not hypocrisy, not free market fantasies, and not tax evasion

 (Seal of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

On Friday, May 23rd, Republican U.S. Senator John McCain wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, "The Scandal That Shadows Memorial Day: The government has failed in its responsibility to veterans. Where is the administration's sense of urgency?"

Republican McCain writes about the recent deaths of veterans, as they languished on alleged secret wait lists at VA medical facilities: "It is...the height of shame and tragedy that on this Memorial Day the nation is seized with the unfolding scandal of the government's failure to meet its highest responsibility to veterans and wounded warriors...This is more than a government failure. It is a violation of a solemn vow. And the buck stops with the president of the United States."

Free Market Utopian Larry Kudlow--former host of CNBC's The Kudlow Report--goes further, writing "The VA problem is not Shinseki; it's socialism." "Market competition" Kudlow evangelizes, "will control costs and more efficiently distribute services. Profit motive, not run-amok bureaucrats, will discipline the system." Kudlow implores us to "Stop the job-destroying tax and regulatory provisions." Kudlow's piece is a humorous and rich amalgam of right-wing talking points.

 ("Here comes the bogeyman," by Goya. Larry Kudlow, and others, always invoke the bogeyman of "Socialism!" when government falters; and then they try to convince us that the "profit motive" and the billionaire "captains of industry" will save us, if we would only surrender our bodies and minds to them. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

And what about that profit motive? Hmmm, somehow I recall that playing a role in the tidal wave of white-collar crime that gripped the nation. Mortgage & securities fraud, money-laundering for drug cartels, interest rate rigging, insider trading, cooking the books, illegal tax evasion...all brought about by the holy "profit motive." And Kudlow and other Free Market Utopians want us to trust our veterans to that? Wow.

In any event... 

All across the country, Republicans are pointing their fingers at President Obama, "big government," and Eric Shinseki, the Secretary of U.S. Veterans Affairs--a man they are still very angry with because, back in the day, as a Four-Star General, he wouldn't agree with them that the aftermath of the Iraq War would be a cake walk, requiring a minimal number of troops (see an excellent discussion on this by MSNBC political commentator Rachel Maddow here).

So, are the VA's problems the fault of Obama and Shinseki? Well, the scandal is still unfolding, so we don't know the full story. Perhaps Obama and/or Shinseki have made some mistakes. But there is a deeper problem here, which is this: Republicans, while not reluctant to send our troops into battle, are extremely reluctant to help them when they return. Let's look back at the past 10 years or so, to see how Republican lawmakers have treated veterans, with respect to health care and other issues:

2004

(USA Today, 5-27-2004)

2005


(Los Angeles Times, April 13, 2005)

2006


(United States Senate, 3-14-2006)

2007


(Washington Times, Associated Press, 2-12-2007)

2008


(Army Times, 10-7-2008)

2009


(Marine Corps Times, 11-3-2009)

2010


(ThinkProgress, 6-29-2010)

2011


(Tri-City Herald, 3-11-2011)

2012


(CBS News, 9-20-2012)

2013


(Breitbart, 12-22-2013) (Note: This was a budget deal brokered with Democratic Senator Patty Murray. Senator Murray, like other Democrats, has made bad decisions from time-to-time, in an effort to compromise with Republican and Tea Party politicians.)

2014


(Reuters, 2-27-2014)

Meanwhile, as all this has gone on, Republicans have continuously pushed for more tax cuts for the rich (see, e.g., "Paul Ryan's Budget Plan: More Big Tax Cuts for the Rich"). Also, thousands of wealthy Americans have engaged in wide-scale tax evasion, depriving the U.S. government of $300 billion in revenue, annually (see "Tax Evasion: The Real Costs" and "Credit Suisse bank charged in helping (22,000) wealthy Americans avoid taxes"). This money could have been used to improve medical care for our veterans but, instead, was illegally hidden away so that thousands of wealthy Americans could enjoy more luxurious lives. To add insult to injury, wealthy Americans are already enjoying historically low tax rates, as pointed out by former top adviser to Ronald Reagan, Bruce Bartlett ("Are Taxes in the U.S. High or Low?").

What does it say about a society when, on the one hand, thousands of wealthy Americans evade taxes while, on the other hand, the soldiers & veterans who served them in uniform are having problems getting proper medical care due to lack of funding (and for those who say, "It's not a money problem!! It's a management problem!!" I would point to the first whistle-blower of this VA scandal who said that underfunding is the main problem). 

Our national morality is rotting away, fueled by greed, political campaign bribes contributions, and a political movement (the right) that associates the common good with "evil socialism!" and fantasizes about a Free Market Utopia where there are no regulations and people will do the right thing because, well, they just will. (In 2009, Free Market Utopian Alan Greenspan said he was in a "state of shocked disbelief" that the big financial institutions misbehaved and did not self-regulate themselves: "A critical pillar to market competition and free markets did break down. I still do not fully understand why it happened." Because, Mr. Greenspan, as James Madison said, "If men were angels, no government would be necessary." (See "Greenspan admits 'mistake' that helped crisis")  

Amidst all this foolishness, it is clear that we need a new and stronger New Deal. Not only for our soldiers & veterans, but also for our national soul.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Reverse New Deal: Scolding science, embracing ignorance

(Congressman David McKinley, R-WV. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)

On Thursday, May 22, 2014, Republicans in the House of Representatives voted "yes" on a legislative amendment that "would bar the Department of Defense from using funds to assess climate change and its implications for national security." 

The author of the amendment--Congressman David McKinley (R-WV)--wrote: "This amendment will prohibit the costs of the President's climate change policies being forced on the Department of Defense by the Obama Administration. The climate is obviously changing; it has always been changing. With all the unrest around the [world], why should Congress divert funds from the mission of our military and national security to support a political ideology?" 

This is the latest astounding display of ignorance by right-wing politicians. It seems that they are trying to take us back to the days when mankind thought the Earth was flat. To them, science is a "political ideology." 

 
(Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

According to NASA, "Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities, and most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position." 

(See interesting op-ed by CNN's Carol Costello, "Why are we still debating climate change?")

The Department of Defense--who Republicans are now trying to silence on this issue--recently highlighted the climate change problem in their 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, writing: "Climate change poses another significant challenge for the United States and the world at large. As greenhouse gas emissions increase, sea levels are rising, average global temperatures are increasing, and severe weather patterns are accelerating. These changes, coupled with other global dynamics, including growing, urbanizing, more affluent populations, and substantial economic growth in India, China, Brazil, and other nations, will devastate homes, land, and infrastructure. Climate change may exacerbate water scarcity and lead to sharp increases in food costs. The pressures caused by climate change will influence resource competition while placing additional burdens on economies, societies, and governance institutions around the world. These effects are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions – conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence."

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

New Deal policy-makers were not hostile to science and research--indeed, they encouraged it. For example, WPA workers built scientific facilities and assisted in scientific research. But, of course, we're no longer living in the New Deal era. Instead, an era of ignorance has taken hold. One of our two federal legislative bodies has, essentially, told the science community to "shut up." Why? Because Republican and Tea Party politicians are beholden to right-wing millionaires and billionaires who make their fortunes from high-pollution industries. These super-wealthy Americans give gargantuan sums of money to any conservative politician who is willing to protect them from pollution-curbing regulations (see, e.g., "Koch Industries: Still Fueling Climate Denial"). And, sure enough, Congressman McKinley's top industrial campaign contributor is the mining industry. 

Let's not beat around the bush--these conservative climate-change-denying politicians are putting the world in grave danger in return for campaign cash. We are paying a high price now, and our children and grandchildren are going to pay a much higher price in the future.

 Above: The description for this photograph reads, "Atom Smasher (Cyclotron) being constructed at Ohio State University with WPA assistance. Photo shows WPA work on the atom-smasher at Ohio State University." Cyclotrons have been used in physics research and are still used today by the medical community. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and New Deal Network.

Above: The description for this photo reads, "California Institute of Technology - The Soil Conservation Service is operating a project, using WPA labor for the purpose of studying erosion and problems bearing on the sedimentation of flowing water. Final results will be of great value in the design of reservoirs and dams to prevent their being filled with silt and which will eventually effect the prosperity of the entire West. The building used for experiments was constructed by WPA. Special apparatus for experiments is made by WPA. The machine shop and material for equipment is supplied by the Department of Agriculture. Photo shows a model constructed by WPA workers for studying the erosion caused by falling water, which occurs at base of gulley control dam." Photo courtesy of the National Archives and New Deal Network.

Above: The description for this photo reads, "WPA Ocean Climate Survey Project at New Orleans. LA - Sponsored by the US Weather Bureau." Photo courtesy of the National Archives and New Deal Network.

 Above: Merriam Laboratory, one of many structures built at Patuxent Research Refuge by WPA workers. Scientists at Patuxent Research Refuge have made important discoveries, such as the effect of DDT on bird eggs and the effect of lead shot on waterfowl. This research has led to important regulations that have protected wildlife and, thus, ensured a healthy game population for outdoor sportsmen. Photo by Brent McKee, 2011.

Friday, May 23, 2014

VA Hospital Scandal: The political right's "underfund-and-blame" strategy on full display

Above: In numerous ways, New Deal policy-makers tried to help soldiers & veterans. For example, they improved military & retirement facilities for them, they had pubic job programs for them, they gave them free entertainment opportunities, they created public information posters (like the one above) to support them, and more. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Of the recent VA hospital scandal (deaths resulting from an alleged secret wait list), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) said: "Look, it is a management problem, not a money problem. So it's obvious that the management team needs to be changed in order to address this problem" (emphasis added).

However, the Washington Times reported the following, shortly after the VA scandal broke out: "Dr. Sam Foote, the first whistleblower to come forward about the secret paper lists, said the hospital is understaffed and underfunded. 'The main problem in Phoenix is there’s a horrendous mismatch between demand for care and ability to provide it,' Foote said in an interview with the Washington Free Beacon" (emphasis added).

In 2005, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) "proposed providing $1.98 billion in additional funding for veterans' care. She said VA hospitals were underfunded and overcrowded. 'There's a train wreck coming,' Murray warned." Murray's warning makes sense because the U.S. has an aging Vietnam Veteran population, and has had many soldiers return home from extended tours of duty in the very lengthy Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Republicans, of course, rejected increased funding. Laughably, "Republicans denied that the VA facilities had such serious problems. They noted that the Bush administration had said the additional funding wasn't needed and that it had enough money to cope with emergencies." My God, how many times was the Bush Administration wrong? (Weapons of mass destruction, Iraquis welcoming us, oil paying for the war, etc.--all ridiculous lies and/or egregious miscalculations.)


This is the typical strategy of right-wing politicians. They de-fund or under-fund government programs and, when bad results occur, they point the finger at the government and say, "See, I told you big government was bad!" Why do they do this? Because if they can convince the public that the problem is "big government" incompetence--and not their deliberate underfunding--they will be more likely to keep taxes low for their right-wing millionaire & billionaire campaign contributors, and also more likely to convince Americans that public services should be privatized (which will benefit already-wealthy corporate executives & investors, and harm everyone else). We are seeing this political tactic--or similar tactics--being used against medical care for veterans, the Post Office, our national parks, and more. But if the American public does not recognize, and then fight back against this underfund-and-blame strategy, then many more people--including our soldiers and veterans--will be harmed for political gain.

What we really need is a New Deal for our soldiers and veterans--not charity, and not privatization for the benefit of the already-wealthy. And certainly not political gamesmanship by a party whose sole purpose is to sabotage government for the sake of keeping taxes low on their political sugar daddies. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

New Deal Art: A Rich Mix of Programs

Above: A WPA poster advertising an exhibition of paintings by William Sommer. Sommer (1867-1949) was a popular artist whose work can be seen today (see here). The poster above was created by WPA artist Stanley Thomas Clough, in Ohio, 1938. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Above: Another poster by WPA artist Stanley Thomas Clough, created in Ohio, circa 1936-1940. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

While trying to find out more information about WPA artist Stanley Thomas Clough, I came upon an interesting document produced by the Cleveland Artists Foundation: "Covering History: Revisiting Federal Art in Cleveland, 1933-1943." Dr. Sharon E. Dean highlights the fact that there were many New Deal art programs, including the Public Works of Art Project; art programs within the Works Progress Administration; the photography project of the Farm Security Administration; and the Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture. And, according to Kathleen Duxbury, the Civilian Conservation Corps also had an interesting art program (see here).

There was a rich mix of art programs during the New Deal. Compare that to today, where creativity--especially in the design and decoration of public buildings--is sorely (or completely) lacking.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Helen Tamiris: An Unsung Hero of the New Deal?

 (Helen Tamiris in 1948, image courtesy of Wikipedia and the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Helen Tamiris (1902-1966) was an American dance choreographer & instructor. According to Dr. Elizabeth McPherson of Montclair State University, Tamiris "lobbied successfully for the inclusion of a Federal Dance Project" in the WPA. McPherson writes that Tamiris "felt a kinship with oppressed people and wished to bring themes of oppression and overcoming oppression to the stage" (see Dr. McPherson's full essay: "Helen Tamiris, 1902-1966").

(The "Trojan Incident" was a WPA theatre production about the "cruelty and futility of war" (see script here). Helen Tamiris was one of the authors of the play. The WPA poster above was created by artist Leslie Bryan Burroughs. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Dr. McPherson argues that Helen Tamiris "is one of the great pioneers of American modern dance. A dynamic dancer and choreographer, she explored themes that were central to the American experience viewed in a broad, multicultural manner...Descriptions of Tamiris invariably include the word 'powerful,' describing both her dancing and the force of her personality."

Dr. McPherson concludes her essay on Helen Tamiris by pointing out that "there is not yet a comprehensive study of Tamiris' life and career."

Well, hopefully there will be one day, because her influence on modern dance, her concern for the downtrodden, and her contribution to the New Deal, with respect to the arts, seems substantial.

("Salut Au Monde" was a WPA theatre production choreographed and directed by Helen Tamiris. Note, in the the poster above, both Tamiris' name and the fact that the production is based on a Walt Whitman poem. WPA poster created by Richard Halls, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)


(An interesting video of Helen Tamiris teaching at the 1959 American Dance Festival. Original YouTube video, on the American Dance Festival's YouTube channel, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AY3dohXbl8g.)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Endangered Species: Post Office Buildings & Artwork

(The United States Post Office building, in Berryville, Virginia, built in 1938-39. It is one of the many hundreds of Post Office buildings constructed during the New Deal era that still serve the public today. Photo by Brent McKee, 2014.)
 
New Deal policy-makers saw to it that hundreds of Post Office buildings were constructed across the nation during the 1930s and 40s. Among the aims of this massive construction activity were the modernization of the country, the creation of work, and the improvement of mail & delivery services to Americans. Many of these New Deal era post offices still serve the nation today--a tribute to their rock solid construction and decades of public utility.

Today, the U.S. Post Office is under attack by politicians, Corporate America, and the Free Market Utopians who believe that every aspect of society becomes better when privatized--despite startling evidence to the contrary (see, as just one example, "The Privatization Scam: 5 Horror Stories of Gov't Outsourcing to Greedy Private Companies: Taxpayers are Getting Fleeced"). 

These entities want to see the Post Office go the way of the Dodo Bird, so that private corporations can acquire a larger share of the mail & delivery business. This, of course, will drive prices up and drive quality down. In other words, it will be great for super-wealthy executives & investors--as well as the politicians who will be paid off with more campaign contributions--but horrible for the rest of the country (see an excellent op-ed on this issue at "How You'll Get Screwed If Conservatives Kill the U.S. Postal Service"). Of course, the phenomenon of super-wealthy Americans benefiting, as everyone else gets battered, is pretty much the story of America these past few decades, and especially these past few years. 

(A historic mural inside the Berryville Post Office building. Murals like this were put into many Post Office buildings during the New Deal era, as a way to highlight our shared heritage. Do you see artwork like this in newer Post Office buildings, or at UPS or FedEx service centers? Do you see artwork like this in many new buildings at all? If not, why not? Photo by Brent McKee, 2014, for educational, historical, and non-commercial purposes.)

Many activists have been trying to get the media more involved, and the public more aware/concerned, with the Post Office crisis/debacle. For example, read an interview with Dr. Gray Brechin, "Dismantling America's Post Offices," and an op-ed by the president of the National New Deal Preservation Association, Harvey Smith, "Post office sale is a surrender to corporate interests." 

These and other activists have had some success, but I fear that both the media and public are ultimately more concerned with the antics of Justin Bieber, and the clothing choices of Kim Kardashian, to spend too much time and energy worrying about the sale of our historic Post Office buildings--or the inevitable loss of the public-intended art that resides within them. After all, a large portion of the public is unconcerned, or completely unaware, that their quality of life is going down the tubes due to corporate greed, job outsourcing, political corruption, etc. Why would they concern themselves about some historic buildings and art, when they're not even concerned about their stagnant wages and pathetic job opportunities? "Hey," they might say, "Don't distract me with that nonsense about American heritage! I've got to see if Miley Cyrus wore another thong yesterday!"

Due to corporate greed, public apathy, pop culture distractions, and the campaign contributions from right-wing billionaires that are making our political "leaders" ignore the common good, our Post Office history and artwork have become endangered species. And it is likely that many of these buildings & art pieces will disappear, while the public slumbers and the corporations & politicians cash in.

(An information plaque inside the Berryville Post Office building. Photo by Brent McKee, 2014.)

Saturday, May 17, 2014

California burns while millions continue to struggle with unemployment


(News coverage of a wildfire in San Diego, May 2014. Original YouTube link here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdMvmLWDpqs)

Currently, California is being pummeled with drought and wildfires. At the same time, millions of unemployed workers struggle with the lack of jobs in America (see, e.g., http://www.njfac.org/).

During the New Deal, the CCC helped prevent wildfires by clearing out dead trees and vegetation (items which serve as fuel for wildfires), and WPA workers created thousands of miles of firebreaks. These two groups also fought fires directly.

We could do the same today, if our political "leaders" in Washington, DC weren't so busy trying to protect the fortunes of their billionaire campaign contributors. Even unemployed workers who are not fit enough to perform physical labor could fill support roles.

Today, unfortunately, the common good has been thrown out the window, and personal profit and greed reigns supreme. Therefore, the fires will rage on and millions will continue to look for non-existent jobs.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Reverse New Deal: Nickel & diming the public with taxes, tolls, fees, and fines, to ensure tax breaks and tax loopholes for the rich

 (Is it fair to ask the general public to pay more & higher tolls for road maintenance, and to deal with the resulting increased traffic congestion, when so many millions of them are struggling with stagnant wages, higher prices, job insecurity, student loan debt, etc.....especially in light of the fact that the super-wealthy are getting wealthier and wealthier? Photo courtesy of www.photos-public-domain.com.)

For the past 30+ years, we've granted colossal tax breaks to the wealthiest of Americans. The result? Taxes on the wealthy are historically low, and federal revenue is also historically low.

As federal revenue drops, potential federal aid to the states drops. When this happens, state and local governments start increasing taxes, tolls, fees, and fines on their captive population--the middle-class and poor (those people who cannot easily move to another state) to make up for the lower probability of federal assistance. Sure, these increases sometimes affect the super-rich too, but they can handle the cost increases very easily, or move to another state if it really bothers them. These increased taxes, tolls, fees, and fines are, of course, regressive (the less you earn the higher percentage of your income is extracted by the government to satisfy the tax, toll, fee, or fine).  

I have seen this happen in Maryland, my home state. In just the past few years, for example, the toll to cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge has gone from $2.50 to $6.00--a 140% increase. This toll extracts a higher percentage of income from people of modest-to-low income.

Now, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge requires a lot of maintenance. But instead of increasing the cost for people of limited means, through increased tolling, why not create a new WPA to repair and maintain bridges and have it financed largely with federal funds? After all, the WPA engaged in 124,000 bridge projects during the New Deal era. Indeed, even Ronald Reagan praised this work, writing in his autobiography: "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."

(WPA workers repairing a bridge connecting Mineral County, West Virginia, to Allegany County, Maryland, 1936. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

Of course, we're not going to create a new WPA, and that's because (1) the super-wealthy are enjoying historically low tax rates (and many--not all--don't want to see their taxes go up to help the unemployed or improve American infrastructure), (2) many super-wealthy Americans are avoiding & evading taxes with shelters and offshore bank accounts, thereby depriving America of hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue--revenue that could EASILY support a new WPA, (3) Corporate America is engaging in extortion against the United States, saying, in effect, "give us the lowest possible tax rates or we won't bother helping the country," thereby depriving America of even more billions of dollars of revenue, and (4) the super-wealthy control our Congress with campaign contributions and have no interest in a public jobs program (after all, they don't need a job).

(See a research study indicating that most of the general public would support the idea of a new WPA-type program, but most wealthy Americans would not (table 5, p. 57): "Democracy and the Policy Preferences of Wealthy Americans")    

One of the next steps to nickel and dime the public is probably going to be the increased used of toll roads. Instead of increased federal aid for road maintenance--as happened during the New Deal era--policy-makers are starting to push for the increased use of tolls to finance road and highway maintenance (see, e.g., "You May Have To Say Goodbye To Your Toll-Free Highways"). This will, of course, further burden struggling Americans--both in terms of income reduction and traffic congestion. "Won't the traffic congestion affect the super-rich too?" you might ask. Well yes--they may have to use their personal jets more often, or stock their limousines with more DVDs, food, and reading material. Or maybe just send their butlers or personal valets out for the groceries. "Let Jeeves deal with the traffic!"

(Road creation, repair, and improvement was one of the main endeavors of the WPA. As long as local governments were willing to fund part of the project, the WPA would kick-in the rest. WPA workers created, repaired, or improved 650,000 miles of roads, streets, and highways. That's enough roadwork to go around the Earth 26 times. Such work addressed two issues--unemployment and infrastructure. With a few exceptions, our political leaders at the federal level are too busy catering to their super-wealthy campaign contributors to even begin to contemplate a new WPA for the people.They're more interested in protecting the fortunes of billionaires than in providing for the common good. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)       

So, the question is this: How much more of a battering are we going to take, to ensure that super-wealthy Americans are not inconvenienced by higher taxes on their ever-growing fortunes? Well, we're living in pretty sick times--times where billionaires are watching their fortunes increase by the billions while veterans die waiting for care from underfunded and understaffed medical facilities (thanks to Republican refusals to increase funding after they were warned years ago of impending problems)--so I fear that we're going to get battered a lot, LOT more before we've finally had enough. Indeed, millions of Americans stand ready to vote for even more Republican & Tea Party politicians who, in turn, are eager to grant even more tax breaks to the super-wealthy and cut even more services to people in need.

In any event, brace yourself for the traffic-jamming toll roads that are coming to a road or highway near you. You're going to have to start opening your wallet more frequently, in support of more trickle-down economics.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Our soldiers & veterans need a New Deal, not the crummy treatment they've been receiving

 (This is one of many WPA posters created during World War II that reminded Americans to keep quiet about war secrets and shipping routes.....for the sake of our soldiers and defense industry workers. Image provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

During the 1930s and 40s, New Deal policy-makers tried to support soldiers & veterans. For example, World War I veterans were allowed to serve in the CCC (a work program primarily focused on young men), WPA workers improved living, working, and training facilities for active duty soldiers, WPA orchestras provided free concerts, and more.

As America has turned away from New Deal policies & ethics, and instead embraced the policies & ethics promulgated & practiced by Corporate America (e.g., tax breaks for the rich, greed, fraud, white collar crime, financial deregulation, harsher bankruptcy laws for individuals, plutocracy, etc.), we have turned vicious towards our soldiers & veterans. Consider the following ten examples:

1. Illegally foreclosing on their homes

See, for example, "Bank Of America Will Pay $20 Million For Illegal Foreclosures On Active-Duty Soldiers" (Business Insider, 6-4-2011)

2. Cheating them on student loans

See, for example, "Sallie Mae, Navient To Pay $139 Million Settling Probes Into Cheating Troops On Student Loans" (Huffington Post, 5-13-2014)

3. Blocking employment programs

See, for example, "Senate GOP blocks veterans jobs bill" (CBS News, 9-20-2012)

4. Practicing employment discrimination against them

See, for example, "Veterans' unemployment -- a national disgrace" (CBS News, 5-18-2012) 

5. Cutting off their unemployment benefits

See, for example, "Emergency Jobless Benefits Cut-Off Has Hit Nearly 200,000 Veterans and Counting" (Huffington Post, 2-28-2014)

6. Reducing their food assistance

See, for example, "Nearly 1 Million Vets Face Food Stamps Cut" (Military.com News, 10-29-2013) 

7. Blocking their access to quality health care

See, for example, "284,000 Uninsured Veterans May Miss Out On Medicaid Coverage If 25 States Reject Expansion: Study" (Huffington Post, 3-27-2013) Note: Republican-managed states did indeed reject Medicaid expansion.

8. Underfunding their medical services

See, for example, "A fatal wait: Veterans languish and die on a VA hospital's secret list" (CNN, 4-30-2014) Note: This story is still developing, but the political right, of course, is labeling this as a problem of "big government" incompetence (see, e.g., here). This is a typical tactic of the political right. They work towards underfunding government programs and then, when bad results occur due to that underfunding, they cry out "See, I told you! Big government is bad!" In turn, they use such problems to further cut funding for the "incompetent"  government, thereby justifying more tax cuts for their donors and more privatization contracts for their big business buddies. And indeed, the Washington Times reports: "Dr. Sam Foote, the first whistleblower to come forward about the secret paper lists, said the hospital is understaffed and underfunded. 'The main problem in Phoenix is there’s a horrendous mismatch between demand for care and ability to provide it,' Foote said in an interview with the Washington Free Beacon." 

9. Threatening their disability payments

When Republicans and Tea Partiers shut down the federal government in October of 2013, in an effort to defund the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare"), the following was reported: "Government Shutdown: Veterans, Families May Not Receive Disability And Pension Checks, VA Chief Warns" (Huffington Post, 10-9-2013) 

10. Letting debt collectors harass them

See, for example, "Debt Collectors Have Harassed Thousands Of Military Servicemembers Over Nonexistent Debts" (ThinkProgress, 3-11-2014)

So, considering the crummy treatment highlighted above, don't you think it's time for a New Deal for our soldiers & veterans?  

(A WPA poster promoting remembrance, gratitude, and respect for our veterans. Image provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

 
(The WPA created Baltimore National Cemetery, a beautiful and final resting place for many of our soldiers & veterans. Photo by Brent McKee, 2011.)

 (The WPA helped put together the 75th anniversary event for the Battle of Antietam. Above, we see a Union veteran and a Confederate veteran shaking hands during the event. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.)

(A WPA airport project in Frederick County, Maryland--probably at Fort Detrick. The WPA improved many facilities for our soldiers; so much so that Brigadier General Michael F. Davis said: "Much more than one-half of America's airport construction has been the work of the WPA. Runways have been laid; buildings have been erected; utilities have been reconditioned; drainage systems have been installed. Nests for America's warbirds have taken shape out of raw fields and meadows. Hamilton Field, whose fighter-planes guard the vital San Francisco Bay area, has felt the drive of the WPA...Hamilton Field dips its wings in tribute to the WPA" (radio transcription, 1941, National Archives, Record Group 69, Records of the Work Projects Administration.))

 (The WPA created many posters reminding citizens to conserve resources during World War II. Such conservation helped our soldiers during those dangerous times. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

 
(The Scott Building, on the campus of the Armed Forces Retirement Home. The WPA did extensive repair and modernization work at the Retirement Home during the 1930s, and the facility still serves our veterans today. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)  

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Reverse New Deal: Allowing Americans to die, in service to right-wing billionaires

(New Deal policy-makers felt that health care was important for everyone, including those of limited means. WPA poster--image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich recently highlighted the fact that Republican-managed states "refused to expand Medicaid, even though the federal government will cover 100 percent of the cost for the first three years and at least 90 percent thereafter" and concluded "Right-wing ideology is trumping the health needs of millions of Americans. Let’s be perfectly clear: These policies are literally killing women."

Indeed, Republican policies on Medicaid expansion (i.e., refusing to expand it to cover more low-income Americans) are going to kill women and men. According to a study from Harvard Medical School and the City University of New York, it is likely that thousands of Americans will die due to the Republican refusal to expand Medicaid. Of course, we don't need a new study to know this is true (although additional evidence is always good). People without health insurance are less likely to get problems treated early, due to financial concerns, and these untreated problems often turn into long-term, serious problems. Also, Medicaid helps with the cost of prescription medicines. In any event, we already knew that a lack of health insurance increases a person's chance of dying (see, e.g., "Hospitalized children without insurance are more likely to die, a study finds" and "Uninsured more likely to die, study finds").

 (New Deal policy-makers understood that treating problems early was essential for a healthy life. WPA poster--image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Americans for Prosperity, a group that has received funding from the right-wing billionaire Koch brothers, and is fighting against Medicaid expansion, states "Medicaid patients are almost twice as likely to die during surgery than individuals with private insurance. Medicaid expansion means that the folks who need the most help would get hurt the worst." But this statement ignores the basic, underlying problem: Low-income Americans cannot afford private health insurance unless it is provided by their employers, and many low-income Americans work at jobs where the employer does not offer it (and many other low-income Americans are unemployed, thanks to the white collar crime, financial gambling, fraud, greed, and corruption emanating out of Corporate America). To suggest that a particular option (Medicaid) is worse than an option that is not available (private health insurance) is both deceitful and ignorant. And, to feign interest in the well-being of low-income Americans, after all the decades that their health insurance needs have been neglected, is pathetic.

Former vice president Al Gore recently argued that Republican politicians deny that human activities play a role in global warming (despite a 97% level of agreement among climate scientists that humans are playing a role) because they are trying to curry "favor with Republican megadonors like Charles and David Koch." The same phenomenon is occurring with Medicaid expansion. Republican politicians who depend on the Kochs (as well as other right-wing millionaires and billionaires) for campaign cash are denying health insurance to low-income Americans to curry favor with their political sugar daddies. Their climate change denials, and their refusal to expand Medicaid, are ways of saying, "See, I'm a good right-winger. Support me with campaign money. If you do, I'll make sure regulations won't hinder your pollution-generating business, and I'll make sure that your taxes won't go up to help the poor."

Welcome to the Reverse New Deal: Denying medical coverage to low-income Americans, in return for campaign cash.

(New Deal policy-makers understood that health care is not only important to the individual, but also important for society as a whole (for example, consider the problem of communicable diseases). WPA poster--image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The National Youth Administration in North Carolina

Above: President Roosevelt, on his way to deliver a speech in Charlotte, North Carolina, 1936. In creating the National Youth Administration, President Roosevelt said, "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." From the Final Report of the National Youth Administration, p. 23. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.

The National Youth Administration (NYA, 1935-1943) was a New Deal program that provided jobs, training, recreation, and social activities for the hundreds of thousands of young men and women who were dealing with the dearth of opportunity caused by the Great Depression. In its early years, the NYA was a subdivision of the WPA. 

The NYA had a strong presence in North Carolina. For example, according to the Final Report of the National Youth Administration (p. 227):

"One of the best recreation programs was in the State of North Carolina. The State Department of Public Education and the NYA jointly planned and put it into action. An advisory committee consisted of representatives of the State Department of Public Instruction, the State Board of Health, the City Recreation Department, the State Department of Conservation and Development, and the University of North Carolina. Its duties were to assist the NYA recreation supervisor to locate for use existing recreational facilities, find local recreational leadership, secure local support in the planning and execution of festivals, exhibits, pageants, and athletic contests, and relate the NYA recreation program for out-of-school youth to all other State programs. The objective of this State-wide program was to develop a variety of recreational outlets for idle youth. Through this program opportunities were provided for participation in a variety of physical activities essential to sound bodily growth and development of physical skills, in competitive games or sports, and in informal activities of youths' own choosing, such as arts and crafts, dramatics, music, and nature-study."

"State recreation personnel in North Carolina visited local, nonresident projects and helped supervisors and related training instructors to plan programs for lunch hours which included board and card games, arts and crafts, and other less vigorous physical activities. Such pastimes plus athletic games also were organized for after-work hours. Where youth could take part in recreation activities on the project site, participation was large. Parties, wiener roasts, dances and other social events were possible once or twice a month. NYA youth brought non-NYA partners for these social occasions. The North Carolina State Department of Public Instruction assigned a specialist in social recreation and dramatics to arrange recreational programs for nonresident project workers. This specialist acted as an adviser and assisted in securing cosponsors for projects which made recreational equipment. Without official State support, such a broad recreational program as that of North Carolina could not have been initiated by NYA. Many States considered public recreation a superfluous expenditure of funds, and public treasuries, depleted by the depression, could not afford the burden of recreational programs for underprivileged young people."

Above: Eleanor Roosevelt visiting a YMCA in Kannapolis, North Carolina, 1942. Aubrey Williams, head of the NYA, 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" (Final Report of the National Youth Administration, pp. VI-VII). Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.
 
Above: The NYA operated mobile health units in North Carolina, to administer chest X-rays and dental services to those in need (Final Report of the National Youth Administration, p. 224). WPA poster image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.   
 
Above: North Carolina schools and colleges were very eager to participate in NYA programs. For example, during the academic year of 1939-1940, only Texas had more schools and colleges participating in NYA student work programs. All told, North Carolina had an astounding 1,393 schools and colleges participating that year (Final Report of the National Youth Administration, p. 246). WPA poster image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

 Above: Training young Americans to operate machinery was a big part of the NYA. Such training enhanced the participant's employment opportunities and, with the coming of World War II, enhanced America's war effort. Note the NYA letters on the young woman's work clothes. Photo taken in Washington, DC, 1943, by Roger Smith of the Office of War Information. Provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

***Book references above refer to the 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. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

New Deal Architecture: Even the lamps were creative and ornate!

The lamps shown below are at the post office buildings in the towns of Easton, Pocomoke City, and Hagerstown (all in Maryland). These post office buildings were constructed during the 1930s as part of the New Deal effort to modernize America. It's possible that the lamps were installed after the main New Deal era was over (i.e., after the early-mid 1940s) but it's my guess that they are original to the buildings. Why? Because they are very creative and ornate and, ever since the New Deal, there has been a steady decline in the aesthetics of public architecture until, today, we have an ever-growing number of newly-constructed public buildings that are as bland and boring as can be. So, enjoy a small dose of public architecture from yesteryear, from a time when creative public art wasn't labeled "wasteful spending!!" or "godless communism!!"

(A lamp on the post office building in Easton, Maryland. Photo by Brent McKee, 2014.)

 (A lamp at the post office building in Pocomoke City, Maryland. Photo by Brent McKee, 2014.)

 (A lamp on the post office building in Hagerstown, Maryland. Photo by Brent McKee, 2012.)
 
(A closer look at the detail on the Hagerstown lamp. Note the missing star. Photo by Brent McKee, 2012.)

Friday, May 9, 2014

United States Post Office: Pocomoke City, Maryland


Above: The U.S. Post Office in Pocomoke City, Maryland, built in 1937. One of the many hundreds of post offices built during the New Deal era. Photo by Brent McKee, 2014.


Above: Descriptive stone on the Pocomoke City Post Office. Photo by Brent McKee, 2014.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

WPA School


Above: A Somerset County (Maryland) government office building. The building was constructed in 1938-39, and for many years was the high school for the town of Princess Anne. It was one of many thousands of school construction projects that the WPA engaged in. These projects consisted of new constructions, repairs, improvements, and additions.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

WPA Poster: Curb Service


Above: This WPA poster advertised the bookmobile service of the Chicago Public Library. Unlike today, where many of our policymakers are perpetually looking to slash public benefits and public services--while billionaires keep adding billions to their personal fortunes--New Deal policymakers made efforts to improve the quality of life for middle and low-income Americans--the 99%, if you will. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs. Division

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Happy (what should be) National WPA Day of Recognition!

(Image courtesy of the National Archives.)

The WPA was created on May 6, 1935, by Executive Order No. 7034. President Roosevelt had the authority to create the WPA via the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935, passed by Congress a month earlier. 

The WPA employed 8.5 million jobless Americans to modernize and repair our nation's infrastructure (and they performed a lot of other jobs too, e.g., theater plays, concerts, historic preservation, environmental restoration, research studies, food assistance, making clothes for low-income families, etc.). These formerly unemployed Americans created or improved 650,000 miles of roadway--enough roadwork to go around the Earth 26 times--and engaged in tens of thousands of work projects to build and repair bridges, schools, airports, hospitals, dams, libraries, firehouses, and much more.

The existence of the WPA coincided with massive increases in America's GDP and substantial reductions in the unemployment rate. Only when the WPA was scaled back did the nation's GDP and unemployment numbers worsen. When it was ramped up again, the numbers improved.

The infrastructure work of the WPA--and other New Deal work and construction programs--served as the backbone for America's post-World War II prosperity. The nation's economy expanded along WPA roads, across WPA bridges, in WPA buildings, and out of WPA airports. And we are still utilizing thousands of WPA projects today. The Living New Deal has mapped 6,000 still-existing sites, structures, and works of art from the New Deal era (many of them WPA), and they have many more thousands to go.

The WPA also played a vital role in America's national defense by improving military bases, salvaging scrap metal, working on airports that were used for flight training, training airplane mechanics, and more. Many WPA workers went on to serve in the military or defense industries during World War II.

Considering all this, you would think that, as a nation, we would remember the work of these 8.5 million Americans with a national day of recognition. So...will we?

Nope.