Friday, October 31, 2014

Our Public Libraries Need A New Deal

"We need to fight the privatization of the public library while at the same time defending and nourishing our existing libraries."

--David Morris, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, "All Hail the PUBLIC Library," 2011

(A sign in Hampshire County, West Virginia, attempts to drum up support for the funding of threatened public libraries. Photo by Brent McKee, October, 2014.)

All across America, our public libraries are in danger. They face the same challenges faced by every other publicly-funded institution designed for the common good: Funding shortfalls and privatization threats. Or, to put it another way, the super-wealthy don't feel like paying any more taxes--even as they gobble up more and more of our nation's wealth--and Corporate America wants to take over our public libraries so it can make a profit by increasing fees, reducing services, and slashing workers' wages, benefits, and retirement security. It's the corporate privatization strategy that we've become very familiar with; the strategy that's been destroying the American Dream for many years now; the strategy that says pretty things in the beginning--like "innovation!" and "entrepreneurship!"--and then slowly but surely scales back services and/or hurts middle-class workers for the sake of profit.

(For two interesting articles, see "Anger as a Private Company Takes Over Libraries" and "Millington library wants to end contract with private operator")

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

In 2008, the Fort Worth Public Library took the anti-public library trend in an interesting direction by declaring the word "public" to be a dirty word. In a strange media release, we learned the following: "The word 'public' has been removed from the name of the Fort Worth Library. Why? Simply put, to keep up with the times. In today’s day and age, the word 'public' implies a place that, at one time, might have been viewed as institutional and restrictive. All are welcome at the Fort Worth Library. By removing one word with a potentially negative connotation, the Library aims to appear more welcoming and accessible to all." 

It's not entirely clear what this nonsensical statement means, but they appear to be saying that the word "public" is too governmental ("institutional") and therefore if you're not a bureaucrat or a socialist, you wouldn't be welcome ("restrictive"). So, they've taken out the "restrictive," socialist (!) word. That's about the only explanation I can think of, because "public" means "all"; how the Fort Worth Library came to redefine it as "restrictive" I do not know.

(Ironically, the Oxford Dictionary defines public as: "Open to or shared by all the people of an area or country: 'a public library'")

(In this photograph, formerly unemployed Americans--now working in the New Deal's Civil Works Administration--are on a library construction project on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, circa 1933-34. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

These bizarre trends--privatizing public libraries and redefining the word "public" to mean "restrictive"--are indicators that our libraries need a New Deal. Indeed, rather than straining logic and changing the meaning of words (in a desperate attempt to protect the tax rates of the super-wealthy) New Deal policymakers created work & construction programs that built more libraries, repaired existing libraries, staffed libraries, and even delivered books--many times by horseback--to Americans who could not reach the library. Why? Because they felt that the public good (oops, forgive my foul language there) was slightly more important than the ability of a super-rich American to buy a 24 karat gold bathtub or a basketball court for yacht #8.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

2.1 Trillion Gallons of Water Lost Every Year, As the Political Right Scolds the New Deal

(WPA poster, by artist Charlotte Angus, created in Pennsylvania, between 1941 and 1943. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)
 
New Deal policymakers invested heavily in America's infrastructure, creating work & construction programs that installed thousands of miles of new water lines, sewer lines, and storm drains.

Today, our infrastructure is falling apart. For example, NPR recently reported that America loses about 2.1 trillion gallons of water every year "because of aging and leaky pipes, broken water mains and faulty meters."

While our infrastructure has been aging and crumbling, right-wing politicians, pundits, and think tank "researchers" have made a sport out of scolding the New Deal. U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) summed up their collective thinking when he said, "we know for sure that the big spending programs of the New Deal did not work." (Also see "Senate GOP blocks $60B Obama infrastructure plan")

So, what is working Mr. McConnell? 30+ years of trickle-down economics, the Forbes 400 adding $270 billion to their personal fortunes over the past year, and letting 2.1 trillion gallons of drinking water leak out of our crumbling pipes? Unfortunately, a lot of people seem to think so, because polls are showing that Americans are preparing to hand Congress, and many state legislatures, over to Republican and Tea Party politicians (see, e.g., here and here) who will, of course, work towards (a) blocking infrastructure repairs and (b) giving more tax breaks and tax loopholes to millionaires & billionaires. 

We're living in amazing times.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The WPA and the Chesapeake Bay

(A view of the Chesapeake Bay from Kent Island. Photo by Brent McKee.)

On April 8th, 1936, it was reported that the "Maryland State Conservation Commission...had recommended that 200,000 bushels of oyster shells be planted on the depleted bottoms in the lower Chesapeake Bay area...providing work for a considerable number of the unemployed of that part of the Eastern Shore" ("Plans For Oyster Planting Pushed," The Sun, p. 8).

In various areas across the nation, WPA workers planted over 8 million bushels of oysters (Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, p. 132).

In 2010, addressing a depleted oyster population, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation recommended that "Maryland and Virginia should work with the federal government to invest sufficient funds to rebuild former reefs with enough shells, concrete, or other appropriate materials to establish successful reef communities" ("On the Brink: Chesapeake's Native Oysters; What it Will Take to Bring Them Back").

Though the oyster population appears to be improving in the Chesapeake Bay, it is still at historically low levels. According to a recent news article, there were 422,382 bushels of oysters harvested in 2013--the highest amount in 15 years--but back in 1884 there were 15 million bushels harvested. The article reports that the oyster population "has dropped precipitously and since 1994 has languished at one percent of historic levels."

Wouldn't it be nice to have a WPA today, to help repopulate the oysters of the Chesapeake Bay?

(WPA workers in Crisfield, Maryland, preparing to plant oyster shells in the Chesapeake Bay, 1936. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Old water lines are bursting across America and hurting small businesses. Why has our small-business-loving Congress failed to create a new WPA?

(WPA poster, by artist Vera Bock, created in New York, 1936. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

As anyone who follows news and politics can tell you, it's a right of passage for political candidates to profess their unwavering love for "small business." Like "job creators" and "Obama is a Marxist," a phrase along the lines of "I'm looking out for small business" is a must.

But are politicians really looking out for small business? Or are they more concerned with lowering tax rates and repealing pollution-curbing regulations for political sugar daddies like the Koch brothers? Because, right now, aging infrastructure is damaging small businesses all across the nation and many politicians, especially right-wing politicians in Congress, aren't lifting a finger to help.

The past few days provide some good examples.

In Yakima, Washinton, a pipe that was almost 100-years-old broke over the weekend and harmed local businesses. A man who saw his store sustain $20,000 in damage said, "Businesses are dealing with tough situations anyway in this economic climate. Having this added to it, it just adds more pressure." 

In Bellevue, Washington, an old pipe broke yesterday and caused several businesses to flood, lose their water supply, and close early.

A nearly 100-year-old pipe in Los Angeles broke yesterday, and it was reported that "Business owners in the area were dumbfounded. At the Bombay Grill the owners says 'Here we go again!' Same thing at the corner donut shop, a nail salon and the Subway. The last two closed down early. No business."

Our political "leaders" in Congress could create a new WPA (or, at they very least, increase funding for existing mechanisms) to improve our deteriorating infrastructure-- instead of blabbering on about how they're madly in love with small business--but action takes a lot of effort, whereas empty political rhetoric requires very little. And so, as the senior national correspondent for Time magazine points out, "no matter how much Republicans say they care about infrastructure, they’re not going to accept any infrastructure proposals that come from President Barack Obama...Republicans say nice things about infrastructure but haven’t shown any interest in paying for it. As a result, the nation has failed to take advantage of historically low interest rates to invest more in our overcrowded airports, outdated railways and flimsy bridges." (Also see "Senate GOP blocks $60B Obama infrastructure plan")


(A presentation I made about WPA infrastructure work during the 1930s and 40s. Includes narration, music, and historic photos & film.)

During the 1930s and 40s, New Deal policymakers invested heavily in American infrastructure--and the investment paid off. After World War II, the economy expanded along New Deal roads, across New Deal bridges, and out of New Deal airports. Heck, even Ronald Reagan loved the WPA, praising it in his autobiography. But today, the situation is quite different. Infrastructure spending is now cartoonishly likened to "socialism!!" and "out-of-control, big government spending!!" Today, it seems, only Lenin would have the audacity to replace a 100-year-old pipe.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Democracy is a challenge, when...

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

Democracy is a challenge, when...

Thousands of minority voter registrations are "lost." See "Tens Of Thousands Of Voter Registrations Have Mysteriously Vanished In Georgia."  

Democracy is a challenge, when...

A Fox "News" host tells young women not to vote. See "Fox News Concludes That Young Women Are Too 'Hot' And Dumb To Vote."

Democracy is a challenge, when...

Most young people don't vote. See "History shows young voters don’t, and won’t, turn out for midterms" and "Millennial Helplessness: Why Are Young Voters Abandoning Their Political Destiny?"

Democracy is a challenge, when...

The Native American vote is suppressed. See "Native American Vote Suppression Scandal Escalates."

Democracy is a challenge, when...

Voter suppression efforts (under the guise of addressing voter fraud) target minorities. See "GOP Official Resigns After Saying Purpose Of Voter ID Is To Suppress Votes Of Democrats, ‘Lazy Blacks.'"

Democracy is a challenge, when...

Corporations and super-wealthy Americans are allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money to misinform voters. See, for example, economist Paul Krugman's op-ed "Plutocrats Against Democracy."

Democracy is a challenge, when...

Voting districts are drawn to keep minority representation low (racial gerrymandering). See "Some Call for Change in Wake of Gerrymandering Ruling."

Democracy is a challenge, when...

Democrats say pretty things to garner progressive support, but then, when the day of action arrives, they submit to Corporate America, as Obama did with the public option during health care reform (in 2009, President Obama said, "I continue to believe that a public option within the basket of insurance choices would help improve quality and bring down costs," but then, in 2010, we learned that "Obama Health Care Plan Drops Public Option." Also see "Public Option was in Obama's Platform.") And, of course, we know that Hillary Clinton will govern the same way if she ends up in the White House, since she has received huge campaign contributions from Corporate America.

Democracy is a challenge, when...

Ex-offenders, once they have completed the entirety of their sentences, are still not allowed to vote. See "Banned from voting booths: Ex-convicts."

Democracy is a challenge, when...

Congress listens to the super-wealthy and ignores everyone else. See "The Government Listens To Lobbyists And The Wealthy, Not You And Me" and "Democracy and the Policy Preferences of Wealthy Americans."

**********

Yes, democracy is very much a challenge--for a multitude of reasons. And that is why America, unfortunately, has turned into a plutocracy--a government of the rich ("Report: Most members of Congress are millionaires"), by the rich ("Super-rich hedge funders race to help GOP take Senate" ), and for the rich (Research Findings: "The Government Listens To Lobbyists And The Wealthy, Not You And Me").

Hopefully, the situation will change in the not-too-distant future. Hopefully, Americans will demand a return to New Deal policies and principles that, while not perfect, set us on the path towards a true democracy. Hopefully.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The WPA's American Family Robinson!

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

Thursday, October 23, 2014

An old water main breaks in San Francisco and threatens a hospital. A WPA could have prevented that.

(WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)
 
This past Tuesday, October 21st, a 107-year-old water main broke and reduced water pressure to parts of San Francisco General Hospital. The break was just one of the probable 600-700 breaks that occurred that day in America (see the "Drinking Water" section of the 2013 Infrastructure Report Card).

The American Society of Civil Engineers noted in 2013 that "Significant investments are still needed to address renewal and replacement, maintenance, security and reliability for (California's) water infrastructure."

Republican political strategist Matthew Dowd recently wrote: "...we need to have a well-paying jobs program tied to infrastructure improvements administered locally by cities, counties and states where people still trust government to get the job done. And this should be funded by tax policies at the federal level which put a much bigger burden on the wealthy in this country."

During the New Deal era, the WPA--a federal program--provided funds for locally administered infrastructure projects. In California, for example, WPA workers installed 1,198 miles of new water lines.

Wouldn't it be great if we created a new WPA, and installed another 1,198 miles of new water lines in the Golden State? (Statistic from the Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

WPA Theatre: The Devil Passes


Above: "The Devil Passes" was a comedy drama written by Benn W. Levy (a member of the British Parliament) and was performed by WPA actors during the Great Depression. The poster above was created by an unknown WPA artist, in California, 1936. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Wendy the Welder and the WPA


Above: The description for this photograph reads, in part, "This young lady is training to work on the assembly line of one of our great war plants. In preparation for this task, she devotes six nights a week to a WPA vocational training school where experienced instructors show her the technique of modern welding." Recently, an event in Bakersfield, California, honored the work of our nation's Rosie the Riveters and Wendy the Welders during World War II. A war veteran who spoke at the event said, "Who knows what would have become of us if it were not for you." The photograph above was taken by Howard Liberman, and is part of the Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection. Provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Charity doesn't cut it, we need a new and stronger New Deal


(As opposed to pure cash relief, or breadlines, or dependence upon charity, many New Deal policymakers preferred the creation of large work & construction programs that unemployed, able-bodied Americans could apply to. So, they created programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration. In the audio above, listen to President Roosevelt's rationale for the creation of such programs.)

Republican Joni Ernst, the Iowa candidate for U.S. Senate who has been featured in some of the most bizarre television campaign ads in political history, wants struggling Americans to stop utilizing democratically-formed government programs (like SNAP and Medicaid) and start becoming more dependent on churches and charity ("Joni Ernst: Poor People Aren't Entitled to Food, Clothing, or Health Care").

(See the Joni Ernst campaign ad where she gleefully tells viewers that "I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm" (link), as well as the campaign ad showing Ernst riding a motorcycle, promoting her conservative "farm girl" background, informing us that she "carries more than just lipstick in her purse," and showing her firing a gun--in a leather jacket--while the narrator talks about the Affordable Care Act (link).)

Ernst's disgust for a government that helps all its citizens--instead of a government that limits itself to pampering the super-wealthy--is a disgust shared by many right-wing politicians. They feel that non-wealthy Americans who face hard times (layoffs, low wages, medical emergencies, etc.) should be directed towards church or charity, and that it is not the proper role of government to assist citizens-in-need (even though the U.S. Constitution was established, in part, to "promote the general welfare" and even though Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to tax and "provide" for the "general welfare").

(The description for this photo, taken in Albany, New York, reads "Crippled Children - Red Cross and WPA workers aiding sufferers of infantile paralysis at the Therapeutic Project." Some people find this type of government assistance highly offensive, even when private health care services for people-in-need are inaccessible because of high cost and/or lack of health insurance. It's difficult to understand why they feel this way. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

Charity--while certainly helpful--isn't going to cut it for our nation's most pressing problems, and here's a few reasons why:

1. Some give more than others. Super-wealthy Americans are vacuuming up more and more wealth--while the middle-class shrinks--but the rich give a lower percentage of their wealth to charity than other groups do. So, think carefully about what that means: Those who typically give more to charity are now less able to, while those who give less to charity are gobbling up more and more of our nation's assets. That doesn't bode well for charitable endeavors, and it also doesn't bode well for those Americans that right-wing politicians want to become more dependent upon charity.

2. The money doesn't always go where it's most needed. As struggling Americans are looking inside their empty refrigerators, the rich primarily give to things like universities and the arts. It's great that rich Americans give money to museums, art galleries, community theaters, etc., but if your primary concern is more about paying the electric bill, or having enough food, or having a roof over your head, this is not good news at all. And sure enough, as the middle-class is shrinking, donations are down for food banks across the nation--the very same food banks that Ernst and her fellow right-wing politicians want struggling Americans to rely upon (see, e.g., here, here, here, here, here, and here, for just a few examples. Also see "U.S. food banks struggle to meet new demand caused by food stamp cuts").       

3. Many charitable foundations are reluctant givers. Professor Ray Madoff, from Boston College Law School, recently wrote, "Charities have begged and pleaded for increased distributions from these warehouses of wealth, to no avail" ("A Better Way to Encourage Charity," New York Times). Madoff suggests tax code changes to motivate foundations to give more but, having worked in the charitable giving field, I can tell you that there are numerous reasons why foundations are reluctant to give--reasons that would not be affected by changes to the tax code (e.g., internal politics, ideological disagreements with the applicant's mission, a non-social welfare focus, a desire to derive interest income from invested funds, and so on). This is not to suggest that tax changes would not be beneficial, but only that the benefits might be very limited. 

4. Some charitable funds are locked up in banks--for years. Some wealthy individuals choose to put their charitable dollars in "donor-advised funds." But there's a problem with this type of fund, as journalist Leon Neyfakh highlights: "Though legally public charities, they are more like holding tanks that let would-be philanthropists deposit money, collect the tax benefits up front, and then decide later which causes they actually want to give to. Legally, there’s no limit to how long the money can sit there" ("Donor-advised funds: Where charity goes to wait; $45 billion of American philanthropic money has been given—but not received," Boston Globe). Can you see the double-whammy here? Both federal revenue (because of the tax deduction) and current need (because the donated money can sit in an account for years) are stymied.  

5. Compared to government programs, charity is inconsistent. Social Security has been one of the greatest and most consistent poverty mitigation programs in human history--perhaps the greatest--whereas charitable foundations, for example, don't even come close. Indeed, many foundations actively avoid getting involved in situations where they may end up as an organization's perpetual source of funds. Hence, organizations that provided basic services to people-in-need often (perhaps usually) face yearly struggles to get the necessary funding.

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

The purpose of this blog post is not to disparage charitable giving. We should all be grateful when people give back to the community. Instead, the purpose of this blog post is to point out that there are multiple reasons why we should not rely on charitable giving. We should, instead, create and strengthen governmental programs. There is nothing wrong with We the People helping We the People. That is why the Constitution includes a promotion of, and a provision for, the general welfare.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Congress, and the "Job Creators," have failed our Veterans


"There are things I've seen, things I've learned that should not be left unsaid. War is a racket to protect economic interests, not our country, and our soldiers are sent to die on foreign soil to protect investments by big business."

--Major General Smedley Butler, 1935, U.S. Marine, author of War is a Racket, and "the only Marine to be awarded the Brevet Medal and two Medals of Honor, all for separate actions" (Wikipedia). Quote from The Plot to Seize the White House, by Jules Archer.   

(WPA poster, by artist John McCrady, created in Louisiana between 1941 and 1943. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

The Forbes 400 recently added $270 billion to their personal fortunes. They're now worth $2.29 trillion. Meanwhile, "Corporate profits are at their highest level in at least 85 years" and "Employee compensation is at the lowest level in 65 years" (see "Corporate Profits Grow and Wages Slide," New York Times).

What gives? I thought more wealth for the wealthy was supposed to result in good middle-class jobs flowing down on us like manna from Heaven. Wasn't that the major selling point behind trickle-down economics (a.k.a. colossal-tax-cuts-for-the-wealthy)? It appears that the wealthy got their extra wealth, but more and more of us aren't finding those great jobs. Funny how that played out, huh? (See, "Middle Class Poorer, Earning Less And Shrinking" and "The American Middle Class Is No Longer the World’s Richest").

Anyway, as the already-wealthy keep adding more and more wealth to their personal fortunes, post-9/11 veterans are having to deal with an unemployment rate that is higher than the national unemployment rate, as well as an increased likelihood that they will end up homeless. Add these facts to the other challenges veterans face, for example, injuries, stress, and financial hardship, and perhaps it is no wonder that an average of 22 veterans kill themselves every day.

And make no mistake about it, unemployment plays a role in suicide. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, unemployment is a suicide risk factor. A young homeless veteran in Seattle said, "I was contemplating suicide and everything else that comes along with PTSD, depression and joblessness on top of it." (Also see "Suicide, Unemployment Increasingly Linked, Paper Suggests" and "The Role of Unemployment in Veteran Suicide")

(WPA poster, by an unknown artist, created in New York City between 1936 and 1937. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

One would think that our Congress would be very concerned about 22 veterans killing themselves on a daily basis, as well as the role that unemployment plays in increased suicide rates. But one would be wrong to think that, because Congress recently went on a vacation and "the most pressing issue in the veterans community--preventing suicide among troops and veterans--was not addressed." And when legislation was introduced in 2012 to create a public jobs program for unemployed veterans, Senate Republicans blocked it. It was reported that Republican Senator Tom Coburn objected to the legislation by arguing "that making progress on the country's debt was the best way to help veterans in the long-term. 'We ought to do nothing now that makes the problem worse for our kids and grandkids.'" Apparently, Coburn does not understand that many veterans are killing themselves now, and need more than just theoretical "long-term" help. He also appears to have no recognition of the fact that adult problems--like joblessness and suicide--also seriously harm "kids and grandkids."

New Deal policymakers helped veterans in a number of ways. For example, World War I veterans could find employment opportunities in the CCC. Other veterans could find opportunities in the WPA. In 1936, over a Roosevelt veto, Congress gave World War I veterans their promised bonuses nine years early (see the reasons for Roosevelt's veto here). Near the end of World War II, President Roosevelt was a driving force behind the creation of the G.I. Bill, declaring that veterans "must not be demobilized into an environment of inflation and unemployment..."

According to a researcher from Oxford University and an epidemiologist from Stanford University, New Deal policies were "associated with reduced suicide rates" (David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu, The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills, p. 17, New York: Basic Books, 2013).  

Congressman Dean Heller of Nevada, one of the few Republican senators who supported the legislation for a public jobs program for unemployed veterans said, "After everything our veterans have done for us, the least we can do is make sure they are afforded every opportunity to thrive here at home." Derek Bennett, chief of staff for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America told a National Public Radio host, "I think the country...has a bit of moral obligation to ensure that veterans are employed."

Many Republican leaders, after their party shut down efforts to create a public jobs program for unemployed veterans, are once again calling for "boots on the ground" in Iraq. Why? Because they're scared of the new terrorism threat that ISIL presents. But when the soldiers return home, and that fear has subsided, can there be any doubt that they will continue to ignore the plight of unemployed veterans, and continue to keep their focus on crafting public policies that pamper billionaires?

This is no way to treat the men & women who have served in the military. And our cold-blooded politicians (most of whom are millionaires and have no financial worries) could learn a few lessons from the New Deal.

Friday, October 17, 2014

WPA Poster: Public School Art

 
Above: Before Corporate America began weaseling its way into our children's education, we placed a greater emphasis on things like recess, gym, history, and art. In other words, we understood that there's more to life than equations and accounting sheets. Things like recreation, physical fitness, creativity, civic responsibility, and a thorough understanding of our shared heritage, were all considered very important. The WPA poster above was created in Iowa, between 1936 and 1939, and reflects some of these lost values. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
 
Some interesting articles and reports:
 
"Report: Art Education Programs on the Decline," Association of American Educators, April 3, 2012

"Childhood Obesity Facts," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, August 13, 2014 ("The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2012.")
 

"Koch High: How The Koch Brothers Are Buying Their Way Into The Minds Of Public School Students," Huffington Post, July 16, 2014

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Reverse New Deal: No time or money for a vacation when you're working for the 1%

(WPA poster, by artist Richard Halls, created in New York City between 1936 and 1938. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

New Deal policymakers understood the importance of recreation, vacations, and the opportunity for citizens to see their country. Most of our policymakers today (as well as most of our nation's business elite) couldn't care less. They're too concerned with executive bonuses, shareholder returns, and campaign contributions to worry about the health & well-being of the American public.

Those who defend American-style, winner-take-all capitalism declare that the increasing wealth of the wealthy is good for everyone. But, as they're daydreaming about this in their Ayn Rand fantasy land, the rest of us must deal with the reality of life. And that reality is this: As millionaires & billionaires keep hoarding more and more wealth, wages are stagnating, personal debt is rising, and vacations are out of reach for millions of Americans. Once again, trickle-down economics, and the snake-oil salesmen who peddle it, have been exposed for the frauds that they are.
 
(WPA poster promoting hiking, by artist Shari Weisberg, created in Illinois between 1936 and 1939. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Recent surveys indicate that a lot of Americans aren't taking vacations because they're "Too Afraid And Stressed To Take Days Off From Work" or because they simply can't afford to: "The lower the income of Americans, the fewer vacation days they have taken this year."
      
New Deal policymakers tried to point us towards a different outcome than the outcome we have today. Between 1935 and 1943, for example, WPA workers created 310 miles of new ski trails, 800 new public swimming pools, 1,600 new parks, 10,000 new tennis courts, and much , much more. Meanwhile, the Civilian Conservation Corps did voluminous work in many of the state & national parks that we enjoy today (that is, if we're lucky enough to get vacation time). So, New Deal policymakers tried to promote recreation activities and vacations. They understood that there's more to life than toiling away for low wages, so that super-wealthy Americans (and their heirs) can live lives of perpetual luxury. 

In 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt said: "We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence...We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed. Among these are...The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation..." (see "State of the Union Message to Congress, January 11, 1944," FDR Presidential Library and Museum, emphasis added).

Though he was right to point us in the direction that he did, and though we heeded his words for a few decades, Roosevelt was ultimately wrong when he said "We have accepted." The fact is, unfortunately, we have not accepted "The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation..." We have, instead, submitted to the foolishness of trickle-down economics. And so, "Around half of those in the bottom three income groups say they haven’t taken a day off," while, "No one making more than $150,000 says they’ve gone without a day off."

Welcome to the Reverse New Deal: No time or money for a vacation when you're working for the 1%.


(FDR's Second Bill of Rights. Original YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3EZ5bx9AyI4.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Water & sewer bills are rising all over the United States, while the Forbes 400 laugh all the way to the bank. Americans need a New Deal.

(WPA workers installing a sewer line in Elkton, Maryland, 1937. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

All across America water & sewer bills are being increased (or being threatened with increase) to pay for the repair or replacement of old infrastructure--in St. Paul, Minnesota; southern Nevada; St. Louis, Missouri; Newark, New Jersey; Fountain Hills, Arizona; Franklin Park, Illinois; Denison, Texas; Portland, Oregon; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and San Jose, California, to name just a few. In June 2014, Bloomberg News reported that "More than one-fifth of U.S. water utilities may need to increase rates at least 10 percent annually over the next decade to cover costs primarily from aging infrastructure, according to a report by Black & Veatch Corp." ("U.S. Water Utilities May Raise Rates to Repair Old Pipes")        

Meanwhile, federal assistance for infrastructure improvement is falling by the wayside. Why? Because of decades of tax cuts for the super-wealthy and thus a federal government less able & willing to help. (See, e.g., "U.S. infrastructure spending has plummeted since 2008," "The Stunning Collapse Of Infrastructure Spending In One Chart," "Drop in Infrastructure Spending Drives Highway Builders Off Road," and "Senate GOP blocks $60B Obama infrastructure plan"). 

During the New Deal, massive federal investments were directed towards American infrastructure, through work & construction programs like the PWA, WPA, and CWA. Local communities were often asked to contribute towards the cost of these New Deal infrastructure projects, but they didn't have to bear the brunt of it. (So successful was the WPA's infrastructure work that even limited government icon Ronald Reagan praised the program in his autobiography.)

Today, the story is quite different. Many of our congressional "leaders" have been bought by the super-wealthy, and so they craft public policy to the advantage of the super-wealthy (e.g., tax cuts, deductions, and loopholes). Hence, the Forbes 400 recently increased their wealth by $270 billion. Meanwhile, middle- and low-income Americans (who are already struggling to make ends meet) are being forced to pay higher water & sewer bills--as well as a host of other increased & regressive taxes, tolls, fees, and fines at the state & local level--to repair or replace old infrastructure.

So, as you pay your higher water bill--and as you also pay your higher sales tax, property tax, bridge tolls, tuition fees, car registration fees, and parking fines--realize that you are subsidizing tax evasion, tax avoidance, and historically low tax rates for the super-wealthy. And realize that the Forbes 400 are laughing about it.....all the way to the bank.

We need another New Deal.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Why We Need a New Deal: Ebola, the Underfunding of Science, and the Forbes 400

(New Deal policymakers understood the value of science. Policymakers today, less so. The description for this photo 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." Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

The following was reported on the Huffington Post today:

"Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health, said that a decade of stagnant spending has 'slowed down' research on all items, including vaccinations for infectious diseases. As a result, he said, the international community has been left playing catch-up on a potentially avoidable humanitarian catastrophe.
'NIH has been working on Ebola vaccines since 2001. It's not like we suddenly woke up and thought, 'Oh my gosh, we should have something ready here...Frankly, if we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this that would've gone through clinical trials and would have been ready.'" ("Ebola Vaccine Would Likely Have Been Found By Now If Not For Budget Cuts: NIH Director")

(Also see "Budget Cuts 'Eroded Our Ability to Respond' to Ebola, Says Top Health Official" and "Cancer progress threatened by budget cuts in Congress, group says")

In other news, we learned that the wealthiest 400 Americans added--in just one year--$270 billion to their personal wealth. Now they're worth $2.29 trillion. To add insult to injury, these "job creators" aren't even creating good-paying jobs for us. It's been frequently highlighted that most of the jobs created during the "recovery" have been low-paying, stingy-benefit, no-future jobs. Of course, these facts don't change the eternal cry coming from the political right: "You can't tax the job creators!!!"

So, as the "job creators" keep sucking up all the gains from increased worker productivity, and keep enjoying their historically low tax rates, and keep utilizing sneaky tax loopholes & shelters, we are underfunding scientific research (and underfunding a lot of other social goods too, e.g., education & infrastructure) and thus putting ourselves in danger.

It's clear that we need a new and even stronger New Deal. We need a government geared more towards the people, and less towards millionaires & billionaires.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

WPA Poster: Grow It Yourself

(WPA poster, by artist Herbert Bayer, created in New York City, between 1941 and 1943. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Friday, October 10, 2014

Old water lines are breaking, damaging homes all across the country. Our infrastructure needs a New Deal.

(WPA poster, by artist Raymond Willcox, created in Philadelphia, between 1941 and 1943. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

This morning, an old water line broke and damaged two homes in Studio City, California (and left 60 other homes without running water). Last Friday, October 3, "The break of an aging water main in San Francisco’s Bayview district sent a river of water down a street and damaged at least nine homes..." (see article here).

In some cases, when an old water line breaks and damages a home, the homeowner is left without help. In Bath, Maine, August, 2014, an old water line broke and caused $10,000 in damage to a resident's home. Then, as is so often the case in America these days, the homeowner entered into the Kafkaesque world of "if-you're-not-rich-and-powerful-you're-screwed." Journalist Chris Chase reported that "Neither the Bath Water District nor her homeowner’s insurance carrier will cover the costs. And the same thing could happen to anyone living near a water main, according to the water district."

The homeowner, Joanne Adams, said, "I haven’t had anybody willing to even listen... It feels bad. I’ve always worked for a living and paid my taxes. This isn’t a way to treat people...I don’t have money for my taxes now." And Ms. Adams' problem could be a problem for a lot of us because, "Tracey King, a media liaison for Allstate, said a standard homeowner’s policy doesn’t cover damage from broken water mains. 'To our knowledge, there is no homeowner product that would cover water or any other substance on or below the surface of the ground, regardless of its source.'"

There are about 240,000 water line breaks per year in the United States, or about 657 per day. In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave America's drinking water infrastructure a letter grade of "D". During the New Deal era, the Public Works Administration put millions of dollars towards water & sewage improvements all across the country. At the same time, formerly-jobless workers in the Works Progress Administration engaged in thousands of infrastructure projects of their own, for example, installing 16,000 miles of new water lines.

When you consider our aging infrastructure, and the number of waterline breaks that occur every day, and the potential disastrous impact on homeowners, wouldn't you say that it's (past) time for a New Deal for our infrastructure?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Water main break in Dimmit County, Texas: Schools closed, businesses closed, and medical services put in danger. A new WPA could have prevented that.

(WPA workers installing a water line in Hebron, Maryland, 1940. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)
 
On Monday, October 6, 2014, a water main broke in Dimmit County, Texas, forcing schools & businesses to close and also threatening medical services. "The cause of the water main break is being blamed on aging infrastructure." (See "Water returns to Carrizo Springs")
 
During the New Deal, WPA workers installed 655 miles of new water lines in Texas. That's enough water line to extend from Dallas to El Paso.
 
As American infrastructure continues to crumble (we have, for example, an average of 657 water line breaks per day), and as schools, small businesses, and medical services are threatened, the richest 400 Americans have seen their wealth rise to $2.29 trillion and Corporate America is acquiring record profits (see, e.g., "Corporate profits hit record as wages get squeezed"). Also, we spend as much on military operations as almost every other nation on the planet combined (see, e.g., "U.S. Military Spending Dwarfs Rest of World").

Many on the political right say that we're broke and can't afford to do anything. Do you believe them?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Bridgeton, New Jersey lost its water supply. A WPA could have prevented that.

(Image courtesy of www.clker.com.)

This past Monday, October 6, the city of Bridgeton, New Jersey lost its water supply, leaving schools closed and homes without water. "The cause of the water main break was due to extremely old piping, according to the public works director." (See "Bridgeton water main break leaves city with little to no water, officials say")

A new WPA, if created during the height of the Great Recession, could have replaced that old pipe by now--as well as thousands of other old pipes that are contributing to the 657 daily water line breaks across the United States.

Unfortunately, most of our federal policymakers have been too busy these past 6+ years protecting their billionaire sugar daddies from increased taxation, and also thinking up new ways to insult the unemployed (to score some quick political points), to worry about our crumbling infrastructure. And even when infrastructure bills are introduced, they are quickly killed by our conservative "leaders" in Congress (see, e.g., "Senate GOP blocks $60B Obama infrastructure plan"). As a journalist for Time magazine rightly noted, "no matter how much Republicans say they care about infrastructure, they’re not going to accept any infrastructure proposals that come from President Barack Obama."

But for future policymakers, who may (hopefully) harbor less hatred towards their president, and less hatred towards the unemployed, here is some important information:

New Deal policymakers gave millions of unemployed Americans jobs in the WPA. These unemployed Americans modernized our nation's infrastructure on a scale not seen before or since (for example, WPA workers installed 16,000 miles of new water lines). We are still utilizing much of this infrastructure today, in many cases past its intended lifetime. Even limited-government-icon Ronald Reagan praised the work of the WPA in his autobiography.

(A poster highlighting some of the infrastructure work of the WPA. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Today, there are still 3 million long-term unemployed Americans, 23 million Americans who wish they had a full-time job but can't find one, the labor force participation rate is at a 36-year-low (meaning that there are an awful lot of Americans sitting on the sidelines, having abandoned hope that they are welcome in the American workplace), and the American Society of Civil Engineers, in its latest infrastructure report card, gave American infrastructure a letter grade of D+. 

Isn't it time for some new thinking?

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Precariat, the Plutocrats, and the New Deal

(WPA workers on a road project in Maryland, 1937. When Americans needed jobs during hard times, New Deal policymakers gave them jobs. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

Well, we received our happy news last week, the unemployment rates is down to 5.9%! Yippee!

Unfortunately, in other news, the labor force participation rate is at a 36-year-low, there are 23 million Americans who wish they had a full-time job but can't find one, and wages are still stagnating for the middle-class and poor (even though their productivity is up). In other words, tens of millions of Americans are running in circles, if running at all.

On the bright side, the rich are doing better than ever! "All together the 400 wealthiest Americans are worth a staggering $2.29 trillion, up $270 billion from a year ago" ("Inside The 2014 Forbes 400: Facts And Figures About America's Wealthiest"). Indeed, over the last few years we have watched two things rise in sync with one another: The wealth of the wealthy and the poverty of children (see, e.g., "Childhood poverty rates on the rise").

Leo Gerard, the International President of the United Steel Workers, wrote an interesting op-ed today, titled "Good People Don't Get Good Jobs." Gerard highlights the dismal lives of marginalized workers: "They live precariously, without health insurance, without a living wage, without a schedule for duty, without a guarantee of work the next week or month. This mounting army of workers worries incessantly and survives only because of government and family assistance. CEOs and corporations gorge themselves on profits made on the suffering of workers trapped in this life of frightening instability called the precariat."

According to a professor at the University of Bath, England, the precariat "consists of a multitude of insecure people, living bits-and-pieces lives, in and out of short-term jobs, without a narrative of occupational development, including millions of frustrated educated youth who do not like what they see before them, millions of women abused in oppressive labour, growing numbers of criminalised tagged for life, millions being categorised as ‘disabled’ and migrants in their hundreds of millions around the world. They are denizens; they have a more restricted range of social, cultural, political and economic rights than citizens around them."  

Yep, that sound about right.

Unfortunately, we may have reached a point of no return. Corporate America and the super-wealthy have used their enhanced riches to buy our electoral & political processes, and thus our government. And millions of Americans--susceptible to the slick, deceptive marketing perpetrated against them by Corporate America and the super-wealthy--continue to vote against their own economic interests. Millions of others don't even bother to vote.

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

In an April 1938 speech to Congress, President Franklin Roosevelt warned us that "The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism -- ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power."

So, the question today is: Will we tolerate it? 

In the same speech, Roosevelt said: "No people, least of all a democratic people, will be content to go without work or to accept some standard of living which obviously and woefully falls short of their capacity to produce. No people, least of all a people with our traditions of personal liberty, will endure the slow erosion of opportunity for the common man, the oppressive sense of helplessness under the domination of a few, which are overshadowing our whole economic life."

My fear is that Roosevelt is wrong here, for it certainly seems as though we are content with what is happening, and quite willing to endure it. Yes, there are pockets of resistance but, by and large, there is no great mass movement for change. Millions continue to vote for politicians who are funded by Corporate America and the super-wealthy (and millions don't vote at all). So, we can expect misery to keep growing for the 99%, and wealth to keep growing for the 1%.

We need a new and stronger New Deal. Unfortunately, all we have right now is the precariat and the plutocrats.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

You don't have a right to water, but you do have a right to spend as much as you want to create a plutocracy

(WPA workers installing a water line in Maryland, 1938, for the public. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

Recently, a bankruptcy judge in Detroit declared that people do not have a right to water service, not even a "service based on an ability to pay." This seems to indicate that governments and corporations can charge whatever they want for life-sustaining water. And indeed, "Over the last decade, Detroit residents have seen water rates rise by 119 percent" (see here).

We also know that the Supreme Court has been judicially active in recent years by granting Corporate America and the super-wealthy the right to spend as much as they want to manipulate our electoral and political processes, by linking political spending to free speech. Money is now speech, and so the wealthier you are the more powerful your First Amendment rights. You can now buy, or contribute towards, endless political billboards, political television commercials, deceptive messages, and other political campaign activities. In other words, you can now, more than ever, outspend the political speech of others.

What does it say about a culture when access to life-sustaining water is not a right, but gargantuan political spending is?

(At New Germany State Park in Maryland, the Civilian Conservation Corps created this beautiful lake area for public fishing and public swimming. Photo by Brent McKee.)

In other news, a billionaire in California bought some coastal property, blocked access to a public beach, and "hired guards to keep people out." Once again we see how the powers-that-be are willing (perhaps even eager) to block people from water--albeit in this case, recreational salt water.

New Deal policymakers wanted to give people greater access to water. For example, WPA workers improved beaches, cleaned waterways, built or improved hundreds of public pools, installed 16,000 miles of new water lines, and created hundreds of thousands of consumer water connections.

Today, instead of a New Deal attitude towards water, we have a ruthless, plutocratic attitude. An attitude that says, "I don't give a crap how poor you are, you're not getting any water," or "Not wealthy? Well, perhaps you shouldn't have access to the beach. Sorry." And things will only get worse, as the number of billionaires increase, as income & wealth inequality continues to balloon, and as billionaires spend more and more to buy politicians. For example, as of July 2013, "Only 2 percent of the (Chesapeake) bay has public access points for kayaks, canoes, fishing, bathing and other recreation." A retired economic development executive said, "I call it the world’s biggest gated community, the Chesapeake Bay. There are probably 100 beaches in Anne Arundel County, but they are private beaches." (See "U.S., groups working to open more public access to Chesapeake")

So, which do you prefer, the New Deal approach to water, or the plutocratic approach to water?

(WPA workers built this public swimming pool in Cumberland, Maryland. The pool is still in use today. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

Saturday, October 4, 2014

WPA Poster: See America

(WPA poster, created in New York City between 1936 and 1939, by artist Frank S. Nicholson. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Friday, October 3, 2014

A New Deal for Germany

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

While American college graduates are enslaved to their corporate and government masters, via $1.2 trillion in student loan debt, Germany has decided to make college free. A German government official said, "We got rid of tuition fees because we do not want higher education which depends on the wealth of the parents.”

So, Germans have an opportunity for a free college education, while Americans who do not come from wealth must obtain an education through a system of ransom: "Sure we'll educate you," the powers-that-be declare with a grin, "as long as you agree to go into crippling debt."

Of course, if we tried to make higher education free in America, we'd hear that inevitable and nonsensical cacophony from the political right: "We can't afford it!!!" And while we're listening to this foolishness, we'll also be reading about the U.S. having more billionaires than any other country and how we're losing hundreds of billions of dollars (every single year) due to tax evasion & avoidance by super-wealthy Americans who don't want to pay their historically low tax rates.

Through a myriad of policies & opportunities during the 1930s and 40s, New Deal policymakers pointed us in the direction of free education: There were free citizenship classes, free literacy classes, free job training, and free courses in math, reading, and social studies...and much, much more. Over time, we veered away from the direction that the New Deal policymakers pointed us toward, and decided that education through debt was a better way. Now we have a $1.2 trillion (and growing) crisis on our hands, with no sign of change on the horizon.

Columnist and author Thomas Frank recently wrote the following about the higher-education system in America: "The truth is...virtually every aspect of the higher-ed dream has been colonized by monopolies, cartels, and other unrestrained predators—that the charmingly naive American student is in fact a cash cow, and everyone has got a scheme for slicing off a porterhouse or two." After providing a thorough list of examples to prove his proposition, Frank concludes that "College should become free or very cheap."  ("College is ripping you off: Students are cash cows, and schools the predators; Higher ed is sold as the key to an affluent life. It's really a big business designed to leave you buried in debt").

Of course, Frank's conclusion that college should be free or inexpensive is a pipe dream. Too many rich and powerful people are making too much money from the status quo and then, in turn, using some percentage of that ill-gotten gain to convince everyone beneath them on the economic ladder that the status quo shouldn't (or can't) be changed.

Well, at least the Germans are getting a New Deal. Lucky them.

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

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Reverse New Deal: Giving viruses, bacteria, and cancers a better chance of harming us

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

One the most consistent--and craziest--things we have had to endure these past few years is all the anti-government spending hysteria emanating, largely, from the political right. Whether it be "sequestration," the 2013 government shutdown, blocked spending bills, or the like, we have watched vital government programs hamstrung by this hysteria.

Ironically, when measured as a percentage of GDP, spending under Obama hasn't been much more (and sometimes less) than during the Reagan years (see chart here). Also, while we're being warned that government spending is out of control, that we need to cut back, and that the world will end if we don't, we have watched many super-wealthy Americans evade & avoid taxes to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars every single year, we have watched Corporate America amass record profits, we have watched corporate executives rake in more and more bonuses, and we have watched millionaires & billionaires add more millions & billions to their personal fortunes. But remember....."We can't afford it!!!"

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

During a Senate Committee hearing on September 16, 2014, a National Institutes of Health representative explained the effect of Congress-imposed budget cuts on his agency's ability to respond to disease outbreaks: "it's been a significant impact on us. It has both in an acute and a chronic, insidious way eroded our ability to respond in the way that I and my colleagues would like to see us be able to respond to these emerging threats. And in my institute particularly, that's responsible for responding on the dime to an emerging infectious disease threat, this is particularly damaging." A director for the Centers of Disease Control made a similar statement. (See "Budget Cuts 'Eroded Our Ability to Respond' to Ebola, Says Top Health Official" and also "First diagnosed case of Ebola in the U.S.")

During the 1930s and 40s, New Deal policymakers did a number of things to improve the health of Americans, including enhanced immunizations, mobile health clinics, and hiring unemployed nurses and pharmacists to address the needs of low-income Americans. Today, on the other hand, public health is threatened by constant hysteria over "out-of-control government spending!!" (See also, "Cancer progress threatened by budget cuts in Congress, group says" and "Government shutdown forces clinical trial patients to wait")

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

Welcome to the Reverse New Deal.