Tuesday, November 10, 2015

New Deal Art: Nice, clean, and strong infrastructure vs. anti-infrastructure Republicans

(Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.) 

Not much is known about the painting above - not its title, not its maker, and not its exact year. However, the Smithsonian American Art Museum gives credit to the WPA's Federal Art Project in Iowa, and describes it as an "oil on canvas mounted on fiberboard." If it were up to me, I would simply call it "Infrastructure." The underpass, the perfectly paved road, the clean sidewalks & curbs, and the soft green hillsides all remind me of New Deal projects to improve and beautify America's infrastructure - infrastructure projects that numbered in the hundreds of thousands, and projects that we still use today (but, after 75 years of wear & tear, much of it needs repair or replacement). 

The painting is also somewhat sad, because it's a reminder of what we could have today, were it not for anti-infrastructure Republicans. Across the land, Republican and Tea Party politicians are decimating our infrastructure in service to right-wing millionaires & billionaires. In Congress, right-wing politicians have tried to use the highway bill to sic private debt collectors against us, to cut back on consumer protections, and to deregulate fraudulent banks. In Kansas, Republican Governor Sam Brownback has repeatedly dipped into his state's highway fund to subsidize tax breaks for the wealthy, thereby postponing or cancelling needed repairs. In South Carolina, Republican Governor Nikki Haley was too focused on trying to get poor people to pee into cups to be bothered with her state's infrastructure needs - a decision that ended up costing her state (and the rest of us, i.e., federal aid) billions of dollars in infrastructure damage (see here and here). Indeed, things are so bad that even a top Republican in Congress has scolded Republicans and Tea Partiers for not giving a damn about infrastructure.

And not giving a damn about infrastructure isn't just a matter of policy preferences, it's a matter of life and death. For example: "The federal Department of Transportation estimates that obsolete road designs and poor road conditions are a factor in about 14,000 highway deaths each year" ("Human Cost Rises as Old Bridges, Dams and Roads Go Unrepaired," New York Times, November 5, 2015). Yes, the Republican Party's neglect and hostility towards infrastructure spending is literally killing people - just like their hostility towards preventative health care for the poor is killing people. As one Harvard researcher noted, "Political decisions have consequences, some of them lethal." Yet, tens of millions of people still stand ready to vote for the likes of Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, and other Republican presidential candidates who promise even more gargantuan tax cuts for the wealthy - candidates who have been described by a former Republican member of Congress as "nuts," "bonkers," "bizarre," and "out of their "f*cking minds."

Isn't that amazing? (Or is "horrifying" a better word?)

(A WPA road paving project on Loch Raven Boulevard in Baltimore, Maryland, 1936. New Deal policymakers & New Deal workers went to great effort to give us clean, smooth, and strong infrastructure. The WPA built, repaired, or improved 650,000 miles of roadway - enough roadwork to go around the planet 26 times. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

(Decades of Republican tax breaks for the rich have caused our infrastructure to crumble, earning us consistent "D" and "D+" letter grades from the American Society of Civil Engineers. Further, in a futile attempt to make up for declining federal contributions to infrastructure, the revenue burden is shifting downward, causing middle and low-income Americans to pay higher taxes, tolls, fees, fines, and utility rates at the state & local level. For example, the Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy recently reported that "Virtually every state tax system is fundamentally unfair, taking a much greater share of income from low- and middle-income families than from wealthy families." Photo by Brent McKee.)

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