Sunday, May 31, 2015

Republicans are raising taxes, tolls, fees, and fines on the middle-class & poor, while lowering taxes for the wealthy: "It's a madhouse!"


(When I see tens of millions of middle-class and low-income Americans continuously voting for Republican politicians who want to implement regressive taxes, tolls, fees, and fines on middle-class and low-income Americans, it makes me want to react like Charlton Heston does above.)

In January of this year, The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy released the findings of a recent study they performed for all 50 states. Here are some of the things they found:

--> "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. The absence of a graduated personal income tax and overreliance on consumption taxes exacerbate this problem."

--> "Combining all state and local income, property, sales and excise taxes that Americans pay, the nationwide average effective state and local tax rates by income group are 10.9 percent for the poorest 20 percent of individuals and families, 9.4 percent for the middle 20 percent and 5.4 percent for the top 1 percent."

--> "In the 10 states with the most regressive tax structures (the Terrible 10) the bottom 20 percent pay up to seven times as much of their income in taxes as their wealthy counterparts."

Despite these findings, Republicans keep pushing for more and more regressive taxation. For example, the Republican Governor of Maine, Paul LePage, wants to get rid of income taxes and replace the loss of revenue with regressive sales taxes. And, until he gets his way, he appears to be willing to bring his government to a halt ("Paul LePage Vows To Veto Every Democratic Bill Until Party Helps Kill Maine's Income Tax," Huffington Post, May 29, 2015). 

In 2013, in Republican-controlled North Carolina, "the General Assembly...passed and Governor McCrory signed a massive tax shift into law...a plan that will give huge breaks to the wealthy and corporations while forcing the bottom 80 percent of taxpayers in the state to pay more on average" ("The almost forgotten regressive tax shift," NC Policy Watch, August 29, 2013).

In Kansas, Republican Governor Sam Brownback has gone on record saying he wants to replace his state's income tax system with a regressive consumption tax system (heck, in Kansas they even tax food) ("Lawmakers tackle education, social issues but budget remains," The Topeka Capital-Journal, April 4, 2015).

And this is happening all across the country, and not just with taxes, but also with tolls, fees, and fines. See my blog post "Ten Ways The Political Right Is Vacuuming Money Out Of Your Wallet With Their Trickle-Down Economics. Welcome To The Great Right-Wing Revenue Switcheroo."

Now, Democrats are guilty of this phenomenon too, but Democrats usually engage in regressive taxation grudgingly because they're not getting the federal assistance they need....because.....(drum roll)....Republicans have been handing out gargantuan tax breaks to the wealthy, at the federal level, for 35 years. That is the important distinction: Democrats engage in regressive taxation because they're forced into it, via Republican-fueled trickle-down economics at the federal level (which results in a federal government that is less willing and able to help with things like infrastructure and education), but Republicans engage in regressive taxation because that's their modus operandi. Their goal is to burden the middle-class and poor with more taxes, tolls, fees, and fines, so that their super-wealthy campaign donors can pay less. Make no mistake about it, it's 100% class warfare. As billionaire Warren Buffet has said, "Through the tax code, there has been class warfare waged, and my class has won. It's been a rout."

(Herman Oliphant, left, speaks to the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., in 1937. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.)
 
New Deal policymakers had a different philosophy. For example, "When it came to taxes, Roosevelt simply believed that rich people should pay more than poor people. And in emergencies, they should pay a lot more." Herman Oliphant, a U.S. Treasury lawyer and tax expert during the New Deal, felt that tax policy "could be made the vehicle for fundamental social reform, specifically targeting the accretion of economic power among a small group of companies and the people who ran them." (Joseph J. Thorndike, Their Fair Share: Taxing the Rich in the Age of FDR, Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press, 2013, p. 45 and 133)  

Unfortunately, we don't have a Roosevelt in the White House today - nor do we have many New Deal-type policymakers in Congress or the executive branch. And so, we are living in an era where the middle-class is shrinking but being asked to pay more and more, and the rich are getting richer but being asked to pay less and less. And, as if that particular insanity was not bad enough, Republicans are working feverishly to cut government funding for things like food assistance and education, thereby putting even more financial stress on middle and low-income Americans. Furthermore, in voting behavior that can only be described as jaw-dropping, tens of millions of middle and low-income Americans continue to vote for Republican politicians. And those of us who don't vote this way are still dragged into the foolishness, forced to pay higher property taxes, higher sales taxes, higher bridge tolls, higher car registration fees, higher college tuition, more traffic fines, and so on.

To put it simply: It's a madhouse.

(Also see "The Crazy Republican War on Food Stamps," The Atlantic, June 26, 2013, and "House Republicans just voted to give the very wealthy a tax break," Fortune, April 26, 2015)

Friday, May 29, 2015

The New Deal helped excavate our history

Above: The visitor center at Ocmulgee National Monument in Georgia. The building was started by WPA and CCC work crews and then completed after the war. Ocmulgee National Monument protects Native American history and, according to the National Park Service, "The largest dig ever conducted in this country occurred here at Ocmulgee and the surrounding area. Between 1933 and 1936, over 800 men in Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration, Civil Works Administration, Federal Emergency Relief Administration and later the Civilian Conservation Corps excavated under the direction of Dr. Arthur R. Kelly from the Smithsonian Institute...All together 2.5 million artifacts were found..." Photo by C. Smith, used under the CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license
    
A new article by Dr. Bernard Means (Virginia Commonwealth University) highlights the New Deal's contribution to archaeology. In "Labouring in the Fields of the Past," Means argues that "With the New Deal, a new age dawned for American archaeologists and American archaeology."  He highlights how increased funding, increased manpower, and the experiences of managing new and larger operations were of great benefit to the developing science of archaeology.

All was not rosy all of the time of course. For example, sometimes record-keeping was less-than-ideal, sometimes excavation techniques did not follow best practices, and sometimes politics delayed or squashed proposed projects. Still, New Deal funding facilitated many excavations that otherwise may never have occurred.

Here are some interesting facts & figures from Means' article:

1. The WPA and the CCC contributed the most to archaeological work, but archaeologists also received assistance from the Civil Works Administration, the National Youth Administration, the Public Works Administration, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the Federal Emergency Relief Administration.

2. Means reports that he has "accumulated information on approximately 1700 New Deal surveys and excavation projects" and he includes a map and a state-by-state table in his article.

3. Means also reports that there is "Sufficient documentation...to show that New Deal archaeology of one form or another took place in at least 381 counties across 36 of the lower 48 states. In some cases, these were very minor efforts—a day’s work at best—and, in other cases, years were spent at the same site."

So, despite some problems here and there, we see--yet again--how New Deal policymakers connected the dots. People needed work, archaeologists needed help, history needed discovering - and so, they made it happen. Compare that to today, where, for example, our infrastructure is falling apart, 21 million Americans wish they had a full-time job but can't find one, and our Republican-led Congress delays & blocks every infrastructure idea that comes up - even their own (see yesterday's blog post, "Senior Republican on Infrastructure: 'The problem...is really more Republicans than Democrats.'")

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Senior Republican on Infrastructure: "The problem...is really more Republicans than Democrats."


(In the video above, President Roosevelt warns America about politicians who say they believe in one thing or another, but are unwilling to secure the necessary funding to actually get the job done. Original YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SUZGkNAUSvY.)  

Republicans in Congress are having a hard time wrapping their heads around the fact that some type of revenue is needed to pay for infrastructure repairs and improvements. Their patron saint Ronald Reagan had the same mental stumbling block (but even he was not as obstinate as today's Republicans). The conservative movement has scratched its head over the past many years, asking, "Hmmm....so, we need revenue to pay for things?? That's weird."

The following was recently reported by the Huffington Post:

"Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said Tuesday that his own party is one of the main problems when it comes to finding a path forward on long-term, increased funding for the nation’s roads, bridges and transit systems...'The problem...is really more Republicans than Democrats...Clearly, this is something that we’re supposed to be doing. A true conservative looks at it and says...we’re supposed to defend America, and build roads and highways.'"

Inhofe is 80 years old, so when he says "true conservative" he may be thinking about Eisenhower Republicans - and those Republicans actually did care about America's infrastructure. But those Republicans, by and large, have been replaced with Paul Ryan Republicans. And Ryan Republicans are far more interested in protecting the fortunes of their political campaign donors than with infrastructure improvements that will strengthen the United States. That's why they're trying to eliminate the estate tax--a tax that only affects the wealthiest of the wealthy--and that's why, when President Obama proposed a large infrastructure plan, financed by taxes on tax-avoiding multi-national corporations, they called it "envy economics."

So, if you experience one of America's quarter-of-million annual water main breaks, or if you hit a pothole that permanently loosens your dashboard, be sure to remember Inhofe's words and put the blame where the blame belongs: Republicans.

(Also see, "$478B Infrastructure Bill Blocked By Senate GOP," The Fiscal Times, March 25, 2015, and "Senate GOP Blocks $60B Obama Infrastructure Plan," USA Today, November 3, 2011

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A dam failure in Texas is a warning about our infrastructure


(In the short video above, we see the Bastrop State Park dam failure that occurred this past Monday, and also learn about the risk posed by Texas dams across the state. Original YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SZPXycqycHw.)

Two days ago, a dam at Bastrop State Park in central Texas failed, causing road closures and warnings to nearby residents to seek higher ground. The dam was over one hundred years old and, according to data provided by KVUE Television several months ago, had not been inspected in 10 years ("Dangerous Dams in Texas," KVUE-ABC, February 19, 2015, see the data map at the bottom of the article).

As the Earth continues to warm, and as the number of extreme weather events increase, it's likely that dam failures will increase: "Over the past century, dams made in the West have become more mismatched with their ambient climate" ("World's Dams Unprepared for Climate Change," Scientific American, September 16, 2011).

In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave America's dam infrastructure a "D" letter grade, and reported that "Thousands of our nation’s dams are in need of rehabilitation to meet current design and safety standards." A year earlier, the ASCE had given Texas dams a "D-" letter grade, and highlighted that there was "no state funding to cover the cost of dam repairs, and federal funding is very limited."

Far from being concerned about their 2012 "D-" letter grade, "In 2013, the [Republican] state legislature decided to ease regulations on rural property owners, so more than 3,000 dams are exempt from inspection," a decision that "doesn't sit well" with homeowners who live near the private dams. The problem, of course, is money. While billionaires keep adding billions to their personal fortunes, and while conservative politicians continue to protect the super-wealthy from increased taxation, rural homeowners in Texas don't have the money to repair the dams on their property and the state has "no money for repairs. The state hasn't funded repairs in five years." ("Hundreds of Texas dams at risk of failure," WFAA-ABC, May 13, 2015).

During the New Deal, policymakers invested large amounts of money in dam construction and repair. For example, the PWA helped fund large dams, and the WPA and CCC built or repaired smaller to mid-sized dams (and many of these were on private property). As long as states or local communities were willing to pitch in some money--sometimes as little as 12-20% of the cost of the project--the federal government would frequently kick in the rest. Some of the dam work by New Deal agencies was less-than-perfect, but then, so was the technology of the time. In many instances, however, the dams are still in operation today and have provided solid service for three-quarters of a century.

(WPA workers constructing the Johnson's Pond Dam in Salisbury, Maryland, in July of 1936. The dam is still operating today and has provided eight decades of boating and fishing opportunities, "producing quality bass, bluegill and chain pickerel." Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

If we wanted to, we could create a new public works program, like the WPA, to repair (and in some cases dismantle) our dams. Such a program would greatly benefit people who have dams on their property, and it would also benefit people who are threatened by these dams. Unfortunately, many of our political leaders today are so busy pampering the super-wealthy, and so obsessed with insulting the non-wealthy, that they don't have much time for infrastructure concerns.

Instead of action, we have perpetual cynicism towards action. Right-wing politicians, think tanks, media organizations, and talking heads--and the billionaires who fund them--have been very successful in convincing tens of millions of Americans that government is always bad. And that's unfortunate, because, as President Ronald Reagan said, "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" (Ronald Reagan: An American Life, by Ronald Reagan, New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1990, p. 69 of 2011 paperback edition).

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Osaka Garden and the WPA


Above: The caption for this 1937 photo reads, "Japanese Gardens erected in 1893 for World's Fair in Jackson Park [Chicago]. Restored and repaired by the WPA." You can find current information about Osaka Garden at http://www.chicagotraveler.com/attractions/osaka-garden.html. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The WPA and Memorial Day

(Albert Floyd Wright, Jr., of Maryland, died on August 2, 1967 while serving in Vietnam. He had just turned 22. He rests at Annapolis National Cemetery. Photo by Brent McKee.)

(Between 1936 and 1941 the WPA made many improvements to Annapolis National Cemetery. Click here for more details. Photo by Brent McKee.)

(William C. McKee, Jr., of Maryland, died on December 19, 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge. He was 23 years old. He rests at Antietam National Cemetery. Photo by Brent McKee.)

(WPA workers performed a great amount of work at Antietam National Battlefield and Antietam National Cemetery. Click here for more details. Above, workers are restoring the cemetery wall in April of 1940. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.)

(Before it was declared a national holiday in 1971, Memorial Day was observed on May 30th of every year. WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

In addition to serving America by creating, repairing, and improving roads, bridges, utility plants, schools, airports, military bases, parks, and cemeteries, and also by working on projects related to historic preservation, environmental conservation, scientific studies, education, and much more, many WPA workers also served their country during World War II. For example, during the second half of 1942, "More than 4,000 WPA workers were inducted into the military services" (Federal Works Agency, "Fourth Annual Report," 1943, p. 37).

We'll probably never know the exact number of WPA workers who served in uniform (and died in uniform) during World War II. However, given that the WPA employed 8.5 million Americans between 1935 and 1943, the numbers are probably large. One thing's for sure: A significant number of WPA workers fought for our freedom to enjoy the things they created for us - things that we're still utilizing today, for example, historical records that we use for genealogy research, schools that our children attend, roads that we drive on, and airports that we fly in and out of.

Considering the insults they endured for being unemployed (the same type of insults that have been slung at the unemployed these past several years), isn't it amazing how much work, service, and sacrifice many WPA workers gave for their country? They should be remembered this Memorial Day. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

The political right wants to privatize Social Security, and 25% of those who would manage our retirement accounts are willing and eager to break the law

Above: President Franklin Roosevelt and his fellow New Deal policymakers were effective in reining in financial wrongdoing. Unfortunately, most of today's policymakers are either clueless, weak, or bought. We have paid a steep price for their less-than-adequate financial oversight, and we're likely to pay an even steeper price in the future. Image above used by permission of the Estate of Rollin Kirby Post.

Many conservative politicians--and the super-wealthy Americans who fund them--want to privatize Social Security. They see vast amounts of money that can be gambled with on Wall Street, and they can't stand the fact that the money is currently in a government program that provides steady payments to retirees. They want to put some risk into the system. (See, e.g., "Social Security Privatization: Then and Now," Huffington Post, May 7, 2015)

There are two main problems with privatization. First, the fluctuations of the market can wreak havoc on a person's retirement account. As the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare puts it: "Nest eggs can disappear in an instant - and take months, if not years, to rebuild." The second problem is that there are a large number of people who work in the financial services industry who don't mind breaking the law. For example, a recent survey by the University of Notre Dame and the law firm Labaton Sucharow found that 25% of those who work in the financial services industry admit that they "would likely use non-public information to make a guaranteed $10 million if there was no chance of getting arrested for insider trading" and nearly 20% "feel financial services professionals must at least sometimes engage in illegal or unethical activity to be successful" (find the link to the survey in the article "Seven Years Later, Wall Street Hasn't Learned Anything," The Atlantic, May 20, 2015).

And these inclinations to break the law play out in the real world. In the latest settlement with the Justice Department, five big banks, including Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase, admitted manipulating the world's currencies to their financial advantage. Some of the people who ran the scheme referred to themselves as "The Cartel." And this scheme, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg. Over the past several years big banks have paid fines and settlements related to insider trading, tax evasion, money laundering, mortgage & securities fraud, illegally foreclosing on the homes of soldiers in combat zones, and much more.

The criminal behavior on Wall Street is unlikely to end. Few people have faced jail time for their criminal activity, powerful players on Wall Street contribute millions to politicians (thus creating a protection racket), and attempts to rein in the financial services industry or break up the big banks (so that they're no longer too big to fail or too big to jail), are routinely denounced by the political right as "socialism" and a threat to "freedom." In effect, criminal & civil wrongdoing on Wall Street has been normalized, as long as an occasional fine is paid. In our new plutocratic society, there's nothing we can do about it. This is why a U.S. Senator can tell a Wall Street CEO, "I think you guys are breaking the law," and the CEO can respond with a smile, "So hit me with a fine. We can afford it." ("Guess What Happened When JP Morgan's CEO Visited Elizabeth Warren's Office," Huffington Post, March 31, 2015)

So, we have to ask ourselves: Do we want our Social Security placed in the hands of "arrogant" and "testosterone-laden, souped-up young people who think that they’re indestructible" and also to "Numerous individuals [who] continue to believe that engaging in illegal or unethical activity is part and parcel of succeeding..."? (links to quotes here and here). Or, do we want Social Security to be a bulwark against corporate greed, corruption, and crime--as well as plain old incompetence--as New Deal policymakers intended?

Thursday, May 21, 2015

WPA Poster: "The Chocolate Soldier"

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

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A New Deal for Puerto Rico

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

Residents of Puerto Rico have been facing austerity measures for about 6 years now: Public worker layoffs, government restrictions on union activities, budget cuts to education, tax policies that favor the rich (for example, lowering corporate taxes but raising regressive sales taxes), and so on. Puerto Rico's current unemployment rate is 13.7%. (See, e.g., "Puerto Rico's massive anti-austerity protests ignored by U.S. mainland media," Huffington Post, May 16, 2015)

Of course, it doesn't have to be this way. Instead of burdening people who are already having trouble making ends meet, there could be a direct government job creation program, as well as increased investment in education and infrastructure.

Consider these New Deal facts & figures for Puerto Rico...

National Youth Administration (NYA):

During academic year 1939-1940, 46 schools and colleges in Puerto Rico were participating in the NYA program, employing about 800 students each month.

During any given month of fiscal year 1942, there were about 3,200 young Puerto Rican men & women in the NYA's out-of-school work program.

(Source: Federal Security Agency - War Manpower Commission, "Final Report of the National Youth Administration, Fiscal Years 1936-1943," 1944, pp. 246-247, and 254)

Public Works Administration (PWA):

By 1939, the PWA had contributed $14.5 million in funding towards 59 infrastructure projects in Puerto Rico (not including federal projects). In today's dollars, that's about $244 million.

(Source: "America Builds: The Record of PWA," 1939, p. 285)

(Eleanor Roosevelt visiting Puerto Rico in March of 1934. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.)

Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC):

There were 12 CCC camps in Puerto Rico, typically employing about 2,100 young men. Their work on the island included "tree planting, operation of forest nurseries, road construction, soil erosion control...public recreational development," and the building of "trails, bridges, fish hatcheries, fire towers, and landing fields."

Between 1933 and 1942, Puerto Ricans in the CCC planted "Millions of young trees...including mahogany, teak, eucalyptus, and mesquite..."

(Source: Perry H. Merrill, "Roosevelt's Forest Army: A History of the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942," 1981, pp. 39-41)

Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA):

In February of 1935, 236 college students in Puerto Rico were employed in FERA's College Student Aid Program. This was a program "undertaken in order to enable young persons who would not otherwise have been able to do so to continue their education, and thereby reduce the influx of young workers into the labor market" (recall that during the Great Depression there was a large drop in the demand for labor).

Between 1933 and 1935, FERA granted $31 million to Puerto Rico for relief efforts (about $528 million in today's dollars). FERA funds typically went towards cash relief, rural relief projects, and a wide variety of work programs.

(Source: "Final Statistical Report of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration," 1942, pp. 64, 103, and 232)

(A small rural schoolhouse in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, built with funds from the Federal Emergency Relief Administration between 1933 and 1935. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum and the New Deal Network.)

Works Progress Administration (WPA):

The WPA employed many Puerto Rican men & women during the late 1930s and early 1940s. For example, in March of 1943 there were over 41,000 men & women working on WPA projects. These projects involved the creation, repair, or improvement of public buildings, roads, public sanitation, welfare services, war projects, water & sewer lines, airports, and more. In total, the WPA contributed $37.3 million towards work projects in Puerto Rico (about $500 million in today's dollars).      

(Source: "Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43," 1946, pp. 112-114, 124, 128)

Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration (PRRA):

President Roosevelt created the PRRA in 1935, with Executive Order No. 7057, to "initiate, formulate, administer and supervise a program of approved projects for providing relief and work relief and for increasing employment within Puerto Rico."

The PRRA lasted from 1935 until 1955. The work it facilitated included rural electrification, reforestation, low-cost housing, roadwork, public utilities, flood control, welfare services, agricultural improvements, pest control, health services, recreation activities, construction of vocational schools, and much, much more. Ultimately, tens of thousands of Puerto Rican men and women obtained jobs on PRRA projects.

Of particular interest is PRRA's investment in the University of Puerto Rico. Unlike today, where attempts are being made to eliminate about 20% of the university's funding, the PRRA invested millions to construct "an auditorium with a capacity for 2,000 persons; a library with room for more than 50,000 volumes; a home economic building; a school of education; a biology laboratory; a building for the College of Liberal Arts; reconstruction of the administration building and an agricultural building..." and more.

(Sources: (1) "Executive Order 7057 Establishing the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration," The American Presidency Project, University of California - Santa Barbara. (2) "Records of the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration," National Archives and Records Administration. (3) "Puerto Rico in the Great Depression: Facts About the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration," New Deal Network.)   

(Men working on a Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration project, circa 1935-1955. Photo courtesy of the University of Puerto Rico.)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

New Deal art highlighted the "dignity, power, and potential" of the working class

(Image scan from personal copy.)

"[New Deal] portraits of heroic, working-class people promoted the New Deal agenda by challenging the traditional role assigned to the working class and creating images that helped working people realize their own dignity, power, and potential."

--Sharon Ann Musher, Democratic Art: The New Deal's Influence on American Culture, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015, p. 4.

New Deal art empowered the working class? Hmmm...no wonder Corporate America so bitterly despises the New Deal.

Friday, May 15, 2015

FDR returns from Warm Springs, Georgia


Above: President Roosevelt returns to Washington, DC from Warm Springs, Georgia, in April of 1939. The president frequently went to Warm Springs for therapy for his legs. To the left is Secretary of Commerce (and former WPA administrator) Harry Hopkins and his daughter Diana Hopkins. To the right is Secretary of State Cordell Hull and further right is Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau. Photo provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Reverse New Deal: Prohibiting and outlawing responses to environmental problems

(WPA workers cleaning the Pocomoke River in Maryland, 1937. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

During the New Deal, there were massive efforts to preserve the environment. For example, the Civilian Conservation Corps planted between 2 and 3 billion trees, the Soil Conservation Service taught farmers how to avoid erosion, and the Works Progress Administration cleaned rivers, stocked fish, built firebreaks, sealed old mines, and much, much more. Also, through the efforts of various New Deal policymakers, vast areas of land were protected from development, e.g., additions to the National Park system.  

Today, the story is quite different. Right-wing politicians--and the right-wing donors & media groups that support their efforts and control their puppet strings--are attempting to prohibit and even criminalize efforts to keep our environment clean. For a group that is so adamant about "personal freedom" and "liberty" and "don't tread on me," it's amazing to see how they are so eager to clampdown on personal freedom and liberty when it threatens the continuance of greed, corruption, white collar crime, and pollution.

Consider these six amazing efforts by the political right to keep people from discussing, finding, reporting, or responding to environmental problems:

1. No photos of pollution allowed:

A new law in Republican-controlled Wyoming makes it illegal (among other things) to take a photo of pollution on public land and show it to government officials. After highlighting similar laws in other Republican-controlled states, a professor of law at the University of Denver stated, "This is sort of a new tactic we’re seeing, where state governments are trying to build legal rules that prevent people from uncovering information about favored industrial groups" (i.e., their pollution-creating and resource-wasting activities). See, "In Wyoming, taking a photo of a polluted stream could land you in jail," Think Progress, May 13, 2015.

2. Defense agencies must ignore the effect of climate change on national security:

In 2014, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives "passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization bill...that would bar the Department of Defense from using funds to assess climate change and its implications for national security." The writer of the amendment, Congressman David McKinley (R-WV), and his colleagues, were upset with several defense reports that concluded that global warming was a security threat. See, "House directs Pentagon to ignore climate change," Huffington Post, May 23, 2014.

3. Not allowed to prepare for environmental threats:

In 2012, Republican-controlled North Carolina created a law prohibiting "the state from basing coastal policies on the latest scientific predictions of how much the sea level will rise," thus putting the state's coastal infrastructure in jeopardy. See, "While the seas rise in the Outer Banks and elsewhere in NC, science treads water," The News & Observer, March 15, 2014. Comedian Stephen Colbert summed up the law by stating, "If your science gives you a result you don't like, pass a law saying the result is illegal. Problem solved."

4. Law enforcement protecting illegal dumping?

In 2014, again in Republican-controlled North Carolina, the group Waterkeeper Alliance tried to find a source of water pollution at Duke Energy but were warned off by a police officer in a sketchy confrontation (see a video of the encounter here). Given surrounding events (e.g., fines and lawsuits against Duke Energy) and given Republican Governor Pat McCrory's deep ties to Duke Energy, one has to ask: Were the police intentionally protecting illegal dumping, by barring Waterkeeper Alliance from finding and photographing it? (Aerial photos later showed what appeared to be intentional and illegal dumping.)

5. No discussion of climate change allowed, First Amendment rights be damned:

In at least two Republican-controlled states, it appears that government employees are not allowed to speak about climate change or global warming. See, for example...

"For some Wisconsin state workers, 'Climate Change' isn't something you can talk about," Bloomberg Business, April 8, 2015.

"Report: Florida banned state workers from saying 'Climate Change,'" Mother Jones, March 9, 2015.

6. That kind of talk isn't allowed here!

A scientist appearing on the Republican news show Fox & Friends said a producer told him not to speak about climate change. See, "Science Editor: Fox News told me not to talk about climate change," Huffington Post, April 30, 2014.

(WPA workers planting oysters in the Chesapeake Bay, 1936. Across the nation, the WPA planted 8.2 million bushels of oysters. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

It is not hard to imagine a time in the near future where air quality in the United States is so bad that people will want to wear breathing masks when they go outside (if you think that's far-fetched, see what happened in Utah here). And it is also not hard to imagine, given the events I've highlighted above, that the political right will try to make it illegal to wear breathing masks - since doing so would reflect negatively on Corporate America and the super-wealthy Americans who get rich by polluting our nation.

We've come a long way since President Roosevelt said, "Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to the people." And we've even come a long way since Republican President Richard Nixon said, "...it is not too much to ask that each American assume a large, personal responsibility for renewing and preserving our environmental heritage." Today, "personal responsibility" is a burden that the political right places only on the unemployed and the homeless, not on corporate executives or super-wealthy investors. Today, the political right is on a mission to absolve Corporate America of personal responsibility for pollution and instead make it illegal for us to resist, respond to, or talk about pollution. And American voters are following along, as evidenced by the political right's takeover of American governments across the country.

Unbelievable.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The New Deal vs. Wall Street...and President Obama's "massive fight with Wall Street" that we all missed

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

Replying to Senator Elizabeth Warren's persistent claims that his secretive TPP international trade deal will be bad for American workers and bad for regulatory oversight of Wall Street, President Obama recently said, "She's absolutely wrong...Think about the logic of that, right? The notion that I had this massive fight with Wall Street to make sure that we don’t repeat what happened in 2007, 2008. And then I sign a provision that would unravel it? I’d have to be pretty stupid...her arguments don’t stand the test of fact and scrutiny."

President Obama had a massive fight with Wall Street? When did that happen? I'm a news and political junkie, and I totally missed that. Instead, what I've been seeing is the president bringing Wall Street cronies into his administration, the protection of Wall Street from criminal prosecution, and his economic team protecting the financial elite, "Not families who were losing their homes. Not people who lost their jobs. Not young people who were struggling to get an education. And it happened over and over and over” ("Elizabeth Warren: Obama 'protected Wall Street' over middle class families," Washington Post, October 13, 2014). Furthermore, Republicans and Wall Street big wigs are supporting Obama on the TPP. What does that tell you?

Now, to be fair, President Obama and his administration have had a few minor quarrels with Wall Street. But a "massive fight"? No, sorry, never happened. Heck, too-big-to-jail banks are even bigger now. At the end of the day, it's Obama's claim of a "massive fight" that doesn't "stand the test of fact and scrutiny."

If you want to see a massive fight against the misdeeds of Wall Street, you have to go back to President Franklin Roosevelt and his fellow New Deal policymakers.  

(In the audio above, we hear about the massive fight with Wall Street that actually happened. Infuriated with President Roosevelt's efforts to change an economy rigged in their favor, big business tried desperately to get Roosevelt out of the White House. Listen to Roosevelt's response and ask yourself: Would President Obama, or soon-to-be President Hillary Clinton, ever dare challenge Wall Street the same way? The answer, of course, is "no," and that is why the next fraud-fueled recession is only a matter of time.)      

Many policies were implemented during the New Deal that Wall Street abhorred, e.g., the creation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the creation of the Securities & Exchange Commission, and rules regulating which monies the banks could gamble with and which monies they could not. And these policies formed the foundation for financial stability for nearly half-a-century; before the political right began disassembling and weakening them, in the name of Laissez-faire capitalism - which is, essentially, letting super-wealthy Americans do whatever they feel like.

Unfortunately, letting people run amok has consequences, consequences that people like Alan Greenspan (the former Republican Federal Reserve chairman and one of the prime architects behind financial deregulation) do not understand. After the 2007-2008 recession pulverized the American economy, Greenspan said, "A critical pillar to market competition and free markets did break down. I still do not fully understand why it happened" ("Greenspan admits 'mistake' that helped crisis," NBC News, Associated Press, October 23, 2008).

The attitude of New Deal policymakers towards the misdeeds of Wall Street was summed up in FDR's first inaugural address:

"They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish…The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit...there must be an end to a conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing... there must be a strict supervision of all banking and credits and investments; there must be an end to speculation with other people’s money, and there must be provision for an adequate but sound currency."

Unfortunately, America has forgotten the words and policies of the New Deal. Hence, corporate greed, corruption, and crime will continue to flourish (see my blog post "The Reverse New Deal: A 'Golden Era of White Collar Crime'").

Sunday, May 10, 2015

WPA Vaudeville

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

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Trees of California Need a New Deal

(CCC boys working in Sequoia National Park, California, in 1933. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.)

Trees in California are having a tough time. Millions are dying from drought & pine bark beetles, and millions more are at risk from the state's increasing number of wildfires. Making matters worse, of course, is that conservatives in Congress have shown little or no interest in providing adequate federal assistance to address the problem, because...well...you know..."limited government," "taxes are theft," "Ayn Rand said we shouldn't help others" and all that other foolishness that we have to listen to every time something needs to be done. So, while the cost of fighting wildfires has risen, federal assistance has shrunk (but don't fret, because as our forests are dying our billionaires are doing better than ever - adding billions and billions to their already-bloated wealth. And that's what's really important to a healthy culture, right?).

There are things that could be done to help California's trees - things that the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) did during the 1930s and 40s. For example, to control pine park beetles, insecticides can be used in certain limited situations, removal of infested trees can be performed in a greater number of situations, and traps can be set. Well gee, guess what the CCC did? They removed dead trees, engaged in pest control, and, in California specifically, protected nearly 800,000 acres of land from tree and plant diseases (Perry H. Merrill, Roosevelt's Forest Army: A History of the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942, 1981, p. 112).

There are also things that could be done to help mitigate wildfire damage. More manpower could be utilized, more firebreaks could be created, and more wildfire fuel (dry and dead material) could be removed. With respect to the latter, it was recently reported that "After four years of severe drought, firefighters in California are preparing for what could be a dangerous wildfire season because of bone-dry grasses and an accumulation of dead, combustible trees." Well gee, guess what the CCC did? They built firebreaks, fought wildfires, and removed wildfire fuel. In California, CCC workers performed nearly a million man-days worth of work on fire prevention and fire suppression activities (see previous source note).

The problems facing our environment are complex and numerous, and the creation of a new CCC and/or WPA (which also performed a large amount of natural resource & conservation work) would not solve everything. But it would provide significant help. The only thing stopping us from creating a new CCC or WPA, really, are those in Congress who are more concerned with keeping tax rates historically low for their millionaire & billionaire political donors than with improving the health of our environment. Essentially, our conservative political "leaders" have chosen policy idleness over policy action, for the benefit of the ultra-rich. Maybe, someday, American voters will say "enough is enough," and the trees of California, and our environment more generally, can get a New Deal. Until then, our forests and wildlife will continue to suffer.

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

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

WPA mapmakers


Above: The description for this photo reads, "WPA workers in the enlarging-room at Howard University where 116 workers of the Administration are employed on the Aerial Map Tracing Project of the Rural Electrification Administration." WPA workers made maps for many applications. For example, see my blog post "How the New Deal Helped Win World War II (part 9 of 10): WPA Mapmakers, Meteorologists, and Camouflage Artists." Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Locations of major WPA symphony orchestras

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

The following were the locations of the largest WPA symphony orchestras:

Massachusetts State Symphony (Boston, MA)

Commonwealth Symphony (Boston, MA)

Springfield Symphony (Springfield, MA)

Hartford Symphony (Hartford, CT)

Bridgeport Symphony (Bridgeport, CT)

Rhode Island WPA Symphony (Providence, RI)

Syracuse Symphony (Syracuse, NY)

Buffalo Symphony (Buffalo, NY)

New York City Federal Symphony (New York, NY)

Brooklyn Symphony (Brooklyn, NY)

Philadelphia Federal Symphony (Philadelphia, PA)

Pittsburgh Federal Symphony (Pittsburgh, PA)

Huntington Symphony (Huntington, WV)

WPA Symphony (Detroit, MI)

Illinois Symphony (Chicago, IL)

Wisconsin Symphony (Milwaukee, WI)

Minnesota WPA Symphony (probably Saint Paul, MN)

Utah State Symphony (Salt Lake City, UT)

Los Angeles Federal Symphony (Los Angeles, CA)

Northern California WPA Symphony (San Francisco, CA)

Portland Philharmonic (Portland, OR)

Oklahoma City Symphony (Oklahoma City, OK)

(Information from the Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, p. 63.)

(There were many other WPA music projects of course, such as this smaller orchestra project in Maryland. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

(This announcement appeared in the Baltimore Sun newspaper on May 31, 1942. Image from ProQuest Historical Newspapers; only partial image shown; shown here for non-profit educational purposes only.)
 
(A smaller WPA orchestra in Harlem, New York. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

Friday, May 1, 2015

GOP / Tea Party Infrastructure vs. New Deal Infrastructure

(Infrastructure, GOP / Tea Party style. Photo by Brent McKee.)

(Infrastructure, New Deal style. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave America's crumbling, pot-holed roads a "D" letter grade, noting that "Forty-two percent of America’s major urban highways remain congested, costing the economy an estimated $101 billion in wasted time and fuel annually" and also that "32% of America’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition, costing U.S. motorists who are traveling on deficient pavement $67 billion a year, or $324 per motorist, in additional repairs and operating costs." 

Unfortunately, our Congress is now controlled by the GOP / Tea Party, and their anti-government, no-taxes-on-the-wealthy ideology is making it very difficult to fund America's infrastructure (see, e.g., "GOP Lawmakers Divided on Highway Funding As Trust Fund Expiration Looms," Huffington Post, April 30, 2015). As Time magazine's senior national correspondent, Michael Grunwald, pointed out a year ago, "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." 

We also know that the GOP / Tea Party has repeatedly blocked infrastructure initiatives by President Obama, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, and others.

So absurd is the GOP / Tea Party's anti-tax philosophy that some Republicans in Congress have even suggested a tax cut to pay for infrastructure improvements. And--to add idiocy to the madness--at the same time Republicans are wringing their hands over how to pay for infrastructure improvements, they're working hard to eliminate the estate tax on the wealthiest of the wealthy, thereby depriving the nation of hundreds of billions of dollars of revenue over the course of the next several years. Things are no better at the state level where, for example, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback (a Republican, and a Tea Party favorite) is raiding his state's highway fund to subsidize tax breaks for the wealthy.

Not every conservative has jumped down the rabbit hole of course. Matthew Dowd, a prominent Republican strategist had this to say several months ago: "...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." But most conservative politicians have jumped down the rabbit hole, so Dowd's advice has been, and will be, completely ignored. 

During the New Deal, things were far, far different. For example, the WPA built, repaired, or improved 650,000 miles of roadway, enough roadwork to go around the planet 26 times. Throw in the Public Works Administration, the Civil Works Administration, and other New Deal programs and we're talking about a million miles of roadwork in 11 years - most of it federally funded, and a good deal of it still being utilized today - often by the very same conservatives who are telling us that federal government spending is wasteful.

Even Ronald Reagan, the conservative icon, recognized what most conservative politicians do not today - that infrastructure is important and worth the investment. Reagan wrote: "The WPA was one of the most productive elements of FDR's alphabet soup of agencies because it put people to work building roads, bridges, and other projects...it gave men and women a chance to make some money along with the satisfaction of knowing they earned it" (from Reagan's autobiography, Ronald Reagan: An American Life).

So, the next time you hit a pothole don't yell out in anger, "Jesus!" Instead put the blame where the blame belongs, and yell out "Republicans!"