Friday, July 31, 2015

The Reverse New Deal: Blaming teachers instead of Wall Street fraud; laying off teachers to appease greed

Above: New Deal policymakers facilitated the employment of jobless teachers--by the tens of thousands--in programs like the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Works Progress Administration. These teachers taught many types of classes, for example: music, arts & crafts, social studies, math, airplane mechanics, trades, workplace safety, and more. They also helped the blind, the disabled, adults who couldn't read or write, and they even gave citizenship classes to immigrants. The photo above shows a WPA art class for visually impaired children in Salem, Oregon, 1941. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.

Wall Street and super-wealthy Americans have been getting away with a lot of civil & criminal wrongdoing these past many years - insider trading, mortgage & securities fraud, money laundering for drug cartels, illegal tax evasion, cooking the books, conspiring to manipulate the world's currency & interest rates, illegally foreclosing on the homes of American soldiers in combat zones, and so on.
 
But here's the funny thing ("funny" as in "sick"): Instead of holding Wall Street accountable, many Americans have pointed their fingers at the unemployed, the homeless, and public school teachers, and said, "You are causing our economic problems!" Millions of Americans have been duped by right-wing politicians, think tanks, billionaires, radio show hosts, and media outlets, into believing that our economic problems stem not from the monthly and multi-billion dollar frauds emanating from Wall Street, but from public school teachers making $53,000 per year and getting their summers off (sometimes). And because of this, we get absurd situations where, on the one hand, the richest Americans keep adding hundreds of billions of dollars to their already-bloated wealth while, on the other hand, the richest Americans are calling for teachers to be laid off to solve our various economic & budget problems (see, e.g., "Hedge Fund Economists Want Puerto Rico to Lay Off Teachers to Fix Debt Crisis," Time, July 28, 2015).
 
In Kansas, a toxic mixture of corporate greed, tax breaks for the wealthy, and right-wing politics have made the state a living hell for teachers; so much so that one school superintendent said, "I find it increasingly difficult to convince young people that education is a profession worth considering, and I have some veterans who think about leaving. In the next three years I think we’ll have maybe the worst teacher shortage in the country -- I think most of that is self-inflicted." Another superintendent said, "Teachers are working many more hours, much harder. They’re doing it on their own and don’t have the support we should be giving them. [They face] constant bashing from the governor and legislature, [who] in my opinion are trying to privatize education and just destroy it" ("Kansas Underfunded Education And Cut Tenure. Now It Can't Find Enough Teachers To Fill Classrooms," Huffington Post, July 31, 2015).

Welcome to the Reverse New Deal: Blaming teachers instead of Wall Street fraud; laying off teachers to appease greed.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Reverse New Deal: As the super-wealthy bathe in gold bathtubs, buy $78,000 watches, and stash money in foreign bank accounts, Republicans can't figure out how to pay for infrastructure


Above: "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." --Joseph J. Thorndike, Their Fair Share: Taxing the Rich in the Age of FDR, Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press, 2013, p. 45. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.
 
Last year, Republican political strategist Matthew Dowd 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."

It's rare that I agree with a Republican, but in this case I certainly do. Unfortunately, Republican politicians do not. For example, after trying to create a 6-year funding plan for the Highway Trust Fund, Republicans settled for a 3-month patch instead - continuing a years-long trend of stop-gap (and insufficient) funding for our nation's infrastructure. Republicans in the House and Senate pointed fingers at each other for many days, with Republican House Majority Speaker John Boehner ultimately concluding, "the Senate has to do what the Senate has to do and the House has to do what the House has to do." Yep, that profound statement pretty much sums up our national infrastructure policy under Republican "leadership."
 
The main problem is this: Republicans are trying fund infrastructure without new revenue. Instead, they're trying to utilize budget gimmicks, like cutting into Social Security money, thereby setting "a precedent of raiding Social Security funds for unrelated purposes..."
 
And, as Republicans are scratching their heads and trying to figure out how to fund America's crumbling infrastructure, the super-wealthy are bathing in gold bathtubs, buying $78,000 watches, and illegally evading taxes by stashing money in foreign bank accounts--by the trillions (see graphic below). Furthermore, Republican politicians are encouraging this behavior by trying to eliminate the estate tax (so the children of the wealthy can buy expensive and frivolous items just like their parents), and by protecting illegal tax evasion from law enforcement (see, e.g., here and here).
 
All of this seems downright unpatriotic and foolish to me, but I'm obviously in the minority, as is Republican Senator Jim Inhofe when he says, "we’re supposed to defend America, and build roads and highways" ("Top GOP Senator Blames His Party For Lack Of Highway Funding," Huffington Post, May 19, 2015). And it's clear we're in the minority because the American people, by either voting for Republicans or not voting at all, have handed Congress over to anti-infrastructure Republicans--quarter of a million water main breaks per year notwithstanding
 
Isn't that amazing?
 
(As conservatives wring their hands and cry to the heavens, "We can't afford it!", the super-wealthy are having a good laugh, responding, "Thanks for diverting the nation's attention away from us!" Image courtesy of Demos.org.)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Why is playground equipment more creative than today's public architecture? New Deal artists & architects, where are you?

Once upon a time, we used to create magnificent public structures...

(A 1930s, PWA-funded water pumping station in Baltimore, Maryland.)
(A 1930s, WPA-built city hall in Williamsport, Maryland.)

(A 1930s, CCC-built cabin in Lost River State Park, West Virginia.)

(A post office in Oakland, Maryland, built in 1940.)
(We even decorated the inside of public buildings with murals and other artwork, like this 1939 mural in a post office in Salisbury, Maryland.)
 
(Heck, even handrails were ornate in years past, like this handrail at the post office in Easton, Maryland - a post office built in 1935.)

 (Remember when we put statues around public places like dams, bridges, and courthouses! Like this awesome 1930s statue at the Hoover Dam! .....no, you probably don't, and neither do I. These types of things were done when most of us were too young to remember or not even born yet.)

Not every structure built "back in the day" was beautiful of course, but a significant percentage of them were. There was a notion that a grand country should have grand architecture & art to inspire the people. Today's public architecture? Well, as the following photograph shows, playground equipment is often more creative and decorative than our public buildings...

(Not to be confused with a prison, this recently-built public school in West Virginia follows one of the more popular architectural styles of modern times, "Characterless Cube Style." Unfortunately, this style of architecture is frequently less interesting than surrounding architecture, for example the colorful and creative playground equipment.)

Everywhere I look I see bland public architecture. Spiritless schools, routine roads, boring bridges, colorless courthouses, and dull dams. And, funny thing is, the trend towards boring public architecture has correlated with the trend towards giving gargantuan tax breaks to the super-wealthy. It seems that we've given up on beautiful architecture so that the fortunate few can live in greater and greater luxury - so their kids can wear $78,000 watches and bathe in 24-karat gold bathtubs.

Well, at least the magical investments of the super-wealthy--made possible by their greater after-tax income & wealth...you know, trickle-down economics--have given us a plethora of interesting and great-paying jobs, right?!? Yippee!! Oh wait...

Nope, we didn't get that either. What a bum deal, huh? We've traded in beautiful architecture, strong infrastructure, and good middle-class jobs so that the children of the wealthy can eat $60,000 dinners and gloat about it on the Internet.

I don't know about you, but I prefer New Deal-type art & architecture over photographs & "selfies" of 17 year-old Kylie Jenner's $2.8 million home, Mercedes collection, "bikini-clad" body, and diamond encrusted hand. But, I guess I'm in the minority, since tens of millions of Americans have recently handed our Congress over to Republicans and Tea Partiers, knowing full well that these politicians want to eliminate the estate tax, so that the children of the wealthy will never have to work, and so government revenue will continue to be inadequate, thus ensuring that public architecture will continue to be as soulless and mundane as possible.

Welcome to America, where our playground equipment has more creative design than our modern public architecture.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Our trains and railroads need a New Deal - not perpetual under-funding and not deceitful criticism

(The New Deal's Public Works Administration (PWA) helped the "New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad Company" purchase "The Comet" diesel train in 1935. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Recent power problems have left Amtrak riders "livid" over commuting delays. The problems stem from the fact that Amtrak "needs money to repair and replace infrastructure dating to the 1930s associated with the 105-year-old rail tunnel into New York. The cables responsible for the power problems are about 80 years old..." ("Riders livid as power problems cause more Amtrak delays," Associated Press, CBS News, July 25, 2015). Amtrak President Joseph Boardman has said, "the problem is finding the funding to fix the problem...We've been working on plans since 2003, but we need funding for a reliable train system."

The livid Amtrak riders need to ask themselves a question: "What political party do I vote for?" If the answer is "Republicans," then their voting behavior is part of the problem, because one of the political right's favorite pastimes is to under-fund things and then blame the ensuing problems on whoever they under-funded. For example, they'll under-fund the IRS, and then whine, "Hey, why does it take so long to get someone when you call the IRS! Government workers are lazy! We need to privatize!"

And so, with our train and railroad problems, we're getting absurd blame-shifting. For example, even as Republicans have been blocking infrastructure proposals for many years now--to the point where even a top Republican in Congress blames his party for infrastructure problems--and even as Republicans voted to cut Amtrak funding, one day after a deadly train crash, Republican Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie said the cause of railway commuting problems is actually "Amtrak's indifference to New Jersey commuters and its abject neglect of the infrastructure that New Jersey and our entire region relies upon" ("Chris Christie blames Amtrak for 'victimizing' travelers with nightmarish commutes," Reuters, Business Insider, July 24, 2015). Christie also blamed President Obama and Congress, and while the latter is a legitimate gripe, the former is not. For all his faults, Obama has made repeated calls for increased infrastructure investment...only to be repeatedly blocked and ridiculed by Republicans (Republican Congressman Paul Ryan called one of Obama's infrastructure proposals, and the related budget, "envy economics").

Governor Christie seems to ignore his own role in America's crumbling infrastructure. According to New Jersey Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman John Wisniewski, Governor Christie appears to be just as bad on infrastructure as our Republican-led Congress: "[Christie's] piece-meal approach and lack of long-term planning has left our roads and bridges in shambles." The American Society of Civil Engineers reports that 35% of New Jersey's major roads are in poor condition, which seems to back up Wisniewski's claim (although, to be fair, some degree of New Jersey's road problems certainly predate Christie's tenure).

(The PWA helped "Gulf, Mobile, and Northern" purchase two "Rebel" trains, ca. 1934, and they "worked so well that the road bought a third [Rebel] train in 1938." From: John H. White, Jr., "The American Railroad Passenger Car, Part II," Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985, pp. 620-621. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Unlike many of today's political "leaders," New Deal policymakers understood that a strong rail system is a key component to a strong nation and so they used the PWA "to help the railroads out" during the Great Depression:

"Being private corporations, they were not eligible for grants, but PWA made loans totaling upward of $200,000,000 to 32 railroads for improvements [about $3.3 billion in 2014 dollars]...The outstanding allotment was the $31,900,000 loan to the Pennsylvania Railroad for completion of electrification of its lines between New York and Washington, and $6,290,000 for purchasing electric locomotives, bringing the two cities 1 hour closer to each other. On many another railroad, the Diesel-powered, lightweight streamlined trains, such as the Rebel of the Gulf, Mobile & Northern Railroad in the South, and the Flying Yankee in New England, that daily flash thousands of people from city to city, are the results of PWA loans. Still other railroads used PWA funds to iron 'kinks' out of roadbeds [and] improve rights-of-way. These allotments, made in the early days of PWA, enabled the railroads, normally one of the Nation's great employers, to recall many men to their jobs. In July 1934 nearly 70,000 men were working in on-the-site employment in work financed by PWA railroad loans." (From: Public Works Administration, America Builds: A Record of PWA, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1939, p. 189)

New Deal policymakers also used programs like the WPA and the Public Roads Administration for public work projects that included removing old tracks, eliminating dangerous grade crossings (with bridges, tunnels, and re-locations), and adding safety signals to other crossings.

Today, roadbeds that are in poor condition are a risk factor for train derailments. As a roadbed subsides or deteriorates underneath a section of track, the track will dip and bend as trains repeatedly go over it. The resulting metal fatigue can lead to a break. Perhaps this would be an excellent area for increased federal funding, as well as a source of jobs for some of the 21 million Americans who would like a full-time job but can't find one (for example, a new WPA).

Our trains and railroads need a New Deal - not perpetual under-funding and not deceitful criticism. 

(Above: An illustration of the Alaska Railroad by WPA artist F. Lo Pinto, from the WPA publication "A Guide to Alaska: Last American Frontier."  Note the snow plow on the front of the train. In the guide book, WPA writers included train tours and train routes for use by visitors to Alaska. New Deal policymakers were well aware of how important railroads were to tourism and industry.)


(Above: An excellent short documentary about the beginning, deterioration, and restoration of the "Flying Yankee." The "Flying Yankee" was made possible with PWA funding. Original YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=muH7bSf5lo8.)

Friday, July 24, 2015

Old water mains are breaking, harming businesses all across America. Where are small business-loving Republicans?


(In the video above, we see a Philadelphia shopping center flooded by a broken 120 year-old water main, on June 18, 2015.)

Two days ago, a nearly century-old water pipe broke in State College, Pennsylvania and shut down several businesses. On that same day, in Carnegie, Pennsylvania, a 50+ year old water main broke and shut down a laundromat.

This isn't the first time that aging infrastructure has harmed Pennsylvania businesses. For example, a month ago a 120 year-old water main broke and flooded a Philadelphia shopping center. Some people had to be rescued with an inflatable raft. Yes, this is the Philadelphia located in the United States - you know, the wealthiest country in the world?

Americans experience about a quarter-of-a-million water main breaks, every single year. These breaks close businesses, flood homes, buckle roads, waste water, create sinkholes, and contaminate drinking water. And so, where are the Republicans on this? After all, next to guns and "limited government" there are few things you'll hear them blather about more than their "love" for god-fearing small businesses. So, they're on this infrastructure issue like a tiger on its prey, right? Well, no, they've actually been blocking infrastructure improvements for many years now - even one of the head Republicans in Congress blames his own party for our infrastructure problems. Could it be that Republican politicians spew forth a bunch of mumbo jumbo about "small businesses" because they want some votes...and not because they're actually working to make things better for small businesses?? Nooooooooooo...     

Funny thing is, as I try to write this blog post, my Internet keeps blinking in and out, as it is prone to do, because we Americans pay more money for crappier Internet service than just about every other developed nation in the world. Imagine that - trying to write a blog post about America's century-old broken water mains while my Internet is flickering on and off.

(Across America, WPA workers installed 16,000 miles of new water lines. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

America's infrastructure is a god-awful mess, and our politicians are too busy trying to cut taxes for the wealthy, and get more bribes campaign money from them, to give a crap. Meanwhile, millions of voters think Hillary Clinton is going to hold Wall Street accountable, despite the fact that she's receiving more money from Wall Street than any other candidate. No, seriously, in an article about Clinton receiving the most Wall Street money of any candidate, a Clinton spokesperson said, "People from across the country and a range of backgrounds support Hillary Clinton because they know that she’s fighting for them...holding Wall Street accountable..."

???

The sad fact is, America has jumped down the rabbit hole thinking Republicans or corporate-bought Democrats are going to solve our problems - for example, infrastructure problems. Only when we return to the policies & principles of the New Deal (which will require the elimination of big money from our political system) will we see a substantial improvement to our nation's roads, bridges, and water lines. Until then we'll see further neglect or, if we're lucky, minor improvements around the margins. And even the latter will be financed not by the super-wealthy, who are doing better than ever, but by the middle-class & poor, who are struggling more than ever, in the form of higher taxes, tolls, fees, fines, and utility rates, at the state & local level.

Is your jaw on the floor? Is steam coming out of your ears? If not, please read this blog post again.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Republicans wants to use Social Security to pay for infrastructure, and they also want to make it easier for super-wealthy Americans to engage in illegal tax evasion

(WPA workers on a bridge project in Buffalo, New York, 1936. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

Republican and Tea Party politicians want to utilize Social Security money to help pay for infrastructure, thereby setting "a precedent of raiding Social Security funds for unrelated purposes."

Last year, on the other hand, the Republican National Committee tried to make it easier for super-wealthy Americans to engage in illegal tax evasion, prompting one financial expert to say, "It is mind-boggling that a major political party would even consider endorsing a resolution to facilitate tax evasion." And that was not the first time that Republicans and Tea Partiers have tried to protect illegal tax evasion by the super-wealthy (see, e.g., "Policing Tax Evasion Could Save Billions, But Republicans Won't Fund Enforcement," Huffington Post, April 29, 2011).

(Image courtesy of Demos.)

The United States is losing trillions of dollars due to illegal tax evasion, and most of it is from rich Americans using foreign bank accounts and sketchy tax havens. But, instead of going after tax cheats, the GOP/Tea Party has created a situation where the rest of us have to pay extra taxes "to make up for the funds lost to tax cheating." And now, to add insult to injury, they want to start using our retirement funds to pay for infrastructure repairs even as poverty is increasing among retirees.

This is worth repeating: Not only do we have to pay more taxes, tolls, fees, and fines, at the state & local level, to subsidize illegal tax evasion by the wealthy--tax evasion that the political rights endorses--but we also have to sacrifice our retirement security to pay for infrastructure repairs (if the political right gets its way).

This is what happens when you live in a plutocracy. White collar crime is promoted, and the financial security of the middle-class and poor is repeatedly attacked.   

Former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich recently pointed out, "Our only hope for genuine change is if poor, working class, middle class, black, Latino, and white come together in a powerful movement to take back our economy and democracy from the moneyed interests that now control both." He's right, but I'm not holding my breath for that to happen. Too many people are more interested in the goings-on of Kim Kardashian's rear end than in the political & economic matters that are going to affect (and eventually destroy) their lives. And too many people believe that Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton--two people who are closely tied to Wall Street--are going to make things better.


(A mini-documentary I made about infrastructure and the WPA.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Great Trickle-Down Scam Exposed: As the fortunes of billionaires grow, so does the number of children living in poverty

(A young boy gets his hearing tested in a WPA health clinic in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, ca. 1935-1943. New Deal policymakers greatly expanded health services to children. The situation today? See "Poverty threatens health of U.S. children," American Academy of Pediatrics, May 4, 2013. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

Billionaires: "All together the 400 wealthiest Americans are worth a staggering $2.29 trillion, up $270 billion from a year ago" (Forbes, September 29, 2014).

Children: "A higher percentage of children live in poverty now than did during the Great Recession...About 22% of children in the U.S. lived below the poverty line in 2013, compared with 18% in 2008" (USA Today, July 21, 2015).

We also know that the number of homeless children in America has reached record levels, the middle-class has shrunk in every state, and wages have been stagnating or dropping for many years despite increased worker productivity and increased corporate profits.

(See "CEO Pay Has Increased About 876 Percent Since 1978," Huffington Post, August 29, 2013 and "CEO pay more than 300 times average workers in 2014," USA Today, June 21, 2015)

(These children are receiving milk from a WPA program in St. Paul, Minnesota, ca. 1935-1943. New Deal policymakers greatly enhanced nutritional opportunities for low-income children. The situation today? The political right--which has recently taken control of Congress--has repeatedly compared people receiving food assistance (many of whom are children) to "wild animals" and "lazy pigs" (see, e.g., here, here, here, and here. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

We've been handing out gargantuan tax breaks to the super-wealthy for the past several decades, under the promise that their miraculous investments would make life better for everyone. Indeed, the Republican Party is so doped up on trickle-down economics that they're trying to protect illegal tax evasion by millionaires & billionaires. Worse still, even as all the evidence shows that trickle-down economics is a colossal failure, tens of millions of voters are eager to cast a ballot for someone like Jeb Bush, who will promote more trickle-down economics and has said that Americans need to work longer hours - even as they're already working longer hours (and getting less vacation time) than just about every other developed country.

The American electorate has displayed an endless capacity to be deceived. I have little doubt that the child poverty rate could climb to 75%, and that the Forbes 400 could add several more trillion dollars to their collective wealth, and millions would still vote for a candidate who said, "We need to cut taxes on the wealthy to spur economic growth."

 (A WPA poster advertising a children's art exhibit. New Deal policymakers thought art was important to a child's creative development, so they offered free art classes for them and frequently displayed their art in various galleries and exhibitions. The situation today? Decades of tax breaks for the super-wealthy, and the recent fraud-fueled recession, have necessitated funding cutbacks, or even complete elimination, of public school art programs. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photograph Division.)

With New Deal infrastructure & policies in place after World War II, the middle-class grew like never before or since. The economy expanded along New Deal roads, across New Deal bridges, and out of New Deal airports. Taxes were higher on the wealthy (thanks to New Deal policymakers), unions were stronger (thanks to New Deal legislation), banking was more stable (thanks to New Deal programs like FDIC), retirement was more secure (thanks to Social Security), and so on. 

But as long as millions of Americans ignore history, and keep listening to think tanks and media outlets funded by the super-wealthy, none of these New Deal facts matter much. The electorate will simply buy into the next trickle-down scam...condemning even more children to poverty and homelessness.

Isn't that amazing?

Monday, July 20, 2015

A half-century old, functionally obsolete bridge collapses in California - while Republicans seek to cut infrastructure spending and give tax breaks to the super-wealthy (with UPDATE)


(In the two-minute video above, we see the collapsed bridge on California's I-10, as well as related infrastructure problems in California.)

A bridge on California's I-10 collapsed during a flood yesterday, injuring a motorist and causing serious traffic problems. The bridge was built in 1967 and was listed as functionally obsolete by the Federal Highway Administration. Functionally obsolete bridges "are those that do not have adequate lane widths, shoulder widths, or vertical clearances to serve current traffic demand, or those that may be occasionally flooded." Photos from the bridge collapse appear to show a bridge that was not high enough to handle flood waters (and/or perhaps the bridge supports were not strong enough to handle today's increasingly turbulent weather).

As of 2014, California had 2,501 bridges that were structurally deficient and 4,306 bridges that were functionally obsolete (link). 

Meanwhile, because they want to give tax breaks to millionaires & billionaires, and because they want to increase military spending, Republican and Tea Party politicians want to cut funding for infrastructure. In fact, they want to cut funding for just about every domestic program, so that they can divert money to the super-wealthy and to Mid-East interventions.

(See "Top GOP Senator Blames His Party for Lack of Highway Funding," Huffington Post, May 19, 2015)

So, we're stuck with old, inadequate, and sometimes dangerous old bridges...and/or the middle-class & poor will be forced to pay more taxes, tolls, fees, and fines, at the state & local level, to pay for upgrades... despite the fact the middle-class has been hammered with stagnant or reduced wages over the past several decades, and despite the fact that the middle-class has shrunk in every state since 2000 (while the super-wealthy have added hundreds of billions of dollars to their personal fortunes).

During the New Deal, the WPA employed the jobless to engage in 124,000 projects to build, repair, or improve bridges and viaducts. And these bridges and viaducts served America for many decades (Indeed, many still are). And we could do the same today, if the GOP/Tea Party would stop coddling the super-wealthy and stop calling low-income Americans "wild animals" and "lazy pigs."

UPDATE (7-21-2015): According to the California Dept. of Transportation, the bridge was rated "functionally obsolete" because it required motorists to slow down as they approached the bridge. The cause of the collapse seems to be the fact that rushing waters ate away at one of the bridge's anchoring points. The water beneath the bridge had been diverted from its normal flow path, which is considered a common occurrence in desert areas. Given this, it would seem that the bridge would benefit by being higher and having anchoring points further away from the stream bed (or anchoring of a different design). This collapse could be a warning about other low-lying bridges that run over over desert streams and rivers, especially in view of the fact that we're experiencing more extreme weather.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

A water main installed in 1857 breaks in Vermont, a wildfire sets cars ablaze on a California highway...and Congress threatens to shut down the government


(In the two-minute video above we see cars on fire on Interstate 15 in California, on Friday, July 17.)

On Friday, July 17, a wildfire set cars ablaze on Interstate 15 in California. Dry vegetation helped the wildfire spread quickly.

Yesterday, July 18, a water main that was installed before the Civil War broke in Rutland, Vermont, causing traffic problems and threatening water service to area homes. Work crews had difficulty fixing the water main because the valves were so old they couldn't completely shut the water off.

During the New Deal, work programs like the WPA and the CCC built thousands of miles of firebreaks, removed dry and dead vegetation from hundreds of thousands of acres, and installed new water lines all over the nation.

Today, many of our policymakers have a different approach to problems. For example, Republican and Tea Party politicians want to cut federal funding for wildfire response by $1 billion and they want to cut funding for water infrastructure by $479 million. The fact that wildfires are getting worse in many areas, and the fact that there are a quarter of a million water main breaks all over the nation, every single year, means nothing to them. And if they don't get these and other cuts, it may lead to a government shutdown ("13 reasons the government could shut down again this fall," Time, July 15, 2015).

Why do Republicans and Tea Partiers want these cuts? Because they want to give millionaires and billionaires more tax cuts, e.g., eliminating the estate tax (which only affects the wealthiest of the wealthy), and because they want more money for military adventures overseas - the hundreds of billions already wasted in Iraq notwithstanding.

And so this is what happens when (a) you live in a plutocracy, and (b) your nation forgets its history.

Friday, July 17, 2015

New Deal Art: "Our Lady of Light"

("Our Lady of Light," a wood carving by Jose Dolores Lopez, created while he participated in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), ca. 1933-34. Photo from the PWAP's final report.)

(In 1997, Gloria Lopez Cordova "elaborated the style of her grandfather, José Dolores López, and her uncle, George López," with this version of "Our Lady of Light." Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

New Deal Art: "Mountain Lions"

("Mountain Lions," an oil painting by artist Ila McAfee, created while she participated in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, ca. 1933-1934. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Austerity vs. New Deal Funding: Two different approaches to economic problems in Puerto Rico

(The city hall of Hatillo, Puerto Rico, built with funding from the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA). Photo taken by FERA, ca. 1935.)

Lately, there have been proposals to apply austerity to Puerto Rico's economic problems. For example, a recent report created by supply-side economists (a report that the governor of Puerto Rico has embraced) calls for a reduction of vacation time, medical care, and wages for low-income workers, as well as firing teachers and making it easier for companies to engage in mass layoffs. And, while the report makes some halfhearted attempts to request sacrifices from the super-wealthy too, don't expect too much to come from it. For example, with respect to debt relief for Puerto Rico, "The island’s creditors - some of which are litigious 'distressed debt' hedge funds that specialize in such situations - have indicated that they will not accept even a mild restructuring, and have formed various groups and hired lawyers to protect their interests." 

And this is usually how austerity works in the modern world. Those with money and political connections can avoid the pain, while those without money and political connections shoulder the entire burden. This is why the Forbes 400 has been adding billions of dollars to their already-bloated wealth while, at the same time, the number of homeless children in America has reached record numbers, the American middle-class has shrunk in every state, and "virtually every state" has instituted a system of taxation that disproportionately burdens the middle-class & poor. 

But austerity is not the only policy option. When Puerto Rico faced economic hardship in the late 1920s and early 1930s (because of two highly destructive hurricanes and the Stock Market Crash of 1929) New Deal policymakers decided that, instead of punishing Puerto Ricans, as austerians are eager to do, they would help them. And one of the major ways they helped them was by funding hundreds of work projects through the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA). Here are some examples (see the end of this blog post for source of information & photos)... 


Above: A FERA-funded water line project in San Juan, Puerto Rico, ca. 1933-1935. New Deal policymakers, unlike austerians, felt that public works jobs were a great way to combat both unemployment and infrastructure problems. And much of the infrastructure work they facilitated is still in use today, all across America and her territories - a fact that austerians are willfully oblivious to.


Above: FERA-funded medical services in Jayuya, Puerto Rico, ca. 1935. New Deal policymakers, unlike austerians, felt that medical services for low-income people should be improved not cut back. Hence, FERA enabled "aid to [the] insular health department in combating epidemics, antimalaria and antihookworm campaigns, studies and surveys of health conditions, construction of new hospitals and medical centers, repairs and additions to those already existing, and purchase of hospital equipment and supplies."


Above: This school in Utuado, Puerto Rico, received additions and repairs thanks to FERA funding, ca. 1933-1935. New Deal policymakers, unlike austerians, felt that educational opportunities should be increased during economic down times, not cut back. All across Puerto Rico, FERA gave "aid to established schools by employment of teachers, aid to school lunchrooms, new schools in rural districts, nursery schools, and night schools for adults and through the work relief program, construction of new schoolhouses and repairs to others."

Other FERA-funded projects in Puerto Rico included road construction; bridge construction; farm & garden projects; construction of recreational facilities (e.g., tennis and basketball courts); flood control projects (e.g., levees); resettlement housing (much of Puerto Rico's housing was destroyed by hurricanes in 1928 and 1932); production of clothing for low-income Puerto Ricans; art classes; symphonies; pest control; and much more. 

After FERA wound down, another New Deal program kicked in: The Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration (PRRA). And, as a recent dissertation from City University of New York highlights: "the PRRA constructed a new public infrastructure capable of addressing three interrelated goals: increasing life expectancy through concrete interventions in public health; providing more egalitarian public access to a safer and more permanent built environment; and limiting the private corporate control of Puerto Rico's natural resources. Designed by Puerto Rican engineers and built by Puerto Rican workers, PRRA public works projects made concrete contributions to the physical security of millions of Puerto Ricans through the construction of hurricane-proof houses, schools, hospitals, roads, sewers, waterworks, and rural electrification networks." And these investments "made lasting contributions to local social and economic life."

In addition to funding from FERA and PRRA, struggling Puerto Ricans also received assistance from programs like the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps (see my blog post, "A New Deal for Puerto Rico").   

So, what do you think makes for a more equitable and healthy culture: Reducing medical care for low-income Puerto Ricans, while the super-wealthy use their island as a tax haven, or hiring them into programs to improve their lives and their infrastructure? 

(All photos, and all information about FERA, from the combined report, "Second Report of the Puerto Rican Emergency Relief Administration, from September 1, 1934, to September 30, 1935 and Report of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration for Puerto Rico, from October 1, 1935, to June 30, 1936," Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1939. Note: Funding for the Puerto Rican Emergency Relief Administration came from FERA.)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

FDR and Pope Francis, on Greed


Above: President Roosevelt, on board the heavy cruiser U.S.S. Indianapolis, 1936. During the D-Day Invasion in 1944, Roosevelt said a prayer, "perhaps the most widely heard prayer in history." Near the end, he asked God, "Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances." Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.


Above: Pope Francis in Rome, 2014. Yesterday, during his visit to South America, "Pope Francis appealed to world leaders...to seek a new economic model to help the poor, and to shun policies that 'sacrifice human lives on the altar of money and profit.'" Photo courtesy of Jeffry Bruno and Wikipedia, used under the CCA-SA 2.0 Generic License.

Considering that the super-wealthy are adding hundreds of billions of dollars to their already-bloated wealth, every single year, often through private prisons, cancer-causing tobacco products, usury, tax evasion, fraud, perpetual war, sweat shop factories, stagnant wages for workers, and economic favors acquired through bribery campaign contributions, you have to wonder...will we ever heed the words of President Roosevelt and Pope Francis? Or, will we keep adding to the ranks of homeless children, while the super-wealthy keep buying gold bathtubs for theirs?

(See Forbes' facts & figures for super-wealthy Americans, 2013, 2014, 2015.)

Saturday, July 11, 2015

New Deal Art: "The Squall"

("The Squall," an oil painting by artist Gerald Foster, created while he participated in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), ca. 1933-34. Image from the PWAP's final report.)

Friday, July 10, 2015

New Deal Art: "CCC Winter Gear"

(A charcoal drawing of a CCC enrollee in winter gear, created by artist L.G. Gustavson while he was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), ca. 1933-34. Image from the PWAP's final report.)

Thursday, July 9, 2015

New Deal Art: "Subway"

("Subway," an oil painting created by New York artist Lily Furedi while she participated in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, 1934. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.)

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Hudson River Needs a New Deal Cleaning

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

The cleanliness of the Hudson River has improved over the past few decades, but it still has a long way to go - as the title of a new report by the Riverkeeper makes painfully clear: "How's the Water? 2015: Fecal Contamination in the Hudson River and its Tributaries."  

There are two basic problems with the Hudson River. First, raw sewage is dumped directly into the river, especially after it rains, because of overstressed combined sewer systems (systems that handle both human waste and storm water runoff). Second, like the rest of the country, New York and New Jersey's wastewater infrastructure is underfunded and aging. As a result, "The river acts as a home for various strains of fecal bacteria that can cause everything from swimmer’s ear and skin rashes to pneumonia, blood infections, urinary infections and diarrhea" ("Hudson River called a health risk," NorthJersey.com, July 5, 2015).
 
During the New Deal, massive investments were made in American infrastructure. For example, the WPA installed 1,645 miles of new storm and sanitary sewer lines in New York, and 827 miles in New Jersey. WPA workers also constructed 1,021 new sewage treatment plants across the nation, and improved nearly 500 others. (See the Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, pp. 132 and 136).
 
We could do the same today (and even better, because of improved technology) were it not for the fact that Republican politicians keep trying to force tax-breaks-for-the-rich down our throats, and were it not for the fact that Republican politicians are constantly trying to divert resources away from domestic issues... and towards the expansion of America's role as policeman of the world. See, for example, the news article "Congress stays on course for another shutdown showdown," Huffington Post, July 7, 2015, where it is reported that "The Republican budget calls for spending that eases sequestration on defense, but not on other areas..." (and keep in mind that the United States already spends nearly as much on defense as the rest of the world combined - as Politifact pointed out when disputing a claim that it was more than all other countries combined).
 
In any event, it's clear that the Hudson River needs a good and thorough New Deal cleaning. 

(WPA workers cleaning the Pocomoke River, in Worcester County, Maryland, in September of 1937. All across the nation, the WPA cleaned waterways, sealed old mines (which reduces acid pollution in streams), and planted 8 million bushels of oysters (nature's water filters). Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)
 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Reverse New Deal: Democrats voting for Wall Street


(In the audio above, we hear FDR's opinion about the manipulation of government and the economy by the super-wealthy. When FDR and his fellow New Deal policymakers talked tough about the greedy rich, they meant it. They created the SEC to curb Wall Street fraud, raised taxes on the super-wealthy, and created numerous programs to help the less fortunate.)

In 2014, it was reported that "Nearly 8 in 10 Americans (78 percent) feel the big banks are to blame for the financial crisis of 2008, and more than five years later, 66 percent are still angry at the big banks..." ("Study: Americans still angry with big banks," Reuters, February 24, 2014).

Over a year later, it was reported that "In a rare show of unity, Americans, regardless of their political affiliation, agree that money has too much influence on elections, the wealthy have more influence on elections, and candidates who win office promote policies that help their donors" ("Americans' views on money in politics," New York Times, June 2, 2015).

In other words, Americans are pissed off at Wall Street and the super-wealthy!

And they're going to express this anger by voting for a presidential candidate who is.... (drum roll)... backed by Wall Street and the super-wealthy! Yeah, that'll show 'em!

Wait... huh?

Yesterday it was reported that "Nearly three months after Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy, she remains the favored choice of most Democratic voters..." And we know that Clinton has been consistently backed by the likes of Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Credit Suisse, etc., all of whom have plead guilty to numerous crimes and/or have paid billions in fines & settlements for allegations of civil or criminal wrongdoing. And if you have any doubt how Clinton would run the country--for Wall Street or for the people--remember that she voted for a law to make it harder for struggling Americans to file for bankruptcy, so that their debt would be inescapable and they'd never be able to rebuild their lives. And though she says she regrets that vote, I would suggest that there is something fundamentally wrong with someone would vote that way to begin with.

More recently, Clinton waffled and wavered on expressing her views on the TPP (the secretive trade agreement that Obama, Republicans, and corporate-bought Democrats have colluded on to send more jobs overseas and suppress American wages). As author John Atcheson recently wrote, Clinton frequently "speaks in vague generalities and stunningly calculated language that is designed to say nothing," in an effort to "to con progressive voters into supporting her without alienating her corporate funders." (Also consider the CNN article, "45 times Secretary Clinton pushed the trade bill she now opposes")     

So what about Bernie Sanders, Clinton's top challenger right now? He isn't backed by Wall Street, and his whole platform is about taking on the big banks and the super-wealthy - the very same groups that Americans say they're angry with. Democratic voters should like him, right? Nope, they still prefer Big Bank Clinton. Further, one-third of Democrat voters are "not sure what to make of [Sanders]," and one fifth would "be 'dissatisfied' or 'upset' to have Sanders as their nominee."

Not sure what to make of Sanders? Are they scratching their heads and saying, "He's not bought by Wall Street? He wants an economy not rigged in favor of millionaires & billionaires? He and I are in agreement on many important issues? Gosh, I just don't know what to make of that! That might actually upset me!"

(In the two-minute video above, Bernie Sanders shows how the U.S. economy has been rigged in favor of the wealthy. You'll never see Hillary Clinton make a presentation like this because, quite frankly, she doesn't care enough about the topic to put that much effort into it.)

The truth is, as long as we keep voting for corporate-bought Democrats (or right-wing lunatics) we'll keep experiencing grotesque levels of income & wealth inequality, environmental pollution, stagnant wages, a bloated & abusive criminal justice system, perpetual war in the mid-east, and more taxes, tolls, fees, and fines (to subsidize tax breaks for the wealthy). All of these things benefit the billionaire class, which is why they're adding billions to their wealth every year as the rest of us are left with dead-end jobs (if any jobs at all) and crushing debt.

Welcome to the Reverse New Deal: Democrats voting for Wall Street.

Monday, July 6, 2015

WPA Art: Battle Scene Diorama

(A battle scene diorama made by WPA artists in Atlanta, Georgia. Image courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

Saturday, July 4, 2015

WPA Theatre: "Created Equal" and the "opposing forces of materialism"

(A WPA Theatre performance of "Created Equal." Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum and the New Deal Network.)

The Declaration of Independence, adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, states, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..."
 
The play "Created Equal" was written by John Hunter Booth. In the play's script, Hunter wrote the following to anyone who might direct a production of his play:
 
"Created Equal presents a broad canvas and demands a corresponding directorial attack. It cannot be approached as a mere dramatization of historical incidents; it must be viewed as an attempt to portray the birth and growth of the American spirit, "a spirit born of vast plains, towering mountain ranges, mighty rivers. Resistless, unconquerable!" Something fresh and new in an old, old world - our country's contribution to human advancement. Not a painted or printed masterpiece, but a living, glowing idea of freedom to make man his brother's equal. The conflict this engenders with the opposing forces of materialism is the play. Sympathetic handling is required to point the proposition, which stated briefly is as follows: The Declaration of Independence promised equality. The Constitution established a propertied class. Amendments to the Constitution are slowly fulfilling the promise of the Declaration."
 
  (A crowd of black and white Americans gather together to see a WPA Theatre production of "Created Equal" in Boston, ca. 1935. This type of racial integration, which occurred on stage as well, eventually motivated Congress to cut off funding for the WPA Theatre program, terminating it in 1939 even though millions of Americans were enjoying it. Photo provided courtesy of the National Archives and the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.)

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Reverse New Deal: Aggressive austerity proposed for Puerto Rico, while the super-wealthy use Puerto Rico as a tax haven

(WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)
 
Puerto Rico is experiencing some serious economic problems, and a new report by Anne Krueger (former World Bank Chief Economist), Ranjit Teja (from the International Monetary Fund), and Andrew Wolfe (American University) recommends some serious austerity measures for the island. It's okay though, because the super-wealthy won't have to sacrifice much at all...just the other people.  

High poverty rates notwithstanding, the austerity-for-others economists want the citizens of Puerto Rico to make less money at their jobs, have less vacation time, have less access to medical care, and, of course, pay more taxes (conservatives always want the poor to pay more taxes, tolls, fees, and fines - to subsidize the past, present, and future tax cuts for the wealthy). But don't fret, the report also includes smooth-sounding technical jargon, so that the bitter pills of poverty can be swallowed more easily, for example: "Reducing input costs for labor, energy and transport is key to regaining competitiveness, so that production can be geared to more buoyant external markets." Oh, okay. Competitiveness! Buoyant external markets! Golly gee, reducing people's access to health care isn't so bad after all!!  

The report also tells us to be patient, because "supply-side reforms...take time." Hmmm...didn't Republican Governor Sam Brownback keep saying that, as the Kansas budget was being pulverized year after year with supply-side reforms (and, by the way, is still being pulverized)?

Despite the claims that their policy proposals will spread the pain "across all stakeholders," their recommendations, for the most part, are just the standard recommendations made by today's austerians -  for example, they want to lower the minimum wage (to $2.42, or less, per hour), raise taxes that disproportionately burden the middle-class & poor (e.g., sales tax, property tax), make it easier for companies to engage in mass lay-offs, send teachers to the unemployment line, and cut Medicaid funding.

Raising taxes on the super-wealthy? No, they don't like that idea too much. Broaden the tax base a bit, maybe, but don't raise rates!

(A guide to Puerto Rico, created by the WPA's writers' program. Image provided courtesy of Wolfsonian-Florida International University, http://www.wolfsonian.org.)
 
So, why all the cuts for programs that help the middle-class and poor? To restore market "confidence." Apparently, markets need to know that the middle-class & poor are being financially terrorized sufficiently, and that their health care needs are being ignored, before they're willing to, let's say, open a bunch of furniture stores and hire thousands of people.

(See political economist Robert Skidelsky's interesting op-ed, "Economic myths and tall tales - the confidence fairy and bond vigilante," The Guardian, April 22, 2015)    

The funny thing is, as these economists are calling for impoverished Puerto Ricans to become even more impoverished--essentially, sacrificing their financial, emotional, and physical health for the supposed good of the island--the Forbes 400 is adding hundreds of billions of dollars to their already-bloated fortunes, every year...corporations and the super-wealthy are engaging in all manner of tax avoidance and tax evasion, thereby depriving the U.S. Treasury of $100 billion dollars (and probably more), every year...and, ironically, millionaires & billionaires are greedily using Puerto Rico as a tax haven.

Interestingly, we are told that Puerto Rico has a "crippling $78 billion debt." Now look again at that yearly tax avoidance & evasion figure in the paragraph above.  

As I wrote in a previous blog post, New Deal policymakers had a different way of addressing problems in Puerto Rico. For example, they hired struggling Puerto Ricans into public job programs and they helped them complete their high school and/or college education. To me, that sounds a heck of a lot better than, "Hey, you're making too much money! You should be making $2.42 per hour instead of $7.25!"

But even these trickle-down economists who are proposing harsh austerity for Puerto Rico understand the benefits of the New Deal. On page 5 of their report, they write, "The distress in the banking sector would have been worse were it not for the backstop provided by [the New Deal's] FDIC..." (I wrote in "New Deal"... for some strange reason they forgot to mention that).

Perhaps, instead of trying to reduce the salaries of Puerto Rican workers, our trickle-down economists should contemplate other New Deal policies too. For example, instead of waiting for the confidence fairy to show up, maybe recommend a public jobs program, right now, for unemployed Puerto Ricans. I mean, I know that the concept of creating jobs for the jobless is an extraordinarily confusing concept, but let's give it a try anyway.