Monday, November 30, 2015

The recollections, and the wise & spirited words of Harry Hopkins - part 2: Work vs. the Dole

(In this 1938 photograph, Harry Hopkins, head of the WPA, is urging Congress to increase the volume of federal work programs. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

During the New Deal, federal work programs for the unemployed (e.g., the CCC, CWA, and WPA) cost more money than direct cash relief; but Harry Hopkins, in 1936, highlighted one of the major advantages of these work programs over the so-called "dole":

"What would America have to show today for the millions it has spent on relief if that relief had been in the form of a non-productive dole? Nothing except an army of disheartened, disillusioned, and resentful unemployed people nursing their sense of frustration and despair" (June Hopkins, Harry Hopkins: Sudden Hero, Brash Reformer, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999, p. 193).

Indeed, America still has much to show--over three-quarters of a century later--from the New Deal's federal work programs, e.g., bridges, parks, athletic fields, public pools, tennis courts, water lines, artwork, schools, and airports (see the Living New Deal for a sampling of what we still use & enjoy today). 

In modern times, unfortunately, we have chosen the dole over work programs. We offer the jobless unemployment benefits for a certain period of time (along with insults to their work ethic, and constant threats to terminate those benefits) and then we throw them to the wolves (a.k.a. the "job creators"). Meanwhile, our infrastructure falls apart. We could offer them public jobs after their unemployment benefits expire, but the super-wealthy don't like that idea too much (they prefer to have a large pool of desperate, unemployed, and financially devastated workers who are willing to work for peanuts). And, since the super-wealthy are the ones calling the shots these days, thanks to their out-of-control & democracy-destroying political spending (lobbyists, campaign contributions, and Lord knows what else), well, there ya go. 

So, let's summarize the difference: New Deal = jobs for the unemployed and massive infrastructure work, but modern policy = insults for the unemployed and crumbling infrastructure. And millions of voters are perfectly fine with this. Isn't that amazing? 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The recollections, and the wise & spirited words of Harry Hopkins - part 1: The CWA Fraternity

(Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

In his book Spending to Save (1936), New Deal administrator Harry Hopkins recalled the Civil Works Administration (CWA, one of the early New Deal programs to offer jobs to the unemployed):

"The speed and volume of the work done that winter [1933-1934] produced a momentum which jolted the community. I believe CWA will stand out even when WPA has become past history, like a precocious child in a family of slower-going but more substantial children. For its special quality of having come and gone so quickly, yet having let loose great forces, both economic and spiritual, it shares certain of the memorable qualities of special events. A fraternity grew up among those who had worked in it, like the fraternity of a dramatic recruiting period...its old officers often recall those few months in which the people of the United States were galvanized to an unprecedented task and accomplished it. American communities had had a taste of what could be accomplished under a government program for the unemployed" (pp. 123-124).

In less than half-a-year, millions of CWA workers built, repaired, or improved 250,000 miles of roads, 40,000 schools, 2,200 miles of sewer lines, 3,700 playgrounds, and much more (see, e.g., Hopkins' book, pp. 120-122).

Friday, November 27, 2015

Thanksgiving ruined by another water main break. A WPA could have saved the holiday.

(WPA workers built the foundation for this PWA-built water tank in Buffalo, New York, and also installed the water lines running from it, 1936-1937. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

A 70-year-old water main broke on Thanksgiving morning, in Cranford, New Jersey, shutting down water service, flooding homes, closing roads, and causing evacuations for fear of a gas line rupture. The break was just one of a quarter-of-a-million water main breaks that occur in the United States, every single year.

Is our Republican-led Congress concerned about the nation's crumbling infrastructure? Nope. Are the Republican presidential candidates concerned? Nope. Even though thousands of Americans die each year from deteriorating infrastructure, Congress is more focused on middle-eastern affairs, and the Republican presidential candidates are more focused on stirring up fear and anger about immigrants, Muslims, and minorities.

During the New Deal, things were different. Policymakers offered the unemployed jobs, the unemployed responded, and the nation's infrastructure was modernized on a scale not seen before or since. For example, the WPA installed 16,000 miles of new water lines, worked on 124,000 bridge projects, and built or improved 650,000 miles of roadway - enough roadwork to go around the planet 26 times. Maybe that's why Ronald Reagan wrote in his autobiography, "The WPA was one of the most productive elements of FDR's alphabet soup of agencies because it put people to work building roads, bridges, and other projects...it gave men and women a chance to make some money along with the satisfaction of knowing they earned it."

Today, everything is cynical. Infrastructure is ignored, the unemployed are insulted, and God forbid we should raise taxes on the holy "JOB CREATORS" (even though the "job creators" are adding tens of billions of dollars to their personal fortunes, thereby causing the middle-class to shrink in every state). 
 
And so, a water main break is coming to a pipe near you. Get ready to bail out your basement and boil your water.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

New Deal Art: Poughkeepsie Mural

Above: "Scene near Poughkeepsie, 1690," an oil painting by Gerald Sargent Foster (1900-1987), created while he participated in the New Deal's Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture, ca. 1939. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A water main break in Hoboken threatens Thanksgiving. A WPA could have prevented that.

(WPA laborers working on the Loudonville Reservoir, in Albany, New York, ca. 1935. The reservoir still provides water today. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

A weekend water main break & valve failure in New Jersey cut off water pressure to residents of Hoboken, Jersey City, and surrounding areas. The problem occurred on a water system that dates back to the 1920s and threatens to ruin the Thanksgiving plans of many people. The break also caused flooding, road closures, and a boil-water advisory. (See, e.g., "No Thanksgiving in Hoboken? Broken water main may not be fixed for days," NJ.com, November 23, 2015)

When an article about New Jersey's crumbling infrastructure was written over a year ago, there were some interesting comments to the story that, I believe, shed a light on why our infrastructure continues to deteriorate:

"Cut spending in other areas. No new taxes. We waste too much money now."

"NJ already squanders too many tax $$ on lost liberal causes."

"Time for the Takers to bite the bullet. Cut welfare and food stamps along with the Abbott district funding to fix our infrastructure so the makers can safely get to work to continue taking care of the takers."

"To the Democrats, raising taxes is the only solution that they ever come up with to not only fix the infrastructure but, to also bolster the ever increasing demand of Government subsidies to feed their dependent voting base or their loyal special interest group (aka unions)."

"Entitlements are eating up the money needed for infrastructure."

Despite the fact that corporations and the super-wealthy are evading & avoiding hundreds of billions of dollars in taxes (see, for example, the graph below), and despite the fact that our defense spending almost equals the rest of the world combined, and despite the fact that our big financial institutions have engaged in an epic amount of fraud & crime, many people insist on blaming the poor for our nation's problems. To them, it's the worker making minimum wage and receiving government food assistance that's causing infrastructure to fall apart - not the billions of dollars hidden away in offshore bank accounts or the trillions of dollars entangled in an array of complex & shady corporate "deals" devised by an army of lawyers, accountants, and CEOs (and permitted by the politicians they give campaign cash to).

(Here, we see all the money that could have been put to good use on domestic needs, e.g., infrastructure, during the first decade of the 21st century. And if you do a little research, you'll see that the tax evasion problem still exists today, five years later. Image courtesy of Demos.) 
 
New Deal policymakers had a different approach to infrastructure needs - they hired the unemployed to get the job done. In New Jersey, for example, WPA workers built or repaired 150 utility plants, installed 262 miles of new water lines, and put in 827 miles of storm & sanitary sewer lines. The WPA was so successful, that even Ronald Reagan praised it in his autobiography. And we're still using thousands of their projects today.

So, which approach do you prefer? Turning a blind eye to Wall Street fraud, corporate crime, tax evasion, and blaming public school teachers and the unemployed instead? Or, hiring those who want to work to repair our dilapidated infrastructure? 

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Reverse New Deal: Taking from children to give to the rich

Above: This photo was taken in 1939, in West Liberty, Kentucky. The description for it reads, "Students enrolled in the Morgan County School System look forward daily to the broadcasts of Educational Programs from a WPA-built transmitter located in the West Liberty High School, also built by WPA." All across the nation, New Deal policymakers and New Deal workers enhanced children's education. Today, the advocates of trickle-down economics seek to reduce children's education. And, amazingly, millions of voters and non-voters are tolerating it. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.
 
It was recently reported that the Republican-led Kansas government will take $9 million from their highly-productive Children's Initiative Fund to help balance their budget - a budget racked by years of Republican tax-cuts-for-the-wealthy. They've also been taking money from the state's highway fund, burning through the state's reserve funds, and raising taxes on the middle-class & poor (for example, higher--and regressive--sales and cigarette taxes), so that they can continue to pamper the wealthy. And, as if that wasn't bad enough, Kansas's tax-cuts-for-the-wealthy have produced less-than-average job growth and less-than-average economic growth. It seems that the holy "JOB CREATORS" haven't been in the mood to return the favors bestowed upon them. ("Kansas plagued by a dismal budget short on dollars and hope," The Kansas City Star, November 20, 2015. Also see, "After Cutting Taxes on the Rich, Kansas Will Raise Taxes on the Poor to Pay For It," ThinkProgress, June 16, 2015.)
 
It was also reported that, according to a recent poll, Republican Governor of Kansas Sam Brownback, the chief proponent of trickle-down economics, is now the least popular governor in the nation. But let's be honest here; if an election were held in Kansas today, can there be any doubt that he would win again? There are just too many people who continue to place their faith in the holy "JOB CREATORS" and too many people who have zero interest in politics or voting. Democratic and progressive voters would likely be overwhelmed, again, by conservative voters and apathetic voters. Plus, even if a new election became close, all the Republicans would have to say is, "Well, our opponent looked at a naked lady when he was 26 years old so, y'know, he can't be governor" (see, "Candidate's 1998 Strip Club Visit Stirs Kansas Governor's Race," New York Times, September 21, 2014).        

Undeterred by the failure of trickle-down economics in Kansas and other states (for example, Illinois and Wisconsin), many voters and non-voters are willing to allow a Republican to become president and implement the same tax-cuts-for-the-wealthy policy on the entire nation - as if the last 35 years of tax-cuts-for-the-wealthy (think Reagan and Bush Jr.) have not already done enough damage to the national economy & budget. (See "Candidates' Tax Cuts Unequivocally Skew Toward the Wealthy," Citizens for Tax Justice, November 10, 2015.)

New Deal policymakers and New Deal workers had a different philosophy: They built or repaired thousands of schools, offered free classes to millions of children, and published educational books, booklets, and pamphlets for K-12 students (see, e.g., "From the Archives: Children's Science Series," Albert Whitman Blog, August 27, 2010). Among the funding mechanisms they used to do all this, of course, was higher taxes on the wealthy.
 
 (WPA poster, advertising free art classes for children. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)
 
After World War II, with New Deal infrastructure & policies firmly in place (roads, bridges, schools, water lines, Social Security, the minimum wage, higher taxes on the wealthy, Glass-Steagall, FDIC, stronger union protections, etc., etc.) America became the economic powerhouse of the world and the middle-class grew like never before or since. On the other hand, after 35 years of trickle-down economics we have out-of-control campaign contributions from the rich, a huge national debt, crumbling infrastructure, stagnant or dropping wages, huge amounts of personal debt, the largest prison-industrial complex in the world, a middle-class that has shrunk everywhere in the country, and a state & local tax system that is "fundamentally unfair, taking a much greater share of income from low- and middle-income families than from wealthy families." And yet, inexplicably, millions of people are opting for more trickle-down economics.
 
Is that not the most amazing, the most jaw-dropping, the most awesomely insane thing you've ever heard? I mean...wow!....just, WOW! That's like drinking strychnine and then saying, "Well, to get better, I guess I better drink some more strychnine."
 
Welcome to the Reverse New Deal: Taking from children to give to the rich.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Puerto Rico's Infrastructure: New Deal Action vs. Modern Neglect

Above: A bridge in Puerto Rico, before New Deal funds were used to reconstruct it, ca. 1934. Photo from a Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) report.
 
Above: The same bridge, after reconstruction. Photo from a FERA report.

Recently, it was reported that "Puerto Rico, already hobbled by massive debts, is being weighed down by an outdated infrastructure that's increasing the cost of doing business on the island." The president of a business consulting firm in Puerto Rico said, "The real problem here is the lack of maintenance of our infrastructure" and also "added that the island's infrastructure was one of the factors that led to Puerto Rico's economic growth for most of the 20th century."
 
Well, where did that 20th century infrastructure come from? Most people probably (certainly?) don't know that it came from New Deal programs like the CWA, PWA, WPA, FERA, and the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration (PRRA). With respect to the latter, a researcher at the City University of New York concluded that the PRRA "made lasting contributions to local social and economic life." And he described how - "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."
 
But there's no talk of bringing back the WPA or the PRRA, is there? There is only talk about how middle and low-income Puerto Ricans need to pay more taxes & fees, and receive less education & medical care - even while the super-wealthy use their island as a tax haven (see, e.g., "Puerto Rico debt crisis: austerity for residents, but tax breaks for hedge funds," The Guardian, July 25, 2015). This is what happens when you live in a world where the economic rules are rigged in favor of millionaires, billionaires, and multi-national corporations. And this is what happens when you're living in a Golden Era of White Collar Crime.
 
Puerto Rico, and the rest of us, need a New Deal. Unfortunately, as long as millions of people continue to vote for trickle-down economics, and millions more refuse to vote at all... we aren't going to get one. So, as the rest of the world invests in amazing infrastructure, American infrastructure will continue to deteriorate.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

New Deal Art: "Flop House"

Above: "Flop House," a tempera on fiberboard by Edward Millman (1907-1964), created while he participated in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1937. Flophouses provided cheap living accommodations for transients, low-wage workers, and the homeless. A recent article on Alternet highlights the persistent problem of homelessness in America today, in places like New York, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon. Unfortunately, as long as millions of voters continue to vote for trickle-down economics (or don't vote at all) homelessness will never be solved. A few temporary improvements here and there, sure, but never a wide-scale, permanent solution. Corporate America has perfected the art of paying workers as little as possible, giving all the profits to owners, executives, and investors, and then describing the resulting mass income & wealth inequality as "freedom" and "entrepreneurship." And, by and large, the public has bought it. (See, "Number of Homeless Children in America Surges To All-Time High," Associated Press, Huffington Post, November 17, 2014). Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Friday, November 20, 2015

New Deal Art: "Indian Hunters and Rice Gatherers"

(Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.) 

Above: "Indian Hunters and Rice Gatherers," an oil painting by Margaret Martin, created while she participated in the New Deal's Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture, 1939. According to the Smithsonian's Luce Center, "Martin’s image reflects the sympathies of many WPA muralists, who openly expressed the need for images of Native Americans in their New Deal murals."

New Deal policymakers also had an interest in American Indians, using the CCC & WPA to offer them jobs, and passing the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 to halt the loss of their land, promote self-governance, and facilitate business opportunities. Compare that to today, where federal policymakers are doing very little to address the poverty, unemployment, and suicide occurring on reservations. As a former congressman said in 2014, "there is no sense of urgency by our country to do anything about it." During the New Deal, there was real action. Today, there are "hearings," "task force" investigations, and White House "challenges." In other words, hollow and low-cost gobbledygook that won't impinge on the tax breaks, tax loopholes, tax deductions, tax exemptions, tax shelters, tax havens, tax avoidance, tax evasion, tax gimmicks, and historically low tax rates enjoyed by our millionaires, billionaires, and multi-national corporations.

(See, "How Tax Evasion Is Fueling Inequality," New York Magazine, October 1, 2015, and "U.S. Missing Out to Corporate Tax Havens," CNN, November 10, 2015)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

New Deal Art: "Low Tide"

Above: "Low Tide," a watercolor painting by Avery F. Johnson (1906-1990), created while he participated in the New Deal's Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture, ca. 1938. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Bare-Knuckle Brawlers of the New Deal vs. Our Corporate Marionettes

Harold Ickes:

Above: When others tried to stop Marian Anderson from singing the national anthem, because her skin color was different from theirs, Harold Ickes welcomed her. During the New Deal, Ickes served as the Secretary of the Interior and also as head administrator of the Public Works Administration. Described as a "combative Progressive," and an "abrasive, arrogant, thin-skinned bureaucrat," Ickes "spoke out early and often against Nazi anti-Semitism, championed American Indian cultural autonomy, facilitated the work of the New Deal's informal group of black Government officials known as 'the Black Cabinet' and sponsored Marian Anderson's great 1939 concert at the Lincoln Memorial" ("Born for the New Deal," New York Times, December 9, 1990). Ickes could be downright mean when it came to defending human rights, helping people who needed jobs, and building American infrastructure. That's exactly the kind of nasty disposition we need today. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Harry Hopkins:

 Above: L to R - Harry Hopkins, his daughter Diana, and Winston Churchill, 1943. In his book American-Made, author Nick Taylor describes Hopkins: "...he believed with a fiery passion in the rights of the poor to decent treatment, rights that he expounded with sharp-tongued, impatient wit." When Hopkins died, Churchill wrote: "A strong, bright, piercing flame has burned out a frail body...His love for the causes of the weak and the poor was matched by his passion against tyranny...We do well to salute his memory. We shall not see his like again" (New York Times, January 30, 1946). Hopkins could be abrasive towards those who insulted the less fortunate. We need that kind of abrasiveness today. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

William Douglas:

Above: William O. Douglas with his son, 1939. Douglas was the longest-serving Supreme Court justice in U.S. history, and also one of the more ill-tempered ones. Before he was a justice, Douglas was one of the first leaders of the New Deal's Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC). As head of the SEC, Douglas was not submissive to well-heeled financial interests. When a Wall Street attorney despaired over Douglas's disapproval of the attorney's recipe for financial reform, he asked Douglas, "Well, I suppose you'll go ahead with your own program?" Dougles replied, "You're damned right I will" (Michael Hiltzik, The New Deal: A Modern History, 2011). In the wake of one of the greatest eras of financial fraud, we need Douglas's ill-tempered attitude today. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Ferdinand Pecora:

Above: Ferdinand Pecora, right, 1938. Pecora was one of the first commissioners of the New Deal's Securities & Exchange Commission. During 1933, Pecora had grilled Wall Street executives during the famous "Percora Investigation," which took place in the U.S. Senate. Pecora asked one bank executive: "Is there anyone who knows more about the company's transactions than you?" When the executive replied, "I don't think so," Pecora scolded him, "Then suppose you answer these questions and not have Mr. Law whisper the answer in your ear. Will you?" Three decades later, Pecora wrote about the financial instruments sold to the American Public during the 1920s: "There was a callous disregard of the truth when they offered these bonds to the American investor, a complete and callous disregard of it, that even as I reflect on it now continues to shock me." Pecora was a firebrand - just the type of firebrand we need today, in our current "Golden Era of White Collar Crime." Pecora quotes are from Michael Perino, "The Hellhound of Wall Street: How Ferdinand Pecora's Investigation of the Great Crash Forever Changed American Finance," 2010. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Franklin Roosevelt:
  

Above: In the audio above, President Roosevelt warns us about organized money. When Roosevelt started to chip away at the political & financial favoritism that had been granted to the super-wealthy, they began to hate him for it. His response? "I welcome their hatred." We need that kind of attitude today, not just from our politicians but from every American voter. YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DmR9b56GOac.

The bare-knuckle brawlers of the New Deal stand in stark contrast to the corporate marionettes that govern us today. Everywhere we look, we see politicians stumbling over themselves to punish the middle-class and poor, in service to their wealthy backers (and, no doubt, in service to their own wallets). President Obama failed to back the public option during health care reform; his Justice Department has refused to aggressively prosecute white collar crime; his education department holds the desires of abusive & incompetent debt collectors over the rights of student loan borrowers; and he has helped craft the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement by consulting Corporate America but keeping it secret from the American Public. Hillary Clinton, our likely next president, voted to make bankruptcy relief more difficult for struggling Americans; doesn't want to reinstate Glass-Steagall to rein in fraudulent banks; hesitates on the idea of expanding Social Security (even as the super-wealthy keep adding tens, even hundreds of billions of dollars to their personal wealth every year); and is receiving more Wall Street campaign cash than any other candidate (even as her campaign says she's going to hold Wall Street "accountable" - unbelievable).

As for Republican & Tea Party politicians, well, they're even more deranged than usual. Ben Carson wants to raise taxes on the middle-class and poor so he can lower them for the wealthy; Donald Trump thinks American workers make too much money, even though wages have been stagnant for decades and the middle-class is shrinking; Marco Rubio worships at the alter of the democracy-destroying Koch brothers; and Ted Cruz has to be about the most smarmy politician in U.S. history - and also a millionaire married to a Goldman Sachs manager (just for fun, see "Goldman Sachs Pays $272M to Settle Suit Over [Fraudulent] Mortgage-Backed Securities," "Goldman Pays $550 Million to Settle Fraud Case," and "Goldman Sachs Among the Banks Probed for 'Treasury-Rigging'"). As if all this were not bad enough, the Republican National Committee is trying to protect illegal tax evasion for the super-wealthy, in a brazen quid pro quo effort to get campaign contributions. Further, Republicans in Congress have tried to use the Highway Bill to extort us into giving favors to Wall Street - saying, in effect, "We'll give you infrastructure, if you're willing to be defrauded and victimized." (And they're currently working on legislation to make corporate crime harder to prosecute.)

And not only do Republican & Tea Party politicians cater to people who commit crime & fraud, they also have the gall to make insinuations of laziness to the very people harmed by those corporate fraudsters & criminals, even calling the victims "wild animals" and "lazy pigs." Imagine losing your job, let's say a construction job, because the housing market crashed--a crash caused, in part, by Wall Street's massive and wide-scale mortgage & securities fraud--and then listening to right-wing politicians & pundits telling you what a lazy s.o.b. you must be for not having a job - and then also telling you that your unemployment and food assistance should be taken away because, well, "you're a damn moocher!"   

It is clear that we've descended into a pit of corporate greed, corruption, and crime - and that many politicians are looking the other way, or even endorsing it, in exchange for campaign cash. I think we desperately need some New Deal bare-knuckle brawlers to knock the crap out of Wall Street and their political marionettes. We need some justice, we need some financial law & order, and we need some democracy.

Monday, November 16, 2015

New Deal Art: "Fish Cannery"

Above: "Fish Cannery," a water color and pencil on paper, by Carlus Dyer, created while he participated in the New Deal's Treasury Relief Art Project, 1937. Mr. Dyer was born in Springfield, Missouri, in 1917, and may still be alive today (see, e.g., here and here). If so, wouldn't it be great if someone did an oral history interview with him, focusing on his recollections of the New Deal art programs. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

New Deal Art: "Miss Manchester's Musical Program for Homeless Men"

Above: "Miss Manchester's Musical Program for Homeless Men," a lithograph on paper by Elizabeth Olds (1896-1991), created while she participated in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1936. Interesting biographical information on Olds can be found here and here. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Friday, November 13, 2015

New Deal Art: "Leonardo da Vinci"

Above: "Leonardo da Vinci," an oil painting by Dane Chanase (1894-1975), created while he participated in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1936. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Alf Landon and Sam Brownback: The Reverse Robin Hoods of Kansas

Above: During a discussion with reporters in 1935, Harry Hopkins says that Republican Governor Alf Landon "balanced his budget in Kansas by taking money out of the hides of the needy." Landon ran against President Roosevelt in 1936, but lost by huge numbers. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Above: Republican Governor Sam Brownback has also tried to balance his budget--decimated by his tax-cuts-for-the-wealthy--by "taking money out of the hides of the needy." Brownback, and his Republican buddies in the Kansas legislature, have paid for tax-breaks-for-the-wealthy by raising taxes on the middle-class & poor, by taking money out of the state's highway fund, by closing a homeless shelter, by forcing K-12 schools to close early, and more. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Despite the fact that both Landon and Brownback took money & services away from the middle-class & poor, so that they could pamper the wealthy, many middle-class & poor Americans still voted for them. And, as long as people keep voting against their own economic interests, we'll continue to face stagnant wages, large amounts of debt, regressive taxation, and crumbling infrastructure. The super-wealthy? Well, they're laughing all the way to their offshore, tax-evading bank accounts - which, by the way, Republicans want to shield from law enforcement.

The New Deal showed us a better way. Through a combination of funding mechanisms, including higher taxes on the wealthy, New Deal policymakers used the CCC, PWA, WPA, and other work programs to create jobs & infrastructure. New hospitals, schools, roads, parks, airports, etc., began sprouting up all across the nation. After World War II, the American economy expanded along New Deal roads, across New Deal bridges, and out of New Deal airports. The political right never acknowledges this and, indeed, doesn't want you to know about it. They'll tell you "No, no, no, Ayn Rand built all that!"

So, which do you prefer? Reverse Robin Hoods, like Landon and Brownback, or New Deal policies, programs, and infrastructure that we still use today?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veterans Day and the G.I. Bill

Above: The back of this postage stamp reads, "...the G.I. Bill helped approximately 2.25 million war veterans attend college. Millions of other GIs received job training; home, business, and farm loans; and unemployment benefits." Image from personal collection.
 
Above: Many women served during World War II, both in the armed forces and the national defense industries. Image from personal collection.
 
Above: President Roosevelt signs the G.I. Bill on June 22, 1944. When he signed it, Roosevelt reiterated a point he had made during an earlier speech: "What our servicemen and women want, more than anything else, is the assurance of satisfactory employment upon their return to civil life. The first task after the war is to provide employment for them..." After the war, the policies & infrastructure that had been created by FDR and his colleagues--such as the G.I. Bill--helped the economy expand, the middle-class prosper, and the unemployment rate to remain consistently low. In recent years, with unemployment and suicide disproportionately affecting younger veterans and their families, we have to ask ourselves: Are we maintaining (and strengthening) the commitment to our veterans that FDR and Congress started during World War II? Or, are we allowing many veterans to struggle needlessly, in compliance to those who constantly push for government shutdowns, a reduction in social assistance programs, and tax cuts for the wealthy? Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

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

(Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The U.S. Travel Bureau, FDR's "Travel America Year," and the right to adequate recreation

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

On July 19, 1940, President Roosevelt signed legislation creating the U.S. Travel Bureau. The office actually had its origin in 1937 as the "Tourism Bureau," an office created for the National Park Service by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes. But the legislation signed by FDR made the Travel Bureau a more firm fixture within the Department of the Interior, and thus more able to receive regular funding. The Travel Bureau's mission was to promote recreational travel within the United States, by both citizens and foreign tourists.

Roosevelt also declared 1940 to be the "Travel America Year." And he certainly had been making travel more pleasant in America - with the CCC creating or improving hundreds of parks and the WPA creating or improving hundreds of airports, many thousands of bridges, and 650,000 miles of roadway.

Recreation was always important to Roosevelt; so much so, that in 1944, during his Second Bill of Rights speech, he advocated for the right of all Americans to earn enough money for adequate recreation. Today, of course, America is being overtaken by free market fanatics who would declare such a right to be "government overreach" or "the nanny state" or "communism!" To the Free Marketeers, one must constantly work, work, work, and try to curry favor with billionaire owners & investors. Vacation? Recreation?? Bah humbug, that's socialist European stuff! (Of course, that mentality could be one of the reasons America has such high rates of obesity, diabetes, heart problems, stress, and suicide.)

The U.S. Travel Bureau appears to have been terminated sometime during fiscal year 1943, a victim of the war. I'm not sure if it was later revived, but there were subsequent tourism and travel agencies in the federal government, and at least one seems to have lasted into the mid-1990s. Ironically, in January 2012, President Obama called for "a national strategy to promote domestic and international travel opportunities throughout the United States." Hmm... maybe we should bring back the U.S. Travel Bureau?

Sources: (1) Annual Reports of the Secretary of the Interior, fiscal years 1937 through 1943. (2) Perry H. Merrill, "Roosevelt's Forest Amy: A History of the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942," 1981. (3) Federal Works Agency, "Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-1943," 1946. 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

New Deal Art: "Automobile Accident"

Above: "Automobile Accident," an oil painting by Howard Taft Lorenz (1906-1956), created while he participated in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1936. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Friday, November 6, 2015

New Deal Art: "CCC Camp Balboa Park"

Above: "CCC Camp Balboa Park," an idyllic oil painting by Josephine Joy (1869-1948), created while she participated in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1935-1937. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Pre-New Deal Art: Class Warfare

Above: This oil on cardboard painting was created by E. Stearns in 1931. The Smithsonian's Luce Center describes it in the following way: "E. Stearns created this painting two years after the Wall Street crash left many Americans unemployed and desperate. The image shows 'King Capital' raising his hand in a feeble attempt to stop the crowd of angry people... The mass of anonymous heads and arms represent all the people who suffered during the Depression, while the glamorously dressed figures symbolize the wealthy, watching in horror as the mob advances." Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Unlike today, where the Obama Administration is soft on white collar crime, and Hillary Clinton receives colossal sums of money from an industry immersed in fraud (Wall Street), and Republicans openly promote illegal tax evasion, and the public is constantly persuaded to vote against their own financial interest by right-wing millionaires & billionaires, Americans of the 1930s knew what was being done to them (thanks in part to the Pecora Investigation). That's why they elected Franklin Roosevelt in 1932. And when he came into office in 1933, FDR and his fellow New Deal policymakers began to implement reforms to handle fraudsters, white collar crooks, incompetent bankers, and market failures. These reforms included the Securities & Exchange Commission, FDIC, and Glass-Steagall. And the reforms worked. For example, from 1921 through 1933 there were 14,807 bank failures. But from 1934 through 1980 (before Reagan & Clinton-era deregulation became the fad, causing bank failures to increase) there were only 565 (find data here and here). The majority of Americans approved of these measures, of course, reelecting FDR three times.
 
Above: New Dealers like Franklin Roosevelt, William Douglas, and Ferdinand Percora didn't play footsie with well-heeled fraudsters and criminals. Today, with campaign cash flowing in from Corporate America and the super-wealthy, the story is quite different. For example, Republicans are currently trying to use the Highway Bill as a tool for deregulating the banks and undermining the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; in essence, telling Americans, "You want good infrastructure? Sure, no problem... but you have to agree to let big financial institutions commit crime and run frauds against you." With this kind of mentality, it's little wonder that the American economy today has been described as the Golden Era of White Collar Crime. Political cartoon used by permission of the Estate of Rollin Kirby Post.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

New Deal Art: An Enchanted Forest

Above: This oil painting doesn't have a title (or, its title has been forgotten), but it seems like an enchanted forest to me. It was painted by Gustavo Cenci (1897-1982), while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1936. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

New Deal Art: "Artists on WPA"

Above: "Artists on WPA," an oil painting by Moses Soyer (1899-1974), created while he participated in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1935. You can read a brief biography of Soyer here. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Obamacare helps provide health insurance to more children than ever before... and Republicans are working feverishly to take it away.

Above: A health clinic in Minneapolis, Minnesota, ca. 1935-1943. The description for this photo reads: "Operated by WPA funds, the Home provides special diet and proper rest to correct abnormal hearts of these children. 59 employed." Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.

During the 1930s, President Roosevelt and his fellow New Deal policymakers made it a priority to expand medical services to all Americans. The WPA built & operated health clinics, the PWA built large hospitals, the CCC provided medical services for its low-income enrollees, young men & women in the NYA assisted in health research, and so on. Later, during his Second Bill of Rights speech, Roosevelt called for "The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health."

Obamacare (or, more properly called the "Affordable Care Act" (ACA)), while not as good as a single-payer system, has provided health insurance to millions of Americans - Americans who were denied health insurance before, by Corporate America. While few Democrats fight for (or even mention) a New Deal today, Obamacare does expand the New Deal concept of more health service for more people, regardless of ability to pay.

According to a study by Georgetown University, more children than ever before have health insurance, thanks, in part, to Obamacare. And West Virginia children have been doing exceptionally well. Terri Giles, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, said: "While we have been chipping away at this for years, it was the ACA that really put us over the top. We saw significant declines in the number of uninsured children, and we’ve seen no increases, even across the nation -  it just so happens that West Virginia, in this instance, is on top. We really made this a priority for this state."

Meanwhile, Republicans and Tea Partiers have been working hard to take it all away. Through legislation, through legal actions, through political extortion, and through prophecies of apocalyptic doom, people like the Koch brothers, Koch-fund organizations, Koch-funded politicians, and the Ayn Rand worshiping congressman Paul Ryan are working feverishly to find some way--any way--to kick children and their parents off health insurance. They assure us they're working on a "market-based" alternative but, after five-and-a-half years, they have nothing to offer except continued declarations to repeal Obamacare. And these declarations appeal to their radical base of voters - voters who continue to scream out, "Obama wasn't born here! He's the Anti-Christ!! Benghazi!!!"


Above: In this video, we see a Republican candidate shooting the Affordable Care Act with several weapons. After the bullets fail to go all the way through the bill, he says, "Looks like we'll have to resort to more extreme measures to get rid of Obamacare and replace it with a market-based solution." This is just one of many campaign ads made in the past several years showing conservative politicians firing guns while expressing disapproval of President Obama, Obamacare, progressive policies, Democrats, etc. When politicians link guns to their disapproval of people & policies, what type of message does that send to their supporters? Does it promote peaceful and democratic compromise, or does it promote violence? Original YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_EzOycBgiE.)

The fact is, health insurance doesn't have a pure "market-based" solution. Health insurance is not like cars or furniture. For example, there is always a tendency to insure the healthy, and neglect those in need. There is little or no incentive to insure people who are going to cost you a lot more than they're paying you in premiums. When you have a market failure or imperfection like this, the government must step in to remedy the situation. Or, we could go back to the right-wing way--the policy we had for decades--which sarcastically says, "You don't have health insurance? You can't afford your medicine? Awwww, too bad for you."

Recently, it was reported that support for the Tea Party has dropped to a record low. Maybe Americans are finally waking up, and realizing that helping one's fellow citizens is better than calling them "takers," "moochers," "parasites," "wild animals," and "lazy pigs." Then again, tens of millions still plan on voting for Republican politicians who want to get rid of Obamacare, Medicare, and any other government-run or government-assisted health program. Hopefully, for the sake of America's children (and many others), more people will vote for non-Republican candidates.

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

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Reverse New Deal: 112 Americans will kill themselves today

(Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.)

Suicides have been rising in the United States for many years now. For example, in 2010 there were 38,364 suicides. In 2013, the most recent year of data from the CDC, there were 41,149. And some specific groups are becoming more prone to suicide than before, e.g., middle-aged men, younger veterans, and American Indians.

Risk factors for suicide are many, but include unemployment and financial stress. And interestingly, over the past many years, Corporate America has been creating extreme income inequality and right-wing politicians have been trying their best to shred the social safety net - a safety net that is already fairly stingy compared to other developed countries.

So, in a hyper-competitive society, where the economic rules have been rigged in favor of the wealthy few and government assistance is constantly under threat of reduction, is it any wonder that more and more people are deciding that life is no longer worth the pain? Run into the ground by Wall Street, hounded by debt collectors, and neglected by our corrupt government... a lot of people just don't see a light at the end of the tunnel (and, indeed, there may not be one). Even the young experience these feelings. As one American Indian leader told Congress: surrounded by extreme poverty and unemployment, "children carry the outlook that things may not get better for them" ("Native leaders tell senators how to help stop youth suicide," Huffington Post, June 25, 2015.)

(Image courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

What are we doing to stem the rising number of suicides? Not much. You can do the research for yourself, but current efforts basically amount to things that look & sound pretty, but don't cost too much. And that's because the primary goal of our government today is to pamper Corporate America and the super-wealthy - whether they create good-paying jobs or not.

The New Deal had a much better approach: A massive investment in jobs, education, training, and health care for Americans in need. And it worked. A researcher from Oxford University and an epidemiologist from Stanford University found that "every $100 in New Deal spending per capita was associated with a decline in pneumonia deaths of 18 per 100,000 people; a reduction in infant deaths of 18 per 1,000 live births; and a drop in suicides of 4 per 100,000 people." They pointed out that "Roosevelt took bold steps, at a time when debt was 180 percent of GDP, to boost financial relief to the newly unemployed, to save Americans from homelessness... the New Deal helped reduce suicides, reduced tuberculosis and pneumonias, and was in fact the biggest and one of the most effective public health programs on U.S. soil."

So, why aren't we replicating the New Deal experience today? Well, because tens of millions of voters have been duped into believing that the New Deal didn't work, and that only the holy "JOB CREATORS" can save us - even after the "JOB CREATORS" have lowered our wages (to enrich CEOs & wealthy investors), sent our jobs overseas (to enrich CEOs & wealthy investors), and engaged in all manner of fraud & white collar crime (to enrich CEOs & wealthy investors). If the past few years have shown anything, they've shown that a lot of voters have absolutely no limit to the amount of financial crime they're willing to tolerate. For example, many voters are eagerly supporting right-wing political candidates who want to cut back or terminate the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other watchdog agencies... even after financial institutions have engaged in gargantuan amounts of tax evasion, mortgage & securities fraud, illegal foreclosures on soldiers, money laundering, accounting fraud, illegal debt collection practices, and more. This is akin to eliminating a police department after a rash of muggings, assaults, and burglaries.

When you have an environment like this--corporate greed, a corporate-bought government, and an electorate willing to tolerate it--it's very hard to see how suicides will do anything but rise even more. There are few signs of hope today. Instead, we see a fanatical devotion to the "JOB CREATORS," and cold-blooded ridicule for the unemployed and the working poor. Even Hillary Clinton's message of hope has to be taken with a grain of salt, since she's collecting more Wall Street campaign cash than any other candidate.

Welcome to the Reverse New Deal: 112 Americans will kill themselves today.